User Reference

Controlling SimCity

Managing Windows

A big part of controlling SimCity is controlling its windows. You can select which windows are displayed. Windows can be moved around the screen. They can be brought to the front, hidden, or closed into small icons.

The Close Box Menu

To move a SimCity window around, just press the mouse button down on its Drag Edge, the thick beveled border, and drag the outline to where you want it. When you release the button, the window will move there.

Some windows can be resized, by pressing the mouse button down on the Resize Corner, and dragging the outline to where you want it. The opposite corner will stay in the same place, and the window will stretch so the corner is where you've put it (however, windows won't stretch smaller than their minimum size). Click the mouse button on a window's Drag Edge, Resize Corner, or its title, to bring it to the top.

The windows have a Close Box in the upper or lower right corner, that you can click the left mouse button on to close the window to an icon or hide it. Press the right mouse button down over the Close Box to pop up a Close Box Menu of window management functions, described below. Clicking the left mouse button on the Close Box actually selects the menu's Default Item, which is "Close" or "Hide" as appropriate.

You can press the "Front" key to bring the window under the cursor to the front, or to push it to the back if it's already in front. The "Open" key closes a window to an icon or opens an icon to a window. Double clicking on an icon also opens it.

Getting Help

If you wonder about a control or graphic in SimCity, you can point at it with the cursor, and press the "Help" key, to bring up a help window describing it.

The Help Window

The magnifying glass in the help window shows an image of the screen where you pressed the "Help" key. You can scroll the help text with the scroll bar if there is more than one page. Press the "Done" button to get rid of the help window, or the "Info" button to find out more about HyperLook.

Using the Mouse

In SimCity, you will primarily use the left mouse button. The main function of the right mouse button is to select from menus. The middle button is used to scroll the view in the Edit Window. But in most places, the right and middle buttons do the same thing as the left button.

Clicking a mouse button means to press and release it without moving. Dragging means to press and hold the button, move the mouse, then release.

Open Look Menus

To bring up an Open Look menu, press and hold the right mouse button down over a menu button. (Or click the right button without moving.) Drag over to the menu item you want to select, then release the button (or click it again).

When an Open Look menu is popped up, you can set the Default Item to the currently highlighted item, by pressing and releasing the Control key. The default item is has a black ring or a rectangle around it. Pressing the left mouse button on a Menu Button will select the associated menu's Default Item, without popping up the menu.

You can pin an Open Look menu by selecting its push-pin. It will stay on the screen, and you can use it without it popping down. You can move a pinned menu around by dragging its border with the left button. To get rid of a pinned menu, just click on the push-pin.

Pie Menus

Pie menus are designed to be very fast and efficient to use. You can pop up a pie menu by clicking the right button, then select from it by moving in the direction of the item you want, and clicking again.

Once you are familiar with the directions, you can use pie menus very quickly by pressing the right button down, moving in the direction you want, and releasing. If you do this without stopping, the menu will not even display on the screen -- you will just see the menu label flash up to remind you of the selection. See how fast you can get!

Pie Menus for Selecting Tools

Using the Keyboard

There are several keyboard shortcuts in SimCity. Keep the keyboard reference chart handy.

The following keys work with any SimCity window, the same as they work with the other windows on the desktop:

The following keys are only applicable when the cursor is in the Edit Window:

The following keys temporarily switch editing tools, while you are holding them down. When you release the key, the tool changes back to what it was before:


This section explains the SimCity menus in detail.

The Editor Window Menu Buttons

Close Box Menu

Every SimCity window has a Close Box with an associated menu, for window management commands.

File Menu

The File Menu lets you start new games, read and write cities to disk, and other unclassifiable stuff like that.

Options Menu

The Options Menu contains nonexclusive settings, any of which you may toggle on or off by selecting.

Disasters Menu

The Disasters Menu allows you to set natural (and unnatural) disasters loose on your city. Use these disasters to test your ability to deal with emergencies in your city or just to release some aggression. More information on disasters, their causes, and dealing with them is presented later.

Time Menu

The Time Menu contains exclusive settings that control the speed that time passes in the simulation. The faster time passes, the less frequently the screen updates.

Priority Menu

The Priority Menu contains exclusive settings that control what percentage of the CPU time SimCity sucks down.

Windows Menu

The Windows Menu opens up the various SimCity windows, bringing them to the front.

Edit Window

This is where all actual zoning and building takes place.

The Edit Window


There are three types of terrain in the Edit Window: Open Land, Trees, and Water.

