Gameological At E3This Could Be Good


Bright Lights, Little City

The new SimCity comes into focus.

By Gus Mastrapa • June 7, 2012

The preview events provided by most game studios offer only brief glimpses at very big games, so reporting on a preview requires a lot of guesswork and reading between the lines. For E3, we’re highlighting a few games in which we see some promise. Who knows how any given game will pan out in its final form? The most we can say is This Could Be Good.

It feels disloyal to consider a SimCity game now that genius creator Will Wright has parted ways with the pioneering metropolis-building simulator he invented. But it only takes a moment, remembering the tactile pleasure of tracing strips of road across undeveloped land, to shrug away life’s injustices and get lost in the creative possibilities of a new SimCity.

This latest take on the PC classic doesn’t futz with the formula too much. It just embellishes around the borders, adding long-requested features (curvy roads, finally) and modern wrinkles like collaborative city building. Players can invite their friends to connect cities and build a road between the two. Soon, traffic will begin to flow between the two burgs. The town with more housing may see its tiny Sims commuting through a traffic jam to work in a neighboring town. And a city that produces a surplus of electricity can sell that juice to other mayors. Several players can work together, pitching in materials, manpower, and money, to build a shared great work like an International Airport—which will fly in tourists, beef up imports and exports, and reward its builders with a flashy fireworks display and air show.

The entire affair is classed up by a sharp visual style based on the “tilt-shift” camera technique. Landscapes are rendered with a shallow depth of field, so buildings drop out of focus in the distance, making the crystal-clear homes, skyscrapers, and citizens feel tiny and toy-like. The look is more than a gimmick. It works to enhance the already god-like feeling of overseeing and shaping civilization. When a newly powered city comes to life, or when moving vans roll into a neighborhood to depost newcomers, there’s a satisfaction that comes along. I did that.

Other visual flourishes act as ways to organize information. Glowing overlays similar to a Google Maps traffic layer display the distribution of electricity across cites. A heat map blooms havens for criminal activity in red against the stark white of lawful, well patrolled havens. Ignore those red zones too long, and tiny felons will rob your banks and tag your buildings with graffiti.

SimCity has a point of view. In addition to underselling the cultural contributions of Banksy, the game also frowns upon rampant industry. Smog chokes the sky in cities that mine and manufacture, while tourist towns and bedroom communities are portrayed with the idyllic optimism of the urban developer. Power, goods, and material have to come with somewhere, SimCity says. And that somewhere is going to stink.

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2,047 Responses to “Bright Lights, Little City”

  1. EagleEyedTiger says:

    Just looking at this makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, too bad I’m not a PC gamer. But SimCity and SimEarth for SNES was my jam once upon a time.  

  2. Aurora Boreanaz says:

    Sounds to me a bit like more of the same with slightly more detail.  Not necessarily a bad thing, mind you…but the overlay maps showing power, crime, etc. have been around since SimCity 2000 I’m pretty sure.

    The additional details and cooperative play sound fun.  Though invariably after I play a SimCity game for a week or two, I try to sabotage my city via disasters both natural and man(god) made.

    •  The thing that’s supposedly different, that he doesn’t touch on really, is that its supposed to be much more of a simulation now. Like it simulates everything down to people driving to work and how productivity might be hurt by them getting stuck in traffic behind a fire engine. The whole thing’s supposed to be built around “agents” that represent everything from individual citizens to the water flowing through the pipes.

      If you look up “glass box” on Youtube you can see tech demos that show off how this works.

      • Enkidum says:

        Huh, that sounds really cool actually. Like what Ultima Online was attempting to do way back in the day, but apparently failed miserably at. I remember hearing that the idea was that if you killed too many rabbits, you might get dragons invading nearby cities, because their food source was gone, or something like that. Same basic idea, but presumably pumped up to the max here. And now we might have the computing power that it could actually work – with enough complexity, you can get really cool stuff emerging from the interactions of these low-level agents.

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          Oh yeah, that UO claim was basically shelved by the time the game came out.  And replaced by griefers killing you and managing to get YOU flagged by city guards instead of them.  SO. MUCH. FUN.

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        Yeah, I saw a couple of those…that’s what I meant by “additional details”, vague as that statement was.

        It’ll be interesting to see how it works.

        • I think it’s more than additional details though. It’s abstracting things in a whole different way that, I think, will have a big effect on how infrastructure works in the game. In previous titles it’s a lot more abstracted, made into numbers, whereas here it’s about concrete systems.

  3. Mike Mariano says:

    Tiny Town!  This is for Tiny Town, isn’t it?  You did like my idea, didn’t you, Dad?

  4. Enkidum says:

    I like that shallow depth of field, which is apparent in the screenshot above (although it would be clearer in a brighter picture), and you’re right it gives you a godlike feeling. It’s often thought of as turning real people and buildings into something like toys – a really good example is the opening credits to the current British series Sherlock, where something like the London Eye ferris wheel looks about 6 inches high, and it’s probably meant to symbolize the way Sherlock views his city and its people. Haven’t noticed it being used in games before, but it’s a really good idea, because these are toys.

    Wow, I’m really spending a lot more time writing here today than I am working. Ruh-roh!

    • caspiancomic says:

       I usually have godlike feelings regarding my surroundings anyway, so I’ll take your word for it.

  5. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    I’m feeling very excited by this, even though I haven’t been properly involved in a Sim City since the SNES version with the unlimited money cheat enabled.
       My love for the free-form building and creation elements of the game are consistently undermined by my total right-brained inability to map the simplest development plan for taxation and resource allocation.
       I bought the iPad version of Sim City and attempted to play by the rules.  Within a single round all my city budget was zero and I think the entirety of my city’s population was dead or devolved into cannibalistic scavengers.  

