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SimCity Interview: "aim for something different each time you play"

EA Maxis' producer Jason Haber on class and conflict in virtual cities

During a recent hands-on event, we had the opportunity to speak with EA Maxis producer Jason Haber about SimCity's interconnected virtual cities, how class will affect gameplay, and whether players can opt to aggressively sabotage their friends' personal utopias.

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How will the passing of time be reflected in SimCity's architecture?

The city will reflect its age in a couple of different ways. There are two dynamics in which your city can grow: one is density, and that is based on a building's happiness. Density will cause your building to grow taller and bigger, and to become a skyscraper eventually. The other aspect is its wealth or technology level, based on whether it's a residential or industrial building. That will change how wealthy or technologically advanced the buildings look. in addition, when you start to specialise the city down one of our specialisation routes - whether it be a casino city or an educational city, for example - that will be reflected in the buildings that generate around the city throughout all the zones. If you have a gambling town with lots of tourists, you're going to see hotels appear as your commercial businesses. Or if you have a university town, you'll see fraternity houses start to pop up.

Cities can be defined by their industry - for example there are casino cities and trash cities. That dynamic suggests there's an implicit class structure in the game. Will classes compete, and will it guide the multiplayer component?

I think rather than compete they'll naturally collaborate. It's really up to the player playing a region how they want to build their cities in order to relate to each other, but I find a lot of the time when I'm playing multiple cities I have one city that is a big tourist city, then I have another that's more about residential, then I'll have another that is more the commercial city. I don't think it's that they're naturally competing, but there's a natural collaboration between those specialisations.

In your presentation it showed that mansions would pop up near water due to the attractiveness of the location. What other systems will determine the class, or the wealth, of the people in your city?

What will happen is that the different wealth classes will respond to different things you have in your city. With a police station for instance, the lower wealth citizens might not mind living next to a police station because it will cause less crime. On the other hand, the wealthy won't want to live right next to a police station because the sirens will keep them awake at night. That's definitely reflected in the game. Also, the type of industry and the type of business you have in the city will actually help drive what kind of people want to live there. If you have a mining town you'll have a lot more of a low wealth city, but if you have a technology town you'll have more wealthy people living there.

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Is growth always the main motivator in SimCity? Is it possible to arrive at a beautifully harmonious city that's quite moderate in size?

Yeah, one of the goals of having specialisations is allowing players to not just have to make the giant downtown city as their end goal, but to give then other options in how to succeed. The beauty of a sandbox game is that you can set your own goals and you can play the game in the way you want to play, and the multi-city play also allows for that sort of support. So in order to get some of the best crime or fire coverage, you can draw [those resources] from another city, allowing you to have a smaller or more creative city as one of your cities in the region.

We saw some disasters - fairly regular natural and criminal disasters. Can there be economic disasters that come about through the player's decisions?

Within a city for sure. A big part of being a mayor is making sure you manage your budget well. If you have too many expenses and you're spending too much, eventually you'll run out of money. What's interesting about that is that it's not going to directly affect another city in the region, but it will definitely indirectly affect other cities. So if I have one city that is reliant on another city for power, and then that city goes bankrupt and can't afford coal for its power plant anymore, they'll no longer be able to provide power to that other city. There's a lot of that indirect influence going on with the multi-city play.

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