Can you hear the steam hissing? Our next interview guest spent the better part of a year painstakingly upgrading the SC4 railroads so that sim mayors everywhere could build railroads like true barons. The (Railway Upgrade Mod) gave rail enthusiasts a chance to cheer, but rivit has been contributing amazing custom content on the STEX for many years, and with over 175,000 downloads, there’s a good chance one of his creations has snuck into your plugins folder. From a to , and from to a , rivit’s library of content has something for everybody, and we are lucky enough to have a little chat with this Modder from down under. Please give a warm welcome to (Railway Upgrade Mod) gave rail enthusiasts a chance to cheer, but rivit has been contributing amazing custom content on the STEX for many years, and with over 175,000 downloads, there’s a good chance one of his creations has snuck into your plugins folder. From a to , and from to a , rivit’s library of content has something for everybody, and we are lucky enough to have a little chat with this Modder from down under. Please give a warm welcome to rivit, and thank him for participating in the next STEX 100 million interview series.
ST: When did you first get SC4, and what do you remember about your first experiences with the game? WasSC4 your first involvement with SimCity, or did you already have a history with the sim games?
Rivit: I think I first got Simcity4 as soon as it came out, before the later Rush Hour Add-on turned it into SC4 Deluxe. I remember being quite disappointed because the PC that I then had (which was quite high end but a few years old) couldn't run it very well and it just didn't look very good - so dark and gloomy after SC3000. So I didn't play it very much at the time (in fact put it aside for a couple of years). I rediscovered it when I got the addon cheaply somewhere and (by now 2005) finally got into it. I have played Simcity since SC1 (flatland) in 1989 on my Amiga. Then played SC2 and SC3 too. In fact almost all of the SimX programs (but not The Sims) and Spore got a run too. Simcity was the one that stayed.
ST: What aspect of SC4 do you enjoy most – what keeps you coming back?
Rivit: Ultimately it's the open ended nature of the simulation that appeals most - that is if you let things evolve and just tweak as you go the final outcome is only partly predictable. Obviously its a hugely simplified model but clever. Probably too the humour embedded in it. I also have a deep technical admiration of the product - what was done at that time was phenomenal. The foresight (and discipline) of separating code and data has meant we have been able to modify and extend the game without touching the code.
ST: Before we jump into the all the custom content questions, I’m curious… what is your favorite Maxis lot/BAT?
Rivit: The Red Railway bridge. Something very solid and gritty about it.
ST: Do you recall the first plugin you installed?
Rivit: I don’t, but I looked it up - way down in my archive it looks like a series of Churches by gshmails - the , the , the , The were the first. - and they are still in my current setup!. I also seem to have gone looking for other Civic buildings - Fire stations, Police stations and the like. And way down in the depths an early Water Mod. What also shows is that as I was on a 14.4k modem at the time I only downloaded very small things.
ST: What led you to Simtropolis at first? Can you remember your initial impressions of the site?
Rivit: I think I found it by accident - in early 2005 - when I went looking on the web for SimCity. To be frank, I can’t remember what I thought at the time, but I signed up as rivitoz (Ive forgotton that password) and kept coming back. Still my favourite SC4 site.
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?
Rivit: I remember seeing Trolca had made some brick streets which I liked, and I thought maybe I could make some too. Also the very first water mods got me thinking.
ST: Speaking of first steps, what was the very first thing that you attempted to mod in SC4?
Rivit: The first thing I tried to do was load maps from greyscale images and improve someone's Water Mod - one texture. I hadn't the foggiest idea of what to do or how to do it. However gradually, by dredging the online forums wherever I could find them, finding out about iLives Reader and FSHman I was able to cobble together enough info to make a herringbone brick road texture and overlay it on some high wealth streets. It took me months. It was my first upload to Simtropolis and was quite popular and eventually led to being used in SAM.
ST: Some BATers and Loters have a particular style or genera that they stick to, but a quick look through your STEX library tells a different story. You have dabbled in automata, terrain textures, transportation textures and even stand-alone programs. How did you develop such a wide range of content for SC4?
Rivit: The library reflects my learning process in SC4. At its core is the game texture - I started there and I'm now pretty good at that. Reader was how I came to understand how models and textures and automata worked and so I was able to learn how to make automata by hand-editing models. Through the Reader and the community forums I came to understand how the larger parts worked and so I was able to progress to bigger works. Laziness was the real reason I wrote the as it enabled me to make very large texture sets with minimal effort by generating rather than drawing things. The was an attempt to simplify auditing my plugins and summarise my knowledge of how the game worked. I've many more experiments that haven't made the grade yet.
ST: Many of your contributions fall in the railroad category. In fact, the (Railway Upgrade Mod) is one of your most popular files. Do you have a particular interest in railroads, and what spurred you to take up such a massive project?
Rivit: I think I do have something about trains - I can just remember travelling on steam engined trains and we had aMarklin trainset when I was about 8 or 9 and it must have left a deep impression. SC4 is a bit like having a trainset with working scenery. As I got better (and fussier) at making textures it started to dawn on me that Maxis had put nowhere near the quality into the rail part of Simcity when compared to other parts. The NAM extensions were much better, but different, and so the whole had become fragmented. I started on the Maxis textures as they were the dodgiest but eventually ended up doing them all (otherwise I would have made the problem worse). Took me about a year before they were done to my satisfaction, but I really wasn't comfortable with releasing them. It took prodding by a community contact who saw them by accident and went lyrical on me when I was helping him work out something else, that I finally put them up. RUM has stood the test of time quite well - its still a massive change to the way the game looks.
