Escapist Editorials

Escapist Editorials
SimCity Is Broken, And It's Not Just the Servers

Greg Tito | 18 Mar 2013 19:00
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So much has been made of the problematic launch SimCity has enjoyed over the last two weeks. "This is what you get when you make us all connect online." "It's always-on DRM disguised as a multiplayer!" "EA is evil incarnate!" Features were turned off, and server admins and programmers worked like crazy people - I imagine there was some 5 Hour Energy involved - to add more shards and get the SimCity that people paid good money for up to a playable state. It is playable now, for the most part, but I don't want to talk about broken servers anymore. I honestly don't care about the always-connected restriction at all. If multiplayer is what Maxis wanted to focus on, that's fine with me. I also don't want to pass judgment with an official review until SimCity plays exactly how Maxis envisioned, but I feel like I need to get something off my chest:

SimCity is a terribly designed game.

It doesn't feel like it simulates anything resembling a logical human settlement, and the end game revolves around bankrupting your city in order to trade commodities on the world market. What series was EA rebooting? SimCity or Business Tycoon? I imagine the small size of the city plots Maxis provides in its regions was meant for players to experiment often with new and different kinds of cities. A noble idea, but restricting me doesn't really encourage me to start a new city I'll just have to abandon in five hours. How is that fun? All of SimCity's systems impact each other and based on more than 50 hours of actual play time, they drag each other down into a miasma of frustration. It is city simulation for masochists.

Let's look at the traffic problem more specifically. Say your streets get crowded and you decide to place a bus depot to provide municipal public transport and lessen some of the flow of individual cars. You put down some bus stops in what you believe are strategically desirable locations. Fine. When a bus is traveling on your city's streets, the AI decides where the most passengers are to pick up and it goes there. Again, fine, makes sense. When you add more buses to mix though, the code can't handle it and all the buses end up clogging one particular street trying to pick up those poor Sims. Seriously, I've seen 10 buses all lined up, blocking the street and preventing any other traffic from flowing by. You know, like fire trucks on their way to save some burning baby Sims.

It gets worse if a neighbor in your region has an upgraded bus terminal - these buildings conveniently send big buses out into the region to pick up your poor unwashed Sims and supposedly bring them around the region. Again, sounds like a grand idea. The end result, however, is you now have 20 buses packing the street instead of just 10, preventing Sims from getting anywhere. The only way to unstick these monstrous bus caterpillars is to destroy the bus stop. As far as I can tell, adding bus depots and terminals increases traffic problems and does nothing to alleviate them.

Traffic is so important because this whole game is designed about trading stuff from your little hamlet to other towns in the region and the world as a whole. You need a way for goods to transfer, and people to shuttle back and forth to their jobs. The main conduit of travel is the highway which goes through every city plot, but most of these predesigned plots only have one access point to the highway. That means everything traveling by road must travel through one entrance, and traffic inevitably gets backed up for people coming in and out of the city you designed so meticulously. (What happens when one access point to a highway gets overused? You build a new exit, but that's impossible in SimCity.)

Sure, your advisors tell you to build train stations and ferries, but even though thousands of passengers pass through those expensive and budget-draining buildings, it never seems to make a dent in your ground traffic. Wasting more of your precious real estate on putting down (I'm refusing to use SimCity's terminology of "plopping" as it just reminds me of feces) two or three ferry docks or train stations seems like overkill. And you're extra lucky if a specific plot even has access both a rail and water connection - most don't.

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