BATing for Bucks: A Pandora’s (Brown) Box

In the past couple years, a practice prevalent in other games’ content ecosystems (including that of Cities: Skylines) has begun to creep into the SimCity 4 community, and one which has attracted some controversy of late.  That practice, of course, is for creators–namely, BATers–to attempt to (at least partially) monetize their uploads, most often through services like Patreon.  Under this model, those who wish to download that creator’s files must sign up for a monthly subscription, typically at one of multiple tiers.  Each tier is distinguished by the types of downloads and services available to the patron, with higher tiers often granting things like access to special downloads and request priority.

Speaking as an SC4 modder who has sunk tens of thousands of hours into developing content for the game over almost a decade and a half, who knows intimately what’s involved here, I can certainly understand why some creators may feel the need to be remunerated for their efforts.  However, that being said, this practice has a real potential to be a Pandora’s (Brown) Box sort of situation for the overall trajectory of the community if allowed to proliferate, and depending on the particular implementation of it, can verge on being dubious at best from a legal perspective.  Here are my main issues with the notion of “BATing for Bucks”:

The EULA

The Building Architect Tool (BAT), the series of Gmax scripts (later adapted by others to work with 3ds Max) that allow for models to be processed into orthographically-projected form and used by the game, is subject to the EA Tools End User License Agreement (EULA), which has the following to say in its first three paragraphs (the whole thing can be found here).  I’ve bolded the particularly pertinent bits:

Electronic Arts Inc, and its subsidiaries, affiliates and licensors (collectively, “EA”) grants you a non- transferable non-exclusive license to download and/or install and use one copy of the software tool (“Tool”) and/or materials (“Materials”) (collectively the “Tools & Materials”) solely for your personal noncommercial use in connection with EA’s products, in accordance with the terms below.

EA owns all of the rights, title and interest in the Tools & Materials. You may not alter any of EA’s trademarks or logos, or alter or remove any of EA’s trademark or copyright notices included in or with the Tools & Materials or EA’s products. Your right to use Tools & Materials is limited to the license grant above, and you may not otherwise copy, display, distribute, perform, publish, modify, create works from, or use any of the Tools & Materials. Without limiting the preceding sentence, you may not modify, reverse engineer, disassemble, license, transfer, distribute, create works from, or sell the Tool, or use the Tools & Materials to further any commercial or unlawful purpose. Without limiting the foregoing, you may not use the Tools & Materials to promote another product or business, or on any site that operates or promotes a server emulator.

You may include materials created with the Tools & Materials on your personal noncommercial website for the noncommercial benefit of the fan community for EA’s products, provided this is beneficial to the product(s) in EA’s judgment, and provided that if you do so, you must also post the following notice on your site on the same web page(s) where those materials are located: “This site is not endorsed by or affiliated with Electronic Arts, or its licensors. Trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Game content and materials copyright Electronic Arts Inc. and its licensors. All Rights Reserved.” You will not represent that your site is endorsed or approved by or affiliated with EA or our licensors or that any other content on your site is endorsed or approved by or affiliated with EA or our licensors.

The term used to refer to custom content throughout the EULA is “materials”.  The prevailing legal interpretation in the SC4 community is that the game-readable version of the model files are “materials” and effectively EA’s property, and that the sale of SC4 custom content is effectively prohibited–the word “noncommercial” is very prevalent throughout the EULA.

Some may wonder at this point, what about things like the site donation DVDs/collections (i.e. the STEX Collections)?  In general, the interpretation there has been that the sites are effectively operating as non-profit enterprises seeking to recoup hosting costs, and that the discs/special downloads here (mostly comprised of content already available for free on the exchange, with some exclusives) are being offered in exchange for a donation, not being put up for sale as a commercial enterprise.

This, of course, begs the question–can a BATer with a Patreon be seen as offering their content up for donation, rather than as a commercial operation?  From my perspective, this depends a great deal on the specifics of how the BATer is using Patreon.

I’ll state upfront that I am okay with how Jasoncw has used the platform–he charges a very modest rate in exchange for “early access” to files that will end up being free on the STEX (with a guarantee of at least one new building per month), and uses the (still) modest higher tier to allow patrons access to a special Discord server and the ability to help guide his future projects.  This is really as far as anyone should go down this path.

Making BATs and other SC4 content “exclusive” to subscribers in perpetuity, however, is effectively paywalling content, and, as far as I’m concerned, clearly constitutes commercial use of the tools, in violation of the EULA.  Given that the creator in this case is not using the funds to cover site operating costs–indeed, Patreon will let anyone set up shop for free, and only charges a small percentage once they’ve started receiving subscriptions–there is no way of deflecting the notion that such a creator is selling BATs, acting as a sort of SC4 equivalent of Adobe Creative Cloud.

Community Longevity and Financial Impact on the Userbase

A large part of the reason why there is still an SC4 community active in some form today, over 18 years after the game’s release, is because of the availability of a massive oeuvre of free-to-download content–and more still being developed.  For those of you who have Plugins folders of 1GB or more–consider just how many creators whose content is in that folder.  Chances are, it’s at least dozens.  (And that’s not counting the NAM–over the past 17 years, there’s been north of 100 individual members who have contributed at least some small part to it.)

Imagine now that, instead of getting that content off of free exchanges like the STEX and LEX, you had to subscribe to each of those creators’ Patreon pages for a monthly fee to get a drip feed of that content.  Let’s say you have files from 10 creators, and they’re each charging an average of a mere $1/month to let you access their content.  That’s $10/month–and $120/year–to support your SC4 habit.  It’s like subscribing to yet another streaming service, and one that doesn’t have a lot of shows on it, to boot.

Suffice to say, if everyone was having to pay $10/month (and probably in actuality quite a lot more–the lowest SC4 Patreon tier I’ve seen is $3/month) in order to play a barely-modded version of SC4, I don’t think we’d be here having this conversation.  The vast majority of the community would have been priced out and lost interest long ago.  And if people think the consternation about off-exchange “unofficial” redistribution of files is bad now, just imagine how it would be if there was money involved.

Lack of Financial Gain for Creators

SC4 is an 18-year-old game, in the relatively niche genre of city builders/simulators.  While it does still have an active and very passionate userbase after all these years, it’s a small fraction of what it used to be.  Simply put, if you’re a creator who is wanting to make some money off the work you’re doing making content for SC4, if you’re lucky, you might be able to make a little coffee money.

Face it: you’re in a small market, and effectively “in competition” with almost two decades’ worth of content available for free off the STEX and LEX.  You’re basically asking for EA and/or the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) to hit you with a DMCA-related cease-and-desist, all for a few lousy bucks, and the enmity of a large portion of the small community you’re trying to get to pay you for your work.  The prospect of growing that SC4 market is also going to be hampered considerably if newcomers arrive and see they have to pay for content (though granted, if that puts them off, I doubt that other city builder out there is going to be their cup of tea, either).

Simply put: “BATing for Bucks” is not worth it.

-Tarkus

NAM 39 Now Available

If you haven’t stopped by SC4 Devotion, Simtropolis, or r/simcity4 recently, you may not have heard, but yes, there’s another NAM release ready for your enjoyment, NAM 39. This release marks the long-awaited debut of the new Subway-based draggable implementation of FLUPs (which traces its origins to the early Subway modding experiments by Jonathan/warrior from way back in 2009).

There’s plenty of other features and important fixes in this release as well. The whole feature list is below.

  • New Subway-based draggable implementation of the Flexible Underpass (FLUPs) system added, with FLEX-based network portals (modeled by Girafe) and underground networks for the RealHighway’s RHW-2 and MIS networks. These portals include working nightlights, and options for both Maxis Nite and Dark Nite (selectable under the “Texture and Drive Side Support” section of the installer).
  • Three new draggable “Alternate Viaduct” styles added for the Road Viaducts–Stone Arch, Steel Arch, and Japanese (JPN) Facelift. These new viaducts act as separate networks, and are designed specifically for use as part of short oorthogonal overpasses over orthogonal networks, starting from On-Slope Transitions.  Additionally, the Alternate Viaducts can be overridden by the Street network and some SAM types.
  • A FLEX On-Slope transition (FLEX-OST) has been added for the Hybrid Railway (HRW) FLEX-based dual-network.
  • FLEX On-Slope Transitions (FLEX-OSTs) for the RealHighway (RHW) plugin have been fixed, and now function as intended.
  • Support for 90° R1 “Mini-Curves” (3×3 footprint) has been added for the Road network.
  • Diagonal crossover paths and DIPs (Distilled Intersection Paths) have been added to the diagonals for the Wider RHW networks (courtesy of McDuell and Triple-Tile NWM networks (courtesy of Ganaram Inukshuk), improving capacity and functionality of the diagonal RHW-8S, RHW-10S, RHW-6C, RHW-8C, TLA-7, and AVE-6 networks.
  • Various improvements have been made to the NWM TLA-7/AVE-6-to-Dual-OWR-3 draggable transition, including the addition of proper Distilled Intersection Paths (DIPs) to mitigate capacity issues, along with fixing broken LHD pathing
  • The RULs for the LHD version of the FLEX Turn Lanes (FTL) Type 130 x Type 110 intersections have been improved, to eliminate previous texture and path flipping errors.

