SimCity Interview With Jason Haber: Part One
Following on from my SimCity preview the other week I had a chance to talk with one of the game’s producers, Jason Haber from Maxis, about everything from community, Sunday gaming, multiplayer, art style, advisors, the original games, the thing about llamas and more.
It’s been a while since we last saw a SimCity and I’ve got this theory about it being a perfect Sunday game; it’s not necessarily a game that I’d play in the week after work but it’s a game I’ll quite happily play all day Sunday until the next thing you know it’s three o’clock and your mum’s on the phone asking why you haven’t come round for your dinner. Is that how you guys feel about SimCity – it’s like a nice easy game and not something anybody has to grind at like some management games, or do you try and cater for as many ways people play as possible?
We definitely want to cater to as wide an audience as possible, I don’t think grinding and SimCity go next to each other in the same sentence – that would be an odd statement, but it is a very different sort of game that you’re playing against like a shooter or an RPG. Yes I think that it’s a very unique game; our goal with this SimCity is to appeal to a very wide audience to make sure that people who love SimCity are satisfied that we’ve really brought back the franchise they love. We also want to welcome new players who aren’t familiar with it and those who may have been overwhelmed by SimCity 4, which could have been a daunting game to some people.
Speaking of SimCity 4 and I suppose historically with all the SimCity games, there was always kind of a political side to it with the advisors, but that’s not something you’ve spoke about yet. Personally I’m hoping that its kept away from this one, I like the idea of the visual feedback that the game naturally gives you. You can see when the power’s out and you can see when sims are protesting outside city hall for example. I can’t quite think how best to describe it so this probably isn’t the best wording, but are you trying to give it more of an organic narrative rather than steering people towards events through the advisors of old?
Well… Something that we didn’t actually show off in what you seen today but have in the game is that the sims themselves will give you feedback, and this is optional of course. What you can do is peer into the thoughts of them to see what they think of the actions you’ve done or what they want, and sometimes they’ll even directly ask you for something. Again we’re trying to emulate what it would be like to be a real Mayor… except for the reading peoples thoughts part… but people can come up and ask you for something and you can do it, or you can just ignore what they’re saying.
Part of that is to give those players who are newer to the franchise or those that just want it, a little more guided gameplay. We don’t have advisors in the game right now, we’re still playing with the idea of it so I can’t say if we will or won’t. We do present some of the issues you have in a direct way, sometimes in as much as you looking at your city and seeing that it doesn’t have power, so you can then just look at the data layer and see where the problem is. The news ticker is still in there, we also have the SimCity wire which is the modern take on the police feed of the old SimCity 2000. The other side of that though is that we do appreciate the player who wants that totally open sandbox, and we wanna make sure that the game is available for them to do that.
Touching on the art style and the way it plays and everything it seems to be like… well, like everything that anybody who has ever played a SimCity has wanted it to be. Which I’m guessing has been restricted in the past by technology, whether it was putting down the grey boxes of the originals with what might as well have been gifs that pop up, right through to even the most recent version. Now you have that dynamic; a person lives in a house, they go out and get in the car, they drive to work, stuff happens at work, they leave and then drive home and you can see all of that taking place. Do you guys feel the same? Like this isn’t a remake or a re-imagining, theres no number associated with it, is this the SimCity that everybody always wanted?
Ahaha well I think you pretty much answered the entire question yourself. So, Ocean Quigley and Andrew Willmott are the brains behind Glassbox and this new SimCity, they’ve been waiting for the technology of the day to really catch up. We all like to say that its a simulation with integraty and it really is, becuase everything you see is actually simulated within the game. I’m hesitant to say its the SimCity we always wanted to make, thats a very large statement. This is something that we really want to make. I think the name is sort of a reimagining and we are taking kind of a different approach, its a bottom up simulation as opposed to just statistics with pretty graphics on top, and we really are simulating everything in the game.
With the multiplayer and the way that works you’ve said that we’ll all have our own city, we’ll have a next door neighbour who we can trade with and cooperate with much like in that first trailer where you show the two players building the power plant. Are we going to be able to choose who those neighbours are or will the game just be putting other players who we may or may not know around us?
All cities are in a region, and a region is created by a player. Then they can decide how to assign out those cities in that region. They can keep them all to themselves, they can say they only want to share them with friends or they can make them open to the public. We’re still working out the exact details around that but the idea is that we want to make sure people can play in a comfortable box… I shouldn’t say box… A comfortable region. We certainly hope that people will play with strangers as well and we think we’ll have some pretty interesting social dynamics as many games do but for those who want more control over who they play with – that will be available and we’ll be talking much more about the multiplayer at E3.
Check out part two of our interview with Jason in which we talk Glassbox engine, revisiting the originals, the SimCity community, art style and the secret of llamas.