This picture may appear to be a collection of color fields without meaning or purpose, but there is a ton of math and evil genius behind this image.
This is a view of Magnasanti, the metropolis that pushes SimCity to its population limits.
Here is a closer view:
Vincent Oscala, a 22-year old architecture student from the Philippines, spent years decoding the formula for success in Sim City 3000.
Sounds like lunacy…but his insane investment of effort into “beating” SimCity raises interesting questions about the urban landscapes we inhabit, and the ways in which they can go horribly wrong.
After a massive amount of planning and a great deal of trial and error, he was able to create a city with over six million inhabitants.
Moreover, the city he created was remarkably stable, with no abandoned buildings and no wasted space. There are no roads — all transit is mass transit. An omniscient police force has eliminated all crime in the city. Magnasanti’s water and power needs are supplied by neighboring cities, eliminating the need for much of the related infrastructure.
In SimCity terms, it is a masterpiece.
But at the “street level,” so to speak, it looks like a horrifying dystopia.
Unemployment is high, air pollution is stifling, education is largely absent, medical care and fire response are non-existent. Citizens do not live to reach retirement age. The police state has essentially eliminated free will and allowed the city to maximize its size while reducing quality of life to a minimum — and still maintaining total control over the citizens.
Every person living in Magnasanti spends his life working and residing in one small, massively efficient block of space, until death around age 50.
Here is a video that explains some of the development process for Magnasanti, including two smaller cities that served as development prototypes for Oscala’s final achievement:
As the soundtrack indicates, Oscala was highly influenced by the art film Koyaanisquatsi, or “Life out of Balance,” directed by Godfrey Reggio with music by Philip Glass.
Koyaanisquatsi is a non-narrative work that examines and explores the contrasts between the form and pace of nature and modern human life. Ultimately, the film confronts us with the fact that our species is living a life out of balance with nature, for better or for worse.
It’s a really cool movie that is highly recommended. Here’s a teaser:
Now, you may be asking, what in the world does a game of SimCity — in an obsolete version, no less — have to teach us about a “life out of balance”?
Magnasanti is, first and foremost, a study in how to game SimCity to a maximum-population win condition.
However, I do think it raises some intriguing questions.
The film presented the world in a way I never really looked at before and that captivated me. Moments like these compel me to physically express progressions in my thought, I have just happened to do that through the form of creating these cities in SimCity 3000. I could probably have done something similar – depicting the awesome regimentation and brutality of our society – with a series of paintings on a canvas, or through hideous architectural models.
But it wouldn’t be the same as doing it in the game, for the reason that I wanted to magnify the unbelievably sick ambitions of egotistical political dictators, ruling elites and downright insane architects, urban planners and social engineers.
This is the kind of archiporn that I am a sucker for; gamespace urbanism exploited to its extreme condition. Can you ‘win’ urbanism? Is this even urbanism? If not, can we take anything from its construction? The primary move that the city makes is to remove cars altogether and base transport purely on subways. I suspect this is a method to exploit the space otherwise taken up by roads for real estate allowing for an increased population per tile, however, it is a strategy that many cities—Sydney included—are seriously looking into. Remove motor vehicles, increase public transport. Seems like a sound idea.
It is interesting to see a world in which the lack of cars exists alongside a lack of freedom, and indeed may even be symptomatic of it. Oscala has created a system so “sustainable” that citizens are chained to their city blocks; they’re able to access the rest of the city through mass transit, but in effect have been relieved of the need to do so by the ruthless efficiency of their cookie-cutter “neighborhoods.”
Maybe — all right, probably — this is effective because the game engine is warped. Super Colossal concludes that “Ultimately, Magnasanti has little to do with urban design and everything to do with gaming systems for maximum reward.”
I can’t help but think that Magnasanti represents a semi-realistic dark side of centralized urban planning: the tools of modern construction and city planning as wielded by a despotic madman bent on maximizing population at any cost. Creativity, vibrancy and nature itself are cast away as a focus on efficiency and the bottom line are elevated to a religion and a science.
And of course, the police force are ever-present, just in case disorder begins to stir.
As Oscala explained in an interview with Viceland, Magnasanti represents a “cage” in which he has imprisoned six million “economic slaves”. He utilized the geometry of the Buddhist Wheel of Life and Death as further symbolic comment on the topic.
Technically, no one is leaving or coming into the city. Population growth is stagnant. Sims don’t need to travel long distances, because their workplace is just within walking distance. In fact they do not even need to leave their own block. Wherever they go it’s like going to the same place.
There are a lot of other problems in the city hidden under the illusion of order and greatness: Suffocating air pollution, high unemployment, no fire stations, schools, or hospitals, a regimented lifestyle – this is the price that these sims pay for living in the city with the highest population. It’s a sick and twisted goal to strive towards.
The ironic thing about it is the sims in Magnasanti tolerate it. They don’t rebel, or cause revolutions and social chaos. No one considers challenging the system by physical means since a hyper-efficient police state keeps them in line. They have all been successfully dumbed down, sickened with poor health, enslaved and mind-controlled just enough to keep this system going for thousands of years. 50,000 years to be exact. They are all imprisoned in space and time.
The Mammoth blog calls Magnasanti “An intentionally hellish vision which exploits the game’s internal logic as commentary.”
Oscala adds that “if we make maximizing profits the absolute objective, we fail to take into consideration the social and environmental consequences.”
At the very least, it’s delicious food for thought for would-be urban planners and simulation gamers.
Further reading and sources:
Viceland: The Totalitarian Buddhist Who Beat Sim City
Super Colossal: Pay to Click Get Rich Quick: Urbanism and the Ideal SimCity
Imperar’s Millionaire Experiment: Who is Imperar?