Citybound Aims To Be What We Wanted From SimCity

By Nathan Grayson on March 4th, 2014 at 10:00 am.

Beneath a mess of half-baked systems and massively detrimental online requirements, SimCity actually had some pretty cool ideas. Simulation of individual people and entities? Community options for those who want them? Curved roads? All interesting stuff on paper. Unfortunately, the reality of Maxis’ latest city builder failed (rather miserably) to live up to those promises, and Maxis has been struggling to build something workable from the pieces ever since. Enter Citybound. Its goal? To construct a city sim from the ground-up with a focus on single-player, out-of-the-not-a-box moddability, and simulating a truly sizable geographical region – not an itsy bitsy ant hill town. Also curved roads. Always curved roads.

It’s still relatively early, but many core systems – for instance, road laying, simulation of individual entities/objects, and procedural buildings – are already up and running. The plan is to release paid alphas and betas at a reduced price while ramping up fairly quickly with new features. Here are the basic pillars of this city. Sadly, none of them are rock ‘n’ roll.

  • It will be a single-player game that works completely offline.
  • The goal is to simulate one whole, huge region at once - no need for tiny city lots or artificial city interaction dynamics.
  • It will be affordable and will not rely on DLC.
  • Alpha and Beta versions will be available for a reduced price.
  • Moddability will be a priority, not an afterthought.

And here are the longer-term plans:

Planned Core Gameplay Elements:

  • Zoning, dynamic creation of buildings based on demand
  • Residential/commercial/industry dynamics, micro-economy
  • Electricity, water & sewage management
  • Service buildings, service coverage (health, police, fire, education, …)
  • Public transportation
  • Agriculture

Additional planned features:

  • Terrain: hills, rivers, lake, ocean
    • Vegetation
    • Terraforming
    • perhaps even dynamical changes (flooding, landslides, …)
  • Data maps & graphs
  • Day/night cycle
  • Seasonal cycle
  • Citizen inspection, opinion polls, social media

And here’s a bit about individual simulation that makes me breath a sigh of relief because goodness SimCity really got lost in the trees and totally missed the forest on that one:

“Citybound uses microscopic agent-based simulation, but only where it helps immersion and realism. It will simulate individual cars and pedestrians. It will not simulate individual poop blobs.”

So there’s a nice mic drop for you.

I am, of course, skeptical about one person’s ability to pull all of this off, but creator Anselm Eickhoff has set up a nice blueprint with copious screenshots, brief videos, and other visual elements, so the groundwork is definitely in place. The in-game visuals could use some work, but again, it’s all still rather early. Naturally, then, the other big concern is that this project could fizzle out before it ever really picks up steam, and I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see on that front. We’re talking about unproven talent here, so nothing is really certain.

Eickhoff is currently taking donations on his own site, and chatter on Reddit has led to potential avenues for collaboration and edification of the original prototype. So things are off to a strong start, but there’s still a long road ahead. Let’s hope it curves smoothly – creamily, even – rather than leading to a jarring, whiplash-inducing dead end.

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60 Comments »

  1. Daniel Klein says:

    A single person making a useful city builder? UNHEARD OF!

    (For the record, the WIT about Banished was one of the few times I disagreed completely with an RPS review, but in a happy way. Yes, there would be a group of people loving the game. That group, it turns out, is large enough to keep the game at the top of the Steam charts for over a week now.)

    • cpy says:

      I love banished! Already have 3 lost cities and 1 big city (700+) on easy and no disasters, because well, i need to learn stuff first lol!
      Next stop: medium diff with disasters, yeah!

      • Premium User Badge Rizlar says:

        Afaik easy-medium-hard just means what you start off with.

        My village is starting to pick up pace… had to create a second town centre to expand (bloody mountains), so now I have a twin-villages with farmland in between setup. Pop is dramatically rising and I have started to experience people getting crushed by rocks and nomadic migrants Yay!

        • cpy says:

          I did not mean starting conditions, i meant easy medium and hard climate. I guess harsh winter makes banished harder.

    • Chalky says:

      With you about the banished review. It seemed extremely unfair to be so critical about relatively minor interface issues and a dull pallet from an independent game made by a single person. Half of the complaints about the game were due to the reviewer finding it too hard due to either not playing or paying attention to the tutorial.

