• Welcome to SC4 Devotion Forum Archives.

Realistic Cities For Dummies

Started by smileymk, November 29, 2010, 09:14:46 AM

Previous topic - Next topic

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.


Firstly, a note about the title. It's a good and proper rip-off of the popular British book series '(Subject) for Dummies', which is a bestselling series of 'idiot's guides' to a wide range of subjects, from iPods to carpentry (I just plucked the 2nd one out of thin air but you get the idea), which are written for someone who knows little, if anything, about that subject, but are also used by people who do know what they're doing for use as and when necessary.

It also explains why I chose this particular title - because that's what this MD is - an 'idiot's guide' to building realistic cities in SimCity 4.

In this MD I will be walking you guys through 4 projects, each more substantial, ambitious and higher-standard than the last. And at the end of these, there'll be the opportunity for you to have a go yourself.
The 4 projects are thus:

  • Single City Tile: This is just what you might think. In this project we'll go over the basic fundamentals of building realistic cities, using only 'ready-to-run' mods that you can get off the STEX.
  • Large City: Now we'll expand into multiple city tiles, so we'll start exploring region play and realism over city borders. We'll also start tinkering a few ready-to-run mods to make them better.
  • Metropolis: Get this far and it'll be time to move up to the big leagues. Everything we do will be on a grand scale - and we'll start 'kit-building' mods using the Lot Editor.
  • County/State: Now we're talking. For our last project, we're gonna go really big. We're gonna build an area that could serve as a whole county or state - so we'll go over placement of settlements, and the level will be so high by now, that we'll start 'scratchbuilding' our own mods.

Oh, and we'll be starting each of these from scratch, and finishing one before moving on to the next. That's why there aren't any pictures yet. I assure you that this will change.

The aim of this, of course, is to get into the Classics section, but it's also to get you guys, who I know are all capable players of the game (and I say that in a nice way), to learn something new - even in the beginner projects.
I expect to do this in the very first lesson.

I hope I've explained it to you well enough.
Now, if you're interested, the inspiration for this came from 'Canons Cross', a model railway built for British Railway Modelling to show that even a beginner can build a model railway to a high standard, using only ready-to-run products.
It didn't take me long to realise that this concept could easily be applied to SC4, so I came up with the idea of doing this.
So that's the reason for the railway modelling terms - and there'll be more. Maybe I should do a glossary so you know what I'm talking about.

Anyways, I'll shut up now. I should have the first lesson of the first project ready in a couple of days.

- Chris

Realistic Cities for Dummies
Step-by-step tutorials on every single aspect of realistic city-building.



Sounds like an interesting concept. I wish you good luck! 


I'm intrigued by this: and I might be able to learn a thing or two from it ;)

RIP Adrian (adroman), you were a great friend

My LOT thread                                    

SCAG BAe146/Avro RJ Project


Wonderful! Been waiting for this for a long time
I love Simcity 4!


Sounds like an ambitious and interesting project!  A tutorial formatted MD should be a very interesting read!  Looking forward to the first lesson. 


NAM + CAM + RAM + SAM, that's how I roll....


Interresting... I'm curious how this will turn out...
Lurk mode: ACTIVE


Thanks for all the kind words, guys. I can promise you I won't disappoint.

Now let's make a start with the first lesson shall we?

Project 1 - Single City

Lesson 1 - Planning

Fail to plan, plan to fail!

I don't know who first made that quote, but they had a point. Building a city, even just a single city tile, is a very ambitious project, and one that you can't just dive into without any clear sense of direction. Because if you do, your city will look like it was just thrown together in the hope that somehow it all worked out.

So what do you do to prevent this? You do what any team of builders would do before building anything - plan it out beforehand. I can't stress enough the importance of doing this. It will make your project so much easier to complete, because you won't need to spend time figuring out what to do next.
The larger your region, the more important it is to plan!
This is because you will have a huge space and not know what to do with it otherwise.

But we should still plan even the smallest projects. Here's how it's done.

How to Plan

The first thing to do is to develop a concept - i.e. a clear idea in your head about what you want to achieve from this project, and the kind of thing you're going to build to do it.
The concept for this project is thus:

To build a small town, of about 50-100K population, which has an industrial heritage, but is also within commuting distance of a major city, and has hence become a 'dormitory town' to that city, meaning it is served by a major motorway and major railway line.

See how simple that is?

Now we can start planning properly. For this, you need a piece of paper, and a lot of coloured pens. Draw a fairly big square to represent your city tile, then start adding features.
To explain this better, here's the plan I made for this project:

(I did this on Paint but you should do it on paper, so you can refer to it in the game)

There are a few things to note here. First of all, it's simple. Just a few lines representing important features like roads, railways and rivers, circles to represent motorway junctions, and a few brief labels to explain what's going on. That's it. That's all you need to do. No further elaboration is necessary.
Also, you'll notice that some areas, like motorway junctions, are almost oversimplified. These are complex areas, so you might want to plan these out as well if you like. I did this for both the main motorway junctions so you could see what to do:

(The first one was the northern one, the second the southern one. Just so you know.)

Again, see how simple it is! It's just a few lines and a bit of narrative. Nothing fancy. A 5-year old could do it. And it should be this simple, so it's easy to follow.

At this stage you should also come up with a name. To help explain how to do this, I will tell you I've decided to call this city Faulkner's Bridge.
This was created by
a) considering the geographical features. There's a river, so there'll be a bridge - a bridge which we can say was fairly important, say, 500 years ago, and
b) plucking 'Faulkner's' at random out of an index of a map of my hometown. This is an important point - get a random number generator (a good calculator or Excel) and generate random numbers between 1 and 26 to represent letters in the index. Progress until you finish with just one option - use this as your city name and come up with a good excuse (e.g. Faulkner was a nobleman 500 years ago who lived here).
Be creative!

