Walled City: SimCity Goes Offline Today

By Craig Pearson on March 18th, 2014 at 4:00 pm.

In a final [humiliating capitulation]/[act of goodwill and community empowerment] Maxis will today release SimCity’s offline mode, freeing city builders everywhere from the terrifying fear that a cleaner at the Origin data center will accidentally unplug the servers as he hoovers up the hopes and dreams of the developers. At the time of writing (lunchtime on Tuesday the 18th), the servers are down as the game prepares for the update that will mean the next time the servers are down, you’ll be able to play.

We knew this was coming. A blog post in January detailed the work it had taken to unpick that huge, clumsy design decision, which wasn’t an insignificant amount. Now it’s sorted, players will be able to play a multicity game offline. There are casualties, like the Citylog, friends list and leaderboards, but those aren’t really about building the best functioning cities, are they?

There’s not a lot more to add to this, but I hope that lessons have been learned. Given that it’s taken Maxis almost a year to undo this one huge error, anyone who doesn’t take something away from it should probably have their keyboard filled with wasps.

Anyway, here is a trailer about SimCity disasters. I shall make no further comment.

I quite like hearing from users about contentious games. Has anyone stuck with it? If so, what was the long-term effects of always online? If not, what made you quit?

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57 Comments »

  1. sunarinelentari says:

    I got very bored of SimCity very quickly. I went back for the expansion and then regretted it. The always online thing never bothered me, I just set regions to private and threatened my router with death if my net dropped.

  2. TNG says:

    I find it interesting that the offline patch release date (before the delay to today) was going to be 1 year after the release of the game, March 5. Hell of a coincidence.

  3. dorn says:

    Does this offline mode include no Uplay? If not then it isn’t worth anything.

    • Craig Pearson says:

      Technically it does, but only because it uses Origin and not Uplay. it still requires Origin.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      I still find it hilarious that lots of people find a slightly annoying bit of extra software to be a total gamebreaker. Don’t buy this game because its a total heap of shit. Not because it requires Origin.

      • Lemming says:

        Do you though? Do you find it continually hilarious? Because you should probably be locked up with no access to sharp things if that’s the case.

      • DodgyG33za says:

        I don’t know why.

        I prefer to have all of my games on one shelf. Not on two or more shelves in separate rooms with security guards who may or may not be there, and may or may not have to take instruction from their masters as to whether they have the right procedures to let me in, and who all insist on showing me advertising before letting me go through the door.

        Personally I think the correct number of such guards should be zero, but I reluctantly recognise that the security guard does at least look after my shelf and ensures that it comes with me when I change house. But there is absolutely no additional utility from having two or more such guards.

      • Rapzid says:

        Yeah it was interesting how so many reviewers even were focused on the online at launch and completely missed how broken it was. Sophie at PAR gave it a glowing report. Polygon kept dropping it’s score. Then two weeks later we find out the simulation is ballz and the game is crap even when you’re able to connect :|

        • HadToLogin says:

          In their defense, most of those reviews were made in “glassbox environment”, in EAs offices, with highly limited time.
          And in first hours, when you build your Sim Village/Town, new Sim City is fun. But when it changes into Cities, more and more design problems become apparent.

  4. zaprowsdower says:

    This is a win-win for EA: they don’t have to pay to maintain servers for a failing game and it makes it seem like they’re finally listening to their customers. It’s too bad that what really killed Sim City for me was the miniscule, severely limiting city sizes.

    • Maxheadroom says:

      ditto. Tiny cities killed it for me too.

      Offline play was never really a huge issue for me and this only feels like a victory cos they were so adamant that removal of their ‘always-online it’s totally not DRM honest’ mode was impossible

    • Kerbal_Rocketry says:

      The Tiny Cities are why i’m not buying it till they patch that. the amount of space avaible to build in an entire region is less than a single simcity 4 city!
      In older simcities you would need multiple fire-stations, police stations, schools(as much as i hate the tiny catchment areas), hospitals and utilities.
      You could build suburbs, or have a giant sprawling commercial district, hell you could build giant parks and put buffer zones between your polluters and your citizens!

