And another one does . . . another one bites the dust

NAM 37 development has kind of been all over the place here on my end, though I’ve recently been making some headway again on some long-term RHW-related projects.  One such project is that creating FLEXRamp versions of the last remaining “holdouts” of the static puzzle piece-based ramps.  So far, that project has been going quite well, and four such holdouts–the RHW-10S Type D2, the RHW-10S Type E2, the RHW-6C Type D1 Inside Dual ramp and the RHW-6C Diagonal Type A1–are now in FLEXRamp form.  In the case of the RHW-10S ramps, they’re simply extensions of the existing Type D2 and E2 FLEXRamps.

The RHW-6C Diagonal Type A1 is the same, while the Type D1 Inside Dual is a new FLEX setup.  In the case of the RHW-6C ramps mentioned, their creation has also allowed for some cool new stuff to happen:

There’s now just two left of the non-fractional angle ramps.

More RHW development–including “Project Crazy Stuff” (really, the long-awaited “Mark IV” of Project 57) can, of course, be found in the long-running RHW development thread at SC4 Devotion, which is now up to Page 645.  My colleague eggman121 also has some very exciting stuff for rail aficionados, in the form of new RealRailway developments and his catenary project over there as well.



NAM 36 Is Here


Those of you who have been patiently awaiting the release of NAM 36 need not wait any longer–it’s out now, as of the 13th of September.  All the details are up here in this SC4D thread.

Among other things, it finally marks the appearance of the FLEX Turn Lanes, which had been in development since just after NAM 32 was released in January 2014 (making its development cycle longer than that of the Network Widening Mod), and the Draggable Elevated RealRailway Viaducts.  Viaduct functionality of that type has been in planning since 2009, with several unfinished attempts, before eggman121 finally put everything together.  There’s also a new SAM set, courtesy of mgb204, expansions to the One-Way Road Signalization and Turn Arrow Project, some new Multi-Radius Curves, and some other fun stuff that we hope you’ll enjoy.  There’s also a marked improvement with the documentation, which is transitioning back to the old HTML format used in NAM 30 and earlier.

The Windows version is up on the SC4D LEX, the Simtropolis STEX, and ModDB, while the Mac version is only at ModDB, due to its larger filesize.

(And in case anyone is wondering, since Origin still hasn’t (re-)fixed their unpatched/unpatchable copy, it’s still a no-go.  See my handy Origin category.)

To help further get you in the mood, here’s a video I did building an RHW T-Interchange in real-time using NAM 36 a few days back, in response to a question over on /r/simcity4.


NAM 36 Grows Closer

Not for public release, eh?  I have a feeling that won’t be the case for much longer . . .

Dare I say . . . imminent?


Why the NAM Has a Version Check, and Why Old NAM Versions Are Not Offered

Beginning with the release of NAM Version 31.2 in June 2013, the NAM Team decided to add a version checking routine to the mod’s installer script, which has remained in the package since.  This decision, as you might imagine, has attracted some controversy and its share of detractors, one of whom recently tried (and failed) in an effort to upload a “hot mess” of NAM 30 files onto a popular SC4 exchange (earning persona non grata status in the process).

This post is intended to answer some common questions as to why the version check came to be, its future, as well as the reasons why the NAM Team remains strongly opposed to distributing old NAM versions.

Q: Why did the NAM Team add a version check?

A: The version check added to the NAM’s installer script in 2013 was in response to an ongoing series of technical support cases that began to flare up in 2011.  A few users kept repeatedly complaining to the NAM Team about some broken or missing path files on some fairly common intersections, chief among them, the T-intersection in which an orthogonal Avenue ends at an orthogonal One-Way Road.

This basic intersection is inoperable without the EP1 Update 1/Version 1.1.638 patch.

However, that particular intersection was one that Maxis themselves had fixed in November 2003 (several months before NAM Version 1 was released), with the EP1 Update 1 patch, which upgrades the game’s files from Version 1.1.610 (Version 1.1.613 for European copies) to Version 1.1.638.

As evidenced by the front sections of the NAM’s documentation from the beginning of the mod’s existence, the Windows version of the NAM has always required Version 1.1.638 or later.  Versions 1.1.610 and 1.1.613 have never actually been supported.

In addition to fixing those transportation network paths, having a properly updated copy of the game is really to every SC4 player’s benefit, as the EP1 Update 1 patch also addresses a number of significant game stability issues, some of which can cause the dreaded crash-to-desktop (CTD).  I’ve listed the patch notes in a previous post, pertaining to Origin’s continued sales of “nerfed” digital copies (a matter we’ll revisit later), but here they are again:

    • 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.

That’s a pretty substantial list.  And just because the NAM’s installer in earlier versions might have allowed the mod to be installed on unpatched copies of the game (or even on non-Deluxe/non-Rush Hour copies of SC4, where attempting to load the mod results in an instant CTD), that ability was simply a limitation of our previous installer script, and was never intended or desired.

Q: So the NAM has actually had a requirement of running Version 1.1.638 or later all along?

