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SimCity: the blueprints of an engaging experience

Thursday, 24 January 2013 09:03 GMT By Nathan Lawrence

SimCity is going through a rebirth of sorts; taking full advantage of all the perks that modern hardware affords. Producer Jason Haber runs us through what it takes to be a mayor of SimCity town.

SimCity – EA Maxis

The GlassBox engine allows this SimCity to be the first in the series to actually fully simulate everything.

Supports cross-play between Mac and PC owners.

SimCity is purchasable at retail or digitally, but it will still be tied exclusively to Origin.

When asked about game influences for the game, Jason Haber responded, “SimCity was the influence for SimCity.” ‘Nuff said.

One of the dirty secrets of the SimCity franchise is that it’s never really been able to fully simulate the various goings on of a particular city. This is because of the shortcomings of hardware of yesteryear; but now in a gaming age of speedy computer hardware, this dirty secret is a thing of the past. Maxis producer Jason Haber talks us through some of the town planning behind the SimCity reboot.

VG247: I actually read your bio which, as I understand it, is rare for games journalists, so I have some very specific questions; but they do relate to SimCity. Can you tell me what it’s like moving from the more combat-like Spore and Darkspore to the very combat-less SimCity?

Jason Haber: I don’t know if I’d call Spore a combat title.

I know, but Darkspore was.

Yes, that definitely was. The interesting thing about moving from those games over to SimCity is where we can take the things that we were really by inspired by in, say, Spore and brought to SimCity. Obviously, the building editor: the idea that you can open up a structure and add additional modules. When you have an editor like that, making sure that it’s a lot more intriguing when each of the modules or the additions—whether it’s a park in Spore or a module in SimCity—really has a direct influence on how the game plays. Being able to know that from the start, and making it very overt in SimCity is the idea that when you, for instance, put down another garage on your fire station, you get another fire truck that rides around the city. It makes it very clear to the player and very impactful in the game. It just makes it feel more realistic in SimCity.

Your bio says you have a degree in psychology: how does that influence how you shape games?

Well, I actually have a double-degree in psychology and computer science. Having both of those degrees really gives me an interesting insight into how to be empathetic with the player in how they play the game. As a producer, that’s a really important part of my job: to understand how your players are going to respond to what you do, and being able to put yourself in their shoes. Having a computer science degree really helps me understand how the system works and how it’s being built. It’s enough that I can at least understand what programmers are saying to me to some extent, which really makes a big difference.

Foundations – SimCity’s introduction.

Your bio says that you’re passionate for indie and classic games: what have you taken from those types of games and pushed into something that’s a whole lot more AAA?

Every game out there has good ideas in it. I mean, it’s hard to say there’s no such thing as a bad game, but the indie game scene is really pushing the boundaries a little more. I think there’s a lot to learn from that, and I take a lot away from those games. Part of the reason I really like classic gaming, too, is because you didn’t have the ability to do crazy graphics and crazy cool-looking things. It was really about having good core gameplay. Having a good core gameplay gives you the foundation to build a great game on.

Indie and classic games have pressure to come up with more creative solutions. Do you think that edge gets lost when the budget increases?

I think if you’re conscious of making sure that that core gameplay is there—knowing where the important experience is for the player—the bigger budget allows you to do more of that. Certainly, having an aesthetically pleasing experience is also very important; especially in this day and age. For a game like SimCity, you really want to give the player the sense that they’re creating this world. In a game like this, the look and the feel can really help drive and reinforce the gameplay that you have, and what you’re sensing as the player—as the mayor of a city. I don’t think you lose anything. I think that can potentially happen, but I don’t think we are doing that [on SimCity].

“I really like classic gaming is because it was really about having good core gameplay. Having a good core gameplay gives you the foundation to build a great game on.”

How can a single city’s actions influence another city, and does that apply to single-player exclusively?

That ties into multiplayer, that’s that multi-city, regional play. You can have Sims travel between cities. You can share things like water, power or sewerage. You can share your services, like police or fire or health services. But certainly negative influences like crime can actually spill out over the borders and criminals will travel to other cities.

Can you control their movements?

