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Sim City impressions: life through a Glassbox lens

Monday, 12 November 2012 08:46 GMT By Dave Cook

Sim City sees the iconic simulation franchise return in 2013. VG247′s Dave Cook sees the game in action and speaks to Maxis about its grand return.

Life is full of knock-on effects. If you get a better job, you will earn more money. That money will help you buy better things, and in turn your standard of living will increase. Society is dictated by these rules, and in the reboot of Sim City, developer Maxis is sticking closely to the common truths of everyday life.

It all starts with Glassbox, the engine running the new game. It’s integral to understanding the cause and effect of everything you do as mayor. In an instant you can turn Glassbox on and see where your city is thriving and failing at a glance.

The engine goes hand-in-hand with the Maxis concept of ‘RCI’ – ‘Residential, Commercial, Industrial’. Together, all three make up the game’s cycle of society. ‘Residential’ stands for people moving into homes and from there going to their jobs to earn money.

“One of the things I should point out is, look at the bus stop system and how far that goes. One of the designers did research into city planning just to find out how far people actually walked. That kind of detail is littered throughout the game.”

That money then feeds into ‘commercial’ as they buy products to make themselves happy and to improve their living standards. ‘Industrial’ markets make the goods and use money generated by economy to maintain the world.

It may sound like an utter nightmare to comprehend, but once you see all three components feeding into one another via Glassbow view, it all starts to make sense. That’s the power of the tool, to make the complicated fathomable.

Sim City’s associate producer George Pigula shows us how this simple, yet incredibly powerful tool lends new insight into the inner workings of your creation – be it a sprawling metropolis, modest town, or an entire region with multiple cities.

The first indicator of success is desirability. After all, no one wants to live next to a nuclear power plant, so Pigula shows us that by turning on desirability filters, we can see in an instant where people would ideally want to live, and what areas they would avoid.

Sim City is full of these filters that display information down to an incredible depth. Even something as seemingly trivial as bus stop placement can be planned smartly using Glassbox.

It will show you the ideal distance people are willing to walk to reach each stop. Place them correctly, and going to work won’t be such a chore. Get it wrong, and the tired workers will become unhappy. It’s genius.

Gambling is the big topic of the day however, as Pigula shows us his three-city region, which includes two standard cities and the vast, neon mess of his gambling strip Monte Vista. There are several mechanics at play here. The casinos make Sims happy, but the downside is that crime levels rise, thus increasing the need for a solid, well-funded police force.

The came also has specialisations, and by using Glassbox, Pigula can show us that his city naturally leans towards the gambling specialisation. So if he wants, he can opt-in Monte Vista and compete on the leaderboards to see who can amass the greatest gambling income globally.

“When you get to a small-sized town things are fairly forgiving. The population’s small and if you fall down to much you can recover fairly quickly. But it’s really as you start advancing, and you decide to take on a new city or take on a specialisation, that you start learning those additional steps .”

It’s a neat system, and once again, Glassbox makes it much easier to use. It essentially strips out the visuals and colour codes the elements you want to filter down to, almost like a dynamic bar graph.

The session ends as Pigula deliberately unleashes a tornado in the middle of Monte Vista, sending people, rubble and vehicles cascading across the city like rain. Sadistic yes, but it’s no secret many gamers enjoy the wicked side of Sim City.

We grab Pigula for a chat about what we’ve just seen, and how the studio crafted such an impressive assortment of tools and features.

VG247: After watching that demo, my mind is already starting to hurt at the possibilities of what the game offers. What were your initial goals going into the project?

George Pigula: Much of this came from the guys just thinking about it since they finished the last Sim City, and what they really wanted to do was create the Glassbox engine that powers it.

Now the technology is there that they can realise that, and I mean, you’ve seen some of the simulation that’s on hand here. We wanted to make Glassbox deep enough so that people can just follow everything in their saves.

Right down to…I mean, I don’t know if you noticed, but the traffic lights work. They actually work. People stop at them. They don’t run red lights – well, actually maybe criminals do at times.

But still, those types of things are there, but at the same time we wanted to make the game slightly accessible, that was a big goal with a lot of these data-holes. Many of them have always been there in previous games.

It’s even deeper now, so with the visual labels we’re making them more accessible by helping people read them easier, which helps them make decisions, and gives them more time playing, rather than deciphering data.

