Wot I Think: SimCity

By Adam Smith on March 21st, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

None of these days, all of this will be yours

We’ve had quite a lot to say about SimCity but I haven’t told you wot I think yet. I posted my initial impressions two weeks ago, feeling like I’d only just scratched the surface. I’ve been scratching away since then, off and on, and now I’m ready to tell you what lies beneath.

The conversation, cozening and confusion that flared up following SimCity’s unhappy launch threatened to drown out discussion of the game that resided somewhere in the hinterland between a distant server and PCs across the land. The internet loves a narrative and the one that was forming pre-launch and in the first week or two after release suggested that the hero of this particular tale was a noble and complex city simulator; the villain was social gaming, always-online, DRM and enforced multiplayer.

I’m not going to spend a great deal of time talking about the villainy here because I’d be repeating what others have said already and it’s not the focus of this particular word-load. My take on the server issues boils down to a deep, exasperated sigh when they fail to work and, after playing for this long, a slightly shallower sigh when they do allow me to enter. SimCity, as the reconstructed narrative has mostly taken into account, is no hero trapped inside a digital dungeon. It’s a minor trifle, a troubled toy that, like so many childhood Christmas presents, is most enjoyable as it’s being unwrapped.

Zones and roads, that’s what you’ll need to mayor your way to the top. Zones, as ever in the simulated cities of Maxis-land, can be industrial, commercial or residential. I’ve experimented with all kinds of patterns, including a radical industrial-residential core with a commercial district at the other side of the map, literally surrounded by shit and garbage. That city, like the rest, filled up. Residential demand was high, the basic services were in place and, after five or six hours, profits were high.

Two weeks ago, I wrote this: “It’s lovely to see a world grow and to nudge it in a new direction occasionally”. I stand by that. The first time you fill a map, the city, with its various tiny districts and carefully laid out streets, is your creation, a model of efficiency, fizzing with personality. It only takes a few hours and then you can either wait for your bank account to fill up and buy an expo centre, or something else fancy, or drop parks everywhere and watch happy faces exploding into the polluted air above the sims’ houses. The miniscule size of the areas means you’ll never be able to have everything you want – building that expo centre will mean knocking down some houses, factories or shops – because every inch of flat ground is taken up quickly, and anything that isn’t flat is only good for roads.

Speaking of which, as Doc Brown might say, ‘where we’re going we’re going to need a fuckload of roads’. They transport everything, from shit to shoppers, and while it’s a neat solution for a simplified network of connections, it causes oddities. In one of my towns, the power station is placed as far from residential areas as possible and since it cannot be connected by power lines, because they don’t exist, electricity is carried down a dirt road instead. When the city became overcrowded, with every road except the one to the power station upgraded to maximum density, I was initially baffled by the traffic jams that held up fire engines and ambulances, causing the death toll to rise and the population to become slightly less ecstatic. I built a couple of skate parks to compensate for the unnecessary fatalities and people immediately stopped complaining. Parks are soma and, as long as there’s a swingset nearby, a wife won’t mourn her dead husband or be pissed off that he was on fire for sixteen hours before help arrived.

I wanted to understand the problem because it was annoying from an aesthetic and logistical point of view, even if it didn’t actually make much of a difference to the prosperity and happiness of my surviving sims. It was the dirt road. Even though I’d only intended it to lead to the power station, I’d zoned industrial areas along its length because space is very much at a premium and I couldn’t afford to waste the land – people need jobs, after all, or so I thought at the time. Everything went down that road. Fire engines, cop cars, commuters, ambulances – the entire population of the city drove up to the station and back down again, honking and grinding their gears in the heavy traffic – they couldn’t pass it without deciding to take a detour.

When a simulation unexpectedly lobs a spanner toward my works, I’m usually overjoyed. Systems pushed to their limits are one of life’s joys, whether it’s physics modelling causing bizarre gyrations or a dwarf dooming a fortress by opening the wrong door at the wrong time because he fancies a brew. Suddenly, elephants. SimCity does throw disasters at the player but they are Malthusian natural checks rather than entertainments or actual calamities. Each ‘city’ is just about finished after five or six hours of play – the map is full and all of the pieces are in place. A natural, supernatural or entirely unnatural disaster is the slightly more spectacular equivalent of somebody removing a few pieces from a completed jigsaw so that it can be completed again.

The real disasters are the confused vehicles and people, driven by path-finding and urges that make me long for the abstracted models of old. I love the idea of a city that is driven by moving parts, a machine rather than mathematics, but SimCity is not that game. Once a map has been filled, the next is much the same and the small areas and repetitive structure make for an experience that allows little space for interesting design and instead becomes a slog of zoning and linking. The moment that I realised my input was barely essential, beyond the initial setup, SimCity became a colourful, cartoon screensaver. A colourful, cartoon screensaver that required a constant internet connection.

Most of my time has been spent developing single player regions, which is a perfectly viable strategy, but I’ve also dabbled in a spot of neighbourly sharing. The social aspects of the game – and social is the right word; other people have a mostly numerical presence but aren’t actually present – don’t contribute anything of great significance and certainly nothing to counterbalance the more fundamental problems. These cities are constructed on shale and sham, spouting resources to power yet more inconstant constructions.

Two weeks after writing my initial impressions, I’ve had my fill. If EA do shut the SimCity servers down in a couple of years, removing the game from existence, I can’t imagine that millions of voices would cry out right before the SimSilence. I know people who are enjoying the game, imposing their own rules and restrictions, or simply satisfying themselves with different experimental shapes and styles. Even though I’ll never be one of those toybox tinkerers, it’s worth repeating that they should be able to enjoy the game whenever and wherever they are.