Open Land is where you can zone and build. It is shown as brown with dark brown speckles.

Trees and Forests are shown as green, with dark green speckles. You cannot zone or build on trees. You may bulldoze trees and forests to turn them into clear land. While some bulldozing is necessary, clearing away too much green area will result in lower property values.

Water is shown as blue, with dark blue speckles. You cannot zone or build on water. You must bulldoze coastlines to create landfills before you can build or zone there.

Edit Window Gadgets

The Edit Window is where you will do the actual building and zoning. In the middle of the Edit Window is a detailed map showing part of the terrain. Around the edges are controls and fields displaying information about the city.

In the upper left corner is a picture of the City Simulator, from Maxis. If you click on that, the Introduction Screen will be displayed to show the credits, version, and copyrights. Click on the Introduction Screen to dismiss it.

There is a row of Menu Buttons below the title. You can read how to use Open Look Menus on page 26, and read a detailed description of each of the Menus on page 29.

There are three fields below the Menu Buttons, that display your Current Funds (in dollars), the Current Date (the year and month), and important Messages (one at a time). Clicking on them just brings the window to the front.

Along the left edge of the window are two columns of colorful Tool Icons, used for choosing the city editing mode. Click the mouse over an icon to select an editing tool. The currently selected tool is highlighted in yellow. The Tool Cost field along the bottom edge of the window tells you the name of the selected tool, and how many dollars it costs to use.

You can use the selected tool by pressing the left mouse button over the map in the middle of the Edit Window. Also, you can pop up a Pie Menu to quickly switch between editing tools, by clicking the right mouse button over the map. You can read how to use Pie Menus on page 27.

You can easily scroll the map by pressing the middle mouse button down over the map and dragging the view around.

The Demand Indicator shows the demand levels for Residential (green), Commercial (blue), and Industrial zones (yellow), and can be helpful in planning your city.

The Zoom Control changes the magnification of the map. You can zoom in or out to make the graphics larger or smaller, or press the Zoom Reset button to zoom back to normal. The animation is fastest at the normal size.

Edit Window Icons

You can select an icon from the Tool Icon pallet to use a city editing tool. When an icon is selected, a rectangle will accompany the cursor when it's over the map, to indicate the area the tool will affect.

The Edit Tool Icons

Query shows the Zone Status Window, describing the population density, value, crime rate, pollution, and growth rate of the zone under the cursor. It doesn't cost anything to use.

The Zone Status Window

Bulldozer clears trees and forests, creates landfill along the water, and levels developed, existing zones and clears rubble caused by disasters. The Auto Bulldoze option works on natural terrain, power lines and rubble, but not on zones, roads and rails.

It costs $1 for each square tile bulldozed. Knocking down a 3x3 zone costs $9 since it's made up of nine tiles. You're automatically charged $1 for each non-empty tile that you Auto Bulldoze.

Bulldozing Zones

Roads connect developed areas. Intersections and turns are automatically created. Lay continuous roads by pressing the left mouse button and dragging your cursor. Be careful -- if you accidentally lay a road in the wrong place you will have to pay for bulldozing and rebuilding.

Roads may not be placed over zoned areas. They may be placed over trees, shrubbery, and shoreline only after bulldozing or activating the Auto Bulldoze function from the Options Menu. Roads can cross over power lines and rails only at right angles.

Holding down the Control key while laying roads will constrain them to a straight line.

Laying roads across water creates a bridge. Bridges can only be built in a straight line -- no curves, turns or intersections. Shorelines must be bulldozed prior to building a bridge, unless the Auto Bulldoze function from the Options Menu is active.

Roadways are maintained by the transit budget, and wear out if there is a lack of funding. The amount of yearly funding requested by the transportation department is $1 for each section of road, $4 for each section of bridge.

It costs $10 to lay one section of road and $50 to lay one section of bridge.

Roads and Bridges

Power Lines carry power from power plants to zoned land and between zones. All developed land needs power to function. Power is conducted through adjacent zones. Unpowered zones display the flashing lightning bolt symbol. There is a delay between the time you connect power to a zone and when the flashing symbol disappears. The delay grows longer as the city grows larger.

Power lines cannot cross zoned land. They can be built over trees, shrubbery, and shoreline only after bulldozing, or activating the Auto Bulldoze function from the Options Menu.

Junctions and corners are automatically created. Lay continuous power lines by pressing the left mouse button down and dragging your cursor. Power lines across water must be horizontal or vertical -- no turn, curves or intersections. Power lines consume some power due to transmission inefficiencies.

