Origin “Nerfed” SimCity 4 Situation Gets Worse

The latest chapter of the saga with Origin’s retail copy of SimCity 4 Deluxe has taken a rather troubling turn.  The initial reports of Origin reverting back to selling their special “nerfed” Version 1.1.610 copy of the game to retail customers who bought the game from EA’s official digital download surface have now spread like a rash across Simtropolis.  These reports have not only been spawned by the well-documented issue of this version of the game not being able to take advantage of some popular custom content, like the Network Addon Mod (which requires Version 1.1.638 or later), but reports of the game regularly crashing to desktop.

This is not at all surprising, given the patch notes from when EA/Maxis issued the Version 1.1.638 patch (also known as EP1 Update 1), back in November 2003.  Here’s the full list–I’ve bolded the ones related to game stability:

    • Adjusted foam spray effect for firefighters fighting toxic spills.
    • Addressed issues related to U-Drive it mode while volcano disaster is active.
    • Fix for random issues that may arise when dragging a diagonal power line across zones in specific manner that creates a connected orphan pole in a segment.
    • Renderer updates to avoid memory corruption when model instance has an invalid position.
    • Updates to paths to improve clipper that was transforming stop points into single-point paths.
    • Video card improvements for the following:
        Intel i830/845/865: Fixed graphics rules to allow hardware and to disable color cursor.
    • Addressed issues related to burning tree stump.
    • Fix for airplane sometimes taxiing above the airfield.
    • Implemented safety code for query.
    • Fix for relatively obscure problems that occur when moving vans are created on a tile with a complex paths.
    • Implemented a general-purpose fix for any remaining yet-to-be-discovered cases of a bad orientation vector.
    • Fix for issue where networks loaded from a saved city would not properly re-initialize their connection bitmap.
    • Updated Localized strings.
    • Updates for My Sim messaging. The issues would arise when moving a My Sim out of a city at just the right time.
    • Fix for reported location of sky diving mission.
    • Fix for query incorrectly reporting trip length after abandonment.
    • Fix for incorrectly reported commute time during inter-city travel.
    • Path fixes for various networks and intersections.
    • Texture fixes for several one-way/avenue intersections.
    • Fix for several network intersection resolves.
    • Improved usage of parking lots and transit stations.
    • Improved synching of foundation vs. building height.
    • Improved variety of industry building development.
    • Fix for intercity commute where bus traffic was periodically being treated as car traffic.
    • Fix for being able to drop highway ramps over buildings.
    • Adjusted toll booth capacities for 2-tile wide toll booths.
    • Fix for prevention of pedestrians from using neighbor connections.
    • Fix for elevated train volume not being reported in the traffic volume graph.
    • Fix for commercial traffic and road noise map calculations to accommodate multi-tile morning and evening commutes.
    • Added left turn lanes to avenue/highway overpass onramps.
    • Fix for priorities of props and textures in lot templates used in city detail.
    • Fix for variety of path bugs related to roads, rails, highways, avenues and elevated rail.

Some of these other ones are pretty big functional things as well–the transportation network-related fixes, which, as you can see, are quite numerous are a large part of the reason the Network Addon Mod requires the user to be running at least Version 1.1.638.  It is, of course, also missing the Version 1.1.640 update, which allows nightlights to function properly on the thousands of custom buildings that the SimCity 4 community has created for the game.  The copies sold on GOG.com and Steam, as well as the “Thin Game Download” version from Amazon, are all at an even higher version number, 1.1.641, and include all the fixes from Version 1.1.638 and 1.1.640.  Those who have redeemed CD keys from their old disc copies with Origin, have, oddly enough, also reportedly gotten Version 1.1.641, unlike the users who have shelled out the seemingly steep price of $19.99 (the same price at which Origin sells the 2013 “reboot” of SimCity, and only $10 less than Cities: Skylines) to buy the game off the service.

Based on the information that has come out, it appears the current “nerfed” Version 1.1.610 copy that Origin is selling has a creation date of November 13, 2015.  All screenshots that have been provided by users in this latest round have carried that particular date.  This suggests that Origin actually reverted to the “nerfed” version as far back as a year-and-a-half ago, meaning there may be a large number of cases that have gone undiagnosed as of yet.  The fact that they are starting to spread like wildfire from new members to the community suggests we are only at the tip of the iceberg here.

