SimCity 2013 Impressions: Groundbreaking, Yet Troubling

SimCity In Name Only?

Unfortunately, for all its strengths, and they are numerous, SimCity will launch with several controversial features guaranteed to annoy long time fans of the series, myself included.

First up, there’s the requirement of persistent internet in order to play. Electronic Arts and Maxis have been a bit confusing about this feature. It was first reported that you’ll have to always be logged on in order to play. That caused a massive Internet freak out, which prompted EA to hastily issue a clarification that no, you’ll just need to connect at the start of each session, but should you lose your Internet in the game it won’t kick you out. This made their attempts to frame the requirement as anything other than DRM laughable. However, in our interview, Kip Katsarelis seems to have confirmed that you will indeed need to be connected at all times in order to play the game.

That’s because of the second, and to my mind, more pressing potential problem with SimCity: the fact that it is, as Katsarelis told us, built entirely around multiplayer. The way it works is that instead of individual cities existing independently, players now manage cities within larger regions containing cities managed by other players. The demo depicted a few ways this plays out in your game:

1) The way individual cities are managed can impact their neighbors. If you emphasize industry at the expense of pollution controls, crime prevention, or other public health/safety concerns, the problems that will develop in your city can spill out. Pollution may affect the entire region. Nearby cities may experience a rise in crime caused by your own criminals taking a little road trip. Even economic problems at home can cause a downturn elsewhere.

2) Cities can share resources and services. If you happen to have a power deficiency, you can purchase electricity from a neighboring city that has an excess. Likewise, you can sell a high crime city access to your law enforcement. Similarly, your economies will be linked, so by sharing resources and services, you can boost prosperity across the region.

3) Related to this, these complex relationships allow people to specialize their cities knowing that the slack can be picked up elsewhere. For instance, one city can be the region’s entertainment mecca, with sports arenas, zoos and so forth bringing in tourism from their neighbors. Another city can focus on industry and business, becoming the commute destination; the citizens of other cities will drive into this town to work and back to their own city at the end of the day. This will apparently play out in real (game) time, with effects on day/night traffic and commerce.

4) Cities can (and apparently, must) cooperate to create regional projects, like international airports. Gone are the days of scraping out space in the corner of your city map for an Airport, or having to scrounge for the resources to do it. Now, one city can contribute workers, another alloys, another fuel, and so on, each contributing to the project which will eventually benefit them all. NOTE: Resources are also finite, which means you can run out.

All of this is extremely cool, forcing players to think strategically in ways previously unknown to the series. Unfortunately, it is the only possible mode of play; cities must exist within a region, and there must always be more than one city in the region in order for the game to play out fully. A side effect of this is that players may no longer save their game at specific points and return to that save later. Because multiple, independently run cities are existing in the same region, games progress in linear time. If you f**k up, you can’t identify what you did wrong, return to an earlier save, and correct course. Which means that the days of triggering a cataclysmic event just to see how it looks are gone. You are no longer playing god in your city, you’re merely playing caretaker.

What this means is that there simply is no single player version of SimCity, and it might be a game breaking bug. Yes, players may choose to create a region, make it private, and manage all cities in it themselves, effectively cheating themselves into a quasi-single player game, but they must manage each city one at a time. When they’re not in one of the cities, that city is effectively turned off. This means that however you reach the endgame, it’s going to end up taking a long time, either because you’ll have to make sure to arrange play sessions with your friends in order to avoid having their cities fail to advance, or you’ll be advancing piecemeal as you switch off one city to manage another. Either way, it is a huge break from the series’ past.

Highly Anticipated… And Dreaded.

So what to make of SimCity? It’s a curious thing to be left with simultaneously high and low expectations. On the one hand, it looks so goddamned good. Every element crackling with life, every city vibrant and active in a way I’ve never seen before. In so many ways it looks like it pushes the idea of what a sim can be. But I detest the idea of being forced into a multiplayer paradigm regardless of what I expect to get out of a SimCity experience. I also cannot understand why some of the series’ most beloved features – namely the ability to play the part of a merciless, capricious god – have been removed to make room for said multiplayer. That seems to me akin to making a linear, first person shooter version of Grand Theft Auto. My gut reaction? This is a SimCity game in name only.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you were to describe this game to me without mentioning the SimCity name, I would still complain about the persistent Internet requirement, but I’d probably drool over everything else. Unfortunately, Maxis has chosen to sell this as SimCity, and that name comes with expectations that increasingly look to be unfulfilled. Naturally, I saw only a non-playable demo, and I really am looking forward to getting my hands on this when it becomes playable. But I hope that at some point, Maxis realizes that those expectations fans have won’t be going away, and chooses to include a few of them in the final build.

