Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
SimCity Was Never Meant To Be Online

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 2 Apr 2013 12:00
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Everything EA and Maxis have said to justify SimCity's always-on multiplayer functionality reads like a man who got his girlfriend pregnant trying to rationalize his decision to not wear a condom. Of course, you must have subconsciously wanted to have a child, really. No, it makes perfect sense. Well done.

I feel sorry for whatever poor bastards at EA had to be locked in the planning room until they could come up with ways to make SimCity multiplayer focused. I bet they plowed through enough energy drink and cigarettes to generate power for the entire Eastern seaboard by the time they emerged, pale and emaciated, to deliver their conclusions. I mean, it's SimCity, of all games. Even in single player it barely qualifies as a game at all. Goals and objectives are a secondary element at best; it's more a mixture of creativity toy and Dad-game. You treat it as you would a model railroad, or a little Bonsai tree that can occasionally throw up a text window complaining that you haven't clipped enough off the topmost branch. What co-operative or competitive elements could you possibly add to that? Seeing who can zone land the fastest? More importantly, how do you also argue that these elements are central and important enough to necessitate a constant internet connection?

No. In theory it might seem obvious - human society is basically a network of independent towns and cities, let's make our city building game along those lines - but in practice SimCity is not a game for multiplayer. It's like owning a model railroad, and then being told you have to connect it to the nationwide model railroad system, or else some burly men will come over and set fire to it. You want it to be your model railroad, your little island of control away from the obligations of society. If you ever get really frustrated maybe you want the option to set up two locomotives to drive smack into each other. It's your thing, and no-one else understands your connection to it, so there's no reason to share it.

But EA doesn't need to take all this from me, they should have realized all this from their own experience, and a little train wreck called The Sims Online. If SimCity is a model railroad then The Sims is a dollhouse, operating by the same principle of allowing people to create a thing significant only to them. I used to make houses filled with the characters of whatever book or game I was working on at the time, and watch how their personalities clashed. It's not that a multiplayer component necessarily ruins it - although it did in this case, because it turned the whole thing into a competitive stat grind - but it adds absolutely nothing to the game, and the ways in which it is most effective, and when you have to force the audience to accept inconvenience for the sake of such features, then failure is inevitable.

Incidentally, while looking it up, I discovered that The Sims Online was relaunched in 2007 at around about the point nobody cared as "EA-Land". And the moment I started picturing the kind of place that would go by that title, I realized I'd envisioned a perfect setting for the next Bioshock game. Hit me up, Levine.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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