Cities Skylines: Mass Transit and the war on cars

I’ve done a lot of terrible things in my two year quest to ruin as many lives as possible in Cities: Skylines [official site]. I’ve allowed the dead to fester in their homes, I’ve turned off heating and electricity in the dead of winter, and once, I made an entire city drink its own poo. But with the launch of the Mass Transit expansion, I’m turning over a new leaf. Instead of making things worse, I’m going to fix my city’s awful congestion problems and be hailed a hero of the people.

At least that’s the plan.

There’s one major obstacle in my way: I lack the fundamental knowledge that would be useful to my citizens. Roads are a mystery to me. I don’t even drive, and when I use public transport, I lose myself in a sea of Twitter threads and Spotify playlists. Being faced with this realisation as I stare at nothing but gridlock sort of bums me out. It’s dispiriting. However! I didn’t know anything about poisoning people with excrement, either. But I did it. I learned and in learning I toppled a whole city. I can do it again. I just need somewhere to start. Somewhere like this road.

The problem is pretty clear. This road is full of cars. And what are cars scared of? Stop signs, of course. In the complex tarmac ecosystem, these creatures are mortal enemies. Diligently, I place signs everywhere to ward off unwelcome vehicles. As an extra precaution, I give the road a new name.

As the cars continue to flood the blighted thoroughfare, I start to wonder if I’ve been overestimating just how scared cars are of stop signs. They’re creeping along timidly and stopping at junctions, so they must be a little bit nervous, but it’s only making Extremely Unpleasant Street more congested. It’s so bad now that the land value is dropping and residents are starting to peace out.

Pondering the conundrum in the bath, it dawns on me that I’ve been approaching the problem in entirely the wrong way – I’ve been trying to cure a symptom, when I should be trying to find the source. Why are people so obsessed with this road? Is there a hip new club nearby? Some handy new tools make it easier to find out.

The traffic routes map mode has me more thrilled than any map mode should [map modes are actually the greatest thing in gaming – Ed]. Clicking on a road reveals all the different types of vehicles that use it, and then a line charts their entire route. Extremely Unpleasant Street, it turns out, is the point where an unholy mass of serpentine roads converge, creating a nexus of metal and rubber and agitated commuters. Trucks, shoppers, people going to work – everyone on this side of the city ends up stuck on Extremely Unpleasant Street at least once a day.

I place some tunnels to get cars moving straight from the top end to the bottom, bypassing the problem area entirely, but while that alleviates some of the strain, traffic continues to pile up. More roads are required, and a few roundabouts and junctions that aren’t non-Euclidean mindfucks. The process of slapping down roads has been greatly improved, thankfully. The tool now shows the angle of the proposed road, and it subtly offers suggestions about where you should connect it via nodes and dotted lines. It’s a lot of extra information without much additional screen clutter.

A welcome side-effect of the enhanced precision is that it’s easier to make pretty transit networks that don’t look like they’ve been put together by a brow-beaten city administrator who, after hours of faffing, gave up and decided it was good enough. It’s a particular boon when attempting to make city blocks even and symmetrical.

Despite my hard work, my citizens still spend a terribly large portion of their day stuck in traffic. They seem to be happy, mind. Just chilling in their hot cars as pedestrians suck in those lovely petrol fumes. I’m convinced, however, that they’d be even happier if I could free them from their metal coffins. That’s where Project Blimp My City comes in.

Unlike the horrible cars clogging up the arteries of my city, blimps are majestic sky whales that bring delight and joy to everyone. You’re never going to get hit by a blimp crossing the road. They just bob gently in the sky, never getting in the way. They’re also very expensive and fit only a tiny number of people inside them, but they wobble as they fly! I just want to cuddle them all.

Anyway… my city now has a lot of blimps.

In my eagerness to supply every citizen with their own blimp, I may have overlooked my city’s dire power situation. I’ve got a lot of power plants, but they’re running on fumes. Trucks are getting stuck on the highway, and then when they get into the city they get stuck again, so they’re not delivering the resources my plants need. The blackout is a bad one.

Every corner of my city goes dark. Industry, businesses, utilities – they all shut down. People can’t even get access to clean water. The blimps seem a bit ridiculous now. Folk are starting to get sick because I wanted to fill the sky with fat balloons. I could just plonk down some wind turbines, but that’s only a temporary solution. I need to get those trucks in, or more people are going to die.

It’s back to the traffic route map mode to see how the trucks are trying to get to the power plants and which roads in particular are causing all the problems. There’s an out-of-control intersection with roads coming from everywhere (above, below, other dimensions) and nobody is getting anywhere. Some of the roads have to go – sorry, Phantom Zone commuters – while I widen others. I can use traffic lights and stop signs to control the flow of vehicles, too, giving top priority to the route my trucks are taking.

