Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
How I wonder what you're at!
Up above the world you fly,
Like a tea tray in the sky.
Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter was quite the poet, but he probably couldn’t BAT his way out of a paper bag. Fortunately for us, madhatter106 eschews the poetry (at least as far as we know) and instead, dazzles us with his twinkling BATs (the SC4 model kind). He hails from the City of Angles, and the cities sprawling suburbs and gritty atmosphere can be seen in the massive collection of buildings that reside here on the STEX. If you browse the forums, his name continues to pop up when new members begin looking for custom content because his creations mix so well with the standard Maxis fare, and his ‘no dependencies’ lots are a welcome bonus. With almost 150,000 total downloads, it’s easy to see how popular his creations have become. So follow us down the rabbit hole and spend a little time with our very own madhatter106.
ST: When did you first get SC4, and what do you remember about your first experiences with the game? Was SC4 your first involvement with SimCity, or did you already have a history with the sim games?
madhatter106: I remember getting the original SimCity for the Commodore 128 back in the spring of 1990. I've played that and SC2 and SC3 a bunch, in college and afterwards. I like sandbox style games, so SC4 was a definite buy; I think I picked that one up in 2005 or so when I was on a hiatus from work.
ST: What aspect of SC4 do you enjoy most – what keeps you coming back?
madhatter106: I think seeing a great new BAT pop up in the game, especially if it's very cleverly done or perfectly modeled or textured. Those are the moments I enjoy. I must say that IBAT much more than I play the game - I would guess that 90% of my time is spent outside of SC4, making content for it. I think I'm more of a content provider than a player, because I like making the kind of stuff I like to see in-game – that is, in those rare moments I am actually playing.
ST: Do you recall the first plugin you installed?
madhatter106: It must have been off the original SC4 Exchange on the Maxis site. I remember looking for carwashes, so it was probably something along those lines. I still haven’t found a carwash plugin that I really like; maybe I’ll make one someday. I'm guessing that I might even still have those early downloads somewhere on a backup hard drive, now that the desktop I originally used is long gone.
ST: What led you to Simtropolis at first? Can you remember your initial impressions of the site?
madhatter106: I don't remember how I found Simtropolis. I do seem to remember finding it soon after using the original Maxis exchange. I don't recall my initial impressions, but I'm sure I spent more time surfing the STEX than I did in the forums. I was searching for good plugins, rather than reading about the game and its intricacies.
ST: Describe your progression into the world of SC4 custom content. Was it a particular lot or BAT that inspired you to take the first step?
madhatter106: I remember getting and installing gmax/BAT when I first started with the game. And then I didn't use it at all. It sat on my computer for a couple of years, and I kept thinking, "oh I'm never going to use that, I'm not playing SC4 at the moment, I should just get rid of it and save some hard drive space," but I never took it off. And then I picked up SC4again after a long, long hiatus, and on a lark started reading the phillipbo tutorial and then thought, "why not give it a try?" There were a couple of BATters whose style I admired (and probably inadvertently emulated at first), so I guess that was also a push.
ST: Speaking of first steps, what was the very first thing that you modeled using the BAT? Do you still have a screen shot?
madhatter106: I messed around a little bit in gmax to learn the interface. Making piles of standard primitives with very basic manipulation, you know that sort of thing. I do remember sorting through the phillipbo tutorial as I was making my first BAT; I didn't want to create that specific tutorial BAT, but did want to apply what I was learning to what I was creating. That finished BAT did end up getting uploaded to the STEX, and it was my first upload.
ST: Skyscrapers tend to get all the glory in SC4, and many BATers gravitate to them as well, yet your first upload on Simtropolis was a tiny CS$ shop called You followed it with a number of small commercial packs, including a massively diverse set of low wealth commercial shops. What led you to take this ‘road less traveled’ BATtrajectory?
madhatter106: It's partly because those are the kinds of BATs I like seeing when I am playing the game, and it's partly because of how I play. I start lots of small cities all the time (I’m a total Aries that way), and I usually don't end up with a population that is too high, so I rarely see the tallest buildings growing on their own; I think the highest population city tile I may have ever made is in the 80K range and it amazingly only had a single incarnation of Wren Insurance. So when you play like that and build like that (lots of smaller areas and towns), the Maxis content gets very, very repetitive. The Sim IQ rating is really low when you start a new city tile, so you don't see a lot of offices or high tech industry or high wealth residential growing at first, and so there's a lot of industry and low wealth commercial that is needed. That means that you could have a plugins folder full of skyscrapers, but you won't see them for a good long while - so you need to have little guys, the low wealth commercials and smaller buildings to get you going. Also, there's a lot of stuff that hasn't been really explored by other BATters - some types of businesses are sorely under-represented on the STEX, and those are the ones that really interest me. I mean, I was amazed that not many liquor stores existed on the STEXbefore . Likewise, no one had done surf shops, so . Ultimately I make the types of buildings that I like to see grow in my cities; skyscrapers don't interest me that much, as so many other (and better) BATters have those covered and those BATters are working in better software than i am (ie. 3dsMax).
