We Built This City On (er) Maths: PixelCity

Always fan of a bit of maths on RPS. So when Simon Parkin made me watch a little procedural city demonstration that’s been doing the rounds, I thought I should share. If you want to know how it’s done, you should turn to the developer’s enormous diary of its development. If you want to know what it does, you should look at the video beneath the cut or consider downloading its very-much-pre-alpha screensave incarnation.


  1. Stupoider says:

    :D That looks superb! And I also enjoy maths being used in games. Don’t ask me why!

    This also makes me think of Introversion’s Subversion. Looking forward to that!

    8D Makes for a good screensaver, too!

  2. elias says:

    I’ve been following Shamus for a while now. Ironically, I found his site through a comment he made here on RPS which made me laugh.

  3. Kua says:

    And if you liked that, you’ll just love this.

  4. Hybrid says:

    Looks pretty cool!

  5. Torgen says:

    Death sentence to Kua for spamming comments with ads.

  6. Rich_P says:

    That’s amazing. I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff, ya know, Dwarf Fortress’ geology simulator, SimEarth, Civ map scripts, procedurally generated cities.

  7. abbath says:

    reminds me of debris from the demoscene group farbrausch … it’s insane what you can crunch into 190 Kb … if your pc isn’t fast enough to run it you can also watch a video of the demo right here

  8. Tei says:

    this type of stuff… I love it.

  9. Hmm-hmm. says:

    Cool. Although, on a semi-related note, I hope that the possibly upcoming game by Introversion features more variety in building types. It was a huge pleasure seeing the various ways cities can form were somewhat taken into account.

    Then again, I’m not expecting china towns or Russian Orthodox-style churches or.. just somewhat older European styles of buildings. But one can dream.

  10. Kua says:

    @ Torgen. Huh?

    I have no incentive whatsoever to advertise for Infinity. Its completely relevant to the subject matter and I thought it might interest others. And one link hardly counts as spam. So :P

  11. Resin says:

    I would like to see procedurally generated maps used for non-massive multi-player games. A host or DM would get all sorts of options to tweak out, generates a map, and then hosts some friends to play on it. I think something like that would be a great application of this kind of technology.

    I would also love it if they added some sort of randomization to the streets beyond just a grid. Something like these old procedural vids:

  12. Jazmeister says:

    Been running this thing for a while, first screensaver I’ve bothered with since they got rid of Starfield for Vista. Procedural content is my weakness.

  13. Cooper says:

    As cute as this is, it signals the problem with procedural generation. At no point were those skylines convincing – they were all far too ‘generic’. Every building looked like every other. Even a tad more variation in the colours of the window lights would have made all the difference. Adding a few procedurally generated buildings that stood out from the crowd would help too – you know, let the algorithms go mad for those odd few postmodern designs…

    Making the obvious link, Subversion seems to have got it right. By rendering in a clearly artificial manner, it doesn’t cause that dissonance to be presented with something procedurally generated that attempts a more realistic representation (that, and Delay has clearly had vastly more time to make a more convincing algorithm)

    Also, as for what it could be – a few tweaks to the building designs, add some neon lines and bloom and you have yourself your very own Los Angeles 2012 generator…

  14. HidesHisEyes says:

    I’d love to see this sort of tech put to use to make, for example, flight simulators more engaging.

    I still remember what the cities in flight simulator 95 looked like. when you landed on them.

  15. Bhazor says:

    You can’t tell but Chris Delay just bit his keyboard in half in horror. This is what he’s been trying for years.

  16. Sp4rkR4t says:

    It’s good but not a patch on what Introversion are doing with Subversion and it’s procedural world generator.

  17. Sinky says:

    If you want another cool procedural thing to look at, this person has generated the inside of Arthur C. Clarkes Rama and made a very nice animation of it.

    link to ebruneton.free.fr

  18. Harbour Master says:

    Oh I don’t think Chris has much to worry about; pixel city is more about gorgeous appearance while Chris’ work on Subversion is more organic (rivers; non-grid road layout; topography) and functional (he’s constructing building internals).

  19. Overwatch_UA says:

    Oh, wow! The final thing was really beautiful and the music amplified the mesmerizing effect. Loved every second and every pixel of this =)

  20. JonFitt says:

    The scr doesn’t work for me. It loads and I see perhaps 1 second of city moving then it disappears.
    Any ideas?

  21. Vis says:

    @JonFitt – It’s a screensaver, stop moving your mouse. :p

  22. JonFitt says:

    I knew someone would say that. Yes I’m not moving the mouse :)

  23. CdrJameson says:

    Point 7 is what I fear for Subversion

  24. cHeal says:

    Step 1…
    Step 2…
    Step 3…
    Step 4…
    Step 5…
    Step 6…
    Step 7…

    Ha ha, very good, it’s interesting what work is being done with all the procedural stuff, I’m certainly it will come to play a huge part in games of the future I just hope it does not replace anything important, like STORY!

  25. MetalCircus says:

    He should place the player in control of a godzilla so we can smash it all to bits! grahahaha!

  26. Simon Jones says:

    That sort-of-Rama recreation is astounding. Although a bit odd that it has actual US cities in it and Earth countryside. Still incredible, though. Going to have to go re-read the book now.

  27. Impossible says:

    Its a good example of how very simple techniques can be extremely effective. Everything about it is very… 2001. He’s not using shaders, he’s using outdated OpenGL functions, etc. His building texture and road\lot generation are far simpler than the academic papers on the subject (or Introversion’s demo which is basically an implementation of an academic paper.) Yet you are all still wowed :).

  28. Taill4f4r says:

    Step 8: Congestion charge.

    I have a model of the city of Bath, somewhere. Which I can walk around at street level. Although, that wasn’t modelled procedurally… It shows how dull a grid system is by comparison, though.

    The Subversion demo was several times more impressive.

  29. Debby Bruck says:

    Awesome video of structure of city. Makes it looks so easy. I think of the manpower and years of actual construction. How can we keep our cities clean, green, energy efficient and healthy? Can we begin with our intentions and our minds?

    Debby Homeopathy World Community

  30. Derek K. says:

    Keep in mind that Shamus put this together over course of about a week. He basically sat own and said “I want to spend a week on this, and see what I come up with.” That’s what he got. It’s not like he released this as the be all end all word in procedurally generated content. ;)

  31. Owen says:

    I’ve also been a fan of Shamus for a number of years now. Can definitely recommend people spend a while looking at some of his prior projects. For any D&D fans, a huge write-up from his gaming group makes for a fascinating read.

  32. PC Monster says:

    Man, I love Procedural stuff. It’s the way of the future, I tells ya.

    Gotta love the music too – Jamendo is a great place to browse when you want to hear something new and a bit different.

  33. Schmung says:

    Nifty stuff. Very interesting read as well. Wonder what people are going to do with the source code.

  34. Carra says:

    Been following Shamus blog since the days of his Lotr comic which is well worth reading. I also put is as my screensaver when it came out. I love the idea behind procedural generation. And this is excellent work, especially considering it’s made in a single week. As a programmer it’s also nice to read the development that went into it.

  35. Munin says:

    If someone combined this guy’s form with Subversion’s function we’d be in indie gaming heaven. Or something.

  36. Alex Jacobson says:


    I was just about to post this link: link to introversion.co.uk