The Lighthouse Customer: GearCity

I call it the Volkswagen Coleoptera. Wait, that's not right.

Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, driving a car company into the ground with GearCity.

“Have you ever dreamed of running your own car company?” asks the website of GearCity, a simulation game that lets you run your own car company. My answer: no, I’ve never dreamed of running my own car company, at least until GearCity’s website asked if I’ve ever dreamed of running my own car company. At which point I did. So, I decided to play GearCity to fulfil my minute-old dream. Of running my own car company.

Naturally, I want to begin where cars began: Detroit, Michigan! Sure, if you read up on the actual history of the automobile, they probably began in Germany, or France, or even China, depending on how you define automobile. Even the mass production of automobiles began in Lansing, Michigan, not Detroit, but look: I’m an American, and I’m used to history conforming to what I think happened rather than what actually did. So, I begin in Detroit, in 1900, and being an American, I decide to make the world’s first car a really, really big one. We dream big, we build big.

Do you like car things? If so, here is a picture of some.

I begin in the R&D department, selecting the largest auto body I can find, and then begin playing with the game’s sliders to make it even larger. I pull up the roof, extend the cabin, drag the front fender forwards and the rear fender back. I’m not sure what kind of roads exist here in 1900, but I’m going to require they be made much, much wider.

We're gonna need a bigger steel mill.

I throw on some wheels and then some tires, making them as thick and chunky as possible — I might as well deplete the world’s supply of rubber while I’m at it — and slap on a single enormous headlight, the better to blind any oncoming horses with my sheer awesomeness. I super-size the door-handles as well, because why not, and I decide to leave off the taillights. Why do I need to signal that I’m stopping? I don’t plan to stop driving for anything, and if I do, it’ll be someone else’s problem. I put a mirror, presumably meant for the side of the car, on the rear, so anyone I speed past will see their own jealous expressions reflected back at them.

The only thing I’ve overlooked is that my steering wheel is on the passenger side, or the European side, of the car. What we here in the States call “the wrong side.” Oh well! At least this way I can pull right up to food stands and purchase enormous slabs of meat and sugary beverages. Hey, I’ve just invented the drive-thru!

Now, a cupholder that can hold a soft-drink the size of a child.

With my bright red behemoth designed, I retire to my office to let my turn-of-the-century eggheads build the prototype, and then begin production. I only have a single factory at the moment, but I crank up its production speed to full. This means they’ll be built quickly, but not carefully, leading to a poorer product, but I don’t want my cars to last forever. Gotta keep the buyer coming back for a new one every few weeks, right? I set the price at five times the production cost — luxury like this ain’t cheap — and press the button, ready to produce this crimson beauty and drag my country into the next century, by which I mean the last century.

One eviction notice is enough. Five, and you're just rubbing it in.

Uh. Okay. WOW. Just asking my factory to start cranking out these hideous cars has instantly caused my company to fail. No warning at all, either, except perhaps from all those angry notices piling up on my desk stating that my company has been losing massive amounts of money every month while I’ve been tied up building this one terrible car.

How massive is my failure? Rather than being able to start a new game, GearCity actually leaves me no choice but to exit to Windows, that’s how bad it is. It’s so bad that when I restart, my anti-virus software holds me up, deciding it needs to suspiciously examine the game’s .exe file. Seriously. My own computer doesn’t even trust me anymore.

My car was so terrible the NSA got involved.

Dream big, build big, fail completely. America! I guess I know what that revolver in my office safe is for. No, not to kill myself. I’m a CEO! I probably escaped with millions. The gun is to fend off the unemployed workers when they storm my mansion.

Luckily, Ted E. Bear's name appears on all the company's legal documents.

I start over, having learned my lesson. Time to spearhead the next generation of cars: tiny, efficient, and no fun at all. I open an office in China in 1980, hoping to produce an economy car. In the eighties, my office is nicely updated with a big clunky computer on the desk, and I can only assume I’m sitting behind it with a flock of seagulls haircut and the sleeves of my blazer rolled up to mid-forearm. I get back to work, designing a micro-car. (I know, it should be a minivan, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.)

Where do you put the two AA batteries?

I build the cheapest, least-complicated car I can manage, and begin production — slow, careful production this time, with a price tag just over the production cost. My new inexpensive car is packing 30 horsepower, gets 27 miles to the gallon, and can reach speeds of almost FORTY-FIVE miles per hour (70 kph!). The reviews of the “Sword Dirt” (the auto-assigned model name) are a bit unkind, but amazingly, I manage to get my little pink ride into the marketplace without destroying the company.

So... 8/10?

Well fine, Mister Hateful Reviewer — who has probably never even designed a car of his own — I’ll just let the numbers speak for themselves. I’ve built eleven Sword Dirts, and guess how many I’ve sold? Eleven. That’s right, they’re buying them as fast as I can build them. Clearly, I’ve got a hit on my hands, and I decide to expand, setting my sights on France, where they really appreciate horrible tiny ugly cars. I build a factory in Paris (at great expense) and begin production (at great expense) and start advertising in newspapers, on the radio and television, and oh wait shit I’ve gone out of business again. I guess maybe I should have sold more than eleven cars before opening a second factory?

