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What You Need To Know About The Latest From Maxis

SimCity releases on March 5, which means that the game is in the final stages of development at the Maxis offices in Emeryville, California. In fact, it's so close to release that we got to sit down and play it for five hours straight. This extended hands-on time gave us a better sense of SimCity than ever before, and these are some of the biggest take-away points about the game and what it offers.

It's Not About One City
The original SimCity had one primary goal: Increase your population. A lot has changed over the years, and the number of people in your town isn't the only (or the most important) objective. Now, you're aiming for a more collaborative success, even if you're playing single-player. Because all of the cities in a region can share services, it's wise to divide your efforts. Dividing unsavory services like sewage management and garbage disposal can dampen the negative effects on a single city, while maximizing the positive effects for multiple cities. If you aren't playing with other people, you can build multiple cities by yourself in a single region to share the burden.

Have It All If You're Small
Even though SimCity has an emphasis on cooperative efforts, you can still create a single, self-sufficient town that covers all of its own bases. "You can certainly have a small town that does it all. That has its own power generation, its own police force," says creative director Ocean Quigley. "But that starts to break down when your city is large. When your city needs a lot of water. When your city is generating a lot of garbage. When you have a lot of injured people who need hospitals. If you're making small-town America, you can fit all that stuff into a single city. But as your city becomes more and more dense and has a higher population, you'll find that it makes much more sense to put things in adjacent boxes, and let them be handled outside the city."

Sandbox Mode
In the standard mode, SimCity offers a variety of challenges for your and your region-mates. On the other hand, those wouldn't be fair if some players were allowed to cheat and others weren't. To solve this, Maxis has included a Sandbox mode. “Sandbox mode is where you’re saying ‘I’m not interested in leaderboards. I just want to have access to a whole bunch of cheats. I want to play with the simulation as a toy,’” says Quigley. “So, we give you a bunch of money cheats, and a whole bunch of other cheats for you to do stuff with. Everything is unlocked.” This means that even with the emphasis on connected play and working together, players who just want to explore the simulation without restrictions are free to play however they please.

Looking Good
One of the coolest features of SimCity is buried a bit in the options menus, but you can select the visual style of your city from a pull-down menu. This doesn't change any of the actual buildings, but it does alter the color. Some filters give your city a hipster-style Instagram vibe, while others just accentuate cool or warm colors. My personal favorite was a black-and-red filter that gives everything a Sin City look. Even better, some filters are geared toward colorblind players. They may not look great to those with normal vision, but they are engineered to accentuate the differences between colors that otherwise would not seem distinct to those with colorblindness.

Different Goals
Multiple specializations are available for mayors who want to take their cities down certain lucrative paths. Maybe you want to focus on drawing in tourists. Maybe you want your city to become a mining juggernaut. Whatever you choose, you will find that SimCity guides you toward your goal without putting pressure on you. "We want to provide just enough structure so that if you’re not entirely self-directed – if you’re not doing SimCity as creative play but you’re doing it as a gamer and want a game experience – that you have a clear goal that you can move to. And you get feedback as to how well you’re doing and what the stages you need to do are," Quigley says. "We’ve had to put in a bunch of stuff like that, because otherwise, it is more toy than game. And it has to have aspects of both."'

The Online Thing
Every time we post anything on this site about SimCity, we see comments from outraged fans regarding the game’s controversial always-online feature. People don’t like sacrificing control over products they purchase – especially in a series that has such a long single-player tradition. "There are a lot of people who want us to be making a 1990s-era game. A lot people who want us to make SimCity4++. It's not the '90s anymore. The world has moved on," says Quigley. "We're building a new game in this new environment. The Internet is a thing now." From my time with SimCity, this goal of constant connectedness serves the game well. Yes, you need to be online to play, even in single-player. Yes, it doubles as a form of copy protection, but it doesn't impact the quality of the game mechanics. As someone who was skeptical of the decision early on, my time with the game has convinced me that it has benefits. It contributes to the sense of collaboration and cooperation, which (like it or not) are critical components of this game. Yes, it is still annoying that you can't play offline single-player. Part of me misses the idea of creating one massive city that does it all, but another part is looking forward to the possibilities with this new incarnation of SimCity.

That's it for my initial impressions, but we'll have a full review closer to SimCity's release. The exclusive screens below were taken during my time with the game at Maxis, and include shots that highlight the black-and-red filter, the building upgrade process, and a pipe spitting sewage into the open air. When you're doing looking at those screens, check out Ocean Quigley’s blog for more (and read his answers to many questions in the comments).