You can’t. They’re just going to naturally travel that way, in the same way that Sims travel. Certainly, having good police coverage will stop that from happening. Pollution can actually also travel between cities. If I have a super-polluted city, that pollution will actually come out and blow out over other cities and cause problem.

How pedantic are the Sims? Are these really high-maintenance virtual people?

One thing to keep in mind is that this is SimCity, it’s not The Sims. You’re imagining your city-level stuff. Sims will respond to what you do, and they are easily swayed in their happiness. If you put a sewerage treatment plant right next to somebody’s house, they’re not going to be happy with you; but you don’t have to care about it. In my Garbage City [a city that collected all the garbage in the region], I didn’t care about it.

What are the perks of controlling multiple cities, instead of focusing on just one?

Delve as deep into nitty-gritties as you like.

There are a lot of perks for that. One is it’s going to allow you to make bigger cities because you’ll have that support structure, but the city specialisation is a big part of that. By having multiple cities, not only can you make each city have its own character and its own type of specialisation but, through that sharing between cities and especially the service sharing, you’ll be able to create cities you wouldn’t normally be able to create on their own. If I have really good police coverage or really good fire coverage at a regional level, I might be able to make a city that doesn’t need police or fire coverage in its own city borders. It will allow me to create really creative, crazy-looking cities, and it can be totally supported by the other cities. It allows you to be more creative and have that city that can legitimately exist in the game and function just fine.

Can you create a self-contained utopia, or is there more of a push towards creating a specialist city at some point?

You could, but eventually you’re going to hit a ceiling of how far you can go without the support of other cities. Once you start playing multi-city, gamers are not going to want to do that. At one point I had this one main city, that was the one I was really putting a lot of my effort into and really trying to support, but I find when I play the game now, I’ll have one city that I’ll play for a while as my main city, and then I’ll eventually shift over and start working on another city. It’s usually because I need to get more workers for the first city, and I’ll start building up a city and, before I know it, I’ve built up another big city. It becomes this huge time-suck of, ‘Just one more minute. Just one more thing. I’m just going to do this, I’m just going to do this,’ and, before you know it, four hours have passed.

“Eventually you’re going to hit a ceiling of how far you can go without the support of other cities. Once you start playing multi-city, gamers are not going to want to do that.”

The GlassBox engine simulates everything. How are you guys controlling the resource management in terms of being able to simulate across cities?

Whichever city you’re in is the one that’s being simulated. Whether you own one city in a region or 20 in a region, only one is running and using the full engine at once; the other ones are sort of in this stasis. The regional simulation starts taking care of where that sharing is going. Once you’ve loaded into another city, those other cities will not change from what they were when you left them.

SimCity is strangely addictive, given that there’s very little to blow up. It’s available on PC and Mac in March, 2013.

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17 Comments

  1. viralshag

    Nice write up.

    I’m really looking forward to this. Me and a couple of mates are planning on building multiple cities to work for each other. I like the sound of the MP but I just hope that you don’t always have to play in an online MP environment.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. OwnedWhenStoned

    @1 That’s my concern too. Reading between the lines, it sounds like you don’t, but I’d like this confirmed before I buy it.

    apart from that it’s sounding really, really good.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Meta_Dragon

    Actually always-online DRM was confirmed for this game. And you have to use origin to play it.

    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/03/28/simcity-to-be-crippled-by-always-on-lets-change-this/

    #3 2 years ago
  4. OwnedWhenStoned

    @3: I’m not that bothered about always on DRM – it’s a pain in the ass, but its not a showstopper for me.

    My concern is that the multi city play is multiplayer only. Can I play a single player game with multi cities?

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Meta_Dragon

    @4

    Oh, im sorry. I miss read your comment :)

    I’m hoping it works out that way. From the context of the interview it sounds like that is a possibility. That would be nice wouldn’t it? :D

    #5 2 years ago
  6. OwnedWhenStoned

    @5

    Yes, it would. I’ve lost faith with most multiplayer due to asshattery.

    Also: I just read your link. Holy crap.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Meta_Dragon

    @6

    Yeah it’s kind of a tough pill to swallow. Origin play, and DRM lol.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. viralshag

    I’m not so bothered about the always on thing. Especially as I’m always online anyway unless I’m having technical problems.

