The Death And Life Of Great Simulated Cities

SimCity proves to be the best and worst of times.

By Drew Toal • March 11, 2013

It’s a classic tale of two cities, one the very model of intelligent urban planning and good government, the other a spontaneously, continuously generating boomtown undone by a complete inability to plan for long-term sustainability. When citizens of Gameologeocity, a metropolis of 80,000 simulated souls, have to move away because of septic garbage mountains and a lack of potable water, it’s time to get a new mayor. The problem is, that mayor is me. Fortunately for this oppressed multitude, the mayor of nearby Super G-Town is a towering Fiorella LaGuardia to my hapless Abe Beame. They’ll be okay.

SimCity’s premise hasn’t changed all that much since the original game’s release in 1989. As god-king-mayor of your metropolis, you’re tasked with building, growing, and maintaining the city, striking a healthy balance between public and private concerns. But this game, unlike its predecessors, requires an internet connection to play, because it encourages cooperation with your neighbors to optimize resource management and growth. A surplus of energy, police cars, or poop can be shipped to nearby towns, and your own shortages can be addressed by negotiating deals with other mayors in your region.

It’s an intriguing concept, but the game’s launch has been plagued by connection issues and subsequent cries of moral outrage among those denied access to the game they purchased. (There is no offline mode.) SimCity’s load screens have a long-running joke—they make nonsensical claims that the game is busy “reticulating splines” or “herding llamas” while you wait—but this gag took on a different irony over the past week, as the new SimCity herded llamas over and over while players waited minutes or hours or days to access the game. I won’t spend this review judging the technical shortsightedness of the game’s publisher, Electronic Arts, or the righteous indignation of otherwise functional adults who froth at the mouth when they can’t reach their virtual dollhouse communities for a few days. Suffice to say that it was not an ideal debut.


For my part, I had minimal trouble, aside from getting booted from the game a couple of times and some difficulty viewing neighboring towns. This last issue actually proved a blessing in disguise. When I finally got a good look at nearby Super G-Town—overseen by Gameological assistant editor Matt Gerardi—with its clean street grids and well-developed waterfront, it brought my own beloved burg’s tragic flaws to light.

To start, players must build connecting roads branching off the main highway that goes through the entire region. Each side of your new streets can be zoned for residential, industrial or commercial use. These will grow organically. Public spaces—your city hall, parks, power plants, police stations, trash dumps, and everything else that makes a city go—should be thoughtfully placed for maximum coverage and future development. The police station, for instance, needs space for an expanding prison population, and garbage dumps quickly spill over their bounds.

My city was always being built to stave off the next crisis—literally and figuratively putting out brush fires. Sometimes it was arson (Gerardi complained of an influx of Gameologeocity-born firebugs soon after he founded Super G-Town), and sometimes it was the crackling blaze of illiteracy. To relieve traffic, I’d build insane webs of roundabouts and avenues to nowhere. It really didn’t occur to me that it would be a problem to build my water pumping station adjacent to a sewage treatment plant. In an effort to prove to the populace that this was “all part of the plan,” I raised my suspiciously, increasingly opulent mayor’s mansion on the same block. If they had to drink this brownish water, I would too.


Not only was my city’s main water source polluted, but it was also stupidly placed above a shallow water table, ensuring constant shortages. (But is it really government’s job to provide water to people? The city’s conservative elements might argue that people should go out and shoot their own water.) Matt Gerardi, on the other hand, had placed water towers all along the tributary that bisects Super G-Town. There would always be enough water there to hydrate the masses and extinguish the blazes caused by Gameologeocity’s chief export, serial arson.

My randomized developing style wouldn’t be so bad if it could expand indefinitely. Each city, though, has constricting borders, and even on the tightest city grid, there won’t be enough room to build enough of everything. This contrived scarcity of acreage, more than anything else, facilitates cooperation between cities. Topographical differences are really the only wildcard—some regions are more mountainous, some near the water—so there isn’t a ton of opportunity to maximize comparative advantage. Production costs are about the same for everyone. But cities can specialize in different areas—focusing on science, for instance, or waste disposal—and raise the economic ceiling through regional cooperation. Each town effectively becomes a semi-autonomous part of a larger super-city.


Despite all of the customizable options, there seems to be a real danger of most cities looking more or less the same once everyone learns how to play. One way to counter this homogeneity is to build a Department Of Finance off of your main city hall building. This structure allows you to tax different incomes at different rates. I told The Gameological Society’s editor, John Teti, of my plan to build a rich-person enclave and shake them down with debilitating taxes, effectively driving them out but keeping their money to finance public works. “It sounds like Cleveland,” he said, referring to my vision of a chippy, working-class utopia.

To me, that will be the thing to watch as SimCity starts working properly and regions begin to grow. How much will real-world class antagonism spread to EA’s servers? The unstated goal of the game is maximal growth, but what if you prefer a less economically ambitious city? Is it less of a success if you decide not to invite shady biomedical research companies into your neighborhoods? Sure, Gameologeocity’s star basketball player might flee to the warmer climes and lower marginal tax rate of nearby Super G-Town, but at least my people won’t be reduced to the status of industrial and commercial fuel.


That said, I couldn’t make my vision work on my first playthrough. Not the way I wanted. So there was only one thing left to do. SimCity boasts a series of unlockable natural disasters, one of which is a red, Godzilla-like monster. Mournfully, I set the creature loose on my nuclear power plant. It didn’t level the city like I had hoped, but the beast did enough damage to ensure Gameologeocity will die a natural, dignified death, and I’m hopeful that where Gameologeocity failed, the city of Toaledo will succeed.

SimCity looks gorgeous, and there is enough weird stuff to do—citizens periodically issue challenges and side quests for fun and profit—to keep yourself occupied while the city grows. If you and your neighbors grow wealthy enough, you can even build “great works”—like a solar farm, an international airport, and even a self-contained “arcology” bio-dome—that benefit the entire region. Still, I am curious to see how diverse the ecosystem becomes. Where the paths fork in distinct directions in a “god game” like Civilization, the possibilities are less well defined in SimCity. Time will tell.

