Some Impressions: Cities In Motion

By Quintin Smith on January 5th, 2011 at 11:53 am.

Get out of your cars! All of you! Right now! Please! I'm begging you!

Cities in Motion! It’s a transport tycoon game from Paradox that’s due out at the tail-end of next month. I’ve been playing with the latest build, and I actually have a problem with the game’s title. It should clearly have been called Cities in Gridlock, or Cities Keeping Perfectly Still. What I’m saying here is that I am bad at Cities in Motion.

Look! Here’s a picture of one of my tram stops.

We don’t like to talk about the tram stops. They’re like that strange dream you had, the one with your sister, and the rain. You just don’t talk about it.

So, yes: Cities In Motion tasks you with constructing and running a city’s public transport network. We’re talking buses, trams, trains, even boats and helicopters, and we’re talking building stops, designing routes and picking vehicles. With your pathetic budget you’re expected to analyse the city and do the most you can, and then recoup your investment through nothing but ticket fares and the occasional reward for completing an objective. It speaks volumes that the act of taking out a loan in Cities in Motion is performed with about as much worry as reloading in an FPS. It’s just what you do. Good luck!

My problem with the trams was in thinking that what would really help Tutorial Town was a comprehensive inner-city tram line, like they have in Manchester. Nevermind the fact that when I lived in Manchester I never rode on said tram (although there was once talk of organising a flashmob party on one of them). Anyway, in Tutorial Town my £10,000 tram network encountered a real showstopper of a problem almost immediately.

I was building the tram because the city needed public transport. Because the cities needed public transport, the inner-city streets were choked, suffocated even, by cars. Because the traffic was awful, the trams got stuck too, causing mass buildups of bored would-be commuters at each tram stop. Fail.

Which kind of sums up Cities In Motion. It’s a sim game, sure, but it’s also a puzzle game. Figuring out what type of transport to build, where to build it, how to build it (line? loop? spider web?) and how much to spend on it? That’s a puzzle. An unwieldy, hour-gobbling puzzle, but a puzzle nonetheless.

In case it wasn’t obvious already, I’ll just state clearly that this isn’t some softball, forgiving, casual experience. Until you start learning the nuances of running a transport network, Cities In Motion will smilingly saddle you with enough debt and customer complaints to sink even the most idiotically optimistic CEO into a swamp of despair. It’s very much a case of being handed a blank slate of a city, doing your thing over the course of an hour, then (eventually) realising the mess you’ve made and reaching for Restart like a starving man making a panicked grab for a sandwich.

Which isn’t to say Cities in Motion is off-putting or inaccessible. The interface is pleasant, and taking five minutes to research where your bus or subway should go is fun. Taking another few minutes to drag and drop it all out, ever-so-neatly, is fun. Then you’ve got to pick a few vehicles for it, deciding between a spread of speed, capacity, cost, reliability and appeal. That’s fun too. And of course after that you’ve got to give your new design a couple of in-game months to see how popular it is, and how it affects the other public transport routes in your city. Will it take some pressure off those overloaded trams we don’t like to talk about? Maybe, maybe.

The last thing I did in my game was build an exciting new water taxi route to take some pressure off my overloaded trams. Did it work? You bet your ass it didn’t.

For whatever reason, nobody wants to ride the new water taxi. There isn’t one person waiting at that stop. Why not? It’s a water taxi! It’s scenic! It’s cool! Which reminds me- we actually have a water taxi service here in London. Nobody actually takes it anywhere, of course. It’s rubbish.

Where was I? Oh yes- we’ve established that Cities In Motion is a tricky game, making this the perfect time to talk about objectives. They’re proper bastards. I mean, technically they’re fairly simple- some big cheese will ask you to connect the town university to some distant street via a pair of metro stations, or a government agent will get in touch to tell you that a dangerous enemy of the state is aboard the oldest vehicle in your fleet, and if you sell it then they’ll be able to capture him on the sly.

But as I’ve mentioned, money is always tight, so there’s an interesting element of having to fold these objectives into what you’re already trying to achieve. So you connect the university and street, then use the reward money to expand the new metro line with another stop in the middle. That kind of thing.