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 Modding process? Your favorite?
Rivit: The creative part of discovering how it works and then inventing and experimenting is the buzz, but the drudgery of repetition of the idea over the sometimes hundreds of instances of things can get you down. There is also the administrative aspect of making sure you've got everything and the dots on the i's that can wear you down. Both parts are necessary and let’s say it’s a character building process... you come to learn where your limits lie very quickly.
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 the SC4 community to enjoy? How much do comments in the download section mean to you? Do you get a thrill seeing your mods pop up in CJs?
Rivit: For me it’s the best way I can give back for what I gain - I believe information should be freely exchanged - and in this sense what the community is doing is sharing its information through what it creates and shows of what it has learned. I do get a buzz from the comments I receive - brickbats too - and its all part of the learning interaction - learning how to deal with criticism is part of the deal. I have to say though that seeing my creations in someone's pictures, or CJ, is the biggest return - particularly when they've done something with it that defies my skills with the game.
ST: You have been modding spectacular content 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?
Rivit: I'd have to say the rates for me - making a water texture that tiles as neatly as it does was a bit of a holy grail found and a lucky break. RUM was mind over matter. The is my ultimate favourite because it was a first, but the have the best download comments. They've all had their little challenges and that's what makes them worth it.
ST: Has your experience with modding SC4 had any influence on your personal or professional life? Are there any skills that you have developed over your modding career that have helped you beyond the world of SC4?
Rivit: The main influence modding has had on my personal life is that I've spent a lot more time than I should have in front of a computer. However, it was a valuable diversion given that I had been made redundant from a senior IT role. So ironically a lot of my skills (analysis, modelling, reverse engineering, application design and programming) proved to be useful when modding and I had the time to use them.
ST: As a very productive member of the SC4 custom content community, I imagine you have developed a number of relationships with other members of this community. Can you talk a little bit about the friends you’ve made through the years?
Rivit: Overall I have to say I've been a bit of a loner - even online. However, an exception occurred with Doc Rorlach, who unfortunately is no longer with us. He was an intense, funnily abrasive character in that he was merciless in his feedback but equally enthusiastic about pushing the limits. Without him RUM might never have been published, and I certainly wouldn't have learnt what I know of how the game works as quickly. He would try something out, then start asking questions about why it hadn't worked as he'd expected and ask me to explain. No chance to say "I don't know". Since his memory was nowhere near as efficient as his imagination this often ended up as a looping process. One of those loops led to discovering how to make STR tunnels. He was an excellent BATer and I couldn't BAT my way out of a paper bag - he had little time for "fiddly things" as he called them (read Pathing, Transit Enabling, Hex Editing). All up we had a lot of fun and were able to bump each other’s productivity a lot. Overall I've always had friendly interactions with community members and that’s one of the reasons I stayed.
ST: What advice would you give to a new member of this community who was planning on creating their first mod?
Rivit: While many, many things have been made the SC4 world is never complete. Configure your setup with things you like from the community. Learn how to use Lot Editor, and Reader. Fiddle things. Find some aspect of the game you really like and get deep on it. Ask. The more you play and learn, the more you will come to a conclusion you would like to change something and then you have the seed and motivation to try modding. It doesn’t matter whether you are a game player, game artist, story teller or tech there are ways to make what you want in the game - and modding is the way there - all it takes on your part is willingness and effort to try and learn.
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.).
Rivit: I like two kinds of CJs the most - the scenic art landscape variety - cannot ever get over just how good how good the artists with their MMPs are in creating their masterpieces - and the story, be that historical, the development of the city or even the detective story. I think it’s because there has to be quite some planning, visualization and perseverance to get either of these categories to work well - and because while I might be able to tackle the latter class, I almost certainly can't do the former.
ST: On the ‘builders’ side, do you have any favorite BATers that you enjoy following? What was your most recent download from the STEX?
Rivit: I tend to go looking by theme. So some time ago I had an Art Deco phase where I collected all sorts of those. I also had a shot at collecting Australiana, and Scenery. I've recently started to take a deeper look at industrial areas and so have discovered (albeit late) . These are proving to harbour a number of surprises so its fun trying to understand exactly how these work.
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?
Rivit: The longevity of the community is rooted in the huge collection of items for the game, and the variety of uses to which the players put it - this keeps people interested. There are still secrets to be discovered even if the game is largely understood. After the release of Simcity 2013, which seems to have failed to meet what avid SC players imagined would be next, it looks like a lot of people said "enough", stopped playing SimCity and left the community. A year on there is a new group joining and there are good signs its picking up again, and it will take this group to drive it back on. Good to see that there is also a SC2013 community alive and well.
Unfortunately I do think that there is a limit to how long SC4 can retain its appeal without change - the community has seriously expanded the content but the executable is, technically speaking, getting very old and unlike (say) Excel has not been regularly renewed. However, any successor that can make use of the current content and enhance gameplay, be played together online/alone offline and give what SC4 has given us socially would do the trick. If ever the source code should surface there is half a chance.