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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.

Could road construction be a viable mechanic in a city-building game?

But it wouldn't be the first time that Colossal Order erred on the side of realism, as opposed to player freedom and fun. The terraforming mechanic is a prime example. Other city-builders have allowed the player to freely terraform the map -- as long as you can afford to pay the cost of each terraforming action. Skylines initially launched without any terraforming mechanics at all. You were stuck having to build your city around the geography of the map, which helped to give the city a personality and a more organic feeling.

Eventually, we did get a terraforming mechanic, but it went out of its way to maintain that sense that you have to work within the geography and limitations of the map. Colossal Order gave us a "bucket" of soil. This bucket would be filled whenever we excavate dirt (by lowering terrain), and it would be emptied whenever we laid dirt (by raising the terrain). Thus, every cubic meter of dirt that you placed had to come from somewhere on the map; and every cubic meter of dirt that you dug had to go somewhere else! You weren't free to re-shape the map to your whims. You had to work within the limitations of material and space available to you.

Terraforming and disaster recovery are existing mechanics that have semi-realistic constraints.

The Natural Disasters expansion also took a similar approach to some of its mechanics. After a disaster would level parts of your city, you weren't able to simply pause the game, rebuild everything, unpause, and go about your business as if nothing had happened. No, you had to wait for rescue teams to search for survivors before you could rebuild public infrastructure. Zoneable stuctures had to wait for demand and land value to increase before they would be rebuilt.

This same sort of philosophy could be applied to road construction. The game would need some kind of "design mode" interface for building a prototype or demo of your road before you commit to building it for reals. But if that hurdle could be overcome, I could maybe see something like this working.

Detours could be designed using a
variation of the bus or evacuation routing tool.

While you wait for the road construction to complete, you'd have to assign detour routes for your drivers (or pedestrians) to follow. This could be done using a variation of the same mechanic that is used to draw bus routes or evacuation routes. Before tearing down a highway to build a bigger, better highway, you might have to lay down some temporary roads. You'd have to plan ahead, similar to how the Natural Disasters expansion requires you to plan ahead for possible disaster scenarios.

Such a feature would add a temendous amount of challenge to the game. As your small city grows, you will almost certainly need to remodel your transit infrastructure. You'd have to pace this remodeling in order to prevent leaving entire sections of your city inaccessible. The game could allow us to spend additional money to speed up construction. This would have the added benefit of giving us more to spend our money on.

Gentrification could add challenge (and social commentary)

Another pitch that Colossal Order had proposed on its Twitter account was the idea of urban decay. While land values in Cities Skylines do go up due to natural beauty or as you add more amenities and services, the value or quality of land or infrastructure never really degrades over time. The only way you'll see a loss of land value is from excess pollution, which only affects the areas of town directly adjacent to industrial zones.

Neighborhoods don't get old, buildings don't fall apart, infrastructue does not become old or ugly as aesthetic values change over time. None of these sorts of things are modeled by the game at all, yet these are all some of the hardest problems that real-life cities have to face on a regular basis.

I could imagine Skylines having a mechanic in which infrastructure degrades over time, and the player has to decide whether to re-invest money to refurbish that infrastructure. Maintenance costs could continually increase over time, as the infrastructure gets older. If you want to reset the maintenance cost, you'd have to build a whole new building. Tying this idea into the previous idea: maybe the construction of ploppable buildings also takes time, during which the building is not usable. So you'd have the choice between continuing to use an old, run-down building that is costing more and more to maintain; or tear it down and rebuild a fancy new building, but leave your citizens without that building's service until the replacement is complete; or build the new building while the old one is still in operation (thus paying maintenance on both), and only retiring the old building after the new one is finished (at which point, you have an abandoned building or an empty lot, depending on whether you demolish the building or leave it standing).

You might have to chose between demolishing and replacing an older service building,
or building its replacement before retiring the old building.

Failure to re-invest or increase maintenance spending would lead to a decline in functionality and/or desirability, which would degrade nearby land value. The wealthy would move out for newer, better-maintained neighborhoods, and higher populations of poorer citizens would move in to the now-cheap housing. Same goes for businesses and offices.

In addition to having a wealth level, school-age citizens could have a grade-point-average. Kids at poor schools would receive lower grades. If they enter the work-force, the quality of the job they get would be based on their GPA. Lower GPA students will be more likely to get lower-paying jobs. Their ability to go to university would be determined by a combination of their wealth level and GPA. Going to university would improve their job prospects.

Decay of a business or industry could
lower the wealth value of a citizen's job.

If businesses, industries, and offices start to lose value due to decay, it should lower the wealth level of employees and force them to try to find new, better jobs, or lose satisfaction. This would simulate employers cutting their employees hours, salaries, or benefits. In the case of resource industries, this "job decay" should happen as the supply of the resource dwindles.

Having to occasionally re-vitalize older, more run down areas of town could be another way to add some challenge to the game. Not only would you have to invest additional money, but the game would probably also need to have infrastructure and policies for those who are displaced by both urban decay and gentrification. Not having high-end housing for your wealthy elites would cause them to become very unhappy, as they'd be forced to live in lower-valued homes. This would force you to have to expand your city by building new, affluent neighborhoods in high-value areas.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you decide to re-vitalize (or gentrify) an older, run down neighborhood, you'd be displacing the poorer residents who can no longer afford to live there. Your city would have to provide social services to those people, such as homeless shelters, soup kitchens, job training, public transit for those who can't afford a car, and so forth. Failure to provide such services and infrastructure would result in an increase in the homeless population spilling out into other areas of town, which would result in more lowering of property value, increased crime, and the spread of illness.

There could be an option to allow home owner's associations in districts. HOAs in a district could decrease tax revenue from residences, but offset the cost of maintaining infrastructure in the district. HOAs could even be a paintable residential area with an HOA office being the base building (if we want to keep going with variations of the Parklife mechanics).

Citizens displaced by gentrification may be forced into tenement camps (as in Tropico [LEFT])
or you'll have to build homeless shelters to house them (as in Banished [RIGHT]).

Maybe this idea could even come with an "eminent domain" mechanic. This would prevent you from bulldozing a zoned building unless you first buy out the owner. If the owner has nowhere else to go, then they may refuse to sell, which would force you to have to either pay them more, or kick them out and leave them unemployed and/or homeless.

These mechanics would create a lot of potentially interesting choices from both a strategy stand-point, and also a moral and ethical standpoint. It would also risk trivializing the very difficult real-world problems associated with socio-economic inequality. Inequality doesn't only arise because property values are low and the government won't invest in services. There's historic repression, systemic repression, mental health, physical handicaps, pay disparity, corporate greed, and so forth -- none of which are modeled by the game. So it is true that these ideas I've brainstormed don't even begin to scratch the surface of socio-economic stratification, but it might get Cities: Skylines players thinking more about their populations as actual people; rather than simply as tax-payers.

Expansion or sequel?

Both of the ideas listed above could probably be incorporated into a single expansion focused around re-vitalizing an aging city. Both would add a considerably degree of challenge to what is an otherwise very easy game. There's also a lot of potential here for scenarios. Lots of players play Skylines as a zen-like sandbox game -- just creating their dream city and not really worrying about the finances of it. Such an expansion would probably not appeal to such players, and I would understand those players not wanting to buy and play it. The question is: would there be enough people buying it to make it worth developing?

I'm sure there are plenty of people who skipped Natural Disasters because of the potential of that expansion's mechanics laying waste to their meticulously-constructed cities. But Colossal Order still took a chance with it, and as far as I know, Natural Disasters sold about as well as any of the other expansions.

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