SimCity’s “GlassBox Engine” Videos Reveal Sim Systems

By Jim Rossignol on April 4th, 2012 at 12:00 pm.

We've made this simulation of a city - what shall we call it? COMPUTERTOWN! That's the one.
Seems like I managed to miss the first one of these, but not to worry, we can watch both of them today! These videos are Maxis’ first look at how the GlassBox tech they’ve built for the new SimCity will work. It’s relatively light on details, but they aim to show off the actual underlying simulation and behaviour mechanics, rather than the visuals that the game will finally display. I love these sort of glimpses into the innards of a game, and SimCity is the kind of game that likes to display its workings on the surface – it shows that Maxis believes its fans will appreciate a more involved approach to revealing how the game will work, too, so that’s promising. Go take a look.

Have a read of our visit to Maxis for more.

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68 Comments »

  1. MadTinkerer says:

    Looking forward to hopefully, maybe getting this. Wish I could say it’s a must-buy, but I’m still not 100% clear about the DRM…

    • copernicus_phoenix says:

      Same here. I wouldn’t mind as much if you just had to authenticate after a purchase or a hardware change, but there are too many times when I want to be able to play on a long train journey (sim / strategy games being the best for that) or when my net connection goes down (rarer and rarer thankfully, but it still happens).

      Of course, if you pre-order from The Pirate Bay, then your version won’t have these limitations. It’s not great when the paying customer gets a worse deal than the pirates. I’ll pass. It’s not like I’m short of things to play.

      • j3w3l says:

        And if you pirate they see the torrent numbers and go “we need more DRM”
        If you buy they say their DRM must be working
        Damned if you do either way , only option is to not bother untill they get the message

        • zbeeblebrox says:

          Well…not entirely. Oh yeah, it causes misconceptions for the company. But that doesn’t matter because when they make that worse DRM, the pirates will circumvent that too. And the next one and the next one. So the alternative will always be there.

  2. Khalan says:

    Looks like just what I was hoping for – the removal of as many abstractions as possible. Disappointed about their always-on internet DRM attitude though.

  3. Was Neurotic says:

    I’m 99% sure that RPS (or PCG) said that it’s *not* always on. Activation and launch are online, but there’s no need to be connected to continue playing. There is online functionality, but this is an extra that, again, doesn’t *require* constant connection. So, not brilliant, but not the balls-out UBI approach either.

    Edit: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/03/29/simcity-always-on-clarified-will-need-internet-for-every-launch/

    • RedViv says:

      This has to be mentioned a thousand times more until people finally get it, I’m afraid.

      • Llewyn says:

        People get it, we’re just not impressed by it.

      • theLumberJack says:

        They need to go all the way and get rid of online activation on launch to get my buy. I don’t have my own internet, and wouldn’t walk all the way to a wifi hotspot to start a game.

        • Baboonanza says:

          No offence, I’m personally not too impressed by it myself, but I suspect that they are fairly ok with losing the tiny ‘PC gamers who don’t have internet access’ demographic.

          • Gnoupi says:

            And anyway, it’s not like if they would hear a complaint about it. Logically.

          • jalf says:

            That tiny minority includes, for example, people who just moved, and don’t yet have internet at their new place. Or people playing the game on a train, or other places with no net. And people who want to be able to play the game a few years from now, when the servers are shut down. Or…

            But ultimately, it’s just a pointless limitation. They might not lie awake at night worrying about these lost sales, but even so, why would you intentionally make your product *less* attractive? Even if you only lose five sales because of it, you’re still jumping through hoops to ensure you sell *less*.

          • Joshua Northey says:

            That demographic is no one. It doesn’t matter at all as much as the people in it might try to claim it does. I so many people didn’t try to steal games you wouldn’t have these inconvenient and frustrating attempts to cut down on stealing.

            And don’t even try to make the argument that the anti-piracy measures cause piracy, because that is frankly the stupidest argument I have ever heard. Almost no one pirates a game because they don’t want to click through some extra screen for 3 seconds, the pirate it because they don’t want to pay for it. They will make up fifty different stories about why that is not really why they pirated it, but it is.

