We had the opportunity to see the next game in Maxis' classic city-building series at E3 2002. Specifically, we got to see the city of San Francisco represented in the game. Though SimCity 4 won't reproduce the city in exacting detail--so that players will have the freedom to build, modify, and destroy it as they see fit--it will have all the major landmarks of the city, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, and the Palace of Fine Arts. San Francisco makes a perfect city for SimCity 4 because of its number of hills--it's a great example of how easy it is to use the game's powerful terrain editor to create hills, depressions, and mountains in your custom city.
And just like the previous games in the series, SimCity 4 will let you play through the game in mayor mode and let you manage the city in real time, but to add more personality to the series, SimCity 4 will also have a sim mode. Sim mode lets you create a custom sim character (the little computer people that inhabit SimCity and starred in The Sims) in your city (or import one from The Sims) and track his or her location, progress, and general happiness level. You can also send your sim to live in a specific neighborhood and use that sim's status to help him or her gauge how well that neighborhood is doing.
Virtual mayors can build whatever sort of city they want, district by district, neighborhood by neighborhood. New buildings don't automatically appear onscreen--they are actually built by tiny sim construction workers, and their condition can be affected by disasters and by the neighborhood's general status. Destructive mayors can access god mode, which lets you hurl natural disasters, such as fires, hurricanes, and erupting volcanoes, at their cities. Fire eats away at buildings and gradually reduces them to smoking ruins. If fires do break out, you can deploy the fire department (after building a fire house) to put out the fire, but if they're too stingy to invest a great deal in firefighter training, the firefighters themselves will fumble with the hose and generally not be especially effective. Important buildings, such as firehouses and schoolhouses, have a certain radius of effect, displayed onscreen with a glowing circle. Build a firehouse on the other side of town, and your fire engines may get too caught up in traffic to get to the fire in time. You will also need to carefully manage your neighborhoods' composition--we watched a large, obnoxious power plant get built in the rich part of town. Once the pollution from the factory seeped out into the neighborhood, the wealthy citizens left in droves, the property value plummeted, and the once pristine-looking buildings gradually changed into dingy wrecks.
We'll have more information on SimCity 4 in the coming months.