ST: One aspect of all your creations that I really like is the unique names and descriptions that you include for each of your models. Your models and lots are already colorful in their own sense, so what possesses you to go the extra mile?
madhatter106: I don't know; it's just part of my nature and style. I rather appreciate anything that's clever, so when I create stuff like this, I like to include little "in-jokes" or sideline things or Easter eggs to give them a little extra layer or meaning. A lot of the time it will whiz past people's heads, and that's fine. The goofy stat response curve that is included with all my uploads is straight-up Maxis style, whose humor I find similar to mine; and since I like keeping in the vein of some of the Maxis stuff, including those in my uploads seemed like a given. Anything a custom content creator can do to give you a laugh or breathe life into the game is good by me; there are lots of boring buildings out there, and you want to make your stuff memorable. The office packs have each had an underlying theme given to the names - mysteries and cryptozology were one of my interests since I was a little kid, so a whole pack of references to those seemed fitting. The old Leonard Nimoy-narrated program In Search Of was probably (for me) the greatest thing on television when I was eight years old, as well as the history of old silent era Hollywood, true crime, etc. At one point, I was tempted to do a more modern true crime pack, but I think I shelved it because I thought it might be in bad taste; I think naming BATs in a building pack after serial killers or mass murderers or truly despicable people would be glorifying their deeds in some way, so I scrapped that idea. I had also done a paper on the Lindbergh kidnapping in high school, so famous kidnappings and disappearances seemed like a fitting theme for a pack. I might do a pack with naming conventions around the idea of exposed and discredited hoaxes - the Hitler diaries, the Piltdown Man, etc.
ST: I think most custom content creators would consider their work a hobby, but like anything in life, some parts are more fun than others. What do you consider your least favorite part of the BATing process? Your favorite?
madhatter106: My favorite part is the first few hours of a BAT. When you get the modeling and the proportions right, and when it starts to really come together, that's a good part. The texturing is hit or miss - sometimes I can sail through it and sometimes it's a long slog to get all the balances right; is this too dark, or is this too light? What happens when I change the contrast on this texture, does it mess up the other two? Is this too blue or is this too red? Too saturated? Not saturated enough? Thankfully I am pretty quick with Photoshop and I have a good library of standard textures from which to build, but sometimes I can't get the right effect without a lot of swings and misses. Nightlighting is the least fun, and this is partly because I'm working in gmax; it's a lot of trial and error, and a lot of preview renders, particularly if it's a multi-story building. The little buildings were easier to nightlight, but the taller ones (the offices in particular) were usually a bit of a hassle. I must also say that by the time I am at the testing stage, I'm kind of over it; luckily with the small commercials, they're easier for me to test. Sometimes these are affected by the way the BAT is modeled - there are different ways of doing things were the modeling is messy but the texturing goes quickly, or there are situations where the modeling can be very clean and precise, but will require lots of work when it comes to textures. (Minimizing the number of objects and polygons will make for a great precise BAT but will mean that I will spend forever making the textures and unwrapping the UVW maps.) I think the last great joy once all that is done is dropping in all the details and little tidbits that give a BAT life and personality – vending machines, window signage, payphones, HVAC equipment, and all that. These kinds of details can really make a difference, and I wish newer BATers would pay attention to that; but since I come from a theatrical design background, where those details mean character and story and that fancy word “verisimilitude,” that stuff is second nature to me.
ST: Since this is a sort of hobby (in the sense that custom content creators are not paid for their work), what keeps you motivated to continue releasing new creations for theSC4 community to enjoy? How much do comments in the download section mean to you? Do you get a thrill seeing your models pop up in CJs?
madhatter106: Truth be told, I rather appreciate the commentary in the BAT thread for my stuff more than the comments sections on my uploads. The comments section is fun, and I appreciate everyone's enthusiasm. It's difficult to read something silly or dopey that's written as a comment, but I try to ignore those sorts of things. I'm a small business owner, and it's really difficult to read critiques of your business online, so it's a similar situation. I do like seeing my stuff in CJs, though I rarely spend time in the CJ section (partly because there are so many and partly because I don't have lots of free time.) People usually relot them and they look even better (because I’m not much interested in lotting), so that's a good feeling.
