SimCity preview

Multiplayer? Resources? Curvy roads? EA Maxis's latest city-builder has some surprises for you.

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The world has changed a great deal since SimCity 4 debuted in 2003. The American Century is over, and the United States is a nation mired in political infighting, recession, and high energy prices. China is one of the world's economic powers. And the way we even think of and construct cities has changed, with a greater emphasis on public transit, open spaces, and green building. And even buildings have changed, with a new generation of mega-skyscrapers towering over cities such as Dubai and Shanghai. And just as the world finds itself in a different time and place, so does SimCity. The latest take on one of the oldest franchises in gaming (due out in 2013) is entering new territory, introducing multiplayer for the first time in the series' history, bringing online leader boards (and, more controversially, requiring you to be connected to the Internet every time you play), and something many players have wanted for years--curvy roads. SimCity 4 had interconnected cities. In the new SimCity, you've got interconnected cities over a region (aka the map) filled with your friends or whomever you invite into your region. Multiplayer isn't random, so you shouldn't have to worry about your friends making penis-shaped cities. Unless your friends are also dicks. Or you can be the dick, allowing your town to become a crime-ridden Gotham or a Superfund site, spreading crime or pollution to your neighbors. Artistic Director/Creative Director Ocean Quigley (sporting a stylish mustache and a full beard) says you can set up a private game if you would rather play SimCity old-school single-player (though your progress will still appear on online leader boards for things such as crime, resource production, and wealth). The benefits of playing with friends, however, likely outweigh the privacy of a single-player game.

Ocean Quigley

The world has become more and more interconnected in the years since SimCity 4, and the new SimCity reflects this. In your region, you can engage in commerce with other players, such as selling them coal to power their power plants. You can even send resources to your neighbors--your power grid can transmit electricity to a city lacking in the resources needed to develop power, making a tidy profit while doing so (or you could do it out of the kindness of your heart). Or you can sell your excess resources. SimCity's new interconnectedness extends to a global economy. Markets exist for resources, and one way you can make money in the game is by selling commodities on the open market. It'll be interesting to see just how this works with players--while showing us a number of design docs pinned to the wall outlining the game's basic systems, Lead Designer Stone Librande mentioned how a group of players could fight back against a player-cum-oil cartel by organizing a boycott on the game's forums for a day, causing a sharp drop in the price of black gold.

Stone Librande

As you build your city, you're no longer locked to the traditional SimCity grid; your city can now assume many shapes, allowing for you to build suburban areas off your main city or other industries, such as mines or electrical stations. This includes, in a move that mirrors Civilization's decision to ditch squares for hexes, curvy roads. If you want to build villages and small towns, full of sweeping roads, you've now got the tools to do so. One thing sure to provoke ire in some gamers is SimCity's always-online requirement. Even if you want to run a private, single-player game, you must be online in order to play SimCity--you're still part of the game's global economy and leader boards even if you're not playing with other people in your region. At release, SimCity won't support modding, as was the case with SimCity 4, when the team was more focused on getting the game out than allowing for mods. Quigley said that "the data set in Glassbox is modable.” Maxis always realized the value modders brought to SimCity 4, a game people still play nearly a decade later, thanks in part to mods. "The mod community re-created [SimCity]. We recognize it. We're not idiots."

Look closely ... Curvy roads (concept art)

Sims are resources of a sort as well. Each city has lower class, middle-class, and wealthy sims. But you want to make sure you have a balance of the three to make your city hum--rich sims consume more resources, and many industries don't hire them in large numbers. Buildings need a specific number of workers by class; a factory will have more low-class workers than middle and high-class sims, and a high-tech business is going to employ more high-class Sims. While explaining design documents about the Sims, Librande emphasized how important it is to get your sims to spend money in town--it improves their happiness. Sims stay in a city if they're happy, and they leave (if they can) if they aren't. And this is why businesses are a new addition. "Businesses feel real," Librande said. "If it were all offscreen, you wouldn't care. It's another facet of managing a city." If your sims can't find work, those that can will move to another city; the poorer sims may end up abandoning their houses and become homeless (and street gangs could move into those empty homes, boosting your crime and further wrecking your city's happiness). Parks also boost your Sims' happiness. SimCity also has tourist Sims, which are important; they come into town (by car, by train, or by plane), spend money, and leave once they've spent all their money. You want Sims to do this--tourists are low-upkeep for you because you don't need homes, and they benefit you by adding to your local economy. Just like in real life. SimCity has three different zones for buildings: residential, commercial, and industrial. The best way to see the information coming out of your zones is by digging into the Google Maps-inspired visual layers, a component of the Glassbox engine that segregates specific data sets on an information layer, making it easy for you to see and process. If you don't have power to your city, the power layer will be red. When you connect power (or gather more resources for your power plant if you're out), you can watch a surge of energy pulse through your town as the power comes on.

