By kwyee 0 Comments
After listening to the end of year bombcasts, I wanted to jot down some of my own thoughts about SimCity 2013.
Let me start by saying the SimCity franchise has been one my favourite over the past 20 years. I've played each iteration for hundreds of hours (except Societies), building cities, min/maxing the simulation, optimizing and routing traffic, having a themed city, etc. I would've been happy if "SimCity 2013" was a faster, modern-interface version of SC4+RushHour but was super excited about the new ideas and gameplay simplifications teased at the beginning of the year.
The Build Tools
For the most part, the building part is amazing. Fast (in performance and ease-of-use), snappy tools, super clean parseable UI, etc. This is by far the most enjoyable set of creation tools across any city building game on the market. Yes the game launched without highways and terrain deformation (added a few months later) and the cities plots are small. But I still had a blast for dozens of hours building.
Why Small Plots Are Okay (in theory)
For that latter part, I can see gameplay/design reasons reasons to have smaller city plots. Smaller plots force increased co-operation and specialization since you can't have a single city be all-encompassing anymore. The game forces you to focus your cities on only 1-2 things, each. You should think of your "old-mega-city" as the entire "region" of which each plot is a part of the whole. Based on the interviews and the way resources are shared, this seems to be what the designers were thinking. And that's a paradigm-shift, making you think about the game in different (possibly uncomfortable) ways.
To satisfy everyone, it may have been nice to have some regions with dramatically larger plots and some regions with only small plots. The larger plots would give you the old-style SimCity feel and the smaller plots would provide this new gameplay "shift". But for whatever reason (technical issues with network or GlassBox? Dogmatic adherence to this new co-operation gameplay?), the game has not seen any large plots.
Why Big Plots Are Not Okay (in practice)
The intra-city traffic simulation was implemented with some very poor decisions. Even after all the vast improvements in patches, sims still seem to clamour for the same jobs leading to thousands of sims going to a single work place, realizing it's full, and then not having enough time to go to the next work place. And because tons of sims clamoured, there are huge, unexpected traffic jams.
Forgetting their previous job is an implementation shortcut (saves tons of memory) but leads to sims repeating the previous day's mistakes, not being able to optimize their route based on final source/destination, and wildly inconsistent traffic patterns. Built a small industrial area slightly closer to your housing area? Suddenly your traffic changes dramatically, unpredictably and unrealistically.
Public transit is still somewhat broken too. Stations/stops get filled with hundreds of sims, suddenly 5-6 vehicles arrive (way more than required) and then they bounce between a few mostly empty stops while other stops not 5 buildings down are completely packed. Recent patches have significantly improved this but I still see tons of starved stations while others are over-serviced.
Now imagine all of this scaled up 4-5x. Along with the number fudging, (the game only simulates ~40k citizens), I don't believe GlassBox would easily be able to handle significantly larger city plots. Again, that's fine for me because the small plots really opened up some interesting gameplay (in theory anyway).
Where It All Falls Apart (in practice)
In a single giant city, connecting a road between 2 developments would immediately allow a "flow" of resources (water, electricity, workers, coal, fire/police protection, garbage collection, etc.) between the parts. There's no micro-management, no direct input, and no delay. When that link becomes oversubscribed, I can build another and possibly of a different modality (highway, subway, train, ferry .. my choice!).
For small plots to work in concert towards a whole "region-city", this behaviour needs to be handled just as quickly and easily. Obviously, the current implementation does NOT do this. It fails in many ways:
- Resources (coal, iron, etc.) take forever to transfer between cities
- Large numbers of people, freight, and resources don't move between cities (some plots have way too much empty commerce + industry while others have no jobs)
- Insufficient inter-city transport options and bandwidth to move people out of the city. Worse, there's no way to add more.
- Utilities sharing is easy but not instantaneous. I need updates in seconds; buildings will become abandoned in minutes.
- Managing utilities is annoying because the selling city may grow and suddenly no longer have excess power to sell.
- Services like fire, police, and education are not easily shared between cities (you have to go to the region map instead of just having a shared, auto-updating resource)
- Switching between plots takes minutes. On top of waiting for newly available resources to update, realizing your purchasing city needs more water becomes an annoying chore of "switch city-build-switch back-wait" instead of a simple side track.
As a result, every city needs to satisfy its own education/police/fire/health/sanitation, have its own RCI ecosystem and its own specialization buildings. If specialization takes up 20-30% of the map space and transport takes up another 15-20%, then you're really left with very little room to fit all those other requirements. Suddenly the maps feel way too small.
Here's what my typical city progression looked liked:
- Build a mine. Not enough workers.
- Add some residential area to get more workers. Not enough shops and services.
- Add some commercial. Not enough freight (note: this became a requirement in later patches but not in release).
- Add some industry. Not enough workers.
Wouldn't it have been better to import those workers, services, freight or export some shoppers? That would've left this city with far more space to play around. But I can't because the simulation does not update the flow of any of these things in an easy-to-manage manner (no I don't want to keep futzing with how many police cars go to what city) or even timely manner.
And so in the end, smaller plots was a great gameplay and technical design choice which I suspect allowed for a more detailed simulation within the city but relies on inter-city behaviour working seamlessly and instantaneously. That last part was obviously not achieved and hurt the entirety of the game for it.