Reticulating Splines
The following was copied from the book The Official SimCity 2000 Planning Commission Handbook without permission from the authors (Peter Spear and Johnny L. Wilson) or the publisher (Osborne McGraw-Hill).

 To: Office of the Mayor
From: SimCity 2000 Planning Commission Chief Number Cruncher

Every time a new SimCity is create, SC2K runs its terrain generation sequence. While this is happening, the program is creating a semi-random landscape upon which players can create the city of their dreams. Or their nightmares, for that matter. We describe the process as "semi-random" because SC2K has no bag of stock landscapes from which to draw. Although some may appear very similar to others, each and everyone one is created uniquely and differently. That's the random part.

On the other hand, the percentages of the various physical elements present in the new city are the same every time. It's always built this way:

  • Forest 25%
  • Water 10%
  • Trees 31%
(ClubOpolis Note: We all know you can change these percentages using the Mountain, Tree and Water sliders in the Terrain Edit Toolbar. I suspect this book was written before SimCity 2000 was finished and some of it's info is just plain wrong).

That's the "semi" part.

In the few seconds this process consumes, you are shown a rapid succession of messages apparently checking off the steps the program is going through:

  • Creating Hills
  • Smoothing
  • More Smoothing
  • Yet more smoothing
  • Reticulating Splines
  • Tracing Rivers

(ClubOpolis Note: In certain versions you can hear a women's voice say "Reticulating Splines" )

Everything seems clear enough except ... what does SC2K mean by "reticulating splines?" Or is it, what are "reticulating splines?" Obviously it must be some rather obscure and complex mathematical process, an alchemical algorithm, or a dead cool programming technique.


Will Wright, the author of the original SimCity and co-author of SC2K, says that if you show folks a complex enough simulation, people will fill in effects for everything they see. In other words, people will interpret things that don't exist, assume complexity where there is none .

There is none.

Read our word processor: There are no such things as Reticulating Splines .

"Reticulating splines" is a giant pulling of our legs. Will and some others made up the phrase because they thought it looks and sounds as if it means something. It might: the word "reticulate" means to divide something so that it looks like, or appears to be, a net or a network generating, perhaps, from a single point; a "spline" can be an irregular curve or the approximation of a curve. Individually the terms have meaning. Together-in the case of SimCity 2000-they don't. It's just a prank and a joke.

The irregular features of SC2K's terrain are created by the generation of fractals that are smoothed, smoothed again, and smoothed yet again until they appear on screen as square tiles or cube-shaped cells. Fractals are mathematical objects that are "...devoid of translational symmetry," that is, the smoothness associated with Euclidean lines, planes and spheres. The nature of fractals is reflected in the word itself, conined by mathematician Benoit B. Mandelbrot from the Latin verb "frangere," "to break, " and the related adjective "fractus," "irregular and fragmented." Or so say the New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia.

This Web Page was created by Patrick Coston September 24, 1996, Last updated April 4, 2006