ST: You have been BATing wonderful models for over 6 years now. Is there any one of your creations that you are particularly proud of? Are there any fun stories or facts relating to some of your works that we don’t know about?
madhatter106: , as is the teriyaki joint in the same pack. I love , but I should mod it so that it grows more often; it doesn't show up nearly as much as I'd like in my cities. The surf shops are all fun, too, because of their details. I love the front details of - they take a boring building and really give it life and vibrancy. I made a property rental shop that I haven't uploaded yet, and that's another case where the details make the building sing. I usually have a favorite or two in every pack; some of the offices turned out really well. A lot of my inspiration comes from just going about on my normal day-to-day business. Buildings like , , and the were inspired by buildings that I would encounter while driving around Los Angeles (where I live). I also associate certain BATs with certain movies or pieces of music that I was listening to while I was making them. The movie theaters, diners, and coffee shops I will always associated with certain work projects, because I would do a ten or twelve hour day at work, then go home and decompress and BAT them for a couple hours.
ST: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
madhatter106: Apart from driving around Los Angeles as I had already mentioned, I have a huge "swipe file" of stuff that I find online that I think might be good to include in BATs. Everything from HVAC units to windows and whatnot, as well as folders of building types - the office packs had a lot of buildings that were based in part on stuff from my swipe file. I usually don't recreate things exactly as shown in the pictures; I'll use a shape or size or window configuration, but change the ground floor design, or I will shorten the height of the mezzanine, or something along those lines. Rarely do I ever completely recreate something I've seen.
ST: Why is your stuff made in gmax? Why not make the jump to 3dsMax like so many others?
madhatter106: It’s partly the time to learn something new (though there’s a lot of carryover from gmax to Max) and partly the expense. And partly the fact that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks – I’m dug into working with gmax; it’s a deeply ingrained habit. And since SC4 is over a decade old, if archaic gmax was good enough for it back in 2005 or 2006, it’s still good enough for it now. I suppose I could learn it if I picked it up and applied myself, but that’s more determination or discipline than I can muster. Of course, when I see all the cool tricks you can do with Max that you can’t get with little old gmax, that’s frustrating. But I make out all right with gmax, I guess.
ST: Has your experience BATing had any influence on your personal or professional life? Are there any skills that you have developed over your BATing career that have helped you beyond the world of SC4?
madhatter106: I don't think so; if there are any aspects along those lines, it's something of which I'm unaware. I do look at buildings differently, and am always figuring out, "how would IBAT that?" when I see something interesting. Or I will think, "oh that's a different window detail, I should remember that on the next BAT," or some such.
ST: What advice would you give to a new member of this community who was planning on creating their first BAT?
madhatter106: Start small - you're going to want to follow the tutorials out there, but try making something small, like one or two stories max. You're going to be working incredibly slowly, since you're learning the ins and outs of the program, so getting bogged down in a super tall building means it's going to take forever. A short little one story commercial shop or office is the best aim, and see it through to the very end - modeling, textures, nightlights, modding, etc. Then once you get the hang of things, you get faster - I bet I could knock out a small commercial shop in a few hours now, as I know what I'm doing and I know my way around the program, versus taking all day to do one when I first started out. Also, I'm saying it constantly (and even made it part of my Simtropolis signature) that "good textures are made, not found." You rarely can take an image from an online source and have it 100% perfect and ready to be added to a BAT without some form of change. Textures can make or break a BAT, and for many things I’ve seen on the STEX I’ve liked the modeling, but have not pressed the download button because the texturing is substandard or too extreme.
ST: Simtropolis is organized into ‘player’ and ‘builder’ categories. Regarding the ‘player’ section, do you have any favorite CJers that you enjoy following? What are your favoriteSC4 ‘scenes’ (i.e., towering metropolises, urban sprawl, rural landscapes, etc.)
madhatter106: I don't really read the CJs, partly because of what I mentioned before. I wish I could, as there's lots of lovely stuff in there; I just don't find myself there very often.
