What do the numbers (or lack thereof) mean!? Sim City Analysis.

Posted by Zeg (85 posts) -

And so here we go again. Maybe I have a problem. I can't just play Sim City, I have to poke at it and try and discover why and how things work, just as I did with Sim City 4.

I don't claim to be entirely obsessive about detail, or actually picking apart the game on a deeper level than just what is surfaced or can be inferred. However...

The data problem...

This is probably the trigger for the subsequent craziness below. Sim City has a whole lot of fancy overlays for all kinds of data. You've probably all seen it. That whited out cityscape with bold colours and bars stuck all over it. But what I quickly came to realise is that many of those overlays effectively give you no useful data at all.

The primary problem with most of these overlays is that they are real time. If you look at the school overlay during school hours, surprise, there's a giant bar of 'enrolled students' sticking out of the school. If you look at the industrial freight overlay the majority of the time there's just 'delivered' bars over the factory, unless you happen to catch a freight truck actually leaving to make a delivery at that moment. And even then, once it makes the delivery, there's no indicator at the other end saying 'this building recently received freight'.

Maybe the most silly example of all is the traffic overlay, which by the way, isn't actually in the overlays panel; it only shows up when you have the road tools open. It shows you in real time the amount of traffic on a road, fading from red for stationary down to green then clear for empty roads... see why that's dumb? Because you can see the cars on the road anyway. And if it isn't rush hour, then you can't and the overlay can't either.

Maybe some 'last 24 hours' settings for the overlays, eh guys?

And how about some numbers!

So fancy graphical overlays are all well and good (when they actually have data to give you anyway), but how about some good old fashioned numbers. I know not everyone wants them, that probably most people don't care at all. But this is what got me: Sim City does give you some numbers... but they barely make sense.

You click on the population window and then the detail tab, and finally there's some numbers. It tells you how much population, how many jobs and how much shopping there is of each wealth level. It tells you how much freight is being demanded and how much is being shipped. The problem is that those numbers are sitting on top of this ethereal system.

If you click on a building, that gives you no numbers. So you can see what your city population is, but not how many live in an apartment So if the jobs count says I have 100 jobs free, how do I know how much new housing to zone or let develop to higher density? This is where testing comes in...

Testing things... because I have to know.

So the basics of low density, low wealth zones are quite easy to test. Make a new city and drop things in slowly while constantly referring to the population window:

  1. 1 block (the larger, avenue sized block) of Residential gives a low wealth population of 150, 100 of which are workers and 50 of which are students, demanding 50 commercial products (or shopping opportunities in other words).
  2. 1 block of Industrial gives about 100-120 low wealth jobs and produces around 540 freight.
  3. 1 block of Commercial gives about 150 low wealth jobs and produces around 130 products, demanding around 1000 freight.
  4. The Commercial and Industrial buildings also give a few medium wealth jobs, but for now lets not worry about that.

So this far, it all seems nice and obvious. But wait, those numbers don't add up:

  • 2 blocks of Industrial will supply freight to 1 block of Commercial. So we need about 4 blocks of Residential to give 400 workers.
  • But those residents demand 200 commercial products, which is more than the one block of Commercial produces.

Now obviously there should always be some amount of imbalance in the numbers, to give the player incentive and direction to grow the city. But here's where the ethereal nature of the numbers beneath these numbers comes up: the population window declares 130 satisfied shoppers, 70 unsatisfied, but 1 block of Commercial is actually capable of supplying at least 6 blocks of Residential.

Here's what I've gleamed from the simulation. The shops are supplied with an amount of product when they open every day. Shoppers then travel from their homes to buy the product. I'm yet to get to the point of pausing and counting the numbers on the product bar of each individual shop, but it appears that the numbers in the population window are either wrong, or there's some other mechanic interfering such as not having to shop every day. I've noticed as I added more blocks that the further away blocks were taking longer to successfully shop and become happy, but eventually at least 6 blocks will.

So okay then, what about the industrial freight. That makes sense right?

Well, kinda. Industrial buildings become happy when their freight is shipping well. But Commercial buildings don't actually appear to need freight at all. Shops appear to work just as well, satisfying their customers regardless. And then it gets worse...

How about we take those numbers and totally screw them up!

Already it seems the 'satisfied shoppers' number is not all that helpful, but I quickly ran into a couple more things to make the numbers in the population window even less useful.

Firstly, if you place a park, 1/3 of it's stated capacity is added to the 'available product' number. It is suggested in a loading screen tip that if people have no money, they can visit a park to become happy instead. So maybe it makes sense to add that number, showing more 'shoppers' satisfied.

But say you build only parks and no Commercial, then all your residents will be saying "Where's the shopping in this town", because most of the time they actually will have money. Considering that the actual number of low wealth shoppers you can satisfy per commercial building is already pretty unknown, and that all parks will add to the number, even higher wealth parks that you have to build to increase land value, the low wealth satisfaction number rapidly seems to become worthless.

So secondly, if you place a trade depot with a freight yard (which comes as standard), that generates about 1000 demand for freight. If you add further freight yards, each one adds 1000 more. The tooltip suggests that this is so that industry will always have somewhere to ship freight and thus avoid going out of business. But freight that gets delivered to the trade depot actually just vanishes every few minutes. It's just a freight sink. But I guess you might say who cares, since apparently Commercial doesn't actually need freight anyway...

And then some.

There's more I could say. But this post is already hella long, so let me drop a couple more strange things quickly:

  • As I mentioned earlier, even low wealth Commercial and Industrial gives a small number of Medium and High wealth jobs. Aside from being 'realistic', does filling those jobs actually do anything? I could imagine it might improve the quality of service, but good luck finding some way to see that effect.
  • If you build a sewage plant, it says it has a flow capacity of 70ish (which is how fast it can pull sewage in) and a treatment/storage capacity of 50ish. 70 is not all that much. So you might think, you can upgrade it. But the only upgrade for the building only gives it another 50 storage. And you can build up to 7 of those. Why? If it can only pull in 70 max, isn't any more than 2 entirely pointless?

An Ending.

So anyway. Despite this lengthy post and despite my problems with the strangeness of some elements of the simulation and the surfacing of data, I'm still having fun. It's just as always, I'll have that desire to poke at it more, to try and find out how the thing works and optimise to the underlying systems.

If anyone else has any interesting data or mysterious/strange problems, maybe we can poke at it together.

#1 Edited by Bourbon_Warrior (4523 posts) -

There are a lot of problems that can be hopefully fixed with add ons in the future, the size still bums me out but to its credit the way the city simulates itself is pretty magical, after spending 6 hours last night building a residental\commercial\university town, at the end of the night on the brink of sleep I went down to eye view and just traveled through my city.

The thing I really enjoy from it is learning little things each time and each night I start a new city hoping to make it better than it's predecessor, might have to check out the multiplayer now.

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