Analysis of Sim City

Investigating the computer as an expressive medium includes an understanding of the historical and technological aspects of computers, and how those characteristics can be applied to sociological paradigms. This research focuses on the social paradigms of the equation.

In approaching Project Three for LCC 6310, I chose to explore SimCity 2000. I had not had any previous experience with simulation technology, and felt it appropriate to investigate it for this project. I determined that three aspects of SimCity 2000 are developed to take advantage of the computer as an expressive medium:

• an engaging 3D environment

• an intriguing socio-economic dimension

• the implications of evolutionary simulation

Engaging 3D Environment

SimCity 2000’s engaging 3D environment is not based on highly-detailed, rendered graphics. In fact, the modeling is very primitive. But its simplicity allows for:

• instant gratification — immediate results are achieved as soon as the infrastructure and structural elements are drawn. Highly-textured or detailed 3D models would take much longer to render, and might mean losing a player’s attention. Instead, with little or no render times, players stay engaged in the activity.

• immersion — a coherent yet simple match to the real world means players can easily become immersed in the interactivity of the game. A more detailed visual match might detract from the “doing” aspect and reinforce a static “observing” role for the player.

• real-time navigability — the focus is on building spaces rather than objects. Thus, players are drawn into the space in a more meaningful interaction than that which simple object-building can provide.

Intriguing Socio-Economic Dimension

In addtion to an engaging 3D environment, SimCity 2000 provides a socio-economic dimension with which players can identify. I enjoyed this aspect of the game because it illustrated relationhips that I either did not realize existed in the real world, or that I easily overlooked because of the nature of how we humans view our surroundings. Fresh, new perspectives that are afforded players are:

• urban planner view — physical holistic view of complex structures and infrastructures give rise to a better understanding of why, for example, roads dead end, the scale of areas differ, parks are necessary, or buildings are vacant.

• mayoral metaphor — political, fiscal and social issues that impact development become less rhetorical and more real as players are forced to re-evaluate and compromise their ideals to keep “their city” viable.

Implications of Evolutionary Simulation

The most fascinating and thought-provoking aspect to SimCity 2000 is the evolutionary nature of the computer-generated responses. While some may view artificial life (AL) as an “over-the-top” characterization of SimCity 2000, evolutionary simulation shares some of the very principles on which AL is constructed. Two are:

• emergent behavior — the concept that, from a few localized simple rules, highly complex group patterns of behavior can “emerge” is well-implemented in this game.

• communities as macro-organisms — the “life” in artificial life is represented by a connection of systems, ranging from simple biological micro-organisms to large complex ecosystems. Communities such as the ones developed in SimCity 2000 can be viewed as macro-organisms with their complex connection of water, electrical and financial systems.

In playing SimCity 2000, the computer is truly used as an expressive medium. For pure game playing, the engaging 3D environment of SimCity 2000 takes advantage of the processing power of the computer. In offering an intriguing socio-economic dimension, SimCity 2000 takes advantage of abstractions that can be facilitated by the computer. And the genre of evolutionary simulation, in which SimCity 2000 belongs, is made possible by allowing the computer to be used as another medium of expression (through both sheer processing power and its ability to manipulate abstractions).

SimCity™ is a registered trademark of Maxis.


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Game Design short papers


Stephen Mamber
Eugene Thacker


Understanding the
  representational power
  of computer code

Translating computer code
  from one abstraction
  into another.

Other Papers:

• 3D Modeling
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