Move over Desmond, Tingle, everyone who’s ever sniped me in a first person shooter, and Tom Nook! There’s a new Worst Videogame Character of All Time in town. Literally.
After the jump, the only videogame character to drive me to a Twitter meltdown.
Or, as I like to call him, Fake Twitter Bird. He sits at the top center of the screen in Cities: Skyline, the upcoming citybuilder from Finnish developer, Colossal Order. Like so.
He never leaves. He is always there. Always. And he prompted me to post this comment on Twitter, which is impertinent but perhaps not a meltdown.
— Tom Chick (@Qt3) March 4, 2015
The meltdown was this expression of my desire to commit an act of violence.
I want to punch the fake Twitter bird in Cities: Skylines so hard, right in his annoying little beak. #CitiesSkylines
— Tom Chick (@Qt3) March 4, 2015
I’m sorry you had to see that. I apologize to my followers on Twitter. And to birds.
So what is my problem with Fake Twitter Bird? Why such rage?
Periodically, Fake Twitter Bird chirps audibly and pops open a window with a Tweet — excuse me, a “Chirp” — from one of the citizens in my town. Sometimes this pertains to something I’ve just done. Here I’ve just built the advanced healthcare building.
Here I’ve districted an industrial area for farming.
Oh, wait, I didn’t do anything. That one just happened. It’s supposed to be atmosphere. Here’s another one that just happened.
Here’s another one that just happened.
I’ve seen many of these multiple times. There’s nothing quite so bland as recycled flavor. So why does it need to grab my attention with an audible alert and a pop-up window? I’m trying to play a city builder. I don’t want ersatz social media interrupting my thought process, much less the pleasant groove of watching a city unfurl. Real Twitter is annoying enough. Why would I want a mandatory fake Twitter?
I suspect some of the “Chirps” might contain actual information. Here’s one that might be telling me pollution is encroaching on a residential area.
If only there was some other way for the game to tell me there’s a pollution problem. Oh, look, there is! I can look at an info screen or a map filter to check the location and severity of pollution. In some cases, pop-up messages along the bottom of the screen warn me when problems arise. Since I’m playing a city builder, learning the relationships among causes like pollution and effects like unhappy citizens is part of the gameplay. I don’t need a Fake Twitter Bird nagging me any more than a need an animated paperclip reminding me to save my document in Word.
I get what the developers are going for. The idea is that this is an interesting way to represent the mood of the people, to communicate information about a population, to express social data. To tell me what’s trending, if you will. It’s not a new concept in citybuilders. From Simcity to Tropico, games that model individual citizens have shared with me their thoughts as a combination of useful information and flavor. My favorite example is RollerCoaster Tycoon, where an enthusiastic child might tell me a ride I’ve designed is “very good value”. Thank you, small child with weird grammar, for one of the hundred things that make me smile in that series. It’s a cute bright point of data, an animated info pixel in the pointillism of gameplay.
But modeling social media and then cramming it with pointless filler as if it were real social media is not a good idea. It’s like games in which you have to read people’s email on computer terminals that include spam among that email. What are you thinking, game writers? Fake spam? As if there’s anything funny to be done with spam? You’re not funny! Get off the stage! Hire better writers to do your fake emails!
Fortunately, Cities: Skylines is otherwise shaping up to be a solid enough city builder, with a smooth graphics engine, a metagame for unlocking unique structures, and enough sprawl to shame Maxis. Here’s hoping for a patch that let’s me silence Fake Twitter Bird. By which I mean “dispatch with extreme violence”.
Cities: Skyline is out on March 10.