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Mods, Maxis And Forward Motion: Cities Skylines Interview

The foundation and the future

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RPS: Do you think there’s an educational quality to the game? The original Sim City helped me to understand how cities worked, even if in a very basic and abstract way. Is it a game that you want very young people to be able to pick up and play?

Hallikainen: Absolutely. That’s one of the reasons we didn’t want to make it too difficult. We didn’t want it to be so ruthless that you could fail if you messed up your road network. Now, if you don’t plan ahead at all you’ll have problems, but we wanted failsafes for younger or more casual players.

Think about people who don’t have a driver’s license. How do you actually understand how the systems in a city work if you don’t understand traffic flow from a driver’s perspective? Of course, you can see that if there are cars going to a certain place and getting in jams, you have to modify and make things more efficient. You have to make sure that ambulances can reach every sector properly. Service efficiency in road and service placement teaches a lot.

In the beginning of the project, we tended to make the game way too hard. We didn’t consider people who don’t drive – that was one of the major things that we overlooked. When we looked at user feedback, we realised that people who didn’t drive a car found it difficult to understand how the road networks functioned. Cities are so much about traffic management and it is something that wasn’t as evident to me when we started the project, that people didn’t understand how important traffic flow is. So, in that sense, this has been very educational for me as well (laughs).

We’ve had questions from schools asking if they can use the game for education. We did discuss with unviersities when we made Cities in Motions – it has been used in logistics studies. I think it’d be great if Skylines could help in some way. Learning by working with a realistic simulation is such an amazing way for education to work. If we can help with that, that’s absolutely fantastic. But it is still a game! That’s important to remember.

RPS: I just typed something into Google. I have to ask a question before I tell you what it is. I think you confessed to me, in an unguarded moment at the Paradox Convention, that you are responsible for Chirper. True?

Hallikainen: Oh. Yes. I’m sorry (laughs)!

RPS: It’s fine. I just typed Chirper Skylines into Google. The first page of results has “great game, except for Chirper”. Someone has actually left a review that says, “I really have no major complaints about this game except for Chirper.” And then there’s a mod to disable Chirper. All on the first page of results.

But then! There’s a community website with an entire forum thread, “For the love of Chirper”. There you go.

Hallikainen: We had a meeting about feedback for players. The team were talking about the newspapers in the old Sim City games. I wasn’t really a part of that meeting, I was just walking by and we were in an open office at that point. And I jumped into the conversation – (adopts exaggerated voice) “Think about it, we’re in the 21st century! Everyone talks online. How about we have this twitter feed, with a bird that’s sitting there on your screen. And maybe call it Chirps! And it could be a Chirper!”

That’s where it started. To be honest, I was so devastated that people hate the Chirp. I was so excited (laughs)! It was pretty much the only creative input I had in the game and everybody hated it. This proves that CEOs should have no input in games EVER.

But then again we decided that since there are two people who love Chirper, we will own it. I wrote on the Paradox forums that I was to blame, that it was all my fault., and that I’d decided it would stay. There was a huge uproar, people were saying “You don’t listen to feedback, you suck, you’re as bad as EA!”

And I thought, well now it’s definitely not going to go away. If I have something that I had input on, in the game, I’m going to stick with it. And now I have a Chirper t-shirt that says “Give me a chance”. But the designers are probably saying, “Let’s never listen to Mariina again.”

It was weird to see people being so passionate about this one bird in the game though. Nobody reads newspapers anymore – it had to be contemporary and I thought it was a really good idea! Maybe it’s overuse of hashtags. It’s like an idea of Twitter written by an old person. I never use Twitter – I have a Facebook page because when I joined the company the other guys forced me to join Facebook. I am really bad at social media though because I have nothing interesting to say. Just, “Here’s a picture of my horse. Look at it.” That’s about it.

So when I started to say, “let’s do this twitter feed with #mayorrocks or #mayorsucks'”, I thought that’s how people spoke on twitter. I thought that was cool!

RPS: When we streamed the game before release a few people commented that they hoped it’d be possible to mod Chirper out of the game. And then a few days after release someone had modded in a first-person viewpoint. Shows how low peoples’ expectations of the modding tools might have been. Sometimes people read these promises of modding support but don’t believe that it’ll be anything near as in-depth or robust as they imagine.

Hallikainen: We tried to make it as open to modding as possible. We failed on that on previous projects. I have to be honest, we failed with Cities in Motions 2. With the first game it was so easy to mod because it was built on our in-house tech and we had no knowledge of how to protect it from pretty much anything.

RPS: Moddable by mistake.

Hallikainen: Exactly (laughs)! I don’t think we should be so protective but we didn’t know how to be protective then. When we switched to Unity for Cities in Motion 2, we hit a lot of problems. I wanted it to be as moddable as the first game but it wasn’t – it really wasn’t easy to do at all.

With Skylines, we had Damian from our company working around 70% of the entire development time just on modding tools. Making sure people could use them in a meaningful way. I’m so happy that people have gone beyond even those tools, doing things we wouldn’t even have imagined. It’s fantastic to see.

That is exactly what these building games are all about – unlocking peoples’ creativity. So we support that. I saw a mod where people had made some kind of border and by mistake it made everything shocking pink. I loved it – like a space city or something. Really cool stuff. There’s the GTA V map. Wow. So cool.

There are so many talented people out there, with such a professional attitude toward it. We’ve gotten a lot of emails – please don’t send us emails, by the way, I’m drowning in mail. Go to our forums, ask us for help and we’ll try. We’ll be releasing a roadmap in the future to help modders plan what they might be able to do in the future. We’re already looking at ways to help people import vehicles and citizens.

The game is obviously financially really successful for us and that gives us opportunities to work with the community, and with our own staff, to make improvements.

RPS: Your previous games were published by Paradox as well. Would any future projects be with Paradox as well? Presumably you’d have to pitch to them again?

Hallikainen: Oh, no way, they love us (laughs)!

The next project…well, I don’t know who we’ll work with. We’ve had some really interesting offers. We’re only 13 people so we have to take a step back, focus on Skylines 100% until the summer holidays in July, and then we’ll split our time between Skylines and a new project.

We need to work out what that project is. We had a really solid plan before all of this (laughs)! Now we have more opportunities and we’re open to all kinds of ideas. We’ll definitely work with a publisher, that’s for sure. At Colossal Order, we’re very good at making games but I don’t know anything about marketing or sales, or anything like that. There’s a mutual benefit. We love working with Paradox and…well, let’s see what happens!

Images of Mariina Hallikainen and Karoliina Korppoo were taken from Cities: Skyline’s video diaries.

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