Cities: Skylines aims to be a proper city builder, not just “kick SimCity in the balls”

21 Aug 2014  by   Peter Parrish
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“We’re not out to kick anyone in the balls” wrote Paradox’s Shams Jorjani on today’s Cities: Skylines ‘Ask Me Anything’ session, “SimCity was OK.”

He says that, but a fair amount of the questions asked and answered during this two hour back-and-forth seemed at least tangentially directed towards various parts of the SimCity anatomy.

That’s perhaps to be expected. 2013‘s SimCity was a massive disappointment for a lot of city building fans, a point encapsulated by Reddit user ‘bighi’ who wrote “You guys have no idea how many people are starving for good city management.” The Colossal Order team (Cities in Motion) do, in fact, seem well aware of this, and although discussions about Cities: Skylines apparently began four years ago, they also appear acutely informed by the ire towards some of Maxis’ efforts.

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Yeah, okay, that looks pretty large.

Not only are general city sizes far in excess of the small plots found in SimCity (36 kilometers square overall,) but the developers are taking the further logical step of allowing players to unlock the limitation and take things as far as their PCs will allow. Rather than forcing people to abide by arbitrary boundaries, city limits will be “up to you and your hardware.”

Mercifully, there will be no enforced online mode. Again, the Cities: Skylines team poked barbed fun at SimCity with their response to a query about playing offline: “Thankfully advances in technology have enabled us to do all city management calculations locally on your PC. We don’t have to do them in the cloud anymore, which you know, was the ONLY way to do it a few years ago.” Pointed stuff.

Modding provided a third branch of discussion with which to beat SimCity (a game which implemented far too little modding, far too late.) The developers had quite a few things to say on that matter. Broadly speaking, mod capabilities were summarised as “map editor, asset importer, allow changes in the gameplay” and it was confirmed that custom 3D models could be created “with specially designed tools.” Apparently, if players are able to save their creations as FBX format they’ll already be good to go. Steam Workshop was mentioned as a method of sharing various mods and constructions.

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Some of the grids and zoning in action, looks like.

Terrain editing will be possible too. “There’s loads of nice tools for shaping terrain,” the developers say. “You might enjoy our water system, where you can actually place water sources and they will act like real water, flowing to fill low areas.” More about the modding tools, their exact nature and what they will or won’t be capable is said to be revealed at a later date. The expectation, though, is for modders “to do really, really hardcore stuff.”

With ultra specific and hardcore stuff being left to modders, Cities: Skylines is aiming to land somewhere “between [Sim City 4] and Cities XL” in terms of depth and complexity. There’s flexibility, though, to push post-release features and expansions in the direction people are asking for. The stated intent is “easy to learn” but with the depth “for players who really want to delve deep into optimising the city.”

In some rare words of praise for SimCity (unless it was for the series overall, not just the most recent entry,) Colossal Order acknowledged that when it comes to analysis of the city “[SimCity] does this amazingly well.” It was promised that the team will do their best to provide tools with which to analyse the Cities: Skylines cities.

“We’re working on the information you will be able to see of each citizen at the moment,” the developers said. Districts will be placed according to traditional city builder zoning rules (with two different zone densities,) though interestingly it was noted that you can “paint districts with brush tools and then can change policies/rules for them specifically.” These districts can also be given custom names.

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Close-up on a district street.

The base Cities: Skylines game was confirmed as $30.00 USD, and Colossal Order have no plans whatsoever for an Early Access launch. In response to queries about DLC or expansion packs, Paradox’s Jorjani said that the intention is to follow the model of the company’s grand strategy titles like Crusader Kings 2, that is to say “Major expansions together with a patches full of free stuff.” Expect a lot of free additions, and paid DLC that covers either a rather specific area (such as Crusader Kings 2‘s Sword of Islam) or cosmetic type items.

There’s going to be “some kind of pre-order bonus” with the game, which Paradox concede is “technically” DLC, but beyond that there are no schemes to lock things away “behind DLC day 1.”

It was a confident and somewhat sharp (certainly in terms of SimCity jibes) AMA throughout, which served as a nice contrast to the type of bland non-answers development teams sometimes serve up in these situations. The Cities: Skyline team are aiming to “make a proper city builder” and provide an antidote to the disappointment garnered by last year’s release of SimCity; a goal that’s being welcomed by many famished and disgruntled fans of the genre. It’s best not to get carried away by hype at such early stages, but, if nothing else, Colossal Order and Paradox know how to say the right things.

You can read a full transcript of the rather in-depth Cities: Skylines AMA, here. The title is scheduled for a 2015 release.

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