Developer: Maxis
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: PC
Price: Standard edition (reviewed)—$60; “deluxe” edition—$80
Rating: E

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159 Responses to “The Death And Life Of Great Simulated Cities”

  1. PugsMalone says:

    No Sim City disaster will ever top Bowser in the SNES version.

    • I liked the Robo-Spider from SimCity 2000. 

    • LoveWaffle says:

      Counterpoint: Always Online DRM

      • Effigy_Power says:

        Actually, a good many of us seem to be able to deal with that in real life. Can’t remember the last time I turned off my cell phone other than in a hospital.

        • Boonehams says:

          When EA shuts off the SimCity servers for good after the sequel comes out, you’ll change your tune.

        • @Boonehams:disqus : I assume that there will be an effective offline mod by then.

        • Effigy_Power says:

          What Dave said. If all else fails, there are always cracks. Cracks EA encouraged with their odd policies.
          If anything, the increasing number and subsequent failures of DRMs like this encourage piracy in people who before were on the cusp. It certainly gives pirates and crackers plenty to train on.

        • ToddG says:

          It seems that the online-only attribute is inherent to the game’s architecture more than being just tacked-on DRM.  A lot of necessary calculations are done server-side to save client processing power, and so an offline “mode” would basically require them to re-engineer the whole game.

        • GaryX says:

          Yeah, the real problem with the server issues has highlighted the temporary nature of this game. Maxis has said it’s basically impossible for them to make it online, and because we can count on EA to turn those servers off at some point, eventually the game will die.

  2. PaganPoet says:

    Poor, brave John Teti…he runs the digital Mogadishu, Somalia as composed to Matt Gerardi’s pristine digital Stockholme, Sweden.

  3. Staggering Stew Bum says:

    …I’m hopeful that where Gameologeocity failed, the city of Toaledo will succeed.

    Let’s hope it’s a real Drewtopia.

  4. Enkidum says:

    I want to read a competing review from Gerardi!

    Must… not… buy…  10 days…. to complete… thesis…

  5. Citric says:

    My problem with Sim City is that while I might start the game with lofty goals for making a brilliant city, I’m a pretty focused goal-based player as a rule. As a result, as soon as my city isn’t constantly growing I’ll get bored, summon every disaster and then my city is a smoking ruin. I’m sure other players will get super annoyed when my plans fall through after all the Godzillas kill my city.

    • Dom King says:

      That’s all I used to do on the SNES one once I ran out of cash and before I discovered the cashflow cheat.
      Either that or turn it into a complete police state or if I was really been a prick of a god, deliberately making it uninhabitable.Plus it always seemed insane it let you crash planes.

      • Steven Davis says:

        My strategy was to make it where they would complain about the crime & the pollution, but the taxes were incredibly cheap, so they’d be mad about it, but stay put.

        • Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle says:

          aka the Republican Party strategy.

        • HobbesMkii says:

          @NakedManHoldingAFudgesicle:disqus Hey, at least this time it’s a video game borrowing from the GOP’s playbook, as opposed to the other way around.

      • The SNES version had a pretty major flaw: Commercial zones would only develop if they were adjacent to water or a casino.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      My problem with Sim City is a play through always results in a fairly accurate referendum on my lack of real-world skills.
      Every time I try, I think it’ll be a a Duplo-level intensity creation tool where I can simply will a sparkling utopia into exsistance with a flourish and a smile.
      But by the time I lay my first stretch of road, I’m already inexplicably deep in debt, and as much as I manically fiddle with the settings like the prole worker at the giant clock in Metropolis, I can never adjust the tax rate or resource use or anything to prevent my city from devolving into anything but a craterous dystopia.
      Pretty soon, little check cashing places, porno theaters, Arby’s and other unsavory models that I’m pretty sure were never even programmed into the game appear. The only thing flowing through the water pipes is, like… Demon afterbirth.
      This is why my wife handles the bulk of our finances. I am the red-skinned Godzilla that lumbers across our checking account.

    • stakkalee says:

      My go-to strategy for Simcity is low taxes for 9 months, then excessively high taxes for 3 months. At the start of the new year I lower them back down to the regular level as a Three Kings’ Day gift to my subjects.  I find the three months of economic terror is long enough to fill my coffers but just short enough that it doesn’t have a major long-term effect on population.  That and parks – I put parks everywhere.  Police station?  Park next to it.  Garbage dump?  Surround it with parks.  Random square that won’t grow? Rezone that sucker and make it a park.

      • djsubversive says:

        I tend to get petty about things. There’s a Residential district that’s going along nicely, except for these two apartment buildings that are now abandoned? Rather than figure out why they were abandoned, it gets demolished with a “fuck you, sims, now nobody gets to live there!” I might replace it with parks or a commercial  plot or something. or I leave it empty… as a warning. 

        Good idea about the 3 months of high taxes at the end of the year. I might have to try that. It couldn’t be any worse than my usual strategy of haphazard city-planning and random tax hikes when the coffers get exceptionally low.

      • aklab says:

        Better than a Paunch Burger!

      • Merve says:

        I used to open parks just to hear the canned applause.

        Ten-year-old me really needed validation.

  6. myrandomnickname says:

    I’m curious what a town can do sabotage its neighbours. I can see spending weeks of effort managing your town, only to have it implode when your random internet neighbour decides to go down in a blaze of glory (or start a crime wave with the express goal of taking your city down with it). 

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      Yeah, camping, sniping, cheating and griefing are all one thing. Someone going Milwaukee on me? That’s just immoral.

    • Flying_Turtle says:

      I wondered the same thing, because I try to put stuff that spews pollution in a corner or the edges of my city map, so some of the pollution would leave. I’d imagine that a neighboring city that has managed to power itself with solar panels, wind farms, and hugs might be unhappy if a giant coal-fired pollution cloud of death rolled in.

