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SimCity Multiplayer Preview | Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Always-On

Author:
Jonathan Lester
Category:
Features
Tags:
Always-on internet, E3 2012, EA, Maxis, multiplayer, PC games, SimCity, Simulation

SimCity Multiplayer Preview | Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Always-On

I want to be angry about SimCity requiring an always-on internet connection in order to play. I want to rant and rave, to rend my garments in twain while wailing from the rooftops. I want to become incandescent with fury, shouting about how my singleplayer passion has been forever tainted to anyone who'll listen. On principle, as much as anything.

But I can't. I won't, because Maxis came to E3 2012 to show us exactly what this internet connection will be used for. Over the course of twenty minutes, it became apparent that collaborating with friends to create a little piece of heaven in a persistent virtual world is going to be SimCity's most important selling point, and one that promises to elevate the already-impressive simulation into something unique and rather wonderful, even by Maxis standards. Cities will finally work together, sharing their populace and resources, all while gradually building towards grand works that will benefit everyone. It's a genuine evolution, not just an alternative gametype.

So, dear reader, here's how I learned to stop worrying and love the always-on.

SimCity Multiplayer Preview | Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Always-On

SimCity's demo began in much the same way as April's EA showcase: a small residential dormitory town struggling to deal with a crippling power shortage. No pedestrians dared walk through the dark and gloomy streets, and there was nowhere for them to go. Shops and nightclubs were closed, and almost every window was unlit. Players will know when areas are bereft of power without even having to cue up the intuitive overlay, thanks to the Glassbox engine finally connecting the in-game art with real simulation, all in real time. As Maxis' Bret Berry told us, "what you see, we sim."

The unfortunate player could have corrected the problem by expanding the town's sole wind turbine into an entire wind farm, building an environmentally-unfriendly coal power station or upgrading existing buildings... but being 'always on' has its advantages. Scrolling over to the region map highlighted a friend's city nearby, who conveniently happened to have a major surplus of electricity, just going to waste. Agreeing on a price for the precious power, the two players stamped down some pylons to carry electricity cables to the city limits, met in the middle and connected them. As the power came online, the city's lights gradually flickered into life, its population spilling out onto the streets in order to make good on lost time. One player gets power, another gets paid and both end up happy.

SimCity Multiplayer Preview | Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Always-On

This is just one example of how players will be able to work together while pursuing their own ends, and Berry proceeded to show us several more. Zooming to an adjacent area revealed a glittering tourist town studded with sports arenas, cinemas, shops and casinos, but sadly, the tiny residential zone didn't house anywhere near enough people to satisfy the demand for jobs. In contrast, however, the aforementioned dormitory town had plenty of inhabitants but very few potential employers, so the two players worked out a symbiotic deal. Residents commuted between the two cities on a daily basis, using custom-build roads that linked the two townships together as a single conurbation. Players can use a traffic overlay to place both roadways and public transport stops (such as light rail) in the most advantageous spots, plonking down and drawing out new routes like the world's simplest Scalectrix set. Again, cooperation is dead easy, but it will completely change the way we build our cities and specialise them for certain roles.

SimCity Multiplayer Preview | Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Always-On

However, the close relationship between neighbouring cities doesn't always work out for the best. Another local city, the glumly-named Stonesrow, was an mining town heaving with industrial ore smelters and power stations, the air hanging thick with choking smog. This simple visual indicator clearly demonstrated that Stonesrow was in dire need of going green before its pollution spread to other nearby players, but it soon became clear that the impoverished city was undergoing a more immediate problem: a massive crime spree. Every available surface was tagged with grafitti and littered with rubbish, getting heavier towards the worst-policed parts of the industrial district.

A car full of unsavoury characters careened out of the ghetto, crossed the city line and eventually ended up in the tourist town, whereupon its passengers donned stocking masks and held up another player's bank. Thankfully the glitzy casino city was well-policed, resulting in some individual cops leaving the station, getting into their cars, driving to the scene and arresting the sorry miscreants after a brief shootout. As well as showing off the new inter-connectivity between players, this was also a fascinating look into how the Glassbox Engine models individual sims, right down to their jobs and whereabouts at all times.