NAM 39, like all NAM versions, can be picked up at our three partner sites:

ModDB

Simtropolis

SC4 Devotion

Also, if you stop by ModDB, make sure you vote for the Network Addon Mod in the ModDB Mod of the Year Awards.

-Tarkus

Why Old NAM Versions Are Immediately Discontinued (Spoiler Alert: They’re Rubbish)

The NAM Team has, for longer than I’ve been a part of it (this next February will mark 14 years for me), had a cardinal rule with respect to distribution: only the most recent version is to be available for download and eligible for technical support. We’ve had a few people over the years question us over this policy–including some recently–so I felt it prudent to explain why we’ve had it all these years, and why we have no intention of changing it, compiled from some of my recent posts and replies on the matter.

To be blunt, speaking as someone who is on the credits as an active developer for every release since NAM 21:

Old NAM Versions Are Rubbish.

And if they aren’t rubbish when compared to the current release by any reasonable comparison, then we’re doing something wrong.

This, of course, begs the question: why are old NAM Versions rubbish, and why are we so opposed to their continued existence out in the wild?

The number one reason for our embargo on old NAM releases is, of course, technical support. We’re an all-volunteer team producing a freeware product–and for the past five years, a pretty small team at that. The reason we do this is because we enjoy expanding and improving the array of transportation network content in SimCity 4. Technical support is a responsibility that comes with the territory, but our goal is to minimize our need to provide it to the greatest extent possible, such that we can focus on the labor of love that is developing new versions. To that end, we’ve strictly limited those responsibilities to the most recent version, and go to great lengths with our testing routines (which have really stepped up this year) to ensure that it is a solid product, fixing many bugs and glitches that existed in previous versions in the process.

While, for instance, Microsoft might keep support for old versions of Windows going for a few years, in those cases:

(a) the user of the product paid for it

(b) upgrades to the newest major version usually come at a cost

(c) being a large company, they have paid support staff.

Even with larger open-source projects that might offer “Long-Term Support” (LTS) for old versions, they have a larger staff that can devote some resources to support, and some of those involved in development and/or support might even be getting paid for their involvement. None of this is true of the NAM or the NAM Team.

Why can’t you just make them available, but with a note that they aren’t eligible for support?

Our long history in the SC4 community has shown us that if a file is available, someone will ask for tech support for it. And as evidenced by this recent thread asking for NAM 36 support (some four months after it stopped being supported), even then, it may not stop people. I’ll also note, NAM 36 has a notoriously broken installer, which can occasionally silently skip major files–including the NAM Controller itself–making it that much more of a problem. (Those problems, of course, led to us changing to our current Java-based installer.)

Additionally, back in the early days of my tenure on the NAM Team, when NAM 21 was launched in June 2007, one major site ended up being slow on the uptake, due to their file handling requiring anything larger than 10MB to be hand-uploaded by the webmaster. The result: a rash of users mixing and matching bits of NAM 20 with things that required NAM 21, and wondering why their menu buttons didn’t work and gave them red arrows. Dealing with “red arrow” tech support was basically a full-time job until that site updated their NAM download to NAM 21. And “red arrow” issues remained a nuisance until we went back to the “Monolithic” approach with the notorious NAM 31.

Simply put, even with warnings, old versions are tech support liability, which take time away from the NAM Team’s time spent making new content, and furthering the longevity of the SC4 community in the process.

I’ll also note the fact that the NAM Team does not keep an official archive of old versions. While some individual members may have some lying around on their personal hard drives, with regards to our private file exchange, old NAM versions are thrown out–just like rubbish. Since returning to the “Monolithic NAM” with NAM 31 in 2013, NAM downloads have typically run in the 300-700MB range, with more recent releases being on the upper end of that range (our new installer isn’t as compressed). We have limits on our file exchange space, and old NAM versions would instantly eat it up, for no real benefit.

The only real long-term exception we’ve made to this policy has been with regards to translations–in large part because we are not responsible for providing technical support for them. Hence why it’s still possible to download a German version of NAM 30, and a Spanish version of NAM 17 (actually predating the addition of Roundabouts and Diagonal Streets to the mod, and before there was an installer). Those are, for those languages, the most recent versions.

Ideally, we’d like to have a variety of up-to-date translations of NAM contents and documentation available, making all the great additions of recent releases more accessible to the international community. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been possible for awhile now, as we simply don’t have the resources.

But aren’t older versions easier to use?

This is a myth, through and through. NAM development cycles are not only intended to add more features to the mod, but also, to improve the general user experience.

While the new installer does require Java and the 4GB Patch (which, I might add, had user prompts to install in NAM 32 through 36), which can pose an entry barrier for some, it also eliminates the “installer skipping files” issue that plagued the latter releases with the old installer, and also vastly simplified the installation process for the small-but-very ardent userbase running the game on macOS.

The move away from the old-style puzzle pieces to draggable items and FLEX pieces (individual FLEX pieces are able to handle functions that would require upwards of a dozen old-style puzzle pieces) is also allowing us to provide users with shorter TAB Loops (and eventually, fewer and more streamlined menu buttons). This means that the user is getting more functionality, but with fewer menu items to navigate, subverting the notion that expansion means more complexity. I’ll note, we haven’t added a single old-style puzzle piece to the NAM in over 5 years.

Old NAM releases aren’t necessarily simpler, and indeed, if one goes back to the pre-Monolithic releases, the process involves running multiple installers, and making sure you’re using the correct versions of various plugins with the correct NAM version in order to get everything up and running. Go much farther back than that, and many basic features that NAM users take for granted today–like Roundabouts and Diagonal Streets–didn’t even exist, and manual install was required.

What about features I used in my old cities?

There may be some users who have complained about features “going away” in successive releases, but this is largely a myth. We go to great lengths to ensure that content built with previous versions will work the same or better with the latest version, only breaking that continuity in cases where providing legacy support is simply no longer feasible, or when old features are found in further investigation to be outright broken.

For example, in the late-00s, the old “10x commute” and similar options for the traffic simulator were removed from the NAM, because they were found to not work as advertised. We also killed the Auto Road Turn Lanes with NAM 31, after finding that their implementation would effectively prevent a lot of exciting new features–like Draggable Fractional Angle Roads, Draggable Road Viaducts, and the Network Widening Mod–from being able to operate in a reliable and stable manner.

With NAM 37 and beyond, we have pulled out support for the base Maxis Rail, and for some cosmetic reskin mods that had some semblance of a userbase (the Bullet Train Mod and the Alternate El-Rail), and haven’t yet offered up a suitable replacement for the users who are not on board with the RRW and/or stock Monorail and El-Rail. This is in part due to our needing to prioritize the solution to the existential threat to the NAM Team–runaway development cycles, like what we had with NAM 37. Now that we’ve solved that, we’re able to return to that issue.

Fair Points (and a Solution That Isn’t Rubbish Old NAM Versions)

The fair points that can be brought up are (a) the number of options in the installer (which may be complex to unselect properly to get a more basic installation), and (b) the technical requirements (the larger default NAM Controller requiring the 4GB Patch and a 64-bit OS, requiring users with less RAM and/or on 32-bit OSes to manually compile a Controller themselves).

However, treating old NAM versions as a solution for these users with old NAM versions is foisting upon them all the bugs and inefficiencies of that rubbish.  If this userbase is indeed on the newbie/novice end of the experience scale, as speculated, they’re going to want tech support, and they’re not going to get it with old NAM versions.

So, what is the non-rubbish solution? We’ve been discussing the prospect of a “Lite” version of the NAM. Effectively, “NAM Lite” would be a stripped-down, basic version of the most recent NAM, which would be eligible for tech support, since it’s operating on the same “core” as the full-blast NAM. The matter of just what would go into “NAM Lite” is still an open question, however.

The idea for it would be for it to be something that doesn’t require the 4GB Patch. Most likely, that would mean a very limited RHW, if any RHW at all. It’d also probably mean Maxis Rail instead of RRW, and no MHO. It’s not going to be something designed for advanced/power NAM users.

The prospect of additional “tiers” (i.e. between “Lite” and “Full”, and possibly below “Lite”) is not off the table, either, provided there’s a demonstrated need for it, and the process of assembling these “tiers” doesn’t prove to be a colossal pain in the rear end (which has been one of the concerns expressed with “NAM Lite”–we’re no longer dealing with just one product). We’ve finally dialed things in such that we can release quicker, and the last thing we want to do is inadvertently put the brakes on that.

