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12-02-2015, 02:04 AM #1
Nalano's Wish List for City-Builders
With the new SimCity-alikes slated to come out soon and life being breathed into this subgenre of builders in general, I've been inspired by the "Things You Never See In a Video Game" thread to list my desires (demands) thus far unseen in any offerings to date. I've even provided pictures, courtesy of Google Maps' Tilt View - a handy ability to turn everything into a video game god perspective! To wit:
"What the hell am I looking at, Nalano?"
Why, it's good you asked. What's visible here is a place nobody here will be able to afford to live, but what's important about it for the purposes of this screed is the frontage and the context: Buildings join one another on the sides and all front the streets, presenting a wall. Despite being built over the span of a century, they merge into one superform, aka "a block," that makes sense contextually.
"Don't City Builders already do this?"
Yes and no. A number of City Builders do have their units default to facing the street - or fake it by making their units provide a facade on each side regardless of facing, such as the Tropico or even the Age of Empires series - but none understand context. This tends to be hidden by making the building take less than the full lot - so that if two incongruous buildings end up meeting awkwardly, they don't look too jarring - but that results in an unsatisfying visual experience as supposedly dense urban environments end up with haphazard and inefficient land usage when cities are all about efficient land usage. Even those who can recognize, for instance, street corners, like SimCity 4, they rely on a limited set of applicable buildings and cannot address, even visually, two frontages in a smart manner.
Speaking of dense urban environments,
"Aww hell, Nalano, this is just ridiculous, also ugly."
One, screw you, two, of course it's ugly. But it's cohesive, and one of the more jarring aspects of a great number of builders is how little cohesion there is to their urban forms. You can see a lot of tall buildings abutting short buildings and wide lots bracing skinny ones in real life, but when it comes time to make sense of it all, City Builders often fail to give the player the tools to do so, short of constant "pruning" of undesired structures.
"But isn't that the point of the game?"
Strategy games for which city building is a facet end up pitting efficient layouts against visually stimulating, recognizable urban forms (hello Anno) where your city can either be pretty or it can work, or turn city-building itself into less a game of management and more the tending of brick bonsai. Creating the depicted monstrosity in real life took one simple plan and the right economic climate. Creating even a simple neighborhood in a game with any degree of verisimilitude becomes the most complex activity a player can do. Just as Real Time Strategy games aren't really strategy games but tactical games, sometimes you just want to rise above endless petty micromanagement and watch your city grow.
"Are all your pictures endless expanses of asphalt-laden hellholes?"
Shut up. Also, yes. Besides, that asphalt-laden hellhole is the most diverse place on Earth. But it's also a number of other things: It's a successful junction of two different grids and a layered reality. The latter can just about be done with Cities in Motion 2 (provided you ignore how none of the elevated rail lines have support pillars) or SimCity 4 with a lot of modding, except even Cities In Motion 2 can't do tidal flow - you would need Transportation Tycoon Deluxe's rail design plus A-Train's scheduling system to pull that off. Perhaps Train Fever will one day be able to accomplish this, but that game's limitation is the same of many other builders; namely, lot shape.
No builder knows what to do with oddly-shaped lots. Without the ability to use such in a productive manner, any deviation from the original grid is perilous. This is true for Cities XL as much as it is for City Life: Space is always at a premium, and anything that does not fit into a grid wastes space. They all flub the issue the same way, which is to extend the lot's footprint outward from its borders if it doesn't use all surrounding space. For instance, a square unit in a larger triangular block might see asphalt or brick extend beyond its own unit to fill in the blank space. This is visually appealing, but it doesn't change the fact that there is unused blank space, and when two different grids meet one another - a visually interesting phenomenon in real cities - in simulated cities all you get is a lot of blank space.
"This is probably the most pedestrian of your pictures."
This is probably the most complex of what's under the hood. Another thing city builders have a hard time accomplishing is mixed use: The Residential/Commercial/Industrial zoning schema (sometimes extended to Residential/Commercial/Retail/Industrial) adopted by multiple games has an odd effect on the growth of the city: Mixed use is rarely if ever present. If you want a shop on the corner of a residential street, you have to zone a tiny little blip of Commercial on the corner. You couldn't have, say, Residential/Commercial (aka apartments over shops or condos over offices) or Commercial/Industrial (aka warehousing and light manufacturing) or even Residential/Industrial (aka craftwork studios), to say nothing of RCI/Civic, where community centers, schools and city services rent out space in pre-existing structures. Sure, you could sometimes have them visually, but they don't actually work as intended.
Funny enough, the first example I can think of for a city builder with mixed use structures is the Settlers series - primarily because craftsmen and artisans live where they work - or CivCity: Rome, where you could build apartments over certain shops. Even with Caesar/Pharaoh, or Banished, where a lot of the game is involved in figuring out distribution models, homes end up necessarily being separate, discrete entities.
