SimCity Societies: How to Lose
As SimCity's leading titan of industry, nothing gives me more pleasure than to spend my entire fortune building a thriving metropolis, and then watch it collapse into chaos thanks to my hubris and incompetent stewardship. I do so enjoy a good downfall. Over the years, and in several versions of the game, it was something of a specialty of mine. I founded New Hopetopia, Retryopolis, and West Crying-upon-the-Sofa in a spirit of boundless optimism, carefully placing buildings, connecting up roads, and bulldozing mistakes, knowing full well that it would all end in empty coffers and packs of wild dogs roaming the streets. Lately, I've been playing SimCity Societies, which I've found enjoyable, if a bit sedate, and very easy. Unlike the original SimCity series, Societies offers so few opportunities for failure that the first patch added a new, more challenging Strategic Mode. I really wanted my first Strategic Mode city to begin in hope, end in tears, and need to be nuked from above like Raccoon City. In that spirit, I founded the small but plucky town of Garbage Hole Gardens.
A few rules:
1) It needs to be a working town before the collapse. Not building a power plant or any houses would be an immediate failure, but that's not cricket.
2) No natural disasters. If there are fires, dispatch a fire truck. Even Andrew Ryan would put out a house fire, and he lives underwater.
3) Success is a game over screen. The next best outcome is a budget perpetually in the red without hope of redemption. Failing that, rampant crime, overflowing sewers and cannibalism would be a gentleman's C.
SimCity Societies has only three building types. Sims (citizens) live in Homes, work in Workplaces, and have fun in Venues, which raises their mood and keeps them from skipping work. Nicer Homes can raise a Sim's mood, but Workplaces only generate money for the city's coffers. Like many things in this game, the distinction is pretty arbitrary. A shopping mall is a Venue, not a Workplace. Is it staffed by robots? Why isn't there any kind of Workplace that makes Sims happy? What if someone brought in bagels? Funny hat Fridays? Those ungrateful Sims.
Fortunately for Garbage Hole Gardens, there are several cheap buildings with harmful effects that you're obviously supposed to avoid. All my citizens live in Slum Apartments - and like it! - and work in Lumber Mills, which have a high risk of injury. They can blow off steam at the Casino, where unlucky Sims (hopefully, injured mill workers) lose lots of money, or at a Dive Bar, where they leave drunk or sick. I didn't place any buildings which provide free health care, which is within the rules, because it's an American city. I also made a little Pawn Shop District next to Tattoo Parlor Alley, where one-armed, drunken Sims sell their TV sets so they can afford that tattoo of me burning in Hell forever.
The Societies twist on the SimCity formula is that the buildings are less important than the societal values of the city. Buildings can be filtered by themes, such as Cyberpunk, Contemplative, or Authoritarian. In theory, using only buildings from one theme eventually creates that kind of society. In practice, there aren't enough buildings in each theme, because often you need to produce, say, Spirituality, and no Cyberpunk buildings can do that. To create an exceptionally functional or dysfunctional city, you need to mix and match, at least until the higher level buildings are unlocked. The game becomes much more fun at that point, but it takes too long to get there. I don't know why exactly a PC game should have so many unlockables and achievements. PC gamers aren't achievement whores, we're graphics whores.
As an old SimCity player, I was astonished to discover that Societies doesn't really care about building placement. I put a big smog-producing power plant in the middle of the city, and it depressed the nearby slums nicely, but I could have placed it way off on the end of the map and it would still work. With few exceptions, objects affect the society as a whole, so placement is just aesthetics. My Road to Nowhere project, a long, spiraling road with a house at one end and a venue at the other, was completely ruined when the resident just cut across the grass.
So, in the end, did I succeed in engineering the downfall of Garbage Hole Gardens? Yes and no. I had some success with placing Breweries and Dive Bars next to Temperance Unions, leading to a battalion of pissed off little Carrie Nations starting trouble every afternoon. My budget went into the red for a while, but always recovered. Even in a virtual world, Prohibition is futile. I had so many bars that when I randomly clicked on a Sim, about one in three was currently drunk. I imagine the whole city smelled like a strip club men's room.
Thanks to the daily indignities of life in my little hellmouth, most of my Sims got fed up and went Rogue, which meant that they quit work and attacked a random building, shutting it down. However, buildings don't stay closed for long, and I didn't need to spend any money to reopen them. In fact, after a fire, I could dispatch a work crew to fix the building, or just wait, and it would slowly repair itself. How? Magic construction fairies? Worst of all, after shutting down a business, Rogue Sims go back to Contented status, because they've "blown off some steam." It makes a large scale riot impossible, besides being incredibly silly. Remember when Spike Lee threw that garbage can through the pizza shop window in Do the Right Thing? He didn't then take a deep breath and head on in to get a slice of pepperoni. "Sorry, Sal, guess I got a little rogue there for a minute. Why don't we shmooze while your window repairs itself?"
SimCity Societies, needless to say, is a very forgiving game. I couldn't lose enough to win. In three words, it's easy, pretty, and arbitrary. Still, I've had fun with it and plan to play more when I feel like relaxing. If you'll forgive the comparison, I had a similar experience with Oblivion. I didn't like about half of the design decisions, but it sure was nice to wander around in the woods. Societies shouldn't have the SimCity name attached to it, but for those who can forgive its flaws, and more importantly, make up their own rules, it's worth a look. And if you ever manage to see that Game Over screen, congratulations! You suck more than I do. Not many people can say that.