-Tarkus

NAM 38 Now Available

As difficult as it may be to believe, following the grueling 3-year-long development cycle for NAM 37, NAM 38 is now available, a mere two months after its predecessor.  We’ve been redoubling our efforts on the NAM Team to go for shorter release cycles, and thus far, we’ve done quite well on that front.  Full release notes and download links are below.  Hope you enjoy!

-Tarkus


The NAM Team is pleased to announce the official public release of the 38th edition of the Network Addon Mod, NAM 38.

Download Links
SC4 Devotion LEX (Cross-Platform)

Simtropolis STEX (Cross-Platform)

ModDB (Cross-Platform)

RELEASE NOTES

Note that without the 4GB Patch being properly installed, the game will crash to desktop. REQUIREMENTS

Note that the NTCore 4GB Patch is REQUIRED, and due to the installer change, is no longer installed by default.  The patch can be found inside the download, or downloaded directly from NTCore here, where further instructions on use of the patch can be found.  Also due to this installer change, the NAM Controller Compiler is no longer run as part of the installation process. All users will be initially given a full NAM Controller, which has a substantial size.  Users not using all features wishing to have a smaller controller can still run the Controller Compiler manually, as it is available in the download.  Those on 32-bit versions of Windows should proceed with caution.

The NAM is also now using a Java-based installer, designed by daeley, which is cross-platform (meaning no more separate Mac versions, and Linux support without WINE).  As such, the Java Runtime Environment (JRE) is now REQUIRED to run the NAM installer.  It was previous recommended for users wishing to utilize the NAM Traffic Simulator Configuration Tool (TSCT).  An open source version of Java can be downloaded from here.

Users who fundamentally object to installing Java (or are unable to for other reasons) can perform a manual install, with patience.  Details can be found at the end of this post.

With the new installer, the old NAM installation is no longer removed automatically, so users should manually remove the “Network Addon Mod” and “z___NAM” folders from their Plugins directory. It is recommended, particularly with this Release Candidate, that you back those folders up in a location that is not in your Plugins folder.  The “z___NAM” folder has been eliminated, and all files are now installed to the “Network Addon Mod” directory.

The RealRailway (RRW) standard for Rail is now the default and only option. One may choose to disable the RRW’s more restrictive default slope settings by unselecting the “RRW Tunnel and Slope Parameters” box in the installer.  The original Maxis Rail specification will be supported via a Legacy Plugin, downloaded separately, at a later date. Also note that a number of cosmetic-oriented NAM plugins, such as the El-Rail Alternate Implementation, the Bullet Train Mod, and some advanced texture options (largely deprecated) have been removed from the installer. The Alternate El-Rail and BTM will be made available separately at a later date.  Please note that, much like Maxis Rail, these Plugins are effectively in “Legacy” status, and may not be actively maintained or supported by the NAM Team going forward.  Both the original Maxis Highways (MHW) and the “Maxis Highway Override/Project Symphony” (MHO) remain available.

The Station Locator, Updater, and Reconstruction Project (SLURP) is also no longer handled by the new installer.  A scaled down version of the old installer will be made at a later date to handle SLURP routines.  Users wishing to retain SLURPed stations should retrieve them from the “z___NAM\Mass Transit Lots\Station Overrides” folder in their existing NAM installation, where they will be found in the “Mass Transit Lots” subfolder.  Note that users running the 64-bit version of SimCity 4 on macOS may wish to refrain from retrieving SLURP stations, as there have been some encoding issues with stations that cause that version of the game to CTD.

The new installer also no longer performs a version check.  Please note, however, that for Windows users, Version 1.1.638 and above are still required, as Versions 1.1.610 and 1.1.613 have notable instabilities that may have a significant negative impact on the use of this mod.  Copies purchased from the Origin Store may still not meet this requirement, and support will not be offered to users with “unofficial” copies of the game.

New Features for NAM 38 

  • The L1 (Level 1, 7.5m height) Draggable Road, One-Way Road, and Avenue Viaducts can now form diagonal crossings with the following networks: Street, Road, One-Way Road, Avenue, Rail, Single-Track Rail (STR), Ground Light Rail (GLR), Elevated Light Rail, Monorail, L0 RHW-2, L0 RHW-3, L0 MIS, L0 RHW-4, L0 RHW-6S, L0 RHW-8S, L0 RHW-10S, L0 RHW-6C, L0 RHW-8C, and L1 MIS.  Adjacency stability has been dramatically improved for all L1 Road, One-Way Road, and Avenue Viaduct crossings, and Diagonal FLEX Height Transitions have been added.
  • Diagonal FLEX Height Transitions (FLEX-HT) for the RHW-2, MIS, and RHW-4 have been added (all L0-L1 only).  Note that the RHW-2 version does not automatically produce L1 RHW-2 by dragging out the top–a change that has been extended to the Orthogonal FLEX-HT as well, to improve stability.
  • The Hybrid Railway (HRW) FLEX Piece system has been added. Hybrid Railway tracks allow both Passenger Rail and Monorail/High Speed Rail traffic (designed for use with the future Real High Speed Rail (RHSR)), and also feature overhead catenaries.  Stations, switches, and a base set of L1 Viaducts have been included. Ground HRW allows crossings with Road (OxO), L1 Road Viaduct (OxO and OxD), L1 One-Way Road Viaduct (OxO and OxD), and L1 Avenue Viaduct (OxO and OxD, click in Road stubs to fill in gaps on OxD).  L1 HRW allows undercrossings with all ground-level Maxis, RHW, and NWM networks, plus L0 HRW (OxO only).  To build these crossings, simply drag up to the edge of the HRW tracks, and once the crossing appears, resume dragging the network on the other side.
  • Transitions between different Street sets in the Street Addon Mod (SAM) plugin are now possible, thanks to the addition of a new FLEX Transition piece.
  • New Single-Tile Roundabout FLEX Piece added.  The Single-Tile Roundabout allows for connections to Road and Street, and as the name indicates, takes up less room than the NAM’s other Roundabout options.
  • The Road Roundabouts have become more flexible, allowing double corner connections.  Stability and pathng improvements have also been made.
  • The diagonals for the Wider RHWs have received stability coding improvements.  In addition, a capacity issue with the RHW-6C and RHW-8C diagonals has been addressed.
  • The RHW Disconnector now covers all possible network combinations (including Non-RHW Combinations), allowing for more gentle bulldozing of any network setting.
  • A multitude of pathing issues have been addressed, including a number of paths dating back to the original game, which had somehow escaped both Maxis and the NAM Team for the past 16 years.
  • Some of the overridable Road Multi-Radius Curves (MRCs) added in NAM 37 have been migrated to new Instance IDs (IIDs) and may need to be rebuilt.  This change is designed to better accomodate future expansion of One-Way Road Multi-Radius Curve and Fractional Angle capabilities.
  • The GLR/Tram-in-Road and GLR/Tram-on-Street stations have been restored.

Requirements and Compatibility  The Network Addon Mod will run on any system that meets the minimum system requirements for SimCity 4 Deluxe/Rush Hour.  Most modern PCs should be able to comfortably run the mod, if running a 64-bit operating system.  At least 1.2GB of hard drive space is required, in order to fully unpack the installer, but actual installation size may run from as little as 1.7MB to as much as 850MB, depending on the options chosen  and if one selects to manually run the Controller Compiler after installation.

The Network Addon Mod is compatible with the following versions of the game:

  • A) Retail Windows disc copies of SimCity 4 Deluxe OR SimCity 4 with the Rush Hour Expansion Pack, updated to at least Version 1.1.638.
  • B) Retail Windows digital copies of SimCity 4 Deluxe OR SimCity 4 with the Rush Hour Expansion Pack (Version 1.1.641), from all digital retailers except Origin (i.e. GOG.com, Steam, Amazon).
  • C) Digital Windows copies of SimCity 4 Deluxe obtained redeeming an existing CD key (not purchasing) through Origin Customer Support.
  • D) Retail Mac digital copies of SimCity 4 Deluxe, purchased through Steam or the App Store. (NOTE: Platform-specific technical support for the NAM on macOS is extremely limited).
  • E) Retail Mac disc copies of SimCity 4 Deluxe, running on macOS/OS X Version 10.6 (Snow Leopard) or earlier. (NOTE: Platform-specific technical support for the NAM on macOS is extremely limited.)

The Network Addon Mod is NOT compatible with the following versions of the game:

  • F) Retail disc copies of SimCity 4 Deluxe OR SimCity 4 with the Rush Hour Expansion Pack that have not been patched (Version 1.1.610 or 1.1.613).
  • G) Retail Windows digital copies of SimCity 4 Deluxe purchased from Origin.
  • H) Retail disc copies of non-Deluxe SimCity 4 (sometimes marketed later as “SimCity 4 Classic”), without the Rush Hour Expansion Pack (Version 1.0.272 or earlier)
  • I) Pirated or cracked copies of SimCity 4 Deluxe OR SimCity 4 with the Rush Hour Expansion Pack.