The desirability heat map is a neat touch, and helps make things clearer where they weren’t before. Would you say that was lacking in previous Sim City titles?

I wouldn’t say it was lacking, but I do think it’s the evolution of what we’ve been doing in previous games. We’re always listening to our community, always on the forums, and always on Facebook.

Many of the innovations we’ve done in this game have been made in response to us following the community that has grown over the years.

Glassbox really is smart though, especially as you can see quite clearly how one thing affects another. How challenging was it to engineer all of those systems?

I wouldn’t say it was simple [laughs]. We have a lot of extremely bright people working in the studio, and the masterminds behind this have done such a great job. We’ve overcome a lot of problems, and in doing so, you really appreciate those great minds.

“You can drop disasters on other cities. You can do negative things. You saw our big casino city, so say I didn’t have a police force there. It would generate a lot of crime, and that crime can reach out into neighbouring cities.”

Your concept of ‘RCI’ is interesting because it mirrors how real life works. Did you have to employ specialist in these areas or say, an economist, to make sure it worked properly?

A lot of our designers have done heavy, heavy research. One of the things I should point out is, look at the bus stop system and how far that goes. One of the designers did research into city planning just to find out how far people actually walked. That kind of detail is littered throughout the game.

We have a great team of designers who thinking about this stuff all the time. Like, if someone has to travel a long way to the bust stop every morning, it’s natural that he doesn’t want to live there.

I really like dhow balanced everything is. You built a park in the demo to increase the desirability of your city, and as a result tons of homeless people started sleeping there at night.

This can create problems yes, and too many homeless can have an adverse effect, just like too much crime, pollution and so on. These are problems that mayors deal with in real life, so we have to provide those for people. If you fail at one aspect of your RCI, the game’s going to push back as its way of telling you.

The Sims franchise has particularly brought gaming to the attention of those who weren’t perhaps gamers before. Say someone isn’t a good strategist but wants to try out Sim City, how accessible will it for them to get started?

We’ve talked about multi-city play, and for people who are new to the game – city games and strategy in general – they would start out with one city. Because really, that’s the first peel of that onion if you know what I mean?

You go in, you start one city, it’s fairly simple. When you get to a small-sized town things are fairly forgiving. The population’s small and if you fall down to much you can recover fairly quickly. But it’s really as you start advancing, and you decide to take on a new city or take on a specialisation, that you start learning those additional steps, and growing with them.

So as it becomes more challenging, not only do you have to think about it more, but you’re learned a lot more. So you’ll become a better gamer for it.

During multi-city play one city affects another, and you may find yourself next to another player’s city online. Is that a multiplayer session you have to create, or is this persistent?

Well there’s actually multiple ways. When you create a region your choice is to make it public, and if you make it public that means anyone from the world can go in and join in. Say I have a region but I want to try a new one, I can look at the lobby, see if a region is open.

I could look at your region and see you’re building a coal-fuelled city. I could then go in, make a tourist city and ask you for some power. But yeah you can meet people that way, meet them in challenges too.

But you can also lock it down a lot by making regions private, and when you make it just private you have two choices: make everything yourself and stick to maybe just once city, or choose to invite friends directly.

The cooperative angle is appealing but what’s to stop a guy coming into my public region and unleashing a meteor strike on my city?

Well you can drop disasters on other cities. You can do negative things. You saw our big casino city, so say I didn’t have a police force there. It would generate a lot of crime, and that crime can reach out into neighbouring cities.

Residents travel back and forth a lot, so I could make a police force that can go everywhere as well. We’re not going to tell players that they can’t do anything.

So as I understand it, if someone in my region were to drop meteors on my city, then all of a sudden that becomes his problem as well as he’s my neighbour?

Yeah.

The disasters do look brilliant though and they got me thinking about spec. Will this be a fairly scalable experience if I don’t have the best rig at home?

Yeah definitely. If you check out the Sim City website now for specs on both Mac and PC, and you can see that it’s pretty scalable. We test this on a really wide variety of devices back at the office. I play this on my work rig while I’m running about 800 other programs. It scales to that experience as well.

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5 Comments

  1. NocturnalB

    Awesome, hope i can run it. I hope they reboot the Roller Coaster Tycoon series too.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. voxelman

    So basically there is nothing to stop people making smurf cities in public regions just to grief people by dropping lots of disasters?