SimCity Multiplayer Preview | Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Always-On

Despite their neighbour's bad habits, the surrounding players were glad to have Stonesrow on their doorstep, because all four towns were working towards a Great Work. These enormous edifices require a huge amount of resources to complete, more than any one player could ever hope to amass. But by what sharing resources they have, players will be able to massively benefit the entire region. Great Works include massive solar farms (making power loss a thing of the past) and even space centres to launch rockets, but for the purposes of the demo, the pragmatic target was an international airport.

The tourist town contributed funds. Stonesrow sent over huge quantities of smelted alloy direct from its mines. The dormitory village sent over its sole resource, people, to put the whole thing together. And finally, after what would have been many hours of preparation, the project took form - resulting in an firework display and the promise of a massive new influx of sims into the region. Every player would benefit from this transport hub, such as increased numbers of visitors to the sports stadium and better export links for Stonesrow's ore, and even new players will be able to contribute what they can in order to get an early leg up. SimCity has lost none of the careful zoning and planning of its predecessors, but by encouraging us to help each other, it's a profoundly different beast.

Should SimCity have offline singleplayer? Yes, probably. But frankly, after witnessing how powerful and versatile the multiplayer is going to be, I don't actually want to play SimCity by myself. I want to cooperative with my friends, with all of you, to create a thriving interlinked community rather than just an isolated city. I want to construct Great Works, share the wealth and help out others to pass the favour forward. I want to be connected. Always.

Mark my words: Dealspwnia will rise and it will be the greatest city of all time. Or, more realistically, we're going to have great fun failing in the attempt. Either way, SimCity's always-on requirement is better thought of as an always-connected philosophy, and it's shaping up to be a change for the better.

Add a comment7 comments
sebtiger  Jun. 21, 2012 at 00:45

I'm so glad I preordered it. What you mention is everything I could have wanted from the game. Admittedly I don't have many friends into city games but I think this has enough to coax them into it.

Just wish it was releasing soon.

Tsung  Jun. 21, 2012 at 08:25

Sounds interesting.. What if I want to play with just my friends?. I don't want to play with the rest of the world, too many trolls out there (create an open minecraft server it doesn't take long for someone to come along and burn down / destroy anything created).
What facilities are there for people who want to play alone? or what if neighbour cities are not interested in sharing? Does multiplayer work if friends play at different times? Will there be a Lan mode so if a group of friends want to play this at a lan party they can?,

So many questions...

Doors  Jun. 21, 2012 at 09:25

I agree with Tsung I am warming to the "always on" but so many questions. Main one being do I have to play with random internet trolls

JonLester  Jun. 21, 2012 at 09:57

Okay, I have a couple of answers. 8)

From the official site:

"Now you will play on a much larger scale, as your city is part of a much larger region. You can control one or multiple cities in an open region on the web, in a private region shared with your friends’ cities, or in your own personal region. Each city within a given region will affect the others around it, so your decisions have an impact not only on your own city, but on your friends’ as well."

No trolls (if you don't want them), thank God.

X10  Jun. 23, 2012 at 12:33

Seems daft to have an always-on connection if you only want to play by yourself. I don't play multiplayer games, and I don't play co-operative games, why should I be forced to be always connected if you want to play by yourself (a la your own personal region)?

Basically what it's sounding like is that Sim City is a multiplayer game at heart, which is a shame.

schm0  Jul. 6, 2012 at 17:42

Yep, still want offline single player mode. Multiplayer will be nice, but I want full control over what I do in my region, thank you very much.

Poobah  Jul. 9, 2012 at 03:14

Seems daft to have an always-on connection if you only want to play by yourself. I don't play multiplayer games, and I don't play co-operative games, why should I be forced to be always connected if you want to play by yourself (a la your own personal region)?

Basically what it's sounding like is that Sim City is a multiplayer game at heart, which is a shame.


I completely agree. Plus, I dislike the assumption that "everyone who matters" can afford that online connection so constantly. A lot of people who would enjoy and benefit from the game worldwide can't afford that. I'm not buying now.

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