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For those of you paying attention, EA's launch of SimCity was a disaster. Server problems combined with the always-online DRM requirement prevented many gamers from even being able to play the game, while others had to wait hours just to connect, more suffered crashes and glitches, and still others lost save files (and hours of progress) due to failures in specific servers that housed their game files.

It got so bad, online retailer pulled the game from its site, citing the unplayable state of the servers. They've since reinstated the game, but with a warning to consumers, and a lowly 1 1/2-star rating (as of the time of this writing).

Having participated in one of the closed Betas for the game, I was fully aware of the potential for problems, since Beta users were plagued by server issues that prevented many players from even being able to login to test the game. I had to wait hours before the server was operational long enough for me to load a city, and even then, I got booted off several times. It was incredibly frustrating, especially with the knowledge that the Beta would only last through the weekend, so I was under pressure to login as quickly as possible and spend as much time as possible with the game before the Beta ended.

So I fully anticipated server problems with the launch, since I didn't trust EA to put any real effort into making sure the game would work. This is the same EA that won a consumerist award for the "Worst Company in America" in 2012! And deservedly so! Despite the servers not being up to par during the two closed Betas, EA still seemed to think the online infrastructure was suited for a full retail launch. Boy were they wrong!

My lack of confidence in EA's ability to get their shit together in time for the launch, combined with my principled dislike of DRM and (especially) online-only requirements, caused me to delay my purchase of the game, despite this being a title that I've been waiting on for almost 10 years! I'm glad I decided to practice a modicum of consumer protest, as the game was literally unplayable for large portions of consumers during the first few days after launch. It's currently a week later, and I still haven't bothered to pick the game up.

Beta impressions (a mini-review in lieu of my purchase of the final game)

I did enjoy what was playable on the closed Beta, even though I was disappointed in the reduction of scope of the game (i.e. small city sizes). It was more like SimTown than SimCity. It seems like the design philosophy was geared towards making the region simulate the city, while the individual "cities" are really just small suburbs or districts. Upgrading buildings was fun, but the choices seemed pretty limited, and most of what was in the Beta could be fully upgraded with all the important parts. So the upgrade mechanic felt like little more than a novelty with very little genuine decision-making required.

SimCity - snap-to road grid
One of the best features of the game is the snap-to-grid for building roads that lets you keep your roads nice and parallel, even if they curve!

I was also disappointed that the roads didn't seem to turn out as nice as CitiesXL. SimCity is much pickier about whether or not you could create intersections, and it just isn't as visually interesting or varied as I'd hoped. There is one very nice road-building feature though: when you roll over a particular segment of road, the game creates white guidelines that run parallel and perpendicular to that road, allowing you to easily snap to those paths and build perfect grids - even if they are circular grids!

I do have to admit that the level of simulation seemed pretty impressive, and the gameplay was fun and addicting - at least, until I ran out of room (or time, in the case of the Beta). Individual citizens (sims) could be followed from home to work to stores or parks and back again, and clicking on any sim would bring up a widget telling you what that sim is doing and what factors were currently affecting his or her mood. I didn't have time to play around with some of the deeper aspects of the simulation, like whether or not shops actually have to keep a supply of manufactured goods from your factories or if they just automatically make money. That's the real downside to having a timed Beta: you don't have time to really look that deeply at the mechanics.

So I do still plan on picking the game up (and eventually writing a full review). But for now, the game is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with modern gaming:

  • A mega-publisher pushing a game onto shelves and digital shopping carts before it's ready.
  • Overly-restrictive DRM that hinders legitimate players more than it cuts down on piracy.
  • An over-reliance on online connections and functionality in lieu of great single-player support.
  • Cashing in on an established franchise through a "reboot", sequel, or prequel and offering less than the original game(s) had available.
  • The requirement of proprietary software being installed on your machine (i.e. Origin and all the spyware and adware that comes with it).
  • Micro-transaction DLC (trust me, it's coming).

Representatives of EA and Maxis have already stated that larger city plots should be available in the future, but it is unclear whether they will offered via free updates or if they will be paid DLC (or an "expansion"). My bet is for the latter.

I'm considering holding out until EA removes the online requirement and/or ditches the necessity for Origin. I doubt that either of those will happen any time soon, but EA does do it, I'll buy the game that day! Apparently, the online connection is required in order to allow other cities in the region to be simulated on the server rather than on the local machine. Or so Maxis claims. But if I'm playing single-player in only one city, then what simulation does the game need to do in the region? I'm not buying EA's excuses.

