Tips for Playing SimCity

The latest iteration of the world's oldest and most-beloved city building game has arrived, incorporating strong social elements and cutting-edge technology to drag the franchise kicking-and-screaming into the modern age. I hear some people can actually play it.

If you're not one of the lucky ones that dodged the download, install and server woes of the rockiest SimCity launch ever, rest assured that the folks at EA have it in their best interest to make sure everyone can play whenever they want. When that glorious day comes, charge into the city-building fray armed with these handy tips for making the most of the time you have.

Have a Plan

There's something to be said for just jumping into the game and letting your creative juices carry you where they will, but in today's brave new SimCity world, flying blind can lead to big disappointments. Having a basic idea of which industry or industries you'd like to focus on will help you mold your metropolis more efficiently. Some preliminary road planning wouldn't hurt either, as space is at a premium and upgrading from two lane roads to large thoroughfares requires destroying a swath of curb-hugging structures. Careful planning will minimize headaches and maximize enjoyment.

Productive Cheating

As I mentioned in my initial impressions earlier this week, creating a private single-player sandbox region is not a satisfying way to play SimCity, but it's an excellent way to learn the ropes and plan for the big event. What happens when you place a water tower next to a garbage dump? How many fire stations will you need to completely cover your city in a protective layer of flame-quenching liquid? Is it possible to make your city look like a giant space invader? Slip into a sandbox region, hit ALT-W a couple dozen times to load up on cash (thanks, SimCity wiki), and realize your dream build in private before taking it to the multiplayer streets.

Choose Your Plot Well

The prettiest plot is not always the best. Check the resource meters for each free city-space in the region you are joining before claiming it. You don't want to wind up a miner without anything to mine, a driller of dry Earth, or a large gathering of thirsty virtual people with nothing to drink. You'll be able to get supplemental goods and services from the regions around you, but as I proved to Stephen Totilo last weekend, putting all of your eggs in someone else's basket can be disastrous, especially if you don't...

Coordinate with Your Region-Mates

With limited space and mostly non-renewable natural resources, no single SimCity will be able to play host to all of the industries available in the game. This is a game designed with a level of cooperation in mind. It's not just about building the best city—it's about building the best region, and for that you'll need to work together. City Hall upgrades—departments like transportation, tourism, finance—unlock new buildings not just for your city, but the entire region. Three players coordinating their upgrades can have everything unlocked in no time. Players can also share services and resources with other regional cities. Say one player is big on petroleum, another on metals. Those two can export both to a third player, allowing them to focus on crafting microprocessors without worrying about mining or drilling. Coordination is the key to this dizzy dance.

Don't Get Too Attached

In order to create, we must first learn how to destroy. There will come a time in the life of any SimCity when you've filled every possible square inch of real estate with residents, shops, landmarks, utilities and decorations. Or maybe you've just unlocked the ability to place an airport, but lack the substantial space to place it on your map. It's times like these you just have to let your inner heartless politician shine through. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and if that airport or sports stadium will bring in many simoleons, who cares if a few trailer parks have to explode to get the job done?

Use Your Maps

They aren't only there to make you crave a Mirror's Edge sequel.

Tips for Playing SimCity

Stylish and easy-to-read, the maps included in SimCity bring important success factors to the fore, isolating them from the hustle-and-bustle of teeming virtual life to give it to you plain. Worried that some of your constituents are less-than-pleased with your work? There's a map for that. Want to see how efficiently your city handles trading? There's a map for that as well. Learn the hot keys, use them often, and you'll never find yourself needlessly squinting at the screen to pinpoint problem areas.

Don't Forget the Filters

At this point I prefer playing SimCity with the Black & Red filter turned on, though some days I feel more Orange & Gray.

Tips for Playing SimCity

The graphic filters in SimCity are largely unnecessary (though the three Colorblind Optimized filters are damn thoughtful), but I love them nonetheless. When I find myself struggling with how to advance my goals, I often pause and cycle through these color-changers, seeing my city in a whole new light.

Capture, Capture, Capture

"C" is for screenshots. "V" is for video. The Gameplay options panel is for setting video capture resolution and hiding the user interface during capture. You're building something glorious. Share it with the world.

Be Patient

I'm sure they'll get everything working well eventually.