SimCity 4 question

So I was thinking of re-installing SC 4 for a big marathon session, but I have a question:

I played and enjoyed SC4 when it came out. Then I bought and installed the first expansion pack, which added lots of cool stuff. However, it also introduced one change which made the game MUCH harder.

Namely, in the original, you could build all sorts of expensive buildings (police, fire, university, etc), then keep their maintenance costs modest by lowering their funding percentage. IIRC, you could, say, build a university when you knew you’d only be using it at about 30% capacity, but that was OK, because you just set the maintenance slider at 30 or 35%, and it didn’t drain your treasury too badly.

In the expansion, you could still do this, BUT, IIRC for some obscure reason the sliders would gradually drift up towards 100%, without your taking any action. Thus, before long all my half-used services were costing me full maintenance, wiping out my treasury. You could go around resetting the sliders manually, but with a decent sized town, you’d spend most of your time doing this, and they’d rapidly resume their relentless drift upward.

So, I can install the original SC4 and ignore the expansion to avoid this issue, but I’m wondering if it was ever fixed by a patch or if there is some other way to get around this problem…

Hi Phil,

If, like me, you prefer to play SimCity as a giant sandbox, and concentrate on creating a luverly and interesting city without the hassle of trying to balance the books, I recommend you go here:

…and grab a few of the more popular mods and collections.

My top two are the Radical Ordinance Mod and Network Addon. The first kills the sims needs for fire, police, ambulance, etc, and the second is the foundation for constructing working tunnels and all kinds of other landscaping that the vanilla game doesn’t allow. Hit the downloads page and comb through the Top 50.

There are tons of amazing mods and lots for download. If you don’t care about actually ‘winning’ the game this is the place for you. (Even if you do care about playing against the game, rather than just designing a city, the Radical Ordinance Mod may help with the issue you’re having.)


Does the expansion really do that? I played it lots and I never noticed anything like that.

I like to play with the money on. And yes, the expansion did that, for me anyways.

Perhaps I inadvertantly toggled some switch somewhere or something. I’m wondering if others saw the same problem.

I’ve been playing and enjoying SC4 a lot the last few days.

Currently, I’m playing the patched version of the original. It crashes every ~2 hours, but I can live with that, I suppose. It’s a much more enjoyable game now, on my new high end rig, than it was 3 years ago on a computer about half as fast. It still gets draggy with a fully populated city, but it’s tolerable.

I could install Rush Hour. I have it, but have avoided installing it, for fear of the bug I mention above in the thread. It doesn’t seem to add too much that I’m interested in - the U-Drive-It missions sound dull.

Some questions:

  1. I’ve now got two built-out cities, with two of the mini-cities next to them. The big cities have a population of about 110K and 130K respectively. About how big can the population of one of these things get? Will it get much denser if I allow more time to pass and/or build up the neighboring cities in the region?

  2. How well does the whole ‘neighboring cities within a region’ work? I can obviously see the roads and such from one jutting into the other, though those roads don’t seem to carry much traffic. After getting my first city up to ~110K, starting my second from scratch went very fast - high R/C/I demand right off the bat. I’m not sure how much of that was the other city, and how much was just me learning the game better the 2nd time around…

  3. More specifically, what are the strategy implications of the city/region concept? Air pollution does not seem to cross borders, so it makes sense to put polluters in the corners of your cities. Are all transport connections viable for city connections? I connected via road and subway, but only the latter seems to be generating traffic.

What about highways? I stayed away from them this time, because I remembered from playing it a couple years ago that they were hard to get going. Are they more useful for city-to-city connections?

I have zero answers for all your questions… but this has picqued my interest in playing the game again. I originally played Rush Hour when it first came out… then waited and forgot about the game (for engine improvements and patches). I liked Rish Hour for the buildings it added.

I wonder what mods I should install? Ones that keep the financing part alive… since I like the economic challenge.

I’ve spent a lot more time playing the game over the last couple days. Various observations:

First, I did install Rush Hour, patched, and did not see the bug I described above. Rush Hour worked fine. That said, most of the additions in Rush Hour didn’t seem to have much value to me. The only things I’m really using are the high capacity schools and the ‘avenue’ road type.

Second, while it appears there is value in building up neighboring cities within the region, it also appears that the connections between them are handled at a pretty course level. Having a big city next to your new city helps your demand, and lets you do neighbor deals with them (import/export electricity, water, etc.), and even generates a bit of traffic with them.

But it does not appear that the sim really has a close understanding of the geography/layout of the neighboring city. Few sims in city A seem to want to work in city B. Roads that ‘should’ carry a lot of traffic from A to B don’t really do so. Air and water pollution does not spill over, etc.

