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Sim City 3000 – MAGNASANTI

By Shamus
on Saturday May 22, 2010
Filed under:


How do you win an open-ended game? Like this:

Link (YouTube)

I did this on a very modest scale when I played Sim City 2000. I messed about with zoning patterns and searched for a simple, repeatable block of stuff that was efficient and self-contained. The resulting city would be sort of Borg-ish, with the city being efficient, dull, and repetitive. I can still remember the pattern I used:


For the uninitiated: Green is residential. (Houses and apartment buildings.) Yellow is industrial. (Tractor factories.) Blue is commercial. (Wal-Mart.) The gray is roads. The government buildings in the middle cost money to build and run, and have a maximum effective radius.

I would alternate the commercial and industrial placement in every other square, so that you wouldn’t end up with four industrial places all at one intersection.

This was a pretty good pattern in the early game. The city would grow quickly and blocks would rapidly fill to capacity.

But somewhere around the mid-game the whole thing would begin to unravel. Traffic would become so dense that it threatened to collapse and form a singularity. I tried doubling the roads between tiles, but that only delayed the inevitable. I also had trouble with money because I couldn’t quite balance my public services. Fire stations don’t need to be as dense as police stations, so there was a lot of waste by building them like this. I did manage to fill the map, but my city was primitive and shabby compared to Magnasanti.

Interesting project.

Comments (60)

  1. rofltehcat says:

    So the most effective form for them was inspired by the wheel of life?
    Reminds me of something I watched about some medieval cities being planned in a comparable way. If I remember it right it was something a mixture of a grid-like alignment and aligning the main streets, city walls etc. along circular arcs around a hand full of main orientation points.
    Couldn’t dig it up, though… so I may have forgotten half of it and mixed up the residue with other stuff :P

  2. Toasty Virus says:

    Thats pretty amazing, I didn’t think you could do something so impressive with SimCity.

    I guess I stand corrected.

  3. Psithief says:

    Looks like we never have to play SimCity 3000 ever again. Sweet.

  4. Squash says:

    Will someone please send these people to Brisbane, Australia. We need some of that town planning.

  5. Stormcaller says:

    So… i guess he is now starting on SimCity4? :)

  6. Aquarion says:

    The creator recently did an interview on how he did it:


    It’s pretty bleak at points.

    There are a lot of other problems in the city hidden under the illusion of order and greatness: Suffocating air pollution, high unemployment, no fire stations, schools, or hospitals, a regimented lifestyle – this is the price that these sims pay for living in the city with the highest population. It's a sick and twisted goal to strive towards. The ironic thing about it is the sims in Magnasanti tolerate it. They don't rebel, or cause revolutions and social chaos. No one considers challenging the system by physical means since a hyper-efficient police state keeps them in line. They have all been successfully dumbed down, sickened with poor health, enslaved and mind-controlled just enough to keep this system going for thousands of years. 50,000 years to be exact. They are all imprisoned in space and time.

  7. Studoku says:

    Wow. That is all.

  8. Jarenth says:

    The fact that ‘utilities are all done through neighbour deals’ feels a little iffy to me. Still, quite the impressive project.

    • Winter says:

      Yeah, like… just imagine how much food six million people eat every day. They grow none of that here.

      Now let’s imagine you can grow all of that right on the borders of this city just to simplify–how do you actually distribute it inside the city? By subway?

      Now do the same thing for power, water, etc.

      The game lets you do this so it’s not a cheat, but it’s an interesting way in which the game breaks down at extremes :)

  9. eri says:

    I have to admit, this is pretty terrifying. It have just been the music, but there is something amazingly oppressive and mechanical about it.

    I recently picked up Tropico 3 on Steam, and while I’m hardly an expert player, I’ve been trying to really play with getting the absolute most efficient layouts for everything. The biggest problem is that you rely on natural resources, and thus the variability in your starting terrain, along with the industries you choose to pursue, can make designing the “optimal” city almost impossible, especially as your population continues to climb and requires increasingly more space to sustain.

    • Mari says:

      That’s the fun of the challenge, though. I find it incredibly fun to create an optimum static efficiency structure that I then have to implement fluidly. OK, that sounded like buzzwords but think about it. You can quickly and easily determine how to optimize your population on paper but the challenge is implementing it into the “real world” (in this case a “real” sim world) where there is deviation from that “ideal” square/grid/even sprinkling of resource. For me that’s what keeps games like Tropico/Civ/Zoo Tycoon replayable for literally more than a decade.