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11 Comments on SimCity 2013 Impressions: Groundbreaking, Yet Troubling

LTenhet

On June 11, 2012 at 2:00 pm

I’ve said it before: Not every game needs multiplayer. If you develop a good, distinct and fun experience then people will go back to it again and again… Not because it has Multiplayer, which will be gone in a few years when EA decides to shut down the server, but instead because the game is good enough to become a classic, and people remember it for the fun they have. It’s why people still play the old SimCity games, they didn’t have mutliplayer but they were -fun-.

Kevin

On June 11, 2012 at 6:41 pm

There will be no nonsense about “fun.” There’s no way to monetize “fun.” It is not the EA way.

Just waiting for them to offer DLC offering different city features.

David

On June 11, 2012 at 7:32 pm

No single-player? OK, color me gone.

I’ve bought every version of SimCity, and nearly every Maxis product. No more.

Thanks again for nothing, EA! :-(

jlkawaii

On June 12, 2012 at 10:06 am

so the next simcity is a … MMOCity ?
erf, so maxis is done for me. i don’t understand why all must be sacrified at the god multiplayer (mass effect, elder scroll …) or having an outrancier requierement drm (diablo 3, next simcity, …)

so i bought torchlight 2 in predoreder at the place of diablo 3
but for SimCity ?

Y_Y

jk

On June 16, 2012 at 1:12 am

this reeks of management tell devs what they have to do.

Salomo

On August 4, 2012 at 2:04 am

how manner to download this game ?????

James

On October 8, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Moved to the “Will Not Buy” list. Way to go EA.

Electronic Farts

On October 8, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Might as well just call it ‘City’. EA is determined to shoehorn multiplayer into every game in existence. They destroyed Ultima and Origin Systems through this insistence and they’ve just about destroyed Mass Effect and BioWare the same way. Flip knows what they’ll do with Dead Space 3. Not every game can match the same standards as Fifa and nor should they strive to.

Vivid

On October 8, 2012 at 5:26 pm

I’ve been a huge fan of the Simcity series since Simcity 2000. Played them all into the ground and then back out again. When I first heard the announce for this I was so blown away by the visuals, but after reading this, I can honestly say there is no way I will buy this. Always being connected is an automatic h3ll no for me one way or another. But there are two major design choices that also will destroy the experience for me, the first being exhaustible resources. You must be joking me, what idiot thought that up? Simulation or not, it’s a game, not real life, a few fantasy elements are allowed, give the people endless oil deposits or what not. Second, cheats. I never had the uber patience to spend weeks or months slowly working a city up to a metropolis, I’d just turn on the everything costs nothing cheat and build a wonderlandscape. Give myself some extra cash whenever I found something the other cheat didn’t cover and every once in awhile I’d “call cousin vinnie” just for giggles. If I can’t select a free play mode where it’s more about building and less about managing then forget it. Managing is fun for some people, but I was a lego kid. I want to build.

kaan

On February 20, 2013 at 4:10 am

I don’t see how multi city regions is any different than what we had in simcity 4 except that the number of cities you can build in a region and the size of the cities is smaller. This is probably so because the new engine is processor intensive. Cities on the same map sc4 also affected the development of each other and you could specialize them. I would make one with an airport, one with industry and one a commerce mecca with mega population. And yes you would have to stop playing one city and move to the other to see the effects. So I would develop an industrial city next to my commercial one and then quit, log in to the commercial one, watch the population explode and then go back to the industrial one to level up the industry, rinse and repeat. I remember distinctly building an industrial city with no residential zones, with no problems. Given that the author thinks this gameplay is new, I really doubt that he is a seasoned simcity player. The main difference seems to be that its a bit simplified now. You don’t lay down your interstates and railroads, they are already there for you to connect to. Electricity lines and water pipes also don’t need to be laid down, roads connect everything. I think this might be what some seasoned players might be upset about. I honestly like it, being more interested in designing a beautiful city than laying down pipe. As for save games and disasters I don’t think EA/Maxis is stupid enough to actualyl get rid of those. While I never used disasters myself (as I said, I care more about cool vistas) it would be idotic not to include them.

Guillaume

On March 1, 2013 at 9:45 am

I just don’t understand the need for change in the serie… If the companies want to make money (and they are), they should know that gamers are hard-to-satisfy customers. This being said, gamers should not have to adapt themselves to products game companies are making… It’s the company that should create products gamers want.

EA wants to try something new ? Fine, include a multiplayer mode with some cool mechanics. But don’t cut gamers from the possibility of playing their favorite games in singleplayer. Serious, They already got the game mechanics, graphics and all. Put a single player mode !!!!