Whenever I load the game up, I’m tempted to start with a fresh plot, spurred on by the pleasure of playing with the simple zoning and road-building tools. Everything sounds just right and the interface is clean, bright and a joy to use. It only takes a few minutes for the sinking feeling to settle in my stomach though. I’m going to end up doing the same things as I’ve done before, producing money and resources to feed my hungry neighbours, specialising just a little but never a lot, growing tired before the mini-metropolis is complete. The initial excitement as my first skyscrapers grew feels like a memory from an age of innocence and it’s one that I’d gladly revisit if I could. I’d need soma of my own to do that though.

SimCity is a charming object but has more in common with a model railway set than a city building simulation. The GlassBox engine, so attractive in theory, is unconvincing in practice, incapable of making me believe that even these small neighbourhoods are functioning, living spaces. For a while, I enjoyed watching new buildings sprout out of the ground like flowers in a time-lapse video, but I’ve come to the conclusion that SimCity is showing me a lot, telling me very little and barely listening at all.

SimCity is available now.

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134 Comments »

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  1. bob. says:

    As much as I would like to.. like this game, I just can’t.
    I mean this is a simulation of a city first and foremost. And if this simulation is fundamentally broken as great as the rest of the game might be what is the point?

    • Katana-Bob says:

      This is why I don’t follow games before release. 9 out of 10 times you’ll end up disappointed.

      • Premium User Badge

        Cinek says:

        This game has an issue that’s unrelated to following it since the beginning or not.
        Simcity is like a shooter without shooting. Or a strategy, where there’s no strategical thinking.
        It fails in being what’s advertised.
        If EA would sell it as a game for 5 yo kids or… said: always-online screensaver – everyone would be happy. But they advertized it as a city simulation game and… it’s simply: not it.

        • AaronLee says:

          This further supports my feeling that the game was rushed. The hopeful part of me hopes by executive meddlign, and that Maxis wouldn’t have, in their right minds, wanted to release this as-is.

          • darkath says:

            Maxis doesn’t make simulation game anymore ever since corporate EA has forced out the very bright Will Wright out of the company when he was making spore, which started as a clever simulation but very soon got hijacked by executives hyenas that transformed it into an “action adventure” game.
            The cries over the new simcity have the exact same tone as the cries that filled the atmosphere when spore was finally released.

          • Ci2e says:

            The intial Spore game was okay but wasn’t great. I saw the Gallactic Adventures expansion and it made me think what the hell, really?

            Why does it feel like everyone loves to hate EA but then always gets suckered into their next over-hyped game. I’m so sick and tired of being lied to. I almost hope BF4 is a failure so I don’t end up giving EA more money, they simply don’t deserve it.

    • Maxheadroom says:

      Credit where it’s due, at least they didnt try to turn it into an action shooter eh? :)

      • Baines says:

        Streets of SimCity? I kind of wish they’d revisit that idea, because it had such potential.

        (For those that didn’t know, Streets of SimCity was a car combat game made by Maxis that used your SimCity maps.)

        • katinkabot says:

          AH! I loved that game. Played it ALL the time. Loved the level where you play as the grandma fighting against aliens.

        • FadedCamo says:

          So did Sim Copter, another amazing game.

      • Hungry Like the Wholphin says:

        Battlefield Sim.

        Trot after your 4 mates as they open doors, piss themselves, fall asleep at random and babble gibberish before going off to work

        • Premium User Badge

          Gap Gen says:

          I’d totally buy a game that took your Sim City, bombarded it for a couple of weeks then allowed you to fight over the ruins.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      Adam Smith, I so enjoy your writing. You remind me of the late master of the quill, mr. Smith-as-well. Or better yet of Master Kieron Gillen in his best days, the much yearned era of warhammer.

      Adam, if you ever write a Warhammer fiction (40K preferred) I’ll be the happiest reader on earth.

      I’ll buy ten copies.

      • Premium User Badge

        Gap Gen says:

        You may be right about his spiritual predecessors, but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t just type “skaven” over and over.

      • frightlever says:

        I concur, in general, but it’s not like Quintin Smith or Kieron Gillen are dead. Quints is writing for Kotaku, amongst other things. That’s brain-dead, not dead. I kid.

        http://kotaku.com/5991483/youre-with-me-5-team-board-games-you-should-play

        And Kieron Gillen is writing comics, of which Über looks interesting.

        http://gillen.cream.org/wordpress_html/5090/uber/

        I say “of which” only as a personal opinion because most of his Marvel stuff is aimed at a teen market and just doesn’t interest me personally but it’s critically acclaimed. I’m more of a Garth Ennis fan.

        I do miss both of them writing for RPS.

        Did enjoy this article though it pisses me off that I have to look up Malthusian every time I see it. Must be my age.

        I do know how the conversation will go when I’m nest wearing my suit.

        “The minister managed to find some lovely things to say about him. Will you be going back to the house for a sandwich?”
        “I’ll show my face, but his sister is still bad so we’re taking her straight to the skate park.”

    • maximiZe says:

      Why would you like to like this consumer-despising train wreck in the first place though?

      • bob. says:

        I wanted to like a great city simulation game, I didn’t want to like the consumer-despising train wreck that it actually turned out to be :(

  2. Premium User Badge

    MeatMan says:

    It’s sad to realize that almost all of the potential greatness of a modern SimCity has been wasted on what Maxis and EA actually produced.

    • Bluestormzion says:

      The best part of Sim City is that I am always reminded of the BGM from the SNES version of the first Sim City and the BGM from Sim City 2000. Those games were incredible. I have Sim City 4, but can barely remember it. Know what? I’m gonna install that sucka and give it another go.

