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Archive for the ‘SimCity’ Category

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Although EA and Maxis won’t come out and say it, I would venture to guess SimCity is not currently in a healthy place.  After rave pre-release reviews and strong initial sales, the game went on to experience a terrible launch period and to be savaged by many post-launch reviews and much of the community discussion.  The overly small city plots, the discovery of numerous previously unknown simulation limitations, the lack of meaningful and bug-free multiplayer interaction, the “always-on” server requirement, and the appearance of straight up dishonesty in EA’s communication all paint a pretty disastrous picture for the future of the game.

So I when I opened my email today and saw an email from “SimCity@ea.em.com” with a request for a survey, I wasn’t very surprised.  I decided to go ahead and fill out what I assumed would be a brief, dumb survey, just in case I was able to give any useful feedback.  However I quickly became shocked by the scale of the survey… this thing was massive.  I don’t know how many people they think are going to stick through this survey, it took me nearly 30 minutes to complete it.  I stuck with it in the hope that I may be influencing the future of a game that despite all my criticism I do want to see succeed.  I feel like I should get an achievement or something after finishing it though!

A lot of the survey is demographics, with a heavy emphasis on how you purchase games, whether or not you play and spend money on free-to-play style games, and why you play games (some of these questions became surprisingly philosophical).  What was much more interesting to me, however, was the many pages of questions related to features.  EA seems determined to find out why the game has been so poorly received and their questions indicate that they have some pretty good hints already.  The small city plot size came up frequently as an option for criticism or requested future changes, as did the “always-on” server requirement.

Players taking the time to fill out the survey were also rewarded with what appears to be an outline of the first official SimCity expansion features.  The survey asked my opinion of an expansion featuring even m0re city density options as well as some further city specialization options.   Later, many possible feature additions to the game were listed and I was asked to rate them and I will admit that while a few were lame, many of them were simply awesome.

The most interesting question in the entire survey, though, was a simple “pick one” question: either a gameplay expansion or double city sizes.  That was a very difficult choice that I briefly agonized over… more gameplay choices would be great for the game, though they wouldn’t address any of the core community concerns.  In the end I selected “double city sizes” because that would at least address one of the key problems.  Later I was asked to rate the idea of having flexible city sizes which sounds even better and would allow cities to more naturally fill in the regions.  Obviously there are performance and simulation issues with larger cities, though EA has been pretty quiet as to the details.

I have to admit the survey gave me a remarkably optimistic idea of where the game development might be headed.  If even half the features suggested end up in the game eventually end up making it in SimCity will be a radically improved game that will be much closer to what the community wants as a true successor to SimCity 4.  I can only hope that others are filling out the survey as seriously as I did.

If you get the survey request in your email, I would definitely recommend you make the time to fill it out.  Not only will you get to see a whole lot of interesting information about the possible future of the game, your answers may even help shape that future.

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shhhh

This may come across as a somewhat strange post but bear with me.

First, Benghazi.

Benghazi was a terrible tragedy which, though small in scope, has nonetheless become a significant event.  Our Libyan involvement was the result of a direct decision by the Obama administration to allow military intervention in an internal conflict in order to protect civilian lives; a noble decision and one which I understand, even if I perhaps didn’t completely support it.  However, the State Department’s decision to put a poorly defended and poorly supported temporary mission there as a step toward establishing a more permanent presence was poorly thought out and politically motivated.  The result was the deaths of several Americans (including a high profile EVE Online player) to a brutal terrorist attack.  In retrospect it’s hard to blame the terrorists for picking off such an incredibly easy target.  Though unlikely that rapid military assistance could have saved all the lives, certainly a quick response could have possibly saved some and would have at least sent a strong message.  Instead the poorly positioned forces standing by to launch a rescue were told to stand down.

Once the dust settled, the State Department could have come clean, owned their mistake, fired a few folks, and put a lid on the whole thing.  However, it was election season and at the time Obama’s re-election was not entirely a sure thing, not to mention the possible future impact on a 2016 Hilary Clinton campaign.  So instead the State Department, with apparently the complete collusion of the Obama administration, launched a nasty cover-up.  Folks asking questions were quietly re-assigned, an internal and carefully controlled investigation was carried out with the results never seeing daylight, and the State Department went out of its way to declare on national television multiple times that the attack was part of a spontaneous, overwhelming protest rather than a true terrorist attack, even though this was already known to be patently false.

But what has been truly incredibly to watch has been (more…)

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So I continue to be fascinated by the Sim City debacle.

Penny Arcade Report has a small but scathing article up about the use of the game as a marketing platform by exploiting (aka “selling out”) the gameplay in the process.

This is a problem on so many levels… and really runs counter to what I was hoping to see with this game.  Giving away a few vanity/cosmetic items via promotions is fine, and for a game like this is a great idea.  In the meantime I would expect to see more serious gameplay addition DLCs for sale at small price points.  This is the model I logically expected to see… instead we are seeing product placement ad items in-game which are actually affecting gameplay and which, in some cases, can only be obtained by purchasing said product (in this case… toothpaste!?!?!) in the real world.

Needless to say this is a problem in a game that has been advertised by EA as “sort of an MMO”.  Imagine if people who bought certain brands of toothpaste got World of Warcraft items that provided an in-game advantage.

