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How Do You Put the Sim in SimCity?
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How Do You Put the Sim in SimCity?

June 22, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

That opens up a few more questions. First of all, I want to ask: When you come up with these ideas like you talked about, whether you want to tie crime to class, or to education, or whatever, do you do sociological research and then determine this?

OQ: Yes, we read up on it. I mean, we don't do exhaustive academic-level research, but we do due diligence to get a sense of what the commonly accepted reasons -- for something which the causes are as nebulous as that, we'll do proper diligence. We'll read up on it.

And then it also comes down to [the fact that] we have to make decisions... When we make decisions about what affects things, we have to make them in such a way that the player can do something about it, that the player needs to have agency into the simulation.

It's not enough for us to make this clockwork that ticks away out of the player's control. The whole point is that the player can push it, and pull it, and pry it, and transform the state of the simulation. So, another constraint or a big input into the decisions we make is, how is the player going to see it, and what is the player going to get to do about it?

So, for example, something we would not want to bind is crime to social class, because that's outside of the player's control. Sims of different wealth move into your city. So, ignoring the sociological statement we're making with that, but just looking at is as a game mechanic, that'd be a sucky thing to do, because what can the player do about it?

Or, by contrast, if we make the assumption that crime is a consequence of education, then the player can elect to deal with their crime problem either by putting down lots of jails and lots of policing, and deal with it at a symptomatic level, or the player could elect to deal with it by improving the education level of their population. And so that's a much more interesting -- from a simulation aesthetic perspective -- choice that you give the player. The player has agency and multiple ways of dealing with something. Each one of which has its own effects, which are also kind of interesting.

How do you avoid -- or do you avoid -- a right answer to things? Especially because it's a very open-ended game. How do you avoid going down those paths?

OQ: That's really just game design. By figuring out, well, "Why wouldn't I just do this as a player? If it turns out that crime is caused by education, why wouldn't I just invest a whole lot in education, and have education be the right answer?" Education might have a really slow payoff, right? So, it could be that if you got a bad crime problem right now in your city that your city's going to fail before education can do its work. So for all of these components of the game, you want to make them not channels, but surfaces that the player can basically traverse. So you don't want to make them just like a rail the player has to go down. You want to make them a landscape that they can explore.

And there are certainly places on the simulation landscape that might temporarily be the best place to be, but the whole landscape is always switching around. Even with something as simple as education, you maybe can afford to up it at one point, and you'd still very much like to have a little bit later on, but you just can't afford it. You've got to deal with your fire issues, or you've got an economic collapse of whatever sort. So it's a shifting sort of multistate landscape that you're exploring and there's really no -- or we're doing our best to make it so there's no -- "just do this and you'll be fine" kinda answers.

Also you've got the unique position of that your audience is very broad, so you're designing for people who are idealists trying to create their ideal city, to people who are min-maxers.

OQ: Absolutely. People who are basically thinking like states and optimizing the city for, say, the production of ore, or the generation of power, or just the accumulation of money, for example. Yeah, no question.

That's one of the reasons that we have to make the simulation as transparent as possible, so we don't have a lot of hidden secret things that are going on in the game. We've surfaced them all to the player, making them front and center in the art content, so the player can directly see -- for some of this stuff, sure, you have to go to data views, but you can directly see what the state of your city and the consequence of the choice you just made were. You watch it play out immediately or over the course of minutes of gameplay.

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