      • TechnicalBen says:

        Do. It has some of the same traffic problems but at least it 1) never promised not to and 2) is a bit better at giving you options to counter it [edit] 3) the “traffic” only lowers your score, it does not “break” the game. Traffic makes sims unhappy, but in SimCity (5) traffic also stops resources and jobs and everything.

        If you get massive traffic, you make a larger highway. :D

        • DickSocrates says:

          NAM mod is meant to fix the traffic problems, plus add a lot of other stuff like curved roads, though the implementation of it looks a bit fiddly.

          • UmmonTL says:

            NAM is great, the curved roads are mostly for cosmetic value but the improvement on traffic are amazing. It even sensibly connects cities together with job/housing demands being satisfied by connected neighbours and the resulting traffic being simulated. You can have farming towns supplying larger cities, commuter towns supplying cheap labour or have the death-spewing factories and powerplants far away from your luxury apartments. And you can monetize the traffic generated with tollbooths and ticket prices.

        • Premium User Badge

          Cinek says:

          SC4 is amazing, because with a correct city design you can quite easily avoid traffics in almost any city. (you basically need to avoid putting all jobs in one place and residential in another, add some rail and you’re set). :)

      • L. Boom says:

        Well, to be fair to this new SimCity – if it has one thing going for it, it’s its soundtrack. Easily the best thing about the game. I was bored of the actual city building after about 6-7 hours, but I was still humming along to the background music.

      • Premium User Badge

        P7uen says:

        As if to add insult to injury, every time I add a residential zone my dog thinks it’s a real doorbell and barks uncontrollably. I blame EA for that.

  3. TillEulenspiegel says:

    Before the revelations about the terrible simulation engine, I was almost tempted by this. You watch a video of someone playing for the first couple hours, and it looks great.

    Yet another case of all polish, no substance.

  4. Ninja Foodstuff says:

    They really did us a favour by delaying the Mac version.

    Also, perfect review. I should probably play sc4 at some point to see what the fuss was all about

  5. Bhazor says:

    I still don’t understand why people act like Glassbox is some kind of new feature. It’s basically the whole point of Tropico and which Tropico treats it in a much more meaningful way.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      Yep. At least in Tropico 4 if all your buildings stop working you can find out why. Half the population went to bed, the other half to the pub (as in, it’s an actual simulation, not a pretended broken one. Well, it at least works better…)

      • stupid_mcgee says:

        Plus, the ability to manage the personnel of the buildings. I always make sure to fire any teachers that have anything below Average for their intelligence. Tropico 4 isn’t without its faults, but I find the whole sim aspect of it to be incredibly rich and a lot of fun.

      • Bhazor says:

        My big problem with Simcity is you can turn a city into nothing but millionaires. Presumably the streets get cleaned and the drains get unclogged by people with six figure salaries.

        In Tropico college graduates will be unhappy working in a farm and no matter how rich and well educated your populace get you still need ignorant poor people to work the docks and farms.

        • Decimal says:

          “Ignorant poor people”

          As opposed to just poor poor people?

          • Snargelfargen says:

            Well yeah, teaching them to read is just asking for trouble.

            (Best not to take a conversation about Tropico too seriously)

          • The Random One says:

            I was going to make an Occupy joke but I wouldn’t put it past them to have made one in the Modern Times DLC.

          • Bhazor says:

            Yes ignorant as in uneducated. The higher their education level, the higher their work aspirations are. So a college graduate isn’t going to vote for you if he ends up working on a farm and living in a tenement.

        • lijenstina says:

          Judging by the world economy the top places are full of ignorant rich people. Poor ignorant people’s less intelligent cousins. :)

    • DickSocrates says:

      It’s all marketing bs. Give a fairly standard or pre-existing feature a new fancy name and people go mad. Like Apple and their ‘retina display’. And it works, don’t describe, name.

      • Ninja Foodstuff says:

        Apple were absolutely the first to produce a commercial product with anything approach that sort of pixel density. A year later and there are still no other laptops on the market that get ~3k resolution on a 15″ screen.

        At least go with voice recognition to make your point.

        • MegaAndy says:

          Iphone 5 with Retina is 1136×640. Most androids are at the moment are 720p: 1280×720… my new Xperia Z is 1080p.

          Yet apple fans will still say but the iphone has a retina display.

        • Triplanetary says:

          The fact that the “retina display” is a meaningless marketing term is proven by the fact that Apple applies it to their MacBooks now. The new MacBooks have an impressive resolution, don’t get me wrong. But Jobs originally pegged the “retina display” as being at least 300 ppi. The iPhone 4’s display is 329 ppi.

          But as you know, ppi drops geometrically as you increase the screen size, so even with its 1600p resolution, the 13-inch MacBook has a density of 229 ppi, which you might recognize as being significantly lower than the first-generation Motorola Droid.

          Not denying that 1600p is still impressive, but calling it a “retina display” despite not even qualifying by their own definition of the term just proves how pointless the term is.

          • Fneb says:

            The 300ppi part of the Retina moniker is to do with how far away you hold the phone from your face on average (at a certain distance with a certain ppi you stop being able to identify individual pixels). By that logic, it’s probably the case that things like the Retina iPad and MacBook Pros stop having pixels that are visible even though the ppi is lower by virtue of the screen being further away. No idea if it fits the same calculations and such though, but that’s probably the logic behind it. Having seen a Retina MacBook Pro, the screen does look pretty flippin’ fantastic.

  6. Zankmam says:

    SimCity 4 + Deluxe Edition + Network/traffic mode, then?

