Justin’s Note: SimCity is a front-page issue in gaming at the moment. While I have my own set of opinions, I’m not the expert. For that, I defer to Kristian Brogger. During our days at Game Informer, he was the PC editor (and foremost Big Lebowski quoter). So when he wanted to shoot on SimCity, I was more than happy to give him a soapbox. Please to enjoy.
SimCity 2013 by Kristian Brogger
Much of what has already been said in the media and on various review sites about SimCity 2013 is accurate. Yes, the server problems and EA’s DRM-stubbornness are handicapping the game. Yes, the game is fundamentally flawed on a conceptual level in its forced-multiplayer execution and its scope. Yes, the game is a heartbreaking departure from a consistently successful and innovative formula that built one of the most revered and respected franchises in the history of interactive entertainment. With that said, I’m not interested in taking this title through its paces from a feature perspective. You’ve read about that already on various and sundry media outlets. I’m more interested in talking about what brought us to this point.
SimCity 2013 was – in my mind – one of the easiest and most interesting development projects to come down the pike in a decade. By “easy” I mean this: The Maxis team was handed a tried-and-true game formula on a golden platter along with millions of devoted followers who, by the way, consist of both men and women, young and old, from every ethnicity and walk of life. If ever there was a recipe for success, this was it.
SC 2013 most likely looked amazing on paper during the idea phase of development. I think it probably pitched even better, and the higher-ups over at Maxis and EA started slapping each other on the back talking about how their game will “change everything.” Then actual development started. Soon, grand plans were trimmed to manageable expectations, which were in turn trimmed to address reality.
No one had the guts or talent or authority to tell SC 2013’s creative leads, “No. You’ve lost sight of what SimCity is on a foundational level.” George Lucas’s and Steven Spielberg‘s (Lucas’s to a larger extent) recent work has exhibited similar problems. The thinking behind SC 2013 is the same kind of thinking that gave us Jar Jar Binks and atomic bomb-proof refrigerators.
The game is a prisoner of its own myopic creation, mindlessly and endlessly pacing up and down the length of a cage it built for itself.
Do I think SC 2013’s creators wanted this game to be something spectacular? Absolutely. There’s no maliciousness here. There’s lack of vision. There’s lack of common sense.
With that said, it’s a valid and reasonable point to say, “But this game isn’t called SimCity 5 for a reason. It isn’t SimCity 5. It’s a re-imagining and re-engineering of the entire genre.” Okay. I can get on-board with that. It’s logical, but it’s not sensible. If that’s your position then the product released should have been called something else. If the game were called something else, there would have been no reasonable expectation by the series’ userbase that the game was going to follow the basic genetic structure and function to which its decades-long lineage pointed.
“How can you say that?” you may ask. “The game has almost everything all the others did: You build roads, add zones, place municipal services, and try to keep your citizens happy. It’s called SimCity because that’s what SimCity is!” I disagree. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t in one breath say this isn’t SimCity 5, then in the next proclaim it’s still a SimCity game. It is a Sim game of some kind, I will grant you that. It is a Sim game that includes some of the same mechanics as all the previous SimCity games, but city simulation is not at the core of SC 2013. Let me say that again, because I think it’s an important distinction: City simulation is not the point of SC 2013. Online interaction and competition is the core of SC 2013. The game was built with this in mind from the very beginning.
SC 2013 can’t be “fixed,” per se, because the game was built broken in the first place. Yes, some of its mechanics will be tweaked and optimized — traffic, population, etc. But there will never be a moment when the SimCity userbase says, “Now that they’ve fixed [insert problem here], everything is okay.”
Much like the brain trust over at Coca-Cola once thought it knew better than its customers what its customers wanted and thus created New Coke, so too goes SimCity 2013.