Cities: Skylines: Snowfall

I described Cities: Skylines' first expansion, After Dark, as " just tak[ing] the Cities: Skylines canvas, and offer[ing] the player a few more colors to optionally paint with." That expansion didn't really do much to change the way that the game is really played, but rather just focused on adding further specialization options for any city that you care to build. I wasn't too upset because the core game is still a phenomenal foundation to build upon, and the expansion just gave us more to play with within that same phenomenal foundation. Snowfall, however, is even more narrow in scope. It offers one new color to paint with, and that color is white.

I got really excited when I loaded up Steam and saw the title of the new expansion. I had written a wishlist blog in which I specifically asked for the next expansion to offer seasonal weather changes and more recreational and transportation specializations suited to those different seasons. On the surface, Snowfall seemed to provide that. There's now a winter, and snow, and you can build a specialized winter wonderland. But that's the extent of what this expansion provides, and that's disappointing.

Snowfall doesn't provide a full season system or any real changes to the game's core economic loop. Instead, it has a few snowy, winter-themed maps in which you can build snow-themed cities. Those winter maps are always snowy, and the non-winter maps are never snowy (although they can see occasional rain and fog). Note: I'm going to get real tired of saying "non-winter maps", so henceforth, for the sake of simplicity, I will refer to them as "summer maps", even though summer isn't really a thing (yet). Your city doesn't progress from springing to summer to autumn to winter (or even just from summer to winter) and then back again, and you don't have to manage your economy so as to maximize profits during your tourist season and find a way to maintain employment and revenue during the off season. Depending on which map you select, it's either always winter, or it's always summer.

I complained about After Dark feeling like I had to go out of my way in order to use the expansions new features and specializations, but at least those features and specializations were available in all cities, and they could be applied to my existing cities from before the expansion. You have to go so far out of your way to use the Snowfall features that you have to start a whole new game on a specific subset of maps. It makes After Dark look like a broad game-changing expansion by comparison.

Cities: Skylines: Snowfall - snow maps
Only maps designated as "winter" maps will have snowfall, and they aren't very different from existing maps.

Disconnected from reality

The actual functionality of some of these winter buildings is also questionable. One of the first snow buildings that you'll unlock is the "snow dump", which is a landfill for snow. Snow plows in this game will drive around the city similar to garbage trucks, actually collecting the snow off the streets, and then taking them back to the snow dump building, which (according to its description) melts down the snow to make room for more snow. It seems like they just took the garbage truck functionality and copy-pasted it to apply to snow, only without the need for a separate incinerator building.

Cities: Skylines: Snowfall - plowing snow
Snow can slow traffic and must be plowed.

The really weird thing is that there is also a new general road maintenance office that keeps the roads in good repair and traffic flowing smoothly. If you don't bother to build the road maintenance office, or build the snow dump or plow the snow, it will slow down your roads and eventually make them unusable. Why did these need to be two buildings? Why couldn't the road maintenance office also be the depot for snow plows?

And then there's the ski buildings, which also don't seem to work in any way comparable to real life. The ski resort is an artificial ramp that you build on flat ground. Again, that's not really how ski resorts work. Typically, a ski resort would be built high up on a mountain, where there's a natural slope and a lot of snow. The game does include a separate ski lodge building, which you could build up in a mountain, but it wouldn't work all that well. It seems to me that the Ski Resort shouldn't be a ramp, it should just be the ski lift that you build on inclined terrain, and the Ski Lodge should be built nearby and should enhance the functionality of the resort. In fact, the new snow maps don't even include mountainous terrain on which to build a more realistic ski resort and lodge. So this all seems to be a result of the game's underlying framework not having very good support for building on slopes, and Colossal Order didn't bother to design a system to allow such niche buildings like a ski resort to be built on a slope.

I may live in a desert, but I'm pretty sure that this isn't how snow plowing or ski resorts are supposed to work...

Look, I live in the desert of Las Vegas, where it was 80 degrees by mid-February, and air conditioning is not an "option" for a car. Maybe it's not my place to tell a development team in Finland how ski resorts and snow plowing are supposed to work, but I'm pretty sure that this isn't how ski resorts and snow plows work!

Don't get me wrong, these buildings are all functional, and they all work within the game's existing mechanic set. It isn't like they are broken; they're just not very realistic, and they have a disappointing feeling of sameness to them, since they don't feel functionally distinct from buildings and features that already exist. For games like this, I tend to lean towards wanting more realism whenever possible, but that's a subjective personal preference. I understand that this is just a game, and certain amounts of abstraction and creative license need to be taken...

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Monday, August 27, 2012 01:09 PM

Breaking ground on Koopa burrow v2.0

in Pets and Animals by MegaBearsFan

Breaking ground on Koopa's second burrow Nothing like a mere two hours of physical labor in the early evening desert sun to make me appreciate being a software engineer who works inside with a computer, instead of outside with a shovel.

If you've been a frequent reader of this blog, then you may remember a post from mid-July in which I talked about a freak monsoon hail storm that completely flooded out my pet tortoise's burrow, nearly drowning the poor baby animal. I've since had the burrow blocked off to keep little Koopa out of it until I could modify or reconstruct it to be a little bit safer. In the meantime, I've been bringing the tortoise in the house to sleep during nights with heavy rain to protect the little fella from being left out in the elements and getting sick.

I've been debating with myself about whether or not the existing burrow could be retrofitted to be more safe, but I've finally decided that I want to just reconstruct the whole thing to make sure it will be safer. This week, I broke ground on the new burrow.

I took a trip to the local STAR Nursery this weekend to get some dirt and ground soil, some bricks, work gloves, and other various supplies. I had to ask a friend to take me to the store with his truck so that I could buy a large, 1/2 ton bag of dirt. For liability reasons, the store wouldn't sell the dirt to me when I came with a van. The big bags of dirt require that you have a flatbed truck.

I started by trying to move as much of the rocks out of the way of the planned construction site and then dug up and filled-in the original burrow, reclaiming the bricks and wood board used to construct it.

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Last night was a scary night.

Around 10:30 pm, there was a rather sudden downpour of heavy monsoon rain and hail in my area of town. It was coming down hard and fast. When I noticed that the rain had quickly flooded my back yard, I went into a panic.

As some of you may recall, I took in a baby tortoise that I had found crossing the street outside my house last August. I've been keeping him (I don't actually know the gender yet, but I'll use the pronoun "him" for simplicity) as a pet ever since, I dug a burrow for him on the side of the house, and I have named him Koopa. In the past year, Koopa has become quite adept at hiding under bushes in my yard and, surprisingly, at climbing walls.

Koopa the tortoise closeup Koopa the tortoise eating greens and strawberries'

Koopa the tortoise (summer, 2012).

Well, as I noticed the backyard filling with flood waters (it only took a few minutes), I started to worry about little Koopa and whether or not his burrow was staying dry. We had never had rains like this since I found Koopa, so I had no idea how well the burrow would hold up. In an adreneline-fueled panic, I grabbed a flashlight and a jacket and ran into the backyard. My heart immediately sank when I saw that not only had Koopa's burrow flooded, but that it was already full-to-the rim with water.

I quickly scanned around the area with the flashlight in the hopes that Koopa had escaped the burrow before it filled, but found no trace of him outside. Fearing that Koopa must be trapped inside, I threw off my watch and reached my hand into the burrow. It was like reaching my hand into a clogged toilet, the water was so deep. I found Koopa's body only halfway down the hole, and my heart sunk even deeper as I pulled him out.

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