I need to set up a spam filter. This Monthly Losses guy is IRRITATING.

Well, I’ve learned I can’t sell giant gas-guzzling incredibly expensive horrible cars and I can’t sell tiny efficient amazingly cheap horrible cars. Next time, a mid-size, mid-efficiency, mid-priced car. But certainly still horrible.

This write-up is based on GearCity version 1.14.4 (it’s been updated since). I found the experience more than a little fiddly: the design sliders work well but dragging/dropping accessories — and sometimes even just clicking buttons — was pretty clunky and awkward. I also had to play it in a window as the game always crashed when launched in full-screen. You can keep an eye on the game’s update progress here, and you can (and should) also view the full series of short feature tutorials here.


  1. Grygus says:

    A car company going out of business… that doesn’t even make sense. Doesn’t this game have taxpayers?

    The car review is what sells this game to me. If there’s one thing better than a computer telling me how great I am, it’s a computer telling me how much I suck. These are the reasons I am a gamer.

    • The Random One says:

      I get you. This is what I, as a gamer, live for: procedural insults.

  2. SillyWizard says:

    Ha, for a game I have no interest in whatsoever, this was an amusing read.

  3. Jac says:

    You could have ruled the world. What other car companies in 1900 had a computer on their desk?!

    • Cerebulon says:

      In 1900 you just have a couple of ledgers and then by 1910 or 20 or so there’s some sort of accounting machine that looks like a typewriter for numbers and it goes on like that until the end of time itself (in 2040)

  4. arccos says:

    The first car looks a lot more stylish than most of the beastly SUVs I see here in the US. Although the wheel being on the right side means you would have to go through drive-thrus backwards.

    That could work, though, you’d skip the lines and could order directly at the window instead of talking into the clown’s mouth.

  5. buzzmong says:

    So, I take it for now if I want a good car making game, I should look back to an early 90’s Amiga classic called Detroit? (Which this came is clearly apeing, which is no bad thing).

    • SAM-site says:

      I’ve been hoping for a Detroit remake for yonks and am very much looking forward to remaking my signature car The Kropotkin (“unsafe at any speed”) just as soon as I get home.

      How did I not spot this game sooner!?

      Rambling comment, my apologies, it’s the most coherent SKWEEEE excitement post I could muster.

    • Hahaha says:

      Is ‘automation’ still stuck being a sort of engine designer

      • Daffyflyer says:

        Hey, Lead Artist on Automation here, its now got quite a lot of the car design aspects at least, and we will finally be starting work on the “tycoon” aspect later this year.

        We hope to be a worthy successor to Detroit but with more detail and some inbuilt automotive engineering lessons so to speak.

        We are pretty slow developers though, as I’m sure you’ve noticed :)

        Oh and its at /shamelessplug

    • orbitaljunkie says:

      Pretty much. And considering the game is more or less one of a kind, it’s actually really great. I hoped very much that GearCity would be a worthy spiritual successor, but after playing the alpha… well, it’s terrible. Stick with Detroit on dosbox.

      I think it’s even abandonware at this point.

  6. phenom_x8 says:

    Twice, mr Livingstone!! This and link to
    You’ve made me laugh very hard this week.
    No wonder there’s so few comments in your articles, I bet we all busy laughing hard because of you

  7. 2helix4u says:

    I need to know how it ends!

    Good article, I suppose a yank can be funny too!

  8. bill says:

    Don’t the filthy Europeans drive on the same side as the filthy Americans??? Does that mean this game is made by gentlemanly British gentlemen?

    Maybe that’s why you went instantly bankrupt?

  9. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    I hope the second part is coming soon?

  10. Manburger says:

    I love this feature! Chris, you are a treasure. Also, I appreciate your great alt-txt work. (Especially the review one – hahh!)

  11. rexx.sabotage says:

    I put a mirror, presumably meant for the side of the car, on the rear, so anyone I speed past will see their own jealous expressions reflected back at them.

    these articles slay me.

  12. Cerebulon says:

    I picked this up a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it, put a stupid amount of hours in going from 1900 to about 1934 before getting a bit bored since I was stupidly rich and could put out pretty much any old junk and people would still buy it. In fact my mid-run small ‘trim’ upgrades on my popular series of vans were almost universally shittier vehicles than the original editions.
    It’s crazy unforgiving when you first start out, especially in 1900 or if you start in less established locations. Pretty much the only way to get a good fair start in 1900 is to start in either London or New York… And if you start in London, be ready for the first world war, it doesn’t help your income when every scrap of metal, fuel and working age man is being sent to Belgium.
    Anyway, not really nearly as broken as this article/comments makes it seem. Fiddly, awkward and sometimes frustrating especially at the start, yeah… Broken, nah.