Friday, March 8, 2013

SimCity 5 arrives to abysmal reviews, 1950's planning

It was just over a year ago that I was pleased to report that SimCity 5 had been announced, and would be released a full ten years after the fourth iteration in the series. However, as details of the game trickled out throughout the year, I began to lose interest and resigned myself to an eventual disappointment.

There were two major concerns:
1) The release would do nothing to rectify the previous urbanism mistakes of the series
2) The always-online requirement would be an enormous failure and idiotic burden on consumers

Well, the game launched this past week and I was right on both points. Let's start with the second, which is currently receiving the most press:

SimCity 5, which is mostly a single-player experience, requires that you always connect to the EA servers to do anything in the game. No internet, no game for you. What could go wrong?

The company claims it's because of several unique and important features in the game. It's a nice story, but we all know it's their attempt to fight piracy. Like most good media companies, EA has taken the attitude that the paying customer must suffer if it means piracy may be diminished.

In this case, buyers have found it impossible to play the game. Open the software, and try and reach the main menu? You're put into a " server queue" of 20+ minutes. And once you load up your region? Many have found themselves kicked out of the program when they try to enter their own city. Worse, once inside, after an hour of hard work, many have found their progress was not saved. Others have found the program asking them if they want to revert to an earlier save or to abandon the city and start again. Bugs are rampant as well.

Essentially, the game that was shipped, but because of the online requirement, is not playable. EA has been spending all week frantically trying to fix the problem. Their latest strategy? Disabling features, including the "cheetah" speed mode inside the game, and various social options.


CNET, a tech website, declares the launch a disaster

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Polygon.com, an up-and-coming gaming website, which initially praised the game with a 9.5, has amended their review.

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Gamespot.com has weighed in with a 5 out of 10.

Meanwhile, at Amazon, which has stopped selling the game, possibly because they were being overwhelmed with refund requests, the reviews are a constant flood of anger.

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In an attempt to recoup money theoretically lost to piracy, EA has managed to destroy one of their strongest, longest-running and best-loved franchises (the first version came out in 1989). The PR and business disaster will probably lead to an apology in the form of "free downloadable content"  and a round of bonuses to the executives.


Of course this blog isn't a gaming one, so lets take a look at the other place the game failed: in allowing one to design a livable city.

SimCity has never been entirely realistic. That's ok; it's a simulation, but it's also a game. They have to balance "fun" with "real", and obviously take into account technical limitations. That being said, SimCity 4 launched a decade ago, and was a fantastic game. In the years after launch, the game was improved massively, thanks to dedicated work by fans to add new transport options, buildings and more. The fundamentals couldn't be changed, but so much was improved that one starting SC4 for the first time should load up on the various modifications before playing if they want to receive the real city building experience.

For a fan, the wish list for SC5 was a short one

-Mixed zones (the series allows residential, commercial, industrial, and density levels within each)
-Curved streets
-Progressive transit options (streetcars, BRT, gondolas etc)
-Improved transportation modeling
-Modern ideas - cycle tracks, congestion pricing etc
-Improved graphics


The core of the game was so solid that the wish list should have been easily obtainable, especially after a decade of progress - it doesn't take much work to improve on "fantastic".

Instead, the newest game is a massive step backwards.

Want to design an urban paradise?

Than I hope your dream is a tiny Phoenix, because that's all you're going to get.

Not only did the game not add mixed use, but now density is tied to the kind of road you build (not transit or zoning). Want a modern subway system? Nope, not available, even though every game in the series has let you build one. Streetcars? They've been added - but only running in the middle of a 6 lane "avenue". Pedestrian malls? Of course not, and don't even ask about bikes.

It might be 2013, but Sim City 5 will let you simulate 1950's America, and not much else. Curved roads were finally added to the city - perfect for those new cul-de-sacs!

By the way, you'll note I said "tiny Phoenix". Apparently the new graphics engine isn't very efficient, because the city sizes have been limited to "comically small". Further, every city is surrounded by a green belt. That may have been a progressive idea a century ago, but today we tend to frown upon giant expanses of empty space separating land uses...

Resigned yourself to designing a small town? Well forget agriculture - that's also been stripped out of the game. 

Note the highway at the top of the screen - it can't be modified. The game revolved on the assumption that every city is connected to the region by interstate-highway.
 photo simcity5_zps9283b0fd.pngSource: Giantbomb.com review (3/5)

One can hope that the brand isn't damaged enough by this debacle that we do get a SimCity 6. And maybe by then the developers will have looked around and realized that there's more to city building than wide roads and single-zone development.

One last word of advice if you do purchase the game (assuming the server issues are ever resolved, and you like rewarding failure). Don't expect to spend dozens of hours crafting the perfect city. The game has disasters, like zombies, which can't be turned off, and because the game is "always online", it's impossible to reset to a previous version. 

18 comments:

  1. Guess I'll stick with SimCity 4. My computer is just now finally catching up to its demands anyway.

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    1. It took me a few years to get a computer that could run that game well. Unfortunately, as computers get more powerful, SC4 doesnt run any better. The game was written for one core. If you buy an 8 core mega-computer, youll find the game doesnt even run at all because it gets confused. You have to work around it and tell the game to only use one core. I think the laptop I have now is in the SC4 sweetspot. Not too old, not too new, just right. (Its from 2009).

