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.