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Interview: CitiesXL

Idly clicking through game websites becomes something of a habit for us genre omnivores, and it's always pleasant when something you'd expected to be a little dull actually looks like it might just shine. That was the case with forthcoming city-builder CitiesXL. The (hopelessly cheesily voiced) footage actually looked really impressive, and having digested the proposed cleverness (online shared planetary city maps, infrastructure as conquest game mechanics, internal tycoon minigames) we decided it might be a good idea to question the developers themselves. Answering the questions is one Philippe Da Silva, followed by those CitiesXL trailers.

RPS: If I'm going to play CitiesXL in single player, what sets it apart from previous city-builder games? What features are you most proud of in this project?

Da Silva: The core principle is of course the same, city building. While we added a lot of new features, we're doing our best to not take any away either! First of all a lot of time and effort went into on developing as many easy-to-use tools as possible. It is mathematics: the more they are and the simpler they are to use, the more fun players will have. We are offering them now, amongst others, curved roads, a sophisticated zoning tool, and a really easy way to drag and drop tunnels and bridges. Expect a lot of micromanagement possibilities this direction. Our citizens have so called “Citizen Profiles”, which profile their sensitivities and ambitions and which are a much more realistic conception of citizen behavior than the cultures we had in City Life. Last but not least, we are really proud of our shiny graphic engine which really serves both realism and immersion of the player.

RPS: Can you explain a little about what it's like to play the game? What sort of tasks will I face? What kind of challenges does the game throw at me?

Da Silva: All depends on the type of player that you are! Cities XL is a no ending game, that is what makes it so appealing and gives such a long lifespan. The great thing with this type of game is that players can define their goals depending on their interests: they can try to achieve the most inhabitants possible, try to have the most beautiful city etc.

With the GEMs (Gameplay Extension Modules) players can also prove that they are not only great mayors, but also outstanding entrepreneurs. And those who subscribe to the online features and services, which we call the “Planet Offer”, will face many new challenges which are dictated by the economical constraints of the planet – they can for example specialize their city in a certain industry. Social Networking, players associations and exchanges will also enrich the experience and last but not least organized competitions and events will offer additional variety. The experience is totally dependant of what type of player you are.

RPS: Let's move onto the online aspect of the game. There's talk of "persistent planets"? What does this mean, and how will it work? How will players interact in the online portions of Cities XL?

Da Silva: The Planet Offer is what we call the game's online features and services. Players who subscribe to this offer will be able to create their cities on a persistent planet with a player-based economy which makes trading worthwhile. Up to you to specialize your city, to team up with others to reach bigger objectives or to participate in the competitions we will organize. Life on the planet continues while you are away: let’s say for example you start building a huge tunnel on Monday. If you log back on to the game on Wednesday, construction will have started – but you will need to wait until Saturday to admire the final creation. As for the interaction, every online player will have its own, fully customizable 3D Avatar. With this Avatar, you can visit other players' cities either just to admire them or perhaps even to meet up with the other mayor to decide on a business deal. You can also interact through your player page on which you'll get a personal blog that you can use to post your in-game achievements, discuss the game, etc. Screenshots and videos can be posted straight from the game to this blog – and you can use this page to check on your cities and approve resource exchanges, even if you are not connected to the game. The game continues on the web. With the Planet Offer we aim to create a massive entertainment experience which will grow over time and keep our players curious, challenged and interested.

RPS: Can you explain a little more about the GEMs concept? Are these games in their own right?

Da Silva: GEMs are an abbreviation for “Gameplay Extension Modules”, which are basically tycoon games. They will be plugged on to your existing city and they are additional, optional content which will be sold on a pay as you go basis. We’ve thought of a variety of businesses which can be fun to handle such as f. ex. car dealer, theme parks, or a Beach Resort GEM which will have players building a sea resort paradise. Now you don't just plop down the GEM and "go". You'll need to hire staff, build in the case of the beach resort hotels and restaurants, offer entertainment facilities, etc. The better the resort is designed and maintained, the more tourists will come and spend money which feeds than back into the GEM itself. Up to the owner to decide than to use it either on expanding the GEM or on expanding/maintaining his cities.

RPS: How will online play be paid for? Via a subscription? How much will it cost?

Da Silva: We’ve indeed opted for a subscription based online play; we call these online services the “Planet Offer”. The final pricing has not been decided, but we’re looking probably at something like GBP 9.99 for three months, which is less than one month of a premium MMORPG.

RPS: Will a player who has been playing solo for an extended period be able to go online at a later stage and share their creations with an online world?

Da Silva: No, it’s not possible to simply import your solo-player city to a planet. When you play with others on a planet, you need to accept the same constraints and rules that everyone else faces there; otherwise it wouldn’t be very fair play. You also have to choose a spot which is still available on this planet and decide which type of landscape and/or resources you prefer. This wouldn’t work if you would just import your city from solo mode. However we think that for many players it will be a great thing to experiment on the solo mode to start with, as it will allow them to get familiar with the building tools and the game mechanics. Once they have built their first sprawling metropolises, it is likely that they are looking for a bigger playground, new challenges, a more complex economical system – and we hope that they will at this later stage join the planet and start new cities there.

And the trailers:

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CitiesXL is due for release in during spring 2009.

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