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Cities XL Interview

21 Jul 2009  by   Paul Younger
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Cities XL is one of the many, many titles that we’ve taken a keen interest in, so we thought we’d sit down with owner and CEO of Monte Cristo Jerome Gastaldi and ask the man himself about the game.A lot of comparisons between have been made between the single-player mode of Cities XL and SimCity. What has Monte Cristo done to make sure Cities XL looks and plays differently to SimCity? Obviously the game looks distinctive anyway, as it uses our own proprietary engine and avatar studio – and the way we’ve built it means that it’s more gritty and realistic at the closest levels of zoom when compared to the homogenised world presented by the Maxis-made metropolises. We have that highly-polished Richard Rogers element in there too, but we also have graffiti and bins, which is not very Sims, but is more in tune with the real world. We’ve also used real-world maps (for example, of Mount St Helens) which means players are facing real-world geographical challenges.Do you expect fans of the SimCity series to venture out of the safe haven they have with SimCity 4 and try Cities XL?We already know that they have with our previous title City Life, so we know they’re more adventurous than you might think – and their loyalty is previously untested. Of course, not only is our game more stunningly beautiful than any of the SimCity games but it’s also packed with new features that take the genre where it’s never been before: the in-game trading for resources is not only necessary to build the most impressive cities, it is also necessary to build Megastructures such as the Empire State Building. Also, the social-networking side means that players can really cooperate with others to build something bigger than they could ever do if they played solo.Single-player apparently has 25 different maps. Will each map have certain objectives, or will we be seeing an open game where you can choose the map and various settings before working on your city from there?There are no objectives in each map, except those you make yourselves. Whilst this means we don’t have the drive of a plot, you’d be surprised at how compelling the aesthetic drive of an artificer or architect can be. We’re more pleased that this doesn’t have the grinding aspects of a mainstream MMO; that people feel the need to continue playing not because of where they’re going and what they’d like to make, but because of what they’re doing then and there, and what that will lead to later. The game is compelling both from moment to moment, and over the whole course of building your city.You’ve promised hundreds of buildings that have been influenced by European and American designs. Will you have any iconic landmarks in the game which you will be able to add into your city such as Big Ben or the White House?We should do, yes. We’ve been in talks with many famous architects to get the rights for modern buildings, but many very famous buildings are already in the game. There are also likely to be licensed brands and products in there – partially because it makes the game look even more real-world, and partially, and we’ll admit this without shame, because we can make some money from that.Have you thought about the future of the buildings – perhaps the release of more buildings inspired by other continents such as Asia or Africa?We are planning to release specific building packs so you can customise your city more completely, and those are set to include designs and styles from other countries. These new buildings will be given for free for those who join our Planet Offer.In SimCity you had to manually implement the whole pipe system for your city. Is this in Cities XL or will they all be automatically added to new buildings? How about power stations?
There is no piping system in Cities XL, partially because it was one of the elements that players had trouble with in the later Sim City games, and partially because we have a more elegant, simpler solution to do with water tables (it resembles Children of the Nile’s style). You will have water towers and such, but right now there is no specific pipe system to layout. There are power stations and you will need to keep increasing your power reserves as your city expands, but as with the water system, you don’t have to lay out every electric pole in your city.{PAGE TITLE=Cities XL Interview Continued}How will the citizen structure work in the game? Will there be an emphasis on managing things like taxes and funding within different categories to cater for all your citizens, or can we auto-assign things like this and let the AI sort them out?As you move up in terms of industrial scale you need to employ different tiers of workers, who demand different accommodation, services and so on. Different citizen classes can be taxed differently and require different quantities and qualities of the different services. Balancing your citizens’ and businesses’ needs is the heart of the game – the main challenge – so to let you use an AI would be both difficult to program and make the main mechanics futile.Are natural disasters implemented in the game? Volcanoes, earthquakes or mass traffic incidents, for example?There are no natural disasters in the game. This game is about creation, not destruction: about planning the perfect city, and striving to build it. There are traffic jams, which will affect your city’s production and efficiency, and prevent your citizens having access to key services (like health, fire, police, et cetera). But massive earthquakes that destroy an entire city wouldn’t be fair to a player, it would be like seeing your WoW character brought down ten levels the next time you logged in. If you implement those gaming mechanics, you have to make sure there is gameplay to counterbalance these negative effects, and that’s part of our upcoming features after game release.Transport has been one of the focus points in the title, with players able to choose how many lanes roads have, along with tunnels and bridges being freely created. What other transport modes will we see appearing in the game? Could we be seeing underground metros, trams, railways or bus services feature? For that matter, how will public transport be handled?We are currently working on implementing our public transport system, and we’re likely to see all of the aspects that you mentioned after launch, to give players time to accommodate to the entire simulation and give them more option and depths as they learn and play the game better.Do you feel you have enough content on the MMO aspect of the game – the ‘Planet Offer’ – to entice gamers to pay to play? Surely once you have built your city there isn’t much else to do?Firstly, our Planet Offer is at an unusually low price to let everybody have a go at it and decide for themselves – roughly 1/3 of the cost of any other MMO. Secondly, there are things you can do in Planet mode that you can’t do in single-player, like build the best Megastructures, collaborate with other gamers on buildings, and trade for resources. This allows for specialisation, which is one of the fundamental tenets of modern capitalism, and can create a genuine productivity increase across the board for all trading cities. Finally, not all maps have access to all resources, so trading is going to be mandatory for certain city maps to flourish.We have seen a video walkthrough that showcases a Gameplay Extension Module (GEM) in the form of a Ski Resort. The resort is expandable while players will be able to promote attractions to other cities to gain more tourists. What other GEM’s will be in the game and how much will they cost?We are looking to implement a Beach Resort GEM and a transport GEM in the near future. Anything you can think of as a Tycoon game could be made into a GEM – whether that’s Theme Park, Hospital Tycoon, Hollywood Mogul or Evil Genius. The price will vary, but these full Tycoon games will be priced cheaply compared to other full-price Tycoon games.  The closed beta has been offered to a lot of gamers, giving them the chance to experience Cities XL already. What has the feedback been like so far? Will you take any of the criticisms on board and try to rectify the bigger problems players find?The feedback has been mostly positive. Some gamers were not so taken with the avatarsStudio (where you make your in-city character), as they said it was too French. How are we supposed to change that? We are French! Beyond that, gamers of all ages are enjoying trying the different maps and challenging themselves to build the largest variety of Blueprints, or the biggest social networks. We’ll try and fix everything else that is repairable though – that’s what a beta test is all about, not about promoting the game. It’s making sure it works!You say you want to offer the game to as many people as possible by supporting older systems. Was ot a challenge to support a variety of system specs and make sure the game runs smoothly on all machines?Our engine is supremely scalable and, though it was a challenge developing it, we think it can provide a great game to people with every type of computer – and that’s why we met Intel a few times, not just to understand their upcoming technology, but also how to make things work properly on their ‘old’ one.Finally, the game is confirmed for a 9 October release. Are you confident the game is ready to launch?

We’re confident about the game – the last six months have just been polish, so we’re hoping most of the major bugs are out – but with something as complicated and original as this it’s hard work!

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