We had a chance to catch up with the guys behind Synekism, a city simulation game focused on dynamically generated content. Check out our last interview with them here, and read on to see how things have progressed.
1. So, it's been a year since we last talked to you, what's the state of Synekism today, compared to one year ago?
Unfortunately (or fortunately), since May of 2011 we've mostly done research. Of the work we did do, most was code sanitation and only some went towards user-visible features. Our feature creep has therefore turned into a feature drought. That said, I think it was a necessary slowdown, with the thinking-to-doing ratio almost ready to favour doing.
On a factual user-visible level, we've added lot density controls, a ray-traced screenshot feature, camera alignment controls, data maps for density and land value, a new zoning layout which attempts to keep lots perpendicular to their road, and buildings no longer take up the entire lot. Synekism, however, is still very much in the early alpha stage.
We've also lost a team member bringing the count down to two. Nothing to worry about though.
2.What kind of traction have you picked up in the community? And has the feedback you've received to date shaped your project in any way?
Our website host hasn't complained yet about bandwidth spikes but I'd say we've gained a fair amount of attention, especially considering the limited state of Synekism. We'd like to especially thank those few very persistent players that have provided most of the feedback. It was no viral social trend but I think we did ok and it seems to be stable.
Feedback has definitely shaped Synekism in the past year. The best example was the multiplayer feature. We didn't even finish it before we were told it was NOT something we should focus on. It was a "cool" feature that people would "try" but would never become an integral part of the game. However, most of the feedback that improves Synekism at the moment is bug discovery since there isn't much depth yet.
I should add that besides feedback we got a tonne of suggestions and ideas that will certainly shape Synekism in the future.
A Work in Progress: Buildings in Synekism
3. So you relented on the multiplayer feature from the community feedback. How did you see multiplayer playing out? What were the high-level mechanics or concepts you had at the time?
We basically wanted to make it possible for two or more people to work on the same city at the same time. This would have been in real time. When your friend deleted all the roads (because he wasn't your friend) they would disappear from your copy of the city as well and in that instant. It would have been similar to a real-time strategy multiplayer game. The primary inspiration for our little multiplayer excitement was that we used to compete in SimCity, the challenge usually being first to a million population or something arbitrary like that.
In retrospect, our little skirmishes were not a major part of our city simulation fun, and even so, it was just as much fun without a network connection as it would have been with it. Maybe we'll explore multiplayer later on but for now we're sticking to single player.
A Zoomed-Out Look at Zones in Synekism
4. Did the announcement of the new SimCity have any effect on your development (goals, direction)?
We obviously can't compete with a giant like SimCity head-on. It wasn't so much a problem when we were competing with a 9 year old game but -1 year olds present some challenge. So, yes, we're still processing the news and changing our long term priorities accordingly. The goal is to further define the unique aspects of Synekism, like procedural buildings, and introduce additional fundamental differences into the mix. It might blow up in our face but we might as well take advantage of the "indie" development freedoms.
The announcement was also partly responsible for our recent break of tradition and pause from monthly releases. We'll be working over the summer to address some of the goals stated above and will return on September 1, 2012. But written updates should continue throughout.
5. We have been learning how GlassBox is an "agent-based" simulation. Can you tell us a bit about Synekism's intended simulation engine and how it might be the same or different?
I think I'm just at the point now where I know enough computer science to partially grasp the magnitude (just the magnitude) of GlassBox's complexity. This is clearly something a few years old with parents way smarter than myself. Based just on that I can assure you Synekism's engine will not be similar if it tried.
That said, one of the concepts we're playing with and will try to prototype over the summer is planet-sized city areas. Not regions, but continuous, no-loading-screens, buildable, planet-sized areas. Keep in mind I had the words "playing with", "try to", and "prototype" in the same sentence. My point is that we're going macro and agent-based simulation will probably not work well on the scales we're after. Therefore, Synekism will focus on statistically driven simulations. The details are still blurry right now though (as in, we have no clue).
6. Sounds ambitious, we'd love to know what you've come up with over the summer. So, I noticed in March you guys started a company, Idimoris. To me, it looks like an indication that Synekism might be moving out of the side-project and into a more full-time venture, is that accurate? Is the company being backed? Any plans on building the team further?
Idimoris was actually started before we launched. It was just the name of our "registered" general partnership as we didn't have the money nor was it worth incorporating at the time. It's still a partnership today (with one less partner). The website came about because someone generously volunteered his design talent. It was also not a bad idea to have something at www.idimoris.com since Synekism's publisher meta data says: Idimoris.
Unfortunately, none of us can commit to Synekism full-time for the next couple of years due to either full-time work or school, because we are our own and only backers, so it will technically remain a side-project. This might also be the place to address a common suggestion we get which is to put the project up on Kickstarter. It's a valid course of action and we might get enough to not starve while we work on Synekism full-time for a while. The plan would be to get Synekism up to what we call "pay-worthiness" faster and start living off the project. However, and to be honest, as much as I love this genre and this project, I also like my full-time (9 to 5) job which not only gives me better odds against starvation but also exposes me (having just graduated) to seasoned industry talent that easily carries over to the Synekism project. My partner is in a similar position. Therefore, accepting any financial backing right now would be inappropriate since it won't really speed up development.
Regarding the team, unless we come across a really dedicated programmer or designer that would be fine working for the sake of the work alone, I don't think it will grow within the perceivable future. Real growth would have to wait until we have a more solid direction.
7. And lastly, what are some of your goals over the next few months? Anything else you'd like to add, share or hint at? Thanks for taking the time, we'll catch up with you again!
Well, both of us will have some serious time off this summer (like a month) and our work load in general has just halved so we hope to get some serious work done. The planet idea I mentioned earlier is our first tackle as we'll try to see how crazy it really is. The planet push will also force a new save file. We're actually looking at adopting a serious database engine for our saves (probably Firebird). The UI needs to be re-done as we have too many short-cut keys and often avoid new feature because they would require UI changes. Our graphics engine also needs some attention. Forcing you to stare at boxes is just cruel without so much as shadows or anti-aliasing. These are some of the main goals for the September re-launch and the rest of the year but I cannot commit to anything at the moment until I get to work and see which of them are insane and which are border-line insane to implement. Moving forward, we will of course post updates on the 1st of each month on our progress.
We haven't done as much in the past year as I had hoped. I wish I can promise 2012 will be better but I've learned my lesson with promises like that. All I can say is that the project is alive and well and that I'm as curious about where we'll be by the end of the summer as anyone else.