SimCity Interview With Jason Haber: Part Two

SimCity Interview With Jason Haber: Part Two

My interview with Jason Haber from Maxis continues, in which we talk llamas, the fan reaction, UFOs, natural disasters, art style and more. Missed part one? Swing by and take a read of that and don’t forget our preview if you want to know what we think of the game so far.

With the Glassbox engine that’s being developed to power SimCity is it a case of you decided what you want the game to do, built the engine then started building the game or are the two kind of naturally growing together?

Again Andrew and Ocean really are the brains behind the engine, so only they could give you the true answer to that but they built Glassbox to be an engine that could be used by many simulation games. SimCity was a great fit as the first game to use Glassbox but it’s not built only to be used by SimCity; it will be used by other things in the future. We don’t have any specific plans right now but I do know that ideas are brewing, its just that its so much fun to play with that you really want to make something else, but for now were focused on making SimCity and using Glassbox to it’s best.

Right OK… This next question is going to be a bit of a weird one, it’s not necessarily a SimCity question but its something that’s always bugged me and I think I can track it back to the first SimCity…

[laughs] …yes?

There’s this weird thing, I don’t know if it’s with game developers or just a programming thing… But you all have an obsession with llamas, and as best I can tell the first time that ever popped up was in the first SimCity. Is it some sort of secret meme between yourselves that when you pass your computer programming course your told the secret of llamas..?

That’s a good question! I love that question! I don’t know where it originates from…

I just… I don’t know…

…I love llamas. I’m wondering who would know…

Do you know what I mean though? That does seem to have come from the old SimCity games.

It’s hard to know, SimCity is such an old franchise, maybe it did… I don’t know.

[The nice PR lady who accompanied me and Jason interrupts] I’m going to put that on my list of questions to ask people, I’ll see if I can find out an answer for you.

It’s daft I know but it’s something thats always bugged me back from when I was a kid and I could never work out why llamas where always a thing.

I think llamas are just awesome, I think thats why I just love llamas… You know what its just a fun word, thats what it is. Like a double LL, how often do you get a double LL?

…You know what I’ve forgot my next question now.

You’ve been distracted by llamas.

[Nice PR lady tapping away on her iPad] I’m actually sending that question off now to Andrew and Ocean… Oh maybe Tammy might know. [She continues to tap away]

So we might between the three of us find out the secret of llamas? Oh my question I remembered it… When you started work on this new game did you guys go back and look at the original SimCity games to work out what it was that made those good, or did you already have that idea of what SimCity was and then just went and made that?

I think that everybody in the office has gone back and played the old SimCity; you can’t make a game like SimCity without knowing where you came from… Without knowing your roots. I think that every person on the team has a different approach on how we do that, trying to incorporate the old one is a difficult question to ask – I mean it has to still be SimCity right? So as you saw we have the zoning which is kind of the gardening aspect of the gameplay, theres certainly other Maxis SimCity things that you can’t not have right?

Is there going to be like natural disasters and UFO’s and Godzilla then?

Yeah I mean things like that. I think as much as we learned from producing the older SimCity games we also wanted to learn what we could improve on and things we wanted to make better. A lot of people look at SimCity 2000 and the accessibility of that so theres a lot of inspiration from that. We took a look at the fan base and the amount of people who loved SimCity 4 so we want to make sure we’re listening to them. Our community is very very important to us and we want to make sure that we really, well as much as we can, listen to them. We still have to make our game and we want to make the best one we can but thats not to say that we close our ears and don’t listen to anyone because you’d never make a good game other wise.

Speaking of the community and despite the fact that SimCity’s been AWOL for quite a long time everybody made like a big surprised face when that first trailer went up, even myself and I hadn’t even thought about SimCity in years. Everybody was like “SimCity! I love that game!” nobody has a bad word to say against it.

I know, it’s great.

So you guys are happy with the fan and community reaction so far?

Oh yes, we’re excited to show them more actually. We’ve had a very positive reaction and we’re really happy about that, we always hoped they would react that way so I’m glad they are. I think as they see more and more of this game, you know like you saw more of it today too, I hope they’ll get more and more excited. I’m not sure that people really appreciate the scale of how different this is and how great this is going to be. It really is bringing SimCity into the modern days and we’re really excited by it.

It does look good particularly the art style, and that tilt shift effect to the camera just captures the feel perfectly. I want to say that everything looks like models; they tease you a bit, you want to just watch them but they are begging for you to play with them.

You know what I’ve got to pass that onto Ocean, he would be so happy to hear somebody describe the game like that.


[Jason and the nice PR lady] Yes!

[Jason] That is his exact goal, its not meant to be a toy its a model. That’s what he wants and if he could hear you say that he’d be through the roof, he’d be so happy – that has been his goal.

It has absolutely nailed that sort of feel to it, anybody who’s not a fan of SimCity, or even those that are young enough to have never heard of it – they are going to see that game and think “I wanna play that”. You just want to play with it; sounds a bit weird to compare it but SimCity has that kind of Minecraft mentality to it. Did you ever experiment with any other art styles? Like something a bit more top down – say Command and Conquer, or go more isometric?

It was always meant to be a full 3D world, we never really wanted to do a fixed camera – that’s just part of wanting to bring it into this modern world. That said art style is difficult to nail, it’s a very challenging part of any game development process – figuring out what your style is. We’re still in that phase of putting it in and its a challenge. Really Ocean, who’s not only the Creative Director he’s also the Art Director, is driving that vision of what he wants that game to look and feel like. It’s as much about how it looks as how it feels to play it.

[Nice PR lady] I’m going to have to stop you there Lee as we’re running a little bit late but I do have something to tell you. We think llamas did originate with Maxis and SimCity; we’re trying to find out exactly where from but Will Wright has a thing for llamas… You’ve certainly got the office talking and its spread out across the Maxis organisation. When I do find out the origin of the llamas I will email it over to you.

At time of publishing I’m still waiting to find out the truth behind the llama myth and as soon as I know, you guys will. If you missed part one of my interview with Jason go check it out – we talk advisors, mulitplayer, making the SimCity the world always wanted and more and swing by our preview to get our impressions on the game.

Lee Williams

When Lees not playing games in his jammies he sometimes likes to write words about them and moan about people on twitter.

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  1. The Game Jar | SimCity Interview With Jason Haber: Part One
    May 11, 2012, 10:09 am

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