Even with the commercial and civic entities within residential buildings, as well as commercial and residential entities within civic buildings, there is also an unorthodox infrastructure that can be accomplished with no game to date. SimCity 4 and Cities in Motion 2 could sink the highway, but they couldn't then add a bus depot on top of it that connected, nor could it also straddle local streets. The joy of video games is to be able to create something outlandish, and while in current builders you could, for instance, build a suspension bridge fifty stories tall that connected two mountain peaks, you simply can't build the pre-existing, such as Chicago's famed tiered streets. Or a train station on top of a highway. Or buildings under a highway. Or elevated freight rail. Or rail that goes through buildings. Or...
12-02-2015, 07:45 AM #2
I haven't played a proper city builder since SimCity 4, so I'm eagerly waiting what the new batch of SimCityNots have to offer.
12-02-2015, 12:52 PM #3
Firstly an excellent post and agreed on all points.
If I may add some similar concerns. Firstly that as pointed out with reference to grid systems you just don't really get a place that is a complete warren of alleyways, like you do in most cities I'm familiar with. Things are primarily designed for cars, which is somewhat US centric but is also evident in 1950s and onwards city planning more generally, just look at Birmingham. So there's never really an issue with city planning needing to fit with existing, potentially medieval, cities and the complications and concerns that go with it. As working with these limitations often creates the most interesting public spaces and interesting bits of architecture. It also means you don't have fascinating juxtapositions of medieval, georgian or victorian next to the starkly modernist buildings. Or reusing spaces for modern reasons, e.g. farmer's markets under railways arches and the like.
Also as mentioned the lack of mixed spaces for commerce/residential etc. There is also something lacking in cultural difference between neighbourhoods. As with large cities you will often get various commercial areas that specialise in particular kinds of output. So London has various ones like Soho is media orientated as well as being lovably sleazy, the city specialises in finance, Shoreditch in hipsters etc. SimCity would normally define all of these simply as commercial and they wouldn't have any significant differences.
Also just as I want to put up pictures, I want a game where brutalist architecture is recognised (they're always considered low rent hellholes).
The Brunswick centre
The Barbican Estates.
Interestingly these both double as residential and cultural spaces, with cinemas, dance schools and art colleges. Also the Royal Festival Hall has a similar pedigree as a key cultural site.
The Robin Hood Estates
Balforn Tower, which Ian Fleming hated so much he named the bond villain after Erno Goldfinger.
12-02-2015, 01:18 PM #4
I'd play a brutalist city builder.
Stalin vs Architects
"Greetings Comrade. You are the only one of us that can draw a house properly, after we killed all the capitalistic pigs, so you are in charge of planning for this Moscow borough. Go nuts, there's an unlimited amount of concrete in any colour you want, as long it's grey."
12-02-2015, 02:07 PM #5
Nice thread. I agree about having slightly more outlandish elements, that'd be lovely (but perhaps complex to achieve).
I love the idea of city builders but suck at playing them. Hmmm. I do have Simcity 2000 and Tropico 3 currently.
Zephro is also right about the grid structure (Simcity is basically California: The Game) and the diversity of neighborhoods. Having, say, some kind of "character menu" to define the properties of an area would be nice, especially when implemented with an element of randomness and sensitivity to the bigger context of the city.Do you enjoy failing to race cars wot go fast? Then join us at the Racing Subforum!
12-02-2015, 02:13 PM #6
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After reading Nalano's post three times and falling unconscious from cpu overheating in three different places I am reminded that cities are complicated. No wonder they get simplified to hell in gaems.
12-02-2015, 02:15 PM #7
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I didn't understand a lot of the first post, but I have a cold and it's late and I'm tired.
But I always wanted a city builder where the focus was on style. Is that what you're talking about?
I want to build a gothic city with massive 50s industrialist stations, gothic metallic steam railways and shadowy alleyways. I want to build something like Bioshock (but not underwater), or like the opening paragraphs of Atlas Shrugged or like Bladerunner's street level.
I'm not up to date on city builders, I haven't played one since SimCity 2000. But are there any where you can make cyberpunk cities, or towering burtonesque gothams?
12-02-2015, 02:17 PM #8
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12-02-2015, 02:29 PM #9
12-02-2015, 02:51 PM #10I'm failing to writing a blog, specifically about playing games the wrong way
12-02-2015, 03:11 PM #11
12-02-2015, 05:41 PM #12
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I too would like more realistic and cohesive cities (by far the most annoying thing about the new SimCity visually is just how much random grass there is between buildings, which makes zero sense), but I don't see that happening without a major shift in design philosophy by game devs. The only feasible way to do this would be to resort to heavy procedural generation, while right now most buildings are handcrafted. They'll be slightly modular at best, but that's far from sufficient.
