Monday, April 25, 2011

Returning with Streets of Simcity

Right, time to get back on track. The insane deadline month is now officially over, as it should be. It took me longer than a month and when such a month is over you always get clogged up with things you didn't get around to while you were busy. That didn't include this blog, as you might have noticed, so I've gone a bit rusty at writing to it. I wanted to return with a grand, philosophic post, but when the moment was there (1 week ago), I couldn't come up with anything. I'll just start with discussing a very obscure game this week: Streets of Simcity.

If this game was a classic, this picture would be
iconic. Now it's ironic.
Streets of Simcity, as lovely explained on its wikipedia page, is a racing <slash> car battle game from 1997 that let's you set the game in your own cities from Simcity 2000. Let that sink in for a moment: this is a game that lets you customise a racing car with rocket launchers, machine guns, claymore mines and oil slicks and then lets you loose in a city you might have build before, since almost everyone I knew had SC2000. The awesome charts are off the scale. Yes, everything was possible. You would run into bandits and slice them up with your guns. You could fire a couple of rockets at a building which would collapse under the explosions. There were even upgrades for your car to jump or hover which, when combined, even gave you the ability to fly. Just imagine you, flying around in a car, loaded with machineguns and rockets, while taking a look at the arco you built a couple of weeks ago when you were still mayor of this town.

I was never very good at this game, mostly because my computer couldn't run the game well on any settings. This was because the game took my 3DFX voodoo1 card by default and the accelerated game wasn't customisable. The software mode was even worse, because I had a 166Mhz pentium 1 with no MMX. It went OK when there were no enemies around, but only one car had to enter the scene and the framerate dropped to less than 1 per second. I then had to manoeuvre to aim my gun, hold the spacebar and hope I hit the other. After a while I went to a strategy where I took their attention, made an instant 180, drove away really fast and dropped mines. I never played much career mode, because I would fail at most of the missions, instantly getting stuck at the beginning of all the 6 careers.

Yay, the software engine! Just look at the
beautiful square smoke.
About that 180, it was reeeaaaally instant. You wouldn't believe how instant. The gamedesigners had this idea that a handbrake on the shift key would be nice and then started to give it other functions when given the right key combinations. shift+steer+down was a 180, like straight <BAM!> other way,  shift+steer was a hard steer and Shift+up was hard accelerate. You read that right; handbraking while accelerating makes you instantly get over the speed limit. There was even a possibility to strafe with your car while holding the alt button. This might be a bit weird design choice, but by the time your car can fly, who is looking at realism, ey?

Now I hear mister Cricket thinking: "If this game's so awesome, why haven't I seen it before?" Well, first of all, the engine is crap. Forget about the technical difficulties, like the heavy software mode and inefficient accelerated mode, the poor collision detection and the fact that it runs on windows 9X only, those are minor things compared to the major flaw originating from SC2000. Ever saw the roads in SC2000? Ever wondered how a car would get up a 45 degree hill, those blocks you get when building a road on a certain hill or the ramps onto the highway? Simple answer: you don't! The instant 45 degree corners in Simcity 2000 are not easy to take and they are just copied to 3D in Streets. The highway is not raised making a very weird flat surface over water and through the city. The highway ramps are pathetic heaps of rubble that make your car wobble a bit. In short: cities are for a large part undrivable.

If you had voodoo and you saw this many enemies
this picture was all you would see for 2 seconds.
With that in mind, the people who do know Streets of Simcity practically never give it harsh criticism, despite all its flaws. This might be because the game sets a great ambiance, even though the cities models look rushed, and there is a lot to customise. Within the packet of Streets of Simcity came a race editor and the SC2000 urban renewal kit, which is basically SC2000 without money or game element. You could make any environment you wanted and put a race-track through it which was all surprisingly intuitive to use. Even the skins were editable and the developers even went the extra mile by adding a blue-print bitmap for skins. I got a full 2 months of fun out of it before I even started thinking about other games.

If you liked SC2000 and you like to wreck a bit of mayhem, I definitely recommend Streets of Simcity. It's on e-bay for just a few bucks. I must warn you, though, that it will only work on MS windows 95 and 98. If you want to make it look pretty, try to find a computer with a voodoo card or try something with glide wrapper, but don't expect it to run smoothly.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Insane deadline month: the aftermath

The problem with being overly busy is that when the deadline is reached there is always this little bit of extra effort you need. You might have finished that paper, but in order for it to be validated, you will have to reread a little or do a bit of extra research. Mowing the lawn may tidy up your garden, but you need to rake the grass together for it to be perfect.

Case in point: my deadlines. I was relieved to find that the deadlines for the guest subjects were actually 2 weeks later than originally anticipated. This gave me room to breathe and relax a little, but also meant that I will be tense for two weeks more.

I disagree with Douglas Adams. I hate deadlines. I hate the stress they bring, the pressure on the quality of your work and the lack of nice whooshing sound they make when passing by. It screws up your life and gives you nothing in return. I just need two more weeks and then it's over.