Fatbomb: A Tale of Five Cities

Posted by Fattony12000 (7298 posts) -

This month's effort is something slightly different from my usual random ramble of rambley random words. Instead, I bring you my first ever 'piece' of 'work' submitted for editorial approval upon a website upon the Internet. It...didn't make it (which I fully expected, in fact I reckon it'll take several dozen of these before I get good at it, you know, like the knack you get for eating the orange bit out of Jaffa Cakes without getting chocolate on your fingers), and thus, with this gaggle of words left lying around I thought they could be used up on this fine forum. Hey, it's just those harsh market realities that we're all facing, you gots to get those words out there wherever you can these days.

Giant Bomb Dot Com (it's a website) will forever remain my home for this sort thing, I just thought I'd serve up something a little more...considered.

Take it easy duders!

<>

A Tale of Five Cities

“I'm dreaming of a city

It was my own invention

And I put the wheels in motion

A time for big decisions”

- David Byrne, What a Day That Was

A yawning black chasm stretches across the face of my 15” CRT monitor, save for a few lines of white text and a single pulsing rectangle of light. There is naught inscribed upon that curved sheet of darkness, yet. I’d heard whispers in the wind about the program that I was about to execute for the first time, that it was a digital construction set wherein I could mould a complete living city from the dirt itself. From nothing, I could raise a bustling metropolis hewn from silicon and machine code. Or, if I felt so inclined, raze my shining beacon of civilization to the ground by unleashing earthquakes, floods, fires, plane crashes and rampaging monsters upon the huddled masses of my once great city. That’d be pretty cool, too.

I am, of course, talking about SimCity Classic. Which was the MS-DOS version that saw release in 1993, itself a port of 1992’s SimCity for Window 3.1. I was, of course, four years late to the Maxis party at that point, but give me a break, I was only about six years old at the time. Even at that point in my life I knew video games and I would get along just fine. We’d formed the basis of a happy relationship a couple of years back. That being said, this step up and into a completely new type of game was something slightly scary to both of us. However, it’s my distinct pleasure to report that we got through this stage of our partnership; and both me and SimCity remain great friends to this day.

SimCity Classic was one of my very first forays into the peculiar landscape of actually practising the art of creating something inside the world of a video game. Unfortunately, I’d missed out on great groundbreaking games such as Populus and Civilization at that point in my life (although we’d become well acquainted at a later date). Quite apart from the more common, and awesome, genre stylings of running and jumping whilst moving from left to right through a level, shooting Nazis in the face with chainguns or kicking people off motorbikes at 120 mph. All of which are fine undertakings, of course, but being introduced to a game where the core concept associated very strongly in my young mind with the idea of playing and building with toys such as Lego or Meccano, was extremely exciting and intriguing. And indeed still is, what with the latest version of SimCity due to be released on the 8th of March, 2013. A date to which I have been keenly looking forward to for a number of years now.

Although the toolbox given to me as a newbie civil engineer was relatively limited by the standards of the next game in the series, it still afforded me a vast array of options at the time. And quite apart from the physical placement of zones and buildings and infrastructure, there came the involved systems that governed the growth and success (or lack thereof) of the entire city. These aspects, such as managing pollution, taxation, crime and balancing the mix of zones all helped to create a strong running narrative for my city. Having to deal with these interconnected systems which fluctuate hither and thither, allowed the game (which has no traditional win condition) to feed you a reason to keep playing. To keep you striving for continual improvement, to go bigger and better than you had done so before. All of these things hooked me as a child, and those sweet gameplay barbs are still buried beneath my skin, 20 years later.

The solid groundwork laid down by Will Wright and Maxis was expanded upon in 1994 with the release of SimCity 2000. Once again though, events conspired against me and I was unable to get in at the ground floor of this fantastic addition to the series. Instead, I had the privilege of playing the Windows 95 version of the game. In late 1995. On the mighty CD-ROM format, no less. Once I got that brilliant big PC box into my grubby little mitts, I found that to my no great surprise, it was well worth the wait. Maxis did the usual host of things that you’d expect from many sequels of past and present. They added more stuff, made graphical refinements (one of the biggest changes was the move to a dimetric camera perspective) and allowed the player to extend their influence beneath the surface of the earth. Lots of little things, that when mixed up together in this giant sandpit of a game made for new ways to experience the simulation of being the founder and mayor of small seaside industrial town, or the master of a sprawling metropolis of the future.

