When Will We Get a Real SimCity 5? I Ask Maxis

By Nick Breckon, Jan 26, 2009 6:50pm PST Maxis may be entirely focused on pumping out endless Spore and Sims spin-offs these days, but it all started with a blocky grayscale game called SimCity.

SimCity is what hooked me on computer gaming. It was also one of the first games I played that wasn't about killing guys or jumping on platforms. It made "urban simulation" into a fun, addictive obsession--no easy task, when you think about it.

And yet, as I was hunting down player-made patches for a bug-ridden SimCity 4 the other day, it dawned on me: this poor game is showing its age, and there's no sign of a true sequel. Has the core SimCity series been abandoned?

SimCity 4 was released in January 2003. In terms of the delay between releases, this six-year span is the longest drought since the six-year wait for SimCity 2000. By comparison, exactly four years separated each of the following sequels.

What's the hold-up? Recent spin-offs like SimCity Societies and SimCity Creator miss the point. SimCity 3000 ports are fun distractions, but how many more of those can we buy?

When will we see a new version of the franchise that made Maxis? Well, I asked EA Maxis general manager Lucy Bradshaw, and this is what she said:

Shack: I was playing SimCity 4 last night. It's been a long time. When are we going to see SimCity 5?

Lucy Bradshaw: You know what, honestly, the Sims division owns the SimCity franchise. I did SimCity 4 with the team, and honestly, I love SimCity. It's my favorite game ever. It's what got me into gaming, and I want to see that franchise do well.

Shack: So... would you say that EA is committed to the franchise?

Lucy Bradshaw: Oh, absolutely. In fact, there's a new SimCity version that's out for the iPhone.

Shack: Yeah. It's pretty good.

Lucy Bradshaw: Yeah, and there's lots of different directions... I think, you know, Maxis games have traditionally been something that allows you to take a lot of different avenues and different directions. It's about, where would we reinterpret [SimCity]. When that comes to the fore, and that passion's in the right place, all of a sudden we'll be able to take advantage of it.

And then the interview was ended.

It's not much of a response--but, if anything, the term to focus on here might be "reinterpret."

In my PC gamer mind--which, admittedly, can often become stuck in 1998--the hypothetical SimCity 5 has always been a logical upgrade to SimCity 4. To this point, the series has been predictable in its progression. Curved roads were major bullet-points. Monorails became the stuff of dreams.

But based on Ms. Bradshaw's comments, and the span of time since the last SimCity, it makes sense that a SimCity 5 would be a reinvention of sorts. After all, you can only add so many layers to the existing SimCity model before it becomes more complex than even a typical hardcore gamer wants to deal with.

So what would a reinvention of SimCity look like, other than the rather disappointing twist seen in the recent spin-offs? One option might resemble this:

Well, not exactly this. These screenshots are from Cities XL, an upcoming urban simulator by developer Monte Cristo.

Cities XL will attempt to bring the SimCity formula to an online space. Aiming for a more realistic, high-detail aesthetic, the game will populate planets with interconnected, player-created cities--complete with a global economy and business simulation. It's an incredibly ambitious project, but Cristo supposedly has 80 team members on it, and the company expects to push out a release in 2009. Regardless of a new SimCity, Cities is certainly worth watching.

But while that kind of massive simulation is clearly more complicated than Maxis is willing to stomach, the MMO-style connectivity is reminiscent of Spore's planet pollination, and might serve a SimCity sequel well. This kind of large-scale scenario might simply be a natural extension of the city "regions" seen in SimCity 4.

Another possibility could see elements of The Sims and Spore directly carried over into a new SimCity. SimCity 4's MySims mode was more of an afterthought than an effective franchise-branching feature, and is ripe for improvement with The Sims 3's neighborhood expansion. And the building creation technology of Spore seems like a no-brainer for a SimCity 5. I've always wanted greater control over the look of my cities, but never had the patience to personally create any mods.

Of course, there is a good chance that we'll never see a real "SimCity 5"--that the "reinterpretation" will simply be another disappointing reduction of a once-great brand.

"'SimCity' kind of worked itself into a corner," said Will Wright of the series he created in 2004. "We were still appealing to this core 'SimCity' group. It had gotten a little complicated for people who had never played 'SimCity.' We want to take it back to its roots where somebody who had never heard of 'SimCity' can pick it up and enjoy playing it without thinking it was really, really hard."

Despite my respect for Mr. Wright, and the knowledge that catering to a base of hardcore PC gamers can mean financial suicide, I can't help but feel that this view represents the "easy way out" when it comes to dealing with traditionally complex PC franchises. It's a lot to ask to cast aside financial good sense "for the fans," but I'm not sure there isn't another path.

In the grand scheme of things, World of Warcraft is one of the more complicated titles in history, but Blizzard has managed to hook hundreds of thousands of new gamers on hotbars, item auctions and nightly raids. The Sims may seem simple on the outside, but it's not exactly My Fashion Designer. Captivating, complex games can also be made intuitive and approachable to non-gamers.