    • codename_bloodfist says:

      Rush Hour is a very weird expansion, but boy does it make the game better.

    • BjarneBiceps says:

      One could try to play the Cities XL series, they are discontinued yes, but certainly better than this Simcity and perhaps not better than Simcity 4 or any of the previous, but it’s as close you’ll get to a new kind of City simulator without EA shooting it in the back of the head.

      To me this Simcity seems unfinished. so many bugs, so many things that are not really working and you can really feel that the intentions are good, but no.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Dimonte says:

    I am one of the suckers who preordered this game. And I am too lazy to claim refund. You can all hate me for enabling EA to get away with this shit.

    And the game gets super boring after first ten or so hours. Economies are unbalanced as hell and the whole model works like pulsing sewage that likes to get lost on its way to treatment facilities.

    • Blackseraph says:

      Condescending insult: I am sure you know better next time.

    • Lemming says:

      Don’t worry, EA were banking on you logging in constantly, so they could monitor your habits for market data, and to sell you DLC. You’ve screwed them over just by not playing any more.

    • PedroBraz says:

      Why claim a refund? You want your account banned and access to all your origin bought games blocked? Its standard policy 101 you know.

      • Arkh says:

        I’d be surprised if he owned rented anything more from EA, you know.

    • Ci2e says:

      Too bad you can’t even sell your key, and it’s stuck to your account.

    • BarryEvans says:

      Thats the problem with being able to pre-order games – it has turned into selling snakeoil. They take a franchise with a good reputation, one that has happy memories for people, then they throw in a little of their own agenda, raise the price and lie about half the functions of the game.
      IT SHOULD BE ILLEGAL!!

  8. hbarsquared says:

    I was ready to preorder this (ooh, European buildings!) before I played the Beta. After that, I was thinking “Okay, a little limited and the city sizes are small. They’ll be bigger in the full game, and there will be more to do.” Luckily, that was enough to hold me off of the preorder.

    There’s no way the small city plots will make it into the full game, right? Right?

  9. Brosepholis says:

    Having argued with Walker about his treatment of Maxis, I have to say I agree with this assessment. It’s an utterly charming game, extremely well polished, but there’s dry rot at the heart of the simulation engine. Whether they found they couldn’t hit the minimum sysreqs with clever sims, or they never tried it in the first place, this game won’t entertain a committed player for longer than a couple of days. There just isn’t enough depth. The tiny city size is another sacrifice to the agent model.

    People may complain that EA shoved this out of the door to try to prevent John Rigatoni from getting fired, but the ‘done when it’s done’ approach didn’t work with Spore either. I feel like some senior people at Maxis have forgotten their love of actually making videogames, and have grown more interested in rather esoteric simulation models. Spore and SimCity have the same problem, looked at through that lens.

  10. Fumarole says:

    I’ll stick with Tropico for my city-building needs.

    • Bhazor says:

      Same here el Presidente.

    • mouton says:

      So, I gather Tropico 4 is better than 3? I found 3 to be basically Tropico 1 with a facelift and a bunch of broken mechanics.

      • Premium User Badge

        RedViv says:

        It enhances everything that was previously great about Tropico, making 4 the actual sequel that is not a mere remake. With the Modern Times expansion it’s the most obvious.

    • derbefrier says:

      I guess I am going to have to try this tropico game out next time I see it on sale but I have to ask is it really good or is it just popular right now because of sim city? I hate to say but the internet has a way of talking up up shitty games that really are not any better when compared to its AAA competitor(torchlight *cough*).

  11. calendar_man says:

    “The moment that I realised my input was barely essential, beyond the initial setup, SimCity became a colourful, cartoon screensaver. A colourful, cartoon screensaver that required a constant internet connection.”

    This is pretty much the worst thing anyone can say about a piece of interactive media…and it still seems too nice given the state the game is in.

  12. Liudeius says:

    I don’t suppose your aunt’s cousin’s sister hasn’t worked in nine months and got a check of 50 million pesos last month for working on Jupiter too?

    • Choca says:

      That doesn’t sound like that much of a sweet deal, Jupiter sucks this time of year.

    • Sander Bos says:

      I know, I know, you’re not supposed to react to spam. But still:
      “Your aunt’s cousin’s sister”
      former roommate. Somebody has been watching too much Spaceballs.

  13. floweringmind says:

    Are you playing Sand Box mode? It sure sounds like it. In Sand Box mode you get a million dollars to start, can build anything you want and could have the city you are talking about in 5-6 hours. The online play is totally different and much more challenging.

    I play online with a friend, which is a lot of fun. It allows us to share resources. Even playing and working together I have put in more 30 hours and started 3 cities until I figured out how to make enough money in the game. It is very easy to run out or go bankrupt. Now that I can pull in a million dollars with my 3rd city we are going to focus on building a great project which takes millions and helps out all the cities.

    Another reason why I wonder if you are playing in Sandbox mode is that online you are required to build up your city hall to be able to unlock city works. These works unlock other building projects. You are limited to 3 in one city. So you are basically interdependent on other cities.

    Personally I have had very few traffic problems as it is easy to upgrade the roads. It only becomes a problem if you are doing a tourist city or gambling city, then you need the roads with train tracks in the middle to deal with congestion.

    Yes there are plenty of things that don’t make sense but that was true in the previous games and it is a game after all and not reality.

    • Adam Smith says:

      I haven’t used sandbox mode even in my private regions (ahem!) although I have been relying on the kindness of strangers when using multiplayer. Apart from my first city, I haven’t had any problems with cashflow though – I did have to save up for a fire station to put out a burning factory district first time around because I was spending frivolously!

