Cities Skylines: Sunset Harbor - title

I was starting to wonder if maybe Colossal Order was done with Cities: Skylines, or they had moved on to development of a full sequel. After releasing two expansions per year since the game's launch in 2015, we've now gone almost a year between expansions. The last one was the Campus expansion last May. Now here we are with a new Sunset Harbor expansion.

The announcement for this expansion (a mere week before its release) got my hopes up in a similar fashion to the Snowfall expansion. I thought that Sunset Harbor would add a slew of features that I had been longing for in the game for a long time. Sadly, Sunset Harbor disappointed me in much the same way that Snowfall's lack of a seasonal cycle and poor implementation of ski resorts did. Sunset Harbor lacks almost all of the things that I had hoped for, and it continues a trend of Skylines expansions that add new mechanics or content without revising or enhancing existing mechanics or content to utilize the new ideas.

Much like past expansions, Sunset Harbor neglects a lot of seemingly-obvious content.

When I saw the title of the expansion, I thought for sure that this would be the expansion that would finally introduce public beaches! No such luck. There's no public beach area. Sunset Harbor (despite having "harbor" in its title) does not introduce modular passenger and freight harbor areas, or upgrade harbors into a leveled industry like Industries did with agriculture, forestry, ore, and oil. I still can't daisy-chain my harbors to send shipping routes up rivers or canals, despite the fact that the existing passenger ferries and the new fishing industry can. It similarly doesn't convert tourism and leisure into leveled industry or commercial areas.

As always seems to be the case with Skylines expansions, I'm torn between whether I should review the expansion from the perspective of what it actually brings to the table, or from the perspective of failing to meet my own hopes and desires for what the expansion should be.

One of the things that was missing from Industries

Sunset Harbor does, however, check off a couple items from my wishlist. At long last, it has provided a desert biome map! As someone who lives in the American Pacific Southwest, I've long been frustrated by the inability to create a city that looks more like the familiar landscape of my own back yard. Now I finally can. Sadly, it's only one map, but the asset editor that's always been included in the game will allow me to make more if I want to, without having to resort to downloading mods that might destabilize the game.

I've long hoped for a desert biome to be added to the game.

The big feature of this expansion is also a feature that I thought was missing from the Industries expansion. I complained that Industries only added new infrastructure that replaced the existing agriculture, forestry, ore, and oil industries that have always been in the game, and didn't bother to add any new industries. Parklife, by comparison, added a couple new types of parks that hadn't been in the game before, including nature preserves and an amusement park. Personally, I thought that the most obvious option for a new industry to add to Industries would have been a fishing or aquaculture industry. Well, now we have a whole expansion that has added that one idea.

The new fishing industry doesn't follow suit with the Industries expansion industry areas, or the Campus university areas. You don't paint aquaculture areas and then grow them and level them up. There's no complicated production line or logistic element. The different types of fish that you can catch also don't do anything different. There's no fancy factories that consume specific types of fish (like a pizza factory that consumes anchovies), or that combine your fish with other types of fish (like a fish stick factory), or with other industry products to create a more valuable luxury good (like combining fish and seaweed with crops to make sushi).

Aquaculture does not level up or have production lines like other industrial sectors.

Instead, there's a handful of fishing harbors that act as resource-extractors, and then there's exactly two buildings that process or consume them. Your fishing harbors can either sell their fish to a market to be sold directly to consumers, or the raw fish (regardless of type) can be shipped to a factory that processes the fish and distributes them as generic goods to send out to commercial zones. In lieu of either the market or the factory, the fish will be exported to other cities for a small amount of money.

That's it! That's everything that fishing has to offer!

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Cities: Skylines - game title

In my last post, I pitched an idea for a new Cities Skylines expansion pack based off of an idea that Colossal Order had posted on its Twitter account. Today, I want to look at a couple of older tweets from Colossal Order that were intended to gauge player interest in some other mechanics and ideas. Those ideas are car wrecks and urban decay.

These concepts aren't as easy to "game-ify" and adapt to Cities Skylines current game mechanics when compared to the season and holiday ideas I pitched in the previous post. Car wrecks and urban decay are both going to require a bit more imagination to come up with ways that they would work within the game.