The most troubling aspect of the current situation is the fact that Origin has been apparently reverting updated copies purchased through their service to the special “nerfed” Version 1.1.610.  The initial case that brought this whole situation back to the fore involved a user, RichardCollins, who, after having to do a system restore, found his Origin copy had reverted to 1.1.610.  More recently, another Simtropolis member reported that his Origin copy, after installing an “update” from the service, had gone from Version 1.1.638 to 1.1.610.  That’s right, an update that actually does just the opposite.

What is possessing Origin to continually go back to this “nerfed” version is unclear, and ultimately, it does not matter if their reason is simply staggering incompetence, or actual malicious intent.  What does matter is that SimCity 4 players who buy the game off Origin are currently getting ripped off, by being sold a game that is missing 14-year-old stability fixes, and compatibility with one of its biggest selling features–its modding community.

It is almost as if EA wants to lose the city simulation market to Paradox/Colossal Order and Cities: Skylines, which is a real shame–and completely counterintuitive.  While the 2013 reboot of “SimCity” may have been a money-losing debacle, which led to EA laying off most of the Maxis Emeryville studio, they still have a game in their portfolio that, in spite of being almost old enough to drive, is actually considered by many (including yours truly) to still be a better game than the much newer Cities: Skylines.

The main lesson of this–don’t buy SimCity 4 Deluxe on Origin.  I will repeat that one until Origin shows consistent, documented proof over time that they can be trusted (read: no more “let’s break out the crappy Version 1.1.610 copy now that Tarkus and PC Gamer aren’t looking” nonsense).  If you have made that mistake of buying–complain, and try to get a refund and/or force them to actually give you the properly-patched version of the game you paid for, that every other retailer on earth sells.

-Tarkus

 

 

NAM Version 36 – FLEX Turn Lanes Preview, Part 1

The main project I’ve been working on for the upcoming NAM 36 release is FLEX Turn Lanes (or FTLs), which is a new, easier-to-use version of the old Turn Lane Extension Pieces (TuLEPs).  Since there’s been some curiosity about how this new turn lane system operates, I’ve made my first “secret weapon”-type video for the first time in a long time.  This one is actually the first part of a trilogy–hope you enjoy (it’s available in 1080p, too, if you so choose).

-Tarkus

 

ALERT: Origin May Be Selling An Outdated, Unpatchable Version of SC4, Yet Again

Those of you who have followed my blog likely remember the incident back in 2014, when Origin, the EA-owned digital download platform, had been inexplicably selling users outdated, unpatchable copy of the SimCity 4 Deluxe, which could not run the Network Addon Mod.  A couple days after this caught wind and PC Gamer also reported on it, Origin users reported receiving an “update” through the Client, which patched their game to the proper 1.1.641 digital version sold by all other retailers.

However, a user by the name RichardCollins started a thread at Simtropolis on February 2, detailing the fact that his Origin retail copy of the game had reverted back to Version 1.1.610 following a system restore.  He noticed this after having the NAM installer tell him he needed the patch to update the game to the minimum Version 1.1.638 needed to properly run the mod.  The screenshot he provided showing the version information also has the same filesize and copyright date as the unpatchable Version 1.1.610 Origin copy from 2014.  Here’s a comparison:

Screenshot provided by Simtropolis member JurisicSantiago, showing that Origin is selling unpatched Version 1.1.610.

Screenshot provided by Simtropolis member JurisicSantiago, showing that Origin was selling unpatched Version 1.1.610 in August 2014.

sc4version-png-a402e44c438d969c3a8588716b98f0da

Screenshot provided by Simtropolis member RichardCollins of Origin retail version number in February 2017.

In this most recent case, the user spent hours over multiple days trying to get Origin to correct the issue, and provide the properly updated version of the game, getting the runaround from completely unknowledgeable Origin customer support agents (which included this absurd exchange–apparently, some gamers aren’t all that trustworthy after all).  Those agents told him to disable Windows User Access Control (UAC) and his security software, among other completely useless things that have absolutely nothing to do with getting a bad copy of SimCity 4 Deluxe, which can’t take advantage of the very things that have kept the game’s community alive for 14 years.

Origin did eventually relent and give out a refund, but curiously, the last agent claimed that Origin “did not have access to the patches” but would “keep an eye out for it.”  This is a particularly strange response, given the fact that all reports have indicated that users who have gotten free copies from Origin by redeeming their old CD keys have gotten Version 1.1.641.

Beyond this situation, there have also been numerous reports in the past year that Origin copies, unlike other digital copies (even those with DRM), also prevent installation the game’s Building Architect Tool (BAT), a Gmax gamepack that EA released themselves back in February 2004 to allow users to create custom buildings for SC4.  This does apparently apply to the Version 1.1.641 copies that the CD key users as well.

