Directing excrement, managing finances and trying to organising thousands of people -- it’s hard to convey why SimCity in so exciting in one sentence. Perhaps creative sewage solutions and masterful city-planning would be a better way to put it.
EA showed us five games at a recent mammoth preview session, but none were more exciting than the return of SimCity. A game in-which you don’t murder anyone (well, ideally) and are actually actively encouraged to work with your friends, rather than shoot them in the face.
The grand return of SimCity has vastly increased the game’s size. Instead of managing just one city, you’ll need to take control of several that work together to create a viable ecosystem.
You’ll eventually be responsive for a massive region full of vibrant cities, but it’s so easy to get lost in the exploits of just one person.
Producer Jason Haber gave us a presentation showcasing 16 cities working together within one region. Developing a region requires the perfect balance between residential, commercial and industrial zones. The residents need somewhere to work and material possessions, the industry needs shops to sell its products, and the commercial sector needs plenty of suckers to buy their merch.
Hey, that’s just like real life.
One town can be developed full of populous suburbs, another might be an industrial sector that produces bucket-loads of money, but is unfit for living, while another city might make all of its money by handling waste disposal for the entire region.
We even saw a city that was essentially Las Vegas and required infrastructure to transport tourists from neighbouring cities, and had to manage the profit and losses of a casino strip.
We saw much the same thing at E3 earlier this year, except with four-players. Whereas Mr Haber showed us what it was like to manage all the cities yourself, the demonstration at E3 was all about four-players collaborating.
The pollution from one city affected the others and congestion became an issue when too many residents were trying to drive to the industrial zones. In this situation, one player could build power-plants and sell electricity to the others. They also pulled their funds to build an international airport, which would have taken considerably longer alone.
With an abundance of statistics, SimCity could overwhelm even an experienced player. To offset any confusion, Maxis has introduced a colour-coded data-layer system to make it easy to identify which aspects of the intricate ecosystem are working efficiently, and which need attention.
The screen above demonstrates the distribution and density of crime in the city. The darker red areas show where criminals are most prevalent, possibly at an overcrowded gaol. This simple formula is applied to every aspect of the game, from the distribution of the three zones to property prices and how your sewage treatment plant is holding up.
It allows you to consume, and most importantly understand, a wealth of information at a glance.
This is all made possible by EA’s new Glassbox engine, which is taking SimCity somewhere it has never been before. Glassbox allows up to sixteen regions to share resources and become dependent on aspects of the ecosystem that are controlled elsewhere. It’s the supreme attention to detail that really brings the game to life.
In a hands-on session, I could zoom-in on one single sim going about her daily life looking for a job. I was also able to see individual builders getting to work right away on that new factory I just ordered (okay, maybe that's more fictional). It’s this attention to detail that makes SimCity so enthralling. You’ll eventually be responsive for a massive region full of vibrant cities, but it’s so easy to get lost in the exploits of just one person.
I’d make a great mayor.
SimCity will be released in Australia on March 7, 2013, for Windows PC and Mac OS X.
By Ben Salter