For more than two decades, Will Wright’s city-building simulator has sworn in millions of virtual mayors around the world. The SimCity franchise has sold over 30 million copies worldwide. With its return in 2013, SimCity will engage an entirely new generation of PC gamers as they take charge of their own customized cities and build a world that co-exists alongside friends. Jason Haber, producer on SimCity at Electronic Arts’ Maxis Emeryville, talks about what’s in store for PC gamers in this exclusive Gamescom 2012 interview.
Game On: For someone who has a high-end PC, how much visual detail will be in this game?
Jason Haber: We’ve actually shown a lot of the gameplay and the actual footage in our trailers. It’s the detail that you can really zoom in and see those Sims walking around, or see things moving around. The tilt shift effect also makes the game look absolutely beautiful. There’s also the ability to see the activity during day and night. All of those are great things that you can see in the game.
What were your goals heading into this SimCity?
JH: Our goals in SimCity were to bring a SimCity like we’ve never had before by taking advantage of the new GlassBox simulation engine and the technology that allows us to run that and to bring the game to the online experience. Whether you’re playing solo or with other people, you’re playing in a bigger region and we wanted to bring that experience to players.
Can you talk a little bit about how the evolution of technology has opened things up for the team creatively?
JH: Ever since SimCity 4, we’ve wanted to create a SimCity like this. But because of computers back then weren’t quite powerful enough, we weren’t able to do it. Also, the advent of the online connected user has allowed us to create that connected experience we’ve been looking for.
How much depth is in this game from a micro management perspective?
JH: With GlassBox you can really go down to the street level and look at every Sim and every car that’s going by and see what they’re doing. You can even look into their thoughts and see what they’re thinking about or see where they’re going. You’ll be able to see that level of detail. We’ve also taken all the data of GlassBox and allowed you to strip back the graphics and look at data layers that tell you what’s going on in the game. It could be a map showing you where the water is located or it could be a bar graph showing you where the population lives. That allows you to analyze what’s happening and plan your next actions.
How have you designed this game for the core player, but opened it up for the more mainstream player?
JH: The data layer really helps make that data more accessible so for those everyday players, they’ll be able to look at that information and understand what is happening. But for the hardcore player, they’re going to really be able to learn how GlassBox is working and learn how to work with that best.
Can you give us a sense of how far things have come technology-wise from the last SimCity to this one?
JH: One of the big things is that now the game is in full 3D. You can go in and rotate the camera with this beautiful tilt shift effect, which has created this beautiful model-like world. That’s something that we couldn’t do with SimCity 4, which was a fixed perspective. There’s no way SimCity 4 could have run that engine because it’s very powerful and takes a lot of processing power. Our specs are listed on Sim City.com so you can go see what kind of machine you need to run it and that’s really brought it to a new level.
How big can you make your city in this game?
JH: Well, the city size is comparable to the medium-sized city in SimCity 4. Then you’ll just be able to build up from there. We allow players to play the whole region, so they can create a giant region of activity and interaction.
Can you explain what role pollution and the environment play in this game?
JH: As with any SimCity, you can be whatever type of mayor you want to be, so you don’t necessarily be eco-friendly to win the game. There’s no wining state. You can play however you want. In fact, we even have leader boards for being the most polluted city because we know people like to play that way. There are resources in the game that you have to be aware of including like water and coal and other things like that that live under the ground. Those will get depleted over time and some of those will convert into other things like air pollution and ground pollution. You need to be aware of those when you’re building your city, not just for your own city but for other cities within the region.
How have you guys seen the actual simulation genre expand since the last SimCity game?
JH: That’s a good question; I’m not quite sure how to answer that. It’s grown over the last 10 years, so there have been a lot of evolutions. We look at other simulation games and see what they’ve been doing and there’s learning from every game out there.
What are you most excited about when it comes to the release of the new SimCity?
JH: The online connected experience and seeing what it is like to have a city that’s in the bigger picture of a region is going to really bring a new experience to SimCity. It’s similar to the real world. I’m from the Bay Area, where we have San Francisco and Oakland. It’s interesting because the decisions they make affect each other. Bringing in that element to SimCity, we’ve really expanded that world of what it’s like to be a mayor and creating that city. It makes that city building simulation more robust.