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Comments
  • I'm still not entirely sure about the game. I don't really care about all the controversy around it, but I think I'll wait for the reviews first.
  • This is basically a reboot of the series, give it time and we'll be seeing more awesome versions. Like from the original series, got better with each instalment.

  • too bad , they wont be getting my money as nice as it looks due to the forced need of online , its not a mmo, theres a single player therefore uncalled for. that type of drm is just gonna make them loose business from ppl like me who either boycott the game cause of it or ppl who don't/can't have internet in there location.
  • Always online is a terrible idea in a country with such a subpar broadband infrastructure.
  • Customer appreciation was key in the 90s. He basically said get over it people who pay for my product, the internet is here and you need to be on it to play, we're in charge. Whatever happened to "customer is always right"?
  • The game is looking good, but this sort of DRM is intolerable. Much like the latest Settlers installment, this game will fail because of this. I am not purchasing this game until this absurdity is removed. And I fully support pirated software and cracks as the only possible way to circumvent these abusive contraptions that only hurt potential, bona fide consumers. F*ck you, Maxis.
  • Seeing a little love for the colorblind is awesome.  That setting will help me tremendously.  

  • What you *really* need to know about this reboot: - Origin only - Always online DRM since the MP is forced on you, can't play in peace or without a connection - Region play removed which was a huge thing in sc4 and added an immense depth to the game - Highly simplified infrastructure options - Only one map size which corresponds to a medium tile in sc4... barely - No terraforming tools you just get a map and deal with
  • I cant wait for this!! It has been a long time since I have play Sim City and this looks really interesting!!

    The only other "Sim"  game that needs to come out now is Rollercoaster Tycoon 4!

  • sounds like it's being made to appeal to the masses and not the long standing fans. might work, I'll get it when they make it mac compatible and assuming i can run it on my macbook pro. im not a pc gamer, never have been, but this interests me. times are changing gamers.
  • I'm not particularly bothered by the DRM measures (though I understand that side of the argument). Frankly the collaboration angle is the thing that will likely turn me off of this. I liked building big super cities that were self-sustaining; the fact that you can't do that, and that its an intentional design decision going in, just feels like a jab at me for wanting to play the game solo. "Don't want to convince friends to buy our game or play with strangers? Well you can just go sit in the corner and play with small cities Mister Antisocial!" I get that this is the age of social games and multiplayer, but why change the balance of the game to limit single player? The same thing happened with Mass Effect 3; the war assets at the end of the game weren't enough to get the best ending, you needed a few hours of multiplayer under your belt to unlock those assets you already earned in the campaign. Ugh, I'm stopping now before I start ranting. REALLY want to like SimCity, but...nope. Leaving it at that. Really want to like this, hope social gaming doesn't screw it up for me.
  • I don't care about the always online thing, as long as they NEVER have service outages. That is why most people rail against this sort of thing. D3 being a good example. How annoying was it to have your first weekend with the game constantly interrupted by error messages and other such non sense? Don't get me wrong, I still played Diablo 3 A LOT (Ill reserve my opinion on d3 for other comments sections) and I will likely play this game a lot. Blizz and EA know I have a very storied history with these franchises so they could force feed it to me over cloud computing and I'd pay a mmo style fee to play that. It's the pull of the brand and some of us are powerless against it. *Waves hand* This is the sim you're looking for.
  • Even though I'm hesitant to climb on board with the overall direction of the series, this still would have been a release purchase. But, the inculsion of always online is the last straw and a deal breaker. EA has long since used up my goodwill and faith and I cut them no more slack.
  • It is ridiculous to force anyone to have to be online to play a game. What happens when my internet goes down for a week, or a month? I can't play the game I purchased. Garbage!

  • there are things that i love and things that i hate about this game. for now i will stick with sc4 and wait and see.

  • I've been wanting multi-city multi-player for years and years with this franchise, so i am happy with everything I'm hearing.

    I just hope that at some point they decide to go further and make a Sim-world where you get to pick a patch of land and build on it, but have to deal with the cities around you as a nation, not just a small county.

  • This is very close to the design philosophy that SimCity 4 used (with heavier emphasis on online and multiplayer).

    We all saw how well that one did...

    "...A lot people who want us to make SimCity4++"

    I would argue that many people actually want SimCity 3++, not 4++. There is this crazy idea that some businesses follow... that when your customers ask for something, that is what you deliver.

  • Looks great, but what about people that don't have internet or are stuck using a 56k modem. Yea I know its rare to not to have internet but there are places in the US that don't have any ISP's in the area.

  • It'd better be pretty sweet.

  • I really wish this game would return to Nintendo in some way, shape or form. The coolest part of the game was having Bowser just stomp through a city and demolish everything.
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