Holding down the Control key while laying power lines will constrain them to a straight line.

It costs $5 to lay one section of power line on land, $25 on water.

Power Lines Connecting Zones

Transit Lines create a railway system for intra-city mass transit. Place tracks in heavy traffic areas to help alleviate congestion.

Intersections and turns are created automatically. Lay continuous transit lines by pressing the left mouse button down and dragging with your cursor. Tracks laid under rivers will appear as dashed lines. These are underwater tunnels, and must be vertical or horizontal -- no turns, curves or intersections.

Holding down the Control key while laying tracks will constrain them to a straight line.

Transit lines are maintained by the transit budget. The level of funding affects the efficiency of the system. The amount of yearly funding requested by the transportation department is $4 for each section of rail, and $10 for each section of tunnel.

It costs $20 per section of track laid on land, $100 per section under water.

Train Tracks Provide Mass Transit

Parks can be placed on clear land. Parks, like forests and water, raise the land value of surrounding zones. Parks can be bulldozed as fire breaks or reserve space for later mass transit expansion.

Holding down the Control key while building parks will constrain them to a straight line.

It costs $10 to zone one park.

Parks Improve the Quality of Life

Residential Zones are where the Sims live, build houses, apartments and community facilitieslike hospitals and churches.

Most residential zones develop into one of four classes: lower, middle, upper, and high. They can range in population density from single-family homes to high-rise apartments and condominiums. Some residential zones will automatically develop into churches and hospitals.

Factors influencing residential value and growth are pollution, traffic density, population density, surrounding terrain, roadway access, parks and utilities.

It costs $100 to zone one plot of land as residential.

Residential Zone Evolution

Commercial Zones are used for many things, including retail stores, office buildings, parking garages and gas stations.

There are four values for commercial property, and five levels of growth, from the small general store to tall skyscrapers. Factors influencing the value and growth of commercial areas include internal markets, pollution, traffic density, residential access, labor supply, airports, crime rates, transit access and utilities.

It costs $100 to zone one plot of land as commercial.

Commercial Zone Evolution

Industrial Zones are for heavy manufacturing and industrial services. There are four levels of industrial growth, from small pumping stations and warehouses to large factories.

Factors influencing industrial growth are external markets, seaports, transit access, residential access, labor supply and utilities.

It costs $100 to zone one plot of land as industrial.

Industrial Zone Evolution

Police Departments lower the crime rate in the surrounding area. This in turn raises property values. Place these in high-density crime areas, as defined by your Crime Rate Map. The efficiency of a station depends on the level of police department funding and transit access.

It costs $500 to build a police station. Full yearly maintenance of each Police Station is $100.

Fire Departments make surrounding areas less susceptible to fires. When fires do occur, they are put out sooner and do less damage if a station is near. The effectiveness of fire containment depends on the level of fire department funding and transit access.

It costs $500 to build a fire station. Full yearly maintenance of each fire station is $100.

A Police and a Fire Station

Stadiums encourage residential growth, once a city has become fairly large. You may build a stadium in a smaller city without negative (or positive) effect. Stadiums indirectly generate a lot of revenue, but create a lot of traffic. Properly maintaining a stadium requires a good road and transit network.

It costs $3000 to build a stadium.

A Stadium During a Game

Power Plants can be Coal or Nuclear, chosen from a sub-menu provided when you press the left mouse button over the power plant icon. The nuclear plant is more powerful but carries a slight risk of meltdown. The coal plant is less expensive, but less powerful and it pollutes.

All zoned land needs power to develop and grow. When developed land loses power, it will degenerate to an undeveloped zone unless power is restored. Connecting too many zones to a power plant causes brownouts.

Coal power plants cost $3000 to build, and supply enough energy for about 50 zones. Nuclear power plants cost $5000 and supply electricity for about 150 zones.

Coal and Nuclear Power Plants

Seaports increase the potential for industrial growth. They have little effect in a small city, but contribute a lot to industrialization in a large city.

Seaports should be placed on a shoreline. The shoreline must be bulldozed prior to zoning a Seaport, unless Auto Bulldoze is active. Once the port is operational you may see ships in the water.

It costs $5000 to zone land for use as a seaport.

A Seaport and a Ship

Airports increase the growth potential of your commercial markets. Once a city starts getting large, commercial growth will level off without an airport. Airports are large and expensive and should not be built unless your city can afford one. Position airports to keep flight paths over water whenever possible, lessening the impact of air disasters.