Based on the evidence in this case, it appears Origin may have reverted the retail copy from their online store quite some time ago.  If you have purchased SC4 from Origin within the past two years, I’d advise you check your version number.  If you’re among those affected and have a Version 1.1.610 copy, you can help the cause by sharing a screenshot of your version number, by going to the executable, right clicking it, selecting “Properties” and then going to the “Details” tab.

This is a developing story, and I’ll provide updates if/when any additional information breaks.

-Tarkus

Preserving Content and Community

In the past year, I have participated in a number of discussions across the various outlets of the SC4 community–SC4 Devotion, Simtropolis, and /r/simcity4–about the current state of the custom content distribution.  In any game modding community, there are two things that are required for that community to survive and perpetuate–ready access to available content, and the continued creation of new content.  Both of these requirements become more difficult to meet as communities age–SimCity 4 is now 14 years out from its release date.  If we want it to survive another 14 years in some semblance of the form we’ve come to know and love today, it is going to take some effort, and some hard decisions that will require a bit of a different mindset to make.

Many of the recent discussions on the subject have been prompted by various pieces of content going missing in some fashion, the most prominent example being Gobias’ popular terrain mods.  Beyond this, we have also lost a number of individual creator sites in recent times, and things that were “soft-released” as forum attachments or via storage services.  There’s also the “Accidental Mass Deletion of 2011”, when changes in Simtropolis’ file reporting system led to a number of files being purged from the STEX.  The NAM, of all things, was purged from the STEX not once, but twice during this period, and we still don’t know the full extent of what was lost during that incident.

Beyond this, there’s also the regular complaints that the process of acquiring content and assembling it into a properly working Plugins folder is an arduous, arcane exercise, marked by clicking through installers and checking dependencies.  While the existing order of things may have been serviceable back in the mid-00s, particularly for those who were slowly and cumulatively adding the latest buildings and mods as they were released, a decade has now passed.  The way mod acquisition operates in other game communities has really cast the current arrangement we have in the SC4 world in a particularly harsh and unforgiving light.

When re-uploading or repackaging the work of another creator, the typical modus operandi that has been employed in the SC4 community up to this point has been to try to contact the creator to obtain permission.  A lack of response was universally treated the same as a refusal.  While this policy is a very nice courtesy that has helped keep our community exceptionally civil throughout most of its history, it is getting to be increasingly hard to follow from a practical standpoint.

SimCity 4 is 14 years old.  While there are a few of us who have stuck around for an exceptionally long time, there’s been a lot of turnover over the years.  Beyond that, as is the case with many internet communities, there’s a considerable degree of built-in anonymity.  The only way for most to attempt contact is via private message on the main sites.  That’s very unlikely to lead to any response at all if the member in question hasn’t logged on since 2009, or pops in once every two years to see if the lights are still on for them.  Even if you are a site administrator and can see the email address they had on file, there’s a decent chance that address may no longer exist, or is a spare or throwaway account used only for registering on internet forums.

While I do believe that still attempting to establish contact and follow due process is the right thing to do, I believe the automatic assumption of refusal in every case of non-response will ultimately lead to the community’s demise.  US Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, who made our modern computing world possible, once said that “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission.”  While I would not advocate suddenly turning the distribution paradigm into a total free-for-all–which would be counterproductive–I do believe that we should, at this point in time, take Hopper’s advice under more serious consideration.  It is fairly clear to me there has to be a middle ground, that remains respectful of creator’s rights and the original spirit of the rules, without allowing the rigid adherence to those same rules to lead to the community’s extinction.

This, of course, begs the question–what is that next step?  I am hoping to initiate a dialogue with many key stakeholders and interested parties over the coming months, bringing forward some proposals to streamline and secure our custom content ecosystem in a cooperative manner.  I have outlined a few of these possibilities in my recent posts on the forums and Reddit, which include repackaging dependencies to better take advantage of new technology (improved internet speeds and LEX software upgrades), to establishing a new procedure for handling orphan files (codifying a reasonable waiting period), and dealing with files with modding issues.

I hope to make some progress on these efforts in the near term, and plan to keep readers here at SimTarkus and other outlets abreast of the latest developments. Stay tuned.

In the meanwhile, I welcome feedback and suggestions on how best to proceed here in the comments.

-Tarkus

NAM 35 Is Live

NAM 35 for Windows is now out and live on the LEX and ModDB.  All the details are in the special NAM “Of Special Interest This Month” thread over at SC4 Devotion, where we’ll also be showcasing development progress for NAM 36 and beyond.  On behalf of the NAM Team, hope you enjoy.