With SC2K I was able to create on an even grander scale, I had even more space within which to forge my vision. With this bigger pit of sand came more playthings to dump into it. I could generate non-polluting electricity from the wind, create airports and seaports, dictate a host of ordinances to my citizens and build a whole new variety of entertainment and utility buildings. However, one of the features that I spent the greatest amount of time with was the powerful god mode that you had during the map creation process. Hours could pass before I settled on a design and began my city. Sometimes I would just make and remake the landscape without even building anything, just testing out whether or not I could create 500 metre tall calderas, or perfectly symmetrical V-shaped valleys.

Forever, the march of progress treads. And with that progress (and success) throughout the 1990s there came a knocking at the door of Maxis in 1997. A pretty big knock, from a pretty big fella called Electronic Arts. The door was answered and we got our next SimCity game in the January of 1999. SimCity 3000 was a Maxis title that I actually did manage to catch upon it’s release!

Whilst Maxis reports that it was largely left to it’s own devices when creating the final product that we got on our shelves, it is also an oft-held belief in the video game industry that when you have a larger company holding onto your purse strings, changes can be made throughout the creative process that may be less than desirable. Far as I can tell, no such mockery of the art of simulation was made with this damn fine game. Of all the releases so far this is probably the one that I poured the most hours into. Which is maybe slightly at odds with the fact that I feel I don’t have a whole lot to say about it. Once again they added more stuff and things, gave the art style an overhaul and further refined the UI. However, there was one major step forward in gameplay with the inclusion of being able to wheel and/or deal with your neighbouring city-based chums. Too much trash? Ship it over to them to deal with! A pretty neat idea, and one which I think formed the basis of what we’ll see with the online trading and collaboration between friends in SimCity 2013.

The turn of the millennium passes by, and many other games have entered and remained lodged in my mind, slowly squeezing out the real estate once occupied by SimCity. I still loved the concept, the gameplay, the mechanics, the art and the audio. But there was just so much other gaming goodness to gorge upon at the time, this is why I have to reveal that SimCity 4 holds the unenviable position of being my least played SimCity game. I just didn't have all the time that it required of me, or, maybe, that I required of it. The year is 20003 and three dimensional graphics are used in a SimCity game for the first time (the 64DD version doesn't count). Apart from saying that it was a good game and that I liked it, I can’t really recount for you that it was much of a life-changing experience. Maybe I was just growing away from SimCity?

It is now 2013.

Nope, scratch that. I love SimCity all over again! It may have taken a decade (maybe the time apart did us good?), but playing through that hour long demonstrative slice of simulative pie about five times in a row really got the ole RCI indicators going again. Over the course of the first few minutes of play it became obvious to me that Maxis had put a lot of work into refining the experience from an information and control perspective. They make the surfacing of useful information so much quicker and easier than before, and in many cases, actually pleasant. All the clever artistic tricks they pull off with the mapping of data, the gorgeous use of colour and tilt-shift, how easy it is to create both a regimented grid-based city or just go completely crazy with those curved roads and the way the audio actually syncs up with what is going on inside of the simulation is a superb touch as well.

It brought the experience closer, in some ways, to the kind of feeling that I got when playing The Sims for the first time. I felt like I could peer right through a window and into a digital being’s life, see where they went and what they did. It’s this minute attention to detail contrasted with being able to affect those massive sweeping changes for thousands of people with but the click of a mouse that makes it so very clear to me that Maxis has poured so much detail into every level of the simulation this time around, that I feel I shan’t be wanting for much else for a good while.

Oh, and curved roads. My god, the curved roads.

“All cities are mad: but the madness is gallant. All cities are beautiful, but the beauty is grim.”

- Christopher Morley

#1 Posted by zFUBARz (625 posts) -

Pretty good read, makes me want to dig into my SNES pile and put Simcity 2000 in, but I think I'll wait for 5 and not taint my memories of that glorious past.