Once you build an airport you will see planes flying above your city to and from the airport. There is also a traffic helicopter that alerts you to heavy traffic areas.

It costs $10,000 to zone land for use as an airport.

An Airport, with a Plane and a Helicopter

Budget Window

The Budget Window

When your first taxes are collected in a new city, and each year after, the Budget Window will appear (unless you select the Auto Budget option). You will be asked to set the funding levels for the fire, police, and transportation departments, and to set the property tax rate.

The Budget Window can be opened from the Windows Menu. When Auto Budget is active, all the funding levels will remain at full funding, or your last setting. If there is not enough money to completely fund the budget, money will go first to the Transit Department, then the Fire Department, then the Police Department.

An Open Look Numeric Field and Slider

You can raise and lower budget levels by clicking on the little arrows or dragging the sliders that correspond to each category. A numeric field will display the level of funding that will be maintained if you turn on the Auto Budget function. You may also adjust your tax rate by clicking on the arrows or dragging the slider next to the tax rate indicator. Press the button labeled "Go With These Figures" to make the Budget Window disappear.

When the Budget Window opens up, the hour glass in the upper right corner starts running. When it runs out, the Budget Window automatically goes with the currently selected figures and disappears. You can click on the hour glass to make it go away, and the Budget Window will stay up for as long as you like.

Tax Rate

The maximum tax rate you can set is 20%.

The minimum tax rate you can set is 0%.

The optimum tax rate for fast growth is between 5% and 7%.

To slow city growth without actually shrinking, set the tax rate to 8% or 9%.

The tax collected from each zone is based on the following formula:

The scaling constant changes with the difficulty level of the game.

Funding Levels

The amount of yearly funding requested for the fire and police departments is $100 per station that you have placed. Until you actually build fire or police stations, you cannot fund them. You cannot allocate more than 100% of the requested funding for fire and police departments -- SimCity police officers and fire inspectors are honest and will not accept your bribes.

Allocating less than the requested amount will decrease the effective coverage of the police or fire stations.

The amount of yearly funding requested for the transportation department is $1 for each section of road, $4 for each section of bridge (roads over water), $4 for each section of rail, and $10 for each section of tunnel (underwater rails). You cannot allocate more than 100% of the requested funds.

Transportation maintenance funding slightly below 100% will cause slow, minor deterioration of the transit system -- an occasional pothole or bad track section. Funding between 90% and 75% will cause noticeable damage -- many sections of road and rail will be unusable. Funding below 75% will cause rapid deterioration of your transit system.

Cash Flow

The cash flow is calculated as follows:

CashFlow = TaxesCllected - TotalAllocatedFunds

It will be a negative number if your yearly maintenance costs are greater than your yearly tax intake.

A major difference between SimCity and a real city is that SimCity does not allow budget deficits. If you don't have the money, you can't spend it. Try not to let your city run with a negative cash flow.

Map Window

The Map Window

The Map Window shows the entire area of your city. It has a pallet of icons down the left edge, for selecting between different map types. The maps show demographic information to help you comprehend the state of your city.

You can select between various views by pressing the left mouse button over any of the icons. Some of the icons have submenus, that pop up when you hold the button down, so you can select different aspects of the view.

One or more yellow rectangular outlines overlay the map, showing the location of the Edit Window and Surveyor Window views of the city. You can drag the rectangles around the map to pan the other views. You can also "throw" the view, by dragging with the left mouse button, and releasing the button while moving the mouse. The view keeps on panning and bounces off the edges of the map! Click on a moving rectangle to make it sit still, or on the map to stop all the bouncing rectangles. Use the middle button to avoid such behavior.

The Map Icons, Menus, and Legends

Using The Maps

The Map Window should be constantly referred to in all stages of city planning, building and managing.

Before you build, use the map before beginning a new city to plan:

Printing the map and sketching in your plan with pencil or pen can save a lot of bulldozing and re-zoning and rebuilding.

During city growth:

During city maintenance:

Graph Window

The Graph Window gives you time-based graphs of various city data. It can be opened through the Windows Menu.

Unlike the maps, which only show the current state of your city, the Graphs give you a record of the past so you can gauge trends and cycles.

You may view graphs for time periods of either the last 10 years or the last 120 years by clicking on the "10 YRS." or "120 YRS." button.