A: Yes.  See the “Compatibility” section of the “1.Readme.htm” file in the Documentation folder of any older NAM release:

NAM 30 Readme, describing patch requirement


Also, here’s “2.InstallationInstructionsFile.htm”:

NAM 30 Readme, again detailing patch requirement


Q: What does this mean for digital copies?

A: With the glaring exception of Origin (and only for those who bought the game from Origin–if you obtained a free copy by redeeming an old CD key with them, you’re okay), all other digital retailers, including, Steam, and Amazon (the “Thin Game Download” version) sell pre-patched copies of the game, which carry a version number of 1.1.641 (the highest version number out there).

These Version 1.1.641 copies exceed the requirement, and can install the NAM without issue.

The infamous Origin retail copy, however, is Version 1.1.610, and due to Origin’s modifications to change the DRM method (from SafeDisc to Origin), the patch cannot be applied to it, and it is permanently stuck at Version 1.1.610.  It’s “nerfed.”  If you purchased the game from Origin, ask for a refund, even if you have passed the return window.  Eventually, they will determine that the cost of refunding your purchase is less expense to them than wages for their customer support staff.  This Simtropolis thread shows you how you can do it.

Q: I’ve heard this version check blocks cracked “No CD” executables and pirated copies of the game.  Is this true?

A: Yes, cracked “No CD” executables are indeed blocked by the version check.  They generally carry a different checksum, which means that the NAM installer will not recognize them as valid installations of the game.

In any case, users with cracked/pirated copies have never been eligible for technical support, in large part due to the potential of version mismatches between files.  While blocking cracked copies was not the primary intention of the version check, the NAM Team opposes piracy, and views this side effect as a largely positive one.  More on that in a bit.

Q: But my version of Windows seems to be blocking my disc copy from running–what am I supposed to do?

A: Microsoft decided to declare secdrv.sys, the driver file used by many older games with SafeDisc or SecuROM DRM, a “security threat” back in 2015.  As a result, it decided not to include the driver in Windows 10, and issued an Windows Update (KB3086255) for Windows Vista, 7, 8, and 8.1, which prevented it from operating.

If you are on Vista, 7, 8, or 8.1, one can either remove KB3086255, or use the command line or a batch file to re-enable secdrv.sys when needed.  In the case of Windows 10, unless one wants to go through the trouble of manually signing the secdrv.sys driver (not recommended for the faint of heart), it’s pretty much impossible to get a SafeDisc or SecuROM game working on that version of the operating system.

It may be easier at that point to find a properly patched digital copy (NOT Origin) when it’s on sale.  The game does still have the seemingly steep MSRP of US$19.99 (!) some 14 years after its release, but is often on sale for a much more reasonable US$4.99.

Provided you still have your disc and the CD key, you can also get a free copy by redeeming your CD key with Origin–oddly enough, they’ll give you Version 1.1.641 if you do this, instead of the “nerfed” Version 1.1.610 copies they give their paying retail customers.

Q: I have a legitimate disc copy of the game, and I’ve installed the 1.1.638 patch, but the NAM installer still says I haven’t.  What’s going on?

A: The EP1 Update 1/Version 1.1.638 patch comes in five different “SKUs”, each for a different market where the game was sold.  Here’s a breakdown of the SKUs:

SKU1 – North America, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Australia, and New Zealand

SKU2 – South America, Africa (except South Africa), Europe, Russia, Mexico and Central America

SKU3 – Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, and (some parts of) Hong Kong

SKU4 – Mainland China

SKU5 – Japan

The game will only be properly updated to Verson 1.1.638 if you install the correct SKU of the patch.  The main reason for the different SKUs is language support–each one had a different set of language packs associated with it.  Knowing the language packs on the discs can help in determining the proper SKU.

If the first SKU you tried did not work properly, there is no harm in trying the others.  Eventually, one will work, if you are running a legitimate disc copy of the game.

Here are a few more tips on installing this patch:

  • If you are playing the game in English, but the cars are driving on the left side of the road (and you haven’t done any drive-side modification on your own), that’s a dead giveaway that you’re running a SKU2 copy.  The game treats “English” and “UKEnglsh” as separate languages, and there are some hardcoded differences with respect to drive side between the two (“English” drives on the right, “UKEnglsh” drives on the left).
  • If your executable is showing Version 1.1.613 before patching instead of Version 1.1.610, that is also a sign you should be installing SKU2.
  • Disc copies purchased in more recent times may have actually been originally intended for a different market.  SKU2 copies seem to be especially mobile, ending up on occasion in the US, and with some frequency in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

Q: Where can I get the patch?

A: The patch can be directly obtained through EA (SKU 1-5),  SC4 Devotion (SKU 1-5), or Simtropolis (SKU 1 and 2 only).

Q: Why is it called the EP1 Update 1 patch, when it seems to do nothing to EP1.dat?

A: EP1.dat is a file that comes with Rush Hour/Deluxe, and consists entirely of textures for buildings added in the expansion.  However, EP1.dat is untouched by the EP1 Update 1/Version 1.1.638 patch.  There were no files in there that required patching.