I’ve encountered a few problems, though I’ll preface them by saying that this is of course a preview build and anything might change. Though I do like the interface, it stumbles occasionally. I had an awful time trying to connect two train tracks that had a small hillock in between them, screwing with the autocomplete’s pathfinding, and placing a bus stop on the correct side of a street can be a fiddly. Woe betide anyone who places a stop on the wrong side of a street, as your buses will end up performing a tedious loop around a block to get there, and then another to get back on track. Speaking of blocks, everything’s very square. Where are the curled and knotted streets of old European cities? Not here, it seems.

There’s also some oddness about how many people can be found in each building. This is critical, as workplaces and homes with high populations are potential cash cows, but will also flood any stops placed near them. But it doesn’t add up- a huge apartment block will hold some 65 people, while a semi-detached house holds 30. And while my town’s airport had 50 people working in it, the tiny air traffic control tower next to it also managed a workforce of some 30 people. These figures should be intuitive, and they’re not at all.

None of this got in the way of my enjoyment though, as was proven last night when the build I’m playing quietly snorted up most of my evening. Whether Cities in Motion’s simulation is robust enough to stand up to long-term play is a question that’ll wait until the finished product, but signs look good. If you were interested in this game, I’d say you can very much stay interested.

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45 Comments »

  1. markside says:

    I had cities in my motion once. Had to see a doctor.

  2. CMaster says:

    Ohh, that’s really good to hear. I love by Railroad/Transport tycoon, and actually prefer the slightly more “hardcore” edge of Railroad. Provided they can keep this easy enough to get something done in, I might really like this.

  3. terry says:

    I looked at those screenshots and craved a gauss gun.

    • Tycow says:

      Glad I’m not the only one who saw the screenshots and immediately thought of Syndicate!

      Syndicate – how I miss thee. :(

    • edwardoka says:

      Spooky! I also thought “Oh cool, a Syndicate remake!”

    • Bombchest says:

      Oh Syndicate with your horrible train system. Running over all my trench coated employees, that guy I was trying to escort and the 80% of the population that I had brainwashed to follow me in one fell swoop. Or after missing the train being stuck on the track for the rest of their lives (usually until the train came back for a second shot at them).

  4. Rich says:

    “enemy of the state is aboard the oldest vehicle in your fleet, and if you sell it then they’ll be able to capture him on the sly.”

    So, when you sell the vehicle, he stays on it? He deserves an orange jumpsuit, the moron.

  5. Xercies says:

    I did fall in love with Railroad Tycoon, the demo made me spend hours of my life and this looks like a quite interesting game. Glad its as fun as you say it is.

    I also laughed at the Tram screenshot.

    • Rich says:

      Quinns is clearly modelling Sheffield after a football match.

      Edit: Sorry, “foot-to-ball” match.

    • jeremypeel says:

      Oh god, don’t get me started. Should really start keeping track of when foot-to-ball happens, and plan cinema trips around them happenings.

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      @rich hah, I was about to make a very similar joke. Main thing I’ve learnt from four year lived here is just don’t leave the house when the derby is on.

    • Rich says:

      I don’t suppose it can model the fun of one stop heaving with the home supporters, then the next stop along the line full of away supporters. Nothing I like more than two huge groups arguing about the merits of their preferred foot-to-ball teams through the medium of those, ever so clever, supporter’s chants… in a confined space.

  6. Ginger Yellow says:

    Aw. I failed to get in the beta and now I’m jealous. Is there a sandbox mode or is it all scenarios/puzzles?

  7. Yor Fizzlebeef says:

    Anyone even remotely interested in this game should google OpenTTD right now!
    Oh, the hours you will waste…

    • Ginger Yellow says:

      Some of us still have Transport Tycoon Deluxe itself.

    • ascagnel says:

      OpenTTD updates the game engine so it runs flawlessly on new hardware. There’s free game assets, but the original assets are way nicer and the Windows installer will import them for you.

      Fun trick: set up you own MP server, have the game pause when nobody’s connected, install on every computer you own, and BOOM you get TTD anywhere you have interwebs.

    • BobsLawnService says:

      I revisited OpenTTD about a month ago after about a two year sabbatical (I got sick of the terrible AI)

      It seems everyone else had issues with the AI because they have stripped the AI from the executable and you now need to download the AI seperately as a plugin. Unfortunately there seems to be a vast number of incomplete AI’s. Can someone playing OpenTTD suggest a competent AI which uses all forms of transport for me? I have yet to find one.

