Editorials

SimCity – One Month Later

It’s been a month since the launch of SimCity, and much has changed. Is now the right time to play SimCity?

Ari Margo

A month has passed since SimCity was released on March 5th, 2013, and what a month it’s been! It all started with the launch of the game itself, which turned out to be nothing short of a fiasco. Many players couldn’t activate their game, and those that could were frequently disconnected from the servers and suffered through a variety of related issues. Some people lost their cities entirely, while others had them rolled back and lost progress. There were also very long queues preventing players from playing on their desired servers. And when the servers were finally upgraded and stabilized, the game itself proved to be riddled with bugs and other issues that left players fuming. So now, a month later, what has changed? Has the game been fixed? Is it worth giving another try? For the patient players that decided to wait it out, is now the right time to finally play SimCity?

Servers and Crashes

I’m happy to report that if you want to play SimCity without worrying about being disconnected you usually can, assuming you have an internet connection. EA and Maxis have increased the capacity of their existing servers and introduced new servers to meet demand. There are currently 27 servers available (if you include the Test server for trying out upcoming fixes and improvements), and aside from occasional maintenance, they remain online and playable 24/7. I haven’t had to wait in any queues recently, and the majority of the servers on the list are “available,” with only a couple being “full.”

Also keep in mind that although the servers are named after different regions around the world, you can play on any available server, regardless of where you live. The multiplayer in SimCity is asynchronous, and does not require a low ping to function properly. I’ve been enjoying my time on the Antarctica server! Also, each server lets the player start fresh with 10 new save files. That is both a pro and a con, because although access to more regions is always a good thing, it’s unfortunate that you can only access your regions on the servers they were created on. This is less of an issue now that players can almost always access any of their desired servers, but it would be nice if it was easier for friends to play together without worrying about which servers they are on.

The game itself is also a lot more stable than it was at launch. Personally, I have not experienced any crashes recently. According to a post from Lucy Bradshaw (General Manager, Maxis Label) on March 10th, crashes were reduced by 92% since the game launched. And in the weeks that followed, the patch notes revealed a variety of additional fixes. However, there are still players experiencing rollbacks and corrupted cities, so it appears the issues are still not 100% resolved.

What has not been addressed is the demand for a DRM free “offline mode.” Although the servers have stabilized, players without an internet connection still cannot play SimCity. Also, since there is no manual local saving, it is impossible to revert a city to a previous state, which is frustrating to players who enjoy unleashing disasters upon their cities and then going back to an earlier save. This is an ongoing subject of debate in the community, and you can be sure that modders will do everything they can to make “offline mode” a reality. Steps have already been taken in that direction, and it seems like it’s just a matter of time before the game will be playable offline. It would be great if such a feature came directly from EA and Maxis, but that still seems unlikely at this point.

SimCity - Mountain High

Roads, Traffic and Artificial Intelligence

This version of SimCity puts a lot of emphasis on roads. Nearly every resource (agent) in the game, from water and power to the Sims themselves, must travel along the roads from building to building. Given how important roads are, it is understandable that players have been frustrated by the odd artificial intelligence that governs the behavior of the agents.

The most obvious example is traffic, where it is easy to be baffled by a jam when there is an underutilized alternate route nearby. Fortunately, this is an area of the game that has been improved in the month since SimCity launched. Vehicles are now much more likely to seek out detours when facing traffic, and in general, traffic is a bit easier to manage, though this is an area where there is still plenty of room for improvement.

The problem is how the artificial intelligence that determines the pathfinding for the agents usually favors the shortest path from A to B. That’s the main cause of the traffic issues, but it also creates other problems throughout the simulation and creates many unrealistic situations. For example, during the evening commute, the Sims coming home from work will all drive to the closest residential neighborhood, and return “home” to the first unoccupied building that is appropriate for their wealth level. The player might see the cars driving into each driveway on the street in consecutive order. It’s comical at best and immersion breaking at worst, and as of now, it doesn’t seem like there will be a fix for this issue anytime soon.

Persistence of Sims

That brings us neatly to another issue that has been a source of disappointment to many SimCity fans. As I mentioned above when I described the Sims returning from work to the first available residential building, the Sims in SimCity are not persistent. They don’t have a permanent place to live or work. The player can watch a Sim on its way from A to B, but once it gets where it’s going, poof! It’s gone. There’s no way to keep track of an individual Sim for any extended period of time beyond its immediate purpose.

Stone Librande, the lead designer of SimCity, had this to say on the subject:

“I wanted to take a moment to address a question that’s been coming up: the persistence of our Sims. The Sims in the game are persistent in many respects. They go from a home to a workplace or to a shop and back each day. Their happiness, money, sickness, education level, etc. are also persistent and are carried around the city with each Sim as the simulation unfolds. But many aspects of the Sims are not persistent. They don’t own a particular house or have permanent employment. We also don’t track their names, their clothing, gender, or skin color. We did this as in attempt to increase performance so that we could have more Sims in the city. Ultimately we didn’t feel that the cost of adding in that extra layer of micro detail made the macro game play richer. Game design is filled with tradeoffs and compromises like this and we are constantly evaluating these (and many other) decisions.”

