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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
  • All i need to know is that It's EA all over it

  • I lol'd at "hipster-style Instagram filter"

  • Staff
    I just wish they'd release a console version Tropico 4 proves city sims can be done well on consoles, and it's nice having something other than shooters to play now and then...
  • Looks like a bunch of garbage.. too much time spent connecting the cities together and to a server.. not enough time spent on the gameplay itself, what's with the old style buildings??
  • This game SUCKS I have beta tested it, and can confirm it is indeed SHAT.
  • I'd love to give this a go.

  • So many poor people in this comment section.
  • I hope they release a demo.
  • I personally think they are going in the right direction with SimCity. One of my favorite innovative ideas compared to the previous versions was dedicating cities to a specific area. I can't deny that whenever i started a new city in Sim City 4, 3000, what have you, you always do the same thing. Build everything, sustain everything, maybe have abit more aiports, but it still felt like a self sustainable city - Doing the same thing every time gets boring people! I am very excited to make a city dedicated to natural resources, or maybe commodities.

    Also, DRM thing, i am tottaly fine with it. Did it in Diablo III, and i did not notice any hiccups. + PC's are generally always connected to the internet, the only idea i think that would cause issues is if you wanted to play it on your laptop out in a bus, where there is no wireless. Honestly, whereever i go to sit down, maybe grab a bite to eat, there is ussually the option of wireless.
  • im fine with a lot of the changes except for the lack of destruction you can reign on your city. They only have 4 natural disasters. why not bring back the flood?. or the hurricane?. or riots?. those were fun in game when you wanted to see stuff really heat up.

    And i dont know about a lot of you but i loved simcity 2000 newspaper articles when they came up. To me it made it a lot more personal and you can asses the damage costs/ unfortunate life lost.

  • I'm really excited for this game. I hope it does really well, because I am a big fan of this series. My biggest hope is that they make it a bit more user friendly.
  • You know, I would be fine with the always-online DRM if the servers all of us were connecting to were any other company that wasn't EA. I think we can all say from experiance from past games just how god awful EA servers are. I can pretty much draw out how the first month of this game's launch will go. For the first week and a half, the servers will be overloaded and going down for extended periods of time, allowing no one to play, and for the rest of the month, it will simply go into constant maintencen. Personally, I will avoid this title until EA fixes their crappy servers.

  • Boo Always online! BOO!!!

  • I'll wait for it to be 75% off on steam in a few years. I'm not about to shell out 60 bucks for a game that could be unplayable in 5 years when they shut the servers down because they're making more room for the newest version.
  • Hurray for sandbox mode!! The only downfall with the always online BS is SimCity ( or RollerCoaster Typhoon) is the game(s) I go to when I don't have access to the internet...
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  • I played the demo at PAX and the game seems pretty sweet.  My wife just played the beta last night and she was loving it. Here's looking forward to March.

  • I have had a good number of problems with origin and connecting to the internet with BF3 so......always online bad!
  • Yeah we know its not the 90s. Thats not the problem. My worry is that like Diablo 3 my ability to play the game will be dictated by their server schedule or game connection over time.

  • My problem with the game play so far is that these "cities" - nah, let's call them towns at the best - are to small to be considered cities yet alone metropolis; And this is the reason I played - and still do - the predecessors: To grow a metropolis and not managing a bunch of small towns scattered in a relatively big region.

    So based on that, I would wish Maxis would rethink how these small towns could merge into one city and thrive towards a metropolis. Since I did not singed up for the beta (and probably will not buy the game as of obvious reasons: Always on policy & Origin; I do not install 3rd party Software to be able to start a game o.O) I rely on information put out by the media like this website and others and from what I can tell so far, each town looks to be confined to what(?) ... 3km²? Ridicules! A town of that size would never consider building sky scrapers. Let me put that in relation: Frankfurt am Main in Germany is well known as a commuter town; This City has a higher ratio of Office building capacities that it has residential space, but has Sky scrapers. Still this City covers an area of nearly 250km². As every big City Frankfurt am Main is made of a union of several smaller towns that have become districts of the city as it has grown over the years.
    So why not do the same in SimCity? Start with small villages, let them grow into towns, expand their boundaries until the border of one town collides with the border of another and then you have something that you might call a city. But what is known so far, none of the towns in a region will ever come close to another so it will always look a little awkward.

    And while I'm at it: A square as boundary? Seriously? Why not give these boundaries at least a little more organic feel?

    As I wrote before I will probably not buy this game, but that should not stop me from giving creative feedback, so that this feedback might get incorporated into the game and give others - who have no problem with always on and Origin - a better game.