SimCity, also known as SimCity 5 and SimCity 2013, has crashed & burned. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s take a look. I’ll begin with the lesser important ones first and build up to the big issues further down.
1. PC license compatible with Mac? Yes? No? Maybe? Don’t know?
You can buy SimCity through Origin, which is like Steam (but worse). Origin also recently launched a Mac client. Apparently some games that you purchase through Origin, are attached to your Origin ID, so it doesn’t matter if you play them on Windows (PC) or Mac – you have a license, you get to play. But for SimCity, nobody knows what it’s going to be.
First, everybody thought SimCity for Mac would come in the beginning of March together with the PC version, but soon before the launch date, Maxis/EA announced that the Mac version would come in Spring 2013. So lots of users were left wondering “if I buy it now and play it on a PC, can I use the same license on my Mac later?”. If you ask @askeasupport on Twitter, they will just tell you that Maxis has not confirmed it yet. If you ask an EA live chat advisor, they will tell you either “no” or “yes”, depending on who you ask.
I was told “yes”, so I have a chat transcript that proves I have acted in good faith, when buying the PC version first, and hoping to get the Mac license later. SimCity does run on my Mac via Parallels, but it’s not super great. You have to lower the graphics settings a bit to get a smooth experience. Gameplay remains the same though, which unfortunately means, it’s buggy (more on that below), but hopefully it will be fixed soon.
2. Server issues – even after a 1.5 week, still!
Maxix/EA heavily underestimated how many would buy, apparently. When the game first launched in USA on March 5th (came to Europe a few days later, and United Kingdom a day after that), only few people could actually get in on the servers to play. Why do you need servers, you ask? Well, Maxis/EA thought they would make the DRM (Digital Rights Management) an “always-on” option, so if you don’t have Internet, you can’t play SimCity 5…
Also, Maxis’s Lucy Bradshaw claims that the servers does some of the processing. Something a Maxis developer has leaked is not the case. Who to believe, the suit controlled by EA or the developer working on the game….?
Maxis/EA responded rather quickly to fix the server issues, by disabling stuff like leaderboards and the (rather important) “cheetah” speed, because it puts more load on the servers. None of these are back up and running yet, even it’s been 1.5 weeks since launch. So far, we have seen patches 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 and 1.5 released in just 1.5 weeks, so Maxis is at least trying to fix things. The patches have improved servers – and of course it also helps that Maxis has added a lot of extra servers all over the world (I believe they are up to over 20 servers now), but it’s still not there yet. So called “regional syncing” is still very slow and sometimes it seems to be non-existent. This is a problem if one of your cities depends on electricity from a neighbor, but the region doesn’t properly report how much electricity is available for you to buy, and same goes for other services like sewage, garbage trucks, and so on. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
3. The map sizes
We knew this before launch and it still sucks. The only map size in SimCity 5, is what is known as “medium” from SimCity 4, basically a 2 x 2 km square (4 square kilometers). It doesn’t take you very long to fill it up entirely, and after that you can’t expand on the ground – you can only expand up, by increasing the density of your buildings (skyscrapers and such). However, you can make more cities in the same region, so you can switch between them, but you can’t have one really big city, like in previous version of SimCities.
One of the developers did hint though, that bigger maps might be a possibility in the future. So I’m hoping they will release DLC (downloadable content) later, which unlocks bigger maps and hopefully will also give us one-way streets and maybe even subways also (yes, subways are gone in SimCity 5). The DLC will not be free, of course. Let’s hope it will be offered at a reasonable cost.
4. Path finding & traffic issues
The so called “agents” in SimCity, the ones that decide where cars will go, really sucks. One not-so-big-deal is the fact that Sims doesn’t live in the same house, or work at the same workplace. They live, and work, at the first available house/job they can find when they are out driving – and next day, it starts over.
More important, is how the path finding works. For example busses, they drive around following each other, like you can see on my screenshot below – not very effective at picking up passengers:
Also, all emergency vehicles seems to respect a red light, so they just sit there waiting for a green light. Where in the world does that ever happen?!
And to better explain the path finding issue, have a look at the video below. The problem is that the Sims are stupid (retarded, actually), and they will cause huge traffic jams (gridlock) because they drive around much more than they need to.
In its current state, DO NOT BUY SIMCITY! I have already wasted 30 hours with this game, because I’m so addicted to city building, but every time the city reaches a certain size, traffic kills it because of the stupid path finding AI, not to mention regional trade issues and the global market prices that never fluctuates as it’s supposed to, so everything just doesn’t run as advertised. Far from it. At least the servers are much more accessible now and you can usually always get into a game and play, just don’t expect regional trade to work, so you are mostly stuck with all of your cities “standalone”-style.
To make up for all the launch issues around SimCity, Maxis/EA has promised their customers a free EA PC game from the Origin catalog, which they will announce more about on March 18th.
Also you should note that Maxis made it so that Sims doesn’t actually own a house or work at the same place. Instead, each day they go to the first available job opening – shortest path possible – and work there, and same when they go to a house in the evening. That’s okay with me, but it kinda ruins the idea of “investing interesting in Sims lives”, when they actually begin a new life every day.
However, there’s a lot of potential in SimCity 5 (unless you share the views of this guy), and I’m sure that once the bugs are ironed out and path finding has improved, the game will actually be quite enjoying and I’m looking forward to spend another 30 hours in it once the fixes are applied – until then, I don’t really want to bother.
Finally, if you want to keep up with the Simcity developers from Maxis, on Twitter, I have published a Twitter list containing all of the Maxis people I could find, that are somehow related to SimCity. A few of them are quite active.
UPDATE – March 15th 2013
Good news, just before publishing this article, Maxis’s Lead Gameplay Scripter, Guillaume Pierre, has posted a tweet containing a youtube video:
I’ve been playing with new congestion avoidance tuning in @simcity today, what do you guys think?
Here’s the video – it does look like the path finding has improved quite a bit. Let’s hope to see that in a patch update soon!
Another piece of good news, Lead Designer, Stone Librande, just published a blog post on SimCity’s website also explaining path finding and saying they will tune it.