  7. CNightwing says:

    It really is a beautiful engine by the looks of things, I have watched several  videos of just the beta weekend and I was on the verge of pre-ordering it. Fortunately for me I delayed, it was released in the US and exhibited its various problems, so now I’m in wait-and-see mode.

    Of all the complaints, I think the city size is the most valid. This is first and foremost a simulation – the level of statistical and graphical power available really emphasises this, and yet you are bizarrely hedged in by mysterious empty space between cities that the federal government presumably deems an area of natural beauty or something. I could understand there being a growing border, that you might need to spend funds or reach some goal to gain access to more land, but as it is it’s just a big old square that discourages you from coast, rivers and unbuildable terrain within your city limits – things that have always been a challenge, and pretty to boot.

    • ComradePig says:

      The uniformity and drab visual design of geography is one of the things that has immediately struck me from the screenshots of this, and carries over more generally to a real certain sterility in game’s entire aesthetic. Everything just looks so flat and lifeless.

      The ‘big old square’ aspect you mention just highlights the artificiality of everything, and from what I’ve seen so far, seems to render the player’s creation into an awkwardly constrained sim neighborhood more than a proper urban environment.

      Connecting one’s cities with other players is actually a neat idea but the sacrifices to scale and player choice seem to act in opposition to what a Sim City game should be, and by and large its mandatory nature just seems like an excuse for EA to push the game’s ‘social’ and ‘connectivity’ features that hint at a future for the franchise that’s closer to Farmville than the classics people adore.

      • Mookalakai says:

         The connected cities thing does seem kind of neat too, but I find it only makes things worse most of the time and hardly works as it should. I currently am having the problem where my train stations don’t work, so people from my cities won’t commute by train, and they completely clog up the roads instead. Instead of having two cities function together, one completely bottlenecks the other.

        I also think the square design of the city is contrived, and since this SimCity introduced curved roads, they could have introduced new shapes for cities as well, instead of perfect right angles. Not that circular city borders would have changed much, but at least it’d be a little bit different and more natural looking.

    • Mookalakai says:

       The city size is also really frustrating because your advisers absolutely never stop telling you to zone, so even if you want to play it a bit slow and save your space, you feel like you’re fucking up by not constantly zoning more industry or medium wealth shoppers.

    • Citric says:

      When it comes to getting more land, they should include negotiating with neighboring rural municipalities to annex land in a long, multi-year, surprisingly tedious process, and then randomly the municipalities will decide to take you to court for no reason.

      I have to deal with local politics a lot in my regular life.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      Rollercoaster Tycoon used to do it that way, didn’t it? You started with a small, easily manageable park that you expended by buying more land. That way you weren’t overwhelmed by the size and yet not constrained.
      Small city sizes were also a huge problem in SC4. The smallest city plot size, especially when not just a flat plane, barely had any usable acreage and allowed only for small cities, which would have been okay if not for SimCity’s inability to adequately portray and manage small cities.
      Nobody will buy a town with 15,000 people that has 40 story skyscrapers in the middle. Advisers constantly nag to expand move-in ability. It’s a pain in the ass. Cities XL does that considerably better by encouraging stagnating perfection over pointless expansion, yet makes a lot of other mistakes.

      -sigh- The constant and repetitious inability of game developers to learn from past mistakes and successes really can be baffling. We all seem to be pretty much in agreeance about how a game like SC5 should have worked. Multiplayer, yes. But optional multiplayer. Scalable plot-size. Terraforming.
      Seriously, how hard can it be to listen to the community?

      In addition to that: Always-on DRMs, in addition to that, don’t stop any but the most amateur of potential pirates, and those are just as easily discouraged with CD-keys or online activation.
      Cracks are available usually before game-launch, so why even bother? No amount of piracy could have cost Maxis and EA as much money in sales as the dramatic fail of this launch.
      I’d love to believe that maybe this and Diablo 3 will teach game studios to get rid of always-on DRM, but then why would a industry that doesn’t have the insight to listen to what people want have that amount of introspection?

      Better get used to more game-launches like this. People will at some point start taking these for granted, just like they do at the launch of every MMO. Server-issues and lag are so unanimously bad on launch-day that games become unplayable, yet somehow this is begrudgingly accepted as normal. And people still pre-order MMOs like crazy.

      Consumers, us included, are stupid. We encourage this by being way too accepting and casual about this. No other industry gets away with this. Nobody who buys a car accepts 3, 4 days of not being able to drive. Nobody buying a DVD accepts not being able to watch it for a week. Only gaming comes to mind here and it has to stop. It won’t though. Not as long as we keep spending millions to validate failure. Which we will, because some games are good and have no issues, some games are worth pre-ordering. And without the ability to know these things ahead of times, we can either pre-order and be disappointed or wait and miss out on good games.
      Catch 22.

  8. Destroy Him My Robots says:

    I’m starting to feel a bit more sober about this game after initially being really excited. Firefighters all hurry to the same place instead of spreading out in the case of multiple fires. Sims loudly complain about germs that barely even exist according to the data views. Buildings already start feeling familiar. An entire city’s economy broke down because the game randomly decided that my freight truck have stopped to move. Regional trade and commute — the one thing the servers actually handle aside from authentification and hosting your save games — is unreliable, which is tough because the region aspect is supposed to counter the small city sizes.

    When it works it’s very charming and relaxing, but this is a pretty sloppy release even when you disregard the server issues.

    • Mookalakai says:

       Supposedly the servers are processing other portions of the game mechanics, such as the simulation in the city itself, which is one of the reasons that EA has defended the always online as necessary. The thing with that is that sometimes the servers temporarily go down when playing, and the game actually runs smoother during that period.

      I was really excited about this game before release, and have simmered down as well. My current plan is to wait about 2 weeks for it to be patched and made stable, and then I’ll try to delve in again.

