SimCity 4 is a game that appeals to people living all over the world who want to build cities in wildly differing styles. Some have added content to enhance American-style building all the way back to colonial times. Others have created BATs for building classical European towns. Our next interviewee helps to make this possible with his incredible Hong Kong BATs. bixel's buildings are essential downloads for making any city with a hint of East Asia. They are what rice is to fried rice. They are what Peking duck is to Peking duck. They are what bell peppers and beef are to bell peppers and beef. Anyways, let's give a warm welcome to bixel!
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?
bixel: I think it was 2 years after SC4 was released. It was actually browsing the internet on SimCity 3000 modding that got me to purchase Simcity 4, and through that of course lead me to simtropolis.
ST: What aspect of SC4 do you enjoy most – what keeps you coming back?
bixel: The aspect to SC4 which extended the play-ability was actually Sim Peg's Garabage Chute!!! Without this mod, SC4 was similar to the earlier versions of the game, chasing down fires, fixing water problems, etc etc. While it is always a good method to keep players engaged with random scenarios I don't think SC4 would have been able to evolve into the "City Garden Building" game, which I feel is what the community actually uses SC4 for. Hence, city diaries and hours and hours of ocd-like city pruning and beautifying that we enjoy.
ST: Do you recall the first plugin you installed?
bixel: The 1st plugin were the official ones, like South Koreas 63 building.
ST: What led you to Simtropolis at first? Can you remember your initial impressions of the site?
bixel: That thirst for more buildings led me to Simtropolis to download more.
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?
bixel: NDEX plugins were, by far, the biggest influence. I had by then been learning 3DS Max and had been playing with the BAT at the time, so I felt I was ready. I wanted to do something NDEX-y but since commercial-office buildings were being made by several power artist groups I decided to try my hand at residentials.
ST: Speaking of first steps, what was the very first thing that you modeled using the BAT? Do you still have a screen shot?
bixel: The 1st release was a terrible, terrible residential skyscraper called the Liberte. It was very tall and pretty ugly, but had some detail that appealed to some users. This encouraged me more to release better and do better. It went through 3 versions I think in over 4 years. [NMUSpidey:
ST: Your list of uploads is populated entirely by Hong Kong buildings. Are there any particular reasons for choosing to direct your efforts in this direction? Are they based upon real buildings, or are they true-to-life recreations?
bixel: Since I was committed to adding much needed high density residentials to the game, I needed to find a style that was both realistic and exciting to look at. I had a couple of attempts of making fantasy buildings but they were ugly, so I used the internet to find inspiration. Right away I found Skyscraper Diagrams website and Hong Kong is the 4th featured city of architectural drawings. I chose HK because it was not Chicago or New York, which I felt the content was already saturated.
ST: Most of your BATs are released under the HKABT banner. For those of us who may not know much about the Hong Kong/Asia BAT Team, can you elaborate on what your role with them was?
bixel: Once I latched on the HK style, immediately my work improved and I met some friends through my work and other HK content that was being uploaded. Particularly Paul v. Montfort, Simfox and T-Wrecks. Paul and I formed the team and quickly gained some very amazing talent to help us populate the game with some visual style and content. My main role was simply encouragement and teaching some skills and methods when needed.
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?
bixel: When it comes to making content for Simcity 4, it is very different from making content for almost any other game. Simply because SC4 is NOT a 3D game but very cleverly uses images rendered at fixed angles to create an illusion of 3D, the camera is orthographic at preset angles. Because of this you must render your building at all 5 zoom levels at 4 different directions. For large buildings this can take hours, and if your lighting is bad, you have to render it again. My biggest projects were so huge I had my PC running for 2 days! By far the rendering process is the most tedious and stressful for me. Simply modelling the building gave me the most joy.
ST: You released your first BAT in 2005. 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?
bixel: For a short while I had many dedicated followers in HK sending me photos of buildings when I asked for them. They were very enthusiastic and would travel to many different locations to snap a few photos. Several times they would reply that they live in the building and where overjoyed to see them in game. That meant a lot to me and I was glad to bring them such joy.
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?
bixel: Making 3D custom content for SC4 has definitely allowed me to acquire new skills and land me some pretty interesting jobs. I think game modding is really a good starting point for any hobbyist looking to increase their skills and enter the industry. Counter-Strike is still one of the most played multiplayer games and it was a mod, same with DOTA.
ST: What advice would you give to a new member of this community who was planning on creating their first BAT?
bixel: My advice to anybody wanting to make content for SC4 or any 3D game is to watch and learn from Lyndia tutorials. I learned by myself and I picked up some very bad habits that are hard to get rid of. The worst is modelling solely from splines... because of that I would have to re-train myself to do anything other than a box. I can't do characters or curves at all! Broaden your ability to work in different platforms, Modo is very popular now as well.
If you want to do more than just SimCity 4 seriously consider sharpening your UV-Unwrapping skills, upcoming generation games like Cities Skylines are different from the way they did things for SimCity 4. It will also help you find a job in the industry.
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 favorite SC4‘scenes’ (i.e., towering metropolises, urban sprawl, rural landscapes, etc.).
bixel: I don't follow any CJs but I do check them from time to time for inspiration and how to use NAM effectively . My favourite CJs are of course the HK re-creations and stuff with a lot of clever train and public transportation schemes.
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?
bixel: Most BATs I download are Euro/Asian style. I have no idea why but I can't do NY or Chicago stuff. I also am keen on parks and city beautification sets. I think there are many new content makers out there that have greatly increased the quality of output thanks to members ability to help each other and of course
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?
bixel: I am NOT surprised SC4 has lasted this long. This game appeals to young and old and is also casual and OCD (Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder)(like Minecraft) at the same time. It is such a great game. Additionally, I don't want to get too socio-economic here but SC4 is able to expand with new players with an old PC or laptop, they don't need to spend $2000 on a new rig. For this reason i expect to see more people playing in many different parts of the world. New content in 12 years? Sure, SC4 still looks great, and the skills of the custom content makers have surpassed the default content.
ST: Are there any games you play besides SC4? What other hobbies do you have away from BATing and SimCity?
bixel: My biggest hobby right now is programming games, hopefully I will mature to an indie developer! games I find myself playing mostly are Guild Wars2, Hearts of Iron III, and World of Tanks. I also enjoy small indie games like FTL. I'm really looking forward to Cities: Skylines. I have been following the dev guys closely and I will be making content for it.