SimCity [Interview] – Building a multiplayer world

16 May 2012  by   Paul Younger
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Following on from our SimCity preview, we sat down with the game’s producer Jason Haber to try and clear up a few foggy areas and gain a clearer insight into the goal of the dev team. 
IncGamers: There are so many visual cues and one-to-one graphical elements going in SimCity… was your intention to make a game that you didn’t need to go into the menus to play?
Jason Haber: That sounds like a loaded question [Laughs].
I mean, we do have the new data layers and we’re sort of trying to use those to replace the graphs SimCity has had before. The city itself does now give you a lot of feedback. But, yes, we are trying to get away from the traditional mass of menus as much as possible.
We still do have the advisor ticker, though. And there’s the SimCity Wire, which is a more modern take on the Sim City Newspaper. Those things are still in development but we’re trying to make them feel like something you’d expect to see today, rather than something you’d see 20 years ago.
You’ll also get feedback from your Sims directly; you’re able to peer into their thoughts and see what they’re thinking. Sometimes you’ll get direct requests in that way which you can then choose to act upon or not.
IG: Traffic seems to have gotten a major overhaul in the way areas of high activity will have a lot of vehicles on the road and that, in turn, will prevent a steady flow of people, goods and services. How much more difficult is the game now that you really have to think about road systems and how to ease traffic pressure?
JH: Traffic is definitely a challenge for the player, because our simulations mean that it’s real; everything you see is really as it is. Therefore, yes, you really must think about the road system and how it flows.
That being said, if you build your city in a smart way or you upgrade your roads to make them wider, then that could help you get around a lot of the traffic issues.
IG: When you sat down and initially bashed out the design of this game, which were the elements that you highlighted as being key to the SimCity experience?

JH: The zoning or ‘gardening’ aspect of the game has to be right, that’s most certainly a core SimCity mechanic. Also, the humour and fun of Maxis games was something we wanted to really nail.
It’s also important to remember that you’re playing this game as the mayor of a city, you’re not playing it as a Sim and you’re not a world leader. You’re playing at the city level. That’s a bit of an abstract concept, but it’s a really great guiding principle for us to have. It affects everything from how far you can zoom in and out of your city to how you can influence it.
IG: How core is multiplayer to the experience?
JH: It’s fairly core, the game was built from the ground up with multiplayer in mind; the decisions that you make will impact the other cities in the region.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about it, though, is that it allows you to specialise that bit more with your city. Because of the network of cities you need to specialise to find a place for your city. Whether you’re playing alone or with other players that idea gives you a lot more options about how you can play the game.
IG: Are you free to choose your own specialisation, or will you be limited to what path you take based on what your specific map provides?
JH: You’re never going to be pushed down a certain path, but there are those that will require you have certain resources available to you. For example, for coal specialisation you need coal in your box. However, having coal in your box doesn’t mean you have to use it, you can ignore it and do something completely different.
There’s no reason for you to follow a rigid route, this is still a sandbox game. That said, you do have to think about what resources are available to you and be smart about what you can do from that position.
IG: It must be difficult to balance a game of this scope at the best of times, but has multiplayer made it that bit more difficult?
JH: Tuning any game is hard, tuning this game is especially hard. Luckily we’ve got some really great guys dedicated to just that and, as much as multiplayer throws a wrench into the works, so does anything. If any new system is added, or any new tweak comes in, that has a rippling effect that we need to accommodate as we go along.
But that’s part of the fun, right!? And I think that’s part of the fun of being a mayor, too, you need to think about how you balance your city to function properly and understand that one change can have a big effect.
There’s an interesting question there about ‘what is a truly tuned game for SimCity?’, because you need to be able to make choices and mistakes for yourself.
IG: Does the addition of multiplayer mean you’ll be releasing regular updates and possible patches?
JH: It does give us the ability to push updates to it as we need to, whether that’s tuning or whatever may be out there. We’ll think about that stuff once we’ve finished up the core game, but it is great to have that flexibility.
To me, having the ability to do that will increase the quality of the game dramatically.
IG: Some of the best times I’ve had with SimCity in the past is when I’ve cheated, given myself a bunch of cash and let my ‘creative vision’ go wild. Are you planning on supporting that kind of thing? ‘Cheats’ almost seem to be a dirty word nowadays…
JH: I don’t really want to talk about this much, but we are aware of how important that sort of thing is to people out in the community. And us personally, I’ve played SimCity and I’ve cheated a lot.
We need to figure out how it will fit into this SimCity and the world regions of multiplayer. 

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