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Cities: Skylines - game title

Some of the suggestions from my first wishlist have actually been implemented in Cities: Skylines. Naming roads, and adding directional traffic overlays were recently added in the Mass Transit expansion, and the previous Snowfall expansion incorporated some of my ideas for seasonal cycles (minus the part where the seasons actually cycle from one to another). There's still a lot of items from that wishlist that haven't been implemented. I also have come up with some new ideas for things I'd like to see in further expansions (or maybe a sequel?).

Taking the best ideas from its competitors

Even though Cities: Skylines is, by far, my favorite (and probably the objective best) city-building / city-simulation game of the past decade, there are still some features and ideas from the inferior games that I really like. In my first wishlist, I already talked about how much I liked the modular building mechanic of SimCity (2013).

I won't go into too much detail of why I liked that concept (even though the actual implementation was a little weak) because I invite you to read the original post. Suffice it to say, I liked the idea of certain pieces of city infrastructure (such as power plants, schools, universities, police stations, airports, government buildings, etc.) actually growing along with the city. Being able to upgrade an existing building to add additional functionality or capacity was (in my opinion) a much more interesting and engaging process than simply plopping another copy of the same building every so often, simply to meet increasing demand.

SimCity (2013) - modular building
I still think SimCity had the right idea with its modular buildings.

In that first wishlist, I also briefly mentioned the Cities XL series. There isn't much in XL (or XXL) that is done as well (or better) than what is offered in either SimCity (2013) or Cities: Skylines, but I did neglect one idea that I think was probably the most clever, interesting, and fun part of the XL series of games: the ability to "fill" an area with "decoration". Put simply, Cities XL allows the player to fill any unoccupied area of the map (that is at least partially enclosed by roads) with one of several different types of decorative landscaping.

Landscaping options include a grassy park area with trees, an open-air "flea market" with kiosks and street vendors, various plazas / courtyards, and even a makeshift construction site. These decorations aren't functionally different (the flea market doesn't produce any commerce or jobs, for example), but each decorative area applies a very small environmental beautification effect that increases happiness and land value for adjacent homes or businesses.

Decorative areas in Cities XL allows you to fill-in irregular shapes with city-beautification projects.

From a more aesthetic standpoint, Cities XL's decorative areas allow the player to make very efficient use of space, to fill any empty dead space, and to create your own custom parks and plazas that conform to whatever shapes the outlining roads happen to be. Want a park in the middle of a large roundabout? Want a plaza space at the point of a 45-degree (or narrower) intersection? XL allows you to do such things without having to go into an asset-editor to make a customer ploppable.

Despite having muuuuuch better tools for creating curved and angled roads, Skylines doesn't really have any equivalent to these decorative features from XL that allow us to fill-in gaps left by our pretty, rounded or angled roads. Parks and plazas are all ploppable buildings that are shaped as simple squares or rectangles and can't be used to fill irregular areas. The closest you can come to making your own parks (short of going into the asset editor, which Skylines conveniently provides) is to plant trees and link multiple zoned parks via pedestrian paths. While the trees supposedly help reduce noise pollution, they do not (as far as I know) improve land value. And as far as I know, trees and paths don't provide any leisure to your citizens. Denizens may go to your parks to unwind, but they don't get any satisfaction from taking a stroll through the hiking path along the river.

Cities Skylines - walking path
Walking paths and trees can give the appearance of large parks,
but don't directly improve land value or provide leisure.

One thing that I would suggest as an additional decorative area would be parking lots. I had already pitched an idea for turning parking into a game mechanic, and so having a way to fill otherwise vacant space with parking lots could be a useful supplement to that suggestion.

I also wouldn't mind seeing alternative parks and decorations that are based on map themes. For example, arid, desert maps could maybe have parks and decorations with desert landscaping using rocks and dirt instead of grass, and having cacti and succulents instead of trees.

I also found other ways to utilize the decoration feature in Cities XL. One of my favorite applications would be to use the construction site decoration to fill in an area where I was planning a specific future ploppable to go. Cities XL has a similar unlock system as Skylines, so certain buildings and services aren't available from the start. If I wanted to leave space in my downtown for a future City Hall or courthouse building, I could fill the area as a construction site to remind myself that I have plans for that area (and to not fill it in with shops or offices).

Cities XXL - Construction Site
The Construction Site decoration in XL could act as a reminder of where a future building should go.
This plot, for instance, is going to eventually be a mid-level hotel.

Labels and signposts

SimCity 4 - signpost
SimCity 4 allowed you to post signs.

SimCity 4 had its own way of marking your future plans. In addition to having the ability to put name labels on your streets, that game also allowed players to place signposts on the map and enter text. This could be used to give your own names to areas or districts of your city (something that Skylines' district feature makes into an actual game mechanic) or to mark your future plans.

