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SimCity Interview: Building On Classic Foundations

At the mere mention of SimCity, many gamers get nostalgic gleams in their eyes as they recall the hours spent building virtual metropolises. Considering how long the series has been dormant, some people thought that SimCity would remain relegated to the realm of nostalgia, but EA and Maxis revealed a new installment at this year's Game Developers Conference. We talked to lead producer Kip Katsarelis about this reboot of one of gaming's classic PC series.

This interview originally appeared in issue #229 of the magazine. We now present this extended version for the first time outside of Game Informer Digital.

It’s been nearly a decade since the last numbered SimCity title came out. Why resurrect the franchise now? What are the factors that make you feel the time is right?
Has it been that long? I feel old! There are two reasons that come to mind.  First, the team that worked on SimCity 4 was busy making a little game called Spore.  We had our hands full with that one.  During that time, we kicked around many ideas for what the next installment of SimCity should be.  This leads us to the second point, city builders are complex and require some serious hardware to run a game of this magnitude. The next SimCity had to deliver on the graphics and a deep simulation.  GlassBox is the simulation engine that is powering this SimCity and will allow us to create a city simulation that is deep and responsive. It scales to simulate entire cities, regions of cities, and allows us to connect cities through global data that we push to all of our players. It allows us to track every Sim in your city, follow them to work, to school, to play.  We want to make sure our graphics tell the story of the simulation, so that art serves the simulation.  If a Sim is sick, you’ll see it.  If your water is dirty, you’ll see it.  What You See Is What You Sim.  

Our fans have been speaking out with every press release for every Maxis game that has come out. The most common reply to news around a Maxis game is, “When is the next SimCity coming out?”   The time is now for the next SimCity.  Top men are on it.

Currently, the game is just called SimCity. Why not SimCity 5?
When we set out to create this version of SimCity we had numerous debates about calling it 5 or not. Our goal from the beginning was to introduce the brand to an entirely new generation of gamers, while satisfying our core fans desire for a deep city simulation experience. We wanted to move away from some of the complexities of SimCity 4 and bring back the charm and magic of SimCity 2000. We looked at reinventing every feature from a tactile interface to presenting data in a more visual manner. It’s very much a reboot of the franchise.  

How is the new SimCity different from previous installments? 
We wanted to preserve what was great about the gameplay of previous SimCitys and still improve and innovate as much as possible. The gardening aspect of SimCity through zoning is one of the hallmark experiences of SimCity. It’s very much part of this SimCity as well. In this version, players will have only one zone type for Residential, Commercial, and Industrial. Density will be driven by the types of roads and general traffic around these zones.  

Apart from zoning, will players have any ability to customize the look of their cities?
Of course, this is Maxis after all!  Customization has always been a huge part of SimCity.  We’ve taken the city creation tools to a whole new level with the addition of curvy roads and the modular nature of our ploppable buildings. We’ve taken some of the learnings from Spore and the editors and brought that into SimCity. All of our ploppables will come with loads of additional unlocks for you to create lots of interesting combinations and layouts for your Police Stations, Schools, Health Centers, and more.  

Does the simulation focus mainly on the city and resources? What role do the citizens play?
Players will be faced with many of the challenges real cities face on a daily basis – things like crime, education, budgets, public health, traffic, and more. We’ve introduced depletable resources to the simulation, which will fuel big business and help drive and influence the economic centers of player’s cities. We felt that resources are an important component of the economic loop for real cities, that it was an obvious and important addition to SimCity. These resources include water, coal, oil, and ore. Sims are directly impacted by these resources by the jobs these industries produce, the products they make, and the impacts to the environment. Players will have the ability to decide which resources to use to help shape their cities and how to manage their city when those resources are no longer available.    

Previous SimCity titles had depth for the players that wanted it while remaining accessible to less hardcore players. Is that the goal with the new title also? If so, how do approach striking that balance?
Accessibility has been a key focus for us. It has been a balancing act since we want a simulation that is deep and one that our hardcore fans will embrace. Maxis has traditionally excelled in this area and we think we’ve nailed it on this one. A few examples of this are with how we’re visualizing data. We do not want to overload players with spreadsheets and numbers. We’ve been inspired by what’s going on in the info-graphic space. You can still communicate complex concepts with simple to read visuals. 

We plan to introduce players to the tools slowly through a mission based tutorial so they understand the simulation and the tools at their disposal. This mission extends beyond the tutorial and is part of the core gameplay loop, offering rewards for completing missions. 

What concepts from previous SimCity titles are you interested in exploring further in the new game?
As much as we love city building, we love destroying our cities even more. Disasters will continue to be a big part of SimCity and with this SimCity being truly 3D with a real physics engine. Disasters are going to be more epic than ever. 