As someone that appreciates SimCity, and challenging games in general, I can only hope that Maxis is still open to taking a risk in attempting a SimCity game that services fans of the series without alienating new customers. There must be a way to gracefully streamline a new SimCity without destroying the depth of simulation that defines it. SimCity, as we know it, can't possibly have died in 2003.

Right, Maxis?

What would you want in a SimCity 5? Reticulate some splines in the comments.

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  • Mabey they shoud make it to where we can make a entire simulated world and biuld cities all over it with airplanes being seen goin from one city to the other and trading, stock, going from cites connected with highways as far as i can see and build realisic cities with neiborghoods, ect. without having to be stuck in one little square and having to build big cities in multiple squares, just build entire cities and control the whole thing at one time.Have interstates systems, resourses (gold,oil), designing your own park and different types of roads(dirt,gravel, paved). Add that to simcity 5
    P.S. Also they should have floods and realistic unpredictable storms and such.

    People will call this the greatest city simulation game ever!!!!!! They will call it Brilliant and Beatifully made to be deserving a name of the one and only SIMCITY 5!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • I just recently got into Open Transport Tycoon Deluxe and it took me back quite a few years. I stumbled my way back into it but after a while it all clicked and what I remembered doing on my Diamond Viper V770 (I think I was using that during the original) I was easily redoing on my 8800GT (granted at 1920x1080 now instead of 800x600). But after a while I found myself redoing exactly what I was doing too many years ago and the interest was lost after going into a billion dollars almost instantly.

    So, if a new Sim Cities 5 were to come out I think it'd be interesting and at least something different for the Sim Cities franchise to pick up on what Transport Tycoon Deluxe did successfully. Instead of having prebuilt cities in TTycoonD, you build them. Instead of random factories croppign upon hitting "New Game", you place them for your cities and you connect your coal mine to your power plant which fules the power to your city. Now you need goods for your towns so you connect your farms to your factories, and from there transport the goods to the cities. Oil for the cars, iron ore for the steel mills, the list goes on.

    Sure my ideas are nothing more than to clash TTycoonD and Sim Cities together but hell, that'd be really amazing.

  • Simcity 2000 network edition was extremely cool. I also love how they made those spinoff games for the 2000 series that let you SimCopter (though it was too hard) your city or drive in your city.

    So I want them to revisit the "co-op" city building idea of SimCity 2000 Network Edition. Perhaps allow asynchronous gameplay and/or turns. Aynch gameplay meaning, you can load up the game and play when your buddy isn't on and then leave it for him to play his part in some other part of the day.

    At the very least, it'd be great to see some sort of spore like size planet that a bunch of players could sim out on multiplayer.

  • Anyone else play SimIsle? At least SImcity had sequels. I loved the Simcity games all the way through 4. However, SImIsle was so much damn fun to play, and my memories of that game dwarf that of the SimCity games.

    Exploration, tourism, competing businesses, ecosystem, industry, imports/exports, benefits of villages vs cities, etc. along with a score of songs that I listen to to this very day. It's a nice turn from the usual power, industry/commercialism/residential zones, education, health, traffic routing, taxes, pollution, transportation. Sure, it has many similar aspects to SimCity, but it was a very nice and welcome twist to the whole city building theme. I'm looking forward to CitiesXL especially because I think I read somewhere that you could make resort towns, etc. instead of focusing ONLY on the usual city mechanics.

    By the way, does anyone know if that "SimMars" mod for Simcity 4 went anywhere? The largest disappointment for game cancelations was undoubtedly the cancelation of SimMars. HORRIBLE day.

  • A very interesting article!

    I happen to think that that both you and Will Wright are correct. I do think that there is a place in the gaming world for a new SimCity. But, having said that, those are some really complicated games. Admittedly, I haven't played a SimCity game since 3000 (and that was only for a little bit), but I've always felt very over whelmed by the franchise.

    I do believe that something could be done to find a happy medium and allow this venerable series to continue forward. In the hands of a talented development crew, I totally believe it could be done.

    But I have a question...you said that your PC gamer mind can occasionally get stuck in 1998..what exactly did you mean by this?

  • What about having a different sandboxes that are at different levels of complexity, and have population/income goals that unlock simulation features/depth?

    Or, better yet, have your city develop in stages, starting with a small town that has a certain amount of tools that a small town or city would have, and then after you reach a certain level of population/income you get more tools (not just buildings like in previous SC games).

    Then maybe you could have a regional government that grows and becomes more powerful as the cities in your region grow... and you could use this regional government to subsidize new city/town developments, fund regional projects -- Like huge bridges. I always thought it was a little silly that a tiny startup town in SC could build a world-class suspension bridge on its own if you wanted to, and even get enough funds to maintain it.