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    100 Million STEX DL: An Interview with T Wrecks

    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?

     

    T Wrecks:  I think I first borrowed SC4 (pre-RH) from a friend a short time after its release, liked the graphics, but had a hard time really getting something going. It was before even the first patch, and I guess the radical change in terms of cost management made things difficult for me initially. In SC3K, if you could afford zoning/plopping something, you could afford its upkeep easily. In SC4, all of a sudden plop/zoning cost was nothing, but maintenance cost... jeez, a few basketball courts too many could break your neck. Then I lost SC4 from my radar somehow. When the RH addon came out, I wanted to get both finally, but while the basic game could be bought anywhere for a few bucks, RH was incredibly hard to come by. I finally managed to buy both in 2004, though, and immediately started to get really involved in the game. I know SimCity right from the start - played the original SimCity first with a friend on his PC/XT with amber monitor, later on my own Amiga 500 - and even later on my first PC. Naturally, SC2K followed. I also liked a "multiplayer" edition of SC2K where you could buy land on which to build your city. The SCURK (SimCity Urban Renewal Kit), which enabled you to replace in-game buildings with your own (or other peoples') hand-drawn stuff is also the first time I discovered custom content for SimCity. I dipped my toe in it a little, but it didn't amount to much. SC3000 was the logical next step, and SC3K.  I also got the BAP (and later the BAP+) to make custom buildings. SC3000 marks the first time I went hunting for custom content on the 'net in addition to fiddling around with it on my own PC. I didn't contribute anything, though.  

     

    ST:  What aspect of SC4 do you enjoy most – what keeps you coming back?

     

    T Wrecks:  What I like most about the game is that the city behaves almost like something alive. You control many parameters, and yet a city can always surprise you. Turn your back on a totally uninteresting spot to take care of something, only to find something totally surprising has developed in the meantime. That, and the fact that it is totally not based on levels, scenarios, a story, fixed goals or anything - you have zillions of possibilities, and the resulting cities and regions are as individual as your handwriting. I also like how relaxing it can be. Sometimes I like to sit back and just look at those tiny cars driving around in my city. Last but not least, the vast modding possibilities keep me coming back more than the actual game these days. There is always so much more you could add...  

     

    ST:  Before we jump into the all the custom content questions, I’m curious… what is your favorite Maxis lot/BAT?

     

    T Wrecks:  Phew, that's a difficult one. I don't think I have THE favourite building. I like several that are very well done IMO, even if they are not too spectacular. Many of the small family homes are really decent IMO. Other buildings I (almost) always like when they pop up include White's Clothier, Brown & Sons (a very rarely growing building), Mace Co., Schnittjer Printing, Strang Deeds Office Tower, Kanarowski & Co., Futa Consulting, Goldman Building / Hourvitz Accounting (really pretty much the same building), West & Co., The Pratt, Hi-Rise Apts (Chicago tileset), Simon Manor, Jolly Manor, Wallace Manor, The Long Building, Butts Condos, Russo Condos... The lots are mostly pretty poor, but Maxis had to make ends meet with a severly limited amount of props and textures - not to mention that RCI lots needed to accommodate several buildings of a family. When you mass produce, you can't work wonders... I know that myself because some of my projects (such as the IRM) also involved a high degree of mass production. 

     

    ST:  Do you recall the first plugin you installed?

     

    T Wrecks:  No, I'm afraid not. No idea, really.  

     

    ST:  What led you to Simtropolis at first?  Can you remember your initial impressions of the site?

     

    T Wrecks:  I was looking for custom content, of course! I must have visited Simtropolis long before I registered, because when I finally signed up, I know I had vague memories of the site, even though it looked much different back then. I don't remember any particular first impressions (it was more than 10 years ago, give me a break!), but I do remember that I found not only a place to download stuff, but also a promising community. When I commented on a CJ posted by an Austrian player, michi5, he invited me over to the German-speaking community - an involvement that would lead me to becoming a member of the SFBT. However, I'm no longer active in said German community, but I never felt like leaving ST.  

