RPS: There was a bittersweet moment when Skylines came out because it was great to see the response but it was right around the time that Maxis ceased to be.
Hallikainen: That was so sad.
RPS: It’s also perhaps reflective of another side of the games industry. One that isn’t quite as employee-friendly and creatively fulfilling as the one you’re describing.
Hallikainen: There were trailers for Skylines about having an offline mode and that’s not something we at Colossal Order…
We don’t want to benefit from the failure of others. I want Skylines to stand on its own feet. We have made a good citybuilder and that’s what we want to be proud of. We don’t want to have succeeded because some other games have failed. That’s not the kind of mentality that we want to encourage.
Maxis has been the inspiration for us. We loved the Simcity games. We were all teenagers playing those games, wanting to get into the games industry to create something similar, in that spirit. It was so sad that exactly as we were launching and enjoying our success, the news arrived that EA had shut down the Maxis office. It felt so weird.
I don’t know what to say about it. At least I hope that we had nothing to do with that (laughs)!
RPS: If you’d launched alongside a successful SimCity…well, would that have happened?
Hallikainen: No, I don’t think so. To be honest, I don’t think Paradox would ever have given us the opportunity if that had been the case. I don’t think we would even have pitched it as strongly.
RPS: You’d pitched it before though?
Hallikainen: I have pitched it for the last five years. The problem is that we are a very small company. Cities in Motion was done and I pitched a citybuilder, but we decided to make a sequel to Cities in Motion first. It seemed the smart thing to do.
And then SimCity 2013 was announced and I thought, “OK, that’s it. Nobody will ever fund our project now!” I thought they’d totally nail it and it’d be ten years until anyone was interested in our pitch. We were devastated.
I was super excited about the game and I bought it immediately on launch day. I tried to play it but there so many unfortunate things surrounding the launch. And I was checking with Paradox, I told them that we had a plan, that the offer was still on the table, as it had been before.
If SimCity had been very successful they wouldn’t have gone with us to make this project. It wouldn’t have been a smart thing to do. I think we got very lucky with the two other games not doing so well. And everybody loves an underdog! A small Finnish company making a citybuilder because it’s their passion!
RPS: Why is it your passion? What’s the appeal of these games to you? Is it a love of cities as well as the genre, of the real-world environments?
Hallikainen: I feel that in simulation games, citybuilders are the biggest you can make. It has so many different features. With Cities in Motion we were focusing on mass transit, one part of the city. In Skylines, we have all of that, plus the electricity, plus public services. We were actually considering making a game about emergency services – police, fire department, hospitals. But in the citybuilder, fitting all those complex systems together, is a really unique challenge. That’s always been very intriguing to us.
It’s the love of creating something. In Cities in Motion you have limited options in terms of creation – you could make lots of things within mass transit but you couldn’t affect the city very much. In the user feedback, people wanted to modify the way the city worked and we felt that making a full-scale citybuilder would be the coolest thing in the world to do and I’m so happy that we had the chance to do it!
RPS: It’s interesting looking at youtube videos and the Skylines subreddit. People are so proud of the things they build. In some ways it taps into that Minecraft creative buzz, showing off what you’ve built. There are people who want to recreate real world cities, people who want to make really efficient cities and they’ll show you how to make a perfect road system. My cities tend to look like shit but I’m trying t make something that’s efficient and attractive. Some people are just engineers with it though.
Hallikainen: That’s me.
RPS: Are those the players it’s hardest to cater for.
Hallikainen: Absolutely. We have gotten complaints because we have a system that, if you fail to build the most efficient road network, a worker might fail to reach their place of work. What is important, for the game to function, is that all of the city services work correctly and follow the rules of the simulation. But on the individual level, the one worker who can’t reach his workplace, that is not a catastrophe. The game will overlook certain problems with the road network.
But we have these really hardcore players who find that completely unacceptable. They want it to be so that everything needs to work perfectly. I sympathise with them. When I play the game it’s all about making money and figuring out how to make the city work like a machine. Some people want to make beautiful things and don’t care about money – I don’t understand that. Money is the thing that matters.
RPS: That’s why you’re in charge at Colossal Order.
Hallikainen: Exactly. The point is that we have to make choices, balancing the game to suit most of the players. It’s really cool to see that there is actually a mod that makes it so that if a worker doesn’t reach his destination, it will have negative consequences. These are the things that I think widen the audience – if they’re not exactly happy with what they have in the game, they can change it. A citybuilder is for a mass audience, not just for hardcore players, but now those players can create their own challenges through the mods.
On page four, the educational value of citybuilders, the future and Chirper.