Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Early Adoption Hell

As a fan of the Sim City game franchise since it first came out in 1989, I’ve read the reviews of the latest in the series with some trepidation.

Ars Technica, for example, trashed the game. In a series of what appear to be either tweets or text messages, Ars’ two reviewers, also fans of the game since its inception, took the game apart, brick by brick, pixel by pixel. They lament the change in gameplay – moving from creating the largest city possible to being limited, they said, to tiny little plots of real estate with all sorts of gorgeous greenery surrounding their cities that they could never annex and flood with roads, houses, stores, and factories.

I’ve got to say Ars’ review nearly turned me off. I’ve been a frustrated player of Sim City Social, EA’s Facebook-based game, where I experienced similar limitations (and repeated Flash crashes) that have left me frustrated overall with gameplay.

Then came Farhad Manjoo’s review over at Slate, and I feel like the new game is redeemed. Here’s what pulled me out of the pit of despair: 

There’s also now a fuzzier definition of what it means to “win” the game. “In previous SimCitys there was one implicit win condition: Manhattan,” says Quigley. “Even though it wasn’t stated as a goal, that was the goal most people assigned themselves—to get the biggest buildings and the maximum population.” In the new game, there are a number of ways to “specialize” your city in a way that might not require huge population density. You can create a place like Saudi Arabia—a city that mines all of its resources and sells it on the global market—or one like Monaco, where the economy runs on tourism and gambling, or Silicon Valley, pumping out electronics all day long. 

In other words, they moved the cheese. 

Winning past Sim City iterations came in two forms for me: Creating the largest city possible or (and this option came up only in Sim City 4) creating the most perfect, most realistic region possible. I could vary city size, yes, but always lurking in the middle of everything was the sprawling megalopolis that spread out to engulf suburb after suburb until, well, either my kids crashed into things or I got bored and started over in a new region. 

This new style of gameplay, by contrast, seems to be launching infinitely more challenges our way. Which is what we should expect. Why get another rote monster-city generator, monster-region generator, albeit with better graphics, when Maxis (or whoever the hell owns the franchise these days) can move the gameplay to a different level entirely, challenging fans in new ways? I guess if you want the old way, just stick with Sim City 4. 

I don’t have a copy of the new iteration yet; I’ve been waiting for release and now with tales of overloaded servers, I may wait a while longer just to see what happens. I think I will go use my discount coupon at Target to buy a copy this weekend, however. Just to see what the fuss is about. 

Here’s a reason not to rush, though. EA’s servers are backed up beyond belief with new players trying to play the game. Why, oh why did they have to choose an always (internet) on option for the game – especially one meant for single players? Can’t figure that one out. They should have an offline mode. Maybe I’ll hold off on my purchase until that happens. Will have to check my coupon.
And the user reviews are devastating, but in that typical internetty the sky is falling way.

You’re going to get a lot of hate spewed on the Internet no matter what you do, but it does indeed sound like most people are genuinely disappointed. I pretty much left the PC gaming world after the arrival of Sim City 4 – I don’t have a lot of time to play games, what with a full-time job, a part-time job, and a family – and it sounds like the landscape has changed quite a bit. The always-on the Internet thing sounds incredibly frustrating. Despite what Manjoo says about shifting the cheese, there’s no real reason the cheese had to be shifted so much to incorporate this much “social” element into what has traditionally been a solitary game. Forcing collaboration on folks not used to it is a bad idea. 

All of this, obviously, is hearsay as far as I’m concerned. I haven’t even purchased the game yet. Likely still will, but not right away. I’ll wait a while before taking the plunge.

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