SimCity Societies Interview (PC)
Strategy Informer: SimCity has traditionally explored and focused around the delicate financial planning of urban development, everything the player did or planned to do would have to be weighed up against the cities books. Will Societies continue the great battle for a budget in the black or has the heat been turned down? What about taxes?
EA: What makes Paris different from New York? The interesting differences aren’t in their tax structures. In SimCity Societies we encourage the players to think about a city as more than just taxes and bricks. We’ve introduced a new kind of currency: societal values that you must manage and plan around. We are dealing with the citizens, individual Sims and their happiness; money is however still critical in building your city – if Sims are not put to work, you will run in the red, etc...
Strategy Informer: One of the greatest moments of SimCity has always been to take a step back and see your creation organically evolve, neighbourhoods sprouting new homes, corporations building their mega towers – it showed the player that they were making good Mayoral choices. Will Societies be able to capture that feeling now that players can no longer zone?
EA: As with most things in SimCity Societies, the answer is ‘yes – but in a whole new way’. Let’s step back for a moment and think about zoning. Zoning implies a spectrum from primitive to developed. When a city becomes taller and more dense in a zoning system, the player could feel that the city was “better”. It can be a satisfying system, but it only operates along that one-dimensional spectrum. In SimCity Societies, you can take your city in many different directions. The game is non-judgmental. There are many ways to have a successful game experience. You can still be a benevolent Mayor acting in ways calculated to keep your people happy and your city coffers full. You can also be successful running a quiet agricultural community, where money flows in and out more slowly. And you can be successful running an Authoritarian regime, where you force people to continue working by brainwashing them. In that kind of free-wheeling creative environment, the preconceived idea of “progress” inherent in zoning would be limiting.
And yet, the city does indeed evolve and respond to your decisions. The more you push into a coherent and well-defined type of society, the more the city reflects your choices back to you. For example, in a spiritual city, more and more people will wear robes and walk about sedately. In an amusement-oriented city, you may see ecstatic Sims kicking up their heels as they jaunt about. The street lamps in an Authoritarian city sprout surveillance cameras. In an Industrial city they become spiky wrought-iron poles. There are a host of subtle and satisfying ways that the city reflects back at you the choices you make building it.
Strategy Informer: Transport had become a major challenge as well as a flaw at times, the community themselves sought many ways to fix these issues with a degree of success. Will public transport and infrastructure be playing as big a role or has the wild beast been tamed, or even neutered?
EA: Transit is important in SimCity Societies because this is an agent-based game. Your economy only functions well if the Sims can get where they are going in a timely manner. They wake up in their homes in the morning and go to work. If there is a nice fast road, or a bus or a subway to get them there, then they put in a full work day and that adds money to your coffers. But if it takes them too long to get to work and they arrive too late, they don’t get paid and your city sufferers. After work, they must again travel to whichever venues they have chosen to increase their happiness. If the city is not laid out efficiently and Sims spend too long walking or on slow roads, or in traffic, they won’t reach their venues during open hours. Sims deprived of exposure to venues get increasingly unhappy and won’t go to work. So regardless of the type of city you build, it behooves you to plan transit carefully.
Strategy Informer: SimCity 4 introduced regions and the trouble and fun that came along with neighbouring cities you put there yourself. Does Societies have room for a neighbour or two?
EA: Regions are indeed a lot of fun and could fit nicely into the SimCity Societies model. They are something we are thinking about for down the road.
Strategy Informer: Something that always surprised me was the quality of the music that would be accompanying Mayors along the way; a happy and diverse mix of scores. Can we all still hope for a tuneful ride?
EA: Music is always of paramount importance to us. In SimCity Societies in particular, we have strived to provide a range of music to complement the range of types of cities player will build. Music is one of the many components that adjusts depending on how your city is developing. We are proud to share that one of the composers on the game, Trevor Morris, recently won an Emmy for his work on the television show “The Tudors”.
Strategy Informer: Societies will be bringing the people closer to the forefront than ever what with the introduction of social energies. Other than aesthetically shaping a city they’ll also have a profound effect on the type of Sims who’ll be populating your urban sprawl. Is the challenge in balancing happiness with productivity or is there more to it than that?
EA: Keeping people happy enough to go to work is one of the key challenges in the game. Sims won’t go to work if they are angry. They don’t need to be happy, they only need to be content, actually, even sad is ok, to go to work – you can have a society of bored, even sad drones, and they will still work for you. Or you can have one where everyone is happy, happy, and they’ll work harder. How you meet that challenge depends on the kind of city you are ruling. Do you want to provide buildings that add a great deal to the people’s happiness, and strive for a very happy population? Or is their happiness of no inherent value to you, so you put in venues which tend to keep people at a middling level of being just content enough to go to work?
And if you are willing to be brutal enough about it, that even angry people can be forced to work. There are other pushbacks and challenges in the game, many of which vary depending on the kind of city you make. In an Industrial city, the venues which give the greatest bump to happiness may also introduce crime and drinking, which can reduce happiness and productivity. In a Romantic city, venues may produce Tourists, who take up valuable spots in other venues. They add to the city’s coffers, but they may lead to the workers not getting enough time at the venues themselves. Having an efficient way for your Sims to get from home to workplace to venue is always an important challenge.
Variety is the heart of this game. It is about making cities that are different visually, thematically, and functionally.
Strategy Informer: I’m the kind of gamer to walk on the darker side so enforcing something like obedience is right up my alley. Just how far can you push the social energies to their extremes? What types of bonuses and penalties will be incurred for that breed of relentless Mayor?
EA: Pushing to an extreme is a rewarding experience in SimCity Societies. There are plenty of opportunity to explore your inner Big Brother. Cities like yours tend to be unhappy places, however. You will have to be diligent with your enforcement, and invest in venues that give you the power to take the trouble-makers off the streets and keep the rest of the population docile and willing to work. For example, some of your people refuse to go to work. Another ruler may decide to placate them with a bowling alley or a tennis club. But not you! You put in a conditioning theatre… angry Sims walk in and content Sims walk out and go back to work. You spot a street performer, and take satisfaction from watching him be arrested by a Man in Black. Your people are so angry they are protesting. So you activate the Prisoner Acquisition ability on your Detention Center, incarcerating rogue Sims.
Strategy Informer: How excited has the team been working with one of the gaming industries most memorable franchises of all time? Did it take a while to get your heads around the challenge?
EA: As a team of dedicated city-builders, of course the team was excited to be working on SimCity. The first one, back in 1989, basically invented the genre. Even more exciting was to be part of a genuinely innovative approach to the game. We wanted to get to the heart of what makes one city different from another at a fundamental level. We wanted to make a city building game system that was eminently modular – literally 500+ buildings that players can put together in almost unlimited configurations. Figuring out how to achieve that was the hard part to get our heads around, but I think the end results speak for themselves.