First, let me be fair. I’m a giant SimCity fan. I spent countless hours in my childhood playing the original SimCity and SimCity2000. I did not spend much time with the third installation in the series, which I have more than made up for by devoting countless hours to SimCity4. Societies was a giant let down for most people that played it, myself included. With all that being said, I was excited yet nervous when the new SimCity was announced. Sure, it looked like it would be good, but after Societies (and the dashed hopes of a new, good franchise with CitiesXL) everyone was a little concerned with the reboot. This weekend at PAX I got to get my hands on roughly 15 minutes of SimCity gameplay, and I really liked what I experienced.
Obviously a very early build, there was a fair bit of placeholder art here and there. That being said, the tilt-shift graphical approach is a great touch. I was a bit wary of the change in art direction, but seeing it in action really brings it all together. I suspect we’ll see some fairly drastic interface changes between now and release, but I do like “bottom bar” style of putting the content along the bottom of the screen. The colors of the interface balance well with the art pallette of the game assets as well.
The ploppable buildings are really well designed. Rather than just a simple slider for funding, you’re able to expand the capabilities of your ploppables via upgrades. Some are simply cosmetic choices, but others provide a tangible benefit. Add extra garages to the sides of your fire station to increase effectiveness. Build an annex on your community college to increase student capacity. This increased control over your ploppables in a method that is more realistic, interactive, and precise than a simple funding slider adds a beautiful element to the classic city builder.
Zoning remains fairly similar, and “smart” zones mean buildings will use what land is avaliable to them, to a point. Without a defined grid, determining the exact dimentions a city block needs to be can be a bit tricky, though I expect UI improvements in this area by launch. In what I played there were not different densities of zones, like there were in previous titles. It was difficult to determine exactly how the game would decide what type of building to build in each zone, and if densities would even matter of if it would intelligently decide on the size of the zone and the demand in the immediate area. A lot of fuzzy information about zones, and I should have asked more questions. Sorry!
Roads are great! You can have the game attempt to snap to 90 degree increments, or opt for curvy roads. There are some UI hiccups at the moment, which I’m sure will be solved, but overall laying down both straight and curve roads works quickly and intuitively. The ability for curved roads to “snap” to match the curve of other nearby roads is a great little feature, making for easy creation of some pretty little neighborhoods. I’d love to spend more time with the road tools to really feel better about understanding them.
All in all, I really enjoyed the experience. It was a very early build, and a very short demo, but I am quite confident that the game will be a beautiful continuation of the series by the time we hit launch. I really hope we see a beta hit sometime soon, because I am itching to play some more SimCity. If you have any specific questions about things I did (or didn’t!) cover here, post them in the comments and I’ll try to answer as much as I can.