The lights are on
In a recent blog post on Maxis' website, Maxis Emeryville general manager Patrick Buechner reveals the way forward for SimCity. The most notable of the announcements is that the studio is exploring an offline mode for the title.
On March 15, 2013, recently promoted senior vice president Lucy Bradshaw posted extensively on why SimCity is an online experience. "We keep the simulation state of the region up to date for all players," Bradshaw states. "Even when playing solo, this keeps the interactions between cities up to date in a shared view of the world."
This statement follows a post on December 12, 2012. "GlassBox is the engine that drives the entire game – the buildings, the economics, trading, and also the overall simulation that can track data for up to 100,000 individual Sims inside each city," Bradshaw writes. "There is a massive amount of computing that goes into all of this, and GlassBox works by attributing portions of the computing to EA servers (the cloud) and some on the player's local computer."
Later in that same post, Bradshaw states explicitly that SimCity "wouldn’t be possible without the technology that powers our game." Now, seven months later, fans are being told that an offline mode might be possible after all.
While this is good news for those have been hopeful for a way to disconnect from EA's servers and play at their leisure (and away from Internet access), the possibility of an offline game is counter to what Maxis said during the game's troubled launch.
In addition to exploring the possibility of giving SimCity players the chance to play offline, Maxis is looking at a better structure for DLC. Unfortunately, the small, resource-limited cities won't be growing. Buechner cites "the confines of the engine" as the factor limiting the cities to the small footprints.
The team continues working to improve the core game, and has a separate team working on a "Cities of Tomorrow" update.
Our TakeSimCity had one of the most catastrophic launches in EA history. As someone who purchased the game and suffered through the launch (I feel your pain, GTA Online fans), I am disappointed to learn that the critical online processing required by Glassbox might have been a myth.
We knew that hacks had enabled offline play. Throughout that period of revelation, Bradshaw and other Maxis leadership suggested that the workarounds were counter to the design philosophy.
Now, SimCity is largely a distant memory for all but the most diehard players. Will an offline mode bring some people back to the table? Maybe, but at the cost of a reminder that EA and Maxis' weren't entirely up front about the need to connect online. Not that much has changed in terms of processing power in the past seven months.
Email the author Mike Futter, or follow on Google+, Twitter, and Game Informer.