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.
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.