Colossal Order's Twitter account has apparently been fishing for new content ideas.

Car wrecks and road construction are a disaster!

One of the ideas that Colossal Order proposed in a tweet was the idea of car wrecks being a mechanic in Cities Skylines. Currently, the vehicle and pedestrian pathfinding systems will try to avoid collisions, but it's nowhere near perfect. If you zoom in close enough to any busy intersection and watch it for a while, you'll inevitably see a vehicle phase right through pedestrians or another vehicle. This is especially prominent when vehicles make a left-hand turn.

The game doesn't actually model collisions, however, so no matter how complicated, confusing, or difficult-to-navigate you might make an intersection or highway ramp, no one will ever get hurt or killed in a car wreck. This is a good thing, because if every collision did result in a wreck that would block traffic, traffic would simply never move in the game. I doubt that Colossal Order would ever implement such a feature, since it would probably be considered "in bad taste" by many people. It would also be very difficult to implement from a technical level, as it would require considerable changes to the pathfinding A.I., which would probably weaken the flow of traffic and/or completely tank the performance of the PC. Designing intersections that minimize wrecks would also need a lot more road customization tools!

Cars and pedestrians routinely pass through each other in any busy intersection of the game.

That being said, the idea of delays on the road got me thinking of another potential idea for the game: modeling road construction as a mechanic. I don't think I've ever played a city-building video game in which you had to wait for a road to be constructed before it can be used. Real road construction can often take months or years. Large highway projects can even take decades in real life. In the meantime, the city often has to designate detour routes and close off parts of roads at a time in order to allow access to businesses and homes.

This is a mechanic that seems like it would probably be too complicated to make work reliably, and be fun to play. You wouldn't get immediate feedback on whether your new highway would work, because you'd have to wait minutes or hours of real time (which would translate to weeks or months of simulated game time) for that highway to be constructed before your citizens would start using it. That would be terribly inconvenient.

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Cities: Skylines - game title

Here we are in December, and Colossal Order has yet to announce a second expansion for Cities Skylines since releasing the Campus expansion back in May. This will be the first year since the game's release that Colossal Order will only be releasing a single expansion. They have released some mini content packs, so there has been some new Skylines content -- just not a full-blown expansion.

Expansion titleOriginal release
After Dark coverAfter Dark24 September 2015
Snowfall coverSnowfall18 February 2016
Match DayMatch Day*9 June 2016
Natural Disasters coverNatural Disasters29 November 2016
Mass Transit coverMass Transit18 May 2017
ConcertsConcerts*17 August 2017
Green CitiesGreen Cities19 October 2017
ParklifeParklife24 May 2018
IndustriesIndustries23 October 2018
CampusCampus19 May 2019
* denotes a mini content pack, rather than full expansion.

But that doesn't mean that Colossal Order has abandoned the game. In fact, they've been very active on Twitter asking for people's opinions on what kind of new content we'd like to see. Most recently, they posted a tweet asking if we'd like to see buildings with seasonal holiday decorations (such as Christmas and Halloween). Earlier in the year, they also asked if we'd like to see mechanics for car wrecks or urban decay (among other propositions). Even though these ideas seem to have been positively received on Twitter, and lots of follow-up ideas were presented by commenters (including myself), no new expansion has been announced.

Colossal Order's Twitter account has apparently been fishing for new content ideas.

Though I wouldn't be surprised if Colossal Order announces an expansion before I'm able to finish writing and publish this blog post...

Personally, I've liked all the ideas that they've suggested, in principle. As you may know, I have some gripes with how Colossal Order has handled its expansions for Cities Skylines, so I would hope that any possible future expansion would try to resolve those lingering issues. So let's go through the ideas that Colossal Order has pitched on Twitter and see if they would be worthy of an expansion pack!

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Last week, just in time for the announcement (and release) of a new expansion for Cities: Skylines, I posted a video analysis on YouTube discussing what I perceive as weaknesses in the modular design philosophy behind Skylines' myriad expansion packs. The full video is available on YouTube (and embedded below), but I've also transcribed the text in blog form for those who may prefer reading over watching/listening.

