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

2 June 2016: Update on SC4 Devotion Server Move

EDIT: As of 7 June 2016, the site is back up and running.  Thanks to everyone for their patience, and to Jeronij for his valiant and patient efforts battling the technical issues.

As many of you in the community have noticed, the SC4 Devotion forums have been in “Maintenance Mode” for awhile now, with a message about the site being moved to a new server.  The process was started on May 23rd, and while we hoped that it would be a smooth process that would take a couple of days at the most, it has unfortunately turned into a very complicated process, which Jeronij, the site owner and webmaster, is still working to resolve.  I’ve been trying to relay what I do know about the process in a thread over at Simtropolis (thanks to their staff for their support while we’ve been down), and thought I would also try to answer some of the common questions I’ve encountered from community members during our downtime.

Unfortunately, I don’t know that much, as the process is largely something that only Jeronij can do as the site owner, but I have had some communication with him since the closure, and will do my best to shed a little bit of light on things.

When will the forums be back?

The reopening of the forums is entirely contingent on getting the new server operational.  The URL still points to the old server at present, and Jeronij is waiting to get the new server fully up and running before requesting the DNS change to point to it.

There is no reliable estimate that we can give as to when the forums will be back.  Jeronij indicated that any post made after the move was initiated would most likely get wiped out upon its completion, and locking down the forums was a safeguard, to prevent anyone from losing a Mayor’s Diary update, or some other equally critical forum post.

What is the issue with the new server?

There are some database issues across the board on the new server, and in particular, the LEX is completely inoperable.  The site owner has been working with our webhost’s technical support team to attempt to resolve the issues since May 23rd.

 

Is the LEX still open?

The LEX isn’t locked down right now, but it’s only partially open.  Anyone looking to upload a new file to the LEX should refrain from doing so until after the server move has been completed, as anything uploaded after the forum lockdown (May 23rd) will also likely hit the bit bucket, as will any LEX comments made after that date.  Uploading/commenting would have been locked, but there is no mechanism available to do so in the LEX Admin Panel.

Is the LEX on a different server than the forums?

No.  The entire site exists on the same server.  If we were to request the DNS change before the issues were resolved, the LEX would be completely knocked out, preventing access to a number of dependencies used cross-site.  It would effectively drive the community to a halt more than the current forum closure would.

Can’t you partially reopen the forums, perhaps in read-only mode?

There’s no reasonable mechanism by which to do so with our forum software.

Is this going to turn into another SimPeg?

No.  SimPeg suffered catastrophic database failure and lacked a backup, meaning the site was completely lost (save for a majority of the files on their exchange, which had been mirrored at Simtropolis).  While there are database issues on the new server, the old server is still up, and there are backups.

 

Hopefully, this helps give you a little better idea of where things currently stand.  We hope to be back up soon, and the staff thanks you for your patience while our webmaster valiantly slays the technical gremlins.

-Tarkus

EDIT: As of 7 June 2016, the site is back up and running.  Thanks to everyone for their patience, and to Jeronij for his valiant and patient efforts battling the technical issues.

NAM 34 Gets Mac OS X Bundle Release with CAM 2.1.0

Thanks to the efforts of an enterprising new member at SC4 Devotion, Mero90, Mac OS X users can once again enjoy the latest NAM release.  Like the previous NAM 32.1 release, this new package is set up as a Wineskin port of the Windows installer.  Due to the fact that the new CAM 2.1.0 release by InvisiChem also needed a Mac installer (yes, there’s a new CAM, too!), and the large file overhead from Wineskins, both NAM 34 and the new CAM are included as a bundle, though there is no requirement that users install both.  As this package was built using the newest Wineskin engine on El Capitan, it also marks the first time that the NAM can run properly on that version of OS X, since the previous NAM 32.1 installer was stymied by the new Security Integrity Protection (SIP, AKA “Rootless”) feature.

The new bundle is available at both the SC4D LEX and ModDB, and runs about 363MB.  It is doubly compressed in order to keep the filesize and bandwidth consumption down, so like before with NAM 32.1, you’ll need an app that can open .7z files.  Mero90 has created his own support thread for the bundle at SC4D, which can be found here, and contains more information about installation and the like.

-Tarkus

NAM 34 Now Available

We’ve finally done it–landed a NAM release on December 25th, just in time to give your copy of SimCity 4 a Christmas stocking stuffer.  Just one short month after our last release, NAM 34 is here, with a few exciting new features.  The release announcement thread with more details is here.

The download is presently up at the SC4 Devotion LEX and Simtropolis STEX.  ModDB doesn’t yet have it, but will quite soon (I’ll update this post once that happens).

Enjoy the release and the holiday!