ST: On the ‘builders’ side, do you have any favorite BATers that you enjoy following? If you still play SC4, what was your most recent download from the STEX?
madhatter106: As far as I'm concerned, jmyers2043 (of the BSC) is the best BATter there is; hands down, without any question, jmyers2043 is the king. I love his style, I love what he chooses to BAT, I love his textures and details; I don't have a lot of BSC stuff in my plugins folder, but his stuff is essential. His stuff is so thoroughly modeled and tested and lotted and perfectly crafted; if there were a BATter whose career I would replace my own with, it would be his. , , , and uploads that he did. I can’t sing the praises of jmyers2043 enough – just about every BAT he’s created has made me say, “I wish I made that.” He’s another custom content creator who does top notch textures; he also has his stuff modded very well, but that’s not surprising as he is a charter member of the BSC. Some of JBSimio’s stuff makes me swoon also; there are a couple of his BATs that have really been inspirations for my later stuff. The great thing about this feeling and what I come away with in my own work is the inspiration to try my hand in a similar vein; maybe partly out of emulation but also partly out of trying my own “spin” or take on it.
ST: SimCity 4 has been out for over 12 years now. Are you surprised that this community is still going strong all these years later? What do you think is the secret to its longevity? Do you think there will still be new content being created 12 years from now?
madhatter106: I think it's a testament to how good the genre is in general, and this iteration of the game is in particular. It's like a model train set, but in digital form; we can create these great scenes - small towns to sprawling metropolises. And with all the custom content and mods that people have created over the past 12 years, it really doesn’t surprise me that this game has had such a good shelf life. It doesn’t even seem to have abated – there are newcomers proving their worth every year; the STEX hasn’t dried up and the NAM hasn’t stagnated. I can certainly see new content being created years from now ; we have such a dedicated community for the game in general and on Simtropolis in particular, it wouldn’t surprise me if we see other BATers and modders coming along in the mold of SimGoober or Pegasus or SimFox, so it’s exciting to see what they could come up with. And I do hope that groups like the BSC and NYBT and the NAM team are going to continue to provide us with all manner of goodies to make the game look, feel, and play better.
ST: What are you working on now? And what else might be in the pipeline?
madhatter106: I have some more offices to do or finish; I wanted to get some 2x3 office buildings, as there aren't a lot of those available on the STEX to compete with the Maxis ones. The ones that come with the game are fine, they're just repetitive unless you have a bunch of plugins to help dilute them, so that's part of my next goal. Like commercial services, I don't think I could ever tire of doing offices, and you can never have enough of either type in your plugins folder. I have some industry that I was working on a long time ago which I haven't picked up in ages; there's the from several years back, which is still waiting for its nightlights. (I think that's probably partly the reason I put it down and haven't picked it up since. Nightlighting for me is the least pleasant in gmax.)
ST: Is there anything you haven't BATed yet that you would like to?
madhatter106: I would love to do some packs of medium wealth commercial shops - along the same lines as the earlier packs of low wealth, but offering services like plumbing or electrical, bookstores and little mom-and-pop shops, that sort of thing. I have tried my hand at pawn shops, but every time I get one worked up it just doesn't coalesce - there's something that just doesn't make it happen, as much as I might like to do some. There’s a whole host of other packs I would love to try my hand at, should I ever find the time; I would love to do some Mexican restaurants (ranging from taco stands to more flashy places), and I’ve been thinking of doing a pack of car repair places – auto body shops, places to get your transmission repaired or your windows tinted or oil changed, etc. I've always wanted to do what I call the Burbs Pack, which would be a set of American style Craftsman homes and small suburban houses, to add variety to the Maxis ones; jmyers2043 did it far better than I ever could have with a pack along the same lines released a while back on the LEX. One day I might try to do some larger apartment buildings, but the folks over at the NYBT do them so well already; I look at theirs and think my stuff can’t even compete. And I'd love to do a pack of tiny industrials, to add variety - sheds and storage units and weird machines and tanks and whatnot, but I would have to do a lot of research and dig up a lot of pictures to make them seem authentic.
ST: Are there any of your BATs that you might like to redo or remake or improve upon?
madhatter106: If I were doing them now, some of the low wealth commercial shops would be much better. I would definitely load in more details on some of them, though they kind of work in a generic, non-specific sense. I don’t think I’ve ever released a BAT on the STEX that I didn’t like; if I didn’t like it, I doubt I would have ended up sharing it with others. When I was doing the first office packs, I was making them look similar from all angles (that is, the elevation was practically the same on all four sides) but that’s not how a lot of buildings are designed, so there’s room for improvement there. Though with a lack of free time in general, I doubt I would ever remake any of them; but I am diligent about hanging on to the original gmax models in a folder labeled “Done,” so they are always available to me should I ever get the urge to do so.