Please PM Spa if you have any questions about this article.
Most of us are now familiar with the plop-a-road method of levelling terraces for development in hilly areas. Plop-a-road levelling can be quite useful, but when it comes to building low-density residential areas on hills its not very good because it totally flattens the land. How many low-density residential neighbourhoods have you seen that are completely flat? Not many I'm guessing. Most houses are built to conform with the existing slopes because it's both unnecessary and costly to level the land. The problem in SC4 is that buildings wreck slopes. Development bends, contorts, levels and generally makes an ugly mess of things. In this tutorial I'll show you how to make realistic hilly suburbs that maintain a gentle natural look.
Our first step is to pick a hilly site for development. Here above the little lake looks nice.
Aren't we lucky to have a helicopter already on the job surveying the site?
Having picked our hilly location the next step is put down some development. Lets see what happens.
Oh dear. Doesn't that look ugly? Look how much the hill has been altered by the residential zones. Our gentle slope is ruined! This is no doubt a familiar sight to anyone who has tried to build on hills. Well there is a solution. Lets reload and try that again, but this time lets put some grass around our zones.
Wow! Now that's much better. The hill hasn't been warped and contorted. Why? Because the grass anchors the slope and prevents the zones from altering it significantly. The trick is to make sure that you apply grass to all open spaces that will be next to zoned squares.
IMPORTANT: Put the grass down first! It's no good when applied afterwards and only zone one side of a block at a time (more on that soon)
So we've got our slope anchored by the grass, but our neighbourhood isn't finished yet. The other side of the street isn't developed and some houses have cut large retaining walls into the hillside. This simply won't do, but, if you build your suburbs like me, nothing can be done just yet. We need to wait for medium wealth Sims to move in because their homes make the best suburbs.
Success! After several game years the Sims on the bottom row upgraded their homes. It's now time to finish the top piece of the block. Why didn't we develop the topside when we built the bottom anyway? Let me show you.
As you can see, if given the space on a narrow block, high wealth Sims will move in and put up 3X3 monster homes and totally smash the slope and leave a terrible mess. So we have to keep them out. To do this wait until after medium wealth develops and then break out the make historic button. It would be tedious to make every home that develops historic, but we luckily don't have to do that. We just have to click enough homes to prevent anything larger than 3X3 lots from being built. In our little subdivision, this is easily done with just two clicks on the two homes that I have marked in red.
With just these two homes made historic there is no room for monster homes to grow on the remaining space. Our little subdivision is safe. See easy as pie.
So with the bottom side of the block safely developed it's time to zone the top half. The first thing we need to do is to get rid of all that grass. But won't that wreck the slope you say? Well let's see.
Nope. Nothing to worry about. The existing development anchors the slope. It's true that it doesn't do as good a job as the grass lots, but it's good enough and a lot better than nothing. As you can see, in our little neighbourhood we only ended up with one minor bump/dip. I'm happy with that. Getting rid of the grass is preferable because it lets you fully use the space and it eliminates what would begin to become huge maintenance costs over a large city.
Our last and final problem to deal with concerns houses with retaining walls
As you can see from this neighbourhood, despite all our efforts some houses with retaining walls will be built and they will make their neighbourhood look quite odd since again, most houses in real life conform to existing terrain. It's an easy fix though.
Since the underlying slope hasn't been severely altered you can simply bulldoze (don't dezone) any offending homes and let them regrow. You won't need to worry about protecting the slope because it has already been preserved through our earlier steps. Usually, a house won't regrow with the same retaining wall problem and if it does you can always knock it down a third time. That's all there is to it.
To sum up the steps of successful hillside suburbs
1. Select the site and lay down the roads.
2. Put grass around where the first zones will be.
3. Zone one side of each block no more than 2 squares deep (make sure once again that blank spaces next to zones are covered with grass) and let development occur until medium wealth appears.
4. Using the make historic button make the total available space too small for 3X3 development.
5. Remove the grass and zone the other side.
6. Remove any houses with retaining walls with the bulldozer repeating when required.
Using this method you can build rolling suburbs without too much effort and it's not even that slow a process if you work over a large area all at once. This same method can be broadened and adapted to low density R$ as well.
Since writing this tutorial a year ago I have also found that surrounding the soon to be zoned area with grass and then using the ctrl key to zone the entire section in one giant 2 deep strip and then dezoning one little piece to break up the monster strip into 1x2 pieces minimizes damage even more. With grass strips and the ctrl key I can guarantee you that you'll only have only one potential minor distortion in the terrain.
Also, a lot of people have commented on the amusing angle that swimming pools can end up on when you maintain the existing slope. This isn't a problem if you're not using any custom 1x2 houses with swimming pools. All the pools in this tutorial's pictures appear on Justanothersims houses. None of the Maxis 1x2s come with pools so swimming at a 45 degree angle shouldn't be an issue for most users. If you must use a custom 1x2 house with a pool in your game and want to develop a sloping suburb, use the bulldozer to knock down any that look out of place at the same time that you weed out houses with retaining walls. It's slightly more work, but it solves the problem. Good luck.
If you have any questions about this article, please PM Spa.