SimCity 4 Articles & Analysis

Changes between SimCity 3000 and SimCity 4, big and small

Written By: Rand Huck
Tuesday, January 21, 2003

The leap from SimCity 3000 to SimCity 4 started out a little rough for me. The increased difficulty and realism at first was a bother, but after studying the strategy guide, I've found that these gameplay additions have made SimCity 4 have both a game aspect as well as a true "simulation" program.

Some of you who have not bought the game have asked on forums and other places, "What does SimCity 4 have that SimCity 3000 doesn't?" In my first article in the SimCity 4 section, I'll list the major, and some minor improvements (and some shortfalls), mostly referring to gameplay.

Major Changes

The entire simulation model

The foremost change, the one that most impressed me, is how the cities develop. Back in the previous SimCities, you had one thing that directed development: R = C + I. That was the fundamental formula you were striving for. Industry was the prominent zone in the budding of your city, and as the population grew, Commercial zones began to become more and more important to the city until finally, industrial demand was outnumbered by commercial demand.

That isn't entirely the case anymore. This time, depending on how you choose to direct your city, you could have either a gritty industrial city, no matter what the size, or you could have a financial center, even with just a small population. (That isn't to say that you'll find your city of 5,000 to have skyscrapers, but you'll see more lowrise commercial offices than smokestacks)

In addition to this, it used to be commercial was all one thing. Now it's separated into two groups: Services and office. I'll get more into the difference between the two below.

High land values shouldn't be your biggest goal, especially at the beginnings of your city. In the previous versions, to have rich sims come in, all you needed was a good education, health, and safety system where your sims lived, plus a couple parks to raise land values, far away from a huge dirty industrial area... guess what? That's not all there is to it now. If only rich sims were in your very industrialized city, how could a sim on an assembly line be able to afford a mansion? Jobs become an important factor in the wealth of your sims.

There may be only one little mansion in your industrialized town, and that would be the owner of the factories'.

Some areas, no matter how nice the neighborhood might be, will have some lower-wealth sims living there. To attract the wealthy, you'll need to first attract a more financial city. That means offices. As aforementioned, commercial is separated into two groups (it's still one plot to zone, but it could take two forms). The commercial services attract low-wealth sims who don't want to risk injury from factories, and include retail stores and auto-body shops, and the like. And commercial services are attracted by a residential district, and won't flourish if it's in the middle of nowhere.

Commercial office, on the other hand, attract middle class and upper class sims, mostly (there are still a couple low wealth jobs available) and are dependent on "human capital" (good health and education).

And I'll also add that not all commercial services are "low wealth". If you have a high wealth area, you may see some luxury car lots popping up, instead of "Honest Carrie's Used Cars" with piles of lemons on the other side of the tracks.

So, to conclude this section of the article, slums in SimCity 3000 were "optional, and expected a little bit", while in SimCity 4, you're sure to have slummy districts to a certain extent.

Regional Play

This is the second best improvement, in my opinion. Instead of having one independent city whose only functions with neighboring cities was to trade deals and give sims an access out of your city, you have an entire region to play. This opens the doors for suburbs, farming districts, without having to worry about running out of room anytime soon. The cities within that region vary in size between small, medium, and large, and are interdependent. Oh, and of course, you have control over all your cities in that region. What one neighboring city does affects just about the whole region, although proximity does play a role, too. If one city has a great education system, those smart sims will have the option to commute to a high tech industrial park in another city, even if that city's education system isn't up to par.

This opens the door for more strategy and also, more gametime. Instead of taking an hour to fill up an entire map and be finished, it could take you a good month before you have a nice sprawling metropolis.

And your cities can have deals with one another just like in SimCity 3000, only this time it doesn't cost money to link your pipes, transportation, or power lines to your neighbor, and there aren't any cancellation penalties.

Traffic model

One of the most common complaints I heard about SimCity 3000 was its traffic model, and I agreed it had its problems. I commend Maxis for making a much better model that seems to be more logical and realistic.

First of all, highways now serve a function. ;-) Sims will almost always take the highways over the roads if it's close enough to them, and they don't seem to observe the speed limit, looking at the way they drive, which makes their commute short. Mass transit has a much bigger importance as your city grows, for both residents and industries. Your industrial district will grow much more developed if there's a good freight railroad system (or seaport, roads) and your sims will be appreciative if their bus will take them from point A to point B (and back).

And there are two types of roads. One type are the small streets which are cheap to maintain and build, but only serve minimal traffic. The other type are the main artery roads that take much more traffic, and don't get congested as easily.


Petitioners are no longer in SimCity 4 as they were in SimCity 3000. You still have your advisors, and they will give you an idea of how your sims are feeling, as well as a mayor rating bar right under the RCI indicator, but if you want to see exactly how a sim is living, just go to their house's lot, and take a look at their yard and surroundings. Maybe there's a patio, a satellite dish, or a trampoline. How about a nice swimming pool, or even a magnificent swimming pool?

What you see is a reflection of the type of neighborhood you're looking at.