<Sigh>

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The Sydney Morning Herald “Screenplay” video game column has published a review of SimCity that I think pretty much sums up my current thoughts exactly.

It’s amazing, isn’t it, how sometimes these big-budget major franchise games can get such great reviews up until they are actually released and then be completely burned by the media on the other side.  I think it just goes to show how little many of these reviewers really dig into the real gameplay mechanics and engine of the game during their brief pre-release review period, choosing instead to focus more on what the game is trying to achieve and how pretty it looks.  And I’m not talking about the server issues, which obviously the press reviewers didn’t have to deal with and so can be forgiven for initially missing; I’m talking about the core gameplay.

EA did a great job hyping SimCity and building excitement for the new simulation engine but its very clear that the engine, as well as the somewhat claustrophobic new city size, are simply not living up to many players expectations.

Anyways, I’m going to just go ahead and put up the entire column from the SMH.com as I think this guy has hit the nail right on the head with how I am feeling about SimCity right now.  I also recommend this 15 min youtube review for another, more graphical look at the pros and cons (with the cons still coming out ahead, unfortunately).

*****

SIMCITY:  THE BEST WORST GAME OF THE YEAR

I have a love/hate relationship with the new SimCity. In many ways it is a masterpiece of modern gaming technology, and I find it extraordinarily addictive. In other ways, it is a horribly broken piece of garbage and I hate it.

I realise these two attitudes may seem irredeemably contradictory, so allow me to run through some of the pros and cons of this vastly entertaining train wreck of a game.

Pro: The simulation is incredibly detailed

I have created more virtual cities than I can count in the weeks since SimCity was released, and every time I start a new one I still smile at the little construction vehicles and moving vans that swarm into every new residential neighborhood.

The virtual lives going on right there on screen in SimCity are engaging and impressive. Zoom right in and you can follow a single person leaving her house at 7am, getting into the car in her driveway, driving to the bus terminal and parking her car, and then riding the bus to the nearest stop to where she works and walking the last half a block to her workplace.

Very little of what goes on in SimCity is simply numbers being crunched behind the scenes. Traffic jams don’t pop magically into existence because the numbers say that a road is too busy; they happen because the number of vehicles driving along a particular stretch of road has exceeded its traffic capacity.

It’s all completely organic – each of those vehicles is traveling from one specific place to another – so this allows you to predict where problems will occur. In a low-skilled industrial town, you need a big traffic pipeline between your low income residential areas and your industrial zones, because that is where the bulk of the traffic flow will be. If you have tourist attractions, you had better make sure you have high capacity streets around them, or you’ll be choked with tourist vehicles, especially the taxis coming from your local airport.

Con: The simulation is incredibly broken

There is just one small problem with this organic simulation: it is a lie. (more…)

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This is going to be “the” SimCity post to cover both my early thoughts on the game and my experience and reflections on the launch debacle.

SimCity is one of those franchises that I just can’t stay away from.  I’ve tried to analyze what it is about the game that appeals to me so much; obviously as a engineer I enjoy the ordered structure involved in setting up a well running city and the various decision points you run in to along the way.  Also it’s a fairly relaxing, low-stress game to play at the end of a day and it is nice for playing at your own pace and working towards your own goals.  However, I think the real appeal for me is observing the emergent order resulting from the large-scale interactions of simple AI entities with an environment and each other, similar to my fascination with watching world history develop during a hands-off games of Europa Universalis 3 and even my fascination with the Game of Life (see my previous post).  While I greatly enjoyed Sim City 2000 and Sim City 4, the new Glassbox simulation engine of the SimCity reboot (hereafter referred to simply by it’s title of SimCity) offers tremendously more enjoyment as the individual entities are modeled in a new and detailed way never before seen in a SimCity game.

I have been waiting for this game for a long, long time.  It’s been 10 long years since SimCity 4 and I expected a new game in the franchise a while ago.  However, it seems Maxis decided to pursue the Sims franchise instead, and after a while I gave up hope on a new version of SimCity ever coming out again.  Thus I’m very excited that not only is SimCity out, it emphasizes exactly the type of simulation and gameplay that I enjoy rather than morphing into some sort of lame Sims franchise spin-off.

So it’s quite sad that the launch of this new and promising game was so badly marred by EA mismanagement.  The game received rave reviews during the time period immediately before launch and initial sales were apparently far better than EA expected.  On the other hand, EA somehow horribly underestimated the post-launch server load; their measly 8 launch servers were completely packed immediately, resulting in many thousands of people unable to play a game they had just bought due to the online server connection requirement.  Which in turn drove a LOT more attention to the always-online requirement than might otherwise have been the case.  Gamers were already angry about this, and had reacted badly to Diablo III as well for the same reason.  Both are games where online play had previously been an option but not a requirement, and both games now required an online connection; developers of both games tried to explain this away as a reliance on online features but in reality everyone knows its because piracy of previous versions of SimCity and Diablo was rampant.  SimCity developers also tried to make the argument that the game itself actually offloads simulation work to the servers, but recently this has come under scrutiny.

My personal opinion?  If you don’t like (more…)

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