    I’m hoping it will be like Diablo 3. Always on but I can still play on my own in a private game. If I can I’m happy with that.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Meta_Dragon

    @8

    Well it seems like its single player, but other cities from other players have an affect on your city. Buy i agree, private games would be great. The beta should provide us with some information on how that is going to work. ^_^

    #9 2 years ago
  10. viralshag

    Yeah I signed up for the beta but I haven’t got an invite so maybe I’m going to miss out but it would be good to see.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. Meta_Dragon

    @10

    No need to worry. Beta invites are sent out tomorrow, and go until the 28th. You didn’t miss it. i wondered the same thing. ^_^

    #11 2 years ago
  12. deathm00n

    There’s one trailer where you can see the guy playing alone and then he receives a message of someone wanting to enter his region and play, he says to him take the city he created to generate power to his casino city. So yes, I think you can play alone and manage who joins your game or not join at all. But let’s see how it really is.

    One thing is sure, I will play this, I was hoping for a new SimCity for years, Societies was so bad I think we should erase it from history, but I still have 4 in my pc and I play it yet. Cities XL is fine, but it doesn’t have the spirit SimCity have

    #12 2 years ago
  13. viralshag

    @11, Cheers, good to know!

    @12, That sounds good enough to me and I agree about Cities XL. I enjoyed it but I never had as much fun with it as I did with any SimCity games.

    Personally I think the Sim-branded EA games are potentially their best franchise. I’m a Sims nerd…

    #13 2 years ago
  14. OwnedWhenStoned

    @9: Hmm, that’s what I didn’t want. I want my own sandbox where only my own cities affect me.

    #14 2 years ago
  15. deathm00n

    @14 Don’t worry, if my theory in post @12 is right the only cities that will affect yours is cities in your region, so if you can accept only friends or no people at all you can play alone. I wish I could link the video I am talking about, but I’m at work.

    EDIT: And by regions I mean the game region, from the video it looks like it support 20 cities or something like that. Not a real world region.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. OwnedWhenStoned

    @15

    I think I’ve found that video, and I think you’re right. Goody gumdrops.

    #16 2 years ago
  17. deathm00n

    @16 But let’s not forget that this is all speculation.

    EDIT: Well, now taking another look in this article, it seens my guess of 20 cities per map is almost right :)
    “Whether you own one city in a region or 20 in a region”

    #17 2 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    Voice actor and Hollywood writer David Hayter discusses the differences between movies and games. And politely declines my leading question. “It might be fun to do a crazy, over-the-top film version of Saint’s Row.” Yeah, that headline is a bit cheap but you’re reading the work of a man who once asked the maker of […]

  • Xbox One bundle gets £100 price cut in UK

    Microsoft has knocked up to £100 off Xbox One bundles in the UK. The Xbox One with Kinect Assassin’s Creed bundle is now £100 cheaper and comes with a free £20 voucher to be spent on the official Microsoft online store. Over on the Xbox online store there’s a £70 price cut on the white […]

  • Pokemon Shuffle downloaded 1m times, free stuff given out to celebrate

    Free-to-play 3DS title Pokemon Shuffle has been downloaded over 1 million times. As a reward for playing the match-3 puzzle game Nintendo has gifted players a Complexity -1 item for free. The item reduces the difficulty of a level, according to Eurogamer. By all accounts Pokemon Shuffle is a cynical game with poorly implemented microtransactions. […]

  • Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power sure is pretty

    FrozenByte Games has revealed Trine 3, due for release in 2015 And what better way to reveal a new side-scrolling adventure than with a very pretty trailer full of gameplay? The latest in a series that has already sold 7 million copies is earmarked for PC and “other” formats. Trine 2 released on PS3, PS3, […]

  • Dying Light takes UK number one

    A month since it was released on digital platforms, Dying Light’s physical release has topped the UK charts. Techland and Warner’s zombie survival game has proven to be one of the big hits of the year so far. It was released on digital formats a month ago but has only just been released on good-old […]