          • Edlennion says:

            It’s just such a shame, given that it’s using Origin anyway (which has a fully functional offline mode), that they feel the need to add in this extra DRM.
            I know it’s not much to EA, but I won’t be buying this game if the DRM doesn’t change. Not because I’m taking a moral stance, but purely because this is the sort of game I’d play on my laptop when I don’t have internet access (on trains, planes etc.)

          • TechnicalBen says:

            I’m fairly ok with not buying the game.
            Great not to do business with you again EA! Your welcome, don’t come again.

            Oh wait, that was not your plan? :P

          • triple omega says:

            @Joshua Northey:
            1) It’s copyright infringement, not theft.

            2) DRM causes the cracked version to be superior to the original version. If the downsides of the original version outweigh the downsides of the pirated version, DRM causes piracy. This is not stupid, it is applying the same logic to piracy and DRM as to other sales affecting mechanisms without bias.

            3) What is the basis of your claim that so many people are lying about their reasons for pirating?

            Based on your aggressive wording and preemptive dismissal of counter-arguments, it sounds like you have preconceived ideas about piracy that are not based on facts, but on beliefs and baseless assumptions.

            Condemning a group or action without a solid foundation is counter-productive. Being neutral and impartial while trying to understand the problem is the only way to come up with a solution. Anything else will produce tainted results and thus incorrect and possibly counter-productive solutions.

            From what I’ve read in research papers, only in the younger demographics(~20 years old or younger) is unwillingness to pay a mayor factor. This is because they have far less disposable income then the older demographics. So in reality, very little money is lost here, as they do not have the money to spend in the first place.

          • psyk says:

            3G

          • Joshua Northey says:

            omega-
            1) “It’s copyright infringement, not theft.”

            It is a kind of theft. It is not quite the same as taking someone’s shovel, but it is certainly a kind of stealing. It is taking something that does not belong to you.

            2) “DRM causes the cracked version to be superior to the original version.”

            It may drive some people to piracy, but don’t think that is any sizable portion of the pirate market. Everyone I have known who pirates things pirates LOTS of things. Not just the things with DRM, not just the things they wouldn’t have bought anyway, but lots and lots of IP. Which make sense because once you set up the infrastructure to download and play things from illegal sources the time required to do more of it is quite low. I think ALMOST no one who doesn’t already pirate things would let some DRM no matter how annoying drive them to piracy. So in that sense it isn’t making new pirates, it is just an excuse existing pirates use to justify their pirating of this particular game.

            3) “What is the basis of your claim that so many people are lying about their reasons for pirating?”

            The fact I went to HS and college in the US, and now work there and have many many friends over the years, some of whom were pirates. I frankly also base it on the level of discussion and discourse in the gaming media (like this) that I have followed pretty closely for years, where the people defending piracy are always making a wide variety of extremely weak arguments to support their case and almost never admit that it is at heart about money and stealing (which is absurd). Every single pirate I know was doing it to save money. Every one. And I am talking dozens here. Sure they might tell me some big story about IP wanting to be free, or communism and our plutocratic oppressors, but at heart most of them were lazy people with low incomes but technical know how. So they stole things because it was easy and they could.

            “Based on your aggressive wording and preemptive dismissal of counter-arguments, it sounds like you have preconceived ideas about piracy that are not based on facts, but on beliefs and baseless assumptions.”
            Thats because I have had this same argument 60 times, not because I haven’t thought about it. In fact in college I studied ethics generally, and ethics/law surrounding technology specifically.

            “Condemning a group or action without a solid foundation is counter-productive.”

            I have a solid foundation. You are not going to win this argument.

            Certainly the current copyright and patent law in the US and much of the world is bad and needs to be improved. It also badly needs to taken into account the way the changes in how hard it is to transfer information have changed the enforceability and wisdom of the current laws. But that doesn’t mean you get to break the laws.

            Lets say tomorrow someone invented a magic teleportation device that meant it was now super easy to rob banks. That wouldn’t mean it would now be ok to go rob banks willy nilly. Yes society would need to change some things, but in the mean time you don’t get to be justified in breaking the law just because it is easy.

