Attention to detail – it can make or break a game. I’m not talking about all games, obviously the AAA FPS’ will always sell regardless but as a loose rule we’re done with them a few weeks after they are out, before moving on to something else. The games that have legs (AAA or not) are the ones that really take it to the next level, games that you might pop on for an hour in the week or sit down and lose a whole Sunday too. A perfect example of that type of game…? SimCity.
Almost instantly you’ll fall in love with SimCity. I know we shouldn’t be so superficial about looks (I’m not) but SimCity is the cute girl (or boy) across the room. I wouldn’t liken it to being ‘sexy’ or ‘hot’, but it just has a charm to it that draws you in. You want to get to know it better and spend some quality time with it.
Our demo begins in a part-established prebuilt town with a sweep upwards through a forest, before eventually hitting a neighborhood. You can’t help but feel sucked in right from the get go, this town is just so alive. People are walking up and down the streets going in and out of shops, driving their cars around and interacting with the world just like we do ours. The SimCitys of old did require a little bit of imagination on the player’s part to fill in the gaps.
To be fair to them this was probably more of a technical hardware issue than anything, but you knew that if you connected a residential area to an industrial one with a road those people in the residential would just magically have employment. Now what Maxis have created with this new take on how that ‘stat’ (in this case employment) is represented to the player is one of their core design elements, quite simply titled as “What we sim is what you see.”
So now when you have your residential area connected to the industrial area at 8:30am the man of the house would leave home, get in his car and drive to work. In the meantime his wife might leave the house to take the kids to school, you can literally follow either of them to their destination. I know it sounds like a tiny almost nothing thing, but for SimCity fans it’s that kind of attention to detail that we just haven’t been able to witness before now.
Building and zoning has gone through an overhall too; the whole process is now much more playful. Laying down a road is a case of picking which road type you’d like from the hot bar and simply dragging it where you want it – this includes the ability to now do curvy roads! Zoning a residential area is just as easy, and all you need to do is select the tool and drag out the area next to the road, then just hit accept and watch the magic begin. First thing that’ll happen is the builders will arrive and start knocking up the houses, then when they’ve been finished a ‘for sale’ sign goes up shortly after – providing they are in an area people want to live a moving van will show up then people will get out and start unloading boxes.
Said moving van happened to have stopped in the road outside our new house ,which was just off a busy main street and slowly but surely other cars start to stack up behind the van, eventually having a knock-on effect and causing a larger traffic problem on the busy road. All that was just from the tiny act of somebody moving to a new house – I’d love to see how the cause and effect of much larger decisions plays out, not just in your city but across the region, but sadly one we didn’t have time for in our demo.
Things that you do in your city is something that very much effects what is going on in the region around you, and can effect those who you are playing online with. Much like we’ve seen in the first trailer for the game, where the two cities work together to build a power station, co-operation is key when playing online and working together just feels like a natural thing do thanks to the friendly feel that SimCity has. That’s not to say that you can’t work against another player though, and while you cant directly build or destroy anything in anybody else’s city, you can do things that will have a negative effect on them and their Sims. Creating some dirty industry on your side of the border that’s shared with a residential neighbourhood for example is naturally going to upset your neighbour’s residents.
Erect a giant Las Vegas-esq casino city and not care to much about crime – thats going to bleed over in to your neighbour’s cities too, forcing them to spend more on law enforcement. I should point out that you don’t need to worry about strangers on the internet sabotaging your city; you can choose to play with just a group of friends you trust if you wish.
A prime example of the crime problem was when an unsavory character showed up in town driving a rather bitchin’ van. He’d accelerate off the mark when stop signs turned green and in general drive like a boy racer blasting his music – you could tell he meant trouble. So we followed him through town and watched as he pulled up outside an apartment building, and proceeded to firebomb the place with Molotov Cocktails before jumping back in his van and tearing off out of town. It’s at this point we can choose to send the cops after him, get the fire brigade there as soon as possible or see if we have the skill to pull off both.
We think that might be pushing our luck a little and decide to call in the fire brigade to save the building, but we’ve forgotten to build the fire station. Into the hot bar and build mode as quick as we can (thankfully the game pauses at this point). Putting down a building like a firehouse is as simple as you would expect it to be: just select from the menu and hold it above the ground. It’ll casually sway in the air as you move it around deciding where to put it and should it have an area of effect or coverage associated with it, the roads around it will change colour from green to red indicating how covered your town is.
So any fires we have in green zones we know will be sorted, while red ones are probably going to cause a much bigger problem and need a station nearby. We put our station down in the best spot we could, but our building that was on fire sat in an orange zone, so it’s time to upgrade the firehouse, which actually lets us customize our buildings a little by deciding what to add and where on the building. In this case extra fire engines can be added for a wider coverage area, a bell to warn residents and a sign… just to make it look pretty. A puff of smoke hits as the buildings drop into place and the fire brigade are on-route to put out the flames.
SimCity is so alive with life it’s near unthinkable; every single action has a real world reaction, the politics system of old seems to have been removed and instead replaced with visual cues and data layers enabling you to keep a better watch over your city, which should make the finished game feel much more accessible.
All that attention to detail coupled with the art style makes everything in SimCity feel like a model, and it makes you feel twelve again. Half of you wants to just sit and watch it while the other half of you is itching to play with it. It’s shaping up to be the SimCity everybody’s always wanted and could deliver a lot more than we expect.