What should I do if the NAM installer rejects my copy of the game?

The new NAM installer (introduced with the NAM 37 Release Candidate) no longer runs a version check.  However, it is strongly recommended that users check the version they are running, as unpatched copies can be unstable.  In Case F, the solution is simply to install the EP1 Update 1 patch, which can be downloaded from EA (SKU 1-5), SimCity 4 Devotion (SKU 1-5), or Simtropolis (SKU 1 and 2 only). To determine the correct SKU version for your copy of SimCity 4, find the installation directory, and look in the subfolder named sku_data.  Alternatively, one can simply try all the SKU versions of the patch, until one works.

For Case G, see the section about Origin below.

For Cases H, I, and J, it is recommended that you purchase a digital copy of SimCity 4 Deluxe (NOT from Origin).

What if my disc copy has simply stopped working with Windows Vista, 7, 8, 8.1, or 10?

Microsoft decided in 2015 that secdrv.sys, the driver file used by the SafeDisc and other disc copy protection systems present in many PC games from the early 2000s, was a security threat. As a result, the driver was not included as part of Windows 10, and Microsoft issued a Windows Update, KB3086255, which disables secdrv.sys on Windows Vista, 7, 8, and 8.1.  In the case of the older versions of Windows, secdrv.sys can be re-enabled when needed through the use of the command prompt or a batch file.

Aside from the advanced step of manually signing a device driver for Windows 10, the only viable courses of action are to either purchase a retail digital copy of the game (NOT from Origin), or to redeem your CD key at no cost via Origin Customer Support (which, unlike purchasing from Origin, will result in you receiving a properly-patched version of SimCity 4 Deluxe).

Note that cracked executables (i.e. a “No CD” .exe) are not eligible for tech support.  The NAM Team does not support piracy, but understands the frustration with the game’s original DRM system being blocked by Microsoft, forcing one to buy a new digital copy in order to continue playing.  However, the reason why cracked executables are not eligible is for more practical reasons, namely the potential for version mismatches (i.e. a Version 1.1.638 crack with Version 1.1.610/613 .DAT files, or vice-versa), which can greatly complicate the team’s efforts to provide useful technical support to users.  The Origin issues played a role in our keeping the version check in place, until the recent installer change in 2020.

Please note that if you are attempting to use an old, 32-bit version of Windows in order to still run your disc game, this will substantially hamper the performance of the game with the full NAM installed, and it is highly recommended that you run the game on a 64-bit operating system. If you must run on a 32-bit OS, you will most likely need to manually run the Controller Compiler and install a smaller feature set. (The RealHighway (RHW) system is by far the largest part of the NAM.)

Notice to Users Who Purchased a Digital Copy from Origin 

Aside from a brief period in 2014-2015, Origin, the digital retail platform run by Electronic Arts (EA), has been selling defective copies of SimCity 4 Deluxe to retail customers.  As of the release of NAM 38, this appears to still be the case.  Unlike the retail versions sold by GOG.com, Steam, and Amazon (the “Thin Game Download” version), which come pre-patched to Version 1.1.641, the Origin retail copy is Version 1.1.610.  By virtue of switching out the original SafeDisc copy protection for their own DRM, Origin altered the checksum of the game’s executable, which prevents the EP1 Update 1 patcher–a piece of software they made–from running.  This not only prevents the NAM from being installed, but leaves Origin retail copies with all the bugs that the developers fixed in 2003.  It also prevents first-party content creation tools like the Building Architect Tool (BAT) from being installed.  In effect, the Origin retail copy is unpatched and unpatchable.

The NAM Team recommends you contact Origin Customer Support about obtaining a refund, even after the return period has expired, as users have had success in this case.  If you are among the users who are saddled with the unpatched and unpatchable Origin retail version, the team would also appreciate hearing from you, as we have a strong desire to see Origin give their customers a properly-patched copy of the game, and are trying to document just how many users are affected.

Strangely, copies obtained by redeeming an existing CD key at no cost with Origin Customer Support (Case C) are properly patched, despite what the same support team routinely tells those who bought copies and received defective Version 1.1.610 digital copies.

In short:

  • Free copy from Origin Support for CD Key Redemption: Properly patched (1.1.641)
  • Purchased copy from Origin Store/Origin Access: Unpatched and unpatchable (1.1.610)

For a more detailed assessment of the Origin situation, NAM developer Tarkus has written extensively on the subject at his blog, SimTarkus.

Note to Mac Users

Aspyr recently issued an update to their port of SimCity 4 Deluxe for macOS, updating it from a 32-bit app to a 64-bit one on both Steam and the App Store, allowing it to be compatible with macOS Catalina (10.15) and later.  This change has introduced a number of quirks, however.

Most notably, it has changed the key combination for cycling through TAB Loops under the NAM’s various buttons.  Instead of using TAB to move forward, and Shift-TAB to move in reverse, Mac users must now use Ctrl-TAB to move forward, and Ctrl-Shift-TAB to move in reverse.  While TAB and Shift-TAB will allow one to move through the TAB Loop, these keys/combinations will cause some pieces under the buttons to be skipped.

Furthermore, the changes have also broken simmaster07’s SC4MacInjector, which allowed DLL plugins–including SC4Fix.dll (which addressed the puzzle piece/TE Lot CTDs)–to run on macOS.  As such, these fixes no longer work on Mac, and users should exercise caution when placing stations in the vicinity of static puzzle pieces.

Additionally, the installation procedure for the NAM varies depending on if one is using the Steam version or the App Store version.

With the Steam version, the NAM will install into the correct location by default: /Users/{username}/Documents/SimCity 4/Plugins/.

With the App Store version, after running the installer, move “Network Addon Mod” folder from the default install location to /Users/{username}/Library/Containers/com.aspyr.simcity4.appstore/Data/Documents/SimCity 4/Plugins/.

Preparing to Install The NAM
Instructions for All Users

When one initially opens the NAM package after downloading, there will be several items present, besides the document you are now reading: the installer itself is NetworkAddonMod_Setup_Version38.jar. 4gb_patch.exe is the NTCore 4GB Patch, the Controller Compiler folder contains the NAM Controller Compiler, the Documentation is loose in the folder (and in the “feature-guides”, “images”, and “old” folders– this has not been substantially updated since NAM 36), and the Traffic Simulator Configuration Tool folder, which contains the Traffic Simulator Configuration Tool (TSCT).

NetworkAddonMod_Setup_Version38.jar is the NAM Installer, which you will need to run to install the NAM.  If User Access Control (UAC) is enabled on your system, Windows may ask you to approve running the file with a simple “Yes”/”No” prompt.  Click “Yes” to allow the installer to run.

In order to progress through the installer, simply click on each tab.  Note that the license agreement must be agreed to before subsequent tabs can be accessed.  The “Cleanup” tab allows one to remove any residual files from old NAM releases, and pre-NAM transit mods that might cause conflicts, and is loaded with the old Cleanitol list that shipped with NAM 36.

Upgrading from a Previous Version

If you are upgrading from a previous version of the NAM, MANUALLY MOVE YOUR OLD NAM INSTALLATION OUT FROM YOUR PLUGINS FOLDER, INTO A SAFE LOCATION (note that this has changed from previous NAM releases)..  The NAM installer can no longer detect your previous installation options by reading the existing folder structure.  It is recommended that you check your existing installation, to determine which features you presently have installed.

Generally speaking, the NAM Team makes every effort to ensure that new versions at least retain some form of “legacy support”, such that cities built with any previous NAM version will continue to function well with the latest version.

If you have consolidated your NAM files using a tool such as SC4DatPacker or JDatPacker, please read the appropriate section below.

Running The Installer   

Installer Options 

The NAM Installer allows for many different types of installation–with the current NAM installation, custom installation is the only option, though the most common installation is set to be the default.  Note that right-side driving (AKA RHD) and US textures are the default. A base Euro texture option remains available, and both the US and EU options are available for left-side driving (AKA LHD) as well.

A Note About Drive Side (RHD vs. LHD)

While the NAM Installer, as noted above, has a series of checkboxes in Custom Installation relating to drive side, it is worth re-iterating that these boxes only change the compatibility files installed with the NAM, and do NOT change drive side.  If you have an installation with Right-Hand Driving (RHD, vehicles driving on the right side of roads–this concept is NOT the same as the side one sits on when driving a vehicle) and wish to switch to Left-Hand Driving (LHD, vehicles driving on the left side of roads), this generally needs to be done either by adjusting the game’s locale files, and then either editing the game’s Windows registry entries, or by modifying the game’s shortcut.