            “So in reality, very little money is lost here, as they do not have the money to spend in the first place”

            This isn’t true at all. If you look at the spending habits in the actual research, they tend to just move spending into other elements of their life. Spend that money their non thief friends spend on games, on better hardware and more nights out having beers.

            Certainly they would not buy even a fraction of the IP they pirate, because they could never afford that, but you tend to have poor person A who spends say $500/year on games and movies and watches/plays those 25 items. And you have poor pirate B who pirates say 500 items, watches/plays 100 of them, and pays for maybe 1 or 2 at a cost of say $60/year.

            And then they tell themselves “Oh I paid for everything I would have bought so really I didn’t cost anyone any money”, but that is just an out and out lie.

            .

          • Amun says:

            @Joshua:
            -Pirates buy more media. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/apr/21/study-finds-pirates-buy-more-music)

            -Ignoring copyright law is not the same as robbing a bank. Theft is a criminal offense, copying something without authorization is a civil offense.

            There are plenty of ways to make money in this digital age, annoying people who pay you isn’t one of them.

          • zbeeblebrox says:

            @Joshua “That demographic is no one.”

            Bullshit.

        • Wreckdum says:

          Typing in a serial key and having it authenticated online isn’t new. They’ve been doing that for over 10 years. It’s not asking that much to have 5 seconds to get online and type in a serial key. Always on is a whole different story. I shouldn’t not be allowed to play the game I registered because Comcast decided the whole neighborhoods internet was going to take a crap today.

          • Llewyn says:

            It’s not one-time activation; you have to be online to launch the game, not to activate it.

          • potat0man says:

            One time online activation I can deal with. But every time I launch the game? C’mon! How many pirates does that even stop? 2?

      • BobsLawnService says:

        These days I can live with once-off activation but there is no way a required login at launch is going to work for me. I want to be able to play my game whenever I want and not have to worry about some anonymous muppets DDOSing the servers or someone unplugging the server mains to plug in the vacuum cleaner.

    • RaveTurned says:

      So you need to have connectivity to start the game, but it doesn’t monitor your connection throughout your gaming session. That is to say it’s OK if your connection drops for a minute or two when you’re playing, but you still can’t play it on a laptop on a long train journey or aeroplane flight. Likewise for the sometimes excruciatingly long period between moving house and an ISP getting your broadband set up.

      Kind of like Steam but with no offline mode option (even a temperamental one). Seems ridiculous for a single player game.

    • BrightCandle says:

      I really love the look of the game. Improving the simulation to be almost settlers in detail will really add an edge to simcity (its not quite there by the looks of it but its much closer).

      But as it stands that DRM isn’t going to work out well for me so I wont be buying this. I know they don’t care but I guarantee its a sale lost because otherwise I’d snap this game up. Just another game ruined by DRM.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Well in that case it sounds fairly tolerable. For me, at least.

      Of course, it’d be nice if publishers wouldn’t make DRM an issue in the first place, but there you go.

      • Baboonanza says:

        For me the problem isn’t the online activation per-se, it the fact that I have to install and run Origin that makes me reluctant to buy it.

      • Joshua Northey says:

        Its not publishers who make it an issue, it is the people who steal games. That is a huge portion of the market, IP thieves.

        • Ichi_1 says:

          No it’s really not. DRM solves absolutely nothing and DOES encourage piracy. This game will be cracked and available online. That is a fact. Then it comes down to a choice between being able to play the game whenever you want or only when you have a connection.

          I can honestly say that if I happen to get this I will pirate it AND Diablo 3 on principal. I always buy my games normally but this DRM crap has to stop. I was excited about Diablo 3 and as a programmer myself the Glassbox engine looks incredible to me. But I’m not paying for a DRM game.