    • uh20 says:

      what a shame you cant build up a marvelous city yourself…

      you might say that all this teamwork and interdependence is good, but it’s really bad for those who need/prefer to play by themselves without such things as a constant internet connection.

      not to mention the small city sizes are completely redundant

    • Ninja Foodstuff says:

      It’s almost as if Adam is new to this reviewing lark, right?

  14. TechnicalBen says:

    I thought I’d seen that second image before… http://i2.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/original/000/515/228/b08.jpg

    OMG! They made Streets of Sim City 2!

  15. Bostec says:

    You know it almost sounds like this game is ripe for….shit what do you call them again? micro….no err.. Download con- Damn I don’t know.

  16. Nickel says:

    I very much agree with this article. After ten or so constructed cities I can safely say that even without the always-on drm, the borked traffic flow and the lying population counter I’d still be absolutely bored with this game by this point. I guess it’s time to revisit the Anno and Tropico games.

  17. x. says:

    You know what I want? Simcity Defense Force. One player plays a normal Simcity game, except every now and then ufos and giant ants attack the city. The other players jump into action as soldiers in 3rd person view, and annihilate the bugs and accidentally wreck a few buildings, just like in Earth Defense Force. Someone do this.

    • PatrickSwayze says:

      OH MY. That might be my perfect game.

      The SimCity 4 Japanese cities mod + wot u said = best game ever.

    • Baines says:

      Wreck a few buildings?

      While it would be fun, playing (Japanese) EDF in a city would be like taking a bulldozer to half your map, and killing off half your citizens. Not from the monsters, but from the player fighting the monsters.

      Now, using SimCity as a map editor for EDF levels…

    • Josh W says:

      That is a game that would make me very happy!

  18. satsui says:

    This is exactly what I felt during the beta. I filled up three entire cities in the one hour provided. I didn’t feel challenged and I honestly don’t want to buy the game because I feel like I did everything in that one hour of time. This also includes the fact that some buildings were missing. That’s pathetic!

  19. TWChristine says:

    I don’t personally plan on getting this game, but all the hoopla surrounding it has made me re-install Sim2000 and 3000. And I’m having quite a good time, surprisingly! I say surprisingly, because for the first time in Mayor-ing career I’ve actually had a positive flow of money without using Shift+Fund or some other cheat that just makes me more and more in debt. I sure wish we could get another SimCopter that would allow you to fly in past Sim games. Although I imagine it’d be a clever way of squeezing more sales out of this current iteration.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      I too have been playing SimCity 2000, from GOG. I still feel this was the best SimCity so far. It does have it’s idiosyncrasies. Highways are an utter pain in the neck and are best left ignored, for instance. But both SimCity 3000 and SimCity 4 started to introduce too much complexity in the engine, turning city simulation into too much micromanagement to become enjoyable to anyone but the most dedicated and multitask Mayor.

      When Will Wright said after SimCity 4 that he wanted to go back and create a more approachable SimCity, he did correctly identify the problem SimCity had become. A whole lot of people speak highly of SimCity 4 or suggest we play that instead, but they either forget or don’t know that this game is actually an utter pain in the neck in terms of micromanagement and an extremely complex web of variables relationships that turns any large city into a chaotic experience.

      SimCity (the 2013 one) was supposed to be that more approachable version. A coming back to its roots thing. Unfortunately it is become obvious Maxis failed in finding the right balance between simplicity and boredom.

      • Paul.Power says:

        I honestly find SimCity 4 easier than 2000 or 3000. Yes, there’s a lot more micromanagement, but the fact that you can micromanage makes it easier to balance the ol’ budget.

        • TWChristine says:

          I recently got SC4 (yay sale!) and haven’t really tried it until just the past couple of days. There’s a lot I like about it, such as just the tiny details such as having your roads get built instead of just plopped down, etc. I also like the idea of how “support buildings” can have increased funding for school buses to increase their radius, and then funding for teachers based on student attendance. And in that regard I have to agree with you both. It really does help to balance the budget when I can adjust the funding so that it’s what I need and not more..but then at the same time, having to go to each school/clinic/fire station/police station/hospital/etc to adjust it as demand rises gets really old..especially when you’re hunting and pecking for each building. I appreciate the location of schools from a realism point of view as opposed to SC3000 where as long as I have enough schools to meet demand I’m good, and location doesn’t seem to play much of a part.

          Mario, I have to agree with the highways in SC2000..I always try to use them and then just give up out of frustration! I was quite pleased when I decided to give them a shot in 3000 and found that I was actually able to make it work (for the most part..)! The only problem I have was having two highways cross each other.. I’ve seen screenshots of people that have one going under the other, and I wish I knew how they did that! As it is I have this weird collection of highway+ramps+roads connecting ramps to city streets that then connect to other ramps. :/

      • Banana_Republic says:

        Simplifying or streamlining is one thing. What they did to Sim City though is lobotomize it.

  20. tungstenHead says:

    If SimCity didn’t have the internet connectivity problems that it did (and still has), I wonder if publications and reviewers would have been tripping over themselves to get their reviews out the door first. Because a lot of reviewers were aware of the potential trouble to come from the always online requirement, many took a “wait and see” approach, thus spending more time with the game and becoming more aware of the inherent problems in the game while they waited for the connection problems to get sorted out. It may be that the always online was triply crippling: deflecting interested players early on and lowering review scores (and increasing the negativity inside review text) once for failing to be playable at launch and again for allowing the chinks to be seen.

    • calendar_man says:

      That’s a great point. How much of an effect did the longer gestation period have on the reviews? Don’t most games journalist get a week or less to look over the game before they maek post? I imagine having extra time to explore and examine a product tends to enable more issues to froth up to the surface.