      And yes, I do stuff like this with nearly every sim game I play. It’s a little scary sometimes like my Noah’s Ark Zoo in Zoo Tycoon. My premise was 20 years to prepare for a global catastrophe. The only life on the planet that would survive was what was inside my zoo. I had to have self-sustaining animal populations coupled with the greatest possible guest density. All animals had to be exhibited (no hiding shy animals behind concrete enclosures that shielded them from guests) and yet their social needs for procreation must be met (some animals won’t – do the deed – with thousands of guests cheering them on). All of this must be accomplished on island chains of land in the midst of a vast ocean (which makes guests annoyed and less likely to stay).

      • eri says:

        Did I mention that you are insane?

        • Mari says:

          I am a little bit insane, yes. :-) I’m also often a game designer’s worst nightmare. I test the limits of games I play. I can tell you where the money-counting math gets screwy in some games, what the max of each item is in others, how many guests you can fit into imaginary parks and zoos, how many residential units you can fit into one sim tower, and on and on. They’re great big playgrounds for me to exercise my (occasionally sadistic, always terrifying) imagination upon.

          And I’m just a little bit OCD, too. I obsessively plan, document, etc. You know those Zynga games Shamus loves to bring up? I’ve played most of them. I have huge multi-page spreadsheets for each one documenting every aspect of the game that a player encounters and other spreadsheets for planning every aspect of the game (want to farm for maximum level progression while maintaining an 8 hour per night sleep schedule? I can show you what to plant when and tell you what your XP will be at every event, when you will hit level 37, and how many coins you will have at that moment). I do the same thing for most other games. I have gigabytes of spreadsheet and txt files recording every step of most of the sim games out there. More charting things like dialogue trees and item creation specs for games like KOTOR and Baldur’s Gate. Everybody needs a hobby, right?

      • TehShrike says:

        As soon as I read your post, I was looking for a link to some sort of home page. Share with me your internet gold!

      • Deoxy says:

        Mari – Dwarf Fortress. Seriously.

        Same thing for this guy. That would be awesome. Might take a bit longer than 3 years, though…

  10. Jan says:

    I also used to do this in SC2K. Except I put schools instead of the little park. Always had problems with traffic.

    And the crime rate in the Arcology district was insane of course.

  11. Vegedus says:

    That was a very… Dramatic presentation of a Simcity… City.

  12. droid says:

    At first I hoped that it said Magmasanti. Because magma makes everything better.

    I noticed that the population distribution tapers off to zero just before citizens are too old to work. I am sure that cutting the dead weight is part of what makes this possible.

  13. Peter H. Coffin says:

    Dunno if it works the same way in 3000 as the original SimCity, but completely dispensing with roads in the original in favor of transit 100% resulted in zero traffic problems, no impact on FD/PD influence, and just a lot of whining from the population without much effect on their actual temperament.

  14. Robert says:

    Trick for reducing traffic in the SimCity series. This data is from SC2K (interview with the developer for my CGW preview) but I think the basic system is still in place.

    Traffic is modeled with a trip mechanism. Every tick of the game, each building sends out a customer in a random direction. The customer travels randomly on the traffic grid until they either reach a different-colored square than their origin point (blue squares look for green or yellow, green looks for blue or yellow, etc.) or run out of movement points. Each square of travel takes a certain number of points depending on the type; a road is 1, a highway is 0.5, an offramp is 2. There are some complexities in here for buses and subway stations but basically this is how it works.

    If the commuter cannot find a destination within its movement point, it records a failed trip which decrements the growth of the originating building. (“We can’t get to work!”) If it does find a destination, it records a successful trip and increments growth.

    Here’s the key: every road square that the commuter visits, has its traffic level increased. So, to eliminate traffic – eliminate long trips. The ideal trip is one square – the commuter leaves their building and is immediately at a valid destination. There are a number of ways to do this which are a lot of fun to play with; subway stations in particular can either have an enormous effect on traffic (because they pull thousands of commuter trips off the road grid) or very little (because commuters never reach the station entrances).

  15. Gandaug says:


    I always started with a grid-like center and then just let things grow from there. It obviously is not the most efficient method for huge cities, but I managed to grow, stay profitable, and keep all the various lines and graphs looking good so I was happy.

    I like the video’s presentation. Much more entertaining than simply showing a bunch of lines and graphs.

  16. rayen says:

    Damn… the best i did was a simcity 3K version of gotham city high crime rate but still astronomical commercial land values built on a peninsula and the entire point was dominated by a coast long seaport. also island with jails.

    and also the one where i challenged muyself to do entire city with only farm industry. that one didn’t work so well… f-ing smog-o-matics…

  17. Atarlost says:

    I’d heard that while traffic was generated by monte carlo in 2k it used a node map of intersections.

