SimCity: am I doing this right?

Thursday, 14 March 2013 08:31 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Mayor Brenna reigns over one bustling metropolis and a few more more half-developed shells serving only as fodder for the people of SpecDraqular. This is city-building at its finest, apparently.

The point is now to build another city, and another, specialising here, synergising there, co-operating with neighbours there, in order to build bigger and better tourist attractions and make this, this right here, the region that squats malevolently at the top of the leaderboard.

I’m not doing this right. Or maybe I am. It’s hard to tell.

All the time I’m playing SimCity I’m waiting for it to make sense. I can lay streets and zones and build things and put out fires and upgrade to a sewage treatment plant and build parks and manage my spending and finish quests and make people happy and hold rock concerts and set off fireworks and put an eagle statue on my mansion roof but I don’t. Know. Why.

I’m not sure what the point is. In the last SimCity game I played, the point was to make a utopia filled with weird half-spaceship biospheres so everyone would blast off to self-sufficient space giving the human species some chance of surviving inevitable global catastrophe. It was a good goal. I managed it – once. It was hard. It took me a long time, and a lot of experimentation, to craft a tiny world cohesive enough to succeed.

Space-faring apartment blocks don’t seem to happen in the new SimCity. At least, I haven’t caught any indication that they might. I feel like I can’t progress much further in terms of perfect city design. The roads are as dense as they can be. The people are as rich as they can be. There’s no room to spread out, to redesign. Now what?

I’m afraid I might understand what the point is. The point is now to build another city, and another, specialising here, synergising there, co-operating with neighbours in order to build bigger and better tourist attractions and make this, this right here, the region that squats malevolently at the top of the leaderboard, growling and hissing at any would-be contenders who dare to spend less time per day watching little agents scurry back and forth across the screen.

If I am at the top of the leaderboard, if I spend longer on this than anyone else, read more online guides, have the most pretend money, am I doing it right?

I’m puzzled. I’m disappointed. I don’t feel like I’m learning anything. I’m obviously not the best SimCity player in the world (yet), and I have my suspicions that SimCity might be unintentionally throwing a snag in the spokes here and there. (Why are 90% of my population retirees? Get a job, you slackers. I’m switching off social security. Oh, I can’t.) Some of the things that happen in my city reverberate with the dull whine of the insectoid.

But I’m not ready to say, with the confidence of years of experience, that this or that is a bug. Maybe it’s a feature. Maybe it’s supposed to happen like that. Maybe, somewhere in these menus, is something I’m missing, some little clue that brings the whole job into focus like one of those illusions where you can only make out a pair of vases and then bam! Faces, and you can never unsee them.

Maybe these little men screaming and shouting for more industry even as industry zones swallow the map is normal. Maybe the electricity looping endlessly while buildings flicker into darkness is down to a flaw in my planning. Maybe the tool tip saying “follow guide lines for maximum density” being an outright lie is a clever bit of meta-gaming.

Maybe. There are a lot of maybes about SimCity. Maybe it’s the natural extension of all those years we’ve stupidly been letting Facebook show us ads while we clicked on social experiences. Maybe it’s the broadening of the gaming market, the mass our industry just flat-out needs in order to fund triple-A development, with hardcore single-player simulation being ruled out as a viable genre.

Maybe I’m just not cut out for politics.

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