#2 Posted by Fattony12000 (7298 posts) -

@zfubarz: Thanks for taking the time to read this, or at the very least, pretend to read it! Do you come at the SimCity games from the perspective of having only ever played them on consoles? I find this kinda interesting as I've only ever stacked dat grip pon the PC versions of the games.

Is SimCity 2013 going to be your first one on PC?

#3 Edited by zFUBARz (625 posts) -

Oh no I was a C64 man long ago, and started with the sim games on my old IBM compatible back in the day, but those where a lot harder to keep around than a SNES and some carts, at least until steam and to a lesser degree origin.

The Maxis games (Sim city, earth, ant, pretty much everything but golf and tower) were my bread and butter along with X-Wing when I was a youngster.

Obviously the controls are a bit more clunky but they transferred pretty well to the consoles back then.

#4 Edited by plainplease (187 posts) -

Nicely written. I've never been able to play strategy games, but I'm at least ashamed of this fact. But, duder, you went HAM with the assonance and alliteration.

#5 Posted by Fattony12000 (7298 posts) -

@zfubarz: Ah, I see! Whilst I dabbled in the SNES versions of SC and SC2K, the changes made to the features and controls never felt quite 100% right to me, at least whilst I had access to the PC versions. That's not to say I didn't put some hours into the console ones over the years, I just felt more at home with the 'big boy' versions. I do associate much of my time playing the old SimCity games with being sat up in my room by myself (since our consoles were kept downstairs), there was a kind of atmosphere generated playing like that. Getting in tune with the pace of the game, enjoying it in my own way, away from prying eyes.

@plainplease: Thank you very much for the kind praise! When you say you've never been able to play a strategy game, in what manner do you mean, precisely? Do you find the flow of the game to be bad/boring, the mechanics to be simple/confusing, are the systems just not fun/exciting to you? I'd love to know!

You noticed my weaving of words in that rather winding way, then? :)

#6 Posted by plainplease (187 posts) -

It's hard for me to pin down what keeps me from enjoying strategy games like this. I think it relates to why complex board games, or card games, aren't really for me. There are so many rules, and it they give me the feeling that I'm not doing it right or that there is always something I don't know. They aren't necessarily confusing... they just seen to require a hefty initial investment in learning the system and rules, and this just isn't much fun to me.

#7 Posted by tunaburn (1890 posts) -

im super excited for this game. and the only other one ive really played is sim city 4.

#8 Edited by granderojo (1778 posts) -

Simcity 4 was not a big enough leap over 3000 for me, I played the hell out of 3000 though. That said, yeah I'm really excited for 4. I have quibbles with some of the changes in efficiency that they did to make the game prettier(curvy roads look great but they make this has made zoning inconsistent) but all in all it's my most anticipated game of 2013.

I have a feeling the most efficient design from what I played of the beta will be a revision of the L'Enfant plan with how zoning is fucked. That said, I think it looks really nice so who cares right?

#9 Edited by crusader8463 (14419 posts) -

I don't remember which, but I think my first jump into Sim Cities was one of the thousand games. I want to say 2000, or 3000. Ether way I remember having fun just laying out the cities and trying to make them as pretty as I could and to come out with weird/wacky designs and I never got into the management side of things. Which I think is why I'm most excited for this Sim City. Just a dam shame they had to marr the launch with their shitty pre-order/special editions crap. EA being EA and all that I guess.

I have been watching Jesse Cox and Crendor playing on youtube for the last few days and seeing all the options to make the layouts align symmetrically kind of gave me a perfectionist boner. It drives me nuts in these time of games that deal with layouts when things are not perfectly aligned and this looks like it's going to make it so much easier. Time will tell how the game turns out in the long run, and how badly EA botches it post release with paid content will be the deciding factor on how long I play it I suppose.

Anyway, if I get my code from Greenman Gaming tomorrow and can start preloading tomorrow night I think I'm going to take Tuesday off work to get a jump start on the weekend so I can get up early and jump into the game. Looking forward to playing online with a friend as well. Will be interested in seeing how much interaction we really have with one another and how much is just token gameplay elements that don't really do anything.

