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    Synekism: A new City Builder, Developer Interview


    Dirktator

    Synekism is an indie city-building game with some ambitious goals to redefine the city-building genre.

    From Synekism.com:

    Synekism is a city simulation video game focused on dynamically generated content. The project was started is currently maintained by three university students in Canada.

    The game style is that of an open sandbox. The player can designate residential, commercial and industrial zones and watch them grow. One can also zone government lots to raise desirability.

    The key features of the game are grid less environments and dynamically generated buildings. The lack of a grid means total freedom when placing lots and roads allowing more realistic looking cities. Procedurally generated buildings allows for more visual variability. Instead of pre-created models a building is generated depending of location-based desirability and city-wide demand.

    From Wikipedia:

    Synekism[1] is a concept in urban studies coined by Edward Soja. It refers to the dynamic formation of the polis state - the union of several small urban settlements under the rule of a "capital" city (or so-called city-state or urban system). Soja's definition of synekism, mentioned in Writing the city spatially, is "the stimulus of urban agglomeration."

    I got a chance to discuss the project with Damian, the Synekism team leader to get a better sense of what Synekism is about, and where it's going.

    ---

    Who are you guys? How many of you are there? What do you guys do?

    Nobody really, just three friends from olden times, all full-time under-grad students at various universities in Ontario.

    Whose branchild is Synekism? What motivated you to create it?

    So I (Damian) triggered this project almost two years ago and it was for a combination of having some fun, learning something, and stirring up some heat in this somewhat forgotten genre, industry wise. I thought that even if we don't end up big we could at least encourage some more development, more competition.

    How long have you been working on it?

    Development officially started on May 18, 2010.

    What makes Synekism distinct from city-building games that have come before it?

    We're *trying* to remove as many restrictions from the user as we possibly can. We started on a gridless and dynamic foundation to begin with which is why the game lacks detail at the moment. We'll eventually go further and remove the map size restriction as well and basically try live up to the sandbox nature of our genre. Synekism is also being designed with dynamic content in mind. For example, once the buildings actually look like buildings they will not be static pre-made models that simply plopped here and there, rather, from a set of puzzle pieces each building will be generated according the type, density, class, neighborhood, time period, and the shape/location of the lot, and probably many other factors. Naturally, lots can already be many different sizes and shapes.

    Of course, we are building on the shoulders of the giants that came before us and so we'll also include the successful features that made previous city-sims great.

    Synekism.skyline.jpg

    Synekism.downtown.jpg

    Downtown

    Synekism.downtown2.jpg

    Downtown 2

    The notion of removing as many restrictions from the player as possible intriguing, so the question is: if Synekism is intended to be more than just a sandbox toy, how does a "game" dynamic fit within a game-world devoid of restrictions?

    I think that's the beauty of city sims (and simulators in general): that you don't need to worry about gameplay per-say as long as you are accurate in your simulation. I like to compare city simulation to painting, the only difference being that the paint is alive and can thrive or die off depending on which paints, brushes and canvases you choose to use and in what proportions. Makers of paints, brushes and canvases don't specify precisely what you may and may not do with them.

    However, there will still be restrictions. For example, just like good quality paints are expensive so will the various tools in our game cost the player dearly. Equally, keeping one's city alive will require a delicate balance between taxes and public spending. Total freedom is obviously not desirable.

    So is the idea eventually then that the buildings are generated procedurally?

    Yes, but also with support for static buildings like landmarks or player-made buildings.

    So with dynamic content in mind, what are the ways you envision users creating and contributing content?

    So the procedural generation part (and this is still up in the air at the moment) will use puzzle pieces to generate the buildings. These pieces will simply be wall and window types and they will be used to create each floor of a building by repeating (and possibly scaling) the 3D model of the piece as many times as necessary. More complex but similar logic will be used for lobbys and rooftops. The point being that, as with real life, buildings should look like they were built specifically for the lot they are on and not simply "plopped" there. Players will be able to create custom puzzle pieces as well as restrict the building shapes their puzzle set will work for.

    With that in mind, there will still be the option to create full static buildings by selecting that puzzle set and shaping the building manually. Such creations will simply be ploppable (maybe with limitations on the number of duplicates per city).

    We are also looking at in-game customizability of the transportation network tool. So for example, you could create a "brush" that paints a 4-lane avenue with streetcar rail in the center and using a specific type of street lights. You can then share this with other players, just like you can share Photoshop brushes.

    Synekism.gridless.jpg

    Gridless

    How would you address performance concerns when it comes to these massive and potentially limitless complex cities?