          DRM is going to ruin the games industry. It is removing our consumer rights and it’s already leading to even bigger issues. Just look at what Microsoft and Sony are considering doing with not allowing second hand games on their consoles. You’ve also got publishers thinking it’s acceptable to force us to always buy games new and never be able to sell them on. There’s also the fact that our games will almost certainly be stored digitally on a publishers server in the near future which will give them full control due to the inevitable terms and agreements and we are going to effectively be paying premium prices to rent games from publishers. We are losing our consumer rights and it really annoys me that people like you can’t see this

          • Joshua Northey says:

            This is just absurd hysteria. You don’t have “rights” to other peoples property. You have those rights you purchase, and to the extent you didn’t purchase them and use it anyway you are stealing them. Case closed. Rationalize it all you want but you are no better than someone taking something out of a store.

            And its not “ruining the industry” and it isn’t going away. Steam and the modern DRM systems have saved this industry, and if things had continued as they were 5 or 6 years ago this industry would be a shell of what it is today.

            Grow up, be a big boy, get a job. Pay for things. If I go to the store and want a shovel with a comfortable grip but they don’t have one (because there isn’t a big enough market for it) I don’t then get to say “Well since they don’t care about me and my special needs I am just going to steal the shovel they got”. It is such a juvenile and frankly criminal way to look at the situation and is only acceptable in the world of computer games because the consumer class is dominated by teenagers with no sense of ethics or appreciation for work or how the world works.

          • Brun says:

            You don’t have “rights” to other peoples property.

            The problem is that the product in question should (like any other product) become MY property when I pay the $60 price tag for it. The shovel from Wal-Mart would become my property. Five years after I buy that shovel, Wal-Mart is not going to come to my house and tell me that, due to declining sales and use of the Acme Model 10-A Shovel, they will be discontinuing support for the Shovel, and will be destroying the one that I paid full price for 5 years earlier. Not so for video games, apparently. That is what he means by the erosion of consumer rights.

            If I’m a “big boy” and have a job, and pay full price for a product, that product should be my property. Period.

          • Thants says:

            I’d also be pissed off if I had to plug my shovel into a phone-line every time I wanted to use it so the manufacturer could check to see if it was stolen. And the argument of “Grown-ups should accept any mistreatment without complaining or trying to change things” isn’t a good one.

        • alundra says:

          Yeah Joshua, we PC gamers are such filthy thieves, the 16.2 billion pc market in 2010 and the 18.6 billion in 2011 must point to blatant piracy propaganda. .

          Filthy thieves, willing to fund a indie game out of their own pockets but refusing to cope up with being controlled and treated like criminals, are PC gamers some filthy thieves….

          Time you change your shilling speech buddy, nobody believes your big publishing studio lies anymore.

          PS

          Grow up, be a big boy, get a job. Pay for things.

          Don’t give use that crap, we are not being sold anything in the first place.

          Rationalize it all you want but you are no better than someone taking something out of a store.

          yeah yeah, rationalize all you want, the super greedy software industry no longer sells anything, not even a CD, your logic is flawed already.

          • Joshua Northey says:

            “Yeah Joshua, we PC gamers are such filthy thieves, the 16.2 billion pc market in 2010 and the 18.6 billion in 2011 must point to blatant piracy propaganda.”

            That is the point. The paying customers are the ones doing that. Not the thieves. I am not lumping in the paying people with the thieves. I am lumping the thieves in with the thieves. Piracy is still a huge force in the PC gaming industry. If you don’t think so then why the hell do you think the companies make their products so annoying to use? Just for giggles?

            The software industry is no more or less greedy than any other industry, it is just people trying to do their jobs, like any other industry. It is not a place where there are huge margins, it is not the jewelry industry. It is an entertainment industry where there is A LOT of risk on the project. Many of them are unprofitable. Even good developers and publishers are constantly going under. And yet the commentariat cries “greed” any time the industry tries to protect itself from freeloading pirates. Makes me think the commentariat is dominated by those very pirates themselves posing as paying customers.

          • alundra says:

            @Joshua

            The software industry is no more or less greedy than any other industry,

            THE HELL YOU SAY?! Really?? Keeping with the shovel example, I no other industry they expect me to pay full price for the shovel I saw in a picture, they wouldn’t let me take it with my hands and see if I like the weight, length, etc…, and then walk away from the store with my hands empty because the $60 I paid for the shovel were for a license to use it inside the store premises.

