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Kilgry

Maximum number of agents - is it enough?

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I've been really excited about all the SimCity anouncements, but one video comment from a Maxis employee has me quite concerned. Add to that the fact that we now know city sizes will be only 2x2.

The comment was about the number of agents the engine is able to track. The comment was that 10s of thousands of agents can be tracked. This number sound reasonable when taking a look at today's CPUs, and also knowing Maxis will build their engine for the lower class PCs. We also know that not just sims count as agents in the game but many other items (power, water, etc.).

The problem is that even in a midsize town/city you have 50k - 200k people living there. Cutting that down to households you might see 10k-50k. Add to that all the manufactured goods, water, power, garbage, sickness, etc. that SimCity needs to track, and it seems to me that the engine might not really be up to handling large cities.

My hope, but I'm not holding my breath, is that Maxis takes advantage of multi-core CPUs and allows the city sizes to expand with the number of cores running. However, I believe reality is that multi-core CPU will not be used properly nor would Maxis allow the game to run different size simulation if given enough power.

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I hope they will expand the sizes of the cities...then again, I've typically failed with making most of my bigger cities. Balancing the enviroment and the money isn't exactly...easy for me. :P

Then again, say I do get better at making such cities, that might make me more worried. I think the game will be fine though. It surely doesn't sound too big, yet I must say that with the new GlassBox engine and a nicer, easier interface compared to some of the other SimCity games, it'll be a must-buy in my book. :D

And so will a new graphics card, so I can run SimCity and maybe a few other games I'll be buying...seeing that I can barely run the almost 10-year-old SimCity 4 without a terrible lag.

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It's too early to tell, and we won't know until the game is released. Maxis hasn't said if water, power, sewage, etc are the same size agents as Sims. Water and power could possibly be as small as one bit, whereas a Sim agent could be an 8-byte agent, if my memory serves, that'd give 64 resource agents per Sim agent. If there's a limit on how many agents there are, that could mean sim-size agents, not resource-size agents.


  Edited by PTPLauthor  

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A typical day of an agent:

05:00 Delivering water to the sims

05:30 Delivering electricity to the sims

06:00 Bring sim to work

06:30 Go walking with a homeless sim

07:00 Driving the ambulance

07:30 Get the kids to school

[...]

You see? When one agent has fulfilled it's purpose it can be used for other agent related stuff. The agent just have to unload the package at its destination and then it is free. The agent doesn't sit in school the whole day holding the kids hand, the school is another layer of the simulation. Once the package has delivered the agent is free. At least this is what i be thinking about the agent base simulation.

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A typical day of an agent:

05:00 Delivering water to the sims

05:30 Delivering electricity to the sims

06:00 Bring sim to work

06:30 Go walking with a homeless sim

07:00 Driving the ambulance

07:30 Get the kids to school

[...]

You see? When one agent has fulfilled it's purpose it can be used for other agent related stuff. The agent just have to unload the package at its destination and then it is free. The agent doesn't sit in school the whole day holding the kids hand, the school is another layer of the simulation. Once the package has delivered the agent is free. At least this is what i be thinking about the agent base simulation.

From what Maxis has told us this sounds like the most likely possibility. Agents are only needed to simulate the movement of things through the city; they don't simulate every individual person in every house in the city at all times.

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  • Original Poster
  • Yes, I've been seeing now the 200,000 quote and the statements that agents can be reused, however it seems to me that an agent needs to be tied to a simulation point (person, water, power, etc) at all times or that simulation point will no longer exist.

    For example, how does a sim go about their day and if there is no agent assigned to it? Perhaps the question is more, what do sims do when at home and at work? Do they become just a statistic of the building that is tracked or is the sim itself tracked?

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  • Original Poster
  • I've never seen a village with a skyscraper......and since nobody knows how many agents there are, there's no way of telling whether there will be enough.

    True, but many of the things people are complaining about on these forums are based on speculation or Maxis' comments.

    Though Simcity 2013 gets my juices flowing, I do have to admit that what is cool is the true simulation that is being promised. However, the capabilities shown to us in the videos and screenshots does not seem to be impressing anyone here with its apparent lack of ability to handle the complexity of a true city. It is definitely the right step to take since we all crave realism in modelling complexity, but I think many here believe our dreams might be too high for this initial step.

    My main questions about the game are around the topic of engine capabilities and with a true simulation it comes down to the raw power the engine can feed on (CPU cores and the like) and how small a detail can it model and how flexible is the engine for adding new details to model? The power questions determine how large a simulation it can handle (how many moving parts) and the detail questions are how well it can simulated reality.

    It appears to me that Maxis has made a choice to deal with their simulation limitations by forcing us to divide our cities across our regions: industry over here, residential here, etc. Then the stats engine takes over and models the neighboring city relationships to offload the complexity of too many moving parts.

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    Are there enough agents? I'd rather say not, but since we can only build villages in this game I'm sure the answer is yes.

    I've never seen a village with a skyscraper......and since nobody knows how many agents there are, there's no way of telling whether there will be enough.

    check the video here:

    SimCity part starts at around 7:00... they have some shots with taller buildings... and some trickery with the background to make the city "look" bigger than it really is... in reality we know it will be high rises at the edge of a map as seen from the region....