There's also a complete lack of emergent structures. I shouldn't have to place all those tertiary roads and back alleys, they should naturally arise from building placement and agents should be able to use them where needed. Again, this requires more procedural generation.
All of this is most likely possible, but it's not something I've noted in any of the budding city builders we keep hearing about.
I'll however nuance one thing: I don't need nor desperately want cities to be realistic. I really like SimCity's slightly cartoony, overly colorful aesthetic. I'd gladly keep it in a future game with the modifications outlined above. People far more dedicated than I have made some beautiful cities in SimCity 2013 and I think this should be kept possible. City builders are often idealized perspectives of what a city is, so having the art style also be somewhat idealized is fine.
12-02-2015, 06:16 PM #13
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- May 2013
I throw this (not by me) blog post explaining the principles of Japanese zoning regulations into the pot:
...building the zoning system of the game like that rather than using the SimCity inherited system, would help the mixed use thing I think.
12-02-2015, 07:23 PM #14
Amazing post Nalano, you are absolutely right. Cities in city builders always look excessively organised and "designed", for lack of a better word. The organic growth of buildings that characterizes many cities is woefully underrepresented in city-building games, in my opinion.Want to add me on Steam? Steam name: Mr. Gert
12-02-2015, 07:55 PM #15
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- Feb 2013
Also, yes Nalano! I am fully in agreement with you!
I find procedural generation for cities the most promising yet difficult method. Although once the rules are in place it becomes absolutely beautiful. A few years ago multiple projects were under way but I wonder what came of it.
I think procedural generation could use some more love in general.PS2/NS2/Mumble: SirWigglyBottom
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12-02-2015, 08:02 PM #16
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What is this Google earth you speak of? All I see are pictures of SimCity 4 gameplay!
/Nostalgia gogglesIt is a technical difference, but's there none the less.
13-02-2015, 01:21 AM #17
Ideal city games should be online games, not stand alone singleplayer.
City cannot function by itself, it must interact with its surrounding to sustain itself. First thing first citymen don't produce food ourselves. In China, interestingly most people who live in city, my family included, never cut tie to villages we are originated from. We always retain at least one piece of property in home town in rural areas. In America, I watched from a National Geographic show that usually this is the practice of those doomsday preppers, but over here it is just part of our tradition.
Not to mention that modern cities interact with each others to prosper together. Yes, cooperate and compete together is all but the same thing.
So, a good city building game has to be multiplayer, with players' built cities interacting with each others.
I haven't tried out Simcity just yet. Is this the online component of Simcity all about?
13-02-2015, 03:46 AM #18
In this post, Nalano responds to (heavily cropped excerpts of) fanmail!
As a concept, differences within the larger population are interesting and indeed should find a way to be made known, but the potential of some developers to turn that into something off-putting and of dubious ethics is palpable. City Life is, for instance, a game that tried to segregate various discrete subsets of the population from one another - Radical Chics hate Blue Collars, etc - but such is quite perilous a concept if the surface is scratched. Unintended political statements abound.
The Tropico series found a more fluid way of interpreting that with political parties - factory workers are more likely to become Communist, which are more likely to promote well-paying jobs in factories, etc - within which any individual citizen could join any party, support it to a greater or lesser extent, and be a member of more than one simultaneously. Even Dungeon Keeper had, as a base game mechanic, the management of mutually hostile entities where both antagonists had comparable value to the system as a whole.
Neo-Classical massing, Beaux Arts details, Baroque flourishes, Art Deco verticalism... in short, a mess. A gaudy, beautiful, through-the-looking-glass mess. As if 1870s New York robber barons went around dressing like 1970s New York pimps.
Sure, on occasion some whackaloon holes himself in some out-of-the-way shithole like Wisconsin for a decade and comes out with Dwarf Fortress, but just as one doesn't see paths or alleyways emerge on their own in city builders (except perhaps in certain iterations of Settlers), most developers too seem content to take the main road, to trod the well-laid path and only work on iterative generational succession. Cities XXL is, indeed, currently being panned as too similar to Cities XL, and Cities: Skylines still has that homage to post-war suburbia and love letter to Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius thing going on.
13-02-2015, 06:03 AM #19
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- Jun 2011
It still saddens me that Introversion canned Subversion because that's easily the most ambitious and intriguing city generation algorithm I've seen so far. It'd take a lot of work to turn it into a functioning city builder, but it could generate some very interesting layouts.
The thing to note is that its art style was downright Spartan. I wonder if there would be an audience for such a game, where mechanics and layout are more accurate but art is far more abstracted?
13-02-2015, 11:09 AM #20