#10 Edited by Fattony12000 (7298 posts) -

@plainplease: I think a dabble with SimCity 2013 with some of us duders might sway your fancy! These games have always been slightly off the beaten path when compared to yer StarCrafts and yer Total Annihilations, the goals and objectives come at the player at a very different pace from the usual fare found in strategy games. You're given a lot of space to breath and make 'mistakes' in games like SimCity, without running up against silly things like hard failure states.

@tunaburn: SC2K is available on GOG (among...other places) if you wanna give it a try! This newfangled one does look like a damn fine addition to the series though. I hope to see you in-region!

@granderojo: Yeah, once you start getting this far down the path of iteration with this type of game, those leaps start to come a little less often, and end up not being quite as big as before. That said, it's been a decade since our last go round with this series, and from the footage/previews/demos I could see they'd worked to explore places within that finely honed structure that were previously unexplored.

@crusader8463: The way you can spin the gameplay in whatever direction you want is one of the best things about the series. Want to spend hours getting everything lined up just so? WE GOT THAT! It's interesting that you spent a lot of time in the planning and mapping portions of the game, rather than the simulation bit. I indulged in that plenty, myself.

#11 Posted by crusader8463 (14419 posts) -
  
#12 Posted by granderojo (1778 posts) -

@granderojo: Yeah, once you start getting this far down the path of iteration with this type of game, those leaps start to come a little less often, and end up not being quite as big as before. That said, it's been a decade since our last go round with this series, and from the footage/previews/demos I could see they'd worked to explore places within that finely honed structure that were previously unexplored.

The problem with what I've played of the beta is that the game is trying too hard to be many things. It's more ambitious than the previous, but it suffers from many problems. It's trying to be the math problem that the previous game was but it doesn't do that as well as the previous and it's trying to be aesthetically pleasing, which it is but that isn't enough for me. That aesthetic choice lead to the decision to make the play area so small due to limit of the average gamer's PC, which is disappointing.

I sound really down on this but I'm really looking forward to it, that said it has problems.

(I played over 12 hours of the beta)

#13 Edited by Fattony12000 (7298 posts) -

@fattony12000 said:

@granderojo: Yeah, once you start getting this far down the path of iteration with this type of game, those leaps start to come a little less often, and end up not being quite as big as before. That said, it's been a decade since our last go round with this series, and from the footage/previews/demos I could see they'd worked to explore places within that finely honed structure that were previously unexplored.

The problem with what I've played of the beta is that the game is trying too hard to be many things. It's more ambitious than the previous, but it suffers from many problems. It's trying to be the math problem that the previous game was but it doesn't do that as well as the previous and it's trying to be aesthetically pleasing, which it is but that isn't enough for me. That aesthetic choice lead to the decision to make the play area so small due to limit of the average gamer's PC, which is disappointing.

I sound really down on this but I'm really looking forward to it, that said it has problems.

(I played over 12 hours of the beta)

Question

Could you tell something about the maximum size of a city? Will it be the same scale as a massive city in 3 & 4, or should we expect final cities to be a bit smaller because of the new Glassbox engine?

Answer

The size of our new cities are roughly equivalent to the SC4 medium sized city (2 kilometers square). That said, you can connect cities together inside a region and build out a network of connected cities - each city providing different resources and abilities to its neighbors and the region. For example, one city could be a residential suburb which provides workers every day to a nearby industrial city. The industrial city could be providing power to the suburb. You can play both of these cities yourself, or even run the entire region by yourself, or invite a friend to help out.

I don't know if I'd call multiple interconnected cities, with each one being as big as the medium size from SC4 as "so small". Obviously I'd LIKE to have the option to go bigger, but the trade-off between that and having a true physical representation of the actual simulation running throughout the entire city, seems like a pretty good one to me! Maybe we won't see the likes of MAGNASANTI again, but hey, I feel that we're getting a lot of cool improvements and features that we've not yet seen in a SimCity game before (SC2K Network Edition doesn't count!).

I don't believe this game is that much more ambitious with stuff like the concept, gameplay and mechanics. You are still 'just' zoning green and blue and yellow things next to roads, supplying them with power and water and managing the tax take. I see the revisions made to the broad strokes of game as important updates to the key ideas put forth in that fine old video game from 1989.

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