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Thursday, 13 December 2012 15:55

Hands On: SimCity – now with multicity influences

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This week we got some hands on time with the brand new and very impressive SimCity from developer Maxis.  At the EA AsiaPac Showcase we also spent some time with developer Jason Harbor to glean new facts on what is shaping up as one of the highlight games of 2013.


It is nearly ten years since SimCity 4 and close to twenty since SimCity 2000, so is there still a market for a new iteration of a founding franchise member of the “build little worlds’ genre?  Darn tootin’ there should be.

EA’s Sims cash-cow is still very popular, and has garnered a whole new generation of virtual builders with the way that game has broadened appeal along with platform options.  Kids and Grandparents are still playing new and old versions of The Sims on PC, Consoles and tablet devices.  The time is ripe to market a new, more detailed Sim simulation, and from early impressions things are shaping up nicely.
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The Showcase featured Jason Haber, producer at Maxis, who sat down with iTwire to show a new walkthrough of the latest game build and explain a few of the SimCity intentions this time around.

The major impression we got was that this new iteration of the game is providing a familiar interface that many The Sims players will cope with immediately.  Does this mean Maxis is hoping to provide an easy transition for those players looking to expand the scope of their game-play?

“It fulfils a lot of what they like about The Sims; that creativity, the fun.  It’s a different game, we are trying to get them to care about their city.” Says Haber.  Our play through bore this statement out.  The city you create has a life and character of its own that whilst paralleling the actions of raising a family in The Sims, does indeed provide a whole new set of challenges outside the scope of an individual Sim inhabitant.

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Players need to attend to zoning of residential, industrial and commercial parts of town once the roads are laid (or painted down using the new tool) and every other aspect of town life from water management to dealing with individual Sim’s issues and natural disasters.  The way players interact with the game is very important.

“Oh definitely,” Harbor agrees ”the user interface, user experience is a really big challenge, particularly in a game like SimCity where.  The data layers for instance, you can just look at that and really quickly understand what is happening in your city, you don’t have to bring up a giant spread sheet like previous SimCitys have done in the past.  For players that want that deeper experience and detail, it is there, but for more casual players that just want a sense of what is going on, the data layers give that [at a glance]”
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The data layers Harbor refers to are visual-at-a-glance ways of understanding everything from what resides underneath the city, to how water and sewage are flowing and the influence police and fire services amongst others have on the geography of your growing town.

We asked Harbor how goals and challenges are delivered to the player:  “yeah, one way you can do it, there are multiple ways, but one way is to have your Sims tell you what they want, there are advisors that will tell you what’s wrong with your city and give you suggestions on how to solve it.  It is a sandbox game, there is not like, a guidance system that tells you what to do.”

All of this flows quite naturally within the confines of your own city, but expand out the game to the ‘regional level’ where multiple cities are interacting then things come in at a different scale.

“In the city the challenges are presented by your Sims,” says Harbor “but in addition we are going to have certain ‘global challenges’ that we at Maxis put out to the community.  So , they could be things to gather across the entire community like, create ten million new jobs, or they could be things more competitive between regions, like put out set fires in the least amount of time, to see who can do that the fastest.”

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At the Regional view other players are playing neighbouring cities (or you alone, or you and your friends (via EA’s Origin services ) and they all influence each other’s denizens.  It could become competitive, but seems to foster a sense of cooperation

“The idea is that you have a sense that everybody that you are playing with, or the cities that are playing together, interact with each other.” Says Harbor “We wanted to make sure there was that intimate relationship with everybody, with all the cities.  Once you get too big I think, you become an individual in a nameless mass, whereas here, you are a city within our region, so that was part of the reason we picked that ‘regional’ size in the simulation.”


How does Maxis balance between player control and automation?  The build we played was obviously not the latest, in later builds you make a change, build a new piece of infrastructure and you can immediately feel the impact of that change through visual cues.  Harbor explains:  “The idea is that the player feels they have enough control that they can influence the game.  In the latest build and in what I was showing in the demo today there is a lot more ‘reactiveness’ in that when you put something down, you will see instantly how your city reacts, how it feels about it.”

Oh! And there is no “undo” button.  Harbor laughs at this suggestion; “you can always take out loans.” He says, but the reality is, a single wrong decision will not destroy the game and is easily fixed.

Zooming into an active city shows a lot of detail not normally visible from the normal game ‘height’.  Factory interiors are churning out products and individual Sims are going about their normal miniature virtual lives.  And the visuals are top notch, at maximum zoom it is like being a god getting down at ground level with real-life as a child’s playbox.

SimCity was the highlight of the EA AP Showcase and deserves to have increased buzz and success when it launches next March (March 7th in Australia)


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Mike Bantick

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Having failed to grow up Bantick continues to pursue his childish passions for creative writing, interactive entertainment and showing-off through adulthood. In 1994 Bantick began doing radio at Melbourne’s 102.7 3RRRFM, in 1997 transferring to become a core member of the technology show Byte Into It. In 2003 he wrote briefly for the The Age newspaper’s Green Guide, providing video game reviews. In 2004 Bantick wrote the news section of PC GameZone magazine. Since 2006 Bantick has provided gaming and tech lifestyle stories for iTWire.com, including interviews and opinion in the RadioactivIT section.

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