  9. Steven Davis says:

    I dislike the DRM, & don’t feel the people who have a problem w/ it ought to be dismissed as lunatics. On the other hand, I love Simcity. I usually play $10 to $15 indie games, but this is a game I’ve been looking forward to. The coop w/ other cities being the only choice makes me want to wait for a sale. I like playing simulations games alone, I don’t want to be social.

    I think Prison Architect is going be way more fun.

    • Destroy Him My Robots says:

      You can create a private region and then just not invite anyone. You still play with multiple smaller cities that interact with each other rather than a big one, but you can play by yourself or with someone else in the room.

    • JudgeReinhold says:

      I thought you were joking about Prison Architect. But apparently that’s a real thing. I’m now watching a YouTube clip of it to see if there’s a way you can turn your prison into a post-zombie-apocalypse fortress. 

    • The_Misanthrope says:

       While I usually take Jim Sterling’s hysteric demogoguery with a grain of salt, I will admit that he gave some pretty good advice in his most recent Jimquisition video:  instead of boycotting the game, just wait at least two weeks (or longer if you feel they haven’t quite “fixed” the game).  This not only affects their precious, precious launch sales figures, but it also gives up a bit of data that simply boycotting doesn’t: that there are fans out there who would have bought the game on launch if not for always-on DRM.  Then again, I don’t remember the last time I bought anything on launch, so I guess it’s pretty easy for me to say.

      Really, it just seems insane that this kind of scheme should work anyway.  Sure, they have a good idea from pre-orders what kind of numbers they can expect to tax their servers on launch day, but there are so many other variables that they can’t prepare for.  Does this kind of all-at-one online launch ever work smoothly?  It would seem better to have some slower launch, so they can discover all the potential problems and snuff it out before they go prime-time.

      Of course, this could be an ISP issue, in which case EA has to make concessions for the fact that not everyone lives in some shining utopia like Super G-Town…

  10. Indoorsman says:

      “the righteous indignation of otherwise functional adults who froth at
    the mouth when they can’t reach their virtual dollhouse communities for a
    few days.”

    How condescending. People couldn’t play a game they paid for, and not for the first time. This is becoming the new normal, and it deserves more a thoughtful response.

    This site is supposed to be a place where games are appreciated and discussed, and by calling them ‘virtual dollhouses’ you employ the same ‘look down your nose’ tone the mainstream media often employs when they deign to cover gaming.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      While I don’t know if I agree with your last paragraph, and I think the sentence was born more out of the desire to inject some snark and not really make fun of people, it does come across as a bit insulting for sure. Phrasing, Drew. Phrasing.

      On the other hand, I had a lot of fun making light of the same issue with Diablo 3, so once again, I accept my own bias.

    • EstabanYobs says:

      The wording is a bit of a put down for the people who read this site.  But I took it as lighthearted reminder that at the core, this is a first world problem.

      • Jack Gamber says:

        which is equally valid to other problems etc. ugh first world problem is some bullshit

        • Chum Joely says:

          “Equally valid” to “I have to walk 4 hours each way every day to get water for my family”… no.

        • Jackbert says:

          yeah man i completely agree. being unable to play a video game is just like starving. i mean at least people who are starving can fucking take handouts from the government. does the government give me money when I can’t play my video game? no! thats fucking discrimination right there. you know whose fault it is? the fucking liberals. get it in your thikc heads not everyone deserves food. it is not in the bill of rights so its not a right! neither are video games. so if youre gonna give everyone food than everyone deserve video games. if you think thats stupid then i have one things to say to you: woah there liberal.

          thanks obama!

        • The worst part about walking four hours to get water? It’s uphill to get to the well, but you can’t get the water to flow to you because it’s uphill on the way back too.

        • Indoorsman says:

          Many of you missed the point Gamber was making. He wasn’t saying that these issues are equal to starving to death and hiking for water or whatever. 
          He was saying that if we dismiss consumers’ concerns as ‘1st world problems’ (which they are) then we may as well not discuss games at all. He wasn’t making a case for equivalency.

        • Jackbert says:

          @indoorsman:disqus : “But I took it as lighthearted reminder that at the core, this is a first world problem.” “Which is equally valid to other problems.”

          I feel like that is a case for equivalency. 

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      I came here to call out the same sentence.

      Rather than operating on the assumption that everyone wants to have their games connected at all times with their friends, it should be no big deal to have separate single-player and multiplayer modes.  If I’m excited about buying a new game that I’ve been waiting a few months for, and then find out that after I purchase it I can’t even play it BY MYSELF for a week, I’m going to be very annoyed.

      Several times in Diablo 3 I lost connection for a FEW SECONDS right after a difficult fight or a 20/30-minute trek through a boring dungeon I didn’t want to see again, and had to start the area over.  One area I had to replay THREE TIMES because of this.  Since I wasn’t playing multiplayer, I was getting no added value from the “always on” feature, and experiencing multiple adverse issues to my enjoyment of the game.

      For some of us, our gaming time is limited as it is, so having that little interval of escape from the real world interrupted by stupid business decisions made by CEOs who don’t even play games is pretty irritating.

      • Merve says:

        See, the thing is, this new SimCity was always advertised as an always-connected, social experience. Those who bought it went it knowing that it required a constant Internet connection, so I find it a little odd that some of them would complain so vehemently about the lack of offline mode.

        On the other hand, complaining about server issues is an absolutely valid complaint. If you’re going to build an always-online experience, you’d better make sure that your servers just fucking work. And EA/Maxis didn’t do that. They fucked up, bigtime. There’s no excuse. Not only are they making it hard for people to play the game they bought; they’re also failing to deliver the game they promised. It’s simply unacceptable.

        • Effigy_Power says:

          In addition…

          EA is at this point the dreadnaught of gaming. If they can’t manage to make a few lousy servers work, we probably can’t expect smaller distributors to. So… expect more of this shit to come unless always-on stops becoming an option. Which it won’t. Not as long as people want to share building a shoe-store with their facebook friends.