    • caspiancomic says:

       Haha, I think I have a similar problem. I’ve always loved SimCity, and I’ve always been crap at it. I never understood why having a 50% tax rate would cause my population to plummet, or why placing a residential block between a power plant and an airport was a bad idea. Heck, I didn’t even know what “industrial” meant back in the day, so I just dumped industrial blocks and residential blocks intermittently. I was basically a slumlord.

      A couple of years back I picked up SimCity for the DS, but it was actually pretty bad. I had a better idea of how a city ought to function, but suddently it was the game that didn’t know. My citizens kept on coming up to me and demanding outrageous stuff. I had a town of less than five hundred thousand citizens but it had like three marinas, and they kept asking for more! Every year like clockwork someone would come in and demand more marinas. And this town had like 100 schools! There must have been a school for every kid in that town, and they kept demanding more!

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        Hah!  Nice.  Well, I guess folks need quality education just to keep all those marinas running.

      • Aaron Riccio says:

        The only Sim game I was ever any good at was SimTower, but I’ve got fond memories of utterly failing at the disaster-scenarios in the good ol’ SimCity days. Volcanoes and aliens, oh my.

  6. ImANarc says:


    • ImANarc says:

      What I really wanted to do was say some lines from the guy who everybody boos but I couldn’t remember/find any of his exact dialogue.

  7. StephenM3 says:

    I love the look of this, and a new Sim City game is almost always
    welcome. There’s one major problem in the rumor pipeline, though:
    they’re saying there won’t be an offline mode, even for single player.
    You know, that same “feature” that has made Diablo III’s reception so

    In fact, it seems like they’re buying into this whole “your city exists
    in a persistent online region” thing wholesale.  Even if you’re building
    in a single-player region, there’s no such thing as loading an old
    save.  Which means no more recklessly destroying your meticulously-built
    city for fun, then undoing it harmlessly.

    • Merve says:

      One of the greatest things about SC2K was unleashing a monster on a failed city to sublimate my frustrations. And I had a lot of failed cities; my young self didn’t exactly understand taxation.

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        I understood taxation fine, I got ticked off when every other block became a church or hospital.  I started demolishing churches over and over until they’d become residences again.  And then the second I turned my back, more churches!  Monster time….

        And I wasn’t even atheist at the time!

        • Merve says:

          Funnily enough, I had the exact opposite reaction. Seeing a church pop up in my city gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. And I’ve never been a Christian. It just made me feel as if my Sims were leading full lives.

        • Aaron Riccio says:

          Churches are like white hairs; pluck one out and another two sprout up.

    • Shain Eighmey says:

      I find that to be a major concern for me. Sometimes It was fun to destroy a city I had put so much time into, but rarely did I want to keep it that way. 

  8. HobbesMkii says:

    I’d heard something a while ago about how air quality would be effected by every city, so that if there was one bad polluter in the region, everyone else’s air quality would suffer.  Is that still a “feature?”

    • Limeade Youth says:

      If I can send my godzilla into a anonymous on-line neighbor’s Utopia, I can die a happy man.

  9. The Sputnik Sweethearts says:

    Is there an older SimCity that anyone would particularly recommend? Preferably one that would be cheap, can play on my Mac, or is old enough that I can emulate it without feeling too guilty about not paying money to play it? 

    • Merve says:

      SimCity 2000 is the only one I’ve played, but it’s very well-made, so I’d recommend that you give it a whirl.

    • ImANarc says:

      I think the first SimCity is freeware (Maybe? I wouldn’t feel too bad about emulating that considering its age)) and that’s always a fun way to kill a lazy afternoon with. has SimCity 2000, which is when the series really took off.  SimCity 3000 isn’t bad, it offered a refinement of 2000.  SimCity 4, to me, is the best one, but that’s one of the newer ones.  I’d say go for SimCity 2000 on since it’s a great game and only six bucks!

      • Shain Eighmey says:

        I’ll throw my hat strongly behind Sim City 2000. It’s just so full of great gameplay and humor. Just remember to type in priscilla for the debug menu if you want to have the complete god experience! 

    • Effigy_Power says:

       I find SC4 slightly better than SC2K, mostly because it’s more accessible and has a more polished work-space. The workings between several smaller towns with traffic connections on the world-map are fairly interesting and can really be thrown around when you suddenly add a big industrial super-city in the middle.

  10. Effigy_Power says:

    I really want this to be good. I liked Sim City 4 with the traffic addon, but it didn’t really add anything SC2K hadn’t already mastered. I was really excited when Societies came out, but that was such a letdown… Such a massive letdown.
    I just hope they don’t go haywire on the online thing and turn this into facebook with houses.

    • GhaleonQ says:

      Honestly, that’s why I’m glad that Wright is permanently marginalized.

      • Effigy_Power says:

         I can’t claim to know if Wright’s influence is good or bad for any Sim game, because I have no idea about the inner workings there at Maxis. Sometimes however it requires a change in management to revive any franchise, even if the management did a good job so far. Lengthy success can breed routine, after all.

  11. Shain Eighmey says:

    I love SimCity! This is without a doubt, the game series that has had the largest impact on my life. I remember as a grade school kid I figured out simple algebra simply so I could better play this game by being able to make use of the loan system. 

    There is a magic in the balance of control vs. chaos that this series offers, where just as you think everything is well within your hands the game can suddenly wrest it out by the completely fair combination of complex variables that governs city behavior. Of course, I can’t count Societies in that, but the rest of the series has just been magic. 

  12. jimboch02 says:

    Is there any way that I, on a Macbook, could play Simcity 2000?  I miss that game.  

    • The Sputnik Sweethearts says:

       Download Boxer which is a DOS emulator, and then you can download the .exe and it’ll play no problemo.