  • GTA 5: that’s some seriously accurate grenade throwing

    Think you can take down a jet plane with a grenade throw? This guy can. In fact, he can do it twice. This is in a variation on the player-created deathmatch “Stunters Versus Snipers” which seem to be all the rage in GTA Online at the moment. One team has a sniper rifle (and grenades) […]

  • Metal Gear Solid 5: Mother Base turns pink in the morning sun

    The Phantom Pain looks nice even when Kojima just takes a quick pic with his phone. Look at that beauty. We get nice reflection in pink at the first gray of dawn. pic.twitter.com/aERTBoZT9z — HIDEO_KOJIMA (@HIDEO_KOJIMA_EN) March 2, 2015 The game doesn’t have a release date yet, which makes us a bit nervous for it […]

  • Dying Light: Underpant Gnomes and 9 other secrets you missed

    Dying Light still has legs – maybe because it’s crammed full of secret things to discover. Ten of those have been highlighted by TerraMantis’ latest YouTube video, including reference to the Underpant Gnomes, guitar lessons, farting zombies and well, we don’t want to spoil it for you. Even if you think you’ve seen everything in […]

  • Resident Evil: Revelations 2 Raid Mode dance gestures are deadly

    Why blind ‘em with science when you could kill ‘em with dance moves? revelations raid When I say Resident Evil: Revelations 2‘s Raid Mode dance gestures are deadly, I’m not being figurative. If you finish the first chapter of Revelations 2 you can unlock Gina for use in Raid Mode. All characters can use gestures […]

  • Dragon Age: Inquisition mod enables male Blackwall romance, terrific joke

    “Male Inquisitors can now scale the wall,” says a clever Redditor. A new Dragon Age: Inquisition mod removes Blackwall’s romantic restrictions, allowing male Inquisitors to chat up the fuzzy-faced warrior. Blackwall doesn’t have any race preferences, so you’re good to go there. Dragon Age: Inquisition romance mods are pretty common by now, and to be […]

  • Destiny: it is possible to solo the Weekly Heroic

    Destiny players willing to faff about with their system clock can solo the Weekly Nightfall if they prefer. The Weekly Heroic is one of Destiny‘s toughest challenges. Responding to player feedback Bungie implemented matchmaking for the Weekly Heroic, but there are players who genuinely prefer to go it alone. There’s now no legitimate way to […]

  • Clayfighter remaster on the way, says Interplay

    A Clayfighter remake is inbound, apparently. Interplay has announced a Clayfighter remaster, combining the content of all past games into one package. Features include: Characters such as Bad Mr. Frosty, Blue Suede Goo, Earthworm Jim, Hoppy, Boogerman, Tiny – and more with over 20 characters total Over 20 familiar environments from the series to duke […]

  • The quickest way to climb in Dying Light

    Dying Light players! Are you sick of picking your way carefully up the sides of tall towers? Have I got a trick for you. The parkour system in Dying Light is okay, but climbing anywhere especially high can be a bit tedious. Enter Jesse Lester, who took a look at the tools available and worked […]

  • Bungie “always” looking at Exotic changes for Destiny updates

    Destiny developer Bungie won’t stop tinkering with Exotic weapons. In Destiny, Exotic weapons are supposed to be the best of the best – and to feel unique. Guns like Ice Breaker and Gjallahorn definitely hit the mark there (although less so when everyone has one), but unfortunately, there are a few that just don’t strike […]

  • Is Uncharted 4′s first trailer a tribute to Crash Bandicoot?

    Uncharted 4′s first proper trailer bears some remarkable similarities to the opening moments of a much earlier Naughty Dog game. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End has more in common with Crash Bandicoot than you might think. It’s Naughty Dog’s first game on a new console, yes – but if you compare Uncharted 4′s E3 2014 […]

  • Sonic console games will continue, says Iizuka

    Sonic Team leader Takashi Iizuka has said there are no plans to stop making Sonic games. Sonic hasn’t retired from the ranks just yet. “Please rest assured, I personally have no plans to stop making Sonic games for home consoles,” Iizuka told 4Gamer [Japanese]. The comment arose after the site asked if Sonic would become […]

