City Builder / Colony Manager General Discussion Thread

Nice! I’m assuming that’s Cities Skylines?

No I think he was playing simcity 2013. Hence the tiny city.

I think it’s great we have these paint your city kind of tools coming out. They’re probably fine in the City Build genre, but I think they’re a subset of some kind, and there are more of them popping up as we go too.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of a lengthy reply, I just got to share with the thread LGR’s video on the recently released tool SC2KRender. Kind of a novelty thing, but for someone who grew up on SimCity 2000 amazing none the less.

What LordKosc said, it is SimCity (2013). Vague memories of people doing some experiments back around launch and coming to the conclusion that aspects of the game’s regional play were bugged or broken due to their failed experiments. So, I was curious whether that still held up today or whether you could feasibly segregate land use, services, and wealth classes across different city plots in the region these days; since few people retried it with the later patches.

So, the experiment of SimBurbia was born, and it actually works well for me surprisingly enough. The game statistics list 1,764 medium wealth worker entities as calling this suburban town home. With 576 of these entities working locally in the scattered local commercial districts or service buildings whilst the vast majority (~1,200) commute by high-speed rail to the nearby city for their work.

Why SC2013? Doing a general revisit of my library of city-builders to see how my perception of them holds up. Going to make my way back through the A-Train series, Cities XXL, Tropico, older SimCity games, and other city-building games eventually too. It’s interesting to see how different games come at the same general idea, go about simulating a city\society, and what sort of details they decide to include or omit.

A quick example would be A-Train 9, which simulates land value and incorporates it into much of its gameplay. As a result the cost of bulldozing your way through a low value rural area is far cheaper than doing the same thing in a high value area like a downtown city core, where using the power of eminent domain on even a single skyscrapper can be ghastly expensive. So, even just a small detail like that changes how you might go about planning something like a transportation network extension, compared to the usual care-free attitude SimCity or Cities Skylines players can have about remodeling whole districts to solve issues like traffic.

Hmm, I need to learn more about A Train 9!

A-Train is a curious blend of genres, heavily influenced by the role private railway corporations played in the development of rail integrated communities throughout Japan. The most recent mainline entries, such as A-Train 9, are at least one part transport game and one part urban development game. As well as the expected transportation of people and goods you can and will branch out into the real estate market, managing subsidiaries, and the stock market.

Essentially, you are the primary driver of urban development in the game. Whether it is providing the power and goods other entities need to develop the land or commissioning your own company-owned developments. At the most basic level facilitating urban development around your stations increases ridership which increases potential profit margins. At a more advanced level developing or owning retail subsidiaries around your stations means you profit off not only any train and bus fares but the commercial activity that people engage in around your stations. Then if you want to take that one step further, developing or owning their homes takes it to the final level by having people also pay you rent to live in the area.

Once demand hits a certain point you start moving into phases of urban redevelopment too as density increases, whether driven by yourself or non-player entities. Low density buildings eventually being replaced with medium and high density buildings, finally progressing into high-density skyscrappers radiating out from the downtown core once demand is sufficient. Over time as density and demand increases you will redevelop lower tier subsidiaries like petrol stations and small convenience stores into higher tier subsidiaries like department stores to enable even greater profits.

Though, people do not want live in a corporate hellhole of just shops and housing so over time you will also have to help provide amenities like shrines, temples and churches to keep the populace satisfied and encourage further population growth. Meaning that eventually you might be commissioning the development of stadiums, theme parks and other amenities throughout the map too.

This progression outwards across the map, through the construction of new transport infrastructure, and upwards in density, with the redevelopment of existing urban areas around your stations, can eventually culminating in constructing one of the International Airport or Shinkasen Station mega-projects. Which can prove to be a major boon to the city as it brings large increases in potential ridership, and unlocks Super-Express trains in the case of the Shinkasen Station.

Since you are a private company rather than a public government entity you pay taxes like any Japanese corporation. This ranges from land tax, affected by the land value of the land your infrastructure is on, through to paying VAT on your yearly profits. Giving you an incentive to not just impulsively buy up everything on the map and hold on to it, since you will only want to hold onto subsidiaries that generate an income above their taxes expenses.

So, yeah, A-Train 9 has a very Japanese sense of verisimilitude to it thanks to developers Artdink being based in Tokyo, Japan. The initial learning curve could make a few Paradox grand strategy fans blush due to some of the ‘power user’ features on offer. However, once you get over the initial hump it definitely has a fairly unique take on the topic. In that regard, on the PC, A-Train Classic can be easier to get into first for anyone new to the series since the overall scope is a bit more laser focused and it has decent tutorialisation for learning many of the mechanics that pervade the series.

Lately Artdink have been busy working on bringing the series to the Nintendo Switch with A-Train All Aboard! Tourism. Funnily enough, the series also has a PSVR compatible port of A-Train 9 on the PS4 in A-Train Express. Development of A-Train 9 wrapped up with A-Train 9 v5.0: Final Edition in 2018, so I’ll be interested to see if Artdink move onto a new mainline entry in the series soon (A-Train 10) and what kind of a leap it might be over A-Train 9.

This is a fabulous writeup, thank you. As a fan of both city-builders and train management games I’ve long had my eyes on A-Train but never quite made the leap because it seemed a bit expensive for what you got and I’m not familiar with some of the culture it touches on. That sounds like it offers quite a bit more than I thought it did, and I might just pick it up now.

My pleasure, due to the relative scarcity of written and video content about A-Train 9 compared to other city-builder and transport management games I know how difficult it can be for non-Japanese speakers to research the series and determine if it is worth purchasing.


And since I got inspired to dive neck deep into A-Train 9 again, time for a small peak into my current save game for everyone.

