Of Poo and Doughnuts: Hands-On with SimCity
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 02:57pm 27/08/12 | Comments
AusGamers went hands-on with Maxis' forthcoming SimCity. What's changed since the last entry in the classic series? Read on to find out...
From poop problems to a lack of doughnuts, SimCity pretty much has everything covered. And I mean that sincerely. Those two examples actually happened in my playthrough while out at GamesCom recently where, in a small group-by-group competition, I managed to come second in population growth.
It’s kind of hard to explain SimCity, because if you’ve played it before, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Obviously this update is far more dynamic and layered in its depth, but at its core the series hasn’t changed - here’s a chunk of land, make people live happily there.
Of course that’s the absolute baseline to the game, I’d be remiss to just leave it at that, and while our hands-on had us connected to a network of other players’ cities, it was hard to really delve too deep into the whole connected side of things the team have been touting. Instead, I focused on the basic Tutorial on offer, which began with building a road to the main highway. This simple action not only meant new people could come into my city, but that my Sims could come and go at will a swell.
The funny thing about this version of SimCity is that as the Sims themselves have grown over the years, so too has their impact on SimCity. Back in the day it was more from an advisement perspective that you’d make changes to your city, but now, thanks to an incredibly dynamic system that has each and every individual Sim in your town thinking aloud (when you hover your mouse over them), it’s a much more personal affair. It’s how I imagine Mayors and Senators and the like would feel if faced with a one-on-one situation with their constituents. It’s hard not to listen, and in a game built around making people happy, it’s easy to lose yourself in single, selfish requests from your myriad denizens going about their business.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t a sort of hive-mind component to your citizens, there’s still consensus among the masses, and my first non-tutorial based request came in the form of a lack of sewage treatment plants. Rectumfying this was as simple as clicking on the icon in your activity bar below to switch to a running poo stat report, or sorts. Basically the screen flicks over to filter showing you what’s going on with the human waste in your town and where it’s concentrated most. You can then spend some of your cash to by the treatment plants needed and not only listen to the happy flushes of thousands of toilets, but also watch the brown globules on-screen speedily move through your new system. This, definitely, makes my people happy.
Of course you don’t need to wait for your little guys and gals to tell you what you need, savvy players are welcome to construct all the tools a basic city needs without prompt. Clean water, electricity, sewage, garbage collection, police, fire and ambulance - all fundamental parts of keeping the operation running smoothly, but it’s growth that’s paramount here, and in our hands-on it was absolutely necessary to win my SimCity T-Shirt, something I focused as much of my time on as possible.
Our demo actually already had a functioning town that I’d inherited from the last mayor. It was a working city that needed slight improvement (more industrial, commercial and residential zones, for one) and offered me a pretty decent insight into the basic functions required, as well as the progressive constructions needed to grow and expand. What’s impressive is the way in which everything needed is shown to you. Most things are represented via graphical filters related to the specifics of your requirements or whatever it is you’re simply looking into, and it’s very easy to understand.
Water, for example, is extracted via water towers, however, each city environment has varying levels of water deposits. Therefore it’s best to put your tower near the richer deposits (represented by the darkest blue in the filter). But there are dynamic factors involved with most systems required to make your city blossom. Pollution isn’t specifically a byproduct of your industrial zones, or how you’re generating power (coal, nuclear, wind, solar etc). Now things such as sewage or waste-disposal can affect things such as the aforementioned water supply. Building a water tower too close to either can result in tainted water, which will result in a poisoned population, and all of this happens dynamically.
Construction of zones, roads et al is as easy as a click and drag of your mouse, and the game caters for most shapes. It’ll be interesting to see some of the more artistically constructed cities once the game is live from February next year, but for the most part, it all felt quite intuitive and freeform, which is great. You’re not locked into grids or the like, though zoning will affect things like crime, pollution etc. Again, it’s all dynamic and the more you build the more you need to think about what you’re placing where, though thankfully it’s also possible to tear down most anything you build, it’ll just cost you cash and time.
While intuitive, I did feel there was a lot of lag in my mouse interactions. This could have been the mouse I was using, or the build we were playing, but I really hope tracking is tightened for the final release, but it didn’t really break the experience for me. You can zoom right in on your city to almost street level, or right out for your God-like view of the world. The camera can also be swung 360 degrees around your town, and as mentioned, a simple hover of your mouse cursor over any Sims in your world, or even buildings, will give you instant feedback on what the individuals in your city are either thinking or wanting. My first encounter with a Sim told me he’d gone out for doughnuts, but that they were all gone, so he was going home. I felt sad for him.
Most other stats are available at the click of a button, tracking your time as Mayor in your town and your ups and downs. Crime, poverty, pollution, population growth, happiness or unrest - it’s all there, plus so much more we didn’t really get a chance to look at, for your perusal. As far as replayability potential goes... well it’s SimCity, it’s a bit of a no-brainer. All that’s left is to work out what sort of retail/subscription/in-game purchase model the team opt for. Hopefully it’s more of a traditional retail buy-once type thing, but only time will tell. There’s a huge amount of monetary potential here though, which does worry me, but we’ll just have to wait and see as we get closer to its release next year.
The pricing future of the game aside though, it’s very much what you would expect from SimCity all these years later. Dense, intuitive, addictive and fun. But don’t take my word for it, head over to the game’s official beta sign-up page to get your city build on yourself, but be warned, it’ll likely suck a large portion of time from your life, but at least you’ll be breathing new life into a little Sims world.