SimCity Previewed: A Sandbox for City Builders

Patricia Hernandez takes a closer look at the game that's set to completely revolutionize the city building sim.

by on 8th Sep, 2012

SimCity Previewed

Last week I saw the new SimCity in action, and I couldn’t stop thinking about one question: what would my perfect city look like? SimCity, after all, doesn’t have win conditions. How a player decides to play the game is up to them. And just because I’d be able to run an efficient, green city doesn’t mean I had to do that. Maybe I wanted to run a city where everything is atrociously unclean and everyone is unhappy, but we’re making mad bank. Who is to say that’s not a valid way of playing it? I felt paralyzed with choice, but this is a good thing: it meant that what I saw of SimCity excited me to the point of wanting to do it all. I didn’t know where to start.

What SimCity brings to the table in terms of improvements is expansion. Previously the games focused more on macromanagement, the Maxis reps told me--controlling the game at-large. The new title would incorporate some degree of micromanagement as well. While it’s not Sims level of control, we are able to interact with the citizens. Usually clicking on someone tells you their profession and where they are headed. Sometimes, people will give you specific tasks that you can either take on or ignore. While playing, someone in the game told me that the city needed more education--naturally, that desire could be met by building a school. Where you build things is important to keep track of, though: you don’t want to build a water tower next to a power plant, because the water wouldn’t be as clean that way. And different places on the ground have differing degrees of water availability. Basically, there’s multiple things to keep in mind whenever you’re building something, regardless of what it is.

Also in the new SimCity are interconnected cities, which are called regions. This allows you to use friends to better manage your own city. For instance, you can build a city where your citizens work, another friend builds a city where they live, and another friend can have a city where they go to have fun. All parties involved would benefit and this would allow players to focus their efforts in specific ways--should that be of interest.

SimCity Firefighters

Multiplayer makes sense, given that Sims has a persistently online world. There’s no way to play it offline, much like many recent games. The developers know that this is viewed negatively by some consumers, but they hope to use it more as a feature than a detriment. Like Battlefield with Battlelog, SimCity will come with Citylog. Citylog will include leaderboards, and while you can’t ‘win’ per se, you can compare your stats with others. Competitive types will like this.

Always-online means that Maxis will be able to monitor how people play. This will be done to develop challenges that take into consideration trends. Say everyone is building polluted cities--a possible scenario could be the challenge to reduce emissions by a certain percentage. It seems that this is an aspect of the game that will have ample depth, as I was told by a rep that where the smoke stacks go to in the game is representative of where the pollution is going. Those animations are not there just for show.

Challenges can also mirror scenarios from real life, like earlier SimCity games. This, to me, seemed like the most interesting feature in SimCity--it can act as an educational tool and can get people engaged with history and current issues. Nonetheless, Maxis maintains that they remain apolitical and won’t be pushing down any agendas down consumer’s throats. I’m curious to see how these challenges pan out.

SimCity University City

Online play also enables Maxis to implement a global market--you know, that supply and demand stuff? Yeah. You can specialize in certain types of production, and look at trends to take advantage of the market. The market is entirely player driven. Will players run markets much like they do in the real world? That I’d like to see.

For those curious, Mac players and PC players will be able to have games with one another. Cross platform play! I asked about SimCity Social integration, and it turns out they’re considering it and trying to see if its possible. While the type of audience these two games court are different, the social game can act as a gateway drug for the full game proper--people might want to hop onto something more full-featured, and integration would give them a taste of what they might be able to do. Unfortunately, nothing is set in stone right now. I was told it was “possible,” but they weren’t sure yet. Something to keep an eye out for.

SimCity also features a new art style, which they call “tilt shift.” If SimCity is supposed to be like a toy model, like train sets, then the art direction makes sense. SimCity seeks to emulate this look by using tilt shift, which is a type of focus in photography that uses tilt for selective focus. This creates a scene that simulates a miniature model. Here is an example:

It gives the game a certain cute charm, and adds to the feeling that you’re really toying with something--though it’s dynamic and alive.

These charming cities may not always be safe, though. SimCity will include disasters that can alter the cityscape. Destroy isn’t an accurate word, for that sounds serious. It’s not mean to be something that decimates a city inasmuch as it seems to be something that happens randomly to add some pizzaz to the game. So when my demo suddenly had asteroids running through it, I was bewildered and excited--not terrified of what it meant for my city.

I was told that an earlier game on a Nintendo console incorporated Bowser rampaging a city, and that made me wonder if there would be things like Godzilla in this SimCity. The reps just smiled and teased that it was possible, but they couldn’t talk about it.

All of this comes together to build a game that seems like it will have much to offer players, regardless of how they want to play. Maybe you want to build a specific type of city. There’s the game proper for that. Maybe you want to tackle special challenges if you’re more of the directed sort. There’s something for you. Or maybe you want to play as a market tycoon. Also something for you! The city awaits.

SimCity drops on February 2013.

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