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Mods, Maxis And Forward Motion: Cities Skylines Interview

The foundation and the future

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In an attempt to learn everything there is to know about our Game of the Month, Cities: Skylines [official site], I spoke to Colossal Order’s CEO Mariina Hallikainen until we both ran out of words. We talked about the game’s extraordinary success and what it means for the future of the 13-person company, the importance of mods, the fate of Cities in Motion, and the influence of dear departed Maxis. Along the way, there are discussions about simulations as educational tools, Colossal Order’s next project, and the importance of a good working environment and the avoidance of crunch.

Most important of all? The origin story of Chirper.

Mariina Hallikainen, CEO of Colossal Order

RPS: Hello! As you already know, Cites: Skylines is our first ever game of the month over on RPS.

Hallikainen: Well, Paradox sent us cake and champagne, but that is even better. We are so happy!

RPS: We aren’t going to send you cake though. The prize is that you have to speak to me for an hour.

Hallikainen: That’s fine! We already have three kinds of cake. And the champagne. There are only thirteen of us so this is a lot of cake.

RPS: Did you expect to be receiving all of these cakes? When we last spoke, at the Paradox Convention before release, you had some reservations about the launch – mostly based around the possibility of disappointing expectations. It seems to have gone quite well.

Hallikainen: Yeah, it’s been huge. When we started to get the sales numbers – 250,000 copies in the first twelve hours. That was when the realisation set in. I thought we’d definitely do 300,000 copies lifetime. That was my goal with the game, that’d do more than Cities in Motions. But I didn’t think we’d be talking about this massive hit. It’s been overwhelming seeing so many people enjoying the game.

It’s great but it is overwhelming. When we made the game we had a small budget, a small team. We knew what was wrong with the game (laughs). We’re very critical of our own work. Tunnels are missing – we need to add those.

And, yes, it’s been amazing to see so many people enjoying the game but we didn’t see this coming. Not at all.

RPS: Do you think that the success makes you reconsider what you can achieve with your team and budget? How much does size matter if you give people the features they want?

Hallikainen: Yeah.

RPS: With the modding, there’s probably more content now, in terms of building appearances and such, than when you launched!

Hallikainen: It’s insane. There’s tens of thousands of mods already.

I think the modding is another way to involve people in the development of the game. For us, if you think about what we achieved originally at launch, the modding tools do help to enrich that. People are helping us to make the game into something great. We are a small team but with the modders, we’re a huge team.

If you think about SimCity 4, the modding is exactly the thing that keeps it alive for so long. I have so much respect toward the modders because they are doing things that we could never imagine people would be able to do. And we tried to figure out what kind of things peple would want to do when we created the modding api. But they’ve gone so much beyond that already. They’ve pretty much reverse-engineered the game in the sense that they can touch values and tweak the game in ways that we couldn’t have imagined.

I think that’s absolutely fantastic. What we really wanted to achieve is for people to have that classic city-builder, and I think we achieved that well, and I think now we can build upon that, with the community.

We were successful in making the game we wanted to make. But maybe we are just so critical, us Finns, but we didn’t think people would find the limits of it so fast and start to build on them. I think Paradox did something marvelous with the streaming and the YouTubers. They allowed people to stream a week before release and that helps to give people an idea of what they can and can’t do with the game, so people already had ideas of what they could achieve as soon as they got the game.

So within two days we had thousands of mods. I don’t know if it’s as much a case of what we have achieved as it is a case of what we have created as a foundation for the community.

RPS: You’ve spoken about plans for expansions and DLC. Do you look at these tens of thousands of mods and think – “oh god, they’ve done everything we were planning to do.”

Hallikainen: Pretty much, yeah (laughs). I look at it and think, “well, we’re pretty much out of a job! We better enjoy the royalties. And the cake.”

RPS: Does it change your plans though? Did you already have ideas that you’d be able to do put into action that modders couldn’t achieve?

Hallikainen: We do, yes. We were prepared for this. We wanted modders to be able to make their own assets and there’s a lot of freedom with parks, intersections, things like that. It’s great to see the work people have done with that and it’s something we won’t put a lot of effort into because it’s something that the players can do themselves.

What we’re working on right now is tunnels. We’d already said that after the launch that’s the first thing we’d be working on and then adding other features that the modders might not be able to implement themselves.

The European buildings are one of those things. It’s not just cosmetic, it’s actually adding the wall-to-wall city blocks. You live in Manchester so you know how that looks – blocks that are all connected together. You can’t do that in the game at the moment but it’s something that we want to add.

It’s really important to us that we are working together WITH the community, so we’re developing things that they can’t. I am completely surprised by the skill of the modders though – they’re making things that we couldn’t have predicted. Somebody is working on multiplayer! How crazy is that? So much devotion.

We try to put effort into things that people will, hopefully, still find interesting. I don’t think the community takes away from what we can do – we have lots of room for improvement and we can take ideas from mods. We can implement things in different ways, improving and polishing, and making more solid implementation. That’s one of the great things.

And Paradox are really committed to us making a lot of free content. That’s really important because adding tunnels, for example, isn’t something we want to charge people for. It should be in the game. It’s something we wanted to be in before launch.

RPS: Is there anything else that’s already in development that you would have liked to include from day one?

Hallikainen: I think that’s pretty much it. We do have something new coming that people don’t seem to have predicted – something that people haven’t thought about. I can’t wait to see how people react to that.

It’s something that works on some of the features that are already in the game and makes them deeper, brings more feature-wise. Not so much in terms of graphical content – people can do that already. We want to put our effort into the simulation and the complexity of it, to add things that modders can’t.

On page two, the future of Cities in Motion, Colossal Order’s next project and the importance of avoiding crunch.

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Adam Smith

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