     

    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?

     

    T Wrecks:  I don't think so. It was probably more the sheer possibility. As I mentioned above, I also tried my hands at the SCURK for SC2000, the BAP / BA+ for SC3000 / SC3000 Unlimited, and I also tried other custom stuff before. After playing through Duke Nukem 3D, for example, I was more interested in the level editor. I have also made waypoints for a Counter-Strike (1.5/1.6) bot before, and the Half-Life level editor is not unknown to me, either. Guess I just have a tendency to get fascinated by editors and their potential. It's not so much about any particular item.  

     

    ST:  Speaking of first steps, what was the very first thing that you lotted using the LE?  Do you still have a screen shot?

     

    T Wrecks:  I don't have the slightest idea, let alone a screenshot, sorry. :/  

     

    ST:  You’ve been creating unique and beautiful lots for quite some time, but if members were to search your library of STEX files they would only come up with about 2 pages worth.  Yet, you are constantly creating the lots for many of the great BATers on this site.  So best guess, how many of your lots are on the STEX?

     

    T Wrecks:  Argh, another difficult one. Counted in STEX uploads (and not in actual .sc4lot files), I guess there may be up to 100 in addition to what I have released under my own name. Add to this a further 50 or more over at kurier.simcityplaza.de, where I used to be involved in the modding, lotting, translation, and packaging of uploads. All the NDEX files you can find there, for example, have been tweaked and often re-lotted by me. In the end, I don't care about numbers that much. I'm rather glad that I could help several great BATters to get their stuff on the STEX!  

     

    ST:  As a lotter myself, I find lotting can put me in a peaceful Zen state.  What do you enjoy about lotting and what keeps you firing up the LE after so many years?  

     

    T Wrecks:  Peaceful Zen state? Hmm... I don't really know if I share this feeling. I guess it can be close to that if you're not doing a boring routine task, and if things are going together all right. Other times, it can be tedious and a bit boring. The actual act of lotting is pretty ok, I guess, but what motivates me most is when I see how I can make the lot complement a building as seamlessly as possible, and - in the case of a re-lot - when I check out the lot in game and see how it's much better than the original lot, at least according to my taste. Ultimately, it's not the process of lotting itself, but the satisfaction of getting a result that conforms to my taste and liking that motivates me.  

     

    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 lotting process?

     

    T Wrecks:  Sometimes it's the very beginning: Sitting in front of an empty lot and not knowing what to do with it, trying out many designs that don't work... sometimes it's repetition: one down, five more versions to go... However, the parts I like least in general are all the activities that don't have to do with the actual lotting: determining stats, recording them in my ever growing database, fixing file properties, and worst of all: documentation, packaging and uploading. I really hate that part. Did I mention making menu icons? No? Well, then: making menu icons.  

     

    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 lots pop up in CJs?

     

    T Wrecks:  Hm, I figure since I have taken so much and since I mod the heck out of my plugins anyway, it would be only logical and fair to give something back and share some of the stuff that I have on my HD anyway. It's nice when you post a question because you're trying to do something, and people not only help you, but also take interest in that project of yours - that's how it started for me. That's what convinced me that my stuff may be interesting for others initially. These days, what I enjoy most - more than STEX comments, although I do appreciate these! - is players actually using something I made. It shows me that I haven't uploaded those files for nothing, and as a bonus it's often interesting for me to see how players will use my creations. Sometimes I see applications that I would never have thought of myself.  

     

    ST:  You have been lotting for almost 10 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?