            <
            It is not a place where there are huge margins,

            poor itty bitty software industry, playing the victim card now?? As I said buddy, time to change your shilling speech, or change jobs, have some morals and switch to a business where it’s model is that one where the customer is respected and actually given something in exchange for their money, and in some cases even a guarantee.

          • vorvek says:

            Since when downloading a game is stealing? I thought that to steal something you had to, you know, take it with you. As in… a “substraction”. Was Dolly the sheep stolen by the scientists that cloned her? I mean, they made an identical copy to the original and then used it! Oh, maybe it would only be stealing if they gave the sheep to somebody else?

  4. Apocalypse 31 says:

    Visual Resources with 1/1 representation.

    Already done in Settlers 7

  5. Gwilym says:

    Very cool videos, but I ended up mainly focused on the music about halfway into each one. Really gorgeous stuff. I wonder what it is.

  6. Stevostin says:

    Look sexy but I am slightly disappointed by the “worker call” simplification. Basically it means the workers always work the closer to their production ground, and that there is probably no level of qualification. Which instantly put us far away from a real modern city structure. Worst, you loose the need for huge traffic axes that are so important into designing a city.

    • Bluerps says:

      Why do you think there is no level of qualification? I don’t know how the worker calls are implemented, but it sounds like they could easily include some kind of education check: “if [education] > 10 go to work in high-level factory”.

      Managing traffic should also still be important, because all interaction between the buildings seems to work over vehicles that actually have to drive somewhere. So if a mall can only be accessed by a tiny road it probably won’t work correctly, because all the delivery trucks from the industrial buildings are clogging up the street.

      • Somerled says:

        I think the point is that employees tend not to migrate to nearby jobs. Rather, they find a job based on their own ideals, then migrate outward as their standard of living changes. That causes significant city planning and traffic problems in reality. If everyone just worked and shopped down the street, then there is a large dynamic that’s being ignored. I was thinking the same thing when I saw that in the video (also you see the car headlights light up in sequence as the “call” moves down the street … silly).

        But, if the worker call isn’t a daily “help wanted” request, and workers keep their jobs over longer periods of time, that’s different. It remains to be seen how this will be implemented.

        • Fox89 says:

          I think RPS mentioned in their ‘visit to Maxis’ article that it is a daily thing, not a long term commitment.

          I quite like the approach and imagine this system is much simpler to work with in a massive game like this.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      Cities XL does a much better job than Simcity 4 at model this kind of thing (God Simcity 4′s commuting modeling was atrocious for all its other strengths).

      I would really love to see a lot of randomness in where people locate relative to their workplace, and a lot of turnover so the equation is being refreshed. Like each month 5% of the workers lose their job and need to find another but they do not move their residence.

    • Ganjatron says:

      They said in the GDC videos and in the Reddit IAMA, that the simulation will look for qualified workers who can walk first (something no other version of SC ever did), then to commuter sims, then to personal vehicle sims. So yes it will look the closest first, which is how the real world works, people want to be near their employment for communing reasons, but they have to be qualified. Notice in the demo, there are no Commercial units, nor public transportation, nor utilities, nor city services. We were only shown demonstration of how a very very very basic simulation worked, please do not think it represents the final product.

  7. mentor07825 says:

    We were learning Agent artificial intelligence in class. It works off of a series of rules, whereby each layer had several rules. Each rule is reached either through a weight or just randomly selected. If none of them are relevent to what needs to be achieved it moves up to another layer and so on.

    EDIT: From what I remember in class, anyway.

    • aldo_14 says:

      That sounds a bit like Brooks’ subsumption architecture; that takes the approach of increasingly complexity, in short the decision making attempts to pass through as many layers of increasing complexity as processing time constraints permit (For example, layers of a cleaning robot might be; 1/ pick random destination 2/ pick random nearby dirty area 3/ prioritise and pick dirty area etc).