This is kind of a shame, because the idea of managing one really big mega city by building up the component parts is a clever one, and also reduces performance problems that you’d see if the whole city was played at once. But instead, it feels like a bunch of weakly connected, separate cities. Still, it looks neat to build up your cities on the region map.

I played all the cities on the ‘hard’ level in Rush Hour. It was challenging, but manageable. I did manage to go bankupt once. (If you carry a big deficit for too long, you’re thrown out as mayor).

Avenues seemed only marginally useful - I tried making mine limited access (i.e. fewer intersections for few stoplights), but that didn’t really work (the sims didn’t use it much).

Passenger trains were barely used at all.

Busses were heavily used. I will put in more bus stops next city I build.

Subways are heavily used, but expensive in general, and much more so when you wait to build them until after your city is filled up (because you have to bulldoze stuff for the subway stations). Also, it’s very difficult to build them with your city full of tall buildings - you can’t see through very well to the ground level to locate where to place your stations. I think in my next city I may bite the bullet and put in a subway right from the start in my inner city ‘core’.

Overall, it’s quite fun - much more so on a fast computer, and the latest patch/Rush Hour expansion tweak the interface in a few nice ways. It’s a better game now than when it was released.

I liked Simcity 4, but the whole multi connected city idea never caught on for me. The same reason why I never liked building multiple families in the Sims, that I like focusing on one city/family at a time. I would rather work on one really huge plot of land rather then 4 smaller pieces at once.

I really enjoyed the regional aspects of SC4. I’d build an industrial wasteland, and then a residential city next door. The industrial place would be a large, central city, and the outlying towns would be mostly residential. I never got the region big enough to use airports, but I liked the interplay. In SC2000, you had no control over your neighboring cities, and I liked being able to step in.

Ooh, thanks for bringing this thread back up! My new machine should be a lot more capable of handling it than my old one was.

I have to admit a stupid soft spot for the “drive around your own city” missions… something about learning your way around the city intrigued me. I wish you could play your city from a GTA like perspective… Ah well, maybe for SC 5 :)

That’s interesting. For some reason I really disliked this facet because somehow it felt like cheating. Yet, in a way you’re kind of forced to because of scale. You didn’t miss the challenge of having everything on one mega-map?

I couldn’t shake the cheat-feeling either. The free cash everytime you start a new region notwithstanding, the ability to just build a hellish metropolis and ignore it while you worked outside of it rubbed me the wrong way. I suppose I wouldn’t have minded as much if there were simply bigger regions. I saw a method posted online on how to change that but it looked too laborious.

OK, I’ve spent a lot more time playing SC4 now. I’m going to write a summary of a lot of info I’ve discovered, some thoughts on the game, etc.

Hopefully this will be useful to others who perhaps have had the game on the shelves for a while. If you’ve got any suggestions to overcome re: the limitations I list, feel free.

I had poor performance with SC4 on an old rig a while back. Having another go at it now (latest patched version), with a high end rig (Athlon 64 Dual Core, 4600+, 2 GB RAM), the performance is MUCH better. I tend to pause the game, build a lot of stuff, then unpause and run it at max speed for a while and repeat. Except with the biggest/densest cities, it runs smoothly, and even for those, it runs tolerably. Given the complexity of the underlying simulation, I don’t fault it.

Also, I saw no bug with funding levels as I’d remembered from my last go-around. The only notable bugs I saw were:

Periodic crashes (every ~2 hours or so), especially when I exit to the region, but sometimes as I’m playing. Solution: save every 15 minutes or so.

A graphics glitch at the region level when using the ‘huge’ city size, and running the game at 1600 x 1200. A blackish bar appeared at the bottom of my huge city on the region display. Not fatal, but hurts the aesthetic appeal a bit. Goes away if I play (and re-save) at 1024 x 768, but I prefer the higher rez, so I live with the bug.


Overall, the game is a lot of fun. Enough to keep me playing through 3-4 ‘big’ city builds, a number of ‘smalls’, plus 1 half-completed ‘huge’ city. (I’d check exactly, but after playing a lot last night, launching SC4 right now it immediately exits. I prob’ly need a system reboot.) I’ve spent perhaps 50 hours playing in the last month or so, and am now kinda burnt out - it does lose novelty after a while, but still offers a lot of fun gameplay.

Still, what you’ll see below is mainly a list of nits/limitations - the areas where it falls short. Just remember that I like it overall.

In my mind, a SimCity game should feel like a moderately realistic version of being a big city mayor, with the caveats that you’re running a city for a century a more (rather than 4-12 years or so), that you play a greater role in layout/development than a real mayor, and that it should of course be easier and more fun than truly being a mayor.

The game gets close to this in many ways, but fails in others.