      • Strabo says:

        Not really a big unknown. Giant Bomb, Eurogamer, Adam’s review here, nearly all later reviews (coming out a week or more after the initial server meltdown) take issue with the game itself, not the connection issue. Which makes the early glowing reviews (Polygon…) even more questionable in my opinion. Because they should have seen the issues SimCity has as a simulation already, since they weren’t plagued by server issues.

  21. CMaster says:

    Some RPS forumites have determined that the optimal city design for SC is just one long winding road, as a consequence of the odd simulation behaviour.

    • Snargelfargen says:

      That’s pretty funny. Same strategy works great in the Ceasar games, although there you actually have to seperate residential and industrial districts. Parks help, but not enough.

      SimCity 5: repeating mistakes that city builders solved literally a decade ago.

      • Clovis says:

        The difference is that there were clear ways to deal with the problem in Caesar. In the first title you had to just know the walking algorithm, but in the later ones you had actual tools (stop sign things) to direct traffic. Figuring out the best shape to get various services spread out was pretty interesting. And, just like with most Sim City games, you really had to work through several cities to finally get the best buildings.

        I was excited when I first heard about Glass Box, but I actually did think about the Caesar games. I was wondering how Maxis would deal with the pathfinding – not well, it turned out.

    • Josh W says:

      I was thinking about this, hilbert curve your way to victory, as if you make a set of turns to tight, you can always zoom out that section to the less wrinkly version of the curve!

  22. cptgone says:

    “The GlassBox engine, so attractive in theory, is unconvincing in practice”
    Again, AI falls short, and multiplayer is the answer.
    With the current population boom, who needs simulated people?
    EA should sell us real people to play god with. prolly would be cheaper, too.
    and why bother modeling calamities when overpopulation will provide more real ones than we can handle anyway?

  23. analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

    Adam Smith, I was expecting some Ouija board driven narrative on socio political problems encountered within the Glass Engine that could be overcome with the free market. ‘The Wealth of Very Small Nations’ etc!

    Instead I got Adam Smith telling me the game was shite! Booo!

    I want Adam Smith to tell me EA are ‘Top Lads’ for extracting cash from brainless sheep!

  24. zul says:

    Adam, I appreciate your thoughts. I get the same way with some types of games… the “sinking feeling in the stomach” thing gets me every time while playing shallow games. Games that seem to have depth and personality but the moment you scratch the surface it all dissipates. I certainly wasnt going to even come close to buying SimCity (as much as I wanted too while watching those first dev videos last year!), after all the shittyness surfaced with its launch. And I will give it an especially wide berth now that I have heard how shallow it is.

  25. Bo Steed says:

    Ah, Dwarf Fortress. Now there’s a simulation for you. Guess I know what I’ll be playing for the next few hours. No, definitely not SimCity.

    • Geen says:

      By hours you mean days, right? DF is frickin’ huge. And complicated. And AWESOME.

      • PedroBraz says:

        DF might look huge, but thats mostly due to the fact that its very unstreamlined. There are at least a dozen buildings and items that serve the same function but this time with a different color / name which adds to the confusion. Its the individualism of the dwarves and their behavior that makes it special, the procedural nature of the world and the ability / nessesity to shape it afterwards with various mechanical items.
        Damn it. Now I want to play it!

  26. Premium User Badge

    Gap Gen says:

    I liked Caesar II for that reason; you build up a city, get to a certain point, embezzle all of it money and start anew.

  27. TwwIX says:

    I’ve switched over to Planetside 2 because of Battlefield 3’s disappointing execution and i have done the same with Sim City by switching over to the Tropico games. I would have never even bothered with these titles if it wasn’t for EA’s greed, incompetence and shallow game design. The only thing that EA has managed to achieve with their idiocy is lose a long time supporter of both of those franchises. I’ve supported the Sim City franchise since the Commodore 64’s days and the Battlefield games long before 1942 even came out. Remember Codename Eagle? Yeah, anyway. Both DICE and Maxis can go fuck themselves as far as i am concerned. They’ve become nothing but hollow shells of their former selves.

    • Premium User Badge

      Martel says:

      Funny, the 2 games I’m playing right now are Planetside and Tropico 4, both recently snagged.

  28. Fallorn says:

    Somewhat ironically, I enjoyed the game more when it wasn’t letting me play it… When it didn’t let me play enough to realize how broken it is.

  29. elikal says:

    Well said, man.

    Alas on top ALL of my cities after days of work vanished or were reset, so all my work was repreatadly lost.

  30. crinkles esq. says:

    Adam, a great piece of writing. This bit, “showing me a lot, telling me very little and barely listening at all” could basically describe the majority of modern big publisher games.

  31. DigitalSignalX says:

    So.. back to waiting for a Settlers or Anno release.

    • Premium User Badge

      Thurgret says:

      I certainly got my money’s worth out of Anno 2070, and to a slightly lesser extent, its two immediate predecessors, but city-builder games have grown on me more as the years have passed.

      As far as I’m aware, The Settlers has been trundling steadily downhill for a decade or more by now, as they tried to take something charming and unique and hammered it into bog-standard RTSness, although perhaps it turned around at some stage — I stopped paying attention.

      Assuming you’re up to date on both series, try Tropico.

  32. Rovenkar says:

    Looks like Adam have read a lot of “Brave new world” lately :)

  33. JimmyBlanka says:

    As someone who never gets into big simgames or any sort of RTS except for League of Legends (and SMNC, Rest in Peace! *sniff*) I am quite enjoying myself with this new SimCity, it is very accessible. But the biggest problem is definitely the city-size, not only does it just look weird how small the city is, it hinders you so many times when trying to build new stuff to meet new requirements or concerns that it gets really annoying. Traffic is also a big problem, some of the casinos still don’t make profit, its all just a big mess. Im still playing it, mainly because me and 4 other friends are in a region and working towards a “Great Work” which is good fun, but they seriously need to fix these issues soon.