“EP1” is simply an abbreviation that EA Maxis used for the Rush Hour Expansion Pack (included in the Deluxe Edition).  Rush Hour was the first (and only) expansion pack (EP), hence, EP1.  The “EP1” the patch is referring to is the full Rush Hour/Deluxe package.

Q: What about Version 1.1.640 and 1.1.641?  The NAM installer has asked me to consider installing the 1.1.640 patch as well.

A: 1.1.640 is the version number for disc copies of the game that have had the “SimCity 4 Buildings Update” applied.  While it is not required by the NAM, it is a nice patch to have installed if you’re using a lot of custom content, as it enables nightlighting on buildings created using the Building Architect Tool (BAT)–in other words, every custom building you can download off the STEX, LEX, other exchanges.  The NAM installer includes a note about it as a courtesy, as the team figures many users will probably want to download at least some custom buildings.  It requires having the 1.1.638 patch installed first.

The 1.1.640 patch can be obtained at SC4 Devotion (look for the second hard disk icon).

1.1.641 is the version number of the properly pre-patched digital copies, and is functionally identical to 1.1.640, in that it has the 1.1.638 improvements and custom nightlighting support already in place.

Q: What about the Mac version?

A: The Mac port of SC4 from Aspyr operates on a completely different version system from the Windows version.  There is no equivalent patch on the Mac version, and Aspyr has no plans to produce one.  Many of the same issues with 1.1.610 do exist with the Mac version, as well as some other quirks, and we’ve done our best to cope with them for the Mac users.  At present, however, we have no active Mac users on the team, and we are extremely limited in being able to provide any platform-specific technical support.

Q: Given all the issues outlined above, does the NAM Team still feel that using the version check is prudent after the past four years?

A: The goal of many initiatives we take is to reduce the amount of time we need to spend on technical support.  The less technical support we need to provide, the more time we can spend developing new features.  The joy of continuing to develop new features and push the game further is what has kept the NAM Team going for over 13 years.

Adding the version check did create a trade-off: we traded people asking us to fix issues that Maxis already did, for people asking why the version check isn’t recognizing their install as valid.  The solution to these issues is ultimately the same, however–install the EP1 Update 1 patch.  We’ve just moved the point at which we need to tell users when to do that, from when they first noticed an issue they erroneously thought was the team’s fault, to before they even get the mod up and running.  We do, however, understand the frustration, and are looking at ways of potentially streamlining this process, so the SKU “guessing game” goes away, and users with cracked executables are given a more accurate message.  Both of these steps could substantially mitigate some of the issues.

One of the main deciding factors right now as far as the version check’s future is the Origin “nerfed copies” situation.  Being a particularly visible part of the SC4 community, it’s part of the NAM Team’s role to be a watchdog.  It is our intent to force Origin to do the right thing (again) and give its retail customers the same properly patched copy of the game that all other digital retailers offer.  The version check–and its de facto disincentive to pirate the game–gives us leverage in that fight.

Q: If you’re going to keep the version check in, why not offer up old NAM versions for those who can’t pass through it?

A: This idea is not at all feasible, for a number of reasons.

First off, as has been mentioned many times in this article, the NAM has always required Version 1.1.638 or later.  That’s just as true of NAM 1 as it is of NAM 35.  Not only would we be dealing with the version check-related cases, we’d also be reintroducing the Version 1.1.610/613-related tech support cases we intended to avoid by adding the version check in the first place.

Secondly, the NAM has long been strongly opposed to the continued distribution of old versions. Aside from a couple of extreme emergency cases (i.e. the one time we actually published a release date–never again), we’ve always overwritten or yanked down the old versions on the download sites once the next version is ready, for reasons described below, and gone after sites that distribute old versions.  (For at time, in the late-00s, we even went to the extent of locking the mod on the exchanges, a few days prior to a new release, to prevent people from downloading the current-but-soon-to-be-obsolete version.)

Q: Why is the NAM Team against having old versions up for download?

A: The main reason, of course, is tech support.

The NAM Team of today is a small but valiant effort, made up of passionate volunteers, working in their spare time.  We take pride in our work, and want the community to be able to enjoy it, so we are happy to offer (free) technical support for the (free) mod, to the best of our abilities.  By only offering and supporting the latest version, we can still focus the majority of our activity on the development of new and improved features–the main reason we do this–while supporting a public release that’s still relatively fresh in our memories.  Old versions are an unneeded distraction and a huge tech support liability, particularly as they tend to have bugs that newer versions solve, not to mention a smaller feature list.  Given our nightmarish experience with the Diagonal Bridge Enabler (anyone remember “where’s my water?”), we also have concerns that users may unknowingly download an old version instead of the latest.

It’s worth noting, particularly with more recent releases, that a larger feature list does not equal a more complicated experience.  The user has a lot of control in our installer package to determine just how much or how little of the mod they wish to install, and many of our currently in-development features, such as the FLEX Turn Lanes (FTLs) and the RealHighway QuickChange Xpress (QCX) system will actually provide a readily-accessible entry point to some of the NAM’s most exhaustive components.

In any case, there’s little we could do to help users of old versions, other than to advise them to download the latest version.





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).



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.


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.