There is no sense of ‘why’ your city comes to exist. Real cities don’t generally start as a big blank field given to a prospective mayor along with a large starting sum of cash. Cities grow from towns which grow from villages/trading posts, usually at the junction of trade routes and/or near fertile fields or mineral deposits. There is some reason for the city to exist, and it grows from there, usually connected in very direct ways to the outside world.

In SC4, of course, you’re thrown into a blank field (or valley, or whatever) with a big pot of money, and no real reason or goal other than to grow.

Moreover, there’s no concept of history. The city always starts with full access to modern technology and buildings (though some old architectural styles are used), which again reduces the sensation that this is a real city, founded perhaps in 1850, and growing through 1900, 1950, and into the present.


The SimCity series has always struggled with the problem that realistic simulation of a multi-million inhabitant city is not very feasible on a desktop PC. Past versions of SC used a lot of scale distortions to make you feel like you’re running a big city at the same time as you’re managing certain low-level interactions that realistically fall below the scale level they use.

SC4 uses a clever new paradigm that each city you build exists on a meta-map within a ‘region’. More generally, each city is more like a New York City borough - first you build Queens, then the Bronx, then Manhattan, etc., although even that simplifies a bit, because the real city sizes within the region are even smaller - it would take about 10 ‘cities’ to constitute Manhattan, though the region as a whole, with space for perhaps 64 cities, does a credible job of representing the New York metro area as a whole.

Each city has some awareness of its neighbors. Connecting to neighboring cities allows you to trade electricity and water, and business/residential demand spills over across cities.

The problem is that the neighbor awareness is done at a very crude scale, and some things aren’t represented at all.

Pollution doesn’t spill over at all, so you should always stick your heavy polluters in the corner, where the pollution blows away to… nowhere.

Overall, the cities don’t really feel that connected. In theory, residences built in a corner of your map, where your city abuts other populated cities, should have their Sims just as likely to go to the neighboring cities to work or play as to areas within your city. In fact, transit off-map seems to be a fixed, fairly low constant. Moreover, in the opposite situation, where the road off-map from city 1 leads to an empty field in city 2, the residents seem about as inclined to use the road as if city 2 were a vast metropolis. (There may be a small city-size effect at play, but it’s hard to discern).

The benefits of the expensive ‘global’ buildings (big museums, ballparks, airports, etc.), seem to fall primarily/exclusively on the city they sit in. There is apparently a slight indirect effect - the higher demand these buildings spur may spill over a bit to the neighbors.

Also, the requirements for buildings are based entirely on what’s in your own city. If a building requires a population of X to be built, the population of your neighbors doesn’t matter.

There’s little reward for building a thriving region. As far as I could tell, reaching a region population of, say, 1 million (or any threshold) does not generate any rewards for you. Pretty much all this stuff operates at the city only level. I recall reading in some strategy guide that certain things happen when you have 4 or so connected cities in a region, but even there, it was apparently mainly a function of having started the cities, not having accomplished anything with them. AFAIK, you could start 4 quick cities, get their population to 1,000 each (a trivial feat), then build your main city and reap the benefits.

Regions could be a useful tool - a way to allow a level of focus on detailed city management, and specialized sub-sections of cities, while still keeping the epic feel of a really big city/region. But as implemented, there is much too little cross-boundary interaction.

That sucks about the history of buildings. Didn’t Sim City 3 or 2000 had building types change as the years went on? That annoyed me the same way like in Sid Meier’s RailRoads! that the cities and resource makers never really showed any signs of changes as time went on.

For the region aspect, I wouldn’t have mind if you just have the computer generate a few quick cities around yours and have them grow with yours. One thing that I missed from 2000 were the various scenarios you could play such as fixing a town after a huge fire. (Didn’t 2000 had scenarios based on actual events?)

Edit: I never played Sim City 3 so I don’t know what they included/took out from 2000 in that one.

I got SimCity4 Deluxe as a cheap stocking stuffer for myself, and have been playing it alot since then (more than I expected, given its competition is GalCiv2, NWN2, and GTR2). I have built 2 large cities and 3 small ones. My comments echo the above, including hating the fact pollution does not cross city limits making some gamey tactics possible (I used them, now I avoid them), and having an unexplained CTD every 2-4 hours.

What keeps drawing me back?

  1. I love the interplay of the different building and how your city grows. Build lots of schools/museums/etc and you get an educated population, which attracts hi-tech industries. Build an airport and maybe a landmark, and start a commercial district that can be nutured into a skyscraping downtown
  2. I love the 3-D terrain engine, and how you have to shape your city around the environment (flat maps are much less interesting).
  3. I love trying to manage the traffic, given all the options you have.

What I’d change: Abstract the water pipes. Talk about a boring exercise for nothing. Build the pumps and other topside equipment, and abstract the underground.

