I can understand why SimCity – or any in-depth strategy game – isn’t made playable at E3: there’s just too much to show in a standard half-hour block. Everyone knows I have a soft spot in my heart for the franchise, but previous iterations just haven’t raised the bar very far with fairly iterative sequels or just… weird games (SimCity Societies). With 2013’s SimCity – named simply ‘SimCity’ – EA and Maxis are about to finally reach the series’ potential. I got a look at the new city-building simulator today and I just can’t keep my lobes together because my mind was blown.
At first glance, SimCity plays like previous titles: you place roads, designate zones to build specific buildings, and allow the sims to roll in and build your city. But when I say that this game models everything in the simulation, it literally models everything in the simulation. No longer are your city’s population, crime, or traffic represented by a color on a chart or a number in a spreadsheet. If a portion of your city is congested, you’ll see every individual sim in the traffic jam. If there’s high crime in another neighborhood, you’ll see each individual crime happening. During the demo, they built a residential loop featuring the new ability to draw out the line of the road in any form you’d like, instead of adhering to a strict grid (don’t worry, that option’s still available for sanity’s sake). The demo’s driver designated the lots along it as residential. Soon construction trucks were arriving to build the houses, going so far as to model them traveling from neighboring cities with the required materials. (If one of these trucks were swept up by a tornado, that building would obviously be delayed.) Houses complete, they sold, and a train of moving trucks rolled in to populate each domicile. These new sims then departed by car en masse when it was time to go to work or shopped or ate and did the same on way back, creating traffic jams dynamically.
During the presentation, Maxis placed a big emphasis on communal building. Several mayors will stake out their burgs over an open slab of mass with no obvious divisions between their lots. Where roads connect into neighboring regions, a gate appeared with the adjacent city’s name above it. In the demo, they showed how cities of different configurations complemented each other. Sims may live in the rolling hills of suburbia in one town and commute to a nearby town to work. A third city that featured a massive industrial core supplied the first two cities with valuable materials, but a complete lack of police or education management caused crime to skyrocket (the game features clever data views that highlight trouble spots). This rampant crime then spread to the other cities where we saw a bank being held up, the cops never arriving to ensure the peace.
These cities can then work together to create mutually beneficial structures like airports and even arcologies. Yes, arcologies are back! Each city was responsible for contributing specific resources like workers or alloys. Maxis states that all buildings are modular, so when individual structures needed to be placed, they could be modified to produce specific minerals at the price of, say, increased pollution. Maxis claims that this tech came from their experience with Spore and its creature creator and it shows. These three cities in particular were working on an airport and, upon completion, allowed a long line of vehicles to build up around a newly built stadium in a nearby town. The amount of detail in this game is amazing.
SimCity featured a number of other quirky and fun touches. Lights during the night time demonstrate both how well power is distributed and where homes are populated. While placing power lines, the towers will be destroyed if stretched too far from a nearby tower with the mouse. Maxis was happy to show off the tilt-shift photographic look, complete with fuzzy edges, but the only thing I’ll want to do is turn it off. While there are still some more things I’d like to know about the game, there’s no doubt that I came out a changed man from that SimCity theater than when I entered. February 2013 can’t come soon enough.