Republishing this feature from last month as it's now updated with part 2 - utility mods for a more efficient, easier, less chaotic city with more comprehensible traffic.
It's crazy how big publishers seem so fearful of mods, given how they've a proven track record for keeping a game popular. Skyrim still generates regular news stories due to its thriving mod community, and I'm pretty sure Paradox's rapturously-received townbuilder Cities: Skylines is going to do similar. To take a look at its Steam Workshop library of community creations is to disappear down a rabbit hole of tinkering, as hundreds of players seek to finetune the cities of their dreams. Compare this to be walled garden of SimCity and it's clear to see why citybuilder fans have taken Skylines to heart.
Any claim to have made a definitive Best Of compilation is an insane one, given the speed at which new creations arrive, and due to the high subjectivity involved. An authetically-shaped Australian football pitch is probably a Godsend to someone, for instance, whereas something that automatically bulldozes abandoned or burned-out buildings was what made me rub my lazy hands with glee. But, for now, here are just a few selected highlights to be getting on with. Please do suggest more below.
Note - I'm going to update this feature a couple of times with new categories/pages. We'll bump it back to the front page when that happens, so hopefully you'll know about it. For now, let's kick off with the first and, for many people (including me), most appealing type of mod - graphical tweaks, or what I like to call Prettification. On the newly-added page 2 are utility mods - stuff to make a more efficient, cleaner-living city and, perhaps, a slightly lazier mayor. These are all available via Steam Workshop - just click the link in each mod's name, click subscribe, then go to 'mods' in the main Cities menu and enable any you want to use.
While broadly a good-lookin' videogame, Skylines is pretty lousy at anti-aliasing, so otherwise dramatic creations are laid low by jagged edges. You can screw around with anti-aliasing overrides via graphics card drivers, but both easier and more effective is dynamic resolution - i.e. make the game render at a higher resolution than your monitor supports, then downscale the bigger, sharper-edged image to your native screensize. I do this in drivers for various games if my card's up to it, as it means clearer outlines and more game-world on my screen, but this simple mod is a whole lot easier and, most importantly, customisable within the game rather than requiring you to duck out and muck around with arcane NVIDIA or AMD settings any time you want to make a change. You can bind the mod's interface to a key of your choice, then choose how much scaling you want. Obviously there's a huge hit on framerate, but I'm finding the visual pay-off of running at 4K is very much worth dropping down to 30FPS for.
Make your city look a little bit more like an expensive car commercial, essentially. It's not a major effect in its own right, but coupled with some or all of the others in this category you end up with a dramatically more beautiful Skylines. Be warned that it currently has a bug which means you can't exit the game via menus, however. Alt-F4 works, though. Hit F8 to adjust this on-the-fly.
An effect you've probably found in a fair few settings menus in your time. Basically, it simulates shadowing in recessed areas, cracks and crannies, thereby lending a greater sense of depth and perceived detail to the two-dimension image you're staring at. Surprising that this isn't included in Skylines already, to be honest. Like Sun Shafts, it's not a huge change, but bundle all this stuff together and you're laughing. Hit F8 to adjust this on-the-fly.
Borrowing a few pages from Borderlands' style, this adds comicbook-like outlines to to Cities. It's more subtle and less stylised/lunatic than Borderlands, and rather than making a city look like a living comic it makes individual buildings look more distinct, as well as adding a little more personality to what can be a slightly aesthetically bland affair. Results are a bit of a mix bag as clearly the game wasn't designed to look like this, but it's broadly worthwhile, and an immediately noticeable shift. Hit F10 to tinker with this in-game. Works well with all of the above, but less so...
Ah, this one's a beaut, and maybe even an essential. The aim is to make Skylines look more like Sim City 4 and other earlier citybuilders, and it's an immediate, effortless success. Partly it's giving me a big nostalgia cuddle, and partly it's taming a slightly over-excitable camera and presenting a view which really makes the terrain pop. You can still rotate freely, by the way. Hit F8 to adjust this on-the-fly. As an altnerative (they clash with each other), there's...
We covered a first-person camera mod already here, but this does it a whole lot better. It enables you to natively pull the camera far further out, and then zoom it all the way into street level. Essentially, it unlocks the camera, making it what it should have been in the first place, and adding a new sense of planetary awe to proceedings. It doesn't have the follow-a-car/person trick of the other one linked, but no doubt there'll be some way to make both work.
Just a bugbear-fixer, this. For some strange reason, Skylines depicts pollution by adding a purple haze to affected ground and water. If you want something more realistic - or at least less Willy Wonka - then this collection will sort things out. Linked further down the page are various different colours, including dead brown grass or Simpsons-style luminous green water.
I'm not entirely certain whether this should be classified as a prettiness mod or a building enhancement one, but I'll stick it in here anyway. If you've basically made the city of your fevered dreams and have run out of much else to do, you can add some freeform greenery to further beautify things with this tree painter tool. It's far more flexible than Skylines' built-in green spaces options, which can be a fiddle to fit into a busy conurbation and only come in prefab spaces.
And finally (for now), my stand-out personal favourite...
Look at it! Look at it! This adds a new 'colour correction' rendering mode to Skylines' settings menus, aping the bleached out'n'red look of Mirror's Edge. Granted, you don't get the brilliant whites of Mirror's Edge as this is a colour hack - essentially running the world through a blue filter to bleach out the colour - rather than a retexturing, but it still works incredibly well in practice. It's also available without the red highlights if you like, but borrrrrrrrrrrring.
