Brag post? Definitely. But this is also a excited grunt of relief as I decided that I was done with EA and Maxis teasing this title without gameplay at press events and trade shows. In fact, when I heard that EA would be showing SimCity at gamescom recently, I rolled my eyes and sighed, as I was certain that it wouldn't be playable.
I played it today.
The first bit of this hands-on session took me through a tutorial where I jumped right into the many pressing issues that a mayor of starter city would have to deal with. Right off, citizens were picketing outside town hall. They were upset about the condition of the town and felt that a city connection to the highway would fix many of their problems.
This was my first taste of SimCity's creation tools, all of which are fun and really easy to use. Clicking on a little road icon at the bottom of the screen opened up a road palette, and by clicking on a specific road type (I chose an avenue), I could simply click a spot on the highway, drag it toward my town, and watch them connect instantly with road. A winding road tool did the same thing, but let me squiggle with the mouse a bit to make something that looked a bit more natural than a straight road.
Early on I found myself distracted with the game's navigation features. It's pretty intuitive -- right click and drag to move camera, left click to move and angle, mouse wheel to zoom -- but what I was really doing was admiring the scenery. Being pre-alpha code, the visuals weren't quite up to those of the trailers and promotional images we've seen, but they still looked great. Seeing the cool photographic tilt-shift effect change the visuals in realtime during navigation was particularly impressive. I can't wait to see the final product in action.
Small missions pop up all over the city while playing. I responded to an early one that said that my Uncle Dieter wanted to move into my city, but there wasn't enough housing available for that move to be possible. Using the zones palette, I chose the residential tool and painted out some scenic lots along a curved road. In just a few seconds, crews came out, houses sprang up, and people began moving in. To make room for even more houses I used the demolish tool, which has old buildings crumbling with realistic physics, as if they were taken down with explosives.
I think I most enjoyed poking around in this model town to see how changes to the infrastructure affected things. One early challenge had me switching on a closed down power plant. During the night (SimCity has realistic day/night transitions and lovely lighting to match) I watched workers come into the factory to work. After a bit, the lights went on, and red colored lines that run throughout the city to display the power grid slowly started to turn yellow. From there, lights in houses began to turn on all over the town. It's really neat to see how the game's simulation engine shows the effect of power slowly fanning out from the plant to its outskirts.
The simulation behind the water system worked in a similar way. After placing a water tower near a road in the very outskirts of town, lines that represented the flow of water eventually showed proper distribution. And while less pretty, the sewage system showed similar lines. Unfortunately I had a drainage problem that I was never able to resolve before my demo was over. Not my problem anymore!
When a fire broke out I realized that I did not have a fire station local to the area. I quickly built one and saw that colored lines similar to those previously mentioned were traceable from the fire station; areas with a green line were safe, but the line transitioned to red farther out, indicating that properties here are more vulnerable.
After learning the ropes I played alongside a half dozen others in this preview session in a connected competition to see who could build the highest population for their town. While I was a bit overwhelmed from navigating a town I did not build, I was soon building like crazy, adding commercial zones and industrial areas to create jobs. I had to build homes for the workers to live in, and the support systems, like waste management had to follow.
Bubbles with issues popped up all over town quickly as my population rose, which had me scrambling to address them all. One complained to me, saying that her kid was wasting their life as there was no local school. As soon as I started building that, a factory manager started complaining. By this time I was already so invested in my town that I began to tense up.
Suddenly, a news flash appeared on screen, and meteors began falling out of the sky onto my city! My tenseness started to turn to panic until I looked around to see that all of the other players were going through the same thing. I giggled, relieved, as the citizens of my city screamed and burned to death.
Look, if I can have this much fun from a pre-alpha tutorial demo, I'm certain I'll be lost forever in the full game. I need to start making preparations for SimCity's February 2013 launch now.