     

    T Wrecks:  Hm, I kinda like the relots of . IDS Offices may also be one of my better lots. But that's only the optical side of affairs...On a larger scale, I'm most proud of the fact that I contributed a little bit towards taking more care of the stats of BATs and lots, and I also think the is not too shabby because it has expanded into an entire lot family - and a big family at that! Now that I think about it, those low-wealth mega lot sets I made based on 645978's buildings were pretty popular in their time, and my first modular set of lots. I still have fond memories of them - and even a screenshot from the day the first one became a STEX feature! I hope you can excuse the crappy quality and low resolution:

     

    STEX-Interview_OldScreenshot.jpg

     

    Fun facts or stories? I'm afraid there are none that I remember, and if I don't remember them, they probably haven't been all that interesting in the first place. ;) It's really boring work, haha.  

     

    ST:  Has your experience with SC4 custom content had any influence on your personal or professional life?  Are there any skills that you have developed over your lotting career that have helped you beyond the world of SC4?

     

    T Wrecks:  Yes, there has been some degree of influence. The German SC4 community has brought me into personal contact with several people, and I mean not only contact over the 'net. What began as a pleasant, but absolutely unintended side product evolved into a chain of acquantainces and friendships up to and including a girlfriend - these days, we're no longer together, but still good friends even after many years, although she's the only one who remains from that time. So much for personal life... As far as my professional life is concerned, I'd say that there have been indirect influences. Obviously my incredibly spectacular skills at pushing props around in the Lot Editor and clicking on boxes (*gasp*) have not led to my running a blue chip company now, and neither has my ability to convert from decimal into hexadecimal on a very low level (2A = 42) without using a calculator resulted in a position as CIO. Lotting IS a pretty trivial task, after all, and there's not much "RL carryover", as you might call it. However, hanging around in an English-speaking community for 10 years is certainly not detrimental to your language proficiency, and as a professional translator, I can always use that. In this respect, my hobby lotting/modding has certainly been more helpful than jazzdance or collecting stamps. Private life and job life aside, such an international community also gets you into contact with a very broad variety of people and widens your horizon. This may not result in any direct benefits, but I still think it can be an important lesson for life in general.  

     

    ST:  What advice would you give to a new member of this community who was planning on creating their first lot?

     

    T Wrecks:  Three words: Start a thread. Next to that, be prepared to read a lot.There's vast knowledge floating around, but it's not very well catalogued. Old hands may be able to direct you towards useful resources, or they may point out stuff that's hard to find in writing out there. Starting a thread is very useful to gather feedback, and if you're doing it right, you will learn more than by merely asking. How so? Well, if you ask something, you'll get a solution - hopefully. If you present your progress in a thread additionally, people may suggest things and mention stuff you haven't been aware of before. They may cause you to consider solutions that you wouldn't have considered by yourself or that you didn't even know about. Ultimately, however, you should take care to do what you like best, or you may end up being torn between different options favoured by your thread followers and not knowing which way to go.By the way, the Lot Editor comes with a manual. It's in your root SimCity 4 directory, and Maxis doesn't really rub its existence in your face, but it is there. This should be enough to teach you the basics. The rest is patience, ideas, and some hints found here and there and/or provided by other community members. You should also be prepared to use , and possibly as well.Finally my catch phrase: Always start with an empty plugins folder! Get to know your props and textures, and use them sparingly.  

     

    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.).

     

    T Wrecks:  I don't really follow anything in particular. If it's on the frontpage and catches my interest, I'll take a look. Otherwise, not so much. It's not that I don't respect the CJers' work (many of them are amazing!), but I'm simply not into that "following a CJ" thing. I do find myself taking a look into Ln X' "" pretty often recently because we now have CJ features, this particular CJ is often featured these days, and Ln X often uses stuff I made. It's a good way for me to check out some of my stuff "out in the wild". If it wasn't for the features, however, I might not even know that this CJ exists.  

     

    ST:  On the ‘builders’ side, do you have any favorite BATers that you enjoy following?   What was your most recent download from the STEX?

