It’s been ten years since SimCity 4 hit PCs across the globe, allowing gamers to delve into its simulation fun. Now, Maxis have their rebooted wonder, simply titled SimCity ready to kick things back into gear. To help promote the game, Maxis producer Jason Haber visited our shore for a chat, so we sat him down to talk about the current state of PC gaming, why re-introduce the series now and just what he thought of the infamous SimCity Societies.
Why now to try and reboot the SimCity franchise?
[laughs] I’m laughing because I get that question a lot. You know one of the reasons we waited so long to reboot this SimCity was that we wanted to make sure the technology was there. Be able to have the GlassBox simulation engine so we could simulate everything in the game. And also we wanted to make sure we were online connected because we really wanted that multicity experience to be the core of this SimCity. So Andrew Willmott who is the chief architect and Ocean Quigley who is our creative director, after SimCity 4 had the idea for the GlassBox engine but they couldn’t really do it then. So after they finished Spore, the head of our studio was like ‘Ok guys, go and try to make GlassBox engine and see what happens.’ So they put it together and it started working great so they were like ok let’s build SimCity on it. People have more powerful computers and people are online and we actually have time to do what we want to do, so that’s one of the reasons we waited so long.
One of your lead designers, Stone Librande, was quoted as saying “one of the first things I really felt, if we were going to make the first SimCity, it had to be multiplayer.” It was a view apparently shared by the team. Are you able to elaborate on that statement?
Yes, so I think part of the motivation behind that – and it is something the team shared with him – is the idea that cities don’t exist just in a bubble alone. They actually influence each other and live together in the real world. So for instance, I live in the bay area and there are a lot of cities there. There’s San Francisco, across the bridge is Oakland, Berkley and all the things that happen in each of those cities, they have to think how the other cities will respond or how that will affect them. And I think part of real city simulation is you need to take that into account and make that part of the experience.
Many see SimCity Societies as the series’ misstep. What do you think of that analysis and did you guys learn anything from it?
You know I’m someone who thinks every game has something to learn from it. I think threes things to learn from SimCity Societies as well; I can’t think of anything specifically, but I think there are people who [whispers] enjoy that game.
Are you a fan of it?
[laughs] I’m a fan of all the SimCitys.
As a franchise from the 90’s, how do you try and stay relevant with the new age gamer? Is there any fear?
I think having this sort of refreshed game and rebuilding it from the ground up will make us more relevant with today’s gamer. It’s funny actually, because I think people who are really itching for a game like this. Everybody I’ve talked to is so excited about it. I think part of it is that it’s nice to have something that’s different to everything that’s out there. Having a triple-A city simulation game from the original city simulation team is just something that is right for that. And I think bringing in the features, not just the GlassBox simulation engine which is a new twist on it, but also bringing in the SimCity world features and multicity features really help it feel more relevant and modern. And even the Data Layers, I think the Data Layers really help with the sense of a new way to analyse data. I see info-graphics all the time; I see them not only in the newspaper but online and I think being able to take that and bring that into a game really feels fresh and different
How do you tread the line between making a game somewhat realistic with disaster management and planning your resources while still making it fun?
That’s a great question. I think our number one goal is to make a fun game, so while we do want to reflect the real world and make it feel as realistic as possible where we can, it’s gotta be fun. Because if it’s not a fun game, you have a different thing. You have a city simulator that’s not necessarily a fun city simulator. But our designers do a lot of research into how real civil planning works, how you would actually build a real city and usually base it around whatever system they’re working on, whether it be transportation or even sewerage or water management. And you use that as a basis for ‘alright let’s look at how this works in the real world and lets think about how this translates to the game world.’
Speaking of the depth of the systems, do you fear newcomers will be overwhelmed?
I think it’s presented in a really easy to access way. It’s a difficult thing to do to make something both accessible and have depth but I think we’ve done it really well and I think Data Layers really make the big difference there in that you can bring up a Data Layer and sort of get a high levelof ‘things are good here’ or ‘things are bad here’ and this whatever system I’m looking at. Then for those players that want more depth they can really dig in and figure out what’s going on and exactly what they need to do to respond. So there’s a challenge there but we’ve struck a good balance there.
As a premier PC title, perfectly suited for the medium, what is your response to all the people that like to claim that PC gaming is ‘the way of the past’ in favour of more mass market consoles and mobile devices?
I do not think PC gaming is dead. People still own PCs and I think this is one of the greatest PC games you’ll ever be able to have. So I completely disagree with that statement.
SimCity will be released for PC in March.