Pedestrians also have telltale signs, especially in crime. You might see a mugger on the loose, hitting innocent sims for their money, or a bad fight. If things get out of hand, a riot might ensue.

And the type of car, both on the streets, and in the driveway, are signs of the sims' wealth. The type of house isn't always the indicator, since sometimes low wealth sims will even move into a previously medium-wealth house with lower land value.

And another way to measure the well being of a sim is to use the "My Sim" feature, which releases one of your caged sims into the wild urban jungle, getting in all sorts of trouble. He or she will give you feedback on the state of things such as commute time and fire protection.


SimCity 3000, for many people, was too easy. Get a good tax base, and you're soaring in the dough, and in a couple hours, you have yourself a bussling city. No longer can you just wave a magic wand and let the money grow. You need to keep a good eye on your expenses, and if you're finding yourself losing money, see where you can pinch a penny here and there to make more revenue.

Also, almost everything has a monthly price tag on it, including rewards, power plants, and parks. Lower the funding of rewards, and you could find your mansion or city hall distressed. Lower funding for power plants, and their lifespan comes down, as well as their capacity and the well being of the utility workers, who might strike.

Schools and hospitals come with school bus and ambulance funding, which determine the range the school comes with... which takes me to my next section...

Range of effectiveness

In SimCity 3000, grouping your schools and hospitals into one cluster seemed to be a good strategy. After all, they were citywide, and didn't have a radius of effectiveness.

Now, just like the fire stations and police stations in previous versions, there is a radius on schools, hospitals, libraries, and almost everything else. And as you limit the schoolbus or ambulance funding, the radius becomes smaller, and the amount of students drops. There is also the faculty funding bar, which as you lower it, the amount of capacity and teachers drop. If the amount of students goes over the capacity too much, teachers will strike.

But if you had, say, just 19 kids going to school limiting the capacity to that area, and paying just $30 monthly is a much better thing than in SimCity 3000, where you had a fixed capacity, and if you lowered the funding just a tad, you'd have a strike.


And, I'd say this is equally as impressive as the simulation model: Terrain is no longer isometric, but completely 3-D. (This doesn't mean you can go around your city with free-camera, but it does mean you have much more freedom when it comes to building rolling hills and craggy mountains)

Buildings can grow on slopes, and still look pretty decent (although sometimes it might look a little awkward)

Minor Changes

Some minor changes, mostly dealing with eye candy, are also noticed:

"Places of Worship" rewards

Now your sims can be a little religious and as your city grows, you can get one or more places where they can pray to, maybe, Will Wright, or whoever (we don't know who the god is) In addition to this, cemeteries are also rewarded. They are awarded based on population and mayor rating.

Landmarks now cost you money, and your reputation

Want the Empire State Building? Pay up, and let your sims feel overpowered. Landmarks range from 30,000 to hundreds of thousands, and they give you more commerce and tourism. However, residents don't seem to be impressed, and your mayor rating might take a little dip.

Army Base isn't a reward

...but it's now a business deal. If your budget is taking the brunt of expensive services, you can get the army base for a monthly revenue. Sims will not like it, but your industry will still benefit from it, and it does create jobs.

Other business deals are a missile testing range, casino, federal prison, and toxic waste dump. And a couple of them might not be 100% bad for everyone... just almost all of them.

Airports and seaports

Airports come in 3 forms, and 9 sizes. You can have a landing strip for a little town to boom your commercial sector, municipal airport for those cities that have a modest population, and an international airport for those who want to propel their financial district to new proportions. As they reach capacity, they can expand their terminals and runways to raise the commercial cap.

Both airports and seaports are no longer zoned, but look much nicer... and they also have a big monthly fee.

Day and Night

Maxis didn't want this to be completely eye-candy, so here's the deal. If you want to see how your traffic flows during morning and evening rush hour, in comparison to traffic during night time and lunch hours, you can see the hours roll by. Crime and other factors play in as well. The graphics in day and night are very good, and aren't a performance issue at all.


You can now see construction as the building is lifted from the ground up. This is pretty much pure eye candy, but at least you can have a good idea of when the building will be completed.

Farm Zones

"Light Industrial" zones are now reserved only for agriculture. This saves you from having to mark the entire field historical to avoid a cancerous factory park from sneaking in.


You can now custom make large parks with different tools like creating just grassy park greens or playgrounds, and skateboard parks. Beaches are also available.

Some Shortfalls

Even a SimCity fanatic like me has to make a couple whines here and there...

Lack of terrain auto-generation

While I sometimes don't mind sculpting an entire region by hand, I do wish they could have had an option to generate the terrain. But at least importation (I.E. from DEM terrain images) is easier than it was in SimCity 3000, from what I hear. (I haven't personally tried it myself)

Lack of pre-built cities

Hopefully the site will have a couple cities to import to your region as time goes on. Sometimes, I like seeing what other people (including Maxoids) can create. :-)

But I'm not going to even comment on the lack of avenues and "4 laned roads" since roads are good enough for me, and as I build my city, it's going to be the least of my worries.

Happy city building. :-)

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