      You’d have thought RPS’s support of indie developers would extend to not raking a game over the coals for not having the polish of a triple A title.

      I hope they’re more fair to this game when it appears.

      • cpy says:

        You mean how excelent AAA game like Simcity 5* is polished, bugfree with thousands announced features**?
        (* not 5)
        (** features are bugged and not working)

  2. programmdude says:

    I personally think making it single player only is a little disappointing, the idea of being able to share regions or even just sharing stuff over regions is a good one, it’s just that simcity both made a bad implementation, and forced it onto you far too much.

    • Baboonanza says:

      I think it’s a sensible move given the scope of the project. Making a multiplayer simulation is not an easy task and it would be better to focus on getting the core of the project right first.

    • KDR_11k says:

      The SimCity approach felt like a half-baked version of Anno’s inter-island trade stuff.

    • P.Funk says:

      Back in my day sharing a region was easy. It involved sending someone a zip file with your save game in it.

      Apparently with the advent of the cloud everyone has become incapable of manually managing their own files and transferring them.

  3. bstard says:

    Software firms like Maxis, EA and CA do generate much longed for dramatic relief. Oh and whoever did the Divine Comedy of our days that Rambo game.

  4. Premium User Badge AngelTear says:

    the other big concern is that this project could fizzle out before it ever really picks up steam

    But how could it ever pick up Steam if it’s not yet been Greenlit?

    ….
    I’ll show myself out

  5. The First Door says:

    I fear I’m unable to get too excited about this as I worry about this being another Subversion. Lots of good systems, but the developer being unable to make it actually fun! Still, it will be interesting to see it develop, if nothing else.

  6. Spacewalk says:

    “Sadly, none of them are rock ‘n’ roll.”

    I once tried laying a brick wall to extend my shed using melted down Styx, Quiet Riot, Slade and Runaways vinyl as mortar but it fell down when we got the first bad storm and getting the permit was a nightmare. Maybe that’s how they roll in whatever clown town Starship hail from but I just found it a colossal waste of time and effort.

  7. darkhog says:

    Great game. When preorders/early access are up, I’m going to buy it.

    On side note: steam added games I never bought to my Steam library, including Reus, Serious Sam HD, The Banner Saga Factions and some f2p games including those which apparently aren’t available in my region. Investigate.

  8. Zyx says:

    In a strange, fucked up way, EA games is responsible for this.

  9. Wulfram says:

    I’m a bit put off by how “not the latest Sim City” it seems to be being pitched as.

    • timethor says:

      Hey, if that’s the game he wants to make, but I agree the “priorities and focus areas” list doesn’t sound very creative/inspired.

      At least he hasn’t started a Kickstarter like the Civitas-guy who got $100.000 in pledges based on a list of all the ways his game wasn’t going to be like Simcity. (before cancelling the project, but still)

    • P.Funk says:

      Why would you be? It should encourage you that he’s smart enough to know his target demographic.

      Lets face it. City building games are a lot like the Fantasy genre. Everything is defined by the Lord of the Rings, even if its doing its best to avoid similarities it at all costs. Sim City has always sat right in the middle of the city building genre soaking up the vast majority of the attention and sales. With the most recent iteration being an absolute abortion of what made the genre, and previous Sim City titles, great it makes perfect sense that right now the biggest hole in this market is the one left by the enormous disappointment from Sim City.

      What are people most clamouring for? The game they wished Sim City to be, so this guy said “great, I always wanted to make a game like Sim City and it turns out everyone wants one now too because holy crap did the latest one tease them badly”.

      I think its just needlessly cynical to be turned off. What creativity do we REALLY want anyway? The vast majority of people would really rather see a refreshed version of Sim CIty 4 because despite its age it is still a helluva game, and if the exact same feature list were ported to a more modern engine I don’t see why that alone couldn’t sell millions of copies.

      I think this nonsense about “innovation’ or “creativity” in the pitch is just that. We want a sandbox game, so give us 4 sides of lumber, nail them together, and start throwing in the sand. Given its indie one man nature I figure the moddability is going to be key to its success. This means most of the creativity is going to come from the needy public who always in this genre knew how to provide for themselves anyway.

