Tags: SimCity

27 years later, we finally get to see SimCity on the NES

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In 1991, SimCity for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System was briefly seen at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show and noted in a short blurb in Nintendo Power magazine. It never actually made it to store shelves. Instead, a 16-bit version of the Maxis city builder would eventually be released for the Super Nintendo, while the 8-bit prototype became something of a game collecting legend. Last year, two cartridges containing the elusive game popped up, and The Video Game History Foundation got permission to digitize the code, analyze the content, and make it freely available to the public. Here is the result.

It’s a fascinating look at the collaboration between Will Wright and Shigeru Miyamoto. This version of the game features “Dr. Wright,” a mentor character that teaches players the basic concepts of digital city planning and serves as tutorial guide. Bank loans are first possible here, allowing players a way to get out of an early financial death spiral, or just bypassing the doldrums of waiting to amass enough tax money to move forward. Unlockable rewards for achievements, like special buildings for hitting population milestones, make their debut in SimCity for the NES.

While these innovations showed up in the SNES release, (and some would even become standard in later SimCity sequels) it’s here that we can see the initial fruits of Maxis and Nintendo working together to make SimCity more of an actual game that the console audience would appreciate. It’s stuff that we now take for granted, but the original SimCity didn’t even have an optimal end-state for its scenarios. It just trusted the player to load a setting like “San Francisco 1906,” set off an earthquake, then fix the damage to their own satisfaction.

Without comment from Miyamoto or Wright, it’s tough to say who came up with which design breakthroughs, but the result is gaming history.

Simcity goes offline

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As of the latest update, you can play Simcity offline.

Originally designed from the ground-up as an always-connected experience, Maxis reengineered the game in order to move the calculations locally to the player’s PC or Mac. Gains in optimization to the GlassBox Engine allow players to have a similar gameplay experience, whether they choose to play Online or Offline.

Players will automatically receive the Update the next time they log-in to SimCity. From there they will have the option to play either way; the new Single-Player Mode, which enables Offline Play, or continue to play in the Multiplayer Mode. The Single-Player Mode retains the same expansive feel of the core SimCity gameplay while adding more control over when and how their progress is saved. Multiplayer Mode continues to deliver the SimCity experience that includes SimCity World, Leaderboards, Achievements, dynamic pricing of resources in the Global Market and Cloud Saves.

Electronic Arts, being a ginormous publicly traded company, is very careful with their use of language. For instance, like any big company, they love throwing around capital letters to show how Important stuff is. Update, Single-Player, Leaderboards, Online, the city in SimCity.

In the above announcement for the new offline mode, EA’s language carefully implies this latest change is a matter of single-player or multiplayer. It’s not. Online-only gaming is generally an anti-piracy measure, and as such, I completely understand. Like Diablo III, Anno 2070, and pretty much every game on Steam, being online isn’t a matter of whether I’m going to play with other people. It’s a matter of how easily I can play a pirated copy. As someone who understands that companies must protect their property, I’m mostly okay with this. Because I’m also someone who doesn’t travel a lot, who isn’t stationed overseas, and who pays enough every month for a fast reliable internet connection. Not everyone is so lucky. Companies like EA have counted the beans to write them off as acceptable losses. That’s just how math works. If there’s one thing big companies do well, it’s math. Never mind the careful bending of language. Just watch them work those numbers!

But the problem with Simcity was never the online-only gameplay, especially once the launch issues were stabilized. The problem wasn’t even the design, which is based on the intriguing idea of large cities as a network of interdependent smaller cities. Here in Los Angeles, we can certainly relate to that. Sometimes sprawl can consist of discrete boxes rather than larger maps.

The real problem with Simcity was unfortunately buried under crusades against DRM or map sizes. The real problem was that it simply didn’t work. Over successive updates, or Updates, this has certainly gotten better. I haven’t played it in a while, because I’ve been spending my city builder time with games that worked as advertised, such as the superlative Children of the Nile, Simcity Societies, and Anno 2070, which work offline and as intended. But now that Simcity is offline, it will be that much easier to see how close Electronic Arts has come to finally implementing the game as it was designed.

Furthermore, this is an encouraging development for a company that is notorious for yanking online support when games are no longer popular, effectively killing good games. Maybe now they can retire them gracefully with an offline mode instead of just pulling the plug with a shrug.

You can’t really read my Simcity review here, but you can read it here, in the comments section underneath.

SimCity will soon do the impossible

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Back in March, someone asked the official SimCity Twitter account if an offline mode would ever be patched in to the game. The reply was negative.

“The game was designed for MP, we sim the entire region on the server so this is just not possible.”

Apparently, the wizards at EA have been hard at work opening portals to other dimensions and poloraizing flux capacitors because they have achieved the impossible dream! According to Patrick Buechner, general manager of Maxis Emeryville, offline play is coming. In the latest blog post, Buechner explained that offline mode will be coming as part of a free update to SimCity. In offline mode, save games will be stored locally, and all previously downloaded content will be available to players without he need to be connected to EA’s servers.

Update 10, including the offline option, has no launch date at this time, but EA promises to have more details in a follow-up blog post soon.