A Casino city (concept art)

You can upgrade buildings as well. "You can unlock gyms, buses, and 'bling' like signs," said Lead Producer Kip Katsarelis. Some of the cities in the videos Katsarelis and company showed off look like a digital Levittown (the first modern suburb, constructed shortly after World War II in New York). The homes and roads are, for the most part, in nice, orderly layouts. Cities now have specialties, which work kinda like classes in an RPG. Katsarelis showed us a region where a casino city was not the only one dealing with crime--it had spilled out to affect its neighbors. Another city grapples with homelessness, and with skyrocketing coal prices, an "Occupy Thing," as Katsarelis describes the protest, appears at City Hall. This protest, led by the plant's shop foreman, is actually a mission. Build a coal mine and the protest goals away, providing jobs for the protestors and the homeless. You can specialize in other areas as well, such as becoming an industrial giant or a green city. It's a new age for SimCity. The cities you build no longer stand alone; they are not only part of a region but a global market as well. Your sims play a greater role in your city's life. You must balance the needs of your situations with the resources you can find, create, and afford. Yet the core of SimCity remains the same--giving the player a real influence on the world. As Morgan Freeman says during a voice-over of one of the videos we saw, "A single decision does not change the world. You do." In case you missed it, be sure to check out our in-depth interview with Lead Producer Kip Katsarelis. Disclaimer: EA Maxis provided lunch and various refreshments during our preview of SimCity 5. No other accommodations were provided.
From The Chatty
  • reply
    March 28, 2012 5:00 AM

    Jason Wilson posted a new article, SimCity 5 preview.

    Multiplayer? Resources? Curvy roads? EA Maxis's latest city-builder has some surprises for you.

    • reply
      March 28, 2012 5:24 AM

      nice.

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      March 28, 2012 5:32 AM

      This sounds incredible.

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      March 28, 2012 6:09 AM

      Ocean Quigley? Stone Librande? Those names have got to be made up.

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        March 28, 2012 6:15 AM

        Stone Librande looks like a slightly more jolly vinny caravella

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        March 28, 2012 6:57 AM

        Were chosen because their names reflect resources in the game? News at 11 ...

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        March 28, 2012 12:34 PM

        They're very, very real. If you ever meet Ocean at a game industry event or an art gallery (he is a rather accomplished oil painter) you should ask about his middle name.

    • reply
      March 28, 2012 6:18 AM

      [deleted]

      • reply
        March 28, 2012 12:30 PM

        Will Wright has had very little to do with SimCity since 2000. He was famously absent from SimCity 4's development.

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      March 28, 2012 7:01 AM

      It sounds like what Cities XL tried to do and that didnt really work out

      • spl legacy 10 years
        reply
        March 28, 2012 11:02 AM

        To be fair the company behind CIties XL didn't really care about the game or the players they only cared about people paying them every month for something.

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      March 28, 2012 7:04 AM

      Always on internet connection required. Bleh.

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      March 28, 2012 7:04 AM

      Multi-player? No thanks. Unless the single player is great.

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      March 28, 2012 7:05 AM

      Day 1 DLC is hilarious. The fuck are they going to sell me, power plants?

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      March 28, 2012 7:05 AM

      Oh, and why show concept art when the actual game will probably look nothing like it?

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        March 28, 2012 8:06 AM

        To show us what they're aiming for.

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        March 28, 2012 1:07 PM

        In most cases I'd say you're right, but this is Sim City not a graphical tour de force like Crysis. There's no reason they can't produce a game with the same visual fidelity as the concept art.

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      March 28, 2012 7:08 AM

      A lot of this sounds pretty cool, liking the MP aspects. I do hope it is still easy to just sit down and be in your own little SP bubble (regardless of the always online requirement)

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      March 28, 2012 7:14 AM

      MP sounds pretty awesome. Hopefully there are ways to have games already running and invite new people to the region. How sweet would it be to get into a new region, look at what all the other cities are doing, and figure out what type of niche your new city can fill. Then, instead of just randomly building shit like you used to do in Sim City, you can build with a specific goal in mind.

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        March 28, 2012 1:09 PM

        I don't know much about Minecraft, but it sounds like we can have Shack servers and create a huge world with each of us working a piece of it. That would be fun as hell.

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          March 28, 2012 1:13 PM

          yeah, I imagined this as well. Hopefully the size of the region is scalable so we can get like 50-100 shackers building cities there. I wonder how much you could do to fuck someone elses city up as well... beyond polluting it or creating a lot of crime that spills over.

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      March 28, 2012 8:21 AM

      Sim City 4 Deluxe will always be my darling.

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      March 28, 2012 8:22 AM

      Jason Wilson?

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        March 28, 2012 8:29 AM

        Luke and Owen's other other brother.

      • reply
        March 28, 2012 1:10 PM

        yeah, is this the Jason Wilson that formerly worked for Bitmob and 1up/EGM?

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          March 28, 2012 1:51 PM

          Unlikely. Actor brothers sounds more plausible.

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      March 28, 2012 8:45 AM

      Lol. Cum oil. hehehehehehehe.

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      March 28, 2012 11:41 AM

      I have zero interest in multiplayer, so I really hope they're working to ensure the single player doesn't suffer due to their bizarre need to turn Sim City into an MMO.

      Other than that, this sounds like Sim City meets Anno, which could be a good thing. Here's hoping!

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      March 28, 2012 12:59 PM

      the disclaimer at the bottom - is that new? are they doing that for all previews now? (lunch and drinks seems pretty small to me.) it's an interesting thing to add in!

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        March 28, 2012 1:01 PM

        I've seen it on a number of articles for some time now.

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        March 28, 2012 2:18 PM

        New to me as well, I like it.

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          March 28, 2012 2:33 PM

          Does it really matter if a publisher gave them lunch or paid part of their cost to attend an event?

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            March 28, 2012 2:46 PM

            Disclosing this information now prevents (or at least minimizes) a shitstorm down the road if the game previewed well but didn't turn out well when it was finally released. Especially for events like Capcom's Captivate where they will fly you out to Hawaii and put you up at a 5-star hotel in Honolulu for a week.

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            March 28, 2012 2:51 PM

            I'd say no, but why not go for full disclosure it's only a few lines of text so hardly much time and effort involved.

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      March 28, 2012 1:10 PM

      2013? :(

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