SimSuburb Version 2.2

So after kicking the couchsurfers out of the study and with the girlfriend away I settled in for a big weekend of that new SimCity game everyone has been complaining about. And hey the 2.0 patch just came out, so they must’ve fixed all the bugs and added a host of new features right? Well, let’s just say Maxis’ approach to version numbering is ‘non-traditional’. In fact since starting this draft article on Monday they’ve released two patches, containing a solitary bug fix each. The version numbering appears to represent the amount of time since launch, since any reasonable person could not claim this game to be out of beta.

This is why I call the game SimSuburb
This is why I call the game SimSuburb. Each play area is entirely seperate, linked onto by an oppressive freeway.

I’ve just turned 26 so you’ll have to forgive me for talking about the ancient past but just when the fuck did this become acceptable to release products that are broken and incomplete? Imagine it was 1994. You’ve just watched The Lion King and you’ve picked up- oh wait, what’s a game that came out in 1994? Oh wait here’s one: SimCity 2000. Ok, so you’ve just seen The Lion King at the cinema and then you’ve picked up a copy of SimCity 2000 because it’s your birthday and your Dad is treating you. You open the box and there’s a slip of paper in the manual. You take it out and it reads:

Thank you for purchasing SimCity 2000 for Apple System 7!

The following are known issues:

  • Sometimes schools will not work.
  • If you demolish a building currently in use, your save game will corrupt.
  • Sometimes you will short of breath for no reason.
  • Even if you do everything right, sometimes the game will just crash anyway

You would be devastated! You’d tell your Dad and he’d take the game and the receipt straight back to the Toyworld store and demand a refund, which he’d get in cash and not store credit. But no, almost twenty years later , such a list can be posted on a game’s forum and no one can object, because replies are not allowed. The aforementioned patch 2.2 doesn’t even address any of the issues Maxis know about, rather new errors people had taken the time to detail to them. I was trying to explain this situation to my girlfriend and she suggested it would be like her buying a book that hadn’t been edited yet, the book’s publisher dedicating part of their website for spelling and grammatical corrections because they can’t be arsed reading it themselves.

Now to be fair, SimCity 4 (2003) was released in a fundamentally broken state too and SimCity 2000 had two revisions. It’s not like Maxis is alone in releasing incomplete games. Hell, MoJang’s entire business model revolves around people paying for beta versions and they’re praised for it! I’m at a loss as to how it has come to this. The conveniences and features of PC gaming have become excuses for developers to charge for crippled software. The famously underpaid and under appreciated quality assurance department of game developers has seemingly been replaced by us; the paying customer.

SimCity Tornado

I haven’t actually discussed the game yet, which says something in itself that I’ve rambled for four paragraphs about bugs in the game and haven’t even mentioned the server issues that plagued launch. Anyway, what I and other SimCity fans are still trying to reconcile is how different this game is to previous SimCity games. Up till now, ignoring the various disgraceful excursions which will not be named, SimCity games were about simulating a city, the graphics really only being an visual representation of what was pretty much a spreadsheet affected only by how creatively you arranged your city. SimCity today though isn’t so much about simulating a city as it is about managing industrial supply lines. You exploit your natural resources, refine them into workable materials, import anything you might be missing and manufacture them into televisions which you ship off to build an arcology, SimCity‘s iconic towering super structures. In many ways it actually feels like an alternative take on popular free to play game Virtual City. There’s still a game here, and there is still some fun to be had creating an aesthetically pleasing city that works but it is a different sort of fun and we Simfanatics are grappling with many feels to deal with this.

What the fuck?
What the fuck? Who are these visitors? Where are they going? And yes, my suburb is named ‘Losing’ one guy across the ravine had called his suburb ‘Winning’ so I felt I should match his originality.

The simulation aspect is mind boggling. Losing’s industrial sector is already much bigger than it’s commerce (shopping) sector yet only producing 25% of the freight demand for it. Housing a million people inside the arcology down the road did little to change this, but it did result in Losing being swamped with one hundred thousand ‘visitors’ everyday, most of whom never make it though the inevitable traffic jam at the town gates and none of whom bother to show up for classes at the university, despite the 400,000 of the arcology’s residents allegedly being students. Residential social classes don’t develop according to demand but rather how many parks you’ve placed nearby. So all the middle class residents I have eventually run out of money and leave town because they don’t have any middle class jobs to goto but another tower load of them move in the very next day, hoping I’ll rezone the entire city to the public service.

Personally I’m over the game. I’ve ploughed 60+ hours in so it’s by no means been a bad investment for me. However, there is Stockholm syndrome at work here and I wont be moving on just yet. Part of my brain insists that the simulation aspect isn’t broken, just beyond my current comprehension. All I need to do is invest some time and I’ll understand the new RCI demands back to front. Already I’ve been reading that maintaining an industrial sector is entirely option. There’s also this desire to ‘complete’ a region; build all the great works, exploit all the resources and create some kind of functioning economy. I’ve never ‘completed’ a region on SimCity 4 though and usually replace my plans with an even grander vision before I’m through, so we’ll see how long that holds me.

In any case, this is unlikely to be the last you’ll hear from me on the topic of SimCity. Whether my next post is me explaining how broken and unrealistic the simulation side of the game is or autistically touring you around my region will depend on how the next 60 hours and round of patches go. I have booted SimCity 4 back up and been overwhelmed with ideas to polish SimCity 4 into a version 2.0, so there’s that too.

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