SimCity offline mode may be coming

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EA is exploring offline mode for SimCity. Patrick Buechner, General Manager for Maxis Emeryville, posted a “State of SimCity” article outlining where the controversial game stands seven months after launch. Buechner reiterated that the team reads and listens to fan input, citing the addition of the ability to raise and lower roads as an example of feedback leading to an improvement. On the subject of larger spaces, Buechner said the team investigated various ways to increase city size, but that it isn’t practical with the Glassbox engine. He did have some good news regarding the an offline mode being added to the game.

Right now we have a team specifically focused on exploring the possibility of an offline mode. I can’t make any promises on when we will have more information, but we know this is something that many of our players have been asking for. While the server connectivity issues are behind us, we would like to give our players the ability to play even if they choose not to connect. An offline mode would have the additional benefit of providing room to the modding community to experiment without interfering or breaking the multiplayer experience.

Patrick Buechner ended the post by thanking fans for their passion and emphasizing his own commitment to the game.

Emergency relief coming for SimCity

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The Red Cross is setting up in SimCity. EA announced that the upcoming Red Cross set DLC will allow the humanitarian aid organization to spring into action in disaster-torn cities mitigating health issues for the tiny citizens.

The downloadable content includes a Red Cross Relief Center, tents and two vehicles that will travel around a player’s city in response to a natural disaster. When a meteor strikes, an earthquake occurs or a tornado touches down, Red Cross tents will appear in various locations throughout a player’s city. Sims that would otherwise have been critically injured are instead offered aid at the Red Cross relief tents.

EA will donate at least 80% of the proceeds to the real-life Red Cross. The DLC will be available for one year.

In other SimCity news, there have been leaks of a Cities of Tomorrow expansion pack scheduled to be released in November. The pack includes multi-zone “MegaTowers” which seem to replicate the function of arcologies in SimCity 2000.

EA says offline gaming will still be delivered

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Electronic Arts’ Peter Moore wants to clarify some statements that were reported from Gamescom. Moore had said that EA won’t “deliver offline experiences anymore” and that we can expect free-to-play versions of “every major franchise.” While Moore says this is essentially true, he does clarify in a blog post that EA will continue to make games that do not require a connection.

What that does NOT mean is that every game we ship will require an online connection. Many, if not most, of our games include single-player, offline modes that you can play entirely without an Internet connection, if you so choose. We know that’s something many of our players want, and we will continue to deliver it.

Moore wrote that leaderboards, sharing stats, and achievements are examples of online features.

In other EA news, SimCity recently received Update 7 which allows manually raising and lowering of roads and comes with some traffic behavior tuning. There’s still no offline mode, so maybe it’s not something that “players want” from EA.

SimCity simulates urban decay

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Electronic Arts’ SimCity has lost three key leads. Ocean Quigley, the former SimCity creative director, tweeted that he was leaving EA and Maxis to form Jellygrade, an indie studio to start on a new project. He is taking the former lead architect Andrew Willmott and lead gameplay engineer Dan Moskowitz with him to work on an iPad game about the early formation of life on Earth.

Quigley told Polygon that SimCity’s botched launch wasn’t a deciding factor in his departure from EA.

“I was dismayed at the blundered launch of something that I had poured so much love and attention into, which made the leaving easier but it would have probably happened anyway,” he said.

“Honestly I think I would have left regardless of whether EA’s launch of SimCity was smooth or rough. It was basically my third SimCity. I did SimCity 3000 and SimCity 4 and this new SimCity.”

Ocean Quigley admits that the concept for his new project was influenced by his work on Spore, but that it has not been pitched to EA because it’s a “little too weird and science nerdy” for them.

SimCity’s newest DLC is close to being self-parody

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EA has made the SimCity Airships Set DLC available for $8.99. Fans of disasters couldn’t be happier. Dirigibles and hot air balloons can take to the skies of your cities while your garbage trucks clog up the roads!

Stadiums not quite at capacity? Then you need the Airship Hangar. Plop the Airship Hangar in your city and you’ll be able to welcome Airships bearing tourists from the region. With the added flexibility, you’ll have no trouble filling stadium seats or getting gamblers in your casinos. Local shops will benefit from the steady stream of tourists on airships as well.Tourists aren’t the only kind of Sims that your city needs! Add a Commuter Airship Mooring to your Airship Hangar to float commuting Sims to work or shop in your city, or to take your city’s Sims to a neighboring city.

Will those traveling Sims ever show up in the neighboring cities, or will they be stuck in the limbo between account communication? Just pretend they passed into some alternate timeline in which mass transit is a popular mode of travel and SimCity wasn’t a complete mess.

Will Wright judges SimCity DRM

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Will Wright spoke to GamesIndustry International after he gave a lecture at the University of California’s Santa Cruz. During the interview he said EA’s SimCity server problems were “inexcusable.”

