|03-09-2012, 06:17 AM||#1|
Join Date: Dec 2008
Maxis answered questions on Reddit about the new SimCity
Note: Maxis conducted an AMAA on Reddit on March 8, 2012, and Firebird took it upon himself to compile the questions and answers in an easy to read format. He graciously agreed to allow us to reprint his work here. I have only changed the formatting so that it is compatible with the Omnibus, and I edited out some of the internet's more "colorful" language. Thanks Firebird, and thanks to Maxis for engaging with the community!
Will we see a return to the relatively sophisticated planning required in previous titles, or just another example of the dumbed-down, "casual" gameplay we've seen in SimCity Societies or the Cities XL franchise?
[Dan] Great question! The integrity of our simulation is first and foremost – without a good simulation under the hood the game wouldn’t hold your interest. Yesterday Ocean, Andrew, and I gave a presentation at GDC explaining exactly how our new simulation engine, GlassBox, works. Here’s a recap of the talk that took place yesterday.
SimCity is what inspired me to seek a career in architecture and urban planning. I know the game doesn't quite reflect reality, but how much focus will there be on the new sustainability trends with mixed-used zoning, complete streets, public-transit/pedestrian friendly development, waste management/recycling, etc? I've heard a lot of concern that the game will appeal too much to casual players like Societies; how will the level of gameplay depth compare to SimCity 4?
[Ocean] We’re making SimCity, not some dopey casual game.
The most important thing is the integrity of the simulation underneath it, the stuff that represents the systems that make up a real city. I don’t want to enforce sustainable design principles in the game – I want them to emerge as natural consequences of your interaction with the simulation.
If you don’t deal with your sewage, with traffic congestion, with walkability & transit, with ground and air pollution – your city will reflect that! And there are lots of people who will want to explore the simulation and see what happens when they do. Making some polluted, congested, urban nightmare is a total win condition, as far as I’m concerned.
Is this an admission that Societies was a dopey casual game, and that this will be back in the classic vein?
[Ocean] Maxis didn’t develop Societies – we did SimCity 2k, 3k & 4 (and the original of course!)
I’m not going to bash Societies, but I will say that this new SimCity was built from the simulation engine up, and is the one that I wanted to make after I finished working on SimCity 4.
Societies was great for a few hours and then it was boring. The best moment I had in that game was when I built a trailer park next to a dive bar with a gun range down the street. It was great to see the little sim sit in his lawn chair outside his trailer, walk into the bar and then wobble down the street to the gun range.
[Andrew] I think the reaction to SimCity Societies made it pretty clear that something was missing, and we're looking to bring back that 'secret sauce' in the new SimCity. Where we can though, we're definitely interested in getting those kinds of vignettes in there to bring life to the city. We started down that path on SimCity 4 with our automata system, and we're making further strides within the current game.
Maybe I missed it in all the released details but I am hoping there is an offline mode that is full featured with region play similar to SC4. Online play is a nice gimmick and could prove to be really interesting, I would just prefer the option to play offline and develop my region of neighboring cities when I want. I'm getting tired of games that work perfectly well on their own as solo play trying to force online play. Its fine to have as an additional feature but your primary focus should be the strength of the game at its core; a powerful and robust city builder that can be enjoyed for hours/years without the need to be online.
Also what are your plans in regard to custom content development? I'm sure you're aware of the communities that have been supporting SC4 all these years with not just cosmetic but game improving mods. Releasing a product that ignores this will be a huge disappointment to those most dedicated to the franchise.
[Ocean] Yeah, like SC4, you can build out a region by yourself, and make all of the cities serially. There are lots of players who just want to control their own world, and they don’t want anybody to interfere with it. But even those solo players are going to be participating in the flow of resources that constitute the core of the games economy – the economic landscape that they’re operating in will be shaped by the actions of other players, even if they are only playing solo. In addition, there will be regional challenges and opportunities that you’ll be competing against other regions for. So you can play by yourself. More social players can play with their friends and accomplish more, faster, but that’s their choice.
As for custom content – think back to SC4 - first we just need to get the game out, and make everything work robustly.
[Andrew] As we said in the talk yesterday, we're very much aware of and appreciative of our mod community. We don't have specific plans yet beyond general good intentions, and the fact that we're using similar tech to our previous games. Basically, stay tuned.
[Andrew] We've addressed this elsewhere, but I just want to repeat, single player is definitely still a big focus. And if you want to play all the cities in a region yourself, that's absolutely possible. I think there's some research somewhere showing that, even with strictly multiplayer games, people wind up soloing for the majority of gameplay hours, so you're not alone!
Limited Edition vs. Collectors Edition.