I would often place these labels in empty lots to remind myself that I want to put a certain building or service there, and I'd often place them in lines to mark where I want future highways to be placed.

I wouldn't mind seeing an analogous feature in future iterations of Skylines.

Landmarks and tourist attractions

In the previous wishlist, I also touched on the idea of having more seasonal tourism and leisure activities such as beaches and national parks. Since Colossal Order recently added some new decorations and landscaping options to the game, I'd like to make an addition to those earlier suggestions as well.

Certain decorative objects (such as castle ruins) should be able to be marked as an "historic landmark" that improves nearby land value and invites tourists. This could hypothetically be accomplished by using a tool analogous to the District tool to designate a certain area of the map as a "Landmark". Ploppable buildings such as a gift shop and/or visitor center could then be placed in the "Landmark" district in order to generate some revenue and boost the effectiveness of the landmark.

Civilization VI - natural wonder
I wouldn't mind seeing a variant of Civilization's "natural wonders" appear in Cities: Skylines.

Such a system could also be applied to natural landmarks (such as waterfalls, forests, mountains, hot springs, beaches, etc) which could then also be turned into a variety of tourist attractions. I had previously pitched the vague idea of adding national parks to the game, and this could be a feature that would supplement and enable national parks. This would also work for the beach idea that I had also proposed.

Cities: Skylines - asset-browser beach
There's already plenty of mods that
add beach-themed ploppables.

So a region of the map could be designated as a "National Park", and then that could allow the placement of a ploppable visitor center, ranger station, hiking trailhead, camp site, and other such buildings. Hiking trails could then be a variation of the pedestrian path mechanic already included in the game. Similar systems could be applied to beaches, with ploppables including lifeguard towers, surf shops, piers, beach volleyball courts, and so on. And if winter sports are more your thing, then we could have a Ski Resort district with ploppable ski lodge, ski lifts, sledding area, chalet, ski patrol, and other such buildings and services. A ski slope itself could possibly be implemented with a mechanic along the lines of a wider variation of the walking and bicycle paths, except that it would be required to be placed on a slope. There's already plenty of mods that do similar things, particularly when it comes to beaches.

There's also no reason to necessarily prevent players from placing zones inside these districts as well. Commercial zones within such districts could generate unique, themed gift shops, restaurants, hotels, and other such businesses. We'd probably want to limit (or disable) the construction of industrial zones inside these "Landmark" districts, but the other districts seem perfectly reasonable.

I would like to be able to "zone" certain areas as beaches, ski slopes, and other tourism / leisure sites.

I feel that such a "Great Outdoors" expansion could be an exceptional compliment to the existing district specializations and could be one more way to make the map feel like a more significant component of the game.

Building on top of an historic city

Taking the above idea a little bit further, I would like to see a city-builder game that allows the player to create an historic city as a foundation for a modern one. Instead of starting a new city on an empty map, I would like to be able to have an old European city, classical Chinese or Japanese temple complex, classical Meso-American temple complex, or Colonial American town that I could build off of.

This could be done in a few different ways. The first way would be to allow the player to start a new city in the past and play through up to (and beyond) today. I think older SimCity games had a similar feature in which you could start a game in the 1800's, and new buildings and services would be unlocked as the technology was invented. Playing in the 18th and 19th centuries (or earlier) is a bit outside of the scope for a game like Cities: Skylines though, so I don't expect such a feature to be implemented (unless it gets its own stand-alone expansion or spin-off game -- along the lines of The Sims: Medieval, or, more apt, Banished).

Cities: Skylines - castle ruins
I wish these castle ruins could be turned into an attraction in my tourism district.

A more likely approach might be to give the player a certain amount of money or "points" to spend towards setting up your quaint historic town prior to beginning the game proper. You wouldn't have to play through the 18th and 19th centuries; rather, you'd just have an opportunity to place cobblestone roads, renaissance homes and shops, farms, castles, cathedrals, and other such infrastructure down on the map before the game proper begins. It would be kind of like being able to place your own decorations on the map.

Alternatively, Colossal Order could simply provide certain maps and/or scenarios that start with such assets already in place. You'd then be able to build around (or over) what they already provided. New maps could then be built using the map editor that is supplied in-game.

Once the game proper begins, historic regions of the city could potentially be turned into specialized historic districts, complete with museums, gift shops, tour groups, and other such amenities.

Keeping the map relevant

One of the things that I feel I really failed to communicate in my original review of Cities Skylines is how well the game used its map and physical space to act as an agent of city growth and personality. The limited initial space, ability to expand the borders of your city in specific directions, the placement of water and resources, the flow of water, and the initial inability to reshape or modify the underlying terrain means that city planners must utilize the underlying features of the map -- or build around them. In either case, the shape, growth, and personality of the city is fundamentally influenced by the map that it's built upon.