So it doesn’t seem like this is something that will be “fixed” anytime soon, as the developers don’t consider it to be something that is broken. Personally, I’ve greatly enjoyed watching the Sims move around from A to B in SimCity, and it is a feature that is easy to appreciate while remembering the vanishing cars of SimCity 4. But since we were given that taste of realism, it’s only natural to want more, and I hope that somewhere down the road, persistent Sims will come to SimCity.

SimCity - Casino Street

Leaderboards, Regional Achievements and Cheetah Speed

To help solve the problems that occurred during launch week, several features were removed from SimCity. One of these, Regional Achievements, was added back into the game in patch 1.6.1. The other two, Leaderboards and Cheetah speed, are currently being tested out on the Test server and should be implemented with patch 2.0. The lack of leaderboards has been an issue since such a big deal was made over the online features that were added to SimCity. It was heavily advertised that players could try to compete with one another by trying to build the most successful casino empire or any number of other competitive goals.

Cheetah Speed is another matter entirely. While playing SimCity, players can pause the game, or choose between three speed settings: turtle, llama and cheetah. Turtle Speed is perfect for when you want to zoom in close and watch the Sims going about their daily business in real time. It’s also great for taking some screenshots or videos. Cheetah Speed is for when you want time to pass as quickly as possible. It’s great for when you have some positive cash flow and you want to add to the city’s reserves, or if you want to fast forward to a different time of day to observe morning and evening commutes. Unfortunately, for the entire month since SimCity launched, Cheetah Speed has been disabled, and selecting it in game is exactly the same as selecting Llama Speed. Llama Speed is still much faster than Turtle, but crawls compared to Cheetah Speed.

Cheetah Speed is a fundamental feature of the SimCity series and is an essential part of the experience. It is especially important now that the game features Great Works. These massive construction projects require the player to accumulate and send huge quantities of resources (such as metal, alloy and oil) to the project site, and frankly, Llama Speed just doesn’t cut it. Without Cheetah Speed, there are several aspects of the game that should be fun but are instead a bit tedious or boring. If there was ever a reason to wait to play, this would be it!

Edit: It appears Cheetah Speed is being rolled out to other servers in addition to the Test server, so it might already be in the game by the time you read this!

Patch 2.0, Recycling Centers, Fire Engine Clumping and More

I am really looking forward to the 2.0 patch of SimCity. In addition to implementing leaderboards and Cheetah Speed, patch 2.0 will include a variety of bug fixes. Over the past couple of days I’ve experienced one of these bugs first hand that causes recycling centers to stop recycling. As a result, the recyclables just pile up until the trucks can’t deliver anymore, and then they accumulate throughout the city’s buildings, causing medium and high wealth buildings to be abandoned. Glad they’re fixing that one! They are also finally fixing the issue where fire trucks would all clump up to fight one fire instead of covering the entire city.

In addition, in patch 2.0 there will be improvements to the efficiency of Street Cars and an increase to the radius of river water, which should make it a bit easier to provide water in cities that feature a river. The team at Maxis is also working on Casinos to make them more profitable.

With these upcoming improvements and the existing changes that have already been implemented in the series of patches throughout March, it’s safe to say that SimCity is a much improved experience compared to when the game launched. Despite its many issues, I’ve really been enjoying the game. I’ve found it to be fun and addicting, even while dealing with some of the game’s problems. If you’re on the fence about whether or not to play the game, I suggest waiting for the 2.0 patch and then giving it a try. If you are really patient, give it some additional time. This is a game that is clearly getting better with age. I imagine a person playing this game for the first time a year from now will wonder what all the fuss was about.

SimCity - Neon

Underlying Issues

On the other hand, there are still some concerns with SimCity that some fans of SimCity 4 and earlier games will find inexcusable. The size of the maps that cities can be built upon are undeniably small, and while there have been several official comments stating the desire to offer larger cities in the future, there is no word whatsoever about when that will actually happen. It’s literally impossible to create the kind of metropolises that were possible in SimCity 4.

There is also the matter of the space in between cities. Players want to be able to draw new roads to the regional highways in order to solve traffic issues, but that is currently impossible, and the space in between cities is mostly empty and wasted. It also acts as a creative roadblock for the more imaginative city builders.

Other missing features from SimCity 4 could still be a red flag for many potential players. SimCity has no terraforming feature and forces players to build upon predesigned land. Also, the lack of the previously mentioned DRM free offline mode could easily be a sticking point.

There are also a couple of gameplay issues that could upset players looking for realism. Despite the use of agents to represent the people in the city, the numbers on the population panel simply don’t add up with what the player actually sees in the city, and as mentioned before, the Sims are not persistent. And during region play, the amount of resources one city can buy from another is divided by the number of cities in a region. So if city A has a ton of excess power and city B needs most of it, city B will only be able to buy a fraction of it, even if cities C and D don’t need any.