-Tarkus

nam35-promo

PSA: Updating Your NAM Version? Don’t Uninstall The Old One (and Other Advice)

The NAM Team has encountered quite a few tech support cases recently, with users who have recently gotten around to picking up the latest version, and subsequently finding that some transit item in their city has gone missing.  In every case, this has been the result of users heeding long-outdated advice from 5+ years ago, that suggested uninstalling the old version before installing the new one.  This, however, is no longer the case, and since the NAM 31.x series of releases in 2013, it has been the official advice of the team that users should NOT uninstall their previous NAM version while upgrading to a new version.

The NAM installer was completely overhauled for the move to the “Monolithic” package that has been the norm since NAM 31.0 in March 2013 (thanks to z1), and it is a lot smarter than the NAM installers of yore.  Namely, just as it can read whether or not the game has been patched, it can locate a user’s NAM installation, and is able to determine which options were installed.  With the old installation in place, the installer can then read the files, and will automatically select the same components that the user had previously for the new installation.  Additionally, many of the old issues with outdated controllers and the once-dreaded “red arrow bug” have been solved by the current package as well.

If one instead follows the outdated advice of uninstalling the old version, the old NAM installation is no longer there for the installer to reference, and it is then entirely on the user to ensure that they select the same options they were previously using.  With as many options as there are now in the NAM, that is no small task, and the possibility for installation error increases exponentially.

If you happen to be concerned about outdated/conflicting files, there are mechanisms in the installer to handle this now, including running the built-in version of BSC Cleanitol.

A few other related pieces of advice, to help streamline your NAM installation and upgrade experience:

 

The Version Check and Switching from Disc to Digital 

This one has come up a lot lately as well, and quite understandably so.  Microsoft has been doing everything in its power to try to eradicate the secdrv.sys driver file, which disc copies of SC4 require, including the infamous KB3086255 update for Windows Vista, 7, 8, and 8.1, and the complete omission of the driver in Windows 10.  As a by-product of this, many users have been switching over to digital copies of the game, from Steam, Amazon, GOG.com, Origin, GamersGate, and other sources.  The NAM requires the game’s executable to be at least Version 1.1.638 (the version number of the disc copy with the EP1 Update 1 patch), and all of these digital copies are updated to Version 1.1.641, and do not need to be patched.  However, if a user happens to have an unpatched disc copy (Version 1.1.610 or 1.1.613) still installed after installing the digital copy (or has a $%&^! installed in the folder for the original disc copy), the Windows Registry will still point the installer toward the old SC4 installation, not the new digital copy, and the installer will fail.

There are two ways to get around this.  Probably the cleanest in the long run would be to uninstall both the disc and digital copies, and then reinstall only the digital copy, at which point the Windows Registry will then point to the digital copy, and the NAM installer will be happy.  The one case where you might want to preserve the disc install is if you’re planning on also installing the game’s official Building Architect Tool, which, reportedly, at least some digital versions with DRM (i.e. Origin) apparently prevent.  In that case, the best solution would be to patch the disc copy, at which point the NAM installer and the BAT installer would see it as valid.  The disc copy may subsequently be removed once the BAT has installed.  For more on the BAT installation matter, see rsc204‘s post here.

 

DatPacking and the NAM

Another piece of advice that is of the same vintage as that uninstallation advice, that the NAM should not be “DatPacked”, using a tool like wouanagaine’s SC4DatPacker, or memo’s JDatPacker, because of its negative impact on NAM upgrade installations.

In the case of Mac users, however, the number-of-files limit present on the newer digital versions of the Aspyr port requires DatPacking (using JDatPacker, which is cross-platform) in order for the game to run properly with a larger NAM installation.  This limit on the Mac port is not impacted by the size of the files, but merely on their number–enough empty subfolders will trigger it.  With respect to the Windows version, the improvements to the installer prevent a DatPacked NAM installation from causing a “red arrow bug” in doing an upgrade (this was the main reason it was discouraged in the past), but because some users have exhibited a tendency to discard the pre-DatPacked files, leaving just the massive “Network Addon Mod.dat” file created by the DatPacker tool, the same issues caused by uninstalling occur, namely that the installer will not be able to discern the contents of the massive single .dat in the way that it could with the original file architecture, making installation error far more likely.

Thus, for Mac users, DatPacking is recommended, but for Windows users DatPacking is still not recommended (unless you really know what you’re doing).

