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  • SimCity 2013's creative director explains what we could have got without EA pestering


    Haljackey

    Maxis' 2013 reboot of the SimCity franchise will always be remembered for its disastrous launch more than anything else. But now, more than three years removed from that debacle, SimCity creative director Ocean Quigley told Game Informer that he's still proud of the game itself — even if publisher Electronic Arts' decision to require an internet connection ruined everything.

    Like the SimCity titles before it, SimCity was a single-player game, but it was designed as an always-online experience. At the launch of the game in early March 2013, hundreds of thousands of people flooded the servers, and severe connectivity issues created a mountain of problems. Players had to wait in hourslong queues to access SimCity, and Maxis tried everything to rectify the issues, even disabling certain "non-critical" elements of the game in an effort to relieve the load on the servers.

    SimCity originated with Maxis' desire to make a SimCity game in full 3D, and the studio's belief that the technology had finally gotten to a point that would support that, Quigley recalled on this week's edition of The Game Informer Show. EA greenlit the project, with a caveat: It had to be an always-online title, because that's the future that EA believed the gaming industry was heading toward. (Microtransactions were a part of EA's reasoning, said Quigley, but not the main impetus behind the decision.)

    "EA wanted to make it more of a platform, an ongoing platform, that they'd sort of build and develop on," Quigley explained. "And so that [...] mandated, kind of, the server and online stuff. Which, in retrospect — I mean, obviously — was the fatal flaw in it."

    Maxis had to figure out how to turn that onerous requirement into a feature that would deliver something useful to SimCity players. Networking allowed for elements like leaderboards, and opened up "interesting design-space possibilities" such as players being able to connect their cities with their friends' cities in a region. But Quigley wished those features had been optional, considering how SimCity's launch turned out.

    "The tech got ahead of itself," said Quigley, describing a server "meltdown" when a million players attempted to play at once. "We didn't have the back-end infrastructure to actually pull that off, obviously."

    Quigley told Game Informer that as SimCity's creative director, he and the design team were "pretty happy" with the game itself. The developers' pride in the product made the server issues that much more frustrating.

    "The back end of it all, sort of, collapsing in flaming server rooms was, well — it feels a little bit like being somebody on a sinking ship, and you've done a really nice job on your part of it, but it doesn't matter," said Quigley. "It doesn't matter if you've made all these beautiful things, because the rest of the ship is exploding."

    The failed launch became the storyline surrounding SimCity, and even worse, Maxis had to spend so much time fixing the server issues that the design team never got the chance to improve or expand upon the game. One of the major criticisms of SimCity was its limitation on city size, which was much smaller than in previous SimCity titles. Quigley told Game Informer that before launch, Maxis had big ideas for those land plots.

    "The eventual vision was that the whole region — the whole vast, 32-kilometer by 32-kilometer region — would be one potential city, and you could build anywhere in it," said Quigley. He added that while SimCity's simulation engine "would have let us scale, eventually, to larger and larger cities," the back-end server infrastructure was the bottleneck in the system that prevented that grand plan from coming to fruition.

    "I'd say that was pretty much the hardest part of my career, yeah," Quigley said of the SimCity launch. In March 2014, just over a year after SimCity's release, EA added an offline mode to the game.

    Quigley left EA in July 2013 after 18 years at Maxis. He later returned to the company to do consulting work, and departed in October 2015 for an indie studio called No, You Shut Up Games. Quigley is the creative director at the Berkeley, California-based company, which is making a space combat game called Atomic Space Command. He is also an accomplished oil painter, with works that have been showcased in galleries and museums.

    For much more on Quigley and his career, check out the lengthy interview that he did with The Game Informer Show. The full interview begins at 1:13:20, while the SimCity portion starts at 1:56:18.

     

     

    http://www.polygon.com/2016/5/20/11722342/simcity-launch-ea-maxis-ocean-quigley

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    Toby Ferrian

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    If only EA had given Maxis the freedom to do whatever they wanted with the game...

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    Ndragonawa

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    If only EA actually ran proper Betas they would've been able to properly scale their infrastructure, and this debacle would've never happened.

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    fdjw88

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    even if players didn't have to go online and play the game, the game still sucks. it's idea of only allowing player to building in a 5 x 5 mile radius, put tremendous restrictions on creativity. and it completely remove the feeling of looking at a metropolis which a player building from the ground up. in addition, the buildings in 2013 just don't have the scale that Simcity 4 offers. that's why I'm still playing Simcity 4 in 2016. before Simcity 2013 came out, all i ever wanted was to make Simcity 4 3D, give player curve roads and add in more buildings. but the final product is very disappointing.

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    Ndragonawa

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    3 hours ago, fdjw88 said:

    ...it's idea of only allowing player to building in a 5 x 5 mile radius, put tremendous restrictions on creativity. and it completely remove the feeling of looking at a metropolis...