[Kip] Trust me when I say the base game is going to be loaded with content. We wanted to give our hardcore fans an opportunity for something extra if they decided to pre-order the game. We came up with the Heroes and Villains for our hardcore fans. Inspired by SimCity lore, Super Sim or Maxis Man as he’s sometimes called, was first seen in SimCity 2000. We decided to bring him back in a much bigger way in this SimCity.
The Collector’s edition is jammed packed with content. We have 3 new landmarks that will serve a function in your game, helping to boost tourism. They will also influence the building around them. The base game will include plenty of landmarks as well.
To clarify, the Limited Edition is a pre-order special of the base game and priced at $59.99, just like the base game. The Collector’s Edition is an Origin exclusive, priced at $79.99.
I have seen reports that you are taking out all the tables/charts and other hardcore aspects for the next game... PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS. It is so much easier to just leave them in the game and put a "simple mode" on for newbies and let hardcore players enjoy their statistics and such!
[Dan] There’s no lack of data present in our simulator, we’ve been experimenting with playful ways of representing that data to the player. That doesn’t mean you’ll have any less detailed data on your city, in fact, in a lot of ways you’ll be able to explore your city data along other dimensions that weren’t possible with previous SimCities. We’ve taken a lot of inspiration from modern data visualization techniques/style and we’ve built in the notion of ‘data layers’ into the game. For example, if you want to know everything about how power is flowing through your city, you can click on the power data view, you’ll be able to see electricity flowing down the wires, buildings will change colors representing power stored, plus you’ll get global stats about your cities power system (output/usage, etc).
SimCity MMO is a [bad] idea. I don't want some 12 year old... messing up my cities.
[Kip] I can relate to you on this one, since I have a 12 year old myself and have seen firsthand what’s she capable of when playing online games. This SimCity is tailored to many different player’s and play styles. You can choose what’s right for you when planning out your city or region. You can choose to play in a region entirely by yourself, being the Mayor of each city. Or you can open up cities and invite your friends, so it’s a more controlled environment. If you’re feeling adventurous, hop into quick play and join others in a preexisting region. It’s really up to you.
To go a little further with this question, will there be different difficulty levels so that those who want sophisticated challenges and micromanagement will get it, and at the same time those who want to just casually build up a pretty looking city can also do so?
[Ocean] Well, you’ll be able to build up a modest and attractive city without too much trouble, but the simulation is going to start pushing back at you and you’ll need to respond to it. You won’t need to respond by building a huge teeming metropolis! But you will need to respond. Cities are dynamic, with dynamic problems.
But I should say that we’re avoiding “micromanagement”– you’re not going to be setting the price of burgers in the diners in your city. You’re going to be making the infrastructural and economic decisions that will drive the state of your city. And it’s really important to us that you can see what the simulation is doing – that way the simulation can be sophisticated without becoming mysterious or opaque. If you can see the cause and effect relationships, then you can respond to your city.
Are there going to be bike lanes/bike paths/walking paths as transportation choices? Or are we going to just have roads, bigger roads, and really big roads?
My favorite cities were always the ones that had neighborhood stories. This housing area next to the industrial park is going to be low-rent but I'll separate the 2 with a bunch of trees, these dead end streets are going to have lots of green space between low density housing to look like gated neighborhoods, and this commercial area around the college will be perfect for fast food places and laundromats. I tried to simulate bike paths by building roads that didn't go anywhere other than between parks, but I'd much rather see people walking and biking than an empty street.
[Andrew] We can support a much richer set of transport options this time around, in terms of what agents (cars/people/bikes) can travel along what kinds of routes. (Hilariously so sometimes -- due to forgetting a line in a data file we had cars driving in the air along power lines at one point.) What will be in there for ship, I honestly don't know at this point. I'd love to see you building that housing area for real though!
If you could identify one aspect of SimCity 4 that needed improvement, what would that be, and what are you doing to fix that for SimCity 5?
[Andrew] Well, there's definitely more than one. (And it's great reading through threads on reddit and elsewhere to see what we may have missed.) However if I had to pick one, one of the biggest issues after ship was with the transport system, and the fact that people really didn't have a clear idea of what was going on with that system. Traffic was failing to get from one point to another, and people simply didn't understand why. We put in place some fixes for that after ship by adding new transport layer visualisation modes, but that issue has definitely driven a lot of our thinking about how we make it much clearer to people what's going on under the hood this time around.
I have been playing SC4 for 7 years now and my number 1 annoyance with the game is the inability to build buildings at angles and around curves, along with the few options on intersections and road pathings.
[Andrew] I think we've got the game for you, then! Curvy roads!
Can a city (or region) run out of resources such as water and oil? And in the case of oil. Can a city (or region) develop technologies that will allow it's vehicles and plants to run on other resources?
[Dan] Yes absolutely, resources in our simulation engine are finite. As you extract oil or coal out of the ground it doesn’t get replaced, it’s gone. So if you’ve built up an entire city on the economic basis of extracting a certain resource, when that resource runs out your economy will collapse. For resources like water it works the same way, but can be replenished by environmental factors like rain.
