Monthly Archives: March 2013

Whats (Still) Broken in SimCity 5

So after playing the new SimCity for about 20 hours this week (Spring Break, wooo!). I wrote down a list of all the things I found that are still broken in the current version (V 1.8 as of this writing) of SC.

1. Using “Agents” for utilities like water, power and sewer is an incredibly stupid idea. Just use connectivity and capacity checks. This causes all kinds of odd problems – when power is being restored to a city, those “agents” can cause it to take multiple game hours to get an entire city re-powered.

2. Water pumping stations deplete groundwater and such a ridiculous rate, its almost a farce to have them. I got maybe a year or two out of my first ground water pumping station – I placed it in a dark blue area near a river to start, and I only expanded it to three tanks. Even when you shut the station, the groundwater aquifer doesn’t seem to replenish itself, it just stays dry.

3. Sometimes, when resuming my city, the entire power grid would be empty, and the city would have to “refill” the grid with agents. This was a problem if I was close or at my capacity, as people would start to have outages as the grid refilled with agents.

4. Intercity trading & gifting can be weird – I gifted another one of my cities a bunch of money, and it took a long time for it to show up in the new city. Likewise, trading water and power can be dangerous because the city you’re drawing from might suddenly not have the capacity you need for some strange reason.

5. Unreliable coal deliveries via truck can hurt your city tremendously. If you have only one way into your city via highway on-ramps, if they are jammed, the coal delivery wont show up. There is a way to import by rail using a trade port, but its not intuitive or available early.

6. When a hazmat fire occurs, sometimes your own Hazmat fire trucks refuse to respond. I don’t know why not, it seems that if there aren’t any Hazmat fire trucks at the closest fire station they wont respond at all, even if they’re the only Hazmat trucks in the entire city.

7. Overly simplistic rules about how to import/export goods. Right now its just “local-only”, “import” and “export”. It needs to allow for “local use but export surplus” – for example, if I need 36 tons of alloy for my processor factory each day, and I’m producing 48 tons, then I should export 12 tons a day.

8. No way to turn off disasters without turning on cheats (sand box mode). I’d rather have disasters turned off and cheats turned off. That seems to make the most sense to me.

9. Routing intelligence for some types of vehicles is atrocious. I mean really really bad. Most notably, busses (both city and school), as well as garbage and recycling trucks. RIght now I have a city full of recycling bins waiting to be collected and 16 recycling pick-up trucks driving around the city between 25 and 50% full, and yet they don’t bother to pick up any more recyclables. It is infuriating when I see a truck that is empty or mostly empty drive by a bunch of places that it could do pick-ups at, and then the citizens turn around and complain about too much garbage. Same goes with city busses that aren’t full yet drive by other bus stops.

10. Recycling is picked up during the day, but if you max out your recycling plant, you might find out that overnight you run out of raw materials. I think they need to tweak the maximum storage capacity of the facility.

11. Random errors when it comes to water and sewage when you’re sharing that resource, specifically sewage. I get errors a lot about backed up sewer pipes even though my sewage treatment plant has more than enough capacity.

12. Game balance – once I built a processor plant, as long as I kept it supplied with resources, I was making half a million dollars a month easy, if not more. Money was no longer an issue at that point. I could lower taxes dramatically and have really happy citizens.

That’s it for now. Hopefully all of these issues get remedied over the next few months. Maxis made a bunch of quick patches initially to the game over the first two weeks of release, but hasn’t released any patches since then.

Edit: April 2, 2013 – More things!

13. The counts for garbage and recycling pick-up don’t seem reliable. I had my garbage trucks completely clear the city of garbage per the data overlay, and yet the game said I only had picked up about half of the trash cans from a numbers point of view.

Quick thoughts on the new SimCity

I played the new SimCity during all three betas (two open and one closed). I really enjoyed it, even if there are a few missing pieces (subways, freight rail depots). But it was clear skies and smooth sailing because of the lack of server load problems. I haven’t touched the game since it was released to the public.

Clearly, the current server issues this week are EA’s fault. They held a closed beta to do server load testing, but for some crazy reason they did it on a Wednesday night. Had they held it for 5-6 hours on a Saturday, they would have had a more realistic load on the servers.

But why the need for servers? Everyone complains its a DRM (copy protection) issue. I think DRM is just a side effect of the whole cloud gaming issue. As an MBA student, I think I have a bit better clarity now (compared to a few years ago) as to where EA is going with this…

The first step is to do a small amount of offloading to the server to handle regional issues – trading between cities. To manage collective resources like minerals, power, water, clear air, etc. This is what the new SimCity has implemented, albeit very poorly (courtesy @DrPizza). The issue is that if you’re going to have in-game trading, you’re going to need to make sure that people aren’t using client-side cheats. Something as simple as storing the games on the server can help dramatically with that. (if you’re wondering why EA would care if people cheat in multiplayer, just hold on a second…)

It turns out that the UI (but not the graphics engine) is written in JavaScript and running on a custom version of WebKit (the browser engine behind Safari and Google Chrome). Presumably they could scale down the graphics engine and run it in an WebGL instance if they desired. The upside of this is they cane make the UI work on both the PC and Mac platform without having to re-engineer it for each set of APIs.

The next step is to do more and more processing and simulation of the game in the cloud. They may release this under the guise of allowing people with older computers to simulate larger cities, but ostensibly the goal is to turn your computer into a thin client for gaming in the cloud. You city is always running, but at a much slower speed when you’re not actively managing it. Given the sever issues, this aspect might be delayed for a while, until they can tune-up their code and host more people per server.

Once SimCity is a thin client, your computer doesn’t need a lot of CPU power to run. The final step is to put SimCity in your pocket. To put it on your iPhone or Android device. Why?

Micro-transactions.

SimCity becomes less like SimCity and more like Cityville. Need more power? If you cant get any more from your neighbors, you can buy 100MW of power for the next seven days for 99 cents. This is why things need to be run server side – if you could cheat, it would be impossible to monetize.

Running all those servers isn’t free, and the $60 you pay up front isn’t likely enough to keep them running for 5-10 years. At some point they’ll need to come up with a way to monetize the user base. Personally, if I am still playing it in a few years (which is likely) then I’d just pay by the month or year as a subscription instead of being nickeled and dimed to death. But I expect that I’m one of the few – many more will likely be inclined to go the micro-transaction route just because it seems cheaper.

I’m not endorsing this plan of action I’ve outlined above. I’m just saying that this is what seems likely to me going forward.