      Or maybe Inference-based AI. (sort of if x and y, -> y is inferred, so do y – I think)

      The standard (well, de-facto standard) approach to rational agency seems to be the BDI (Beliefs-Desires-Intentions) approach (which is itself based on theories of logical reasoning). Each agent has a set of goals and beliefs. In each reasoning cycle, it forms a set of (believed) achievable goals (desires) and selects a plan to achieve one of them (an intention). The plans themselves can be from a library – generated at compile time, this is normal due to the time complexity of planning – or more rarely generated dynamically.

      I’m sure there’s a few other approaches that I can’t remember offhand, but BDI is one AFAIK closest to how you’d do it in a game.

      ‘Agent’ is, however, recognised as being a very vague term anyway – the autonomous and intelligent parts aren’t even required for something to be defined as an agent.

      • mentor07825 says:

        True. We touched on it briefly but it seemed interesting. From my understanding it’s that the logic starts small and then works itself up to bigger things. Such as simulating a rat to simulating a cat and so on.

        • aldo_14 says:

          Offhand, I think Brooks concept was working from basics; what might be described as trying to build an intelligent insect before building an intelligent human. A lot of robotics work made (makes) the assumption that things like visual recognition, the act of physical locomotion, etc can be abstracted out, and that the complex bit is the act of cognition – Brooks took the opposite view and focused from ground-up control.

          That said, apparently the implementation of the subsumption architecture involves using discrete agents for each ‘layer’ of subsumption (each agent acts as a controller that subsumes and modifies the decisions of ‘lower’ layer agents, with the end result being outputs to drive an autonomous robot), and is somewhat of a bastard to work with when adding more complex behaviours.

          • mentor07825 says:

            From my understanding it is because it assumes that all behaviour is, essentially, basic and stupid. Its intelligence and understanding of the environment is gathered from agents in the same environment. So they communicate to each other where the object is and the possible best path to the object.

            I believe it was the ants or some insect that has a similar mindset to Agent AI. They leave a trail to an object and if it’s the shortest one it’s the most walked on and therefore the optimal path, as the trail is the freshest. Also they have developed farming and warfare but are, inherintly, stupid insects.

  8. BrightCandle says:

    A big part of the Agent AI drive a decade or more ago was that it runs in mass parallel very easily. If done properly Simcity should be able to utilise all of the CPU cores available on a modern PC, and potentially scale into the thousands of CPUs. I wonder how it will work out in practice.

    • FriendlyFire says:

      As I said in a previous thread about this, what I’d really like to see would be them leveraging GPGPU. Massively parallel algorithms are a perfect fit for GPUs and you could expect tenfold or more speedups from them.

  9. Toberoth says:

    This looks really great! Very impressed with the amount of thought and effort being put in by the designers.

  10. RagingLion says:

    This game is going to take over some people’s lives isn’t it.

  11. Stardog says:

    How does this work with 100,000 citizens?

  12. sweetcraspy says:

    That’s a good overview of what they are capable of, but I want to know so much more!

    -Does the factory have any resource needs aside from power, water and other Sim City standards?
    -Is the commercial building getting generic units of production, or specific resources?
    -How is the loop closed with commercial to residential interaction?
    -Does each house have a set of resources that trigger agent activity at different thresholds?

  13. Joshua Northey says:

    I would be really interested to know if they are going to try and model a whole economy. Sim City 4 had this bizarre mechanic where there was all this incentive and pressure to move further and further up the added value chain, which is fine and makes sense, but SOMEWHERE needs to be making all those dirty dirty basic extraction and manufacturing of goods everyone uses. The whole economy cannot be people designing better widgets and selling them back and forth to each other, someone needs to be actually digging up the resources to make the widgets and someone needs to actually make them.

    I thought Cities XL handled this quite a bit better with each “zone” producing and requiring different resources and making you import raw resources and goods if you did not make enough of them.

    You cannot have modern day San Francisco without modern day China. The stuff all the people buy but don’t make needs to come from somewhere.

  14. enobayram says:

    I wish finding a job were that simple in real life.

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