    That sounds horrible

    #2 2 years ago
  3. unperfectionist

    @voxelman That must have been a misunderstanding. I don’t think players can directly unleash disasters in neighboring cities. Crime and pollution can indirectly affect other cities as a consequence of growth, I read that somewhere.

    Either way, it’s a game. What’s a game for, especially a strategic one if there is barely anything to solve?

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Dave Cook

    @2 there are no rules on destruction, but it’s up to you if you want to let strangers into your region or just keep it locked. They have to make a city in your region and if your city gets battered by a disaster, their city’s economy and health will suffer too. It’s all cyclical and relative.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. deathm00n

    @2 It’s like as written in the article, if you drop a meteor on a neighbour, homeless people will move to your and all the other cities in the region. You suffer the consequences of your meteor.

    #5 2 years ago

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    Resident Evil: Revelations 2 fans should sit tight for a bit, as Capcom is working on some sort of solution to the co-op issue. Resident Evil: Revelations 2 doesn’t have local co-op on PC and fans are pretty mad about that, as it was advertised ahead of release as a key feature. Although Capcom has […]

  • The games industry is disruption, says Assassin’s Creed producer

    Former Assassin’s Creed producer Jade Raymond has characterised the games industry as one long series of upsets. The games industry changes all the time, and that’s one of its best qualities, Raymond said. The ex-Ubisoft leader told Polygon that the reason seh got into games in the first place was because it “is this undefined […]

  • GTA 5 made $31 million in digital revenue in January

    GTA 5 is the highest-grossing title at the moment in terms of digital revenue, and the PSN is absolutely minting it. Digital games industry analyst Superdata has extended its scope to include console games, which means we suddenly have access to a whole bunch of data we’ve only been able to guess at, or extrapolate […]

  • Destiny: Inferno playlists debut next week

    Destiny PvP will shake things up next week with a new way to slaughter your mates in the Crucible. Destiny is already a skilled PvP game, but the new Inferno playlists will turn things up a notch with a focus on “basic gunplay”. The first of these, Inferno Control, kicks off on March 3 and […]

  • First-person camera coming to Guild Wars 2 next month

    ArenNet has announced its adding nonrestrictive first-person view to Guild Wars 2. Here’s what top expect come March 10: First-person Camera: Zooming in all the way will allow players to experience a first-person view. First-person mode is available while standing in place, walking, running, jumping, playing PvP and just about anything else. There aren’t any […]

  • Shadowrun Online signs on with Nordic

    Shadowrun Online has been given a nice little boost thanks to a distribution deal with Nordic Games. Shadowrun Online is a new team tactical RPG from Cliffhanger Productions. Although it’s already available through Steam Early Access, Nordic has agreed to distribute the finished version, which is due on Linux, Mac and PC in the second […]

  • Final Fantasy 15 is 60% finished, game world ten times the size of demo

    Final Fantasy 15 is 60% finished, according to director Hajime Tabata. Speaking with IGN, Tabata said development will kick into high gear once the Episode Duscae demo is released. “It’s about 60% now. People may look at that and say ‘well, you’ve only done five more percent!’ [since 55% in September] but it’s actually a […]

  • Destiny: you don’t need to visit the tower to access your vault

    Destiny players, you asked for it and Bungie has delivered it: you can now swap items in and out of the vault using the companion app. “Destiny needs more vault space” you cry – and yes, this is true. But while we all struggle with the limitations imposed on us by Bungie, we face all […]

  • Mortal Kombat X will contain over 100 Brutalities

    During the Mortal Kombat X stream today, NetherRealm Studios revealed Brutalities are back for the game, and stated there will be over 100 to pull off. You won’t gain any extra experience for being overly cruel with your painful moves, but you will at least get to laugh at some and “cringe” at others, according […]

  • Numenera: Strand is a film based on the game up on Kickstarter

    Numenera, the 2012 Kickstarter success and foundation for Torment: Tides of Numenera, could become a film if the Kickstarter for the movie is successful. With five days left, Monte Cook Games and Swedish film company Valdes/Eriksdotter needs £22,542 to reach its goal. Titled Numenera: Strand, it tells the tale of a drifter who “roams a […]

  • Gran Turismo 6 update adds MINI Clubman Vision, more

    A Mini Cooper has invaded Gran Turismo 6 via a new update. The Mid-Field Raceway track has also been added, and its a new and improved version of the original track from previous Gran Turismos. The new B-Spec Mode feature has also been added which allows the AI driver to race on your behalf. Additional […]

