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SimCity, One Month Out: Still As Troubled As Day One?

Ready For An Exercise In Frustration?

How is SimCity doing now, one month out from the catastrophic launch? Not well. Cities behave like tenuous, flakey ferrets and instability is profound. If you think you are doing well with your city, just wait. Speedy slumification is right around the corner, and you never know when your city services will stop being enough, or your expenses will balloon out of control, sending your city into a death spiral.

You can’t edit terrain, at all. EA Redwood Shores, which is where SimCity was developed, sits on a patch of land south of the San Mateo Bridge in California, on terrain that has been highly edited in real life. The irony is palpable.

City size is microscopic. I don’t mean this in a challenging, interesting way. This isn’t a complaint originating from a viewpoint of tough difficulty equaling an awful experience. MegaMan 2 was challenging and tough, and wonderful. The problem is that cities in SimCity do not feel like cities. They don’t even qualify as towns. This is more like SimNeighborhood, or SimHamlet. Actual Mayors rarely have to make decisions like “We need to add a Department of Tourism, but the interstate is in the way and it cuts off the snap point on City Hall, so no tourism for us!” When building a city in the game, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve plopped an ore mine, then added modules, then had to demolish the mine, then added modules, then later, trying to optimize space, demolished the thing again.

Traffic

Let’s talk about roads, too. Who at Maxis despises the legacy of original SimCity creator Wil Wright so very much that they thought it would be a great idea to make it so that intersections equal traffic? The more intersections you have, the higher and worse your traffic will be. Think of the largest, best examples of big cities in your head. Pick the top five. Now, how many intersections do those cities have? Megatons of intersections. Lots and lots and lots. And yet, the traffic flows. In SimCity, your city can be utterly crippled and burn down or become a criminal dystopian wasteland because fire trucks and cop cars couldn’t get to where they were going with the sirens blaring and lights flashing, because you made intersections at logical locations.

I had an opportunity to experiment with the different types of city specializations. Please don’t be fooled and think that there’s multiple things your city can do, like some type of class segmentation with clearly defined roles. Resource extraction, which is pulling coal, ore, and oil from the limited supply in the ground and exporting it to the non-functioning global market is how you make money mining. That money comes in spurts, based on the whims of your delivery trucks, traffic, and whether or not you’ve squandered the precious scant real estate to build sprawling trade depots. Mining revenue doesn’t go to your city budget, so if you sign up for mining, be prepared to spend a lot of time in the theoretical red with your advisors freaking out and uncertainty about city health occupying your mind. Trade is the other specialization that isn’t so much a specialization as it is the other set of buildings you need if you intend on mining. Each building comes with its own ridiculous set of prerequisites, and if you want to plop a trade port, you’ll need to plop a Commerce Headquarters with its mostly redundant modules. But if you want to plop the storage lots associated with the things you are producing, you’ll need to build the appropriate modules on even more precious real estate.

Tourism specialization maxes out at three landmarks (not that you’d likely have space in your SimHamlet for much else). Gambling specialization, whose casino buildings look more like deserted strip malls than anything you’d see on the Vegas Strip, brings in plenty of crime. Did that sound fun? Like a challenge? Crime is stopped by police, who exist in SimCity as a deep hole into which you may throw your simoleons. Trying to balance revenues brought in by gambling and expenditures on police stations is dancing the razor’s edge, with super-fast slumification happily waiting to collapse your city (hamlet) like flan in a cupboard. The Electronics specialization is predicated on a ready supply of mined materials, and it functions similar to mining in terms of revenue. Are you making money? Are you losing money? Where the devil are your trucks? Who knows.

  • iam2thecrowe
    It's nice to read a good rant every once and a while. Wonder if EA is listening yet?
    Reply
  • Driwer
    I laughed.
    Reply
  • Soma42
    Plenty of single player games like Fallout, Bioshock Infinite, Skyrim, The Witcher, FTL, etc. all are incredibly successful.

    If you make a quality product and make it easily accessible (i.e. limited DRM) to people, they will pay for it.
    Reply
  • tridon
    It's good to see that more people agree that this feels like a beta, not a release worthy product. It's sad that this game we've waited on since 2005-ish is so lackluster :(

    I preordered Cities in Motion 2 (a €20 Paradox-title) and on releaseday it was excellent, though with a few minor, non-critical bugs. A team of 11 made a game that for my taste beat the crap out of the beta that SimCity in truth is. Maxis has shown through the years that they are able to make great stuff, so I guess I'm still waiting for a number of "huge patches". Still hoping it will become the perfect, aweinspiring citybuilder of epic proportions that I imagined when I heard about it one year ago. Doubts are growing however. *sad face*
    Reply
  • Shankovich
    I'm really annoyed with the hardware optimization the most. Crappy frame rates, artifacts at certain zoom levels, and a really slow chat system...the game could have used another 4-6 months in the oven.
    Reply
  • amoralman
    Best. Article. Ever.

