SimCity returns next February and fans of the series have a lot to get excited about ... like, a lot a lot. Powered by a fancy new engine called Glassbox, the game uses a tilt-shift photography (miniature faking) visual style to fulfill fantasies of producing a model-like world come to life.
The E3 demo I saw was played in real time, starting with curvy roads being laid and residential zones spawning home construction. Houses were formed, followed by Sims pulling up in moving vans and residents starting new lives. There is so much detail work, delivering a lot of visual cues. Houses with electricity light up, pollution turns the world brown and crime is represented by graffiti. These visual indicators present a lot of information intuitively.
"We were really inspired by Google maps and infographics. We have so much data and we want to present it in cool and easy to understand ways," a Maxis rep told us. Like SimCity 4, the game world is a geographic region that's broken up into plots of land that can be developed individually, allowing players to create a residential city next to an industrial one. In the new SimCity players can develop the region with friends through online multiplayer. Those who care to remain megalomaniacs can do so and lock other players out.
Collaboration includes simple things, like paying a neighbor for electricity, to working together on an international airport. Purchasing power is simple, as I watched playful, toy-like power lines connecting to a neighboring city to start a business deal. Major projects like an international airport will require collaboration and specific buildings among the interested parties to complete. Commuting sims can also live in one city and commute to another, so making sure there is a functional transportation system is not just important to you now, but to your friend's city.
The demo concluded with us watching a bank being held up and cops coming to the rescue. They failed, so the presenter blew up the donut shop next to the police station as punishment. I also got to check out the fun fireworks display following the completion of the airport.
SimCity won't have a narrative like Tropico 4, but it will have a challenges and missions, but Maxis isn't talking about that at the moment.
"City specialization is also really key," said producer Jason Haber. "You can now make a tourist town, an industrial town. I think players are going to find other specializations that we didn't even think about."
The game is gorgeous and so much of what I saw hits the right notes for fans of the series and those who will become city planners for the first time. Whether it was the build I saw or the raw power of the game, there were some hiccups in building placement. Much like every SimCity before it, I may be asking for PC upgrades this holiday before the game ships in February.