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  2. I've always been a fan of the series but from a casual perspective. I liked building the city, but I was not desperate to simulate pure urban planning. So most of the game, as it's been built appealed to me. Then I found out about the region play, and I was mildly dissuaded. And then the always-online requirement convinced me not to preorder it.

    Well, I'm still convinced. I do want the game eventually, but I'm happy I didn't buy it for launch day or the day after that or... I think many of the problems with the design of the game are Maxis' work arounds for EA's demand for always-online. I do not sincerely believe these were all original ideas for them, but they are the ones who will end up suffering at the hands of all this. You're also not kidding about the bonuses for the EA execs.

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  3. You'll get no argument from me on the complete disaster relating to the game's servers, and subways and mixed-use would be nice, but come on. The game offers buses, trains, park-and-rides, ferries, streetcars, and mid-block pedestrian walkways--that's pretty good. Also, if you mix uses horizontally, lots of sims will actually walk instead of drive. Is the simulation perfect or perfectly realistic? No. But if it were, you'd also find most of your game moves thwarted by perennial NIMBY's and noxious lawsuits, rather than servers on the fritz. At least the servers are likely to be fixed in the relatively near future. NIMBYs are forever.

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  4. In 10 years time will I still be able to play it or will EA have turned off the servers in 2016?

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    1. Its entirely possible. You know as soon as SC6 comes out, SC5 will be disabled.

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  5. I actually missed SimCity 4 because of old technology, but I recently bought a new laptop and looked up to magically seeing that SimCity 5 was coming out, what luck! I have played it and I see the points to the article above, small cities and basic elements. I think they were trying to get people to focus on density and precision in function with its very specific customizations on buildings. The thing I need to explore more with in the game is the networking of multiple cities to ultimately create a very efficient region where each city has specific jobs to help support other cities in the region. I think they were actually trying something new with the game on the region scale side.

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  6. Actually, the game is pretty great. The transportation might not have subways, but with pedestrian walk ways, bussed, boats, municipal airports, street cars etc its varied enough.

    Mixed Zoning sounds sort of dumb, as if its "Here you're too stupid to actually plan the RCI so here's a zone that will automatically do anything you need it to do! :D" SOOO I am pretty thankful that was excluded.

    You also fail to mention the resource maps, great works, region interplay and co-operation adds a huge bonus NOT ONLY do you fail to mention this, but EA never planned to "turn off cheetah speed" or quite a few of your made up solutions.

    The servers were a god damn fiasco, no other way to put it. But the game is plain and simply awesome, they are expanding the city size int he future, and if you mod the game to play it offline only you can build a city in the greenbelt regions, it was their attempt to keep regions from getting out of control and not running on low end computers.

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    1. The game has been out for many weeks and most of the problems still havent been resolved - cheetah speed for example still doesnt work. The traffic is also completely broken, its impossible to create a functional city

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  7. I'm thinking about buying SC5. Is that a good idea?

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    1. No. Wait a year until you can pay $29.99 for the game and the expansion in a bundle, and hopefully by then theyd have fixed many of the game-breaking bugs.

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  8. Glad i read this! Not going to buy it!

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  9. Thank you for having me save $50 - $60. I was going to buy this game until your review. The always-online thing scares the crap out of me. I play Fifa 13 and have to deal with the EA Servers constantly going down. I'll stick with SC4 or Civilization. Thanks again.

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    1. Ill make a post whenever the game is playable - if ever. Maybe in a year and a half? Holiday 2014 Im sure theyll release the " Gold Bundle" for 29.99 featuring the inevitable expansion pack.

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  10. I am agree to Anonymous, I think he's trying something new game on the region side.

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  11. I think he's trying something new game on the region side.

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  12. I am such a fan of Sim City that I bought it on release day. WORST MOVE EVER. This is not Sim City as I know it. It is a game for a causal person that can build a city in 4 hours and that's it. You can play a game with out the disasters but you get $1 million in the beginning and you can add money. So it's not fun. The disasters come every couple of hours and it's impossible to build a legit city because they always break it. TERRIBLE TERRIBLE game. There are SOOOOOO many things wrong with it. And the size!!!!! is like 20 blocks ..... it's ridiculous!

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  13. Now I am disappointed but not surprised about the online only mode. That is the trend since 9/11 to take away privacy and now that the Liberals are in charge they are doing it thru gaming and entertainment to get us used to it so there will be no boycotting and it's clearly working. While Bush started it all the Liberals have given us all Lip Talk and accelerated it.
    America and voting is just an illusion. Bush was the most Liberal Republican President in the world and most people don't even see it!.


    EA/Sony and all those guys are part of the Globalist bankers that want to run everything and then to make matters worse the Fabian Society is gaming the system too. (no pun intended) with socialist rules and every country that has tried full communism has had mountains of skulls.

    No I am not nuts. Look up the Fabians! They are all real and experts eventually want computers in you're brain cells to track you! You are a tool! The emperor has no clothes on!

    If we all started taking responsibilities for ourselves we wouldn't need this ruling elite force.



    Gamers the wonderful age of gaming is about to end unless we all vote the fake politicians out of office and go back to the roots of America by voting with our wallets and not our emotions. Tell them we are NOT cattle and will not be branded as such!

    All these evil gaming/entertainment companies can kiss my ass!

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