We’ve got a gusher!

I’m irrationally excited about the new SimCity game.

Under normal circumstances, just the announcement of an XCOM game by Firaxis would be proof enough that we’re living in a Golden Age. But I’m even more looking forward to the new SimCity.

I won’t even try to pretend that I’m taking a wait-and-see approach with this game. You can slap “SimCity” on just about anything and it’s an instant buy for me. But what elevates this one from inevitable begrudging purchase to genuine anticipation is the news from GDC about the underlying simulation engine:

Working on SimCity 4 didn’t give me any insider knowledge of the new game, but it has made me more excited. Because I can say at the risk of coming across as gushing that Ocean Quigley, Andrew Willmott, and Lucy Bradshaw are three of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I’ve got every confidence that they get why SimCity works and what makes it appealing. And a lot of the ideas going into the new version are ones that came up as “wouldn’t it be great if we could…?” ideas while making the last game. One example: ploppable buildings that have influence on their surrounding neighborhoods beyond the usual fire protection/crime layer.

During the development of SimCity 4, Andrew made a scriptable effects engine for particle effects like fires, fireworks, flocks of birds, and so on. As I understand, it was originally intended to be a straightforward, lightweight particle system. Then Ocean got a hold of it, and he worked with Andrew to expand its functionality with events, triggers, probabilities, and so on. By the end, it was able to do all kinds of amazing things — all of the aircraft and watercraft, and their trails and wakes, were done with the effects system instead of the automata system — without turning into an impossibly complex system and without taking too much computational time. The thought of that philosophy driving the entire simulation sounds fantastic.

(Incidentally I’d be more than happy to travel to Emeryville and provide crucial playtesting and feedback. Call or email me. Soon).

SimCity 3000 is the first game that I literally spent an entire day playing. I’ve gotten obsessive over games since, but no other game series has become as much of a compulsion for me as SimCity. Any time I get a window seat on a plane, or whenever I drive through an industrial part of a city, I get this need to play SimCity again. The most telling part of all the info so far is Andrew’s comment that they’re going for the fun and accessibility of SimCity 2000 combined with the complexity of the later versions. It’s going to be a long wait until 2013.