When the discussion turned to the launch of Sim City Online, Wright was quick to declare his first thought. “I feel bad for the team,” Wright said. Beyond that, Wright had some definite opinions about the launch. “I could have predicted – I kind of did predict there’d be a big backlash about the DRM stuff. It’s a good game; I enjoy playing it a lot.” Still, Wright understands the audience response. “It was kind of like, ‘EA is the evil empire, there was a lot of ‘Let’s bash EA over it,'” Wright said. “That was basically inexcusable, that you charge somebody $60 for a game and they can’t play it. I can understand the outrage. If I was a consumer buying the game and that happened to me, I’d feel the same.”

Wright also talked about the state of EA and the general direction of the industry. He noted that Google’s recent hiring of veteran game designer Noah Falstein was probably related to their efforts to get better at understanding games.

The SimCity tragedy of errors continues

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The only reason I’m not amazed that SimCity is still so broken is because of how broken it was when it was released. The latest patch, optimistically dubbed 2.0 as if to herald a rebirth, addresses plenty of issues. For instance, it’s nice to see the results of interaction with other cities in the region, even if it just shows how pointless they are. An occasional measly 100 simoleons to give up two ambulances for my neighbor’s city? I think I’d rather have the ambulances on call locally. But I do appreciate knowing that I’m earning money when I sell electricity to my layabout neighbors who can’t be bothered to shell out the cash for their own power plants. It’s nice to see more things finally working like they’re supposed to work.

But not all is well, after the jump Continue reading →

Peter Moore says EA can do better

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In response to The Consumerist’s 2013 Worst Company in America poll, which appears to be on-track for an EA “win” for the second year in a row, Chief Operating Officer Peter Moore defends EA and points out that some of the poll responders may be uninformed or overstating their case. He concedes that EA “can do better” but suggests that EA catches more flak because of its enormous success.

Some of these complaints are 100 percent legitimate – like all large companies we are not perfect. But others just don’t hold water:

– Many continue to claim the Always-On function in SimCity is a DRM scheme. It’s not. People still want to argue about it. We can’t be any clearer – it’s not. Period.

– Some claim there’s no room for Origin as a competitor to Steam. 45 million registered users are proving that wrong.

– Some people think that free-to-play games and micro-transactions are a pox on gaming. Tens of millions more are playing and loving those games.

– We’ve seen mailing lists that direct people to vote for EA because they disagree with the choice of the cover athlete on Madden NFL. Yes, really…

– In the past year, we have received thousands of emails and postcards protesting against EA for allowing players to create LGBT characters in our games. This week, we’re seeing posts on conservative web sites urging people to protest our LGBT policy by voting EA the Worst Company in America.

That last one is particularly telling. If that’s what makes us the worst company, bring it on. Because we’re not caving on that.

EA is currently facing off against Ticketmaster in the bracket.

Electronic Arts rebounds from British Petroleum with Nissan

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The last corporate partnership (i.e. product placement) in a SimCity game was with British Petroleum in SimCity Societies, which was before the Gulf oil spill. You can see the BP logo here, standing out from the rest of the city’s simlish signage.

Since then, BP isn’t really a great way to express consumer friendly green sentiments. So Electronic Arts has sold your eyeballs to Nissan instead. Now Nissan billboards appear around your city, just like Nissan ads appear in Origin. If you click on them, you can download a special Nissan electric car recharging station which spreads happiness. It’s basically just a park. For cars. A car park. Cute.

Frankly, I’d rather have McDonald’s logos, like in The Sims.

Electronic Arts announces the game you also got when you got SimCity

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I’m mostly uninterested in the ongoing SimCity furor, partly because I’ve been playing a really good EA citybuilder instead, but also because the furor is focused on the wrong things. The issue I care about isn’t the launch problems (those tend to go away) or that EA lied (for politicians and videogame publishers, that’s called “talking”) or the inherent evil of always-on DRM (we’ve long since lost that battle, because while everyone was beating up on Ubisoft, Diablo III sneaked into our rear) or that the simulation isn’t simulating an actual city (abstraction isn’t just for boardgames anymore). The issue I care about is the one getting the least internet furor mindshare: the fundamental design of tiny interconnected box cities lending each other a hand doesn’t work as it’s supposed to work. And furthermore, assuming it will work in a later update, it’s not implemented very well. But because everyone else is gnashing their teeth about one of these ancillary issues — Server instability! EA lied! Down with DRM! Sims should only sleep in their own houses! — there’s little incentive for Electronic Arts, a publicly owned company that changed the ending of Mass Effect 3, to actually make their potentially good game that already sold 1 million copies work the way it was designed.

But the good news is that EA, the publicly owned company that changed the ending of Mass Effect 3, is going to give you another game! In a press released titled “SimCity make nice”, which sounds like poorly translated forced cheer from across the Pacific, Electronic Arts announced that players will soon receive a free game of their choice from the following list:

Battlefield 3 (Standard Edition)
Bejeweled 3
Dead Space 3 (Standard Edition)
Mass Effect 3 (Standard Edition)
Medal of Honor Warfighter (Standard Edition)
Need For Speed Most Wanted (Standard Edition)
Plants vs. Zombies
SimCity 4 Deluxe Edition

That’s definitely a make nice list, since it has only a single stinker. Care to guess which one?