When it comes to SimCity, the best intentions often lead to the worst outcomes.
You'll sit down with a vision in your head of lovingly constructing the ultimate leafy university town. You'll wake up 10 hours later running a stinking post-industrial mess - and that's when you unleash Godzilla, sit back and watch the whole thing burn. And start again, immediately.
Which is sort of the point. Because the secret of SimCity is that even when you're the mayor of Fail-Deathtown USA, you're having fun.
In summary: being a horrible virtual politician is amazing.
Ahead of the UK release of the all-new SimCity, we wanted to go to the source and find out why destroying the innocent lives of our Sim Citizens is so helplessly fun.
We caught up with Maxis producer Jason Haber via email to ask him where the SimCity is going, and what makes cities so wonderful to destroy, build, destroy.
One of my favourite stories in games last year was this one. Have you ever heard of similar things happening in SimCity, where narrative emerges on its own to frankly disturbing results?
One of my favorite stories about SimCity is one of our fans that created a massive city using SimCity 3000. His city is called “Magnasanti,” which has 6 million residents and took him 3 years to build out. There is a YouTube video documenting his efforts and it’s pretty amazing to see his dedication. I love that our players can push the game so far and make such amazing things.
Were there real-life cities, towns or stories which inspired your creative approach?
Ocean Quigley, our creative director, took inspiration from a number of sources. A lot of research when into what each building type looks like in the game, using real-world reference images found from many different sources (we had someone doing this fulltime for a good portion of the development cycle). The terrain and climate are mostly inspired by Northern California, where our studio is located.
SimCity is an upbeat sort of IP - how do you handle dark/depressed/doomed cities within that brand?
Even the cities on the brink of failure are treated with a lighthearted since of humor. It can be pretty entertaining to see what your Sims are thinking as their city is falling apart. Sometimes I even like to play as a bit of an evil mayor just to see what kind of reactions I can get from the city. One of my favorite “evil mayor” moments is placing a sewage pipe right in the middle of a wealthy neighborhood – their reactions are hilarious and it always brings a smile to my face.
What kind of story-telling is possible in the new SimCity?
With this new SimCity, we’ve really given players the tools they need to create whatever kind of city they want. The combination of the model-like world, city specialisations and visual filters create a great space for story-telling. We’ve even got image and video capture capabilities built into the game, so sharing stories with others is very straightforward.
I personally find that when I’m playing, I often create a story about what’s happening in my city and sometimes use the filters to reflect this. If I have a coal town, I may use the de-saturated filter to make it look a bit more depressed, or if I have a tourist town I’ll use the teal & orange filter to pump up the visuals.
I also love the fact that I can click on any Sim, vehicle or building and see its name and thoughts or intentions, which helps even more with my narrative immersion. I cannot wait to see what kind of stories our players create with these tools!
Will there eventually be ways for the modding community to get involved?
Modding has always been a part of SimCity’s history and we’re big fans of just how far people have taken our past titles. We don’t have anything to announce in terms of modding, but we know that this is an important aspect of SimCity. GlassBox was built from the start with the idea of modding in mind.
Does SimCity have a future on mobile?
Right now we are completely focused on launching the SimCity and supporting it going forward. But the GlassBox Engine was developed to work on many platforms, so who knows what the future could hold?
How does multiplayer change how narrative works in the game?
Multi-City play allows cities to interact with each other in a number of ways: Sims travel between cities, utilities can be bought and sold, service vehicles can be shared and Simoleons or resources can be gifted. Since players can outsource various aspects of their city management, this allows them to create unique, specialised cities that are a great backdrop for different types of narratives.
These cities will also get visiting Sims that come into their cities, including workers, students and even criminals. By getting down close into your city, these elements can really add to the sense that you’re watching a story unfold in front of your eyes.
How do you make bad or troubled cities fun to play?
Troubled cities can be some of the most fun and challenging to play since there are so many things you need to balance and keep your eye on. We don’t view these as a fail state at all; in fact players can even compete on leaderboards that are related to these more troubled cities, like who has the most crime or highest pollution.
Players can use this to essentially create scenarios for their friends by driving a city to the brink of failure, abandoning the city, and inviting their friend take over. Of course, if someone feels like a city is beyond repair, they can always unleash a ton of disasters and finish the job. My son loves it when I do this.
Can you give us a hint at how the game might evolve over time?
We view SimCity as a live service, allowing us to engage and react to how players are playing the game or even real world events. We’ll then use this information to provide new challenges and content for the game. We don’t have any specifics plans I can comment on at the moment, but I can assure you that we are and will continue to listen and respond to our community.