    Considering I paid 0 for this game is probably the reason Im taking this a bit more lighthearted, but still, its an okay game and if they fix some of these crucial issues, it can only get better.

  34. bulletbill88 says:

    Great review. I just want to add my two cents worth as I love city builder games and I hope that the failure of this Simcity isn’t interpreted by publishers as a sign that these types of games aren’t popular. I purchased the game and have played it a couple of times since launch. I haven’t had much trouble with the servers, my problems with the game stem from the fact that it simply isn’t fun to play. There isn’t a lot of challenge, and you are constantly working against the mechanics of the game which want to send you down a particular path. I can’t terraform, I can’t build sprawling suburbs. I can build a couple of densely packed city blocks with a coal mine next to the city hall, but I can’t build a zoo or a marina, a highway through town or a major metropolis.

    The fact that R, C and I aren’t linked is the real deal breaker for me. What is the point of an industry town if my sims don’t need industry? What is the point of C if sims can get their shopping fix from parks? In a lot of ways it feels like a SImcity game made by people that didn’t play any of the previous titles, and aren’t much on sim games in general. It has been dummed down, simplified and in the process most of the things that made Simcity fun are gone.

    Finally, I would note that the regional level sharing – an idea which the game was apparently built around – works very poorly. As an example, say I build a power plant with 50MWh spare capacity. Can I sell that 50MWh to any one of the three (max) cities I am connected to? Not if I am connected to more than 1 city as the game divides whatever is my excess by the number of cities and the maximum I can sell to any one city is the result. So if two other cities are in my region then I can sell 25MWh to each city but no more than that. Moreover, the game doesn’t really give you any incentive to cooperate, and it does not make it fun to mess with other cities either (say by charging them extortionate rates for power etc.) The only way to really mess with other cities is to let ‘germs’ (crime, pollution etc) overrun your town and then spillover onto your neighbors. So I can’t mess with my mates and none of us really get anything from trying to cooperate.

    I don’t see myself going back to play Simcity, but I hope city simulation games continue.

  35. fuzzy_dunlop says:

    man the city size is really really annoying its making the game less fun than it should be.

    • Banana_Republic says:

      Yeah. The city sizes as they are now, really should be just neighbourhoods of the actual city simulation. That city should encompass at least the entire map that’s been provided. I really can’t understand how the designers actually though that those teensy little “city” plots were going to be enough for a proper city simulator.

      They didn’t just drop the ball with this decision, they ran it back into their own end zone, coughed it up and let the other team score. It’s really that awful.

  36. oyog says:

    It just occurred to me why we were restricted to an hour of play time for the “beta”. I had a great time in that hour and didn’t get the chance to see any broken gameplay.

  37. Snoken says:

    As much as I liked the article I have to say it does barely cover any of the real issues that make this game “inherently broken”. I’ll give you a couple of examples for glitches and bugs that are to be found in this new game that I like to call Bugville Simulation 5.

    1) The recycling bug; this occurred to me in nearly every city I built that had more than 150k inhabitants. It is a known bug that somehow these very expensive buildings decide to pile up your recycling and not produce or deliver any materials to your trade depots anymore after a couple of days in-game. The only fix to this is to have multiple buildings of that type so if one of them breaks down you just demolish it an build a new one. Considering these cost about a 150k simileons to build and fully upgrade I would consider that to be one major game breaking aspect that should have been fixed a couple days after the release. And how did they not notice that in the beta to begin with? Beats me! By trial and error a buddy of mine found out that by building two or three of these and building a road-loop around one of them making it’s trucks drive in circles not getting anywhere because they were cut of the grid at least had the positive effect of not making the two other ones break down anymore. PS: that building is only the most important one in the entire game…

    2) Building processors; since they depend on your recycling plants to work properly you can probably guess where this is going. You guessed right they break down production because they rely on plastics and alloys that you won’t be generating after a while because your recycling centers say:”Noooo, we need more lemon pledge!”… (this is how I managed to ruin my first 180k metropolis.)

    3) Natural disasters; people who have played the game for a while probably have noticed how disgusting the feeling is when you thought you had managed to get your already broken city to somehow work again and generate some profits. “BAM” the mighty Godzilla comes to ruin the day by destroying all of your vital buildings. He managed to kill my water and sewage treatment plant and my fully upgraded solar power plant with 16 panels worth 40k a piece in on single epic run. 8 hours of struggling and sweating reduced to rubble in less than 3 minutes. WTF? Always when you’re starting to get stuff done the game decides to f*** you six ways till Sunday. I can just advise you to play the game in sandbox mode because after getting hit by meteor strikes that pollute and spread radioactivity (it will never go away but it spreads radioactivity rendering whole areas of your all so little space virtually useless forever) you probably will have to quit the game and start over anyways.

    4) Pollution; it plain and simply ruins the game. I built a city working on solar power and the only thing polluting the air was one single garbage incinerator. I did not even build any industry since I wanted to attract tourist and keep it as clean and simple as possible. 80k Inhabitants 0% ground pollution but yet still air pollution like there is no tomorrow being randomly generated by an evil sea-breeze of doom that came from the edge of the empty region. I know that traffic jams create some air pollution but the thing was my city was running on 75 busses and 50 streetcars with virtually no traffic or congestions anywhere, yet still all of my low, mid and high wealth idiots kept complaining about germs making them sick. Even a fully upgraded hospital with wellness vans can’t handle that crap. So you don’t want to imagine what happens if your neighbor is building a heavily polluting industry city right next to your doorstep. And enjoy the ground pollution if your garbage and recycling trucks are stuck in traffic forever (or if they randomly decide not to properly work anymore see the recycling part of this rant).