  • Nintendo is bringing New 3DS Xl and some playable titles to PAX East

    Nintendo is bringing New 3DS Xl and Splatoon with it to PAX East next month. The E3 2014 build of the game lets eight players transform into squids in a race for “splattered-paint dominance.” Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. will also be playable and featured in stage presentations at the Nintendo booth. Upcoming or newly released Nintendo […]

  • Battlefield Hardline Premium information seems to have slipped out early

    Battlefield Hardline Premium perks have apparently leaked a bit early, according to a post on Reddit. Over on the Hardline subreddit is an image which was take at a GameStop location, noting two week early access to content additional Battlepacks and more. Here’s the rundown: Four expansions Two weeks early access 12 additional Battlepacks Exclusive […]

  • Final Fantasy: Record Keeper arrives in the US this spring

    Final Fantasy: Record Keeper will be released in the US on iOS and Android this spring, DeNA and Square Enix today. The mobile titles allows players to “relive favorite moments” across all Final Fantasy installments and build a team of classic characters from across the entire franchise. If you sign up for email updates, you […]

  • Battlefield Hardline now available for pre-order, pre-download on Xbox One

    Battlefield Hardline is now available for pre-order and pre-download on Xbox One. You can pre-order it now from the Xbox Store and once you have paid for it, you can start your pre-download. Battlefield Hardline releases on March 17, and will be made available to pre-downloaders come 12.01am EDT. Check pricing and availability for your […]

  • Dying Light interactive video allows you switch between day and night

    A new video for Dying Light has been released, which allows you to hit the Z key to change between day and night. Titles Life and Death in the Quarantine Zone, the interactive story video showcases how the game changes between day and night. Daytime and nighttime are shown side-by-side but the z key allows […]

  • Havoc DLC for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare out on PS3, PS4; PC delayed

    The Havoc DLC for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is now available for PlayStation 3 and PS4. Havoc contains the four multiplayer maps Core, Drift, Sideshow, and Urban along with the AE4 directed energy assault rifle, its custom variant, and the Exo Zombies cooperative mode. You can purchase the DLC separately or pick up the […]

  • Here’s a teaser for Resident Evil Revelations 2: Episode 2

    A teaser video for the second episode of Resident Evil Revelations 2 is available, so if you’ve yet to play the first episode, you may want to skip this. Resident Evil Revelations 2′s first episode is out now. Thanks, GamesHQMedia.

  • North American eShop update is full of Donkey Kong games

    Nintendo has updated the North American end of the eShop with Titan Attacks, Donkey Kong Land, Donkey Kong Country and more. eShop on 3DS Ironfall Invasion Titan Attacks! Donkey Kong Land – Virtual Console Donkey Kong Land 2 – Virtual Console Donkey Kong Land 3 – Virtual Console Luv Me Buddies Wonderland Around the World […]

  • Venture into the Valley of the Yetis next week in Far Cry 4

    The next batch of Far Cry 4 DLC, Valley of the Yetis, releases in March and Ajay Ghale will be tasked with surviving violent cultists and the mythical Yeti. Apparently the cult is looking for a secret hidden in the valley, and Ajay has discovered their motives. The DLC features co-op with a friend taking […]

  • The Butcher’s AK/CAR Mod Pack out for Payday 2, has dino masks

    The 19th DLC pack for Payday 2 title The Butcher’s AK/CAR Mod Pack is available on Steam from today. The pack will run you $4.99/€4.99 and features: 11 new weapon modifications for the AK rifles in the game 11 new weapon modifications for the CAR rifles in the game Four new masks together with their […]

  • Battle Chasers slated for PC, consoles; comic picks up where 2001 storyline left off

    Darksiders creator Joe Madureira and Vigil co-founder Ryan Stefanelli have confirmed a Battle Chasers game and a new comic are in the works at their new studio Airship Syndicate. Speaking to Polygon, Madureira and Stefanelli wouldn’t provide details on the the game, but did divulge it will be an adventure RPG with player-controlled Battle Chasers […]

