I have a soft spot for SimCity (2013). It was beautiful and fun, even if I took a lot of risk building it.
Cheery RPS fanzine PC Gamer recently spoke to Cheery RPS fanzine PC Gamer some of its own design team About those compromises, their reasons, and the massive backlash that led to the ensuing serial killings.
If you don’t remember, SimCity had a awesome launch. It requires an “always online” internet connection even if you’re playing alone, and players will be booted out of the game if the Internet or the SimCity servers go down. SimCity’s servers were down a lot, especially as millions tried to log in in the first days and weeks after release. Lead designer Stone Librandi calls the launch “heartbreaking”.
At the time, EA’s Lucy Bradshaw said the online connectivity was an “innovative game design decision,” though it seemed more likely to be about banning piracy and pushing users into EA’s new digital interface, Origin.
SimCity was one of the most hacked companies [series] All the time and so there was a directive to find: “How can we make this unhackable,” Librande told PC Gamer. One way to do this is to keep so much data on the server that there’s really nothing to hack into, and if you hack your own copy of it you still have to be validated by the servers.”
“Origin is the storefront of consumer machines, so the motivation was to bring SimCity online and use it to push Origin,” says Ocean Quigley, SimCity Creative Director. “Maybe it would have worked, had the infrastructure been in place.”
Librande also says that “at the time every game had multiplayer components,” and that he had a “personal goal” to be able to play SimCity with his two sons. No one from PC Gamer indicated that the “always online” requirement existed in order to offload a portion of the simulation to EA’s servers for performance reasons, which was the other justification given by EA at the time.
These compromises and launch issues aside, there is some discussion in the article about the reasons why SimCity is still exciting to me – mainly the simulation and the design philosophy that it grew out of. “I had a sign above my desk that said, ‘Cities are people, not buildings,’” says Liprandi. “That was a quote from urban planning. You don’t want to think of a city as a collection of buildings and streets. You want to think of them as humans moving through these systems, from one place to another.”
Shortly after the release of SimCity, both Librande and Quigley Maxis departed, and EA shut down the studio shortly thereafter. Quigley and another SimCity developer founded a studio called Jellygrade, which hasn’t released anything yet. Today, Quigley is a creative director at Meta working on VR, and Librande is a designer at Riot Games.
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