PSA: SimCity 4 Deluxe is now safe to buy on Origin (Update: No, It’s Not Anymore)

Edit as of February 5, 2017: Origin seems to have reverted back to the unpatchable Version 1.1.610 copy.  More here.

I’ve just gotten confirmation from an Origin community manager who reached out to me that the Origin copy of SimCity 4 Deluxe is now properly updated and is capable of supporting the NAM.  If you have an Origin copy already, there should be an update waiting for you when you log on.  Many thanks to the Origin team for quickly addressing the issue.

-Tarkus

Update on SC4 and Origin – 08/27/2014

Edit as of August 27, 2014 at 12:28pm PDT: Origin has fixed the issue.  Mission accomplished.

Edit as of February 5, 2017: Origin seems to have reverted back to the unpatchable Version 1.1.610 copy.  More here.

It seems my report on the issues with Origin’s copy of SimCity 4 Deluxe has gotten quite a bit of notice, including making the news at PC Gamer.  Now that a couple days have passed, I thought I would update things.

First off, my main reason for making the original post is not to bash EA or Origin.  All of the EA folks I’ve come into contact with during my tenure on the NAM Team have been friendly and quite supportive of what we’ve done with SC4.  That said, in recent months, and especially in the past couple weeks, I have seen countless cases of users on the forums who have become frustrated and disappointed by the fact that their Origin SC4 game is not only unpatched, but unpatchable, and incapable of running the mod that I’ve been fortunate enough to help develop over the past few years.  Some of these users had tried contacting Origin support to see about getting a properly updated copy or a refund, and the response was either silence, or, as noted in my previous post, a demonstrated lack of knowledge about the product in question.  I simply felt compelled to use whatever clout I have in the SC4 world to attempt to effect change, by increasing awareness of the situation, in an effort to get Origin to give everyone the same version of the game, allowing users on that platform to enjoy proper functionality, and things like the NAM.

The modding community is one of the things that’s allowed SC4 to continue to be profitable for EA, so it’s ultimately a win-win for them to provide a properly updated copy to all Origin customers, and a continued stream of new players into the SC4 world, be it through Origin or any other digital platform, is good for the health of the game’s community.  When you’re dealing with a large corporate or governmental entity, sometimes one has to make a lot of noise to get its attention, and that was my intent here.

There have been some interesting pieces of information that have come out since my initial post, which are quite pertinent to the situation:

  • An Origin employee on Reddit has acknowledged the report, and is forwarding the information to the team that was responsible for putting SimCity 4 Deluxe onto the service.  So far, this is the only information we have directly from EA/Origin staff.
  • It was revealed in comments by some Redditors on /r/games that those who had acquired a digital copy by supplying Origin with their existing retail disc product code (CD key) received the properly-updated Version 1.1.641.  The locked Version 1.1.610 copies that were the focus of my last post seem to be going to users who purchased the game outright from Origin.
  • One user on /r/simcity4 reported that upon logging onto Origin, the service downloaded an update for SimCity 4, after which they found they could install the NAM.

I am still waiting for some additional confirmation that Origin has, in fact, issued an update for their version of SC4.  If you’re an Origin user who has SC4, or an Origin employee, I’d love to hear from you, so I can convey an accurate picture of where things currently stand.  For those interested in getting breaking updates on situations like this, in between SimTarkus posts, I’m also on Twitter (@TarkusSC4).

-Tarkus

PSA: Don’t Buy SimCity 4 from Origin

Edit as of August 27, 2014: Origin has fixed the issue.  Mission accomplished.

Edit as of February 5, 2017: Origin seems to have reverted back to the unpatchable Version 1.1.610 copy.  More here.

Lately, the NAM Team has been dealing with a rash of tech support cases, all from users who purchased the game from one particular digital retailer: Origin.

For whatever reason, rather than selling the pre-patched Version 1.1.641 release offered by all other digital distributors, including Steam, GOG.com, Amazon, and GamersGate, the version Origin is selling carries the number 1.1.610, the same as the unpatched retail disc copy, as shown by this screenshot provided by a user at Simtropolis:

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 is selling unpatched Version 1.1.610.