The new NAM Installer cannot determine default drive side of your installation, so make note of which side vehicles drive on in your game prior to installation. If you have changed your drive side by modifying the game’s shortcut, instead of editing the Windows registry, then this would be the one and only case when changing the box checked here would be needed.

A Note About the “4GB Patch”

Due to changes in computer systems, and continued expansions of the NAM’s main Controller file, in 2013, it was determined that many newer systems, particularly those with more than 4GB of RAM, and running 64-bit versions of Windows, need additional accommodation.  To that end, the NAM includes a “4GB Patch”, also known as a “Large Address Aware (LAA) Patch”, which allows the game to access the full 4GB of RAM that a 32-bit application can read, instead of the default 2GB.  The NAM’s patch was designed by NTCore, and built into the NAM with permission, and users with systems that need the patch will receive a prompt during NAM installation to install it.  The original patch can be found here.

The only thing this patch does is to switch the Large Address Aware switch, an accessible switch present in all Windows executables, from “off” to “on” for the game’s executable.  Patches like this are common in game modding communities, including those associated with Skyrim, Fallout, and Morrowind, and can be used to enhance any 32-bit application’s performance on systems with 64-bit operating systems and a suitable amount of RAM.

The default directory for where SimCity 4.exe may be located depends on how and where you purchased your copy of the game.

  • GOG.com: C:\GOG Games\SimCity 4 Deluxe Edition\Apps
  • Steam: C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\SimCity 4 Deluxe\Apps
  • Original Disc: C:\Program Files (x86)\Maxis\SimCity 4 Deluxe\Apps
  • Origin*: C:\Program Files (x86)\Maxis\SimCity 4 Deluxe\Apps

*Note that only Origin copies acquired through Free CD Key Redemption (Version 1.1.641) are compatible with the NAM.  Copies purchased through the Origin Store or accessed via Origin Access (Version 1.1.610) ARE NOT COMPATIBLE.  See here for more details.

Running the Controller Compiler 

If you are an advanced user, and would like to trim down your installation of the NAM on the Mac platform, it is still possible to run the NAM Controller Compiler (a cross-platform application) after installing the NAM. Extract/open the “Controller Compiler” folder, and double-click the file “NAMControllerCompiler.jar”. Select the ‘input’ folder “Network Addon Mod/Controller/” from the current “Controller Compiler” directory, and the ‘output’ folder “~/Documents/SimCity 4/Plugins/Network Addon Mod/” inside your plugins.

For the rest, follow the instructions of the compiler.

Regarding “DatPacking” and File Consolidation Post-Installation 

Programs to consolidate folders worth of SimCity 4 .DAT files, such as SC4DatPacker (Windows) and JDatPacker (cross-platform), are popular options known to improve game performance, given SimCity 4’s preference to read a smaller number of larger files, instead of a larger number of small files–a fact determined by the BSC Team’s “Miramba Experiment” of 2006.  The use of “DatPacking” programs on one’s NAM installation, however, is a controversial topic.  The NAM Team’s general advice is for Windows users to avoid DatPacking (unless one is extremely careful, while for Mac users, the use of JDatPacker is virtually required.

In general, if one plans to DatPack one’s NAM installation, they should also save the pre-DatPacked NAM folder in a safe place, outside the Plugins folder beforehand. The reason for this is to avoid potential conflicts and issues, such as the “dual icon bug” and Controller file conflicts between new and old installations, as well as to make it such that one knows which options they have installed when upgrading to a new version, or re-installing the same version with different options.

In the case of the Aspyr port for the Mac platform (both App Store and Steam versions), it possesses a strange quirk in which exceeding a certain number of files or folders (regardless of size) in the Plugins folder can cause game slowdowns or even crashing-to-desktop (CTD).  To this end, using JDatPacker after installing the NAM on a Mac is a necessity, in order to ensure proper game performance.  Again, however, one should save their pre-DatPacked NAM installation in a safe place, outside the Plugins folder, to make for easy upgrades.

Uninstalling the NAM 

To uninstall the files, simply bulldoze every NAM item from this download in your cities and remove the files from the Plugins folder afterwards, which will be contained in Plugins\Network Addon Mod by default.

Changing Options After Initial Installation 

The NAM is a very expansive mod, with a substantial number of features, which may initially prove overwhelming to those not well-versed in its workings.  The NAM Team anticipates that users, particularly those new to the NAM, may want to change the feature set they have installed, as they learn more about the mod’s contents and capabilities.

To that end, we encourage users to keep the installer for the current version handy after initial installation.  If you plan to change your particular set of options, you will need to remove your current installation.  Moving it out of Plugins to a safe location is recommended, in case you want to keep your existing settings as a backup.

Manual Installation – Advanced

Users who are unable or unwilling to install Java can perform a manual installation of the NAM, something which the new file architecture introduced in 2020 makes far more possible than the previous “Monolithic” releases.

This method requires a file decompression tool capable of opening .jar files, such as 7-zip (Windows) or Keka (macOS).  To begin, open NetworkAddonMod_Setup_Version38.jar using your file decompression tool.
The NAM’s contents are located in the “installation” subfolder. The current installer uses a series of character flags at the start of directory names, in order to instruct the installer how to order the options, whether they’re mandatory or optional, etc.

Numbers preceded by the dollar sign (“$”), i.e. “$1”, “$2”, etc., are merely being ordered with this flag.

Any directory with the caret (“^”) in front of the name (or behind a “$” ordering flag) is mandatory.

Any directory with the exclamation mark (“!”) in front of the name (or behind a “$” ordering flag) is not installed by default.

Any options where the equal sign (“=”) and the dash (“-“) are present are mutually exclusive–only one should be installed (the “=” option is the default).
The “$1^Core” directory is required.  All other folders have options within them.  With “4_Automata Controller#”, “7_Texture and Drive Side Support”, and “8_Traffic Simulator#”, simply select one of the options inside and discard the rest, as these are straight up mutually exclusive one another.

The Automata Controller basically affects the display of the visual traffic in-game–Standard is going to be the lightest, while Radical is going to be the heaviest, Persistent makes the automata visuals last longer, and the 24-Hour modifiers handle whether the display is constant, or follows the data for the 24-Hour clock in-game.

The Texture and Drive Side Support includes four options, depending on whether you want to use US/North American textures or Euro/International Textures, and the drive side of your game (RHD or LHD, which should match your selection for the NAM Controller).

With the Traffic Simulator, these are ordered by the “$1” and the like in order of lowest capacity option to highest. Medium is the default.

With 5_DataView Options#, there’s two subfolders. Both are just straight up options, with nothing mutually exclusive. You can probably just leave this one as is, unless you really don’t like the Data View changes.

With 6_Miscellaneous, the two mutually exclusive options to watch out for are Extended Station Queries (there’s four options in there–very subtle differences between them), and Maxis Transit Lots\Airport Capacity Adjustment#, which has three options (Default, Medium, and Large). And the Hole Diggers and Raisers are very much recommended–they have lots of use outside regular NAM usage, too.

With 3_Additional Transit Stations, this depends on if you want more transit stations beyond the game’s default, and what the NAM adds by default for certain additional override networks. There should be no harm in either adding this one in whole, or leaving it out altogether, and if there’s certain added stations you like/don’t like, you can go in and customize this later.

2_Additional Network Features is by far the biggest area of the installer. This contains all the actual network feature addons in the mod. Most networks/network groups will have a “Base Features” folder, which really ought to be mandatory, as it contains a lot of the NAM’s basic additions to each network, along with any Wide Radius/Multi Radius Curves and Fractional Angles, as well as Roundabout options for the various road-type networks.

The main “mutually exclusive” option to look out for here is with the Maxis Highways (there’s two options–$1=Default Style, which keeps the Maxis Highways’ default look and adds the NAM’s additions for it, or $2-Maxis Highway Override (RHW-Style), which completely reskins the Maxis Highways, removes access to the default interchanges, and replaces them with RHW-style modular interchange functionality and a few new ploppable interchanges. Using the RealHighway (RHW) option is pretty much mandatory if you’re going this route).

The other ones to watch out for are in Water Transport, where the Canal Addon Mod (CAN-AM) has two mutually-exclusive styles ($1=Callagrafx Style and $2-SimGoober Style), and there’s also quite a few “non-default” options in Roads, One-Way Roads, and Avenues.