      I think cynicism and the small man is becoming an obnoxious trope in this time of near-post-kickstarter-emergence fury. I however am guardedly optimistic, but if you know how to be optimistic about this kind of project you’d realize that just putting together a great engine for the community to mod would be something special, considering how closed-box the triple-A scene has become.

  10. rikvanoostende says:

    Interesting, I haven’t played a city building game in Java since… Minecraft?

    • rustybroomhandle says:

      It’s not Java – it’s Javascript using WebGL.

      • KDR_11k says:

        How’s that stuff in terms of computation performance? I can see why Maxis claimed that larger cities would cause a lot of CPU strain so having an efficient agent simulation will be critical.

        • LionsPhil says:

          Not as awful as it used to be (JS JITs are getting good), but still an order of magnitude worse than using a more conventional language for simulation heavy-lifting, like C++.

          (And the static properties of a language like C++ are useful for large projects. It’s the dominant language for game engine development for a reason.)

          Obviously, when making a single-player game with a feature bullet-point for “offline play, it’s not the new SimCity, really, that’s our most important thing!!!!!”, you want to make it a webpage. Because, webs. And also nets. Mobile! HTML5! It’s the future, you know.

          Edit:

          Because the game needs things like file-system access (for savegames), it will be bundled with its own fullscreen browser (node-webkit) as a standalone package.

          Oh jesus, seriously? This is the direction we’re going now?

          • rustybroomhandle says:

            The standalone will run using node-webkit. It’s no worse than standalone Flash games really.

          • The First Door says:

            I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who read what it was being programmed in and how it was going to be delivered and got a bit worried. I just get the feeling as the project gets bigger it’s going to bump into all sorts of problems and limitations, even if I really hope it doesn’t.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Q: What are the advantages of deploying as a web application?
            A: Your users do not need to install any software, and everything they run does so in a sandbox, making it a low security risk for them to try it. Deployment is entirely under your control and you can roll out new versions as and when you want. Platform is at least half under your control; you “only” have to deal with browser variation, rather than variation of the whole stack under your whole application.

            Q: How many of these apply when shipping someone a bespoke, modified browser and saying “here, install this”?
            A: Uh…

          • Premium User Badge Malcolm says:

            That is a total “WTF!?” moment from a development perspective. If I was being charitable I would cite the cross-platform benefits of using a bespoke browser-based approach. But wouldn’t Unity (or even Adobe AIR) be a more sane choice?

            It smacks more of someone who only knows Javascript and isn’t prepared to learn a more suitable language/environment. Although I guess it could also run as a “Windows 8 Modern App” with little modification – Windows RT users rejoice!

          • SominiTheCommenter says:

            Atwood’s law rears its ugly head once again. For fuck’s sake.

          • DrollRemark says:

            The very thought of trying to write a full game in JavaScript makes me cry a little, inside.

          • Premium User Badge FriendlyFire says:

            Agent simulation in Javascript with the whole game in a browser? What, you want a simulation of a few thousand agents at best?

            What in the hell? This’d be a difficult task even in C++, but in Javascript it’s like asking to fail.

      • Ergates_Antius says:

        Aaaand there goes any hope of this actually being good.

      • Caerphoto says:

        Oh my.

        I’m something of a JavaScript fanboy, and even I think this is a bad idea.

        Doing the UI stuff in JS is probably fine (just like a large chunk of WoW’s UI is done with Lua), but the heavy lifting really should be done with a static, compiled language.

  11. Kollega says:

    Okay, this? This is absolutely FUCKING AWESOME. This is news of the month for me. This is something I wanted, and dreamt of, and talked about for several years now. Maybe it won’t be as expansive or luxurious as an AAA city builder, but if it gets popular, people will start modding in features. Overall, I hope this game succeeds, because I’ve been long waiting for something like it.

  12. Loque says:

    A one-man project for a “true” complex and deep SimCity experience? Not gonna happen, sorry.

    • Eery Petrol says:

      You are right. But for that reason the developer was smart to make moddability a core feature. With a very enthousiastic platform available for this kind of concept, the dev will very likely get away with just building the fundament of a game and leaving the rest up to an eager community.