Cities: Skylines - quary
Maybe our supply of terraforming soil
could be dependent on a quarry industry?

The free updates maintained this philosophy. Canals require that water comes from and goes somewhere. The terraforming DLC employed a clever "conservation of soil" system, in which any soil that you excavate has to go somewhere, and any soil that you deposit has to come from somewhere. It might have been neat if the game required you to make actual quarry industrial sites in order to exhume large supplies of soil, but that's a tangent for another day...

The expansions, however, mostly dropped the concept of using the underlying terrain to influence your city. After Dark included some beach structures, but for the most part, your tourism and leisure districts could go wherever you wanted. They were more a function of the day/night cycle than of the actual map. Snowfall completely dropped the ball by blanketing the entire map in a uniform, never-ending sheet of snow so that elevation is completely irrelevant. Natural Disasters has some minor interactions with the map in the form of flooding and tsunami that are dependent (of course) on being near water. Mass Transit's only real interplay with the map is via the addition of water transport (though they neglected making any changes to water-based industry, cargo, and public services).

I'd like for the next expansion to put more focus on keeping the underlying map relevant as an influence upon your city's growth and personality, and I think that focusing an expansion on outdoor activities and historic / natural landmarks could be a great way to do that.

Other miscellaneous ideas

I also have some other smaller ideas that aren't necessarily related to the larger concepts of tourism, leisure, and map-based city-development. I'm going to go ahead and throw some of these ideas in here as well.

Cities: Skylines - cul de sac
Roundabouts can be used as cul de sacs.

Walled and gated communities

I wouldn't mind seeing the ability to create walled and gated residential communities. I don't know how common such developments are in other places in the country (or in the world), but they are very common in the city that I live in. In fact, there's hardly been any new residential development since the 1990s that hasn't been part of a "master-planed" community that includes walls.

From a gameplay standpoint, walled communities could have higher land value, and gated communities could be more secure. The presence of walls could also possibly reduce traffic within the community (thus reducing noise pollution). One way of handling walled communities could be to set them up as a specialized "Residential District". Services such as schools, fire stations, hospitals, and so forth could then potentially be set to service only the households within the community.

Another new residential infrastructure that I'd like to see is a small, residential road -- basically a paved version of the existing dirt road. This would be a road that doesn't necessarily have clearly-delinted lanes, and would have a very low speed limit (something like 20 or 25 miles per hour). I'd also like to repeat my desire to see a cul de sac. Again, these are both things that Cities XL includes (to an extent). That game has such a road, and does allow the player to put a house or shop at the end of a road (creating a makeshift cul de sac). Neither is ideal, however.

More informative disaster UI

I also feel that the disaster UI in Natural Disasters could use a little work. The game doesn't do a very good job of communicating how effective your disaster-planning will be. Once the disaster actually hits, there's also not great feedback regarding how well your disaster infrastructure is actually working. A simple (but very useful) improvement would be to add a widget to the disaster UI in the top left that keeps a running tab of how many people are currently in your disaster shelters. You can currently click on any single shelter and see how many people are holed up in that one shelter, but I'm not aware of any global number that tells you how many people are in all of your shelters combined. It would also be very helpful for the UI to tell you what the maximum capacity of your shelters is.

Cities: Skylines - disaster UI
The disaster UI should tell you how much of your population has evacuated to shelters.

It also would be helpful to have some idea of how long it should take to evacuate the population (or at least, how long it takes to fill the shelters). That way, when a disaster is predicted, you'll have a better idea of how far in advance you need to hit the "Evacuate" button. If that's too difficult to implement, then a simpler variation would be for the disaster UI to remember how long your previous evacuation took and how many people were evacuated. So for example, there could be a little text widget next to the "Evacuate" button that reads (for example) "Previous Evac: 1:30 | 60% evacuated". When a new evacuation starts, those numbers could be replaced with the current elapsed time and current percentage of population evacuated. I also think that there needs to be a more distinct icon for destroyed ploppable buildings that are ready to be rebuilt.

A Design / Planning Mode

Do you ever start working on a project in your city, only to find that you don't have quite enough room to complete it? Or you have to keep deleting it and rebuilding it until you can get it to fit into the space? It happens to me all the time. The game is generous enough to grant you most of a refund for infrastructure that you place and then immediately delete, but this is still an unnecessarily frustrating and time-consuming process.

Cities: Skylines - undo changes
How often do you find yourself having to delete and rebuild infrastructure
because something doesn't quite fit in the space you had available?

A simple "Undo" command would go a long way, but I think that an even better solution would be for the game to include some kind of design or planning mode. In this mode, the game is paused, and you can lay down infrastructure, or delete existing infrastructure to your heart's content without actually committing any changes to your city. Once you get a design that works, you can commit the changes and exit the design/planning mode. The game would unpause, and your infrastructure changes would be built, spending only the money that is required to make the final changes.

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