The video is up on YouTube.

I want to start out by saying that I love Cities: Skylines. Skylines is -- without a doubt in my mind -- the single best city-builder since SimCity 4, which released in 2003 (over 15 years ago, as of the time of this recording). When I watched the first trailer for the game, in which the player apparently custom-builds freeway ramps and interchanges from scratch (at about 40 seconds into the trailer), I was sold on this game! After years of having to use boring, pre-fabricated stock on-ramps and interchanges, the little civil engineer withing me practically jizzed in his pants at the idea of being able to build my own highway ramps and interchanges! And there was no looking back.

Cities: Skylines gloriously succeeds where games like SimCity (2013) and Cities XL miserably failed. It picks up the mantle of the great SimCity games of yester-decade, and brings it into the 21st century with deep simulation based on agents, a sleek and modern UI, extensive customizability and moddability, and an attractive 3-D graphics engine. It's made all the more impressive by the fact that the game's developer, Colossal Order, is a small, independent studio that had something like nine people working for it when the game initially launched. And a company with all the manpower and resources of Electronic Arts only managed to produce a flop like SimCity 2013.

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Star Trek Ascendancy Borg expansion

One of the weaknesses of Star Trek: Ascendancy (in my opinion) is the simplicity and irrelevance of the game's "minor races". They just sit there waiting to be invaded or hegemonized. They don't even have ships in orbit to defend themselves from attack (or provide the Klingons with an opportunity for some easy culture). I had hoped that there'd be an expansion pack that would give at least the warp-capable civilizations a little bit of agency. Sadly, that hasn't happened yet, but Gale Force 9 has released an expansion that does add an NPC faction: the Borg.

How do Borg allocate damage between multiple fleets?

The Borg are not a player faction (like the excellent Cardassians or Ferengi expansions). The Borg are a non-player "A.I." entity that use a deck of cards to define their behavior. They act in opposition to every player in the game, and are intended to add some extra player-versus-board challenge. The Borg expansion also adds rules for solo and 2-player games, though I'm not terribly happy with how either of those variants plays.

The big problem is that the rules for the Borg cause a lot of confusion. The non-player element of the Borg creates a lot of strange edge cases that the rulesmakers just didn't seem to think through very thoroughly. Some rules leave the Borg's actions somewhat ambiguous, and there are no rules for determining how to resolve such situations. For example, if a Bog cube is battling multiple fleets belonging to the same player, how does it determine which fleet takes damage? We generally house-rule that the Borg attack the largest fleet first, and that the player who activated the cube decides any ties.

The enemy of all my enemies

The bigger problem, however, is that the Borg movement rules lead to considerable balance issues once the Borg are connected to one player, because that poor player now faces the brunt of the entire Borg Collective. Once the Borg have a path to any one player's systems or homeworld, the Borg will exclusively funnel all of their ships down that one path, since it's the only "connected" route available. The only way this will change is for the targeted player to go out of his or her way to try to create another, shorter path to one of the other players (essentially painting a huge target on that player's head). Or I guess one of the other players could accidentally create a shorter path while they're exploring, if they're dumb or not paying particularly close attention. In any case, the problem is that once the Borg become connected to any one player, the Borg stop exploring and looking for the other players, which randomly puts the single player in a disadvantaged defensive position while the other two players are free to build up without much threat of being targeted by the Borg.

Having the Borg in play gives further reason for players to cooperate.

The game tries to offset this by making it so that the Borg become more powerful if they assimilate any worlds (including warp-capable civilizations), or if they assimilate any one player. If your homeworld is assimilated by the Borg, you even get to take over as a Borg player, taking a whole extra Borg turn in which you get to influence how they behave. This is a fun and thematic way of allowing an eliminated player to continue to participate in the game and seek some degree of "revenge" against the other player.

The idea here is that the players shouldn't let the Borg concentrate on wiping out a single player, and we should all partially co-operate in order to keep the Borg in check. There is no actual co-operative victory, so you're only co-operating with each other to the ends of stalling the Borg long enough for you to achieve a victory, at the expense of the other players. There is no "defeating" the Borg.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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