Since June 2012, the time the new SimCity was announced, I have lost much sleep from excitement looking forward to what I thought was to be a glorious reboot of SimCity.
The trailers that followed showed colourful, model-like, graphics in full 3D. A first for SimCity on the PC, as SimCity 4 had a mix of isometric-diametric and few actual 3D models. Naturally, knowledge of this incoming title received almost immediate critical reception, both good and bad. What are the map sizes like? Why does it require an internet connection to play? What’s with the super high price tag and the Origin DRM? Will EA launch eleventy-kajillion DLCs like with The Sims 3? Is this for casuals or only hardcore fans? What kind of rig is it aimed at? And so on. I could see that the questions were driving pre-release opinion towards the negative, especially when the always online single player experience became evident. Despite this I continued onward as the fanatical loyalist and maintained my faith in Maxis.
As a hardcore Simcity fan and lover of the entire series, I was asked by GD to delve into the game and deliver a review. About two days ago, my faith in Maxis was put to the test.
Launch Day US: March 5th - I clicked the origin button and began the SimCity download. The installer for the game took less than 4 minutes to download (see my GD page for details about my internet connection). However, I was then faced with another download. Patch files. These took longer: and the installer hung for about 30 minutes, saying it was processing a large file.
Completed. Clicked the launcher and selected the closest server to me. I was greeted by a popup message telling me that the server was inundated and would not take any more requests at that time.
My heart sank a little from that message, since I was accepted into all three Betas and they told me that they were totally prepared for launch day. No matter, minor hiccups are to be expected with a product launch. Fortunately, there were plenty of servers worldwide that were open for business, and I chose the first Western European server and claimed a small region to myself so I could acquaint myself with the SimCity controls and gameplay mechanics.
I was able to setup two cities in the region. The first was a bedroom community and the second a commuter city where citizens would arrive and work at its factories. However, I experienced inconsistencies regarding the online synchronization of city resources available for each city in the region. The population count did not reflect recent housing instalments. Garbage trucks wouldn’t go to the other cities, and power outages were common in the bedroom community as the regional supply of power did not update! These inconsistencies have cost several hundreds of thousands of Simoleans worth of productivity and have slowed the expansion of the region!
Two days later, these sync issues still run rampant across all the global servers, but the situation has lessened, to a degree, in its severity. But the forums and help boards continued to be flooded with dissent and complaints about the defectiveness of the servers and demands for refunds. I, myself, am beginning to question the ethics behind Electronic Arts and the Maxis-Emeryville at this point.
Lets take a swift look at the Glassbox simulation engine, that powers SimCity.
Resources Pretty much self-explanatory as they account for essentially everything in game, such as people, water, the coal beneath the ground, raw electricity, etc
Agents Transport Resources using the Virtual Distance Field. Normally called path-finding, right? The Agents primarily travel through the roads that you build, including the regional highway system.
Buildings These influence the surrounding environment to create and/or use Resources and Agents
Rules These define objectives for resources, agents, and buildings. Simple right?
The classic Simcity style grid we have seen before has been replaced in favour of a "spline" system. The spline can manage more intricate road structures and so should a player choose to build a road in the shape of an electric guitar the city will adapt buildings to fit it.
We felt that the spline system can sometimes become a nuisance should you wish to squeeze every last drop of land for maximum density, as the sizing of buildings is not, at first, apparent.
However, this is partially compensated by the fact that buildings will always have access to proper infrastructure via roads.
Glassbox creates hundreds of thousands of agents, which are separately processed to provide efficiency and make effective use of multi-core CPU PC systems.
These agents, civilians, can count as agents and resources, alternating between the two depending on what rules are in place. Some "agents" don't have to travel along roads, instead they will expand radially. Fire is an example of one of these agents. Spreading by sending heat agents through the air
The simulation is deep enough so that the animations you see in the factories and other buildings are agents being created in real-time. Traffic is dynamically created by car agents trying to navigate the road system.
SimCity 2013 uses the traditional RCI Residential, Commercial & Industrial system that is essentially a trademark of the SimCity franchise
In order to glean the most from your region you will need to set up multi-city play. Regions can be played all by yourself, with a close group of friends, or anyone you encounter through SimCity or online. For example, if you have unfilled jobs in one city, while a neighbouring city has an excess of unemployment, civilians will likely commute between cities and contribute to regional commerce.
Following this principle it is possible for groups of players to or cities to combine to help build a regional Great Work. These regional projects can provide benefit to the whole region by providing cheaper electricity or even increasing tourism.
Should a fellow player abandoned your neighbouring cities then you can claim them yourself. So if a mayor abandons their role, the city will continue to exist in the state the mayor left it.
Expansions, provide some pros and cons that fairly balance each other out. The Heroes and Villains Expansion Set provides a beneficial boost to High-Tech industry but also increases crime rate at an alarming rate due to the villain's evil headquarters. Similarly, having a superhero to help take care of city problems, like fire and crime fighting results in an decrease in effectiveness from conventional civic services. So as you may expect, the expansions are more for cosmetic enhancements and variety.
Lets not forget though that this reboot, in its current state, is not worth purchasing. And despite having watched the disgraceful experience Diablo 3 put gamers through last year, with always online single player, and then only a couple of years ago Ubisoft tried the same with their titles and got badly burned. So why EA and Maxis felt they could do better, we cannot say. They had all the warnings and still went ahead with it. This was not the reboot the amazing SimCity deserved and whether SimCity is strong enough to live this down, only time will tell.