    5) Traffic; not much to say here, it got patched and it plain and simply does not work. I had to destroy a city because one bus got stuck on on stop refusing to pick up the sims and clogging that avenue for 5 straight days. I figured it might be an idea to take the bus stop away and I was hoping for that to fix the issue. Oh boy! Of course it did not! The same ol’bus got stuck on the next stop and so on and on and on untill I ripped the town appart and started from scratch. Note at this point that this event occured after the awesome traffic patch, so yes, the traffic is still buggy and don’t even think that they fixed public services which brings me to the next game breaking bit.

    6) Public services; not much to say here. The patch was supposed to give them priority over all of the other vehicles in traffic. No, they ain’t got any… Buildings will still burn down because of idiotic fire trucks getting stuck in nirvana and crimes will be committed because cops prefer to drink coffee and eat donuts rather than be efficient at catching bad guys. Note that education level will make the fire department pretty much useless because there won’t be any fires anymore… (maybe in industry cities but I did not really care to check that out).

    7) Screwed up mayor approval; To cut to the chase, Sims are extremely lazy, dumb and whiny. Too many deaths they said and left my town, checked the health stats 0 deaths a day. Too much crime they said, checked the safety panel 0 crimes committed per day yet still all of my building where red and infested with crime, wtf… We need schools or we leave they said, 80k inhabitants one grade and high school and a fully upgraded community college would not change their minds. Keep in mind that I have two friends in the region with fully upgraded universities and all the means of public transportation. No help here… Basically you just need to treat your sims like shit and they will generate money, give them the all their is and they will give you a 50% approval rating for being too generous. I would really love to send Godzilla to their homes. Ah yeah and mid to high wealth sims have a tendency not to work at all. So you might as well have only low wealth sims, since they seem to be the only people to fill in jobs in Bugville and they have the highest density buildings. 200k population and more impossibroooo without them.

    8) Random money gift bug; I had -30k income an hour and 60k money left. Then I got 1,1 million simileons as a gift from a friend to fix this, all of a sudden Godzilla came to visit and my balance said 10 million simileons… I build all of the most expensive tourist attractions and was still generating -35k/hr but bam 4 more million gift appeared out of nowhere. I really lost all hope at that moment.

    9) Tourists; LOL! all of your buildings that attract tourists need to be on one avenue that is connected to all of the mass transit buildings because sims tourists go into the closest building they find until it is packed then they move to the next building. Good luck with your casino town (mid to high wealth casinos are not profitable anyway). This also makes up for some very unsexy city layouts… :P

    I could go on like this for hours but I will stop right here. This game needs to be completely redone. In my opinion this is not a Sim City but a bug ridden mess and people should be entitled to throw heavy rocks at Maxis’ staff for letting a disaster like this one happen.

  38. Dread Pirate Rogers says:

    “…a dwarf dooming a fortress by opening the wrong door at the wrong time because he fancies a brew.”

    I believe you mean “…craves a sock currently on the corpse of the poor idiot that ran away from the fortress when the goblins showed up.”

  39. Josh W says:

    The problem with sim city in my eyes is that it is too understandable. Someone looked at their simulation and went “I can see exactly how that is going to do sim city”, after they solved bringing power and water and everything else into the same framework, they considered their work done.

    But the problem is that by making a game that they can naturally understand before they built it, that runs on enormously simple principles, they made a game that everyone can understand before playing it, you read a review, you see a video, and you know 80% of what the game is, you start making a single city, and halfway through, yep, my work is done, just this forever until achievements end.

    Me and some friends had some lovely fun playing sim city for about 6 hours, and will probably never play it again. If the game let you fastforward faster we would have had about the same level of satisfaction in 3, because of the time we spent simply waiting for the city to grow. We wouldn’t have had as many strange conversations about how Andrew Ryan is actually a communist, because he gives a vast amount of underwater infrastructure to the people to be used by anyone, asking for very little in return (This argument is flawed, as we discussed.) or how you should always slowly increase taxes on rich people very slowly in step with compound interest, as that way they will never notice, and just be happy about sudden tax cuts…… but we find that to be true of any game with slow sillyness in it.

    If they had actually given you tools to play with pathfinding itself, then perhaps new layers of depth would have appeared. Bus lanes, power lanes, poo lanes, all winding and weaving their way through your cramped city and sometimes circling endlessly on themselves to make some people very unhappy.

    Take the hard bit, the mysterious bit, and make that the game, if zoning is simple, move on from it to the bits that become hard.

  40. securitywyrm says:

    I was able to get a refund. Yes, I bought it digitally on Origin. When you call, they’ll say they don’t give refunds. Say that “The product delivered is not as advertised, I am requesting a refund.” Just go in the “No refunds” “I am requesting a refund” loop a few times, and you can move to the next step of the process. Then when they say “Well we have patches coming out to fix that” respond with “Then, when the patches are released and I learn that the game has been fixed, I will re-purchase it. EA is not Kickstarter, I do not want them to have my money now for a product that they might, emphasis might, deliver later.”

  41. gingerbill says:

    I think the review is 100% spot on . For the first 5-10 hours i played i was loving it , it was fun to watch the city grow , then you realise its all a broken mess and nothing behind the scenes works . The game was a big fat con . I am not an EA hater who moans about them all the time but they did cross a line with me on this game.