 

Keep the Installer Handy If You Change Your Mind on Features

Particularly if you’re on the fence on installing a feature, or if you’re a new user who doesn’t know what most of the options do yet, it can be to your benefit to keep the installer for the current version handy.  If you decide you want to change options, leave your existing installation in place, and run the installer again.  Just as with upgrades, the installer will be able to read your installation and the current set of options installed, which will help out immensely in determining which boxes to check and uncheck.  And again, as with upgrading, it is not at all recommended to uninstall before running the installer again, as this makes re-installation a far, far more daunting task.

 

Hopefully, this proves to be a useful reference for those of you installing, re-installing, or upgrading your NAM version.  Happy NAMing!

-Tarkus

Introducing QuickChange Xpress (QCX) – The “Scandalous” RHW Feature So Many Have Wanted

Yesterday (July 12th), I posted a video on YouTube showing something that, up to this point, has been deemed completely off-limits for RealHighway (RHW) development (hence the quotation from Earthbound/Mother 2’s infamous final boss in the title).  For those who haven’t seen it yet, here it is:

Yes, that is basically what it looks like–a full-on pre-fabricated diamond interchange for the RHW, placed in one click.  It’s something we’ve been adamant about not including in the past, as evidenced by question #17 on the FAQ in the first post of the RHW development thread at SC4 Devotion:

 

17.  Will “Maxis-styled” prefab/plop interchanges ever be produced for the RHW?

No.  The massive amount of time required in making one, the size limits imposed on them, the fact that they would duplicate already existing functionality, along with the rigid inflexibility of such setups and the massive number that would have to be made in order to account for all the networks included in the RHW renders the notion of plop interchanges impractical and unworkable.  The QuickChange system is the closest we will come to making full prefabs.

 

This of course, begs the question–what changed?  Believe it or not, the biggest game-changer in this situation was the steady march away from the traditional “static” puzzle pieces, toward FLEX setups, which already permitted the QuickChange system, introduced in NAM 32.  The “official” term I’ve devised for this new full interchange setup is QuickChange Xpress, or QCX–a rather unique acronym, as it includes both a Q and an X (and indirectly pays tribute to Q and X enthusiast and RHW project founder qurlix).  The name represents the fact that it takes what QuickChange brought to the RHW system, and has sped the interchange creation process as fast as it can go.

The traditional pre-fab interchanges for the Maxis Highways are massive static puzzle pieces, which require a lot of Instance IDs (IIDs) in order to function, and as a result, are very tedious, painstaking items to develop.  Had this interchange been developed the conventional “static” way, as this piece is 15×4 with a bumpout on either side in the middle for the Road crossing, we’d be potentially looking at 62 IIDs, plus a lot of tedious exemplar editing, model shifting, and pathing.  Plus, in order to fill demand, we’d need to make versions for several different RHW networks, multiplying development time considerably.  It becomes abundantly clear why RHW pre-fabs requests were vehemently shot down in the past.

However, the QCX is built entirely from existing FLEX pieces, plus the L1 Road Viaduct starters on either side.  The original FLEX pieces themselves are being dropped in place here, just by virtue of using RUL0 to reference their anchor points and filling in the gaps with base network tiles, which RUL2 overrides then handle as needed to form the full interchange.  And as with other, smaller FLEX pieces, we can use the same placeholder dummy IID that’s been around for a decade with the original FLEX piece (the Diagonal Streets from NAM 20 in 2006).  There’s exactly zero new IIDs required.

Nil.  Zilch.  Donut.

No pathing, no exemplars, no model manipulation outside of the preview model (which is by far the most difficult part of making a QCX).

For those of you out there who are RHW power users, this doesn’t mean we’re going to abandon the advanced, modular side of the RHW.  Far from it.  It does, however, open what has long been considered (even by many advanced users) a maddeningly complex system to a much wider audience.  We’ll continue to develop new RHW content, focusing on the traditional, smaller modular pieces, in FLEX form, but now, we’ll also look at ways to assemble these FLEX items into larger QCX setups, that can get anyone up and running with the RHW, which takes surprisingly little time.  About 30 minutes elapsed between when I started making that first functioning QCX prototype and recording that video.

The QCX in the video is by no means the final design, and we are looking at some potential improvements to it, trying to find the right balance of ease-of-use, realism, and in-game efficiency.  Some of the improvements being considered may necessitate pushing the rollout of QCX out until NAM 36 (NAM 35 is the version currently in development), but rest assured, the RHW will soon be a far more approachable component of the NAM.

-Tarkus