    Let's just say the box buildings will be in the game for a good while. When we do introduce higher quality buildings they will only be turned on for the closest buildings to the camera, with the rest of the city still just boxes. As we improve our performance you'll be able to see more detail at once. As with limitless city sizes the exact approach is still being debated. Content will of course be loaded on a per-need basis but in steps, so you might go to your second city on the other side of the planet in a couple of seconds but that city will slowly load up all it's buildings. One thing I will stress is that we really want to avoid any loading screens. I know we are failing that goal now but that's our aim anyway.

    In terms of the simulation of entire planets we working on a way to "approximate" the running of a city that is not in the player's focus. Not too much detail on that yet.

    What kind of things do you have in mind that you guys would definitely want to see in a city-building game?

    Where do I begin? For one, the game should be able to accurately reproduce any real city (as in, trace in exactly the map of that city). Furthermore, one should be able to, without excessive plopping, accurately re-create the density, wealth, and zone type distribution of the real city, as well as its traffic patterns and public transit use. All this while looking picture perfect.

    I am going over the top here, a bit, and I should say that there are a lot of sensible features that are currently either missing or not properly implemented. Multiplayer is one. I think Minecraft proved that sandbox games not only can be multiplayer but can excel at it, if done properly. A truly accurate and flexible transportation network, including traffic simulation and public transit, is another big one. And what we are trying to do, which is to remove the size restrictions and create huge and persistent regions. I think we can do better now-days than individual city file loading and saving. Naturally, there is a lot more to add here.

    Synekism.highshot.jpg

    Highshot

    What can you tell us about the actual city simulator at this point? Is the intention to remain close to the SimCity recipe?

    For the most part, yes, we are sticking to SimCity's recipe. Why change something that worked so well? There will be some differences which hopefully fix some of the minor annoyances that the SimCity simulator created (like the infamous NO JOB zots). One major difference will be the way we approach public services. Basically, if you don't touch it it will balance itself, moderately well. So for example, if you don't build any schools whatsoever, the simulator will spawn private schools which will address some of the educational needs of the area. If, however, you decide to take matters into your own hands and see if you can do better - the simulator will back off and give control over to you (in degrees of course). Beyond this we'll just have to see.

    I have to say, that's a pretty awesome set of goals! So if I get what you're saying, it sounds like Synekism, the concept as it is right now, is leaning toward a more sandbox-type toy than objective-based game? Maybe a loaded question, but would you say that you're catering to hard-core city simulator fans more and casual players less?

    So, in short, yes to both questions. I should, however, expand the second "yes" a bit. So, although the core city sim players are our focus, we are trying to make the game as "automatic" as possible. So, take my example above. If you just want to zone and zone and just worry about the balance between the three major types then you can very well do so. The rest of the game will be automated at some adequate level. Some examples of automated aspects of the game may include education, healthcare, police, and even fire protection services. However, player-controlled (or state-controlled) services have the potential to be a lot more efficient than the vanilla automatic implementations.

    You'll see the first attempt at covering levels of complexity in our next major release (May 1st) with lot density controls.

    Synekism.overviewmode.jpg

    Overview Mode

    What and when is the next milestone?

    Well, this coming release in May will start looking at multiplayer in an experimental sort of way as well as introduce lot density control. The summer will mostly see fixes, stability and performance updates as we prepare our code for bigger features (but we will always have new features each release, even if minor ones!). As for the next major milestone, I think it will come towards the end of the year with an engine upgrade. After that, the predictive reliability becomes negligible.

    Once again, I could go on forever on the subject. We will likely start a blog soon to expand some more on our plans as well as get feedback.

    Looking forward to seeing where this project goes! Thanks for taking the time, and keep us posted!

    Synekism.suburbs.jpg

    Suburbs

    Synekism.town.jpg

    Town

    Synekism.zoning.jpg

    Zoning

    Synekism.zoning2.jpg

    Zoning

    ---

    If you're interested in checking out a city, you can load the save game file here. To download the latest build of Synekism, check out: http://www.synekism.com/

    If you have your own questions, feel free to post them below.


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    User Feedback




    Ryan123220

    Posted

    This is very exciting, I can not wait to see what this turns into, it looks like it has great potential. To bad for some reason when I first try to start a city the game crashes, hopefully the next patch will fix it.

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    Yelmond

    Posted

    Well how much fun would a stable, bug-free game be anyway?

    Though, could you help us fix this by sending an email to support@synekism.com with some more detail? Maybe with a copy of the clientspecs.xml file in the program files Synekism folder? That would be awesome. And sorry for the terrible.

