By the third day of interviews, most E3 presenters have been worn down, which is why the enthusiasm from Maxis Entertainments Bret Barry took me by surprise. As the VP and GM of the SimCity Franchise, Bret was very excited to show us compelling reasons to come back and to SimCity. By the time this new title releases it will have been 10 years since our last trip (as Societies doesn’t really count), so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would it be more of the same, or could the folks at Maxis pull us in one more time for adventures in city management?
Mr. Barry asked a question that is fundamental to the new SimCity – “What is it like to play SimCity with my friends, online?”. Using a completely new simulation engine called “Glassbox”, everything on the screen is simulated in real time. The vehicles, traffic lights, weather, and all the people in the city are alive and going about their own business. Shopping, jobs, working (playing hookey from work too!), going to the park, protesting (should your tenure as mayor displease them), commerce, and much more occurs without player interaction. Our demo would show the cities of all three players in the room – we started with Tyler.
Before we even get a good look at Tyler’s city, one thing is very apparent – the graphics have received a hefty upgrade for SimCity, and the inspiration is clearly from the diorama effects of Tilt-shift photography. Tyler’s city is relatively new and he wants to increase population, as any Major would. The first feature shown is one that doesn’t seem like it’d be a big deal, but if you ask any SimCity player they’ll tell you that it’s their greatest want – Tyler makes a curved road. Making a cul-de-sac is possible, as is creating a giant spiral city, if that’s your thing. Apparently somebody at Maxis has a city that is shaped like a giant electric guitar thanks to the power of curved roads.
Laying down residential zoning, we see new housing plots open up. Eventually construction workers come in and build the houses, then we see consumers come in and buy them up. Residents pull up in shiny yellow moving vans, getting all sorts of excited as they move into their new homes. It’s a little hard to be happy without power though – we’ll have to solve that.
Moving away from the overly-complicated approach of previous SimCity titles, this game has made it extremely easy to manage resources. Flipping to another view we see yellow lines showing us the power grid, and as it turns out we’re relying on a lone windmill that just can’t push that power far enough to power our new residential area. The advancement of multi-player means that you don’t necessarily have to build more power sources – you can now buy power from other players. Flipping over to the second player in the room we see David’s city of Stonesrow – a city offering to sell us lower-cost power. This may work out to your advantage, as you no longer have to pollute your city – you can instead buy your way to cleaner energy. Complete with squeaky stretch sound, we drag several high-tension lines into the area from Stonesrow, granting lights and power to the zone. As this section of the demo happens at night we get to see the buildings power up, coming to life and being used by the nearby residents.
As a third player joins our little world we are invited to a regional “great work” type project. They want to build an International Airport, and they’d like our help. This third city, a placed called “Pearl” specializes in tourism – one of the specialties you can choose for your little slice of the world. Other examples mentioned include space shuttles, solar power farms, archeology, and more, and each one benefits the towns that are nearby. Our project is currently stalled as they do not have enough workers to complete it – now we have even more reason to build up our population and entice new residents.
Pearl, our tourism-focused neighbor, has just unlocked a Stadium in their city. They have hotels, commercial buildings, and more but they need a railroad and larger infrastructure to support it. Nearby Stonesrow has a specialization on industry (courtesy of the huge coal deposits in the area) so Pearl will lean on them for help. In Stonesrow, the impact of pollution is easily visible. A haze permiates the air, obscuring the tops of buildings and making the residents miserable. It’s also making the major of Stonesrow a huge amount of money, as evident by his giant coal baron headquarters.
The new airport will need an alloy, Stonesrow will be the source, but they’ll need to add a smelting plant to produce it. Backing out to a black and white view, we get to see the more modular aspects of the city. You can add garages, an alloy smelting factory, a flag pole, a billboard, and much more in a variety of cosmetic and functional categories. As our smelting factory goes up, we see alloy trucks pull up, workers run around to load it, and then the truck flips a U-turn to head out to the airport road. As the precious ore is carted off we hear something new – resources are now finite in the game. If you build your city based around a specific mineral that dries up, your economy may collapse underneath that pressure.
Stonesrow has a pollution problem as David has focused on wealth instead of health. Without the benefit of social services like education and police we see graffiti appear on buildings, representing crime in the area. Flipping back to our black and white view again we can see buildings highlighted in bright red, lighter red, or a soft red to represent the level of crime. Sharing resources affects other cities, and now so does crime as it can flow over across the edges of your domain.
As we talk about crime, a red car appears in the city of Stonesrow. Blowing through a stop sign, it pulls up in front of a bank. As the robbers jump out and run inside, it is clear that the trademark Sims comedy is intact here, along with an incredible level of detail. The cop shop is set up near the bank (and next to a donut shop) the police reach the bank just as the robbers walk out, getting into a nice little shootout and then being arrested. Arsonists, robbers, cops, firefighters, and many more flavor characters will be in the game, but we will have to wait to see them all.
Back to the airport project, we fast forward a bit in the interests of time, allowing us to see the various stages of the airport’s construction. When this airport is complete the tourist city will see more sports fans heading to that Stadium, the coal baron will see a new International shipping lane, and Tyler’s new city might see a few new residents. As the project reaches completion we see a nice little fireworks celebration overhead. A flyby display, including a commercial jet and several military planes that look like F-22 Raptors fly overhead, ending our demo.
It’s hard to believe it’s been so long since we’ve had a SimCity title, but to say that this title is a worthy inheritor of the name is a bit of an understatement. The tilt-shift and model-like modular construction gives this game a level of detail we’ve not seen before, but has blended it with a far more usable looking interface. February 2013 is filling up fast with all of the Spring-slated titles, but I think this new SimCity should be high on your watch list.