    Even if you figure a medium map in SC4 could easily get 300,000 population, that means at least 1.2 million agents (1 for each sim, power, water, sewage, etc). So the claim of 20,000 to 200,000 will DEFINITELY not be enough... unless they artificially limit population (followed by loads of posts on forums "why wont my zones next to avenues grow over the size of a house? I have high rises elsewhere in town...").

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    Cities in SimCity 4, with the CAM mod, where most employment is within the city limits, rarely go over 200,000 sims. The density of population in SimCity 2013 is comparable to that of the density with the CAM mod added, which is significantly lower than that of SimCity 4 without mods.

    --Ocram

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    Yes, I've been seeing now the 200,000 quote and the statements that agents can be reused, however it seems to me that an agent needs to be tied to a simulation point (person, water, power, etc) at all times or that simulation point will no longer exist.

    For example, how does a sim go about their day and if there is no agent assigned to it? Perhaps the question is more, what do sims do when at home and at work? Do they become just a statistic of the building that is tracked or is the sim itself tracked?

    Listen carefully to the narrator in

    Buildings are simulation units which contain resources, like "coal and workers". When a sim is at home or work they are a resource in that building. Simulation units run rules. One rule might require that the building contain a minimum number of workers in order to be active. Another rule might multiply the number of sims present by a consumption factor to control how much water the building needs.

    Later in that video the narrator says, "Agents are simulation entities that carry resources from one unit to another." A vehicle is an agent that carries sims from one building to another. A walking sim is also an agent, but when they arrive at their destination they revert to being just a resource.

    Agents are special because they move. Agents need to do path-finding. Path-finding is more CPU intensive than running rules. Glassbox can probably handle a lot more resources than agents. Resources just consume memory and wait for rules to run, agents need constant attention to move them and update the path-finding as the roads change and especially as other agents get in their way or get out of their way.

    Saying that Glassbox can support X number of agents is saying that it can have that many things moving around the road network (and other networks) at the same time. Things that aren't moving are not agents and put a much lower strain on the CPU.

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    Yes, I've been seeing now the 200,000 quote and the statements that agents can be reused, however it seems to me that an agent needs to be tied to a simulation point (person, water, power, etc) at all times or that simulation point will no longer exist.

    For example, how does a sim go about their day and if there is no agent assigned to it? Perhaps the question is more, what do sims do when at home and at work? Do they become just a statistic of the building that is tracked or is the sim itself tracked?

    Listen carefully to the narrator in

    Buildings are simulation units which contain resources, like "coal and workers". When a sim is at home or work they are a resource in that building. Simulation units run rules. One rule might require that the building contain a minimum number of workers in order to be active. Another rule might multiply the number of sims present by a consumption factor to control how much water the building needs.

    Later in that video the narrator says, "Agents are simulation entities that carry resources from one unit to another." A vehicle is an agent that carries sims from one building to another. A walking sim is also an agent, but when they arrive at their destination they revert to being just a resource.

    Agents are special because they move. Agents need to do path-finding. Path-finding is more CPU intensive than running rules. Glassbox can probably handle a lot more resources than agents. Resources just consume memory and wait for rules to run, agents need constant attention to move them and update the path-finding as the roads change and especially as other agents get in their way or get out of their way.

    Saying that Glassbox can support X number of agents is saying that it can have that many things moving around the road network (and other networks) at the same time. Things that aren't moving are not agents and put a much lower strain on the CPU.

    Essentially agents are like data packets in the internet. Their only job is to move data around. Once they are used up or reach their destination they cease to exist. Even though Maxis has been talking up how you can almost peer in a sim's life, they really are not any more special than they were in older games. They are still really just mindless drones (albeit with little more purpose now). The important thing to know is like the older games, the buildings are what are actually hold the information regarding a sim's characteristics (education, health, money etc.). The sims you see walking or driving around are more like a representative of the home they originated from.

    As for the agent limit, I don't think they'll have a problem hitting a wall with a map that size. You have to remember that even though you may have a city of say 300K it will be unlikely to ever see that many agents out on your streets at any time. This will be especially true once you have mass transit set up as one bus, tram or train can hold multiple sims and only count as 1 agent. The pollution and utility agents could be limited by restricting how much can be sent out at a time or by having a time limit before they expire (like sewage agents converting to ground pollution in the gameplay video).

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    I agree that agents are not huge CPU eaters, I just think it's being used as a pro factor and an excuse (for the crippled features) at the same time. The technical details are interesting to a sim gamer sort like me, but beyond that, it is meaningless if agents are crippling my simcity gameplay experience.

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  • Original Poster
  • I think I get it now. Thanks for the info!

    Sounds like there might be hope for larger cities afterall. Just wish we could get some confirmation from Maxis on it. They have been pretty tight lipped about it.

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    I agree that agents are not huge CPU eaters, I just think it's being used as a pro factor and an excuse (for the crippled features) at the same time. The technical details are interesting to a sim gamer sort like me, but beyond that, it is meaningless if agents are crippling my simcity gameplay experience.

    No no, they *are* cpu eaters, particularly as the number of concurrent agents increase.

    Maxis are hot on the release with the new engine, like the Frostbite engine was, they don't know the limits, nor have they finished refining the engine for this inaugural game with the brand new engine.

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