Caesar III (Impressions Software, 1998)

“Have to make the people go where they must,” I keep telling myself. 

Playing Caesar 3, which some call “SimRome.” Efficient city-building means getting everyone access to goods and services. Except, say, when you set a Library down, it doesn’t cover a specific portion of the map unless you know exactly what you’re doing. The Library produces a Librarian, who walks on the paths built. Build the paths badly and he may wander over to the industrial section of town, never past any homes: there might as well not be a library. Some of the more complicated problems, in terms of the game itself, involve getting adequate information. Feeding people requires a seller from the Market to walk around the neighborhood, but that same seller has to make a trip to the Granary to get food. If the Granary is running short, it is quite likely she’ll attempt the trip and bring back nothing. Your city will look good, the workers will be busy, but the houses won’t evolve into better units consistently. You won’t realize your own citizens are starving.

Currently, I hold the title of Quaestor. My service to Caesar has resulted in some of the world’s ugliest cities. A solid strategy is to make simple paths: create a large 9×9 block, housing around the perimeter two rows deep, with gardens and a fountain in the center. Gardens increase property value; fountains are the water supply. The road around the houses lends itself to surrounding the 9X9 block with every service imaginable. The providers will walk around, their path obvious, and every home will receive in due time.

The trouble is that the resulting cities aren’t merely ugly, they’re untrue to life. The second book of Aristotle’s Politics tends to be a boring read for most. Aristotle spends considerable time there talking about this city planner who was overly devoted to the number three. Everything would be divided in accordance with his mystical number. It’s easy to laugh at him, but the problem cuts deeper than childish, utopian visions. In order to build a city, you have to impose from the very beginning. That initial imposition, as people better than me have noted for centuries, is pretty much nothing less than pure tyranny. Yet to so overwhelmingly lack any actual knowledge of how people behave or what they need and desire isn’t just inhumane. It leads to a potential knower’s own craziness: why not just divide everything up into threes? Your vision might be beautiful, and your “threes” will correspond with something pertaining to human life. If you actually know better, you should guess rightly.

There’s something about how cities organize themselves I’d like to observe better. The Librarian isn’t wandering to the industrial section because of his thirst for knowledge, but because the path was built badly. The busy work of those in the market, unfortunately, is too true to life. We don’t really know how many people in America live on $2 a day; the number is invisible and of the utmost significance. In game, I try to put buildings near each other you wouldn’t normally consider together to see what happens. What if a school is next to the blacksmith, a warehouse near the baths? What about a library adjacent to a barracks? My virtual citizens go about their daily business like nothing’s happening. Real cities, in their refusal of orthodoxy, reflect deeper needs. I think I read once that right across from Independence Hall, in Philadelphia, there used to be the city jail, and the prisoners had no qualms about begging from people like Thomas Jefferson or George Washington for food and alms as they passed by.