SimCity first gave a mass audience a taste of its oddball brand of urban planning back in 1989. Now Maxis, a subsidiary of Electronic Arts, is bringing back the popular game for the first time in a decade, with the planned release of an updated version of SimCity in 2013. But despite sticking with the same name, regions and the interconnectedness within what academics would call mega-cities will feature prominently in the new version.
"Cities will affect the environment, Sims will commute from city to city, cities will economically specialize and provide resources and services to each other," says Ocean Quigley, Maxis's creative director for the new SimCity. "If you’re playing solo, then it’s all taking place between the cities that you control. If you’re playing with friends, then some of those cities will be controlled by your friends."
Quigley describes the direction the game's simulations are heading as more "bottom up and object based," which will allow the new SimCity to recreate the challenges of living in an era where regions rule. But the new game won't just have your Sims choking to death thanks to a neighboring city's coal plant. It'll also allow you to be able to watch pedestrians walk down the street and check analytics of individual buildings, for example. And as you make changes to your city you'll see “a whole new wrath of simulation behavior that wasn’t there before," as Quigley puts it. For example, you might build a small city with a few houses and businesses. Along the way, you come to find out that there’s a large bed of coal underneath the city. As the mayor, you have to decide whether it’s worth the increased revenue to start mining versus potentially polluting your community, not to mention the cities your friends build if you’re playing in multiplayer mode.
"The space you got to explore with SimCity 4 was bounded," says Quigley. "With the new SimCity it essentially is unbounded. In SimCity 4 there were only so many things you could do. In the latest SimCity, the simulation landscape is continually growing, but I won’t say it’s infinite."
Quigley compares the new game to a Lego set. As you add new pieces, new simulation possibilities arise.
“Other SimCities have been built on graph paper. This works for classic, traditional cities, but doesn’t work for more organic cities,” says Quigley. “We want to take SimCity off the graph paper and build cities with curved roads, more European cities and not just gridded cities. We want the city to feel like a place, not a map.”
When the new game is released in 2013 it will have been about 10 years since SimCity 4 was released. Quigley says the motivation behind developing a new game now is obvious.
“As a subject, cities are where it’s all happening,” said Quigley. “Cities are the most interesting and sophisticated things we’re building right now. From a big picture perspective cities are an interesting subject. From a more practical perspective, when we did SimCity 4 there were things we wanted to do but computers weren’t sophisticated enough. Now computers have the ability to do what we wanted them to do."