Kip Katsarelis: SimCity Made “From The Ground Up” For Multiplayer
For our first appointment of E3 2012, we were able to slip into to a demo of Maxis’ upcoming return to the SimCity series, the simply-titled Sim City. The first proper installment since SimCity 4, it isn’t surprising that Maxis is aiming for several leaps forward, but even with that in mind it was surprising how blown my mind was by what was shown. Yes, features like the requirement of a persistent Internet connection might rankle some gamers – particularly me – but the game shown off in the demo looks to be a triumphant return to a series left fallow for far too long.
Shortly after the demo, we had the chance to talk to SimCity lead producer Kip Katsarelis about the game a little more in-depth, including the emphasis on cooperative multiplayer and the reported inclusion of modding tools. Sure, we also had to accept that Electronic Arts is fully committed to persistent Internet. But it’s kind of cool to discover that we might be able to play multiplayer in single player mode. Read on to find out what that even means.
Game Front: It’s been reported that modding tools were going to be built into the Glassbox engine, is that correct?
Kip Katsarelis: Yeah, so every building that you play – it’s modular. So we took a lot of what we learned from 4 and brought those editors right into the game. So every building you get loads of unlocks to really customize your building.
Is it just a level editor or will you eventually support full conversion mods?
Right now I can’t talk about variables, but you know, we’re Maxis; we definitely know we have a large modding community. We build all our tools internally to be used, and then what we’ve traditionally done is improve later on, but I can’t promise anything at this time.
Is the multiplayer aspect of this game going to be fully co-operative, or will there be competitive modes as well?
For the most part, we’ve designed this with co-operation in mind… Players have their individual goals in their cities but they’re going to need their friends to kick in to those goals. But we also have things like leaderboards, which will bring in that competitive nature as well. And we’ve got City Log that’s actually going to list those players to let them know how they’re doing, earning those leaderboards or earning the achievements, so you’ve gotta compete with your friends in that way.
Is there going to be a single-player version of the game to be played without having to connect to your friends, or is the whole thing cooperative co-op in all aspects?
Yeah we have definitely emphasized co-op, so from the ground up, this has been a multiplayer game. But it’s really tailored to the experience you want, so when you go and set up your city or region, you can set it to public or private. If you set it to private, you can go ahead and play single-player by yourself.
So you can have a single-player game where you can manage multiple cities in the same area and have them all building up by yourself?
That’s a lot like Civilization in some ways. Were you guys looking at games like Civilization when you were thinking about SimCity co-op? Where were you coming from when you decided to add that feature?
We looked at Civilization, we looked at all types of games out there. Really, there’s nothing like the cooperative multiplayer experience we’re delivering. We’re really tailoring to the player who’s playing online and making sure that they’re game is the same. So when your friends are offline, you’re not interrupted in your cooperative experience.
Will this be ongoing even when you’re logged out? Would you be able to access your friend’s city even when they aren’t playing? How does this work?
Their city won’t be progressing, but let’s say that we’re sharing power, for example. I could still get power from you, I’m paying you for that, but just because you’re offline you can still keep giving me power. Then when you come back in, you’ll get money for that. Same thing with shared services, anything.
What about the negative effects? Say your city has high crime, and it’s starting to bleed out into other cities but you’re offline. Is that a problem that you’re going to have to solve, or will the other cities be able to help you bring your crime rate down?
Both. That crime will continue still in your city. You can combat that in a number of ways: Infrastructure building, beefing up police in your town, even taking action to reduce crime in your friend’s city.
How do you combat the crime in a neighboring city?
Well, you’ll be able to share services. So you can provide services to that neighboring city.
There’s something that I’m sure you’re going to hear a lot of complaints about: the persistent internet connection requirement. One of the things that kept SimCity 4 relevant for so long was that modders were contributing to it over the years. What happens when EA decides to no longer support the servers necessary for the persistent internet connection? Will at that point the game be unplayable? Or do you have a plan in place to allow gamers to continue playing?
That’s a long way out. Our Spore servers are still up and we’re still supporting that game – I think that’s been four years. We really looked at this game from the multiplayer aspect long term rather than simple single player. Cities aren’t in that bubble. We’re definitely delivering a multiplayer design and the players have indicated they want that. That’s where gaming is going.
But you’ll be paying attention to what the gamers are saying in terms of feedback?
We are definitely paying attention to our gamers; That’s what we’ve always been about.