I‘m a sucker for city building and transport network simulation games. I guess it fulfills some need of my geeky self to play with complex and intricate systems and make the most of the rules within the game to give my simulated citizens the ultimate life.
The last city simulation game I played was Cities XL which was good in premise of a huge map and complex options for transport and other things. One thing it did not do so well on is the graphics and making the cities look and feel alive. The streets were generally empty It was also processor intensive to the point that it could not render much more than small towns without a significant drop in framerates. Previous to that of course was Simcity 4, perhaps the best of the Simcities, even better than the new one, which this post is about. The new Simcity does quite a few things right and a few things wrong as well.
For a start, the new game differs in basic design premises to the originals. Where the first lot of Simcitys were built upon algorithms and spreadsheet representations of a bustling metropolis, the new Simcity eschews that for individual agent simulation. There are of course issues with this type of approach, the first of which is computational. Consequently, this means that the sizes of cities are tiny, only a 2kmx2km square as the designers wanted the game to accessible to people who didn’t have the latest and greatest in hardware. Conversely though, this means that the game runs silky smooth and despite the small sizes of cities, it’s a mesmorising experience watching the way the traffic flows during the peak hours, how everyone goes to school and the behaviour of your citizens during the day/night cycle. Also, the population number is fudged…
However, with the change in how the game works, comes a change in the way the game shows data to the player. This means much better detailed, yet simpler, representation of what’s going on, but the issue is that there’s now no historical trends as to how your city is doing as a whole compared to some period beforehand. This means that for any issues in your city, you sort of have to sit there and watch how things are functioning for a while until you twig on to the cause of the problem. This is reasonably realistic, but historical data graphs were very useful to see how your city is functioning.
Next, was the beta testing. Or lack thereof. Whilst there was a public beta test which I was fortunate enough to participate in, it only lasted an hour per session, greatly limiting how far into each city you could go. It didn’t limit the amount of times you could log on, mind you. However, at this point, it would have been good to see just how many bugs or bad programming logic had been introduced into the game. But, alas, it was too late and to much fanfare, then horror, then condescending backlash from customers, Simcity was launched to its own version of Diablo 3’s Error 37 debacle. To the credit of Maxis, they put in a huge load of extra servers, patched and rewrote a lot of logic within the game and even managed to apologise by giving away a free game (which admittedly I only played once). They have done a lot of work to get the game working as much as and as quickly as possible. I personally haven’t found many of the problems that players complained about particularly harms the gameplay much, nor were they breaking my enjoyment of the game. I mean, it can be frustrating if all your fire engines run to the same fire in your city whilst another one burns not one block away.
As the patches come rolling in, bugs get squashed and AI gets improved, I can see Simcity being a fantastic time waster, screen saver, call it what you will. Hopefully as time goes on, the city sizes can be increased and we get more space and combinations of buildings to play with our little virtual creations.