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SimCity's Sims Don't Seem That Smart After All

Alongside the peculiarities of the server matters with SimCity, many are reporting that the game itself doesn’t perform as had previously been claimed. This is especially the case when it comes to the AI and pathfinding.

Disappointingly, the Glassbox Engine doesn’t appear to offer quite the independent nature of individual Sims as many had believed, and it really seems to be struggling with seemingly simple pathfinding and congestion issues.

Edit: As six hundred and fifty-seven billion people have pointed out to me, it was previously known that Sims would lose their identity when they went into buildings. The nuance here, however, is that they go to the first empty building they encounter, in a way that leads to businesses arbitrary distances from housing suffering, simply because they’ll fill out whatever is nearer, no matter what it might be. Follow the link in the paragraph below for far more detail on this.

Original: These are reports, of course, and we’re not experts when it comes to AI. But what we’re seeing people say is rather than each Sim having a unique life, they’re instead operating on the same sort of systems that control the sewage and traffic. Which seems rude. It also explains why there appear to be lots of rather odd behaviours found in the game, with distribution of jobs, buses, and the like feeling a touch odd.

The claims go, rather than individual little Simmy lives, they instead operate as an homogeneous mass, distributing themselves like a collection of marbles rolling down a board covered in holes. As they reach a job, whichever job, ignoring their previous day’s job, they take it, until all the jobs are taken. It doesn’t matter if it’s a commercial or industrial job – they just roll until they fall into the next available slot. That sounds like a half-decent solution for a management game like SimCity, I suppose. But it’s not the one they boasted. But where it gets even weirder is when their work day is through. They don’t trundle off back to their well-loved home, as you might imagine a Sim would do. They, just as with work, move into the nearest available house. There’s no consistency to their lives, no permanence.

That’s certainly evident if you play the game. The names of residences has no bearing on the names of the Sims who’ll “live” there after work, and you absolutely cannot follow a Sim anywhere – once they’ve entered a building, whether residential, commercial or industrial, the game stops following them, and good luck finding them after.

It gets more peculiar. Because the game uses roads as the means of transport for everything, from cars to water to power to sewage, people are saying traffic jams on the road can actually block the passage of what comes from your Sims’ passages. And this whole filtration system seems to be affecting everything, from fire services to casinos. And import/export suffers from the same jams, with all having to pass through the main freeway entrance to your city. With the pathfinding issues many are saying spoils their game, this all becomes a bit of a mess.

There are some simple experiments you can do to test the pathfinding for yourself. Put a dead-end road with a single house nearer to the commercial districts than the rest of the residential, and you’ll see cars divert their way to go there for no reason – I had that working. It’s demonstrated in this video:

And here you can see the way traffic opts for poorer, smaller roads that are more direct, no matter the congestion, despite major large roads being immediately adjacent:

Maxis have acknowledged some of these issues, although oddly only focusing on streetcars, and are talking about making some changes to try to prevent all traffic from following identical pathways rather than using any real independent AI pathfinding. Eurogamer found a few YouTube videos where players have demonstrated just how poor the game’s pathfinding can be:


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John Walker

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One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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