      After the initial state it will be misguiding to call this a one-man project.

  13. Trespasser in the Stereo Field says:

    I’d be less skeptical if it wasn’t so overtly “take this EA, and take that, too!”

  14. Tekrunner says:

    So wait, how is this different from SimCity 4?

  15. Solidstate89 says:

    Citybound is written completely in JavaScript, it uses WebGL for 3D graphics.

    Aaaaaand, now I’ve lost all interest.

  16. Retzinsky says:

    This annoys me slightly. Let me explain why.

    I’m developing something very similar to this at the moment. A lot of the things on his to-do list, I’ve already done. Curved roads, road splitting, deleting, zoning, an economic loop, arbitrary lanes per road, “on ramp” style freeform road connections, data maps for things like land value. All working.

    However, I wouldn’t dream of showing it to anybody. Why? Because it’s not a game yet. It’s a very interesting technology prototype, but there’s more to a game than being able to snap roads together. For example, right now I’m writing the boring stuff that nobody wants to do. The interface. An options menu. Support for multiple languages. Reconfigurable key bindings. A lot of that stuff can stall a one man project like this and god knows a lot of these projects sink without trace.

    A lot of the higher level systems are also very tricky to get right. If I’d made some announcement months ago back when all I had was a basic road system and some vehicle pathfinding I’d be looking back right now feeling like a goddamn idiot for thinking I was close to having anything playable.

    I wish this guy the best of luck. Maybe he’s just some programming genius who can actually pull it off in a reasonable timeframe. I do worry though that this announcement is a little bit premature.

    • Premium User Badge TaurusI76 says:

      I feel you. I’m currently in the same situation, only a bit less far in development I guess. I’ve got a working prototype that has some gameplay elements in it, but it lacks a lot (a lot!) of stuff. I’m not aiming for a complete city-building game, but something similar with focus on certain aspects of a city.
      Right now rewriting it in another language because the prototype has some serious performance limitations.
      I often wondered what would be the best strategy for my game. Keep it secret until it’s pretty enough? Go public from the start and check out the feedback it gets? Work alone without pressure until it goes somewhere or you give up? Or go public and get some pressure/motivation from excited gamers?

      I still don’t know what’s the right thing to do. I sort of went public by putting the prototype up on a website, but without doing a lot of advertisement, so the amount of responses was kind of limited.

      Well, I wish you too the best of luck for your game. I hope you will go public at some point and I can support you.

      • P7uen says:

        Both of you have the same options as this guy and try and get publicity too, so try not to be annoyed (although I probably would be too).

        Personally, I can never be bothered to follow games that aren’t released yet or alphas, kickstarters and the like, but if this was already a game I probably would have impulse-bought it today.

        If you made the decision to keep it until you’re ready, more power to you, I say. Follow your heart, etc etc, and you’re probably more likely to get downloads and sales from people like me. Good luck chaps!

    • Premium User Badge Rizlar says:

      Was going to post a comment along the lines of ‘nice roads, but…’, but I will just +1 this instead.

      Keep doing what you’re doing, the world needs more glorious city building games!

    • The Random One says:

      Show off your prototypes, man! People love prototypes.

  17. derbefrier says:

    sounds cool but only one person? I’ll check back n 5 years when it might be done.

  18. DrollRemark says:

    Proper agent simulation, and yet that gif shows cars spontaneously appearing and driving without purpose?

    • zaphod42 says:

      That was my first thought too. Clearly this is still in the conceptual / on paper stage, and that video may mislead anybody who is quickly skimming the article.

      TLDR: Single developer makes tons of claims. Nothing will come of it. More at 9.

  19. Iskariot says:

    I am very, very interested.
    After having bought every single sim city game I decided to skip the last one, because my trust of EA was already reduced to zero. Never have I been more content not buying something. Best gaming related decision I ever made.
    I did buy Sim City 4 Deluxe for the second time recently. This time on Steam. Still a great game, but nevertheless a bit aging. So I am looking forward to a modern take on this genre that does not try to rip you off.
    If this delivers I will surely buy it when it is finished.

  20. Lemming says:

    If it’s Kickstarted/on greenlight, I’ll totally back it. I don’t really like donating to personal sites as it feels more like throwing money into a void.