     

    T Wrecks:  All of the above! Seriously, if there's a BAT thread, then I'm following it. Usually when I turn off my notebook and go to bed, not a single BAT thread here on Simtrop has unread replies.I don't exactly remember the most recent download because I don't download that regularly these days - no need to because I haven't actually played the game in years. I do download whatever is relevant to my interests every now and then, but the intervals tend to be long. One person I'd like to highlight is C.P. aka Cycledogg. Especially from a lotter's point of view, his work is awesome. In addition to great BATs, the use of custom foundations for slope-friendly buildings and the "invention" of shaded props (which I like to use a lot), he has organised his props into hundreds of prop families, making it so much easier to add variation to a lot. There are cars that appear and disappear at certain times of the day or have a certain probability of appearing in general, there are prop foundations, there are seasonal props, there are angled versions... and he even took it upon himself to go through most of his flora props again, re-render and re-organise them, updating the packages, and even making cohort files for the prop families so that a proper name shows up in the list instead of a hexadecimal ID. That's an insane amount of work, and I can only begin to imagine how much dedication, diligence, and persistence must have gone into that. He's by far not the only one who has made valuable contributions for the community, but I think he deserves particular praise from the perspective of a lotter. 

     

     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?

     

    T Wrecks:  Not that surprised, actually. Open up a game to additional custom content, make that game one that ages well (i.e., a game that doesn't depend on visual effects that much), fail to release a successor deemed worthy by the fans, and you have a pretty decent chance of a fan community taking things into their own hands. I'm also thinking of Chris Sawyer's Transport Tycoon right now, a much older game than SimCity 4. It has been "re-released" as fully open source software, OpenTTD, and the community keeps making great mods, just like the SimCity crowd. These can't be the only examples, either. Another aspect that certainly helps is the attitude that all content is offered free of charge, made by fans, made for fans. This eliminates barriers, helps to attract newcomers, and ensures good circulation of the files. Otherwise we may have a situation where downloads rot away behind paywalls on several private websites that become inactive as soon as their owners disappear from the community, and eventually vanish as well. I've witnessed some pretty nasty quarrels over paid downloads for the Sims games. That was quite a shock for me because I thought all custom content communities were like the SimCity crowd more or less.12 years from now? EA will surely have released a great successor in the vein of SC4 by then! Ok, silly jokes aside: 12 years are a lot, so there really is no telling. I see more than enough strength in the community to last for another 5-6 years, that's for sure. We'll see about the rest. With C:S being out now, I sometimes get that sad feeling that the SC4 community might fall apart sooner than we think. While I'm happy for all those players who eagerly anticipated a true "3D SimCity" experience and wish them tons of fun with this new game, I have always had other priorities for a SimCity successor (deeper regional concept, non-rectangular lots, procedural lots, shopping and tourism traffic, surface water, mixed-use buildings, defined W2W areas and other zone-specific regulations, non-rectangular maps / definable city limits, to mention just a few ideas). This is why C:S is not simply a great relief for me: "Finally 3D!" "Finally no longer SC4!" - just like many players may think. For me, however, it also marks the possible departure from something that I have always liked, and that ended up playing an important role in my free time. It marks what may be the autumn in SC4's life cycle, and this thought makes me a little sad and nostalgic. I know I will miss the discussions in BAT threads when it's finally over. But here's to hoping that we'll be able to keep SC4 alive as a long-time niche game!  

     

    ST:  Speaking of Cities:Skylines... have you played it yet?  If not, what are you first impressions based on the mountain of feedback available here on Simtropolis or around the web?

     

    T Wrecks:  I don't even have a PC capable of handling it, and won't have for several months. Even if I had one, my primary goal is getting back to actually playing SC4 again after a long hiatus. So no, no first-hand experience with C:S yet. From what I see, it looks rather different. So far, the overall aesthetics don't really appeal to me since I tend to prefer highly detailed 2D over low-poly 3D. This may change as further mods are being made, but for now it's not causing me to hyperventilate. It is, of course, one of the games on my "watch list"!  