My SimCity itch is pretty strong though, so I probably won't be able to hold out more than a week or two. We'll see.

What's really sad is that underneath all the frustration, red tape, and corporate bullshit, it seems like there could be a really good game in there somewhere. A game that deserves to be played. But one which will never find as big an audience as it could because EA insists on spitting on the consumers.

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Comments (1) -

03/12/2013 16:04:17 #

The launch was a pretty big disaster, indeed. Oddly enough, however, I was able to play at 11PM on monday night for about 3 hours before I went to bed, and some the next day before work. After that the servers were nigh impossible to get onto and even when you did they were messed up royally.

As for the actual game (which I have played more of, and read a lot on). I am extremely the point where I would almost side with the British and state this game as "unfit for purpose".

You know all those cool "simulations" in the game? Well, many are no longer there, some are bonkers crazy, and a few simply do not work at all. For instance, recall the video about the industrial factory that created wig glue, and sent it to the wig store so the weirdo next door could buy it? Nope. In fact many people claim that the best way to build a city is with ZERO (unless you want specialty buildings that require some, then just delete after you unlock).

It is unclear if this was ever in at launch, or even in the beta (Maybe you remember for certain MegaBearsFan?), or if they pulled it during the week since, along with a slew of other features. Commercial shops magically get restocked at 6am every day whether there is freight in the REGION or not. Not to mention that once this happens, every pee-brain sim in your city decides to leave their house at the same time to shop...causing bad traffic if you put the stores in driving distance instead of walking.

That brings to mind more bad AI and/or Simulation the game has. Traffic is apparently terrible. People have spend days just trying to figure it out, and many just end up with broken streets due to one of three or four bugs involving vehicles: moving trucks coming in (not really a bug, but when 100 new sims move in at once your streets might be backed up for days), moving trucks getting stuck in your city forever, service vehicles all sharing identical in if there is 3 fires all fire trucks pick the same fire to put out, region traffic getting stuck and grid locking your whole city down permanently, infinite car spawning buildings that do the above, etc.

Next, I can point out that the economy is horribly balanced in every way. Taxes are simply for show...under no circumstance can you raise them over 10% and get away with it for long. You can lower them, but I have not tested if it helps anything. The advanced crafting buildings are poorly designed. TVs production is half the cost of Processors from what I hear, but you make more than double the income IIRC. Casino's are horribly buggy and hard to work with. Eduction is wonky in that no matter how much you have in a high tech industry town there is often places closing due to lack of educated workers.

Lastly (though there are still a large number of other flaws I don't feel like talking about), there is the ultra sad and annoying realization that the game is fundamentally broken. By that I mean, I tried for hours one night to build a stable city...and well it's not possible. If you click the population, you get a window tab. Click Details and it lists all the numbers in your city by wealth level:

Population: How many jobs, unemployed sims, students, etc.
Commerce: Shoppers, how many didn't get to shop, how much freight is needed (irrelevant), etc.
Industrial: Freight produced and how much needs to be for commerce (irrelevant)

These numbers, after a point, just don't make any kind of sense I can decern. You can't ever supply enough workers in a city, yet stuff seems to run...sometimes...other times they shut down even when people are leaving cuz they have no money (no job I guess). Furthermore, someone stated if you build all the high level tech buildings and civic buildings (like nuke plant, fire, police, medical, TV factory, etc) and cover EVERYTHING else in residential high density you can not supply enough

Oh. I also forgot to mention how much of the game was gutted, though I alluded to it:

Cheetah Speed cut (game is painfully slow to play on Llama past 30-60 minutes imo)
Region play cut (it seems to be back, for some...but without this the game isn't worth it)
Multiplay linked to above, can't do it
Potential other things, like freight being abstracted and removed from the sim

Anyway. I can't muster the will to play's just not fun to play a game about management where you aren't given the ability to understand how to better manage your city since so many rules make no sense, aren't there, are broken, or what have you. I don't doubt maxis can make this game fun...but right now it really isn't. EA is a terrible company and ruins all they touch. I truly how this game suffered financially enough to bring some kind of change to the company, but I highly doubt it.

Welcome to the future of gaming: always-on, rent your games, do what the shareholders say, cuz they know best how to run a company.

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