Those three non-default options are !Legacy Auto Avenue Turn Lanes (these are the old auto-turn lanes that appear on Avenue x Avenue intersections–largely considered “deprecated” now, as they can interfere with some newer functionality), !Legacy Semi-Auto Road Turn Lanes (the “semi-auto” replacement for the old auto-turn lanes on Road x Road intersections, which now appear by clicking over Road x Road + and T-intersections with the One-Way Road tool, also somewhat “deprecated” now), and !One-Way Road Arrow Plugins. These Arrow Plugins are mostly just a matter of taste, and, despite the folder naming, actually supposed to be mutually exclusive. “Elimination” gets rid of the arrows entirely, “Reduction” hides some of them (and actually impacts the base functionality of the OWR network to some degree), while “Single Arrows” replaces the default double arrows with just a single arrow (which looks nicer on the NWM networks).

The rest of 2_Additional Network Features is pretty self-explanatory, though micromanagement of these options is not recommended, since it is possible to produce a broken installation this way. RealRailway is the only/default option for Rail now, it’s best to go all or nothing on RealHighways (RHW) and the Road, One-Way Road, and Avenue folder’s “Additional Widths and Turn Lanes” option (which contains the Network Widening Mod and FLEX Turn Lanes). And if something says “Legacy” but it’s not prefixed with “!”, it’s probably safest to install it, as it pertains to being able to keep certain older, deprecated content working, if you’ve built it with previous versions.

“Where’s the .exe?” – Why NAM 37 Ditched It For the .jar

The NAM Team, after almost 3 years of what is affectionately known in the software and media world as “development hell“, finally released NAM Version 37 earlier this month.  This new release brought a number of significant changes, including a new installer and a new file architecture.  In this regard, it’s probably the most dramatic change the NAM has seen since the installer was first introduced with NAM 19, almost 15 years ago (September 2005!), and the infamous NAM 31 release (AKA “NAM Vista”) from March 2013.  Unlike NAM 31, however, aside from some user confusion regarding some of the changes, the new version itself has proven astonishingly solid–solid enough that the usual cadre of users who download the NAM “just for the bugs” (much like those who watch NASCAR races “just for the wrecks”) are bored out of their skulls.

The two main sources of user confusion are, of course, the new installer itself, and the requirement to patch the game with a Large Address Aware (LAA) patch, also known as a “4GB Patch”.  This post is primarily designed to address the former, though in doing so, must inevitably cover the latter.

Indeed, one of the questions we’ve encountered regarding the installer has been a simple, almost existential one: “where’s the .exe?”

The answer to that question is that there is no .exe installer for NAM 37.  Instead, since we are now using a Java-based installer, the NAM 37 installer is a .jar file.

This answer, of course, has provoked more questions, and there are segments of our userbase who are probably thinking, “why abandon something that’s worked for the NAM for so many years?”  The truth of the matter, however, is that our .exe installer hasn’t “worked for us” for some time now, and recent releases and our experiences during NAM 37’s protracted development cycle effectively required that we jettison it.

Since the introduction of installers to the NAM ecosystem with NAM 19, courtesy of long-time community Renaissance man Andreas Roth, the NAM Team has religiously used the open-source Nullsoft Scriptable Install System–better known simply as NSIS–whose end product is the familiar Windows executable (.exe) file.  NSIS provided us a more robust system than the infamous Clickteam Installers that are the bane of many modern-day SC4 players installing custom content, in addition to providing extremely efficient LZMA compression–the same algorithm that powers 7-zip’s .7z format.  With the move back to the “Monolithic NAM” paradigm (albeit in a greatly expanded form) with NAM 31, our NSIS scripts were given a massive overhaul by z, the architect of the current version of the NAM’s Traffic Simulator Plugins.  That overhaul incorporated a number of highly advanced NSIS features–including quite a few that aren’t even documented by the system’s developers, to allow for things like checking the user’s game version, or if they had certain transit stations installed in their Plugins folder.  (And if you’re curious to see it, here is the NAM 36 version of it–it’s almost 7200 lines long.)

When z had to retire from NAM development, during the NAM 33 cycle, the task of maintaining and updating that highly advanced script fell to those of us still left on the development team–which contracted considerably during that marathon cycle.  And while there were a handful of us who had worked with NSIS before, there were so many moving parts and complexities in the “Monolithic NAM” script–and with that formulation of the Monolithic NAM itself–that, over time, with each addition, things became more and more broken.  The issue of crosslinks between various either/or options (i.e. Maxis Rail vs. RealRailway, Maxis Highway vs. Maxis Highway Override, Monorail vs. Bullet Train, Default El-Rail vs. El-Rail Alternate Implementation, etc.), as well as the dizzying array of texture options in the mod at that time, were already a storm in the making, and they quickly escalated.

With the long-lived NAM 36 release, we routinely began to encounter tech support cases in which users somehow ended up missing critical core NAM files after installation, including the Individual Network RULs file and the NAM Controller–two of the most critical files in the mod, which effectively allow the placement of all the NAM’s additions to the game’s transportation networks.  The installer was seemingly developing a mind of its own, and surreptitiously skipping these files during the installation process at least some of the time.  It had effectively become a ticking time bomb in terms of when it would break entirely, and it became obvious we needed to replace it.

On top of all this was the matter of support for users running non-Windows OSes, particularly the small but very passionate contingent running macOS/OS X.  Long-time readers of SimTarkus know the checkered history of the NAM and macOS in recent years.  From NAM 19 up through NAM 30, the NAM had separate “Windows” and “Mac” versions–the former used the installer, while the latter was simply a .zip for manual installation.  The massive increase of structural complexity with NAM 31, however, meant that manual install was basically impossible (even for members of the dev team!), and our ability to provide a suitable installation experience for the Mac userbase between NAM 31 and NAM 36 depended on (a) no weird CTD-causing file encoding issues caused by Apple or Aspyr changes to the OS or the game, (b) having a team member or sufficiently technical community member with access to a Mac (memo for NAM 32, no one for NAM 33, Mero90 for NAM 34, and me for NAM 35 and 36), and perhaps most critically, (c) our reliance on Wineskin (the “Mac” version was literally the Windows installer wrapped in a Wineskin layer) and its compatibility with the latest versions of macOS/OS X.  That latter point became a serious problem beginning with macOS High Sierra, and became completely unreliable for Mojave–Catalina’s even more massive changes (which SC4 itself unplayable for a time) were insurmountable.

With NAM 37’s development being seemingly interminable, we initially planned to limp our NSIS installer along for one more release, and replace it for NAM 38.  The first build of NAM 37–Alpha Build 01 (“a01” in NAM speak), dating back to March 31, 2019–used the NSIS installer.  Unfortunately, the changes between NAM 36 and this initial stage of NAM 37 ended up proving fatal–the NAM 37 a01 installer absolutely refused to install the NAM Controller and other key files almost 100% of the time, and the complexity of the script made the prospect of fixing this issue virtually impossible.

We did, however, have a ready-made solution in hand–a Java-based installer that long-time NAM and BSC member Daeley (of Daeley’s Advanced Menu Navigator (DAMN) fame) had worked up way back in 2010, based off his work for the former SC4 Devotion LEX DVD.  While this system couldn’t support anything as complex as our old NSIS installer, it had the distinct advantage of being completely scriptless, instead using character combination flags in front of directory names to handle the various options.  This meant that with the right file architecture, the release engineering process would be effectively painless, and could be handled by virtually anyone on the team, if need be.  Additionally, it also meant that we could use a single installer for all OSes, finally allowing us to handle macOS without issue.

There were a few drawbacks we knew we would encounter with this system–two particularly big.  The first, effectively minor one, meant that with all the “either/or” options that had plagued the NSIS-based Monolithic NAM, we would effectively need to whittle those down to just one, jettisoning the others from the main part of the mod itself.  We conducted a poll at Simtropolis in April 2019, which, along with an earlier such poll from 2013, determined that the “Maxis Highway or Maxis Highway Override” either/or option would be the only left standing in NAM 37, being that our userbase was nearly in a 50/50 split between the two options.