      • zaprowsdower says:

        EA has said they won’t even approach increasing the city sizes. We’ll have to wait for a talented modder to do it.

      • tyren says:

        Sadly, it seems the limits of Glassbox’s simulation cause crippling complications with the way the AI behaves if you increase the city sizes beyond a certain point. Which really makes me wonder why they were so eager to hype Glassbox considering how “quirky” it was at launch and how much less it turned out to be than they promised.

    • ludde says:

      Really thought they would’ve taken the opposite direction in that regard. That’s what I fantasized about back in SimCity 4 anyway, large sprawling cities connected to each other seamlessly.

      I would’ve been happy with anything improving the size over SimCity 4 really, but since they didn’t I never was very interested.

    • DThor says:

      From the “it’s not the meat it’s the motion” department, I assumed the reason they limited the size was due to some layer of incredible complexity that simply can’t practically scale to megatropolis networks the size of a planet? So you folks that bought into the game don’t feel that pulsing underneath the game play? That’s sort of a shame, and strikes me as one of those basic prototyping things they should have looked at back in early development.

  5. the_old_pk says:

    Maxis left a dirty taste mouth with their “city” builder.

    • Lemming says:

      Maxis burned its bridges with me after Spore.

      • strangeloup says:

        Is Spore really that bad? I never played it at the time, and it’s on cheapo on Steam currently.

        • mr.black says:

          Is Spore bad? No. But it does follow similar engagement curve to what people describe with Simcity – first 10 minutes of an era you’re having a time of your life, brain exploding with hype and possibilities. Then it gets to be a bit repetitive and you start to see cracks in the construction, start to, if you so desire, game the system and its rules. Then you get to the end of an era, short surge of enjoyment because of the accomplishment, like you ate a particularly tasty biscuit. Then the new era starts and everything repeats itself – 10 min exploration, 10 min boredom, 2 min conclusion.
          After you’ve played the game one time (some 3-4 hours, if you’re in a hurry), second playthrough is much less exciting.
          Source: I replayed the game recently.

          • strangeloup says:

            Thanks for the info! It seems like it’d probably be worth trying for a fiver, though, which is Steam’s current asking price. It always looked moderately interesting to me, but for some reason I never tried it out.

  6. Surlywombat says:

    Offline mode released 1 year after release.

    Online support turned off 2 years after release.

    EA have to stay on schedule.

  7. derbefrier says:

    So does this mean modders will make this worth playing now?

  8. Wisq says:

    Fighting against unnecessary always-online checks has been a bit of a weird issue for me, since I’m ridiculously privileged when it comes to internet connectivity. I don’t do a lot of gaming away from home, I have rock-solid + fast + unlimited internet at home and pretty decent internet while tethered to my cell phone (which I don’t pay for), I rarely fly anywhere (and more planes are getting wifi anyway), and I tend to prefer movies over games when I do anyway.

    That said, I know there are a lot of people who have serious connectivity issues (my coworker in Italy has almost regular internet outages), sometimes the servers go out (even Steam has had downtime twice recently), and there’s also that little nagging sense that this is a gross violation on sheer principle. I’ve definitely relaxed my principles since the days of my youth (it’s easy to get dogmatic about everything when you’re a teenager), but this one still twigs that “ehhhh, no” part of whatever techno-moralistic tendencies remain.

    Finally, there’s the fact that SimCity is, by all reports, just not very good even if you ignore the online aspects. Even the most avid fans I know have fired it up, gotten engrossed in it briefly, then quickly seen through the paper-thin mechanics (or encountered the numerous simulation failings) and given up.

    Having said all that: How are we supposed to treat this news? On the one hand, if we don’t celebrate it, we send the message that offline mode didn’t really matter to us. On the other, if we do celebrate it, we send the message that you can get away with anything at launch, so long as you repeal it a year later. Which message is worse? Is there a middle ground, or is that just treated as indifference?