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    BEK1

    Posted

    I am extremely excited about this development. It is nice to see that some people recognize that there is a demand for high quality city simulation games. If this project really gets moving then it could really bring the genre back.

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    InCommandOfCars

    Posted

    Looks awesome, this is sort of the type of gameplay that lacks from this market, i cant wait to play it and watch it develop.

    Something that would be cool is that when (and if) you make more building looking structures you could make tower designs and have the base simply fit into the lot.

    Going to play it now :)

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    JoshuaGellock

    Posted

    Looks like you guys are laying the foundation for a successful game. I'm eager to see how it turns out!

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    iMetropolis

    Posted

    This looks interesting I would like to see this go further! I would like to make a tiny question would you be willing to change the industries? Like I mean we have still have manufacturing and high-tech and dirty but how about having resources such as metals and oil so we can set up drilling and mining companies. I know it's a little far fetched but it would be an interesting addition as well as weather I think we all want weather.

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    Yelmond

    Posted

    Well, we haven't set in stone yet how our industry will be divided. But location-sensitive industry has come up and we are considering it. And yes, weather, it's just a matter of time...

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    jsainth00

    Posted

    This is very interesting. I really look forward to this. :)

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    Tonraq

    Posted

    cool and very interesting. I wish it would turn out to be great!

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    Jamonbread

    Posted

    Wow this is really great! Best of luck with this project.

    I might just add that I think the space for the biggest improvement in SC4 would have been the industry sector both visually and the resource based aspect. I mean it looked very unrealistic having a bunch of little lots meant to add into a big factory. It just looked terrible and industry often became pointless. Form the sounds of it you will stray from this which is great. I guess m suggestion is that although SC4 works pretty well and you seem to be filling the gaps with the zoning controls very well with the other sectors I would suggest extra features with the industry portion because it really is a different beast. I think location sensitive industry is starting on the right track and I urge you to put a lot of thought into that sector because I think it has the biggest room for potential and betterment. Just some thoughts... again good luck!

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    thadividedsky

    Posted

    I'm gonna try this game out. Looks interesting and I hope it takes off. :thumb:

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    BEK1

    Posted

    What are your plans for the economic aspects of this? For example, in SimCity 2 you had the ability to tax different types of industry differently (an aspect they abandoned in later SC titles much to my chagrin). Additionally, ordinances like parking fines and the ability to do things like legalize gambling are all part of the economic mix in real life and in good city simulations.

    Also, are there any preliminary views on how the game will treat airports and seaports? This has been an area where I feel that SimCity has let me down. This and the fact that stadiums generate no traffic.

    I understand these are big areas and they will develop over time but any thoughts you had would be greatly appreciated.

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    iowndiscti

    Posted

    i tried this game out, at first it was slighty difficult to master but i got the hang of it pretty quickly. i like the concept of the gridless city, it makes transit much easier! although the game could use an "autofill" feature for areas that you cant zone well because its shaped awkwardly [ the requirements would be this area is filled with a zone type, as long as it is bounded by 4 streets, roads, avenues, or freeways]

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    Yelmond

    Posted

    Hello,

    Jamonbread:

    I fully agree with you on the sector based industry idea. We'll definitely consider this for our next bump in complexity. But of course not all industry is location sensitive, especially in today's crazy globalized world. What we might do is divide industry into categories of raw materials (farms, mines, etc.) which would be location sensitive and manufacturing which will not be AS location sensitive (obviously better to be close to the raw resource than far).

    BEK1:

    Well, the tax system, when implemented, will mirror the complexity of the simulator. If we categorize industry as mentioned above than the tax system will of course reflect that.

    As for airports and seaports they will be zone-based. However, going with our optional complexity levels approach, you will be able to specify as little as just the zone shape itself and as much as placing each building, runway, taxi, crane and whatever else your airport/seaport requires yourself.

    And when the time comes, we'll make certain that stadiums generate occasional traffic nightmares. But seriously, how realistic can we claim to be without this consideration?

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    glopy19

    Posted

    This looks great, when is it being released for mac

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    The game looks good but I really hate that the buildings don't have any detail in them. If the buildings were detailed to look realistic then I'd definitely get it.

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    I just saw that they are planning on adding detail to the buildings. I will most likely buy it once it's done depending on if my laptop can handle it and if it's as good as it looks.

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    John CE

    Posted

    Love the concept you have there!

