We chat with producer Kip Katsarelis about the latest new direction for Maxis’ city-building series.
Moments after we got to spend six glorious hours with SimCity, as detailed in the latest issue of FirstLook, we sat down with producer Kip Katsarelis to quiz him on Maxis’ beautiful new take on the beloved city-building series. Here’s how the first part of our conversation, concerning online play, sandbox mode, and gambling, went down.
GamerZines: The thing that makes SimCity so unique is that it’s quite a sedate yet imaginative experience, as you can do almost what ever you want in the city-building sandbox. The problem is that’s almost the antithesis of what a lot of developers and publishers think gamers want nowadays. Do you SimCity is throwback to the way games used to be?
Kip Katsarelis (producer for SimCity): This game is definitely a throwback and that was something we had to advocate for as being critical to SimCity. Luckily at Maxis, that’s what we do with The Sims. We know these are sandbox games that involve a lot of storytelling and creativity. If you look at what we did with Spore, it was kind of creativity unbounded and in this SimCity we wanted to have more of a game [feel]. There’s missions, achievements, leaderboards etc. – we brought more ‘game’ into it because we know we can do creativity. We know the sandbox is going to be there, so it was really kind of this delicate balance of satisfying all types of gamers, because this franchise brings so many different sorts of players together.
This is the first SimCity which has an online-all-the-time multiplayer component, are you employing some of the lessons you learned with Darkspore? That Maxis title had a similar online-all-the-time structure.
I think independent of Darkspore, Spore had an online component to it. Bringing SimCity online is a design decision which really opens up the way you think about the game and the way you’re going to play the game. There’s an element of the unknown to it, which I actually can’t wait to see when it gets out there with lots of people playing it. In SimCity you traditionally build up these cities and worlds in the bubble, but now the bubble has burst and you’re connected with other people.
Something we noticed during our hands-on is that it’s actually quite difficult to establish a goods-driven economy and harvest natural resources, but it’s really easy to go down the morally questionable road of just putting up lots casinos and going for the tourist dollar. What were the reasons behind that and is that any kind of comment on the way certain governments and institutions target the easy tax dime?
We did look at these real economies and model them in our own world. We definitely looked at the real world, but we wanted to add those elements, but we didn’t have our own political agenda or anything like that. This is the world around us – we put those controls in your hands and you decide the outcome.
So you wash your hands of what the player does? (Laughs)
Absolutely we just give you the tools! (laughs).
There’s a lot of different building designs in SimCity, even extending to realworld landmarks, but will you be adding to those offerings post-launch? The ability to build race tracks in-game would be something we’d really like!
I can’t really speak of any kind of post-release content. We’re just trying to get the game out of the door, but there’s lots of possibilities. With regards to an item creator, traditionally we create the tools for ourselves to use and then we’ll look at potentially opening up that toolset to the fans. Maxis has been traditionally really open to the modding community. We owe a lot to the modding community – we’ve started conversations with a lot of key community groups and we brought them in house and showed them the tools. We’re at the stage right now and we’re hopefuly of what the future may bring.
Obviously as soon as you bring a game online you kind of lose that sort of modding potential and cheats as well…
That’s why we have a Sandbox mode. That came up because the community wanted it! They told us, “We want our cheats” so we introduced sandbox mode which is a setting you toggle for your region. You won’t be able to compete for leaderboards and achievements, but you will be able to use your money cheats.
Do you there are certain features a SimCity title has to support in order to satisfy fans who have been part of the series since the beginning?
Definitely and the sandbox mode is the perfect example of that. I think there are somethings that the old school gamers don’t know they want yet and we’re going to introduce those elements to them, but our goal is again, we have a real broad audience and we want to satisfy the hardcore – that’s always been our intent. We want to give them a game that they love and that they want to play with for years to come, but then we know there’s a whole new market out there. A casual gaming audience that has been exposed to city builders to some degree and we want to give them an experience to come into. That’s why it’s a reboot of SimCity, as it’s a way to welcome these players by saying, “Don’t worry, come in and check this out. You’re going to love it!”
This is just the first part of our exclusive interview and we’ll have more thoughts from Kip tomorrow. Until then check out our extended preview of SimCity in the latest issue of FirstLook.
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