‘A Sandbox for Years to Come’ | SimCity Interview – Part 2

Published on February 28th, 2013

Today we ask producer Kip Katsarelis about technology constraints and that one-hour only beta client.

Mere minutes after we put through its paces last month we sat down with producer Kip Katsarelis to talk frankly about the ambitious reboot. Here’s the second part of the surprisingly frank discussion. Today we talk about city scope, the limitations of the GlassBox Engine and the thought process behind the one-hour beta.

GamerZines: Before we sat down to play SimCity you actually advised us to forget all that we had learned from the previous games in the series and just treat it as a brand new entity. Is that something you’d recommend to all gamers?

A Sandbox for Years to Come | SimCity Interview   Part 2

"You have fifteen seconds to comply!"

Kip Katsarelis (producer, SimCity): Yeah definitely.  We bring in hardcore community folks that are still playing SimCity 4 today to play this version and they say, “Oh I can’t control zone density, where’s the zone density tool?” No here it’s in the roads. Our system uses the same levers, but you need to think about it a bit differently. There are things that look familiar, but SimCity 2013 is actually quite different. We didn’t want to just go and create the game that people had been playing for 10 years, we want to look at it in a different way and improve that formula. This is a much more robust and playful SimCity which actually has more game to it. Players have to open their mind to something a little bit new and familiar at the same time.

With the new Glassbox Engine the cities seem much smaller than those possible in the previous SimCity, but the regions themselves are much larger allowing players to establish multiple cities at a time. These sites still leave a lot of green space between cities, was there ever any plans to fill up that space?

A Sandbox for Years to Come | SimCity Interview   Part 2

Thankfully the need to lay down individual piping has been removed in this SimCity, instead all sewage, water and energy baubles follow the road layout.

The city size constraint is a design decision. We do have some technical limitations obviously with Glassbox and what we’re simulating with regards to detail, but having a city where you’re land mass is constrained also makes you – as the mayor of your city and your region – come to deliberate choices about what’s going in that city. I always refer to the Diablo backpack, Blizzard made a choice that you only get ‘this much’ space in there, and when you make those decisions and make something great in those constraints you feel a greater feeling of accomplishment. It was really important to us to bring that to the game. There are some issues with rendering that second city and how close it can get, but there are some regions that have cities that are a little closer.

There is that initial hurdle with player understanding when you establish a second city in a region. As you enjoy being given this new piece of land to interact with, but at the same time it’s easy to wonder, ‘What’s going on with that first city I built?’

Yeah, so basically the cities you aren’t looking at enter a pause state in any given region. We have certain information about the city, so if it was providing power or water we know that it’s providing whatever amount and until you go interact with it again the city will continue to operate that way.

Okay this is our last question, why did Maxis and EA decided to limit the SimCity beta to just one hour’s worth of gametime?

A Sandbox for Years to Come | SimCity Interview   Part 2

Meteors are just one of SimCity's trademark disasters. Our personal favourite is a giant fire-breathing lizard who may or may not be called Ed.

It gave us a narrow band to test a full slice of the game which included all the important pieces we needed to test on our end, and it also gave players a taste of the game to really experience. I think it was a win-win, giving gamers this bite-sized experience is a right approach to introduce them to the game.

To read more about SimCity check out the latest issue of FirstLook available below. We put the game through its paces for six glorious hours and pen our thoughts in an extended preview.

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