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 Citybound : One man's attempt to build a better  SimCity

Citybound: One man's attempt to build a better SimCity Exclusive

March 7, 2014 | By Alex Wawro

The fact that Citybound creator Anselm Eickhoff found the latest SimCity underwhelming isn’t terribly surprising; what’s surprising is how he dealt with the disappointment.

"I began to research traffic simulation, read dozens of papers, familiarized myself with procedural city generation techniques, building on my existing knowledge and interest for procedural generation," Eickhoff tells Gamasutra via email. "I discovered that cities don't fascinate me just in games, but in general.”

Anselm Eickhoff, a 21-year-old self-taught programmer, studies computer science at TU Munich and works as a front- and back-end web developer for a Bavarian public broadcast organization. He also makes games.

“I was fascinated by games since I was a small child, especially by simulation games," says Eickhoff. "My parents sat me in front of things like Flight Simulator, SimAnt, SimEarth, SimCity 2000, The Incredible Machine, and A-Train at a very young age -- 4 and up."

Like many developers, Eickhoff’s taste in games broadened as he grew older and he began to teach himself basic programming in order to make his own simple games. Eventually he started experimenting with basic 3D modeling, texture art and more while working on mods for the original Crysis, where he got comfortable promoting his work, documenting game design changes and soliciting feedback from a community.

Painting roads in the Citybound prototype.
Painting roads in the Citybound prototype. Images courtesy of the Citybound blog.

A few years later, Eickhoff had read a few books -- most notably Jesse Schell’s "The Art of Game Design" and "Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals" by Eric Zimmerman and Katie Salen -- and made a few web games, including the real-time multiplayer Sudoku Dash. After SimCity left him cold, he started thinking about how he could make the game he wanted to play -- a city-building game that could simulate large tracts of land, be played offline by a single player, and accept user-made modifications.

Building a better SimCity

The result is Citybound, which Eickhoff is designing as a standalone browser game that runs in a special version of Chrome on PC, Mac and Linux. While Eickhoff admits that he is concerned about how working in JavaScript might harm the game’s performance, he says the trade-off is worth making to work on a platform he’s accustomed to.

“I always felt that I was much more fluid when I used high-level, dynamic languages like JavaScript, and I wanted to play with WebGL for a while,” said Eickhoff. “Then I discovered node-webkit, which is a standalone version of Google Chrome with access to native OS features, offering me a consistent platform to develop against, in my favorite language and programming environment.”

After developing a rudimentary prototype that could simulate basic traffic patterns on user-generated roads and procedurally generate buildings to fill city blocks, Eickhoff publicly announced the project late last month and shared the announcement on the SimCity subreddit. Shortly thereafter, the Reddit comment thread blew up.
Procedurally-generated buildings."The next two days now seem like a single, rushed, very intense experience to me," says Eickhoff. "I spent almost all of my waking time just answering the comments, questions and concerns of hundreds of redditors."

Eickhoff also netted a tidy sum from donations to the project, and received numerous requests from other indie developers to collaborate on Citybound. In the wake of this positive response, Eickhoff says he's decided to pare down his lifestyle to focus on building the game. "I will still work part-time, but only to afford rent and some noodles," he wrote in a blog post earlier this week.

What's interesting is how Eickhoff isn't capitalizing on the public support for Citybound to his prototype to Kickstarter and raise more money. Instead, he plans to focus on developing the game and selling access to alpha and beta versions down the line.

"I will go the route of paid alpha and beta versions that I've seen work very well for games like Minecraft," said Eickhoff. "It is just much more deeply rooted in my pre-existing philosophy and software development practices."

He plans to have that early alpha version of Citybound available for play in the next 1-3 months, and will be chronicling his one-man development efforts on the game's blog.

"I'm immensely happy," said Eickhoff. "And a little underslept and ill."

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