    /rant
    I can't stress enough how EA, fake DLC, always-online is killing the industry, ruining franchises. I can't wait for the day games are given back to gamers, and the aggressive capitalism gets the fuck out of the gaming business.
    /end rant
    Reply
  • kinggremlin
    I supported EA through the initial servers access issues that only lasted a few days. That wasn't a big deal to me, nor is the always online requirement. But, the more I played the game the more my support has eroded to the point that this was the first game I ever stopped playing because of bugs and instability. This game is such a disaster at the base levels that I am shocked that EA even chose to release this game when it was released. I am baffled how the Q/A testers ever signed off on this piece of junk or if there actually are any internal testers at all. Within an hour of the 2.0 patch release there were numerous users complaining of crippling bugs (horrific pollution from nothing). How did the testers miss these? I hope this game gets fixed and runs the way most of us wanted it to, but I have no faith that that is going to be any time soon. I will never preorder another game from EA.
    Reply
  • kinggremlin
    I should point out as well, that the official message board on SimCity.com is far more entertaining than the game itself. 24 hour comedy gold.
    Reply
  • thor220
    Someone should make a movie about the modern gaming industry. They could show the dramatic effect publishers have on games and how companies like EA can continue to lie about a product to sell it and not get fined.
    Reply
  • dragonsqrrl
    I've gotten pretty far into Sim City, and the only advice I can give prospective buyers is to avoid this game for as long as possible. If you've been seriously considering it, just don't. At the very least wait a while, it's not ready for prime time. A lot of the mechanics in the game are either broken or make absolutely no sense. Here are just a few of the problems I encounter on a regular basis, some of which were also mentioned by Joe.

    Traffic at intersections with stop lights is absolutely terrible, to the point where it simply doesn't work. Users have had to invent creative solutions in street layout to either minimize or avoid the use of stoplights altogether, which is ridiculous. Once you reach a certain population this can completely kill your city.

    Path finding in the game is stupid, which further contributes to the traffic problem. Vehicles seem to take the shortest path (in terms of distance to destination) no matter what, even if there's a colossal traffic jam in the way and there are many other open routes available. Since practically everything in the game is dependent on this system (cars, public transit, trash, fire, ambulances, tourism, etc)... ya, things don't work so well.

    Public services seem to randomly stop working, more specifically trash and recycling pickup.

    Rail cars don't work, even on a simple loop, they're simply broken. But at least Maxis has acknowledged this one.

    Oh ya, you can lose a city or even an entire region due to some sort of critical (and seemingly prevalent) server syncing bug. Yes, you could lose all your progress with no chance for recovery. Why? How? No one seems to know. It's the "City unable to process" error, and there's a 220+ page forum filled with users who have encountered this problem. Unfortunately I'm one of them. Luckily my city was able to recover after about a week of inaccessibility.
    http://answers.ea.com/t5/Miscellaneous-Issues/Info-request-Cannot-process-this-city-at-this-time/td-p/731232/highlight/false

    Tourism is broken, largely due to traffic problems. Tourists won't visit your city if you have heavy traffic around tourist destinations. So ya, path finding again. Also, tourist numbers seem to drop off a cliff and never recover for no apparent reason, even in the absence of heavy traffic. Maxis has supposedly addressed this specific problem in their latest 2.0 patch, but I haven't noticed a difference.

    Intercity play, the core gameplay mechanic in Sim City, needs some serious tweaking. Lets just call this broken for now too. The idea is that you can share resources between cities so you don't necessarily need duplicate services in a region that can take a significant toll on your city budget, such as a university. The thing is at a certain point it seems like every city needs a copy of every service in order to progress, and certain services don't seem to contribute to the region in the way they're supposed to... such as universities. Also, money transfers between cities can take a ridiculously long time to go through. I waited almost a week once before another city in my region received a transfer I made.

    Overall Sim City has been a bit of a disappointment, as you might imagine. There are tons of other critical, practically game breaking bugs out there, but I'm tired of typing. It's just sad because this game really seems like it has the potential to be great. For the first couple hours the experience is honestly fantastic. There's nothing like building up a city and watching it work. But then it breaks, and the reality of the broken features and mechanics sets in. There's no better way to sum up Sim City, the more you play the more frustrated you become.
    Reply