  • Shovel Knight, Hotline Miami 2 discounted for Sony’s annual Spring Fever Sale

    Sony is hosting its annual Spring Fever Sale which runs for eight weeks and features a new title each week. The sale starts next week on March 3 with the launch of Helldivers. Here’s just a few items included in the sale: HELLDIVERS (PS4/PS3/PS Vita) March 3 Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (PS4/PS3/PS Vita) March […]

  • The gold Super Mario amiibo is a Walmart exclusive

    The Super Mario Gold amiibo which surfaced via a CPSIA certificate earlier this month will be a Walmart-exclusive, Nintendo has announced. The gold-colored Mario amiibo will be released the same day as the Mario Party 10 game for Wii U and will run you $12,96 at 3,000 participating Walmart stores in the US. Along with […]

  • Here’s an overview trailer for Final Fantasy Type-0 HD

    As new gameplay overview trailer for Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, culled from the Active Time Report, stream has been sent over by Square Enix. The video provides a look at the history and environments of the Kingdom of Orience; the 14 memebers of Class Zero; the battle system with customizable magic spells; and the ability […]

  • Final Fantasy 15 video gives you a look at the game’s wildlife

    A new video shown by Final Fantasy 15 director Hajime Tabata during the latest Active Time Report, contains a look at the game’s wildlife and ecology. You can watch the full stream two hour stream through here, or a smaller clip courtesy of GamesHQMedia below.

  • Lionhead ventures into the free-to-play space with Fable Legends

    Fable Legends will be free-to-play when it launches on PC and Xbox One. According to Lionhead, the one versus four cross-platform title borrows from MOBA games such as Dota 2 and League of Legends as it will contain free, rotating heroes which will be added to a roster for a two week period. Once the […]

  • Win! 5 pairs of tickets to the Call of Duty European Championships

    We have five pairs of tickets to giveaway for the Call of Duty European Championships, taking place in London this weekend. The event takes place this Saturday February 28 and Sunday March 1 at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Winners can watch teams will go head to head for a $10,000 prize pot […]

  • Republique Remastered has released on Mac and PC

    Republique Remastered, which was announced earlier this month, is now available for Mac and PC. The game is 20% off through Steam, GOG and the Humble Store for $19.99 until March 4. Thereafter, it will run you $24.99. The Remastered edition contains all five episodes of the game, with 1-3 available now and the remaining […]

  • LA Cops coming to Xbox One in March

    Isometric shooter LA Cops is coming to Xbox One on March 13. Already on Steam Early Access, the game looks like it’s been heavily inspired by Hotline Miami. Walk into a room, open fire, leave bloody puddles in your wake. It’s being published by Team 17. Check out the video below for some 70s cop […]

  • We have $500 of Steam Wallet funds to giveaway!

    We’re giving away 10 Steam Wallet prizes worth $50 each to VG247 readers, courtesy of Bundle Stars. All you need to do to be in with a chance of winning $50 Steam credit is to enter your details below. Join the Bundle Stars Steam group for entry in the sweepstake, and gain extra entries for […]

  • Lapsed Final Fantasy 14 players tempted back with 10 day freebie

    Square is offering lapsed FF 14: A Realm Reborn players a chance to come back to the game for 10 days worth of free adventuring. Provided you’ve already bought and registered an account you’ll be able to play free of charge from Feb 27 to March 9. Square wants you to sample the new content […]

  • Advanced Warfare: Sledgehammer looking at “opportunities” to recreate classic Call of Duty maps

    Sledgehammer Games has told VG247 it’s looking at opportunities to recreate classic Call of Duty maps in Advanced Warfare. According to co-founder Michael Condrey, players of the latest Havoc DLC are asking how Exo abilities and verticality can be added to classic franchise maps. “We’re taking a look at some opportunities to really highlight the […]

  • GTA Online reader playlist week 7: and the winner is…

    Stuff was shot. But only one player emerged victorious. GTA Online player e031271 won last night’s VG247 reader playlist, beating myself, Matt and regulars solidorwot and Revolting. Congratulations, Mr e031271. A deserved victory. We play a GTA Online playlist in an open session every Wednesday on PS4, because it’s both funny and fun. Anyone’s welcome […]

  • Leaked screens reveal The Reef as Destiny’s new “social space”

    A handful of leaked Destiny screens seem to confirm that The Reef location will be the new social space in Destiny. The new addition is likely to be revealed as part of the upcoming House of Wolves expansion. Reddit user Megamanexe4 dropped the screens on the site earlier this morning, along with grabs that reveal […]