  • Stealth Inc. 2 coming to PSN, apparently

    Stealth Inc. 2: A Game of Clones will soon be available on PlayStation platforms, if a trophy list is to be believed. Stealth Inc. 2 initially launched as a Wii U exclusive, disappointing fans of Curve Studios’ tough action game. We’ve heard nothing to contradict this, but Exophase, a generally reliable source, has dug up […]

  • Runescape developer has an “undisclosed MMO” in the works

    Runescape developer Jagex is working on something new. According to Jagex’s careers page, the developer has a new, unannounced game in the works. Its advertisement for a lead programmer makes explicit mention of an “undisclosed MMO”. The ad mentions the new title is in “the preliminary stages of redefining the cross platform MMORPG genre” and […]

  • Destiny PvP rewards system to be addressed

    Destiny developer Bungie has said it will change the way Crucible rewards work. Destiny players are always complaining about the perfidy of RNGesus, but there’s one area where it particularly hurts: the Crucible. PvP players often receive nothing at all for excellent performances, and sometimes Guardians receive the best drops merely for logging in as […]

  • Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 in the works for 3DS

    Azure Striker Gunvolt is getting a sequel. Azure Striker Gunvolt developer Inti Creates has confirmed that the sidescroller has been popular enough to warrant a second instalment. The sequel will also be released on 3DS, the team said on Facebook. Very little information is available at present, unfortunately. “As time goes on we will have […]

  • Life is Strange Episode 2 not delayed, says developer

    Life is Strange developer Dontnod Entertainment has said the second episode is on track for release this month. I guess it would know. Life is Strange Episode 2 has been expected on March 13, but late last week Square Enix told Destructoid it had been delayed. Dontnod has since denied this report, describing it as […]

  • First SteamVR game reveal is Job Simulator

    Job Simulator is the first game to be announced specifically for SteamVR, Valve’s virtual reality tech. Shoot Many Robots and Aaaaa! For the Awesome! developer Owlchemy Labs is the first team to put its hand up and say it’s worked with SteamVR. In a blog post, the studio unveiled Job Simulator, which will be playable […]

  • HTC, Valve partner for Vive VR headset

    The first SteamVR announce is a headset a manufactured by HTC, the Taiwanese mobile company revealed over the weekend. Valve told us last week it planned to unveil virtual reality hardware at GDC, calling it “SteamVR” at the time. Now HTC has pre-empted Valve by revealing Vive, a headset developed thanks to a collaboration between […]

  • Watch the Evolve Chappie Challenge tomorrow on Twitch

    Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2K and Turtle Rock Studios have announced a tournament being hosted by ESL, which will see Evolve players take on newest movie robot, Chappie. The ESL has teamed up with Twitch for the live 4 on 1 competitive event, and you can watch as it all unfolds tomorrow, March 1 at 3pm […]

  • If you’re attending PAX East, stop and have a look at Necropolis

    We haven’t heard much on Harebrained Schemes’ latest since it was announced in November, but today, the team has seen fit to release some interesting gifs of its a new project, Necropolis. Necropolis is a third-person action rogue-like with procedurally generated which can be “re-rolled mid-playthrough” and is headed to Linux, Mac and PC sometime […]

  • Dragon’s Dogma Online really is lovely, as these screenshots prove

    More Dragon’s Dogma Online screenshots have been released, and this batch is just as lovely as the last gallery we posted. Since this game will likely never leave Japan, the images are a bit of a salt rub for fans of the IP, but hopefully another entry in the series will be released at some […]

  • Action-RPG Death’s Gambit has a classic-Castlevania feel to it

    How would you like to become an agent of Death and rid the world of immortals? Then Death’s Gambit may just be the game for you. Announced by LA-based studio White Rabbit, the action-RPG with platforming elements tasks players with fighting gigantic enemies on an alien, medieval planet. Players will also encounter formidable beasts, knights, […]

  • Modder adds offline co-op into Resident Evil: Revelations 2

    PC users lamenting the lack of local, offline co-op in Resident Evil: Revelations 2 will be pleased to know a modder has remedied the omission. The mod, created by FluffyQuack, adds offline co-op mode to Episode 1 but the only caveat is players will need to use gamepads instead of mouse and keyboard (via Gamespot). […]