The emergency surgery succeeds and power returns. Corpses finally get taken to the crematorium, and everyone is able to forget about the horrors of the blackout. There was no cannibalism. It’s just a rumour. We got close to the edge, though, and it was those blasted cars that drove us there. It’s become an us or them type of situation, frankly. There simply isn’t enough room in this town for both humans and cars.

The panacea for all that ails my wonderful city is more public transport. The blimps were a good start, but they don’t shift enough bodies. What I need is a monorail. There’s nothing on Earth like a genuine, bona fide, electrified, six-car monorail. While buses are cheap and convenient, they still get stuck in traffic, but the monorail sits above it all, gliding as softly as a cloud towards its destination.

While each line, whether it’s for buses, ferries or the monorail, is distinct, with its own budget, fleet of vehicles and route, they can be linked together using transport hubs. Monorail stations are big and expensive, so I’m only able to place a few down, limiting the number of potential passengers. By constructing monorail and bus hubs, however, people are able to hop on a bus and get dropped off right in the monorail station, expanding their range. Essentially, they serve as a stop for both vehicles and bring in more passengers.

The cars’ grip on this city is loosening. People are finally free to walk the streets at night without fear of being harassed by roving gangs of BMWs. Fixing traffic problems in Cities: Skylines used to frequently devolve into a chore, but the extra clarity provided by the new map modes and the expanded suite of options and road types make it feel more like a puzzle. Investigating gridlock, working your way back through vehicles routes until you can find the source of the issue, has become an unexpectedly compelling activity.

I never did manage to sort out Extremely Unpleasant Street. I came up with another solution.

Rest in peace, nemesis.

24 Comments

  1. GenialityOfEvil says:

    I wish they’d figure out a way to make lots conform to each other a bit rather than just stamp out a big block that must not be intruded upon.

    • FriendlyFire says:

      You mean like the SimCity That Must Not Be Named did 4 years ago now?

      • GenialityOfEvil says:

        No, I’m talking about the individual building lots. Simcity allowed you to paint *buildable* land any way you wanted, but the building lots themselves were still rectangular and static. If you placed them on a curved road they would always be built with a gap in between to preserve the space for each lot.

        • FriendlyFire says:

          If you look at something like this image, you can actually see a few buildings with non-rectangular plots. They’ll generally expand the “grass” (or whatever other peripheral texture the building uses) to fill the plot and add some decorations in a few places. It’s not the best, but it beats CSL’s clusterfuck tiles whenever you have two nearby roads not perfectly perpendicular.

          Anything more advanced would need some form of procedural generation or warping, and I’m not sure we have capable algorithms for that yet.

    • Drib says:

      I agree. I don’t recall ever living in a home that had dead space between lots, nor perfectly rectangular lots. I mean, look at cul de sacs!

      It’s a weird thing in games. I get why, it’s easier to handle the lots and control how they look if they’re always the same square/rectangle size. But it looks dumb.

  2. walrus1 says:

    Until they fix the underlying issues with the way the AI chooses to get around e.g always choosing to clog up one road instead of taking mass transit this game will be unplayable pretty fast.

    • phanatic62 says:

      I’ve seen people complain about this before. Is this something that only power users experience? At what stage does the game become “unplayable”? I’ve built fairly large cities and as far as I can tell the traffic issues were always my fault.

      • Blad the impaler says:

        No, this is something everyone in the game usually experiences at some point – but it’s the result of simple route-mapping AI. Personally, I don’t think it’s an extremely unpleasant thing, but to make traffic work you have to game the game a bit and it can be immersion-breaking.

        Your peoples just take the shortest route to get where they’re going, and they don’t give a Ryan-flyin’ if that means they’re all taking the outermost lane on Extremely Unpleasant Street. This aspect of Cities, unfortunately, is unlikely to be changed.

        With mods like Traffic Manager, getting traffic to do what you want is a bit easier (although manually setting up restrictions and lane rules everywhere can be tedious. I enjoy it though).

        Designing a bulletproof road network that can handle heavy traffic in C:S is something that requires foresight and some actual thought. Slamming down high-capacity streets everywhere will not fix most problems, which is kind of the same as it would be IRL. And in a lot of cases, setting down some forms of mass transit only serve to exacerbate a bad traffic network.

        But when it works, oh baby, does it feel like an accomplishment.

        • FurryLippedSquid says:

          “Your peoples just take the shortest route to get where they’re going, and they don’t give a Ryan-flyin’ if that means they’re all taking the outermost lane on Extremely Unpleasant Street.”

