Like probably a lot of you, Iíve always considered the SimCity franchise one of the classic series in gaming. All four main installments found a place on my hard drive over the years, along with Rush Hour, the expansion pack to SimCity 4. All in all, Iíd say Iím a pretty big fan of the series.
Which is why Iím so concerned about the new direction that the franchise is taking. Although SimCity Societies looks impressive, it doesnít look like SimCity. Iím not even talking about the graphics, although honestly I havenít been impressed with the early screenshots. (The roads in particular look terrible.) The game is still in the early stages, after all; thereís a lot of room for the graphics quality to improve. The problem lies in the overall approach to the art design. Chocolate factories? Spooky graveyards? Clown schools? Simply put, SimCity Societies looks and feels ďcartoony.Ē
SimCity has, up until this point, been about building a city grounded in realism. Before now, the only concessions to fantasy were the arcologies in SimCity 2000, which youíll notice didnít stick around in later installments. SimCity 4 was praised for enabling players to build more realistic cities than ever before, particularly after Rush Hour completely revamped and improved the transportation system.
Of course, the sophistication of SimCity 4 is part of what led to this new direction. There are two main arguments here: 1) The SimCity series had gotten too complex and too intimidating to newbies, and 2) SimCity 4 achieved its goal so well, there was little to improve on.
The first argument has some merit, but I donít think itís as bad as most claim. Thereís a bit of a learning curve, yes, but thatís the case with a lot of games. Then again, Iím the kind of guy who always reads the manual when he buys the game. (And gets pissed with how crappy manuals are these days, but thatís another rant entirely.) The second argument, that SimCity 4 was next to perfect, is quite frankly bullshit.
There were plenty of improvements that could have been made to SimCity 4. Wall-to-wall commercial spaces were out of the question. Buildings still looked repetitive. You couldnít make a realistic-looking waterfront to save your life. Diagonal roads still looked awkward. The list goes on and on. In fact, the SimCity fan base has already made vast improvements to the core game, most of which can be found at either Simtropolis (www.simtropolis.com) or its spin-off site SC4Devotion (www.sc4devotion.com), the two biggest sources of fan-created content for SimCity 4.
These sites are home to the player demographic SimCity Societies should be catering to specifically, yet itís this exact group that EA and Tilted Mill have chosen to ignore, to their detriment. Player-created content has been essential to the success of the ďSimĒ games ever since the release of the SimCity 2000 Urban Renewal Kit, and SimCity Societies needs to get the Simtropolis population on its side. That it has failed so spectacularly at this is at the core of my misgivings about this new SimCity installment.
In fact, many of Simtropolisí most talented and devoted members have now banded together to try and create their own city-builder from the ground up, with the goal of making it everything they wanted SimCity 5 to be. Itís an ambitious project, and so far they donít have anything more than a website (urbsurbis.com), but the fact that some of SimCityís most loyal fans are taking such drastic steps should tell Tilted Mill that itís doing something wrong.
Assuming the Simtropolis project never gets off the ground, (which frankly is pretty likely,) where are urban planners supposed to turn next for realistic cities? I for one am going to be watching Cities Unlimited, Monte Cristoís sequel to the moderately successful City Life. Compare this early screenshot of Cities Unlimited to the one of SimCity Societies above.
Realize that these are games that are supposedly around the same stage in development. See a difference there? Yes, the graphics look sharper, but more importantly, it looks far more real. Note the street traveling under the elevated rail, and the wall-to-wall buildings; both were impossible in SimCity 4 without user-generated content. If Monte Cristo plays its cards right, it may find it has successfully lured away SimCityís most devoted fanbase. read