On page 2 - practical mods, including traffic management, recycling, UI tweaks and bulldozing for lazy people.
So your city's looking prettier. Now, how about making it run more efficiently too? These are some the best utility tweaks around, which'll help you to be a better mayor. Or a worse one, if that's your preferred strategy. It's worth saying VERY CLEARLY that almost all of these have one or several alternatives available, which can be just as good if not better, depending on personal preference and on how recently they've been updated. If any of these aren't to your liking, it's well worth having a browse the workshop for something similar.
This is a huge help. At lot of time in the early-to-mid game is spent cycling through the various utilities tabs, checking there isn’t a horrible shortage of water or power or filth (be it garbage or police), and as well as being time-consuming, having the whole screen turn blue to show pipe routes just because you wanted to check all was well in waterland annoyingly obscures most everything else. This simple mod shows all your city’s main stuff at a glance. It’s also great for sitting back and saying ‘man, look what a good mayor I am.’
The long game of Cities: Skylines is not wealth or size, but roads. The bigger a city becomes, the more disaster prone its traffic system is. Unsurprisingly, mods have made this a major focus. Traffic Report Tool is a great place to start, because while it can’t fix anything itself, it can show you what’s wrong. Tracing out the routes the city’s iron steeds are taking means you can follow a jam back to its source, and potentially identify exactly what needs to change, rather than simply scrubbing every road and starting over, which is my usual approach. You can even use it to show the route taken by an individual vehicle, which can be revelatory in terms of working out why stinking great lorries keep diverting a your quiet, leafy suburb.
This is half about correcting problems without relaying roads, and half about tinkering for the sake of tinkering once everything’s running smoothly. Add stop signs and traffic lights to dictate who goes first and where, or to iron out a clog at a busy junction. Add pedestrian crossings to help keep tourists surging towards your big monument or help commuters catch buses. It’s all frills, but it’s a micro-manager’s dream, and another step towards making every aspect of a city feel as though it was your own choice.
Another traffic mega-pack, but I’m primarily interested in this because it enables proper pedestrian paths – great if you’re trying to manage tourists or bus routes – as well as roads with bus lanes. There’s a ton of things to fiddle with, and a ton of ways to optimise traffic, but once again the main gain is upping the level of simulation in Skylines.
Public transport in Skylines is, on the one hand, fiddly, and on the other surprisingly rudimentary. Once your initial bus and metro routes are laid down it’s tricky to work out exactly what’s going where, let alone how efficient it is. This bolt-on for UI colour-codes your lines and displays how much of an effect they’re having on road traffic. If you want your city to have as many bus routes as a real city, this is essential. Also it even changes the colour of your buses. So if you want hot pink buses everywhere, this is also essential.
The lazy mayor’s dream, this is a one-click fix for all those abandoned or burned-out buildings which crop up over town, and which otherwise require painstaking manual removal if you want to get rid of the distracting icons hovering above them. Just hit a button to get rid of the problem (and its pernicious effects on land value) and pretend there aren’t fundamental infrastructure problems with your city! Never mind that no-one wants to live in that area or there aren’t enough suitably educated employees to staff all those factories! Bulldoze! BULLDOZE! (I do consider this an essential mod).
I always feel so guilty about pumping a torrent of turds into the rivers or ocean. The Skylines community feels similarly, and there are any number of sewage treatment mods available, each with upsides and downsides. Some require a ton of fresh water, some create so much garbage that they end up re-polluting the treated water, and some look like insane science fiction. This is a decent middleground, in that it looks plausible and it doesn’t carry the risk of poisoning half the city. It can even be run without any running water supply whatsoever, so long as you’re cool with the idea of the your citizens only ever drinking water reclaimed from their own wee. It’s possibly over-powered, given it both produces water and negates sewage, but if you want a tidier-looking city you’ll be glad of it. Oh, and be sure not to place this is in a polluted area, otherwise it’s necropolis time all over again.
I remain surprised that the clean-living Scandinavians, of all people, would make a game in which landfills or incineration were the only options for garbage management. Fortunately, modders have been quick to create a more environmental alternative. The Recycling Center – available in both big and small sizes – makes a helluva racket as it’s crushing all those tin cans, so don’t lob it next to a residential zone, but it’ll gradually reduce the contents of your landfills. Better for the planet, and fewer stinking cesspits on the outskirts of town.
I do like a windfarm, but they kind of take over aesthetically, don’t they? If you want something more low-profile, less dependent on raised ground or simply as a visual alternative, go solar. Available in small and large sizes, these are modular, thus can be arranged in a neat array. In theory, anyway – the mod’s due to be updated so these things can attach to roads, which will help enormously in terms of lining them up correctly.
Awkwardly straddling all three parts of this – visual, utility and add-on buildings – I’ve opted to stick it in this part purely because it alters how you build. A map rather than an alteration, it gives you the foundations of a rural city, surrounded by fields, trees and hills, which on the other hand frees you up to make more open-plan cities and on the other forces you to think more creatively about how you zone. Unless you just bulldoze all the trees. That’s an option, I guess. Anyway: if you’re finding you’re not sure quite what to do in Cities now you’ve got a settlement all the way to the top, Copper Creek is a great way to approach the game slightly differently.
Coming in part 3 soon: the best add-on buildings and decorations.