What I need to explore more: Are there good scenarios to play beyond the open maps? Back in the original SimCity, I loved the various challenging scenarios (urban blight/bankrupt, rebuild post disaster, etc etc)

Strategy Notes

I played on the ‘hard’ economic difficulty throughout.

For a typical ‘normal’ sized city, I seem to be able to get it to a population of 250K-300K or so before running out of space.

The first city is the hardest to build - after that, the spillover supply/demand effects from neighboring cities make things a bit easier.

I’ve read that it’s good to make many road/rail/etc connections between cities - this pumps up your demand, albeit with sharply diminishing returns for multiple connections (i.e. the fifth road connection is worth far less than the first). But all unbuilt cities are considered collectively as ‘SimNation’. Therefore, I ‘started’ the small sized cities that lay around the edges of the main ciites I was building. Generally, I would do these small cities very quickly - a main road in each direction criss-crossing in the center. A few blocks of residential and commercial, a small school, police station and fire station. Then agriculture all around. I could do one of these cities in about 15 minutes or so, and thus pump up the number of connected ‘cities’ in my region somewhat artificially.

The default region (Maxisland), does not contain any ‘huge’ city plots. But you can add them by editing the bitmap in the save directory. See directions elsewhere on the 'net. Basically, colors in that bitmap correspond to city size. You can even do this editing after you have built up some of the cities, as long as the edited area is undeveloped (or else you risk losing what you’ve already built).

After I’d built up the ‘large’ cities, it was fun to work on a ‘huge’ city that connected to some of them. I haven’t finished the ‘huge’ city, but it seems like I should be able to get it’s population over 1 million.

Some tools/options seem fairly useless:

Highways are seldom used, even when they connect to neighbor cities. They seem like an expensive waste of money - but perhaps will be valuable when my ‘huge’ city is fully complete.

Avenues seem to have little additional value relative to regular roads.

Subways CAN be useful, if you have a really dense grid. I do one station every 12 or so squares in each direction. But they’re not really needed or used until your city is very dense, and they’re too expensive to build when your city is small, but cumbersome to build until after your city is big. I got around this by putting down all my subway stations (and a lot of bus stops, too), as I laid out my city, but not connecting them with the underground subway rails until they were needed and I had the money.

All the elaborate power generation systems are nice and pollute less than coal, but they’re overpriced. Build coal, or worst case, oil, just do it at the corner of your city.

Ferries were hit and miss - a few car/passenger ferries I built near the edge of my city were heavily used (mainly to ferry people off-map), but those built at river crossings near the center of my city were barely used.

Bridges were under-used. Sims hung out on their own side of the water and rarely crossed.

I never had much luck with conventional rails. Passengers used it VERY little, and freight only a bit more. Perhaps because I didn’t have a dense network of it… But the Chicago paradigm of trains carrying lots of passengers to one downtown location, from which the passengers walk 1-15 blocks to work, doesn’t seem to work.

Because so many buildings have fairly high requirements, and/or are expensive with global effects, I found that it was easier and more useful to build a lot of the ‘exotic’ buildings with my huge city. With regular ‘large’ cities, some of this stuff was only marginally worthwhile or hard to qualify for.

I don’t really like the way ‘industry’ is set up. You’ve got one type of zoning (industry) that builds several very distinct types of industry: high-tech, manufacturing, and ‘dirty’. The problem is, it seems hard to segregate. If I want ‘dirty’ industry in one corner, and high-tech in another, I’m not really sure how to accomplish that. So I generally went for high-tech only, setting the taxes on the others prohibitively high. But high-tech industry never seems to build at a dense level - it’s always lots of small, low job-count buildings. So getting a large high-tech industry requires a LOT of land. I was only able to get the 25,000 high-tech jobs for the spaceport on my ‘huge’ city, and I had to dedicate a big chunk of the land to industry to do so. Perhaps I could have done this also on my regular sized maps, but I’d have probably had to zone half the land as industry to make it happen.

There is a visual change in building styles, but by default, it just cycles through styles/time periods, and they all look fairly modern - roughly 1930s - present style. You can control this cycling, I think, but I haven’t played with that option, and regardless, I don’t think it would really give the game a feel of truly advancing from the 19th century to the 21st and beyond.

AFAIK, no.

Unfortunately, the game seems thin on scenarios in general. There are only about 6-7 regions included with the game. It would have been nice if they’d had empty regions for all the top 20 or so metro areas in both the U.S. and Europe. AFAIK, there aren’t scenarios with pre-built cities, other than some simple ones that are part of the tutorial.

I poked around a bit on the ‘net, both at Maxis’ site and 3rd party sites, for good user-made regions. I wasn’t impressed with what I saw - Maxis’ site wasn’t well organized for this stuff, nor were the 3rd party sites. I wanted a good region for St. Louis, but the stuff I saw was fairly skeletal.