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          I understand that they’ve marketed the always-on aspect from the beginning.  So you may be right that complaining about that aspect after buying the game is a bit silly.  I have not bought the game myself largely because of that “feature” and the fact that each “city” area is so small.  (I get that the processing power needed to track everything requires smaller maps.  It just doesn’t seem as fun as the old mega-metropolises.)

          For those of us anti-social people who have few friends who play the same games as us, it is frustrating to be forced to use always-on tech, especially when it doesn’t work well.

          To modify my argument a bit – Rather than requiring an internet connection 100% of the time, it would be nice if the game kept save files locally, and only submitted online data every 5, 10, or 15 minutes unless you chose to play in real-time with your friends.

          I also realize my arguments are probably outdated in the face of advances in technology.  Get off my lawn, I guess.  (I wish I HAD a lawn…stupid apartments.)

    • His_Space_Holiness says:

      I got the impression that the “frothing at the mouth” bit wasn’t aimed at the people who got annoyed that they can’t play the game they just bought — as anyone would — but at the people who got absolutely, torch-and-pitchfork furious about it.

    • John Teti says:

      I actually thought that remark was an amusing dose of realism. Drew’s not saying that if you’re annoyed or even angered by SimCity’s server problems, you’re crazy. He’s saying that those people who are frothing at the mouth, as countless fans and even a few writers have been over the past week, might be getting carried away. People have been losing their shit, and it’s all a bit much at times. I read some reports written by professional games writers where the tone was indistinguishable from post-Katrina assessments of the Bush administration’s disaster response.
      Since this is an urban game, I’ve actually been thinking about the server problems in the context of a different urban disaster, the 2003 Northeast blackout. There was an event that disrupted people’s lives but destroyed very few for such a widespread disaster. The iconic images of that blackout in New York City were of civilians directing traffic and restaurants holding cookouts on the sidewalk. There was anger, certainly, but it was overwhelmed by a spirit of coping with the problem and coming together. In the case of the SimCity blackout, it felt like the internet was going to tear itself apart last week.

      Aside from the obvious differences of magnitude and impact, I think one significant qualitative difference here is that in the SimCity case, no “coping” narrative emerges because there’s really nothing to cope with. A game being offline is not a situation to which the word “cope” really applies. Play something else. Do something else. So without any spirit of coping to leaven the anger, the rage stood alone and fed on itself. It’s almost as if, in the absence of the video game, players instead chose to play this game of communal rage.It’s definitely a black eye for EA, no doubt. And I understand the arguments against always-online games and sympathize with them to a degree, but if you paid for the game, you already bought into that scheme. EA has been up front that this is how SimCity would work, whether people like it or not, and Maxis insists it is an integral part of their design for the game. So effectively the situation is that some players had to wait another week or so to play.As for your upset over the “virtual dollhouse” bit, if this line existed in the context of a review that belittled the entire idea of SimCity, I might be inclined to agree with you that it’s out of line with Gameological’s tone. But in context it’s obviously tongue-in-cheek (and, to me at least, a funny way to think of SimCity).

      • nowimnothing says:

        I think a lot of the frothing is based on the pre-release negative chatter about the DRM. The fans were up in arms about it from the beginning, this debacle just confirmed their already firm beliefs. Another part of it is the disappointment engendered when a (very) long awaited sequel to a much-beloved game does not deliver.
        I bet a lot of us just wanted Sim City 4 updated with more options, better graphics and AI. Instead we got The Sims Social: small city edition.

        • Effigy_Power says:

          That really shows that by being ambiguous and only releasing info in tiny doses (coupled with the common practice of completely changing shit up a day before launch) doesn’t do you any good as a game studio.
          Sure, you want to entice people with snippets and glances, but in the age of forums and 1000-opinions-per-page, ambiguity leads to confusion, anger, assumptions and general upset.
          I firmly believe that if companies were more upfront and detailed about their stuff, that would die down a bit. After all, we already buy a game more or less on faith, seeing as neither journalism nor developer-blurbs can adequately cover the game and all its facets.
          EA and Maxis told us the basics ahead of time, true enough. But there was still a lot we (or rather the people buying this sad turd) had to find out through playing. After the money is safely transferred of course.
          Knowing the precise details of a game before dropping a not inconsiderable amount of money for it would probably make me buy things with more confidence. Withholding information, not previewing games (in case of other games) or being pointlessly ambiguous just makes me think they are hiding something.
          Which in this case they were.

        • John Teti says:

          Good points. Although I respect and applaud Maxis’ desire to experiment with the concept and try a new direction, I can’t deny that I would very much like to play an honest-to-goodness SimCity 5 (and in fact fired up a mod-enhanced SC4 again this weekend).

        • Merve says:

          @JohnTeti:disqus: Haha, I saw that you’d made that purchase on Steam, and I thought that you did it just to stick it to EA, Maxis, and their new, broken SimCity.

        • Effigy_Power says:

          @Merve2:disqus: Haha, same here.

      • Windowsmasher says:

        The frothing and the fire-breathing is turned up to 11 due to the iron being hot. People want to make as much noise as possible now, while the issue is pertinent, to hopefully prevent anything like this from happening again.

        People fear that if this issue is not turned radioactive, EA will not get the message. While I don’t agree with every anti-EA rant, I do feel the rants are warranted and necessary to bring about needed change in the gaming world.

        The real message should be with gamers’ wallets. But gamers like to play games and should be able to buy and play working games. So, if vitrolic feedback can help to right the gaming rudder back to sane waters, I say turn up the volume.

        • Effigy_Power says:

          Too bad the hordes of people just bickering for bickering’s sake detract from the valid points you mentioned.
          Developers need to feel the scorn of their powerbase, that’s absolutely so. But if you have countless blogs and posts equating EA to the Nazis or whatever and making unfounded, bullshit claims, just to be angry and heard, the reasonable and reasonably angry voices are submerged in a sea of idiocy.
          Both approaches, quiet discontent and noisy outrage, have their fallacies. That’s just how it is, I guess.

