SimCity dev pokes fun at game's troubles

Maxis and Electronic Arts have rightly endured their share of slings and arrows for its botched launch of SimCity, but one developer giving a talk about the game at GDC is trying to make the best of a bad situation.

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Maxis and Electronic Arts have rightly endured their share of slings and arrows for its botched launch of SimCity, but one developer giving a talk about the game at GDC is trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Maxis Lead Engineer Dan Moskowitz was using a PowerPoint presentation to highlight his talk about discoveries in developing SimCity. As he clicked to go to the second slide, and error message popped up saying "You must be online to go to the next screen." When he clicked again, another message came up saying "Unable to connect to SimCity servers. Please try again." The crowd, populated by mostly developers, broke into applause. His response: "I guess I'll wait a couple minutes and try again."

He acknowledged the rocky launch of the game and apologized to people who had tried to play early on, clarifying that his contributions came after the login screen. He finished up his little intro by requesting that anyone with questions about online vs. offline capabilities to please direct the to the EA PR rep sitting in the audience. Maxis Creative Director Ocean Quigley was also there, chuckling at what was obviously an approved slap at the game.

At the end of the presentation, EA was passing out cards with codes for a free copy of the game to anyone who attended the talk, estimated to be about 100 people.

Contributing Editor

From The Chatty

  • reply
    March 27, 2013 8:00 PM

    John Keefer posted a new article, SimCity dev pokes fun at game's troubles.

    Maxis and Electronic Arts have rightly endured their share of slings and arrows for its botched launch of SimCity, but one developer giving a talk about the game at GDC is trying to make the best of a bad situation.

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      March 28, 2013 2:20 AM

      At least EA is getting comfortable with the zeitgeist of the SimCity launch controversy. Still, I can't help but look at Maxis' last 4 games:

      2008 - Spore (PC / Mac; with activation DRM controversy: http://www.shacknews.com/article/54837/ea-revamping-spore-crysis-warhead )
      2009 - The Sims 3 (PC; no DRM. 360 / PS3 release in October 2010)
      2011 - Darkspore (PC; persistent connection and EA.com account required)
      2013 - SimCity (PC; persistent connection required... ?)

      I love how Dan Moskowitz was deflecting online vs. offline questions to PR; that seems to suggest that he doesn't like the mess he's in, even if he's supposed to deflect to PR due to company policy anyway. Maxis seems like a good studio at heart, hogtied by EA's business agenda and project management incompetence.

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        March 28, 2013 7:12 AM

        I could get Quigley to confirm he said this, but one f my EA PR buddies said that Quigley's response to the whole server mess was that "my 90 Metacritic game has just become a 60 Metacritic game." Moskowitz said they Maxis was really hurt by the launch problems because they worked so hard to produce a good game, and aside from some pathing issues and a few minor glitches, there is a quality game under the hood if you get past the server woes.

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          March 28, 2013 7:13 AM

          couldn't get Quigley to confirm ... COULDN'T. Bah!

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          March 28, 2013 7:18 AM

          I agree with this, it's just really unfortunate that it lost all momentum (for me, at least) out of the gate. I'm having a hard time even booting it back up after playing many hours for the first few days. I really wanted to get into it, too.

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          March 28, 2013 7:21 AM

          There's a quality game if you like the directions they've taken (in regards to smaller cities, regional interplay, and some other issues).

          I like Remo's take on some of the problems with glass box, specifically with how city management was significantly more micromanagement/micro-tranaction like. He brought up the example of how you have to manually clear out buildings that have been abandoned. No residents will ever sell or rent, they just 'abandon' and you have to manually go through and clean up resident houses and commercial failed building. It will never be resold.

          This problem combines with their lack of clarity in what -caused- the issue. In Remo's case he had a business that just absolutely failed the instant it opened, always. Any time it rebuilt, it would fail again without giving a clear indication as to why. That's a flaw in game design.

          He later went on to point out how all these beautiful road tools were utterly wasted because of the city size. If you focused on designing around a pleasing curved layout, you just wasted space and none of the buildings are designed with that in mind, they're all rectangles that build into larger rectangles. Their game design systems do not compliment each other, they conflict. That's another, more major, flaw in design.

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            March 28, 2013 8:27 AM

            Abandoned buildings will be reclaimed if demand raises back up. Only rubble needs to be cleared out manually.

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              March 28, 2013 8:56 AM

              That's still part of the problem that he was describing. How do you get the demand back up if you don't know why it went down in the first place.

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                March 28, 2013 9:47 AM

                In real cities, abandoned buildings usually make property values for the neighborhood fall. Does the current city model take this into account? Or does it need to be offset by an incentive variable for abandoned buildings?

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                  March 28, 2013 9:57 AM

                  The game does say that abandoned buildings will cause neighboring land value to fall, but they never really mention to what extent. You can continuously demolish them at no cost to keep this from happening. However, playing whack a mole with abandoned buildings isn't my idea of fun. I rather be informed of the issue and fix the problem.

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                    March 28, 2013 10:14 AM

                    For a system that is supposedly exposing every detail with a graphic element, there is still a ton of stuff that is just absolutely not clear, which is a major flaw in their consistency of vision.

                    It's like the surface details are exposed (here's sims running around, here's water moving) but the important information is still obscured. Why are my companies failing, why did the resident move out? Only a single detail is exposed (there arn't enough jobs for example, or not enough workers) but the relevant information is not there. WHAT type of job does that household need, what TYPE of workers are needed? None of that is relayed to the gamer.

                    There's a lot of simulation that is exposed, but not a lot of it is relevant to the goals of the simulation.

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                March 28, 2013 4:42 PM

                Click on the bulldozer icon, it will tell you how many abandoned buildings and rubble sites there are and they will highlight on the city.

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          March 28, 2013 7:25 AM

          I'm not certain there actually *is* a quality game underneath. They made several decisions in designing the game that seem to ignore how actual people play games, especially multiplayer ones, that just makes the whole game not really workable.

          I still think the region idea is a neat one, but it needed to be built in a way that A. didn't look fucking ridiculous, as the space between cities is stupid, and B. did not rely on some hypothetical "perfect" group of players who would always be online when you are and playing well and able to create a workable, fun multiplayer session.

          Instead, you have an online-only game that while it allows for SP, is so built with MP in mind that it's incredibly time-consuming to play by yourself, and MP that counts on the group you get to start a region with you sticking together and always playing forever.

          At the very least, the inability to remove players from games and/or reset cities in a region is a HUGE oversight.

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          March 28, 2013 8:53 AM

          They must've forgot about the whole simulation part.

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          March 28, 2013 9:57 AM

          some pathing issues hahah

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        March 28, 2013 7:48 AM

        Maxis doesn't really exist anymore, it's just all EA. the creative forces behind the classic "sim" titles are long gone.

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          March 28, 2013 8:56 AM

          ^ this.

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          March 28, 2013 9:49 AM

          seriously. it's been over 15 years, right? shit gets assimilated