SimCity: am I doing this right?

Thursday, 14th 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.



  1. heroes159

    Maybe There’s no point Brenna. You just Build & Build & Build.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. naffgeek

    I was so up for this but am so glad I didn’t buy it.

    Hopefully EA will see what a PR disaster this has become even if they did sell millions of copies.

    Nice article Brenna.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Samoan Spider

    Good article. One thing I take away from it, is I should go back to 2000 or 3000 instead :). Your mention of the weird alien like structures you get late in the old game gave me a lovely nostalgic moment. Thanks.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. McLovin85

    What’s the point of paintings, statues or art in general?
    Sometimes there doesn’t need to be an end-goal to something even if it’s a videogame. Sometimes you just need to make something so that you and others can admire it and you can be proud of it.

    The point of SimCity is to build and design cities in ways you’d always wanted to under realistic world rules. Admittedly those rules are fairly broken right now because EA/Maxis have screwed the launch of this game up but that doesn’t change what the game fundamentally is.

    So to answer your question, whether it was rhetorical or not, no; you’re not done. Much like a painter, you should strive to do better with your next piece of work and take what you’ve learned from previous works to improve the next one. If artists had the same attitude as yourself – oh, I’ve completed 1 or 2 pieces of work and don’t really see the point of this – some of the most memorable pieces of work would never have been created.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. hitnrun

    @4: Just because a game doesn’t have a defined end-state doesn’t mean it’s a good game that people just don’t get. You wouldn’t lay condescending philosophy on someone complaining that Farmville has no point. While there’s no accounting for taste, in general a game that doesn’t make you want to do things is a bad game.

    I’m pretty sure Brenna has played Sim City before. You know, because she talks about how she played Sim City before. If she says there’s no point, then it’s her educated and informed opinion that there’s no point.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. McLovin85

    Not sure I actually went all philosophical. I didn’t mean to sound like a dick I was merely giving an alternative viewpoint on the game’s objectives. From personal experience I’ve never played SimCity to reach an end goal I’ve just enjoyed city building. I also never mentioned that this makes the game good.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. DSB

    I only played it for a few hours, but it left me every bit as numb as Brenna.

    It’s a lot like The Sims or Cityville. There’s no way you can truly lose, so everything you do is pretty much without consequence.

    The idea seems to be to get satisfaction from just watching your little anthill tend to itself, but how long can you do something like that in a videogame?

    #7 2 years ago
  8. viralshag

    @5, #4 is correct in what he says and I think you’re taking it out of context.

    I have played SimCity a lot and pretty much enjoyed all of it. My goal is to make a region or city perfect. That’s one of my personal goals, just like it also is to make the most populated, polluted, crime filled city (slum) going. So for me, at least, there is definitely a point to it all.

    @7, Is there really that much of a stark difference between the majority of this game and the older SimCity games? Because unless I’m remembering it very differently they all seemed to revolve around trying to build decent cities. I don’t see how that has radically changed in the newest version?

    As usual, all it sounds like to me is people crying out for the old because the new is a little bit different and not exactly to their liking. Maybe I game with positive people as everyone I actually know and not just random posts on the internet, seem to be loving the game.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. DSB

    @8 Earning money in Simcity 4 was quite the task. Trying to manage your budget by balancing the risks you take and grading your investments has been at the center of tycoon games for ages.

    It was never just “plop shit down and watch it go round”. The player was essential in making that whole machine work, and at least to me, that’s actually what makes looking at the big picture so satisfying.

    The player made a difference, instead of just designing his or her own risk-free dollhouse, like you would in The Sims. This seems to take that approach and apply it to towns.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. viralshag

    @9, It’s not like that at all though? And when people say that it makes me think they made a rather simple balanced city, with no real risk or actual advancement at all. Which is fine but it really sounds like you made a “safe” city so you get “safe” results.

    It reminds me when people were quoting and complaining the max population of a city is just about 200k which isn’t true at all.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. DSB

    @10 “You’re playing it wrong” really isn’t an argument against lazy design anymore. I’m sure there’s a bunch of ways to trip yourself up to make a game more interesting, but ultimately we’re not playing anything the designers didn’t make here.

    And going for an all-round city is hardly heresy, even the tutorial is doing it. Simcity 4 had no problem making that rewarding, so why would this one?

    If they were so set on making the game all about taking risks, there are a million ways to design the game that way. Fact is, they didn’t.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. The_Red

    No. You are doing it wrong.
    The creative design of this game was about waiting in online queues for hours. It was about expressing the joy of disconnects and not playing through modern, creative design of Maxis.

    Then people had to ruin the original design and ask for access to some city simulation or something. An unimportant part that was rightfully not finished when the game shipped because no one was supposed to get to this part, let alone play it for more than 3 hours.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. viralshag

    @11, I’m quite sure I haven’t made the assumption or said “you’re doing it wrong”, more accurately is “you’re doing it one way”. Just like #4 tried to point out.

    The bottom line is a “bad design” comment made on the basis of only playing it for a “few hours” seems a bit silly. I would be hugely surprised if you have figured out and successfully created a 350k populated, well run city in those few hours.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. DSB

    @13 You’re saying that playing it a certain way makes the game seem boring. I’m saying that other games have no problem making it interesting, no matter where the player chooses to go.

    Of course it’s a caution when I say I’ve only played a few hours, but it’s not like the game is hiding a bunch of features for the last bit, is it? It’s all right there, designing a city doesn’t take you very long, and the progression seemed to consist of upgrading what you’ve got.

    I haven’t explored it to the fullest extent, but based on what I played, I also don’t really feel compelled to ever try.

    #14 2 years ago
  15. viralshag

    @14, well then obviously I must have been playing SimCity 4 wrong as I really don’t remember the first few hours to be THAT compelling. And like SimCity it was more my own intentions and curiosity that kept me playing to see how I could do better and improve.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. DSB

    @15 There’s no accounting for taste, but Simcity 4 at least had clearly defined reward models.

    To me that sort of thing matters.

    Of course then that also depends on the version. For me the game went straight to hell with the Deluxe expansions. Will Wright apparently thought it was super important that you be able to drive cars around your city.

    I can see the appeal in Simcity, just like I can see the appeal in The Sims, but it’s just not for me. Streetview is awesome, but I can only stare at a city for so long.

    #16 2 years ago
  17. viralshag

    And I’m not saying the game is without fault either. It definitely lacks the options for simple fun things like easy city building with the only goal of destroying it. The fact that everything seems to require a decent investment of my time is annoying.

    #17 2 years ago
  18. Brenna Hillier

    Well, in any case, the thing they’re talking about fixing in upcoming patches at least assures me I’m not just unable to plan a decent street layout.

    #18 2 years ago

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