          Gaming seems to require a really massive upset in order to get out of the current mindset. Call it the “French Revolution for Gaming”. How, what, when? No clue. If I knew, I’d be working in gaming.

        • John Teti says:

          Vitriol whose ferocity is detached from the reasonable scope of the situation tends to make onlookers take your arguments less seriously, not more. The rage and frequent incoherence of the “arguments” that have emanated from the most aggrieved fans will lead (and have led) EA to treat this as a temporary PR crisis rather than to undertake an earnest questioning of their approach to design and business. They know it’s all going to blow over once the servers get going, because the anger is so comically white-hot that anyone can tell it can’t be sustained. The real long-term effect of these conflagrations is that bystanders will view the camp of people who brand themselves “hardcore gamers” as even more hysterical and detached from reality than before, if that’s possible. Louder screaming means people listen less.

          Now, maybe once things calm down, a more sustained and reasonable wave of feedback will hit the makers of SimCity, and they’ll reevaluate. I think that’s likely, even. But no levelheaded corporation or artist makes long-term choices on the basis of short-term internet mouth-frothing, and for the tantrum throwers to pretend otherwise is delusion—a convenient delusion for an angry mob getting their rocks off, but a delusion nonetheless.

        • Windowsmasher says:

          Yes, I agree with that 100%. No one pays attention to screaming idiots. They’re idiots.

          EDIT – Whoops, this was supposed to be under John’s comment. Told you I am an idiot.
          What non-idiots commonly do is assume an opposing viewpoint to the idiots, so as to distance themselves and present the appearance of non-idiocy. I try to do this on a daily basis (despite secretly being an idiot).

          My concern is these opposing “everyone calm down, it’s just a video game, it’s not the end of the world, it’s actually a pretty decent game” arguments act as similar evidence for EA to say “look, the idiots are being idiots and the sane gamers get it, hence we don’t have to change anything”. I can’t help but feel these counter-arguments against the vitriol create a chilling effect on other gamers possibly voicing discontent.

          My laptop can’t run this City Simulation Adventure, hence I’ll never play it, but I’m still quite upset about the whole sequence of events. I can smell the entire gaming environment shifting into this always-online DRM vacuum. It’s concerning and something needs to be done. I agree with Effigy_Power with the revolution comparison, but we’re all intrinsically entwined in the gaming machine, so it’s difficult to point to a certain gameplan: Boycott? Yell? Boycott and yell? Spam boycott spam spam yell and spam? I like the idea of a collective series of rational, well-thought out messages being sent EA’s way after the fact. Hopefully, that comes to fruition.I believe in a day when my son will log onto his supercomputer and download the newest, coolest AAA video game the day of its release and it will run freely and flawlessly for all time forever and he will thrust his hands in the air and yell, “Flawless Perfection!”

  11. Joseph Finn says:

    “(There is no offline mode.) ”
    And there’s how the game is crippled from the start and not worth paying for until Maxis releases a full version of the game.  Want to play it if the internet is down, or you’re on a plane or a train?  Nope, sorry, you have to play this silly small-city social version that supposedly requires our servers even though the city size is limited like it never has before.  

    • majnun99 says:

      If that’s a consideration for you, bummer. But for 99% of Americans the power is always on and they don’t play video games on trains, and plane travel is a fraction of their time. The server issues sound awful. People have every right to complain. But if the servers were perfect people would still be pissed, and trains planes and downed Internet are an excuse.

      • Fluka says:

        To be fair, while my US internet is extremely reliable now, my previous place had a truly shoddy internet connection which just decided to go down for 1-5 min intervals several times a day, long enough to break my remote connection to my job computer and screw up all my work.  This was in a country which was supposedly very highly connected and first world (god damn it England, why is your internet such shit?).  I can imagine trying to play this would have resulted in a world of frustration and/or throwing furniture.  Particularly given all the apparent trouble people have had retrieving their games from the server…  

        On the other hand, maybe if they’d just flat-out called it an MMO, World of SimCity or some such, people would be a lot less pissed right now.

        • Effigy_Power says:

          That is a good example of geo-positional bias actually. The game, made by Americans for Americans, considers American internet-connections the standard, when there are still people in this world dealing with shaky connections, dial-up or pay-per-minute god forbid.
          I suppose you could justifiably call it arrogance, if not even US-centrism. While those of us in larger urban centers probably have to grasp at straws or use disastrous fails like this one to complain about ‘always-on DRM’, people in more rural areas or outside of NA have much more legitimate reasons. It excludes people based on economic factors and in any other industry, that might be called more than just an inconvenience.

        • Anthony O' Brien says:

           @Effigy_Power:disqus It also costs more outside of NA to boot. In Europe, the regular edition is €60 or $74 USD, the deluxe edition €80 or $104.

        • Effigy_Power says:

          Allow me to say “fucking hell” to that.
          Unless the average German or British gamer makes 20% more money than we do, that’s downright insanity.

          EDIT: Let me rephrase that to “Ach du lieber” and “By Jove”. More topical.

        • Fluka says:

          That’s just to pay for shipping the game across the ocean to Europe on a big freighter.  It’s the same reason games launch on Friday instead of Tuesday!

        • HobbesMkii says:

          @Effigy_Power:disqus I had the same problem as @Fluka:disqus  is describing, but I had it in Western North Carolina. It took Verizon nearly three months to correct the problem, after more than enough trips out to the house to make me and the tech guy hate each other.

        • Anthony O' Brien says:

          @Fluka:disqus I was talking about the Digital Download Origin versions. I’ve seen the physical versions cheaper in Gamestop.

          I’m Irish BTW, the British version in £ is cheaper then the € price.