With the simulation of a dynamic economy comes the opportunity to exploit many different kinds of fluctuations, limited not just to the stock market. Very low interest rates and land prices down the chute due to a period of economic recession? Sounds like the perfect opportunity to turn literal fields of grass into a proverbial gold mine. Take out a 1,000,000,000 Yen loan, find some dirt cheap land on the edge of town to develop, truck in ton of materials to fuel the wave of construction, plonk down a passenger rail connection to go with it all, and then as the saying goes “Bob’s your uncle”.

Turns out I was overly cautious with my finances and could have gone even more gung-ho with constructing company-owned properties, the buildings highlighted in green are my subsidiaries. Several housing developments, a bunch of shops and stores, plus some cultural and leisure buildings thrown in for good mix. Then a raft of third-party developers moved in to fill in the gaps, making use of my significant road network expansion, to continue the unending growth of the city’s outskirts. Well and truly made a return on my property and infrastructure investments, and then gained yet another profitable train line out of it to boot. A job well done!

I have now officially engaged in enough urban development to have exceeded the game’s five kilometre-long draw distance. There’s just too much metropolis to fit solely within one screenshot, I sure gave it a good old college try though. What the game might lack in the graphical department compared to some of its contemporaries it certainly compensates for in spades with the scale on offer. I would hazard to say that I am not even quite half way done yet with unleashing a torrent of urban development upon the scenario map I am currently playing.

Don’t think this is being hosted on an external website anywhere (yet), so a two part Steam community post it’ll have to be. Anyhow, as part of promotion for the Pharaoh remake there was an asynchronous Q&A event with Chris Beatrice (Impressions Games/Tilted Mill). Interesting stuff if you are interested about a whole bunch of stuff related to Pharaoh’s development history and other city-builder related topics, such as a question on Titled Mill and Medieval Mayor.


what what now?


It’s a ground up remake of the original Pharaoh, and the Cleopatra: Queen of the Nile expansion, since much of (if not all) the original source material is presumed lost to the ether. So redrawn high-definition 2D sprites, some new quality of life improvements and optional gameplay additions (e.g. global labour pool from Zeus), new animated cinematics, and the other kind of stuff you might expect from a complete game remake. From the same people, DotEmu, who organised the amazing Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap remake and Streets of Rage 4.

Unless you mean the spelling mistake, heh. My brain likes to mix up the order of the A and the O up when speed typing for some reason.

Oh he mentions Medieval Mayor, barely of course. I still mourn the loss of that game. It sounded so fun.

Good read. Thank you.

I should give this a shot. I remember playing a version of A-train back in the early 90s that Maxis was publisher for.

Wishlisted, thanks for posting, I wasn’t aware of that one.

Still probably my favorite game of all time. Had no idea an actual remake was happening! Hype.

I didn’t realize any of the Tilted Mill guys were involved in the remake! Or… Are they just doing a retrospective AMA for marketing purposes? I guess I need to read the articles.

UPDATE: Looks like he’s not really involved in the remake.

Mainly a retrospective AMA for marketing purposes in Chris’ case. Keith Zizza is providing some assistance to the remake’s composers on the soundtrack though. So, there is some involvement from past employees on the project.

Coincidentally, a good time for it too since the series is part of Steam’s Lunar New Year sale. I acquired A-Train PC Classic finally and have already sunk over 18 hours into it, so I went from playing one A-Train to another. Just as good, if not better in some aspects, than A-Train 9 if you don’t mind some (predominantly) 2D isometric sprite-based graphics, brings back memories of playing Transport Tycoon Deluxe, SimCity 2000 and the Maxis release of A-Train (which was A-Train 3 in Japan).

Some of the quality of life improvements and gameplay additions they implemented with A-Train PC Classic are amazing. I might have to get around to doing an in-depth post on that game as well, or a mini-Let’s Play, to showcase what it brings to the table.

I just played 10 hours or so of Before We Leave. If I had to sum up what the game’s biggest challenge is, it would be “I need to dedicate a lot of space to roads, so try to make good use of the remaining space.” Every building needs to be connected to a road, and since the game is hex-based Civ- style with roads taking up a complete hex, a lot of space is taken up by roads.

Early on it doesn’t matter too much, but once I needed different types of buildings it could be a little bit of a pain to lay things out efficiently. It is OK to tear things out and reorganize though. Eventually the colony needs things it can’t get on it’s initial landmass so it becomes time to build a boat and look for other land. Eventually, other planets can be colonized - shipping goods between land masses and between planets.

For the most part the game is pretty forgiving. Peeps just work more slowly if they get unhappy. Research discovers new things to build, which may improve production or give new ways to pacify the peeps. Eventually there is an ‘enemy’ that needs to be dealt with, but it doesn’t require building troops and there isn’t any combat. I neglected keeping my first planet up to date with new discoveries, so I wasn’t prepared, even though I knew what to do. The enemies last pass destroyed a bunch of my stuff and I figured that was a good place to call it quits. If I play again, hopefully I remember my fate and better prepare.

Overall it’s not a bad game. It’s always fun to ship goods here and there. I got it for $5 on Epic so I’d day I got my value out of it even if I never return. If I ever ‘win’, it doesn’t seem like there is much replay value after that.

Cross-post time due to confirmed western release! Alas, no Switch for me. So, fingers crossed Artdink bring the game to PC, which there has been Japanese fan speculation about due to demand. Would be right up there as a tempting day one purchase for me based on what I managed to learn about the game from Japanese sources, plus the 70+ hours I have sunk into A-Train PC Classic so far.

I am shocked to see Maia is still getting big updates, this game was kickstarted in 2013, and progress every step of the way has been slow. Back in 2018 it hit Steam and I figured the developer would abandon ship, but they are still working on it. Perhaps a true labor of love?