          Sounds a lot like life, tbh.

    • ColonelFlanders says:

      This isn’t meant as a snarky comment, but if you’re having traffic problems then you haven’t designed your roads or Mass Transit system well enough. Even with the realistic population mod (which makes higher buildings incredibly dense) and the rush hour mod (which gives a more realistic time progression) I have no traffic problems even in huge cities. There are a ton of resources out there which explain the sometimes daft logic of the agent AI – I learned a hell of a lot about city planning by doing a couple of hours of reading.

      • walrus1 says:

        I have though free mass transit, local buses connect to express trains. People still choose their cars and flood my roads and highway bypasses. Played 4 cities always happens always. Others have complained about this.

        • GenialityOfEvil says:

          It depends on whether the stops and routes are useful to them though. If the bus loops them through and entire commercial district before taking them across the highway to the farm they work at (for example), they’ll just drive.
          You don’t even need public transit unless you have some central hub that everyone wants to go to. Have three paths for every route that someone can take into and out of an area and the traffic should be significant but not congested. And use 2 lane roads as much as feasible. The bigger width roads are tempting but they just get stuck on all the traffic lights.

        • Daemoroth says:

          Isn’t that exactly like life though? We have public transport, express travel to and from the CBDs, buses to train stations, trains to work-centric areas. And yet, every morning and every afternoon you still get traffic reports on every radio station talking about queues multiple kilometers long and peak traffic at a stand-still.

          Expecting everyone to hop on a bus simply because it’s there and goes where you’re going would be the most unrealistic of outcomes.

  3. Troubletcat says:

    I like Cities: Skylines. I’ve played it on-and-off for a total of a couple hundred hours. It’s kind of a time-waster/ant-colony/something-to-do-while-drinking-my-sunday-morning-cuppa kind of game for me.

    But it’s also always felt very sterile and very detached to me. And I think now that it’s because I’m too good at it. This article (and the related ones) make it sound so much more personable and exciting than I’m used to specifically because the author is failing so badly. I’m feeling the polar opposite of the “yelling at the screen because this youtuber is so bad” experience. I wish I could be so transcendentally awful at the game as to make it so interesting.

    This article reveals entire game mechanics that I sort of knew existed but that I never thought could even potentially actually be a problem.

    I realise this might come of as snarky or like I’m trying to put down the writer but I don’t mean it that way. These articles are always a joy to read, I just wish I could experience something similar myself when I pick up the game.

    • Drib says:

      I tend to feel this way about some games, like Dwarf Fortress. I used to get interesting stories of failure, big tantrum spirals and riots.

      But now I can basically set up a fort by rote, without any chance of failure outside of deliberately sabotaging myself.

      It certainly is harder to get interesting stories without meaningful conflict, and the end result of getting good at a management game is removing all conflict.

      • syndrome says:

        Well, that’s an interesting perspective.

        But would you want to play something for the 100th time, if you know it has an unavoidable conflict, randomly presented along the way? I’m not sure I like Stellaris’s late game crises for that reason, even though they considerably spice up the game.

        Games are all about the peril, it’s their sweetest spot, but it has to be somewhat unexpected, but also fair enough not to destroy the player’s enthusiasm.

        We are still learning what a good game really does (while it’s still in the ‘good’ zone).

        • Ich Will says:

          Rimworld’s approach is quite interesting, where you choose a “storyteller ai” which sets how random crisis’ ramp up their difficulty, and their frequency. Want a game where the difficulties you face are only of your own incompetance, choose the “chilled” one, the middle one starts out with easy stuff, angry squirrels, and ends up with alien indestructable insects setting up lair in your bedroom (at least, I don’t have the ability to get further yet)

  4. Premium User Badge

    weregamer says:

    Heh. I have so many games and so little time, I’ll probably not pick this up. But the article gave me a couple good laughs and made the game sound interesting enough to consider buying it.

    This is the kind of article that makes me love RPS. Keep up the good work!

  5. FredSaberhagen says:

    Flint, MI simulator

  6. April March says:

    There’s one major obstacle in my way: I lack the fundamental knowledge that would be useful to my citizens.

    POLITICS

  7. Premium User Badge

    The Almighty Moo says:

    I love the fact that dash Editor jokes are back in…
    [ they aren’t – Ed]

  8. Retorrent says:

    Good Gravy that is the worse road layout I have ever seen! You have one large Highway funneling everyone into the same spot, that is why you have a conga line of cars in that spot. Make some exit ramps off that main road to give them a new route.

  9. Fraser Brown says:

    It’s meant to be terrible. It’s a scenario that comes with the DLC where you need to fix absolutely the worst road network ever devised.