    So my attempt had one spiral road.

    I also had some fairly abusive ways of generating power and water. I would make a grid of ponds, pumps, water towers, and treatment plants and lines of bumps with water around them for placing hydro plants at maximum density since they neither polluted not exploded every 50 years. Windmills went on top just to fill space. The other trick was to make a big pyramidal mountain and cover it with water except the tip and build hydro plants on it. It didn’t fit so nicely into the road arrangement though.

    I did try a subway only city once, but subway was too expensive for a starting city.

    • Tizzy says:

      I’m surprised that they would bother with simulation. I’m sure it’s very efficient, but my first instinct would be to do something deterministic with the intersection matrix itself.

  18. Nalano says:

    By my cocktail napkin calculations, that’s a population density of 375,000 people per square kilometer.

    In comparison, Manhattan peaked at about 39,000 people per square kilometer and is right now at 27,000.

  19. Nihil says:

    I picture something like that happening in my EU3 Centres of Trade when the population growth function goes astray and I have a city with 9999999 inhabitants – in the 1600s, before indoor plumbing! (although it usually happens in coastal cities).

  20. WoodenTable says:

    It’s fascinating in a mathematical sort of way. Not terribly interesting to look at, though, since it’s mostly just repeating skyscrapers. That’s partly just me, though, since Simcity 3000 has refused to run on literally every computer I’ve ever owned… I think I ran it for a few months at one point before a video card upgrade broke it again.

    I remember buying an expansion cd for Simcity 2000 that had a lot of minmaxing cities in it, sort of like that Magnasanti. The one I found to be most impressive, I believe was called “Glorioso”. All the residential areas had a few heavily forested open spaces around them, and the suburbia stretched across 3/4s of the map or so. They were all 1×1 houses, but the property values were insane – every last one of them would qualify as a million-dollar mansion, I think. It’s been over a decade since I saw it, but it just made me think “whoa”.

  21. Nidokoenig says:

    When I play SC3K, I would do something similar to Shamus, but I’d do columns of residential, then commercial, then industry, then a buffer of schools, parks and such before the next residential column.
    6×6 blocks surrounded by railway tracks(I only used roads for the rubbish district), which meant three 3×3 blocks for the biggest buildings, and one more to put a railway station and either five small parks early or four small parks and a subway station later when I was doubling up the rails. Air pollution would be greatly reduced, in addition to there being no traffic you have to care much about.
    Once I’d covered the map, I’d create a few dozen connections and watch the demand indicators, replacing industry when it slipped into negative demand until there wasn’t any left. I was dead chuffed whenever I managed it.

  22. Neil Polenske says:

    I never knew the actor who played the bad guy in Judge Dredd had a name that meant something. I thought this dude was just making a random pun!

    Also: Sim City just got EPIC!

  23. Zaxares says:

    The music that plays for most of that video is “Apocalypse”, from Hitman: Blood Money, composed by Jesper Kyd.

    A very impressive accomplishment by the guy… But all I can think of looking at that city is how much it would suck to live in a place like that. *makes a face* I used to build my cities to be completely self-sufficient, earthly paradises… Or as close to them as I could get.

    Also, the sadist in me can help imagining a scenario whereby some guy labours over his city with planning and calculations and building for years. After the completion, he goes online to post his accomplishments… And finds that everybody else online has a bigger, more populous city. “Oh yeah, they patched the game so it’s easier to get more Sims into your buildings. They did it a couple of months after the game’s release. Why do you ask?”

  24. Lanthanide says:

    Anyone who likes SimCity, especially SimCity 2000, should check out Afterlife http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afterlife_%28computer_game%29. You have to build Heaven and Hell, simultaneously. The game is notoriously difficult – I’ve never come across anyone else that got Omnibolges or Love Domes (Arcologies from SimCity, but you need 1 billion souls in each realm to get them).

    I had 1 game where I got both Love Domes and Omnibolges, another game with just Love Domes and another 5 games with just Omnibolges. Hell is much easier than Heaven, since Aria keeps bleating on about ‘diversity’ all the time, which simply seems impossible to fulfill without having really inefficient buildings – Mari, this could be a nice challenge for you.

    • Jarenth says:

      Man, forget full density cities. The last time I played Afterlife, it took me a week of playing (and learning to play) before I even managed to run a profit.

      Also, the failure ending of Afterlife is awesome.

  25. Deoxy says:

    I want this guy (and possibly Mari) on Dwarf Fortress ASAP.

    That is all.

    (OK, I lied, one other thing: um, wow.)

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