    *I'm going to assume you meant 2x2 km, the size of a city tile in SC42013, and approx. the size of a small city in SC4.  5x5 mi would be approx. 8x8 km, the size of one SC4 large tile.

    Which per the article, the goal of SC2013 was to build on a 32x32 km plot, if not for EA's poorly scaled cloud.

    Quote

    One of the major criticisms of SimCity was its limitation on city size, which was much smaller than in previous SimCity titles. Quigley told Game Informer that before launch, Maxis had big ideas for those land plots.

    "The eventual vision was that the whole region — the whole vast, 32-kilometer by 32-kilometer region — would be one potential city, and you could build anywhere in it," said Quigley. He added that while SimCity's simulation engine "would have let us scale, eventually, to larger and larger cities," the back-end server infrastructure was the bottleneck in the system that prevented that grand plan from coming to fruition.

     

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    meowza

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    It's not just the infrastructure that wasn't ready for online-only, it's also the player base. Politics. Not to mention the gameplay restrictions.

    CS with Steam is online. But not required.

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    Jamonbread

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    Its funny I'm still unsure that he understands how bad the game is. The article would have to be ten times as long to go over all the disappointments. 

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    Ndragonawa

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    He does admit in the full interview that the game needed more development time and a later release date.

    The dev team never got to fix the gameplay the way they wanted to (sims living in different homes each night and working in different jobs each day comes to mind (personally I think this was a stop-gap to meet deadlines))  because they were busy fixing infrastructure, soon after they were canned by EA.

     

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    Talla 2XLC

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    Will we ever see another SC? Dont think so, but on the other Hand, who needs a new one when SC4 is STILL the King :yes:

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    peperodriguez2710

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    Now I understand why they disappointed us with the city size and other problems. It was a game full of potential, but EA threw it all away just because they wanted online only?! It's one of the stupidest decisions I've heard about game development, simply because the mulishness of Electronic Arts with their useless Origin matters more than one amazing game in potential. And that also explains their self-limiting policy about mods.

    Another example of how EA still manages to ruin sagas already ruined previously by them.

    Hope Maxis people who where forced by EA find a better place to make all that thrown away ideas reality.

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    ikaltsas

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    The new Sim City is very down of 4. I hope fore something new

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    jaredh

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    He doesn't say it, but hints largely at the monetization of the game EA envisioned.

    $2 per building download

    $25 for a larger plot

     

    etc etc etc

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    Spamoidutout

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    Quote

    He added that while SimCity's simulation engine "would have let us scale, eventually, to larger and larger cities," the back-end server infrastructure was the bottleneck in the system that prevented that grand plan from coming to fruition.

    This is a big huge lie !!

    The game engine was at its limit with the small cities sizes they gave us. That's actually why the cities were small, the servers problem was just one more limitation.

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    KillrChicken

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    On 2016-06-09 at 3:07 AM, Spamoidutout said:

    This is a big huge lie !!

    The game engine was at its limit with the small cities sizes they gave us. That's actually why the cities were small, the servers problem was just one more limitation.

    Well how do you know it is a lie? Did you help develop the engine? Maxis would know what the limits are because they engineered the engine. How would you know something that you did not engineer? Unless you reverse-engineered the game engine itself, I highly doubt you would know this.

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    LivingInThePast

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    I could tell based on the way SimCity 2013 was designed, doing research on it and heavily based off of Google Earth and other models, that there were some really good intentions going for it. The fact that EA "forced" online on it is completely unsurprising.

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    Drexel937

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    I personally love the game-   I think it is the only city builder of its kind.     Yes there is issues if you are looking to play it like all the other City builders.   SSCOT has an element to it that got me hooked..   Leaderboards !       Nothing can compare to it,  no city builder has this kind of structure-  Electronic, Petro, Gambling, Metals.        Deep Industry that can not be touched by any other CB.    This element of the game makes it unique.       I   

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    KillrChicken

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    SimCity is an awesome game, it is unfortunate that EA did what they did...

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    ussoldier2002

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    Still glad I never once bothered to play this game. It's absolutely wretched what ea did to this game. Greed ruined it all. That's why I only play SC4 and indie games.

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    .Del

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    Jesus, 32km by 32km. That's 1024km^2!

    Quite sad to see what SC2015 could've been if EA weren't so asinine about always online.

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    elavery

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    This game was a disaster and not just because of the online requirement. The fact that he thinks it was basically a good game shows just how removed from reality he is when it comes to SimCity.

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    fredinno

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    On 14/12/2016 at 6:18 AM, elavery said:

    This game was a disaster and not just because of the online requirement. The fact that he thinks it was basically a good game shows just how removed from reality he is when it comes to SimCity.

    The online was the primary reasob for a lot of those, as it moved dev time away from patching the game.

     

    Also, I would bet people would be playing 2013 today if it wasn't for online, since it has a lot of features lacking in Simcity 4 NAM, or Skylines.

     

    Plus, it would be moddable, and building and city aizes would be bigger.

     

    Also, it looks prettier than Skylines and Simcity 4.

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