  • Number of Steam accounts with Dota 2 installed hits over 42 million

    Dota 2 has seen its installation rate jump 85% year-over-year, resulting in the MOBA now having close to 43 million installations worldwide. The figures were published via a report from video game research and consulting firm EEDAR, which studied Steam accounts daily to better understand the service’s player behavior and title performance. According to statistics […]

  • Nintendo issuing Eon Ticket codes for Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire

    Nintendo is handing out an Eon Ticket to Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire owners which will allow them to visit the Southern Island. Once a player arrives, depending on which version of the game they own, Pokemon Latios and Latias are able to be caught. The Eon Ticket was originally issued via StreetPass, but […]

  • Here’s a couple The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt screenshots to brighten your day

    Two images for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt have surfaced on the game’s Facebook page. Grabbed by Gamekyo, the images show Gerlat and Vesemir chatting with a fellow, and the other shows Geralt riding up to some ruins where some people have been hanged. CD Projekt Red will make an appearance at PAX East next […]

  • Hyrule Warriors Boss Pack DLC contains unlockable character – potential spoilers

    While you already know the next DLC for Hyrule Warriors will allow you to play as the gigantic beast Ganon, there’s a rather humorous unlockable character contained in it as well. Potential spoilers follow below. When the DLC arrived in Japan February 26, YouTuber moccos-tan IsedelicaAs posted a video of the unlockable character, which is […]

  • Star Trek Online players gather on Vulcan to pay respects to Leonard Nimoy

    Star Trek Online players paid tribute to Leonard Nimoy yesterday by gathering around a fountain on Vulcan, the home planet of Spock in the Star Trek series. According to a post by barnacle999 on reddit, when he logged into the MMO “there were around 20 full instances and several partial,” culminating in around 1000 players […]

  • Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin gameplay video shows invasion of The Forlorn

    A new Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin gameplay video has been released, and provides the viewer with a look at the NPC invader system. Watch below as The Forlorn hunts down the player through the game with “with deadly skill and tenacity.” He even teams up with other enemies, making your fight […]

  • Visual upgrade for Wasteland 2, improved modding tools in the works

    A visual upgrade and improved mod tools are in the works for Wasteland 2, according to a blog post from inXile Entertainment. The upgrades will come about as the game’s codebase is migrated from Unity 4.5 to Unity 5. “A major benefit of moving to Unity 5 is that 5 will include many of the […]

  • Battlefield Hardline brings “Hollywood crime drama” to single-player campaign

    In the fifth developer diary for Battlefield Hardline, the team discusses how it’s bringing “Hollywood crime drama” to the shooter’s single-player campaign. The video was released a couple of days ago, so apologies are in order if this has been posted already, but I promise I searched the site and never found it. Visceral Games […]

  • Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is a pause for tactics isometric RPG coming in 2016

    Masquerada: Songs and Shadows is a 2.5D isometric RPG, built in the vein of Baldur’s Gate and Dragon Age in the works at Withing Hour Studios. The game allows the player to pause combat to plan party tactics. “Set in the Venetian-inspired fantasy city of Ombre where rare masks are the key to casting magic, […]

  • Underworld Ascendant surpasses Kickstarter goal

    Underworld Ascendant which was launched on Kickstarter earlier this month, has met its  $600,000 funding goal. With six days left 10,786 backers pledged $610,541 In light of being funded, the team has also switched up the stretch goals as bit, as you can see in the image below. The studio, OtherSide Entertainment, is fronted by Paul Neurath, […]

  • Latest Evolve patch fixes progress and save game data loss on Xbox One

    A patch for Evolve has been released on Xbox One which fixes lost progress and save game data users had reported. The patch also fixes an issue with shadows and flashlight, makes incremental improvements to matchmaking, invites, and rejoining, and there were progressions balance changes. “The issue with lost progress and saved games was mostly […]

  • Online servers for Ridge Racer Unbounded shut down in Europe

    Online functionality for Ridge Racer Unbounded is no longer available, Namco Bandai Europe has announced. Solo mode and the track editor are still playable, minus the sharing options. Ridge Racer Unbounded was released on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in March 2013. Thanks, MCV.