        • Fluka says:

          @google-d6ee7f08e3f34d4f85cb01842ed77b74:disqus  ‘Twas a joke!  I just like the explanation of European games’ delay and higher price being due to their being shipped on a big banana boat from the New World…

  12. majnun99 says:

    +1 for shoot their own water

  13. About 2 to 4 times a day, my internet decides “That’s a nice episode of Freaks & Geeks you got on Netflix there, shame if something happened to it…” and pulls the plug.

    If I were to play Sim City, I would have to live in constant fear of my city being hit by an unstoppable force that would set us back years.

    It’d be like being the mayor of New Orleans.

    I’ll see myself out now.

    • D_Boons_Ghost says:

      I’ve discovered that this happens to me very frequently when I’m watching “House Of Cards” and, for some bizarre reason, ONLY when I’m watching “House Of Cards.” It’s like my router hates me.

      • Effigy_Power says:

        Maybe if you promise your router to watch the old British “House of Cards” every now and then?
        You really shouldn’t have bought it at “Posh and Co.”…

      • Mookalakai says:

         My dad and I were watching yesterday and Netflix froze when Russo was naked in the bathtub. We mostly sat quietly, waiting for it to move along.

  14. The real question Drew is whether you’ll build a monorail in Toaledo. By god Ogdenville has one and it put them on the map!

    • djsubversive says:

      an electrified, bona-fide, certified, six-car monorail? Like the ones in Brockway and North Haverbrook?

      note to self: name next 3 SimCities Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook. Also, Springfield and Shelbyville. Why have I not done this yet?

      • JudgeReinhold says:

        I’d say you’ve failed as a gamer. My first move when I got Spore was to create Lrrr, of the planet Omicron Persei 8. 

        • Eco1970 says:

          Judge Reinhold! I love you! I saw you in Fringe yeaterday (no spoilers please me and my gf are only at the start of Season 4) and then I was like ‘oh it’s not Judge Reinhold it’s Cameron from Ferris Beuller’s Day Off’.

      • Not a whole lotta point in a Shelbyville, unless you can legalize the right to marry your cousins.

        • Effigy_Power says:

          If Incest-laws are part of the game, all the better.
          What a strange sentence.

        • djsubversive says:

          well, I was thinking of doing Shelbyville as the opposite to whatever Springfield has. High taxes in one city means low taxes in the other. Chief Wiggum’s counterpart is a fire chief in Shelbyville (which will have no police protection, just like Springfield will have no fire department).

  15. Buttersnap says:

    On one of my many failed attempts to load a city had the cheeky load screen message stuck at “Generating wave of unhappiness”.


  16. Fluka says:

    There’s no way I’m buying this.  Not because of the always online DRM, although that too is a consideration.  (EA, stop trying to make me interact with PEOPLE.)

    Rather, it’s because the lack of a terraforming editor means I won’t be able to recreate my childhood SC2000 cities.  E.g., a gigantic stepped pyramid, one half covered entirely in waterfalls, and ringed by a festive collection of superfluous desalination plants.  

    It just doesn’t feel right releasing that robot spider into a normal city, sigh.

    Also, no hilarious cheat codes.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      Calling a game a reboot by cutting an essential part of the content that made it good…
      I really don’t know what they are thinking sometimes.

    • GaryX says:

      Man, for real?

      The more I learn about this game the less I’m interested.

    • LurkyMcLurkerson says:

       My sisters and I stumbled on one of the cheat codes–probably Unlimited Cash–by accident, generated over 2 million bucks before accidentally turning it off, saved the game, and used that as the template for all our further games.

      With $2,623,134 in the bank, you can build pretty much any damn city you want.  We had a lot of fun with that.

      God, I miss SimCity 2000.  I wonder if I could play that in OSX?  There’s got to be an emulator or something, and I’m sure there are still copies of the game floating around.

      • Anthony O' Brien says:

         It’s on sale at GOG.

        • LurkyMcLurkerson says:

          I actually found that out yesterday! I bought it and have been re-exploring SimCity 2000 in Lurkyville. Well, it’s not actually called Lurkyville, but I’m not telling you my real name.

  17. I wish they would give the cities a rest for a bit, and do a re-release of SimEarth

    Sentient carnivorous ferns?

    Yes, please.

    • Fluka says:

      Unfortunately, I think we already got that game.

      And it was called Spore. :(

      • Effigy_Power says:

        It took me a while to ‘like’ this comment.
        I wanted Spore to be so much and it was so little.
        Maxis really knows how to break my heart.

        • Fluka says:

          Though The Sims (great as it was) was a good indication that EA Maxis was not Classic Maxis, it wasn’t until Spore that it became clear that things were never going to be as they were…

        • HobbesMkii says:

          Spore would have been a fine game if Will Wright hadn’t gone about the place, promising it would change everything and deliver unto us all the powers of the video game gods. 

        • Effigy_Power says:

          He pulled a Molyneux… somehow it’s not headshakingly charming anymore.

        • Merve says:

          @Effigy_Power:disqus: It seems as if a lot of older designers are “going Molyneux” these days – Will Wright, Warren Spector, John Romero. Who’s next, I wonder.

  18. twasote says:

    I was excited when I heard about this, but I feel like this game was designed specifically to exclude me. I’m the only person I know who plays video games, I hate random internet people, and one of my favorite things about SimCity 4 was the vast map sizes you could get. Also, my internet goes out so often that I had to train myself not to get mad about it because it was causing too much stress (I just keep a book at my desk now). Guess I’ll go back to SC4 (or Civ V, more likely).

    • Fluka says:

      Yeah, agreed.  For me it’s pretty much “Why would I want to play this? This formula was perfect back when it was SimCity 2000.” (My own preferred flavor of SimCity.)  And that perfection includes the wonderfully retro graphics.  And all this I can get for less than ten bucks on GoG in its DRM-free, offline-only glory.  A new, online version just feels…superfluous.