Here are the 2019 poll results (146 responses):

Additional/Custom Bridges 117 87.97%
Diagonal Streets 117 87.97%
Street Addon Mod (SAM) 115 86.47%
Network Widening Mod (NWM) 114 85.71%
Rail Viaducts 112 84.21%
PedMalls 111 83.46%
Flexible Underpasses (FLUPs) 109 81.95%
Elevated Road Networks 106 79.70%
RealHighway Mod (RHW) 106 79.70%
Wide-Radius Curves (WRC) and Multi-Radius Curves (MRC) 106 79.70%
One-Way Road Arrow Mods 105 78.95%
RealRailway (RRW) 105 78.95%
Ground Light Rail (GLR)/Tram 103 77.44%
FLEX Turn Lanes (FTL) and QuickTurn 99 74.44%
Ground Light Rail/Tram Dual Networking (i.e. GLR-in-Avenue, etc.) 99 74.44%
Fractional Angled Networking (FAN) 96 72.18%
Turn Lane Extension Pieces (TuLEPs) 96 72.18%
Elevated Rail-over-Road/Avenue Dual Networking 87 65.41%
Single-Track Rail (STR) [RealRailway Version] 86 64.66%
Maxis Highway Override (Project Symphony) 70 52.63%
Underground Rail (URail) 63 47.37%
High Elevated El-Rail and High Elevated Monorail/BTM 62 46.62%
Elevated Rail Alternate Implementation 60 45.11%
Rural Roads Plugin (RuRP) 60 45.11%
High Speed Rail Project (HSRP) 55 41.35%
Auto/Semi-Auto Turn Lanes (the old ones) 47 35.34%
Euro Textures 47 35.34%
Maxis Highway (Standard) Interchanges and Ramps 45 33.83%
Alternate Road Texture Sets (beyond standard US or Euro) 42 31.58%
Canal Addon Mod (CAN-AM) 41 30.83%
Bullet Train Mod (BTM) 36 27.07%
Maxis Rail Features (Legacy/Non-RRW) 32 24.06%
Single-Track Rail (STR) [Maxis Rail Version] 16 12.03%
None of the above 0 0.00%

 

And the 2013 poll results (459 responses):

Roundabouts and Other Non-Highway Interchanges (87.9%)
Diagonal Streets (85.7%)
Wide Radius Curves (85.1%)
Network Widening Mod (NWM) (83.8%)
Street Addon Mod (83.3%)
Real Highway Mod (RHW) (82.0%)
NAM Custom Bridges (81.1%)
Turning Lanes (80.5%)
Flexible Underpasses (FLUPs) (76.3%)
One-Way Arrow Mods (75.0%)
NAM Transit Stations (73.5%)
Elevated Road Networks (70.4%)
Fractionally Angled Networks (FANs) (70.4%)
Ground Light Rail / Tram (69.7%)
TuLEPS (69.5%)
Ped Malls (67.3%)
Custom Road Textures and Markings (65.4%)
Real Highway Regional Transport View (62.9%)
Viaduct Rail (61.8%)
Maxis Highway Interchange & Ramp Additions (53.3%)
Single Track Rail (STR) (52.6%)
Extended Station Queries (the large NAM style) (51.5%)
El Rail over Road Networks (50.4%)
Maxis Highway Override (Project Symphony) (49.8%)
Rural Roads Plugin (47.1%)
High Speed Rail Project (HSRP) (42.1%)
El Rail Alternate Implementation (37.3%)
Underground Rail (35.5%)
Bullet Train Mod (BTM) (33.1%)
Double-Height Elevated Rail (31.8%)
Canal Addon Mod (CAN-AM) (25.7%)
Double-Height Monorail / Bullet Train Mod (25.2%)

The matter of the new installer being Java-based and requiring the Java Runtime Environment (JRE) was something we expected might come as a slight shock (side note–the best versions of the JRE out there are AdoptOpenJDK’s builds), but the simple fact of the matter is that, ever since the Controller Compiler debuted in NAM 32 (January 2014), where it was run by our NSIS installer, Java has been an integral part of the NAM installation process.  The Controller Compiler–as well as the Traffic Simulator Configuration Tool (TSCT)–are Java-based utilities.

The bigger downsides, however, were the fact that the new installer did not have the ability to call the Controller Compiler, which meant we had to install a full-blast NAM Controller by default.  And with the various upgrades to adjacency stability, especially on the RHW end, the NAM Controller now ran 281MB–a size which requires the user use the 4GB Patch, or risk CTDs (unless they wish to manually run the Controller Compiler and whittle down their options).  And we also could not automatically call the 4GB Patch, either.  Our hope was that, since the last few versions of the NAM (including NAM 36) had prompted users to install the 4GB Patch if they didn’t already have it applied, that they would already have it in place when they installed NAM 37.  Unfortunately, that patch option included an “opt-out”, and it appears a number of users either chose to opt out, or have reinstalled/changed to a different version of the game (i.e. going from CD to GOG or Steam) without patching their new installation, so we’ve encountered a few of these cases–though those have usually been easily rectified.

Speaking as an architect of this whole process, overall, I’m actually pleasantly surprised by how smooth the rollout of NAM 37 has been–especially having lived through the NAM 31 debacle.  And as both the development team and the users become more familiar with this system, we can better document the answers to the questions that come up, and it permits more frequent releases (while we don’t publicize release dates, it’s very safe to say that NAM 38 will not take another 3 years, especially as we’ve gone to an Agile-style development approach post-NAM 37), I suspect some of the initial wariness toward these changes will wane, and the .jar will be as accepted as our old .exe was.

-Tarkus

NAM 37 Now Available

After almost 3 years, we’ve finally done it.  NAM 37’s official release has arrived at all three of our official distribution points: SC4 Devotion, Simtropolis, and ModDB.  You can read all about it here.  On behalf of the whole NAM Team, we hope you enjoy this new release!

-Tarkus

NAM 37 Release Candidate Now Available at SC4 Devotion

At long last, the marathon development cycle for NAM 37, at just over 2 1/2 years, is coming to a close.  We’ve gone ahead and issued a public Release Candidate build (NAM 37 RC), which represents the very-close-to-final state of this new version of the mod, allowing the community a chance to see what we’ve been up to in all this time.  (And yes, we’ve actually been developing this entire time.  It’s just that pictures of RealRailways with bits of Maxis Rail sticking out of them, or pictures of file architecture schemes, aren’t very exciting for general public to look at–heck, they’re not exciting for us to look at, either.)

All the details on NAM 37 RC can be found here, including the download link.  The support thread is here. Note that this release is set up quite drastically different than many in recent memory, as it uses a new Java-based installer, designed by daeley, which is actually cross-platform.  (Yes, Mac users, you can stop wondering–the station-related CTDs that were reported with the new 64-bit version of the port have even been addressed.)

Hope you enjoy!

-Tarkus

 

SC4 Devotion is once again open

As of just a few hours ago, the domain transfer went through, and SC4 Devotion is once again fully online.  Thank you to everyone in the SC4 community for their patience and support–it’s great to be back.

-Tarkus

What’s Up With NAM 37 and SC4 Devotion? Mid-August 2019 Edition

If you’ve been following the SC4 community of late, there’s been two very noticeable things: a lack of news related to the Network Addon Mod, and a rollercoaster of uptime and downtime at SC4 Devotion, one of the two major English-language SC4 sites that remains.  As someone who is involved with both behind the scenes, I thought I’d shed a bit more light on where things currently stand on both fronts.

What’s up with NAM 37?  Is it still in development, or is the project dead?

NAM 37 has been in development since the release of NAM 36, back in September 2017, almost 2 years ago.  Features that had been planned for it have actually been in the works since before that.  There is still very much a will to continue, but there’s been additional setbacks since my last post on the matter in March.

We did finally reach the point of having Alpha Build 01 for NAM 37 distributed to our internal testing group, the NAM Associates, but the recent issues with the installer having a mind of its own came to a head–the installer for the alpha build would often surreptitiously skip over some of the most critical files needed for the mod, including all of the main RUL files that make the mod’s added transport network functionality actually work.  More troublingly, the installer proceeded to act as if everything was normal while it completely failed to do its job, and the logs gave no clue as to why it was skipping these files.

The team had already been planning on ditching the existing installer system for NAM 38, after trying to nurse the old one along for one more release, but with the old one completely going GLaDOS, we decided it was necessary to accelerate the timeline for implementing the new installer, rolling it out to the public for NAM 37, which also meant that Alpha Build 02 for NAM 37 also needed to be running the new installer as well.

The new installer is based off a 10-year-old prototype from daeley (of DAMN fame), and is a cross-platform system written in Java–thereby also eliminating a major technical support issue that we were not at all equipped to deal with: installation questions from users playing the game on a Mac.  It’s also scriptless, thereby making the procedure for generating installers for future NAM releases much simpler.

That said, the new system is requiring that we change some things with the file architecture of the mod, and we are also having to rethink how critical things like installing the 4GB Patch (necessary to avoid CTDs on more powerful machines) and compiling the NAM Controller will work under the new system.  The architecture was largely solved by the end of April, but NAM development/testing had to go on hiatus immediately after that, for reasons I’ll describe in a moment.  That hiatus happened before we could solve the 4GB Patch and Controller-related matters.

For those expecting NAM 37 to be a huge release after all this time, I would also advise tempering one’s expectations.  It’s not a particularly substantial release–just one that’s faced an incredible number of roadblocks, on its way to having the longest development cycle of any NAM release to date.

What’s up with SC4 Devotion?

An internal situation (which I can’t fully discuss here at this time) ended up happening at the upper levels of SC4 Devotion, right around the same time that the NAM Team was dealing with the aforementioned issues.  This situation also happened to coincide with a number of technical issues (which could not have been timed worse–not that there’s ever a good time for such things), which knocked the forums and/or the LEX for extended periods between April and June.