    But, and this is a quite big but for a real life city planner like myself, how about mixed use buildings? Commercial ground floor and the rest residential just as an example. Many European, and other as well, cities are currently heading back in that direction and have been doing so for some time (as I suspect you know). I always found the lack of that aspect annoying in most city-sims and would love to see it implemented.

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    Jamonbread

    Posted

    ^ Just like to add to John CE that I totally agree! I find myself trying to simulate this by mixing zoning at small scale but it really doesn't work realistically. Cities in motion although not a city builder per-say I noticed does have jobs and residential in the same buildings which they include under the title "blockhouses".

    It also actually allows in the editor to add the cafe details ect. in the already built city table by table... not just on a lot in a separate program to plop as a whole. I think this method although creating more individual blocks (which could slow the program) to process allows a deep amount of detail and uniqueness to the city streets unachievable so far in SC4. I think there are a few innovative and great ideas in the cities in motion editor although severely lacking in others as you may find. Anyway I really encourage you to take a look if you haven't already.

    Some of the management of the transit system in the actual game might also be cool to include maybe not to the same detail since this game is specifically a transit tycoon but the traffic generated in the game considers all traffic which is great, the subways are much more realistic, and the service area halos around each station are vast improvements to the way SC4 deals with it which is a blind guess and seems to change the acceptable distance for no apparent reason.

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    Lakenstaken

    Posted

    Looks great so far!!! Finally someone takes up the city builder genre! If this becomes a "Sim City 5" I suspect the developers will get rich :)

    Cities XL almost did it, the fanbase before release was huge, but then the game dissapointed. Keep up the good work, I will buy this, no doubt.

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    Yelmond

    Posted

    Hello everyone,

    glopy19:

    Unfortunately our small team does not include any mac users let alone mac experts and we also don't own any macs. So it will take some time but we are not ruling it out.

    Sirron Kcuhc:

    We share your concern on the looks and are working on it. It's just a matter of time. Our current focus is more on gameplay and stability.

    John CE:

    Mixed use lots are not too far down our to-do list and will be implemented pretty much how you described. Expect them within a couple of months.

    Jamonbread:

    We have indeed looked at and been inspired by Cities in Motion. Although we won't copy their implementation of public transit simulation exactly you can expect a similar approach. As for the building variety and the mixed-zone lots we hope the procedural approach to building generation we are working will address this concern. We'll have to see about all this when the time comes though (which won't be too soon, unfortunately).

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    packersfan

    Posted

    Great goals. Stick to them and we'll love ya! I'll be keeping my eye on this!

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    pimmapman

    Posted

    I think that this is a fantastic idea, and it has huge potential!

    One question: how do you build wider roads and other transit types?

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    ctp133

    Posted

    how do u get it to run in full screen it says full screen not yet working in dx 9

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    Jorge_carrillo

    Posted

    Perhaps the main problem that many city builders face is that not matter how many advantages over SC4 they can offer, SC4 is now, 8 years latter it was released, a remaked game from the users is almost compleatly customized by the comunity of gamers, In 8 years the gamers have created so many different lots and mods and tools that Even if many SC4 builders move to those new games, It will take them years to be up to simcity 4 freeware.

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    Yelmond

    Posted

    Hello,

    pimmapman:

    Only one type of road for now. More types will come soon.

    ctp133:

    Like it says, we don't have support for full screen more in DirectX 9 yet. This will be fixed eventually. For now, you'll have to just maximize your window.

    Jorge_carrillo:

    You have a very good point but there is only so much one can do with SC4 even with all the customization. At some point, we do need to move on. I'm not saying Synekism is the next thing but hopefully it will be one of the options out there. We will approach customization with the same diligence SC4 did and maybe offer ways to transfer some of the work that went into SC4 customizations over to Synekism (give that's legal of course!). Games in this genre may not have the life span of an iPhone game but that's why I love them so much. Time will tell.

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    mmaaattt

    Posted

    Looks like a great project with massive potential!

    What other types of transport are you planning on implementing (i.e. will it include trams eventually)?

    Also, is there potential for planning restrictions like maximum building levels or wall-to-wall buildings like many European cities?

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    Yelmond

    Posted

    We're definitely not ruling out trams or other transportation types, nor the planning restrictions you mentioned. I can't say exactly when they will come but I can say they will eventually (as in within 5 years) come, in some form or another.

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    Enenkuda2

    Posted

    This is very nice! the only thing i dont like about it is the unrefined aspect. i love the freedom of it but to me it looks like blocks with roads not a city. but im sure with future releases that will change :)

    otherwise very very nice! im downloading it right now lol

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