Can you explain the game’s multiplayer component? How will your choices impact other players?
Multiplayer is the big new feature of this SimCity. Cities are now part of something bigger; they are part of a region, which consists of other cities and Great Works. Cities influence one another and work together to build Great Works, compete on leaderboards, and connect with one another to trade. One example of a Great Work could be a solar farm. Players will want a Solar Farm in their region because it’s an excellent source of clean power and jobs. In order to build the Solar Farm, you’ll need several cities contributing to the project to provide materials, workers, and funds. The Solar Farm is just one example of how the region that your city is part of adds additional pressures and decisions to your city planning.  

The game was revealed with a focus on environmentalism. Are you trying to avoid being seen as a game with “an agenda,” or is that a label you wouldn’t mind being applied to SimCity?
SimCity is a game first and foremost, but has always influenced the way people look at the real world. Players are faced with the same issues that real politicians are faced with and will have to deal with those issues in the virtual world they create. Maxis isn’t trying to push an agenda. Sure, we have opinions and infuse our own sense of humor into the simulation, but it’s up to the players to make their own decisions, good or bad. We just want to make sure we capture the topics that are of interest today and are relevant to our fans.    

The game is currently only announced for PC. Do you think this title (or the SimCity franchise in general) has a future on console also?
Anything is possible. We’re focused on making the best SimCity ever on PC. Console gamers and PC gamers are overlapping more so than they had in the past. Both are looking for a more structured experience, both want to achieve something in a shorter period of time, both want something they can pick up and play easily, but takes time to master. We’ve incorporated many of these elements into SimCity.

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  • This article really worries me. I think you asked exactly the right questions to find out that once again EA is taking the "simcity" name and bastardizing it. Don't get me wrong; there are some components (like the addition of depleatable resources) that sound like a good addition. The problem is when he says his answer to your last question. He did a wonderful job of describing GENERAL PC/Console gamers, but the average gamer is not going to be a fan of SimCity unless you put it on FB and make it a cheap graphic pay to win game. There is a very core group that actually enjoy and value the time it takes to construct a city that no one else could. I can only PRAY that there are enough people out there who will say something because it sounds like this will very soon turn out to be another flop like "Societies" which if they can learn from their past....dont make this another game that you have to package with the previous game made a decade ago just to sell the whole package for 20 bucks....PLEASE GIVE US A TRUE SIMCITY!!!!!!!
  • I am completely excited for this.
  • I hope they make the game able to run on fairly old laptops (08-10)

  • I remember playing the original SimCity.  It is exciting to think about playing this one with all the new graphical innovations and the years of knowledge Maxis has built up over the years.  This game won't disappoint.

  • Bringing it back to Sim City 2000 is very, very appealing to me.

  • If they do it right, this is one of my top games of the year.

  • Seems cool... can't wait. They better make sure it doesn't turn into another empire earth 3 or an even more appalling over simplified sh..equel.

  • i would be excited for this but... its eaxis and i don't wanna know what there gonna be doing drm like again its gotten tiresome and makes me almost not wanna get there games
  • DRM and no mods...makes me really wanna play this.
  • Physics!?!?!? YESSS I'm going to destroy so many cities!!! >:)

  • What would be really awesome, like in Sim City 2000, is if you had the option to start at the turn of the century (1900) and grow your cities with the technology that was available at the time, with new structures and means of transportation becoming available as you progress through the years. Adding to that, they could assign a architectural style to each decade, so that any new building in that decade would be built to that style. The final city, 100 years in the future would then look like it had some history to it with buildings from many periods in time. Sim 2000 had this feature in a sense with the option to make a building 'historical'.
  • This is gonna be a good one. If they don't mess it up
  • Looks good. . .

  • Looks good. . .

  • Just Cant wait for this in 2013 !!

  • looks really fun
  • New SymCity very nice

  • I like everything mentioned, except a few things:

    -Not sure if I like the detail going into "following" a Sim. Never really used that feature that often in Sim City 4 and don't think i'll use it here, unless its game changing or has more value.

    -The multiplayer aspect seems interesting, but will be difficult to get started. I am a little worried about that.

    -Not sure if I like the idea of not being able to regulate different income levels of zones.

    -Worst of all, I hope they do NOT add any pay for features like "Buy this financial advisor for $4.99 to help your city make profit!" If this is implemented, then EA will ruin the game, once again.

    Other than that, I like the new engine and possible future features. Feel free to object to any of my opinions! ;)

  • Looks like I'm going to have to purchase a new rig. I've been meaning to anyway, and this is the perfect excuse to get one.

  • looks good