The NAM, of course, requires at least Version 1.1.638, the version number that results from applying EP1 Update 1 to the retail disc copy, and the installer checks to ensure that the user is running this version at minimum.  EP1 Update 1 fixes a number of transportation-related issues and other fairly serious game bugs.  It also runs fine on the two higher versions, 1.1.640 (disc copy with BAT Nightlight Update), and 1.1.641, the digital equivalent that Steam, GOG.com, Amazon, GamersGate and pretty much everyone but Origin is selling.

That version check in the installer blocks the NAM from being installed on unpatched 1.1.610, and its European counterpart, 1.1.613, in order to avoid issues with users blaming the NAM Team for things Maxis fixed with 1.1.638, which had become a considerable annoyance for us.  Given some of the bugs that were fixed with 1.1.638, it ultimately did the unpatched users a favor to update, giving them a more stable and enjoyable game experience.  That version check also has the side-effect of blocking the NAM from being installed on installations that use NoCD hacks, including pirate distributions of the game, which, while not an originally intended feature of our installer, was left in, as we can’t properly support unofficial copies of the game (especially ones that mix a 1.1.638 executable with 1.1.610 .dat files), and don’t want to promote piracy.  These hacked executables have a different checksum, and thus, the NAM installer rejects them.

If the digital Version 1.1.610 copy that Origin is selling was capable of being properly patched, like its retail disc counterpart from 10 years ago, this would merely be a minor inconvenience.  Users could just apply the standard patches their disc counterparts did, and all would be fine.  Unfortunately, this is not the case, as Origin modified 1.1.610, to swap out the original SafeDisc copy protection system, which required the disc to be in the drive, for Origin’s digital rights management (DRM) system.  This modification, however, changes the checksum of the executable, just as the NoCD hacks did, which not only causes it to be rejected by the NAM installer, it also prevents the EP1 Update 1 patch and the BAT Nightlight patch from being installed, as well as the official first-party content creation tools, like the Lot Editor and the Building Architect Tool (BAT).  In effect, this forces the user to remain at Version 1.1.610, deprived not only of the full function of the wide array of custom content available for the game, but of basic fixes to the game that have been available for 10 years.  It is not, as one Origin representative put it, “working is [sic] intended  and [. . .]  not broken”. Origin’s digital version of SimCity 4 Deluxe is not just unpatched, it’s unpatchable.

Given that Origin is owned by EA, and is effectively a first-party distributor, the fact that they would be selling an outdated version–and one that is unpatchable–is incomprehensibly absurd.  EA and Maxis have been previously quite supportive of the NAM Team in the past, and the availability of a wide array of mods is often seen as one of the things that has kept the game turning a profit for them.  The NAM installer’s “anti-piracy” side-effect should be a boon for their business.  The fact that they’re selling a copy that gets blocked by it would be rather hilarious, if it didn’t mean that there were a ton of users who were unable to get a refund from Origin, forcing them to buy the game for a second time from another retailer, in order to get what they thought they were getting from Origin: a properly updated digital retail copy.

If anyone from EA/Origin is reading this: please update your copy, or at least produce versions of the EP1 Update and BAT Nightlight Patch, so users will not be stuck with a bugged product (1.1.610) that can’t run the custom content the game was intended to support.  The fact that the NAM’s version check blocks pirates is doing you a favor, and has brought you countless sales from users who might have otherwise been content to go the illegal route.

To all the users out there thinking of purchasing a new digital copy of SimCity 4: until Origin has corrected this situation: do not, under any circumstances, buy SimCity 4 Deluxe from Origin.
Instead, try GOG.com, GamersGate, Steam, or Amazon.  As of writing, GOG has it in sale for US$7.99, which is less than half the usual US$20 going price.  If you miss GOG’s sale, all four of those sites will periodically put the game on a flash sale, it pays to be on the lookout.

-Tarkus

Wasco Terrain Mod finally gets proper release

Those of you who have followed Tarkusian Cities, my Mayor’s Diary at SC4 Devotion, have probably seen the Wasco Terrain Mod in action, which I designed to better emulate the semi-arid climate of central and eastern Oregon and Washington states here in the US.  This is what it looks like in action.

wasco-lexprev-large

It had never been properly released, however . . . until now.  I’ve just gotten it all packaged up and onto the LEX at SC4 Devotion as of a few minutes ago.  I also started a companion development/support thread for it on the SC4D forums, and all my other projects that don’t really fit under the NAM rubric.

Fellow xerophiles, enjoy!

-Tarkus