SimCity First Impressions: Three Things I Learned After Three Hours of Play
Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style
I would be lying if I said that last night was my first time playing the brand new SimCity game (that is, once I got the damn Origin download working.) I was also in the very last beta period, and even though it gave testers a very limited amount of time I learned vital lessons from that beta city (the sleepy little community of Hughbonneville), and those lessons have helped me tremendously now that I'm playing for keeps.
I'm nowhere near as intensely analytical about playing SimCity as many of the franchise's most devoted fans are, but if you're just starting out or planning to pick the game up later I've got three crucial tips you absolutely need to hear.
3. Size Matters
One of the big complaints about the latest SimCity is that the size of your city is much more restricted than it has been in past games. The fact that each city is in a larger region with other possible city sites (and other players, if you want) allows for eager players to expand their game in that way, but the cities themselves can still feel quite claustrophobic. When I played in the beta I expanded my city very quickly, using a lot of curved roads (which are very pretty, but very inefficient in terms of space.) By the end of the event I was bumping up against the city limits without anywhere to go, and a population barely past 20k.
This time I'm building things as close together as I can, making the most of the space I have before inching out towards the edge of the map. I'm no doubt still making mistakes, but with a population of around 30k and only half of the city map developed, my new town can likely look forward to a much brighter future than Hughbonneville would have had.
2. Give everything room to grow
Even though I just advocated keeping your city as tightly packed as possible as you slowly expand outward, it's important to give buildings room to expand themselves. If the roads and the population density allow for it, houses will evolve into apartments and townhouses on their own--as long as they have the space needed to do so.
When you're not used to placing roads in this game getting the spacing just right can be very tricky, but try to make sure that the blocks of land between roads have at least enough space for two rows of whatever is going there, whether it's houses, shops, or factories. Doing that should give them the room they need to expand when they're ready. Otherwise you'll have to start bulldozing if you don't want to be stuck with crappy little buildings forever.
1. Always overestimate traffic
When laying down the roads in Hughbonneville, spacing wasn't my only mistake. I also laid very low-density roads, which made sense as little residential streets to me. However the city had traffic jams almost constantly, even mid-afternoon in the residential areas, and even after adding a bus system traffic was appallingly bad, forcing me to upgrade every single road to high-density within the first two hours of play.
The thing about roads is that you can upgrade or downgrade them as much as you like, but there are two different types of roads and you can never turn one into the other without outright bulldozing and replacing it. This time I laid avenue (which is more expensive, but can also accommodate streetcars) instead of plain roadways along the core strip of my town to help alleviate traffic troubles. If you find yourself laying low or medium density roads early in your game, I can practically promise that you'll be upgrading them within an hour or two to ease traffic, so be as generous with road size as you can afford to be to save yourself the pain later.
That's the new SimCity game for beginners, but if you're looking for more intermediate/advanced advice, check out this handy pile of infographics and instructions that will help you maximize your city's potential. You had better bet I'll be printing that off and keeping it handy in the sim days (and weeks) ahead!
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Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.