Yet, somehow, despite all of the problems and everything that’s gone wrong, every time I sit down to play SimCity, I find myself addicted. The last time I sat down to play for “a couple of minutes,” six hours went by. It’s not perfect, and it will be much better a year from now. But SimCity is still a good game, in my opinion.

Is it the right time to play?

So now, a month since launch, has the game been fixed? The servers are much more stable, the game doesn’t crash nearly as often, many bugs have been fixed and there have been several improvements to traffic and other features. Some players are still experiencing crashes and rollbacks, however.

Is it worth giving another try? If your issues were mainly with the servers, you might want to give SimCity another try since things have been largely improved. But since some players are still experiencing rollbacks, I can’t assume that your experience will be perfect yet. If your issues were with the gameplay or missing features from SimCity 4, then no, SimCity still isn’t what you want it to be.

For the patient players that decided to wait it out, is now the right time to finally play SimCity? Wait for patch 2.0, or give it another couple of months. Your patience will be rewarded when you eventually decide to play the game.

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  • DoctorWhy

    “Is it worth giving another try?” No, not even if your problems were with the server. The game does still crash and, even without a crash, people are still loosing tens of hours of gameplay because the server decides to rollback or delete the city…

  • token420

    This is a great review, and possibly the most informative and detailed review I’ve seen yet for SimCity. The author gives good credit to the addictive-ness of the online version, explains that playing it means a certain degree of “testing”, and itemizes the main complaints that fans and customers have without getting too opinionated. The thing is, I like opinions. I like when reviewers say things like “I think Maxis is making a huge mistake in their general direction and development” because that is how I feel right now.

    The issue I am having with the evolution of this product comes down to the concept of “assumption.” Maxis is assuming what people want, forcing it upon on them, and doesn’t seem to consider what the players are asking for. Please correct me if I am wrong, but is there any evidence EA / Maxis really gives one tiny poop about what their customers actually want? All I see is blind cavalier trampling over customers whose whispers are not being detected.

    When I just read about the lack of persistence in the Sims of SimCity I almost wanted to cry. I could not agree more with this reviewers hope that one day the Sims will be persistent. I want each Sim to have a name, a consistent profile, and a persistent life I can observe. These calculations and database should be running locally on my computer, not on some server.

    The reason I did not buy SimCity and probably never will is that I do not agree with the design of the product, and this review does a great job in cementing that feeling. When and if Maxis begins to actually care about what the world is asking for I might stop playing Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 and purchase this controversial product.

  • http://gamerhorizon.com/ Ari Margo

    Having received reports of ongoing rollbacks in several SimCity communities, I’ve made some edits to this article to reflect that issue. Thank you for the feedback.

  • Willson Sellers

    I agree that the game is improving, however the aspect of realistic looking buildings from the skyline has been lost from Simcity 4. I was looking forward to having the same “quality” of buildings that was in SC4, and I miss the plugins aspect of the game. I want simfox (and other modders, he was just the first person who came to mind) buildings. SC4 became so great because it had the opportunity for hundreds if not thousands of people to edit the game; we have lost that with SC2013.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ed.cr3 Ed Cr

    The game is a good expirience but the small maps, the lack of one way roads and metro and the bugs turned this game into a baby compared to sim city 4. EA and Maxis have a lot of work to do in order to turn this game much better. For me SimCity 4 STILL is the BEST CITY BUILDER EVER MADE!!!!

  • Bjorn Viberg

    Very good review. I played SC quite a lot this first month, but now I lost interest since I’m out of ground and out of resources in my region. When there is a sustainable way of playing I’m back, but until then the developers of the game have some work left to do.

  • George

    all them problems are nothing compared to the shitty size of the city’s , i wanna play simcity not simtown.

  • George

    all them problems are nothing compared to the shitty size of the city’s , i wanna play simcity not simtown.

  • http://www.gamerhorizon.com/ Alex Inigo

    What is Cities in Motion 2? Is it like the Railroad Tycoon games? I’ve never tried any of the Railroad Tycoon games and am looking for good simulation games to play… on the Mac :/ That, in and of itself, is a losing proposition, but I can dream lol

  • http://www.gamerhorizon.com/ Alex Inigo

    That’s something that I consistently hear from people and, truthfully, the idea of not being able to do everything in my city is a turn off to me. The fact that my town has to be so reliant on other towns is only the tip of the iceberg, I suppose, given that the always online requirement would prevent me from even attempting to casually play it when I’m not online.

  • http://www.gamerhorizon.com/ Alex Inigo

    It’s comments like these that actually made me install SimCity 4 on my computer. Though I’m curious why people omit the fact that SimCity Societies actually exists…

  • bruteMax

    Very nice post-launch assessment of the game. I will most certainly wait longer for this game to improve, though I doubt EA’s resolve to meet customer expectations given their numerous missteps to date.

    Larger cities and more stateful agents are a must.

  • Gaz Williams

    Successor to SC4 it isn’t. Doesn’t even come close to what you can achieve in SC4.