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

 

 

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

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