I like to tell people that the brilliance of SimCity 2000’s art style rested on the fact that it was not isometric but rather used a technique called dimetric projection. In simple terms, that means the tiles were the same length in all directions horizontally, but they followed a different, flatter scale vertically. It created an iconic angular look and, functionally speaking, it was huge too.
It allowed you to see more of your city — more buildings and more of the map — which is essential to running it smoothly. And it allowed Maxis to allow toggling between four fixed viewpoints without anyone getting lost — because a quirk of this forced perspective meant building sprites could be the same on all sides (albeit mirrored on two of them) and somehow still look right.
That dimetric perspective lent the game a deeper aesthetic tone, too. As someone born and raised outside the US, SimCity 2000 cities looked American to me. They had repetitive architecture and roads, which were laid on a grid, were as wide as the houses were big. The police were blue and fire stations red. And jutting out of the concrete jungle or that endless, open emptiness around the urban center you had various parkland oases. It screamed America, which fit well because so did the simulation’s underlying philosophies.
Then there were the arcologies. They weren’t so much about capturing the essence of contemporary America as envisioning its wonderful or horrific future. The picturesque Forest Arco served as a sad reminder of deforestation while the Plymouth Arco was less a homage to the boredom of life in Plymouth than to the film Blade Runner and its imposing Tyrell building. You also had the dystopian but very coollooking Darco and the utopian Launch Arco, which seemed set for a galaxy-voyaging paradise world within a rocket-equipped biodome.
Cities are changing, and these stylised arcologies reminded us we really should be thinking about how cities should look and function in a decade and in a century. Will our high-density living be oppressive like a Darco? Or idyllic like a Launch Arco? Or nothing at all like either?