    • Rizlar says:

      Pretty sure we can celebrate the decision to accommodate offline play without compromising any past criticism. Especially when there seems to be so much more to criticise about SimCity.

    • bills6693 says:

      For me, I don’t care so much about the offline mode as the terrible game. The way I see it is thus:

      I CAN forgive always-online if it is a good game.
      I CANNOT forgive a bad game if it allows me to play offline.

      Allowing it to be played offline shouldn’t be a positive thing. It should be a neutral thing – something that all my PC games should have, just like the ability to play with a mouse and keyboard, the ability to change my resolution, etc. To celebrate taking something from detracting to the game to something no longer detracting from the game is, in my opinion, not right.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Yeah the sentiment I think needs to be. “Thank you for the offline mode, however, you are still a bunch of lying pricks who tried to convince everyone that this would be completely impossible, when that was found out to be lies you followed up with more lies. I refuse to buy this or any other product you release until you stop bullshitting and treating your potential customers like braindead retards”.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      I always thought I didn’t care about online, though I fought tooth and nail against it in the only way I knew how – not buying games and bitching on the internet, but then, I got a taste of what it’s like through D3 (Gifted by a brother who knows no better). I have had the game for ages but only installed it recently after loot 2.0. Of the 8 or so sessions that I have played, no exageration, I have had connection issues 5 times – either being booted without warning due to my internet/their internet or being unable to connect all day due to extended server maintenance. It’s possible that I have been unlucky, but that is a hit rate of over 50% where I could not play due to online only requirements.

      It truely is moronic.

      As is the inability to write the name of a popular blizzard game beginning with D and rhyming with Griablo in these comments. Seriously RPS, sort it out, what’s the problem?

      • strangeloup says:

        Having played through the first act of it on PS3 recently, I get the feeling you’re not missing that much. It was dull and repetitive, and the storyline was hokey nonsense with some really, really fancy CGI cutscenes. I figured there was no chance of me slogging through another 2 acts (I’m assuming there are 3, but I could be wrong) for even one completion of the game, let alone doing it all again when it’s supposedly better on higher difficulties.

  9. MrNash says:

    I’d still rather play my old copies of Cities XL or an older version of Sim City that to bother with this game. Just, no thank you.

  10. Philomelle says:

    Meanwhile, Darkspore servers have been down for a good ten days now and EA is pretending as if everything is perfectly fine. It’s a shame because the game actually still has a small dedicated community.

    To me, this looks less like listening to their customers and more like cutting off networking costs for games that they consider to be commercial failures. The catch is that SimCity fiasco is still fresh on everyone’s mind, which is why they announced it and worked out an offline patch. Darkspore, meanwhile, is two years old and they hope they can simply shut down the servers and pretend everything is working the way it should be.

  11. The Sombrero Kid says:

    THIS. CHANGES. EVERYTHING.

  12. Shodex says:

    Sadly the damage is already done.

  13. Koozer says:

    Hooray!

    Now let’s all wait for a sale.

  14. HyenaGrin says:

    I don’t play the game much. But I keep it installed, as every once in a while I get the urge to play something like Sim City.

    The situation inevitably repeats itself; I am initially charmed by the prettiness and the surface level mechanics, and then I am inevitably disappointed by either the failure in simulation or the size of the maps.

    Really, I could deal with the lackluster simulation if it weren’t for the minuscule map sizes. Unfortunately, I suspect very much that the small map sizes are a thing simply because the simulation tends to fail more and more spectacularly as the city grows in size. I can only imagine the disaster of a city with 2x the real estate.

    It’s heart-breaking, really. I love city builders, as a genre. And I had very high hopes for Sim City. But Sim City 4 is still by far a better game; it has a much wider scope, a relatively functional and certainly better thought-out version of the inter-city interaction, and the simulation might be abstracted but it works which is more than I can say for the new game.

    There are times when the new Sim City looks better than SC4. But honestly? When I go back to SC4 I am utterly enthralled by its depiction of down-town high-rises, sprawling suburbs, and vast stretches of farmland. It might not have the visual fidelity of the new game or the curvy roads, but it is still beautiful, and more than adequate.