The prospect of the site shutting down was a very real possibility–the only way under which it could survive is if the site was transferred to new ownership.  The senior staff debated the best way to handle the situation internally for a fairly lengthy period of time, and ultimately, I ended up having to unexpectedly assume control of the site, also at a rather inconvenient time–just as I was moving.

As of writing, the site is fully moved onto its new home, and is functional, but the domain name is still in the process of being transferred.  The request was placed on August 10th.  The old server was extended multiple times, to facilitate the move, but it will be shut off for good on August 19th.  The forums were shut down on the old server early on August 2nd, so as to prevent anyone from making additional posts, thereby requiring yet another database transfer.  They will remain closed until the “new” SC4D is fully operational.  The LEX remains operational on the old server–there is no way for us to lock it down–though any uploads or comments after August 2nd are not in the database on the new server, and won’t transfer.

I’ve managed to retrieve the one file that was unfortunately uploaded after that date, though I cannot re-upload it until the new site is officially operating as sc4devotion.com.  There are reCAPTCHAs on the registration pages and also on uploads, and since our temporary URL does not have a key, things there are non-functional until then.

SC4 Devotion also happens to be the nerve center for the NAM Team’s developmental and testing operations, so this has further impacted the ability to get to the last phases of the NAM 37 cycle.  The hope is that I will be able to return to working on the new installer system after the “new” SC4D is fully open to the public, and that internal testing can resume in September.

Thank you to everyone for your support through this difficult time in the SC4 community–here’s to hoping for better times in the very near future.

-Tarkus

 

What’s Up With NAM 37, And With MacOS High Sierra/Mojave Support?

I’ve been fielding a lot of questions lately about the future plans for the NAM, given the relative quietude in recent months, and also questions from the small-but-ardent Mac fanbase as to what will be happening with support for the newer versions of macOS, so I thought I would put together this Q&A to hopefully shed some light on the latest developments.

1. So, when is NAM 37 being released?

The answer to that is pretty much the same as it always is for the NAM: there is no scheduled release date or timeline for release.  We like to surprise people.

And if anyone wonders why that is, remember back 6 years ago, to March 2013.  Just a few days before the infamously disastrous launch of the 2013 “reboot” of SimCity, the NAM Team had its own infamously disastrous launch with NAM 31, which, for the first time ever, had a publicly announced release date: March 1st, 2013.  That date was chosen to re-assure the city-simulation community of the NAM Team’s commitment to SimCity 4, in the wake of a new title in the series releasing, and it also led to a rather delightful GIF-based promotional campaign, since March 1st (by US date format) happens to be 3/1.

NAM 31 Promo GIF

NAM 31 Promo GIF/wishful thinking from 2013.

The end result, however, was an unmitigated disaster.  There were some late issues that arose, prompting a lot of internal insanity, which resulted in the release actually coming a day later, on March 2nd, and it still ended up being a glitchy nightmare that required three months of non-stop bugfixing to address, and the embarrassment of having to still distribute NAM 30 (yuck!) for a time.  The whole experience only served to reinforce the merits of not announcing a release date.

2. What has been responsible for the prolonged development cycle?

This development cycle has been absolutely plagued by two things: a number of inexplicable technical setbacks with the various projects that have been proposed to be part of NAM 37, and an especially heavy dose of RL (“real life”, for the uninitiated).  The development team has actually grown slightly since NAM 36, but despite this, the main core of the dev team (still in single digits in terms of membership) has, at times, been completely out of commission due to RL, which makes going forward with large projects with significant technical hurdles all that much harder.

There’s also the fact that our installer system seems to have been gradually coming apart at the seams with each successive release.  The NSIS script we’ve used some form of since NAM 31 was a very technically advanced piece of code that significantly pushes the envelope of that system, designed by a brilliant retired software engineer (z, who also designed the core of the NAM Traffic Simulator that has been in use for the past decade).  Unfortunately, he has since had to retire from SC4 modding, following NAM 32, and no one left has nearly the same level of skill with NSIS, all while the crosslinking between various options has become significantly more complicated, with all the cosmetic options and reskin mods that have been incorporated into the NAM proper.

Subsequently, the installer has become more and more capricious in terms of what it does and does not install.  The installer issues have had the unfortunate effect of causing some users to stick to old NAM versions, which is a real problem–and frankly, an existential threat–in a gaming community that is driven by the continued development of new content, especially considering the NAM’s visibility as a flagship product in the SC4 world.  Combating this “holdout” situation is a major priority going forward.

3. What does this mean for the project going forward?

We are presently exploring the feasibility a scaled-down NAM 37 release, with a much smaller slate of new features and bugfixes, for a nearer-term release, while trying to nurse our installer system along for one more cycle (primarily by not adding anything that would require complicated crosslinks).  If we were to go with a larger release, as originally planned, the development cycle could easily go on for years, potentially suffocating the project in the process.

The massive revamp of the RHW’s RUL2 override code, presently codenamed “Project 57-Mark IV” (P57-MkIV), is farther along than any of the NAM 37 content, and due to its technical requirements, is being considered for release as a public open beta, initially independent of any core NAM release.

Beyond NAM 37, barring a sudden increase in the size of the development team, the plan will likely be to move toward release cycles with smaller feature sets and fewer large-scale projects, and to try to gear whatever changes are made to the installer, packaging, and file architecture to be conducive to this approach.  There are a lot of potential options on the table as far as how to accomplish this.  How things go with P57-MkIV will likely inform our next move here.

4. What will happen with the Mac version of the NAM, particularly with respect to versions of macOS beyond Sierra (10.12)?

The Mac version of the NAM is effectively nothing more than the Windows installer package in a Wineskin wrapper.  At the time NAM 36 was released, the present version of macOS was Sierra (10.12), and the Wineskin was assembled on that version, on a (seldom-used) Mac Mini that happen to I own.  However, major updates to macOS have lately had a tendency to significantly complicate the operation of Wineskins built on previous versions, if they don’t break them outright, and this appears to be the case with both High Sierra (10.13) and Mojave (10.14), which Apple has released since NAM 36.

With respect to later macOS version support for the NAM, at this point in time, it will depend on what happens with the plans with NAM 37, getting my Mac Mini updated to Mojave, and also how well the NAM installer runs in a Wineskin on Mojave.

Apple’s plans to completely end support for 32-bit apps in the as-of-yet-unnamed macOS 10.15, rumored to release in Fall 2019, is also a major complication on the horizon.  Aspyr has announced that it is evaluating the situation regarding its 32-bit ports, and trying to determine the feasibility of converting those ports to become 64-bit apps, but it is unclear at this point if SimCity 4 will be one of the titles that makes the leap.

If they do decide to create a 64-bit Mac port of SimCity 4, it would potentially become the superior version of the game in a key area.  32-bit apps can only address 4 gigabytes of RAM, whereas with 64-bit apps, the theoretical limit is measured in exabytes (1 exabyte = 1 billion gigabytes), though different OSes may have lower caps coded in them (macOS 10.9 and later uses a 128GB cap, and depending on the edition, Windows 10 runs from 128 to 512GB).  The memory limit, and the single-thread/core restriction, are the main performance caps on SC4.  EA is very, very unlikely to convert the Windows version to 64-bit, so this is the only foreseeable way that could happen at present.

However, if they decide not to go forward with conversion to 64-bit, the Mac version of SimCity 4 would be rendered completely inoperable with macOS 10.15.  The two potential scenarios couldn’t be more different in outcome.

It should be noted that no one presently on the NAM Team actively runs SC4 on a Mac, which is a large part of the reason that our ability to provide technical support with Mac-specific issues has remained virtually non-existent.  There are also very, very few SC4 modding tools out there that run on a Mac, and none that are equivalent to ilive’s Reader, which is the main program we use in creating the NAM.  Diagnosing and fixing Mac-specific NAM issues is, as a result, extraordinarily difficult, and requires a tedious process of ferrying files between Windows and Mac systems/partitions, unless one has the wherewithal to code their own tools (which memo did back in 2014 for his personal use–an effort without which there probably wouldn’t be a Mac version, since a file encoding issue prior to then resulted in CTDs when running the NAM on an Intel Mac).

The installer also happens to be a 32-bit app at present.  We are, as mentioned above, examining what all will happen with our installer and packaging setup after NAM 37, so Aspyr’s decision with regards to their SimCity 4 port is something we will carefully monitor.

5. I want to help.  Are there any tutorials out there?

There are some tutorials around–mostly on SC4 Devotion (both in the NAM How-Tos and Tutorials Subforum and on the SC4 Encyclopaedia), but they are on the older side, missing images in some cases, and not particularly up-to-date in others.  If there is a specific area you are interested in potentially learning, however, we are generally happy to answer questions.  Our main development board is over at SC4 Devotion, and that’s probably the quickest way to get answers to any questions you may have.

-Tarkus