     

    ST:  12 years later, many are calling this game the 'successor' to SC4 and the city building genera.  What are your thoughts?

     

    T Wrecks:  Apparently the creators did a much better job than even EA themselves and managed to accommodate many of the primary wishes of the SimCity fan community. So yes, I guess it could be called a "successor" in spirit - just like the Age of Wonders franchise can be called a "successor" of Microprose's Master of Magic, or Freelancer a "successor" of Wing Commander: Privateer. We'll know more once the dust settles, and I won't comment very much without having played the game myself.  

     

    ST:  It will take plenty time before C:S can rival the amount of custom content available for SC4, but the developers have really encouraged modding, and there are already many new buildings and 'assets' that can be found on Simtropolis and the steam workshop.  Are you encouraged to leap into C:S custom content?

     

    T Wrecks: Not in the foreseeable future. I got a few months' worth of SC4 content on my 'to do' list, and then I want to PLAY some SC4. Afterwards, and when I have a better PC (if I even buy one instead of rediscovering yet another retro game that captures my limited free time!), we shall see. The retro gaming aspect really holds some importance. You see, the last time I bought a game was in early 2014 - and it was a retro game! The last halfways up-to-date game I bought? I don't even remember that. More than 5 years ago for sure. This is just to explain what some may perceive as an odd lack of enthusiasm. I just have a tendency to enjoy old games with a high replay value, and since I don't have much time on my hands, me buying a new game is something of a snowball in hell event. I must say, though, that the possibility to build intersections and turn the entire structure into a pre-fab element strikes me as an admirably smart move by the developers. Looks like they also thought about the aspect of getting these assets into the game, with some user-friendly features such as using the editor itself to take a screenshot of the finished asset and introducing it into the game as the menu icon for this new asset - quite a progress compared to the tedious process of making in-game icons for SC4 content! I can guarantee, however, that you won't see my name attached to a C:S upload any time in 2015. Maybe later.  

     

    ST:  Are there any games you play besides SC4? What other hobbies do you have away from lotting/modding and SimCity?

     

    T Wrecks:  Although I did play first-person shooters when I was younger, I always had a liking for round-based RPGs and strategy games, 4X games, occasionally some RTS. Notable examples of other games than SimCity that I really liked are Master of Orion 1 and 2 (round-based 4X in a sci-fi universe), Master of Magic (think of Civilization 1 with heroes, spells and magical creatures) and its inofficial successors, the Age of Wonders franchise. Transport Tycoon (these days, OpenTTD) certainly deserves a mention, as does the Earth 2150 franchise (innovative 3D sci-fi RTS with modular units, research, experience system, ammo, etc.). I'm so retro! In my defense, however, I can say that they just don't make them like this any more, and that's not a lie. What I'd give for a subtly improved Transport Tycoon with up-to-date graphics! And don't even get me started about SimCity... Away from my SimCity-related hobbies, I occasionally build scale model ships - non-military stuff like ocean liners or tug boats because they're more colourful and involve fewer repetitive tasks. I have enough of that in the Lot Editor! As a counterpart to that indoor stuff, I really like to ride my bike out of the city and go swimming. I prefer lakes over pools because I like to be out in nature, and preferably not surrounded by people. Too many people around me make me aggressive in the long term, so it's a great way to recharge my batteries. I also like to go hiking. Doing sports in a way that's focused on performance (faster, longer, higher) is not my way at all, but I need to be on the move occasionally.I also like music, so I go to live concerts and festivals a lot.  

     

    ST:  What question have I not asked that I should have?

     

    T Wrecks:  Hm, maybe about my future plans or my goals in terms of SimCity. Tucked away deep inside my mind is that little hope that one day I might actually play the game again. But the way I know me, after a few days I'll find that something is sorely lacking, and go back to the drawing board...


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    Great interview :) I have the same problem when playing the game, I always find something that is essential to build my dream-city but is still yet to be done ;)

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