Themes are also good, especially in big regions - but that is for another project.

And that's it! You're now ready to get going.
The three things we learned today were:

  • How and why to plan
  • To keep the plan simple.
  • Choosing a name for your city

Remember, if a 10-year-old can't follow your plan, it's too complicated.

I hop I've taught you something new today. Read it slowly, take it in, and you'll be ready to move on to the next lesson, in which we look at preparing your region so it's ready to be built on.


Realistic Cities for Dummies
Step-by-step tutorials on every single aspect of realistic city-building.



nice basic stuff, good to see it layed out in a readable format.
NAM + CAM + RAM + SAM, that's how I roll....


A good lesson even for more experienced players (like me  ::) ). Very well written!


Looks like you got the basics covered, I eagerly await the following part

Although, on a side note, I'd like to say that my cities are nigh on never planned ahead (well, 5 mins ahead, in my head) and most turn out rather nice (although I totally agree that you should plan ahead)
RIP Adrian (adroman), you were a great friend

My LOT thread                                    

SCAG BAe146/Avro RJ Project


I try to do that...

Btw, your map reminds me of Doncaster in South Yorkshire...is it the inspiration?


This is a unique and very interesting approach to MDing, Chris. I definitely need some help with planning, so you can be sure I'll follow along as you show and tell.



Good approach!  Looks like you put a lot of thought into your city layout!


I know when I pulled this game back out from a four year long hibernation about three years ago, I longed for stuff just like this.  "$Deal"$ Something to bridge the gap between those starting out and a community that often seems to have moved far past what beginners can handle. Its good too that your not talking to your audience like total noobs either.  :thumbsup:


Crikey, I can see this is going down well with you guys. Long may it continue!

Now to answer all of those comments:

mightygoose: That does help. Thanks for pointing that out.

metasmurf: Fantastic. If I can teach even the greats (the likes of Haljackey, Peg, dedgren, etc.) something new, I'll be ecstatic. It's great to know I've taught you something new.

WC_EEND: As long as you have a clear idea in your head about what you want to do, that's fine. I was just trying to illustrate what happens if you don't.

wallasey: No. I live in Milton Keynes, and have never been to South Yorkshire, let alone Donny. Maybe that'll change one day, but if the map looks like Doncaster, it's just a coincidence.

Jmouse: Excellent! I'm glad you find it interesting.

Battlecat: Thanks. I did try to make it look reasonably realistic. It shows that it's worth taking time to plan - think of it as a labour of love.

cubby420: Well, you guys aren't noobs, and I don't want to sound patronising. But I do agree with the statement before that about bridging the gap between the beginners and the greats - I hope I can do that.

And now it's time for the next lesson.

Lesson 2 - Preparation

I'm aware that most of you will probably already know the stuff in this lesson, but there'll be those that don't, and those who need a reminder.

Now that we've planned out what we want to do, we can start work on the region. But as soon as we create the new region, the game throws up the first of many problems for us:

This region is no good to us. Look back to the brief, and the plan, and you'll see that we wanted a single city tile (large size). Here we've got the bricks randomly thrown around by Maxis in the hope that it somehow worked out. You can see that they didn't plan.

So we need to quit SC4 and sort this out.
To change the region size and setup, we need to locate the region folder on the hard drive, and find this file:

Pay attention to both the file directory (do NOT change this if you want your region to work!) and the config.bmp file name.
This is the file that is responsible for your regional setup. Do not move it, or change the name, for the same reason that you don't move your region directory.

Instead, right-click it and select 'Edit' from the menu that appears. That will open the file up in Paint, where we can change it.
This is what you'll get when you open the file:

That's it. That little thing in the red circle. That's your region. That's going to be hard to work with, so go to View - Zoom - Custom, and select the largest zoom:

Then click the Show Grid option in the Zoom menu, and you'll get this:

That's much easier to see and to work with. At this point I need to explain how this file works.
Each grid square in Paint represents one pixel. And in the game, one pixel is equivalent to one small city tile.
As for the colours, they determine the size of the city tiles. To make a city tile, you need to make a square of the correct size in the correct colour. This table explains all:

Tile SizeSize in Paint (Pixels)Colour

Our plan calls for one large tile, so we need to clear the image we've got (CTRL - SHIFT - N does the job), and change the image size. To do this, go to Image - Attributes, and you'll get this:

Pay close attention to the size. One large tile is equal to 4x4 small tiles, which means that the region size needs to be 4x4 pixels. Click OK, and the image will become smaller.
Now click on the Brush tool, find the largest cursor size there is, and set the colour to blue. Click on the image, and it will go all-blue:

And we're done! This image will render in the game as a single large city tile. To prove it, let's go back into the game and load up the region:

Now that's a proper region, which is now ready to be worked on for real.

And that's what we'll do in the next lesson, in which we'll be doing the terraforming.

Bye for now,


Realistic Cities for Dummies
Step-by-step tutorials on every single aspect of realistic city-building.



This is some pretty cool stuff - I did a lot of this stuff on my blog - SimCincinnati - where I'm trying to recreate Cincinnati in SC4


Good update. Given the content of this MD, I almost wish there were a way for it to be in a tutorial section as well...just to make it more accessible to beginners by putting it in a more logical location.


Neat stuff.  I want to mention that there is no need to enter SC4 to get a config.  All you need to do is make a folder in your regions folder and put a config.bmp in there.  SimCity knows what to do when it reads it.


nice man! helped a lot!!  &apls  I was wondering if you could make one on how to create certain districts. i.e.: downtown/CBD, suburbs, historic districts, Marina. Because my downtowns are hard to plan out because the middle is the worst because it is hard so squeeze in highways. please help?  ;)