SimCity looks to be a lot of unambiguously good things, but it’s also going to require an always-on internet connection to play. That’s caused a fair few grumbles, understandably. A couple of months ago, Maxis explained that they “thought about this SimCity as multiplayer from the ground up”. They’ve since explored in a little more detail precisely what they mean by that, and what exactly EA's servers do for the game.
“I understand why this may be a concern for fans who have been playing SimCity for decades now. Like all of you, I’m a long-time SimCity fan.” That’s Maxis master and commander Lucy Bradshaw there, over on the Maxis blog.
“Creating a connected experience has always been a goal for SimCity, and this design decision has driven our development process for the game. We knew we had to make sure we put our heart and souls into the simulation and the team created the most powerful simulation engine in its history, the GlassBox Engine.”
GlassBox is the mass of tiny, interconnected systems that makes SimCity’s buildings, economies, trading, and a potential 100,000 individual sims tick along nicely. That takes a lot of processing, apparently, and consequently the weight is split between EA and the user.
“GlassBox does more than just segregate computing tasks [however], it also allows us to make it so that you can create specialized cities that are visually unique and personalized, and that can be economically integrated into a larger region,” continues Bradshaw. “You’re always connected to the neighbors in your region so while you play, data from your city interacts with our servers, and we run the simulation at a regional scale.
“For example, trades between cities, simulation effects that cause change across the region like pollution or crime, as well as depletion of resources, are all processed on the servers and then data is sent back to your city on your PC. Every city in the region is updated every three minutes, which keeps the overall region in sync and makes your decisions in your city relevant to any changes that have taken place in the region.”
Phew. Those are the best reasons for always-on connection silliness SimCity has.Then there’s the social and competitive stuff we’re all familiar with, that lies at the gooey centre of most of our online games.
“Running the regional simulation on our servers is something we also use to support features that will make this SimCity even more fun. We use the Sim data to update worldwide leaderboards, where you get to see your city or mayoral standings as compared to the other cities in your region and between all of the regions in the world. And since SimCity is a live service, we're also using the data to create weekly global and local challenges for our players that keep the gameplay fresh and surprising.”
In short: SimCity is always-online not only to make somebody at EA feel better about pirates, but also at least in part because it’s working really bloody hard. Is that a reasonable compromise? Let us know what you think.