Can you bring this guy back? [picture]
Somewhat related note, I loved SimCity 3000's news ticker.
[Andrew] The news ticker was a great idea. We're trying to update it a bit for the new SimCity, move it from the era of print to today's online papers and blogs. But it's a great way to get a bit of personality and humour into the game, which I think is a lot of what makes a Maxis SimCity game.
[Dan] You have no idea how many email threads around the office were ended with that image
This needs to be answered. I pray for a game like SimCity 4. I love the complicated mechanics, the very difficult to manage budget, traffic problems because of poor design. I want a simulation. SimCity 4 had an impressive amount of behind the scene metrics it use to calculate land value, traffic volume etc... I know there are these young kids who think building a big city with cookie cutter tools and no consequences is some how a fun game, but there are already a ton of these awful dumbed-down games.I crave the complexity of SimCity 3/4 not because it is difficult, but because I'm in awe of the simulation. I love knowing that every citizen needs to find their way to work and back. How roads have realistic volume limits and how bottlenecks have serious consequences. How every piece of infrastructure will require maintenance, how pollution affects land values. How it is more about zoning and allowing the city to grow organically. I mean that is in essence what made SimCity incredible right?
Watching how citizens reacted to your choices and having to work through those obstacles. And please please don't split up housing zones into lower class and upper class bull♥♥♥♥. This is a perfect example of something that was handled by the simulation and replaced with nonsense. You don't need to tell rich people where to live. In the real world they are perfectly able to find the most valuable land and live there. In SimCity 1-4 they could do that too!
[Ocean] Yeah, I agree. You’re describing SimCity. It’s a live simulation that reacts to what you do. It’s a game of indirect control, and the Sims vote with their feet.
If (for some reason) you don’t want rich Sims in a neighborhood, plop down a sewage treatment plant or an incinerator, or just don’t pick up the trash. Trust me, they’ll leave. If you want rich Sims to move in, make sure that there is employment for them and that there are amenities to attract them.
The important thing to add though, is that a deep simulation is only valuable if it’s sufficiently transparent – if you can see what’s going on. (reminds me of the observation that there are 3 kinds of fun in games – things that are fun for players, things that are fun for developers, and things that are fun for the computer). If the player can’t see what’s going on in the simulation, if they can’t understand it and change it, then it’s merely fun for the computer. Rich simulation only matters if you can do something with it.
This is the most important question which needs to be answered. The Launch video already gives me the impression its a cartoony "casual" game like Simcity societies. Only its probably gonna be a browser based facebook game this time around which means it'll be even worse.
[Kip] We are going for a stylized look which has a mesmerizing charm about it. We are building a more accessible SimCity, one that has all the depth, the puzzle solving, the challenge that you love from the greatest city builder ever. We’ve updated the gameplay by adding missions, but maintained the sandbox. We still have a deep city simulation game, but we’ve removed the spreadsheets and explain the details of the simulation through fun info graphic style data layers. This SimCity will be a rich 3D client based PC game and not browser based.
There's a lot of excitement about the Glass Box engine... was it designed to be a little more extensible than just Simcity? Perhaps with other future games in mind?
i.e. DICE's Frostbite engine is being used (or planned to be used) in other EA games. Was this in mind when developing Glass Box?
[Andrew] Definitely! In fact, it started off life as a general simulation engine we could use to revisit previous titles (SimAnt!), and explore new sim game ideas with. The idea to do a new SimCity came later. We have some ambitious plans here, but for now SimCity is the main focus.
Does this new game promise to reticulate any splines?
[Andrew] Our paths (e.g., roads) are fully spline based. Thus, all you have to do is draw out a network of them, and you will have reticulated splines yourself. How awesome is that.
More seriously, thinking up those load screen items was a lot of fun on SimCity 4 for the whole team. I'm looking forward to that process already.
Will buildings be procedurally generated, or at least each appear unique? One gripe I had, even with SC4, was the sheer number of identical buildings everywhere.
Will there still be disasters, and how will they manifest in multiplayer?
[Dan] The buildings aren’t procedurally generated, the geometry for each is modeled by our artists. However, to minimize repeats there’s a decal system for adding random signage to the buildings, and we can also drive building colors by tweaking color palettes. All of that combined is designed to minimize the number of repeat buildings you’ll see. Of course, at one point in development we only had one asset for each of the 9 Wealth/Density combinations... everyone’s commercial sector was road after road of gas stations .
As for disasters, oh yes, there will be disasters. Disasters + physics engine == awesome. As for details about how disasters work in multiplayer, we’ll be talking about that at a later date, but it’s clearly something we’re thinking about and driving towards.
[Part 2 -> next comment, view below]
Reddit and for a better overview Simtropolis