10 and 120 Year Graph Windows

Using the Graphs

The Graphs give information on many of the same factors as the maps, but show the information over time. Graphs are for locating trends in city life that won't be noticeable in a map. If you look at a map, for example the Crime Rate Map, a very slight rise in the crime rate will not be noticeable. But on the Crime Rate Graph, you would easily locate the upward trend in crime because you will be viewing the levels for a number of years at the same time.

Residential, commercial and industrial population growth and/or decline can be tracked and displayed. If you notice a downward trend in any of these, refer to the User Reference Card to locate potential problems and solutions.

Use the Cash Flow Graph to track your city's efficiency as it grows. If your maintenance costs are higher than your tax revenues, you will have a negative cash flow.

The Crime Rate Graph can be displayed, revealing slight but consistent upward or downward trends.

Use the Pollution Graph to catch rising levels of pollution before they reach a problem level.

Evaluation Window

The Evaluation Window gives you a performance rating. You can access it through the Windows Menu.

The Evaluation Window

Public Opinion is presented in poll form, rating your overall job as Mayor and listing what the public regards as the city's most pressing problems. You are advised to keep your residents happy or they might migrate away, and you will be left with a "ghost town."

In general, if more than 55% of the populace thinks you are doing a good job, then you can feel secure of keeping your job.

If 10% or less of the people think something is a problem, then it's not too bad.

These are most of the problems that citizens complain about, and how to correct them:

Statistics on Population, Net Migration, and Assessed Value are displayed, along with the city's Game Level and the Overall City Score. This data is calculated once a year at budget time.

Population is the number of residents in your city.

The Net Migration statistic provides a rating of the desirability of your city. If people are leaving in droves, then you know something is rotten in SimCity.

The Assessed Value is the combined value of all city-owned property: roads, rails, power plants, police and fire stations, airports, seaports, parks, etc. It does not include residential, commercial and industrial zones.

The Categories are defined by population as follows:

Overall City Score is a composite score based on the following factors (some positive, some negative):

A large population is not necessarily a sign of a successful city. Population size does not affect the overall city score, since low population could indicate a new or growing city.

Since city growth rate does affect the overall city score, a city in which growth has been intentionally stopped for environmental or aesthetic reasons will have a slightly lower score.

Notice Window

The Notice Window

The Notice Window is used to display important messages, and for temporary control panels. When something important happens, it pops up to the front, and throbs at you to get your attention. You can dismiss it by clicking the left button on the Close Box, since the Close Box Menu default is "Hide".

Surveyor Window

The Surveyor Window lets you look at different parts of the city, independent of the Editor Window view. When a disaster or event happens, and you have Auto Goto activated, it pops up and scrolls to the scene. You can access it through the Windows Menu. To scroll the Editor Window to the location of a Surveyor view, just click the left mouse button on the view.

The Surveyor Window

You can zoom the view in and out by pressing down and holding the Zoom control. The Reset button resets the zoom back to normal. The animation is fastest at the normal magnification.

Zooming the View

You can resize the Surveyor Window by dragging the Resize Corners, and the views will resize proportionally.

By clicking on the recessed rectangles in the upper right corner of the Surveyor Window, you can toggle between one and three views. The middle view is used for Auto Goto when three views are present.

Three Surveyor Views

You can pan Surveyor Window views around by dragging them with the middle button. For each view, including the Editor Window, a yellow rectangle is displayed over its area in the Map Window. You can pan any view by dragging its rectangle.

The Map showing Four Views

Game Level

When you first start a new city, you must pick a Game Level. Once a city is started, you cannot change the Game Level; it remains at your initial setting for the life of the city. The current Game Level is displayed in the evaluation window.

Picking a Game Level

This level -- Easy, Medium, or Hard -- adjusts the simulation to your current abilities by altering several factors. A harder setting will increase the chance of disasters, make residents more intolerant of taxation, cause maintenance costs to grow, etc.


Disasters will randomly occur as you play SimCity. At higher game levels the disasters will happen more often. Most disasters can be activated from the Disasters Menu. Random disasters can be eliminated by turing off the Disasters setting of the Options Menu.


The Scenarios provide both real and hypothetical problems for you to deal with in seven famous (and one not-so-famous) cities. They present various levels of difficulty. Some problems are in the form of disasters which will occur some time after you start. Other problems are more long-term, such as crime.

Your task is to deal with the problem at hand as well as possible under the circumstances. After a certain amount of time the city residents will rate your performance in a special election. If you do very well you may be given the key to the city. However, if you do poorly, they just might run you out of town.

The Scenario Screen