Preview: SimCity, the King of City Builders?


“The king of city builders is back,” lead producer Kip Katsarelis recently told PC Gamer magazine. Since 2009 Maxis has been quietly beavering away at the remake of the series they created and now that it’s been revealed to the world what does it look like?

Though technically the sequel to SimCity 4 this isn’t merely SimCity 5, this is a new SimCity for a new age. One of the most obvious signs of that is the game’s use of DRM. A decision that has sparked controversy, but having your game always online reflects the inter-connectivity of the cities you and your friends will create in the game.

Speaking to Eurogamer producer Jason Haber said:

“From the ground up it’s been a multiplayer game. I’m not surprised we’re getting some reaction like this. But I think once people see it in action – and at E3 we’re really looking forward to showing people multiplayer and how it works – hopefully that will show them why it’s such a great feature and it’s totally worth having.

“The benefit you’re going to get out of being able to play online is going to help convince you of why it’s worth it.”

The connection between cities can amount to utilities, like energy and water, been traded. Or crime in one gambling centric metropolis can spill over into a neighboring city.

“Real cities don’t exist in bubbles that nobody else has any influence in,” the formula that made SimCity so successful is entirely present and correct. Yet done with the new GlassBox engine the you have new options that mayors previously could only dream of.

As with previous entries you are the mayor of blank slate when you begin your game and as with titles of this kind you have to balance the future development of your city with the happiness of your citizens and, of course, your budget. There will be no more graphs and statistics to display what’s happening in your city, instead the micro aspects of your Sims and there lives takes over from the macro and it’s all done in 3D too.

SimCity Societies a 2007 game did the same yet it was simplified and suffered from awful lag problems, my copy was essentially broken, that game was not developed by Maxis. Even so SimCity 3000, which was, originally was based on a 3D engine that was so badly broken EA had to step in and insist the company’s management revert to 2D. Yet early previews suggest that GlassBox handles it everything runs smoothly. Though the GlassBox engine is not yet complete.

If your city is polluted the water will turn brown, the health of your population will worsen and before too long you’ll have a medical crises on your hands as your hospitals begin to strain under the pressure of all those extra patients.

One of the key factors of SimCity are the agents that operate within it. The fire service, water towers, shops and offices are all agents and they all interact with one another. For example, you build a coal plant and your city grows. As your city expands you neglect your transport links, your roads become clogged with traffic. A truck bringing coal to the plant gets stuck in the traffic, the plant runs out of fuel, your city ends up in darkness.

After that you decide that coal plants are dirty and unreliable so you switch to renewable energy or import power from a neighboring city. Suddenly you have unemployed, angry former plant workers to deal with. It’s your job to manage all of this and you have to do it all in real time.

Fringe’s Chris Tilton has scored the game’s soundtrack – it’s the first time a game in the series has had a full orchestral soundtrack. While in game noises are determined by GlassBox which, for instance, detects whether a car is accelerating or decelerating and even between different types of vehicles.

The Sims in your city have been created as full 3D models meanwhile and though you’ll never have quite the level of direct control over them that you enjoy when you’re inventing ever more clever ways to torture them in the Sims 3 their homes and car interiors may not have any polygons in them but they do have convincing interiors from any viewing angle.

Roads can curve, buildings can be upgraded and cities can be specialized. Want your city to be a oil town, you can do that, or a small fishing village? You can do that too. You can make your city a mecca for gamblers or sleepy suburban overflow for the commercial and industrial cities around yours and no, just because a mayor is offline doesn’t mean his or her city cease to function.

And the city you build won’t simply be connected to the region surrounding it but also to every other region and every other city everywhere in the world. When you pollute too much the entire world’s pollution count goes up. Will always on internet be worth it? It’s too early to tell. We’ll know more at E3 and on a hunch I’m going to say it just might be.

SimCity should launch sometime in 2013. Until then go away with this thought, the game has a proper physics engine. When you activate one of the game’s disasters buildings don’t just disappear, they’re literally thorn apart.