      Then again, the Civ series has gotten numerous excellent and essential-feeling games out of the same formula, and SC4 is good too, so it’s not like making a new version of a great series is always doomed to failure…

      • Effigy_Power says:

        Reboots fail if nobody takes a lesson from the material to be rebooted.
        Civ managed to pretty much only improve. Not everyone loves Civ5, but I don’t think anyone can claim that it’s a drastic step down. Not the SimCity way anyways.

    • aklab says:

      Yeah, as a fully-credentialed misanthrope I am dismayed by this whole “interacting with other people” trend in gaming. 

      • Effigy_Power says:

        Judging by the “share” button on the PS4 controller, we haven’t even seen the worst yet.

        • Fluka says:

          I would personally like to purchase a controller with a “Withhold” button.

        • PaganPoet says:

          You mean you’re not looking forward to letting your facebook newsfeed know that you unlocked the “Paramour” achievement in Mass Effect 4? I want everyone to know I am bravely exploring the uncanny valley.

        • Fluka says:

          @PaganPoet:disqus *Desperately presses Withhold button over and over again.*

        • Oh Pagan Poet! I enjoy your play on words of “uncanny valley,” being the concept that at a certain point a simulated person becomes real enough to be disturbing, but not truly realistic, with the juxtaposition of coitus, and the various holes that it might involve, as mentioned in your “Paramour” achievement.

          Uncanny indeed, sir!

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          *throws Ps4 controller*


        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          @Fluka:disqus   I think we’re about due for the “Wire Mommy” generation of gaming.

      • I HATE DONKEYS says:

        @aklab:disqus Yeah plus no offense everyone but a lot (and I mean A LOT) of gamers are really gross and awful and aren’t the sort of people I want to interact with ever.

  19. Eco1970 says:

    I like how it appears that Gameological was too cheap to buy the deluxe version for the review!

    • HobbesMkii says:

      Does it? Is there some sort of advantage or game-changing addition to have three European city sets? Also, shouldn’t the site review a copy of the game must people are likely to have, and not content that the majority of people are unlikely to purchase?

      • John Teti says:

        It’s simpler than that: 90 percent of the time, we just review the copy that the publisher sends us. For the record, EA sent us two copies of the Limited Edition (i.e., regular edition) so that we could set up a little community and see how different players reacted.

        We often get deluxe collectors’ editions from publishers, too, and if this makes a meaningful difference in the content of the game, we’ll note which one we reviewed (like in this review). It almost never does make a difference, though—usually the deluxe edition just has pack-ins like a DLC code (prettier weapons!), a soundtrack, or the always beloved cloth map.

        I think Eco1970 was just funnin’ with us in any case!

      • Eco1970 says:

        Er, I typed this with a big grin. I said ‘appears’, I didn’t for a second think Gameological was saving money. I just thoughtbit amusing that the ‘(review)’ came after the normal version. It was just a mild comment. Apologies if I offended you, Hobbes.

        • HobbesMkii says:

           I caught a lot of shit over on the AV Club for having one gripe with The Prestige, and I think I was just on edge, and thus extremely thick to humor. My apologies more.

  20. Eco1970 says:


  21. Eco1970 says:

    Hm. When i wrote sth here on my iphone, and hit ‘post as Eco1970’, safari closes down and when I open it up again it goes back to ‘show oldest first’.

  22. boardgameguy says:

    this felt more like a session report, but i enjoyed it all the same since i’m assuming the mechanics of playing haven’t really changed significantly.

  23. Cloks says:

    Heh, Toaledo.

  24. Citric says:

    In the interest of realism, and as an excuse to complain, I ask if SimCity has the following vital aspects of municipal politics:

    -Strange racist people objecting to new subdivisions
    -Hour long reports whenever you plan any development, delivered by people who clearly wish talking in public was not a big part of their job.
    -A photo op minigame, where you set up stupid pictures that nobody cares about, and spend a great deal of time figuring out where the keys to the flagpole are. 
    -A perpetual need to talk to jerks like me.

    • Merve says:

      So basically, you want it to be more like Parks and Recreation?

    • EmperorNortonI says:

       Oooh, can we have long and angry meetings about minimum parking regulations?  How about litigation that drags on for years over bike paths?

  25. EmperorNortonI says:

    I played the original, and SC 2000, quite a bit back in the day.  I also played a bit of SC 3 and 4.  They were fun, but as I evolved in the the pinko-commie anarcho-syndalicalist radical insurgent that I am now, the game began to bug me more and more, and this review picked up on several aspects of the game that bugged me in particular.

    As many others have noted, there is no alternative to growth.  It’s endless, and it’s the only goal.  That was not only disturbing from a political standpoint, but it was also a bit boring from a gameplay perspective.  Much the same as the Paradox grand strategy games, the game has “expand endlessly” as the implicit end-goal.  For someone who does not enjoy destroying cities at all, this meant there was not much to do once you’d more or less expanded to the limit.  In fact, if I recall correctly, the game punished you rather severely if you ever cut back on growth – your whole town would fall into economic ruin.

    The earlier iterations of the game (don’t know about this one) very explicitly built the capitalist ownership value of “high price=good” into the bones of the game.  Poor people and their low-value dwellings and their crime were the enemy, to be eradicated from one’s city.  Now, one could say that you were just helping them to become richer, but looking back on it, it looks a lot more like a sort of yuppie ethnic cleansing, as if an entire city could be populated solely by highly-educated professionals.

    The game represents one of the worst examples of the “open land pioneer” mythology.  Open land just sits there, useless, waiting to be developed.  It sure is a good thing nobody lives there.  It’s also a good thing that industrial demand is simply assumed.  Once zoned, factories and whatnot would simply appear – why?  What economic function do they perform in that space, that was not already being performed in some other space?  Why would people suddenly move to the middle of nowhere?  After all, your new sims were not rough and hardy pioneers, ready to dig into the Earth – they were (if you were lucky) well-educated yuppies!  How many of them do you know who would willingly move to some random town in the middle of nowhere?  Especially to a town that will inevitably look like a strip mall?