-Tarkus

Gobble Up The NAM 33 Official Release

It’s finally here.  After a nearly two-year development cycle (phew!), the NAM 33 official release has finally arrived, just in time for Thanksgiving here in the US.  The official announcement can be read at SC4 Devotion, here.  There’s a couple of very interesting surprise features that have made their way in since the pre-release from this summer . . .

nam33new

Download Links

ModDB

SC4 Devotion

Simtropolis

Note that there is no Mac version presently.  Mac support is on hiatus due to a lack of personnel, and issues created by the new features of OS X El Capitan, which have blocked the existing NAM 32.1 Wineskin-based installer from running.

-Tarkus

The RealHighway (RHW) System Turns 10

Ten years ago, on November 16, 2005, the first ever public build of what was then called the Rural Highway Mod, or RHW, was unleashed.  It was a simple proof of concept, for a new, modular highway system, with a limited set of features.  Based on initial ideas from modding pioneer Teirusu, it was ultimately seen through by qurlix, with texture work by nooneatall and Zeddic.

It couldn’t even really do interchanges then.  There were two puzzle pieces, and only Rails and Streets could intersect it at-grade.  (This was my personal first interchange that attempted to use the RHW . . . complete with lack of slope mod.)

From that limited set of features, some of us who tried out the mod in its early days saw a glimmer of amazing potential, for a new modular highway system, and the ability to cause the game’s default networks to behave in new ways, helping bring about the draggable revolution that has changed the landscape of SC4 transit mods.

Ten years later, the RHW–now RealHighway, as it has long surpassed merely being “rural”–is still going.

It’s been an amazing ride–thanks to everyone who has supported this project over the past decade, and to all the other developers and contributors I’ve had the pleasure of working with, who have helped pave this road.  Here’s to many more years of the highway revolution.

-Tarkus

Update on the status of NAM 33’s full release (and some more bad news for Mac users)

As you may know, NAM 33’s Pre-Release has been available from SC4 Devotion’s LEX since the end of July, and we have been working toward a finalized “official” NAM 33 build since that time.  That finalization process, however, has had just as rough a road as the development up to the point of the pre-release did.

First off, we’ve had to go to to an alternate plan with respect to the Euro RHW textures.  MandelSoft retired from SC4 to focus on his modding work for Euro Truck Simulator (where, as you might expect, he’s doing some pretty amazing things), and while he made every effort to find someone to carry on his work, no one picked up the mantle.  With a myriad of changes to the RHW ramp interfaces for NAM 33, including a re-design of the texture specs for overhanging models, some geometry refinements to some existing draggable/FLEXRamps, and the addition of over two dozen new ramp interfaces, the process of updating all of his alternate RHW texture sets to cover NAM 33’s feature set would require a quite substantial effort–certainly more than the remainder of our already-overloaded developers could handle.  This is especially so given that those alternate sets use different width specs than the default North American/US texture set, so a lot of geometry would have to be created from scratch.

What this means is that MandelSoft’s RHW sets will be discontinued, at least for the time being.  This includes not only the base Euro RHW set, but also the Ontario RHW set (popularized by Haljackey), the Irish/South African set, and the more subtle regional variations on the Euro set.  MandelSoft’s non-RHW EU textures will remain.  In order to ensure that there are at least some Euro textures, I have actually gone through and, with the help of some Photoshop Actions, was able to produce Euro textures from the default North American set in a partially -automated process.  The process I have developed does have the significant plus of making it so that Euro textures can be readily produced as soon as an RHW feature is added.  That said, it’s still not been the easiest task finalizing the new set, especially with juggling rather heavy “real life syndrome”, and there still is work to do here.  A fair amount of installer modifications will also need to be done, in order to reflect these changes.

There is also more bad news on the Mac front, unfortunately.  There have been some rather contentious exchanges internally within the team, that have been brewing for the last few months that we’ve been working on NAM 33.  Normally, I wouldn’t discuss internal politics here, but some of those issues did recently spill out into the public forums at SC4D, to the point of requiring staff intervention, and they’ve had a pretty significant negative impact on the development process of late.  The results have been that one developer has been placed on a two-year leave, another has resigned, and a few innocent parties on the team who became tired of the tension quietly decided to take some time away.  Unfortunately, one of those innocent parties is our one and only Mac user on the team, so there is presently no one with the capability of actually producing a Mac installer at present.

Even more substantial, a user astrobill at SC4D recently reported that the existing Mac installer for NAM 32.1 will not run on the latest version of OS X, El Capitan (10.11), presumably due to the new “System Integrity Checking” (SIC) feature, and without a Mac-fluent developer on the team, we have no way of really investigating the issue any further at present.  This all likely means that NAM 33 may have to go without a Mac release, and Mac support in general may again be shelved for a time (the NAM Team won’t support any NAM 32.x release after NAM 33 is finalized, and NAM 32.0 has already been dropped from support).

-Tarkus