    • BobsLawnService says:

      I went back to OpenTTF after a long sabbatical caused by the terrible AI and it seems like they still haven’t resolved the issue. I supppose it was a common problem because they have stripped it and you need to download AIs as seperate plugins. Unfortunately there seem to be no decent ones that compete effectively using all forms of transport available (Or if there are I haven’t found them. There seem to be a lot of incomplete examples in true opensource tradition.)

      If there is a really great AI out there that I am missing could someone please recommend one for me?

      (Also thank you spamfilter for nuking my one word edit.)

  8. frags says:

    Also had to add. Destroying your metro lines is a pain in the ass for now. I think the destroy stuff function isn’t quite done yet.

  9. Navagon says:

    The numbers of people is something they can tweak. But to me it sounds like they’re trying to balance it all out too much. So we can only hope they sort that out.

  10. Sergey Galyonkin says:

    Finally a new Transport Tycoon game! Was getting tired of OpenTTD a little bit.

    • Malawi Frontier Guard says:

      I will say this in every post for this game. It’s not a new Transport Tycoon, it’s a new Traffic Giant.

      This is the truth and don’t you dare say anything against it.

      (However, it doesn’t look as bad as I initially feared)

    • Navagon says:

      We do need a new Transport Tycoon game though. Maybe if this game does well…

  11. Choca says:

    Man, I thought this was a Jack Hawksmoor game…

  12. frags says:

    You are not our friend! Begone!

  13. WMain00 says:

    While we’re here, any recommendations for a transport tycoon game for now?

    Other than OpenTTD.

    • Wilson says:

      You might find Simutrans interesting – http://www.simutrans.com/
      It’s harder than OpenTTD (e.g. you can go bankrupt playing on your own), but it’s got specific destinations for passengers in as standard. Worth giving it a go to see if you like it.

  14. harmen says:

    Looks pretty good, and I liked the water taxis in Vancouver.

  15. Torgen says:

    What’s not to like about Vancouver?

  16. HexagonalBolts says:

    You lived in Manchester Quintin? I too have never been on one of those trams, the buses definitely get a lot of action though. Manchester RPS readers, unite!

    • DrazharLn says:

      I’ve been on the trams twice, but I didn’t pay the first time because I thought you could pay on the tram itself. They’re quite pleasant, though.

      The buses are ok, ’tis funny watching a non-magic bus arrive at a stop full of students and no one getting on (because students all have magic bus passes).

  17. LMN8R says:

    Is there a decent city simulation there too, with the ability to zone areas and create buildings? Or is it all just the creation of transportation?

  18. Dozer says:

    As a professional bus-driver, I am following this with interest! For ultimate realism though, you should be able to set a timetable for your buses based on the worst traffic imaginable (so that when the worst traffic imaginable happens, the government don’t penalise you for running late buses), and then apply the same timings on every trip on that route, so the bus will drive for ten minutes then spend five minutes waiting for the timetable to catch up. Then create a staff rota that sees some individuals on this same route every single day.

    I quite like spending about an hour of my working day reading books in the cab of a bus full of seething people…

    • Edgar the Peaceful says:

      Haha. Nice insight. Thanks.

    • shitflap says:

      Yeah, that’s an awesome situation to be forced to be in Dozer, it must be jokes, I’d love it.
      I like the mental image of a professional bus-driver, honing his craft, training for 6 hours a day and looking down on his amatuer rivals with pity and contempt…

  19. sidhellfire says:

    Can you play this game with friends? Any multiplayer modes?

  20. Carra says:

    Looks like my kind of game. Always enjoyed games like Railroad Tycoon.

  21. Dozer says:

    After spending hours and hours and hours on the open beta – if you’ve got a horribly congested line (like Quinn’s tramline there) and you build another line (like the waterbus he mentioned) to take some of the pressure off, the people already in the queue won’t notice. The CiMfolk decide to travel from A to B, then they look at your transport network and decide exactly which of your bus, tram, boat etc routes to use before they leave. And then once they’ve started their journey, they ignore vehicles on all the other routes.

    So, if your tramline’s not up to the task, and you build a water-bus line to support it, to get rid of the 140 angry people, you need to remove that stop from the tramline (so the crowd goes away), then put it back into the tramline, and now those 140 people will in future consider taking the boat instead.

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