Drunken Speculation


simcityIt irks me that my more recent posts have been laden with economics and pessimism, so this week I’m lightening the tone and adding a sepia-wash of nostalgia.

I’ve been a longtime fan of Maxis/Will Wright games. I was introduced with the original SimCity on my grandparent’s computer. I played SimFarm, SimTower, SimEarth, SimCity 2000 and the Streets of SimCity continually through my childhood and adolescence. The fact that I played SimTower, a game built around elevator simulation software, in my early years, probably tells you all you need to know about me.

According to Origin, I’m now down 24 hours of my life playing the latest edition, although this includes a few hours getting ammo addicted as well. By way of explanation, I’m “only” 24 hours down because my copy took an extra two weeks to arrive from India via eBay but, judging by the server troubles EA were having, it doesn’t sound like I would’ve gotten much game time anyway.

Do you want to know why I’ve wasted an entire day – no doubt the first of many – of my life?

The Good

I’m generally fascinated by cities. My home town, Brisbane, piques my curiosity everyday: How did it get here? What do its citizens do all day? Where is the city expanding to? And, above all, why it is the way it is?

There’s a bunch of subtle changes in the new version that mean instead of producing sixteen versions of the same city, you have a chance to create cities with character. For example, the beginner’s tutorial shows you what it might be like to create a virtual Las Vegas. The massively extended sets of buildings, the curved road tool, city specialisations and the fact that the software seems to generate sympathetic architecture are big steps forward.

The end result is a visually stimulating and interesting city. Plus the God-like managerial aspect appeals to the inner anal retentive is all of us. It’s not all good though.

The Bad

The way the regions, in effect a collection of connected cities, are set up feels very inorganic. The cities have sharp cut-offs, whereas, most modern cities generally merge into the countryside with decreasing density of development. This reminds you that the game has limitations.

The economic interactions between cities are rigid and clearly designed to force strangers to cooperate. They also don’t work in real time if you’re trying to manage two cities simultaneously. There’s potential for development here.

However, if you’ve made it this far, you probably know there’s worse.

The Ugly

While this might be appropriate to discuss how shitty my graphics card is, you can’t really discuss the current iteration with mentioning EA’s digital rights management strategy. In short, you have to have an internet connection to play, even if you just want to play on your own. Your ISP is down? Too fucking bad.

You’ll forgive me for adding another voice to the chorus of online Cheeto-eating (I prefer pistachios actually) whiners but I think this is a pretty shitty solution. Not that anyone cares.

Ultimately, unless games stop selling, the publishers will enforce increasingly inconvenient digital rights strategies. The irony is that, ultimately ultimately, this drives more people to piracy – I can handle being inconvenienced for free but not when I paid $60 for the game – and that DRM is the flailing of an industry that will likely go the way of the newspaper.

Then again, as Keynes put it so eloquently, “In the long run, we are all dead.”

Welcome back, pessimism. As frustrating as the ugly is, the game is still too goddamn addictive. I’ve clocked up four hours just trying to write this post and now I’m getting back to work on Liamopolis. A mayor’s job is never done.

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