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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 5 of 5

You talked about simulating the Sims, and everything coming from that, rather than necessarily being a top-down simulation.

OQ: Definitely. The bottom-up. It's worth pointing out that it's not just the Sims who are simulation elements. The buildings are simulation elements as well as are, say, the vehicles, as are the map. The important point there is that it's coming up. It's a simulation that's built of interacting parts as opposed to a modeled, top-down simulation.

At the presentation, someone did you ask about Dwarf Fortress and things like that. Has that kind of thinking had a profound effect? And it is an under-the-hood effect, or is it a paradigm shift for how things operate, in terms of the ways the players will perceive really clearly?

OQ: The main thing that it lets us do is describe a much larger simulation landscape for players to explore. If you're doing -- I'm going to call it a "monolithic", or top-down simulation in advance, you define the bounds of that simulation landscape of what the player gets to do up front. You're really not going to do anything that's not pre-defined in that.

But with this approach, essentially an object-based approach, or a bottom-up approach, as you add new components you get to do new things. You as the player get to do new things. So the simulation landscape is potentially unbounded. You just add more components and you get more things.

Lego is a good metaphor for that. So, think of the difference between, like, a jigsaw puzzle, where you've got all those pieces and they snap together in that way and you're kinda done, versus Lego, where you can reconfigure those Lego pieces in a bazillion different ways and new Lego pieces all work with your existing Lego set and extend the things that you get to do with it.

So we've been kinda self-consciously going with this bottom-up, object-based simulation -- not just because it gives you more simulation integrity. Not just because the simulation is actually localized at a sticking place, and each house or each vehicle or each Sim or whatnot. But it's also because it lets you reconfigure it. It lets you add stuff to the simulation by adding new objects. And so I just think that's just a more exciting open-ended way of defining a simulated world. New objects come into the world and the world changes as a consequence.

Is that what inspired you to do it? The sense that it would make the game more open-ended, or more variable?

OQ: It's the combination of having it be more open-ended, so that you combine things and get new behavior, and it's also the desire to have something that's got more close-in integrity. You know, by way of contrast with SimCity 4, because it was a model with top-down simulation, we wanted to tell you details about what was going in a given building or on a given block or on a given street or in a given car. We essentially had to make it up, and we had to do some smoke and mirrors tricks to try and make it so we weren't contradicting ourselves. Because that data wasn't really there.

But with this new simulation -- the simulation's taking place in a building, and there's enough integrity to what's actually going on inside that particular building that no matter how we show you the data, we're not contradicting ourselves, because it's really there. It's like the joke about why it's easier to tell the truth than be a liar. If you're telling the truth, you just tell the story, and tell it from this angle and tell it from that angle and tell it from the other angle, and it all lines up because it's fundamentally the truth. But if you're a liar, you have to keep all your facts straight in your head, right?

So, with these much, much simpler, less-sophisticated simulations that we had to make due to limited CPU resources in the past, we had to struggle to keep our stories straight about what was going on in a given building or on a given block or on a given part of the neighborhood. With this new one, any way that we want to expose the data to you as the player about what's going on in a given area on a given building with a given Sim, with a given car, we're just surfacing what the simulation's actually doing. So our problem is more a UI problem of getting the data to you rather than a game-design problem of, "Well, what do we tell them this time?" If that makes sense to you.

When you make creative decisions on this game is it about creating, as you say, a simulation with integrity and readability, and that will automatically be satisfying to the player? Or is it about player satisfaction and then working backwards from that? How do you do that?

OQ: So, we think about things that would be a lot of fun to do. Like, we know there are things that are fun to do from previous SimCitys. We know it's fun to zone and see stuff come to life. We know it's fun to see cars drive around. There's a bunch of proven, as it were, SimCity satisfactions.

So, for starters, we need to make sure that we hit those satisfactions and we design towards those basic fundamental satisfactions that come with the game. Blowing up buildings, seeing traffic jams form. Solving traffic jams.

And then for the new stuff that we're doing, we think about, well, "This is stuff that we could do that naturally grows out of what the simulation is doing. What would be some fun things to do with this? What would be some satisfying, exciting things to do with it?" That's kind of the simultaneously top-down and bottom-up thing. We get this simulation running and then we iterate on it. "Where is this taking us? This is kinda fun. Wouldn't it be cool if we did this?" Then we kinda bend the simulation towards that.

So, something as complicated to pull off as SimCity is, as necessarily a kind of combination of those bottom-up discovery processes. You do stuff and see what's satisfying and fun and exciting to do. And also, kind of a larger top-down vision of what you might want the player to be able to do and then how you bend the capability of the simulation toward that end. So, it's a "yes, and." It's not the crisp answer you're hoping for but it's too big a project for it to be one or the other.

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

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