    What exactly does Sim City bring to the table? All of its new features are buggy at best, broken at worst, and largely unwanted by seemingly most of the fans of the genre. And to support those new buggy features we had to give up on one of the principle foundations of city-builders: a sense of progressing scale. The new SC lacks scale. It lacks continuity. It lacks growth. It is like playing the first hour of building a city in SC4, and then doing it over and over and over again with absolutely no gratification of building something that genuinely feels impressive and functional. We build industries which seem to be pointless as the cities can only benefit from them in so far as they can continue to expand – and by that point we’ve already reached the limits of our growth.

    In conclusion; Sim City is a game that has built itself a cage. No matter how far its mechanics dream to go, it will never get past the bars it has laid down for itself.

    • zaprowsdower says:

      “It is like playing the first hour of building a city in SC4, and then doing it over and over and over again with absolutely no gratification of building something that genuinely feels impressive and functional.”

      This summarizes the game perfectly. It takes an hour to lay out a city before you hit the invisible walls. Then you have to pick and choose which buildings get bulldozed to make way for something better. There is no creativity at all in the new Sim City and the cities end up looking exactly the same.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      They forgot something very important. No one got Simcity for the graphics originally.
      Most also did not get it for being a true to life sim, but being a sim that worked consistently/well.
      Graphics is almost all that goes for this one.

    • Severian says:

      Well said. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    • bigluvin says:

      Thanks for this. I haven’t played it in a year since I was frustrated with it after the initial joy and let down and was wondering if it had gotten any better. You saved me a few hours of disappointment.

  15. Chubzdoomer says:

    I really look forward to playing it now and judging it based on how much fun it is to play rather than how much I hate EA and/or DRM.

  16. Yargh says:

    What made me quit?

    I guess that would be when the servers decided for the fourth time that my current city could no longer be processed and stopped me from using it.

  17. katinkabot says:

    The game came out soon after I had shoulder surgery so it’s the perfect game to play one-handed. Also, I was on a pretty hefty amount of pain medication which made the experience quite nice. It’s a very mellow game with its peaceful music and easy gameplay.

    I’ve hopped back in a few times sans the narcotics and it’s less fun but I did get a lot of hours out it initially. So, for it’s worth, it was money well spent for me.

    • rikvanoostende says:

      I was in the same boat last year with a rushed cholecystectomy. By the time the pain medication wore off, Origin told me I clocked 100+ hours in SimCity but I can’t really remember having much fun with it.
      I will give it a fresh go this week and expect to delete the game the next.

  18. Neurotic says:

    Dear All,

    As a Polish SimCity player off and on since almost Day One, I can safely say that “the long-term effects of always online” were that I had a brilliant fun time playing, each and every time. “Haters gonna hate” etc, etc, itd itp.

    Pozdro.

    Neurotic

    • malkav11 says:

      In what sense was this because of the always online rather than despite it?

      • cpmartins says:

        Time for me to chime in. Online DRM didn’t bother me that much. Of course it’s a bad scheme, but It didn’t impede my non-enjoyment of the game. What did, though, was bad AI, bugs, tiny city limits and the general feel that this was a downgrade from SC4. This was no Sim City, that was for sure. Maybe renaming to Tiny Village Inhabited By Retards would’ve dispelled any expectations any of us old-time fans had to begin with.

  19. LionsPhil says:

    Well, would you look at that. Sim City 2000 still works just fine in DOSBox.

  20. armchaircowboys says:

    Got this game during Christmas sales on Amazon. I love it. One of the most fun – fun, not saying best – city builders I have ever played. The only gripe I had with the game was the always-online mode which messed up the saving process and got me to lose a few good cities. This offline mode fixes that, awesome stuff.

    I get the initial hate this game got, people got burned, but I’m thinking a lot of people tend to just jump on bandwagons and keep riding them for no real reason. Being a little less fatalistic about games and checking back in on your old library can reveal some real gems sometimes. It’s counterproductive consumerism I know, but meh, that’s just me I guess.

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