There's a good chance that many of our readers will be too young to have played the original Will Wright masterpiece that was SimCity, but perhaps the line of sequels and spin-offs that it spawned are more familiar. While Wright may have left the franchise, new reports claim that Maxis is already well into production on SimCity 5, with plenty of changes to gameplay and some images to back the report up. More details should be on the way, since Maxis looks set to announce the game officially at GDC 2012.
In the grand scheme of things, hearing that SimCity 5 is being planned isn't the most shocking bit of news for PC gamers, but that doesn't mean it should be understated. The impact of the first and best city simulator is far-reaching, a fact clear to everyone who picked up a copy of SimCity 4 this past summer. After Civilization V perfectly showcased how modern technology and innovation can breathe all new life into established PC formulas, SimCity 5 is already looking to do the same.
The details and images come from German gaming magazine GameStar by way of the NeoGAF forums, with a little effort needed to grasp what's been lost in translation. According to the report, the game is approximately 30% completed with an estimated release of some time in 2013. The gameplay details come courtesy of Kip Katsarelis, the project lead taking the helm now vacated by Wright's departure.
SimCity 5 may be a long time coming, but the early word seems to imply that the time has been put to good use. A new game engine, Glassbox will be used to bring the virtual cities to life, and apparently allow players to view the city from afar, or zoom in close enough to read individual signs and billboards. According to the report the images released are an idea of what to expect from the game's visuals, but an official trailer will have to wait since "[t]he current video quality does not meet the requirements of internal."
Despite this, the visual fidelity is apparently good enough to show glowing windows at night, citizens escaping over rooftops from spontaneous apartment building fires, and even AI characters that go about their days from morning until night. The released images give a good idea of what kind of population density is being pursued, and how the complex relationships between residents and business will impact gameplay.[gallery columns="2"]
Raising taxes or allowing commercial districts to collapse may have been viable strategies in past SimCity games, but that doesn't seem to be the case for SimCity 5. Civilian protests are hinted at if living conditions or unemployment escalates too high, and with one of the images seeming to depict a political speech depicting a bright future, or one corrupted by pollution, it seems that the developers are aiming to simulate more than just civil engineering.
What's obvious from the images is the lack of simple 'grids' or right-angles for road construction, so fans of sweeping turns or landscaping will have far more to work with. According to GameStar, the new road system is just one 'gamey' mechanic that is being stripped of old features in favor of moving the series farther toward realism:
"What remains is the classification for residential, commercial and industrial, which has added the graphic detail with much love. As soon as you place a new residential area, the construction workers built the homes of bottom-up, followed by the arrival of the cars of the new owners moving so diligently to begin to save their belongings in their new home."
Exactly how these systems will work together is likely still being decided by the development team, since the project is still more than a year away from release. The humans within the simulated cities aren't the only ones who will be interacting with one another, as multiplayer modes and competitive leaderboards will also be integrated into SimCity 5. Official details will need to be gathered to get a handle on what kind of systems will be used to balance any online modes, but this far away from release, expect those to come later rather than sooner.
All of this comes not long after Electronic Arts' PR head Erik Reynolds claimed that the company would be making a 'Maxis announcement' at next week's Game Developer's Conference. Considering this report, it's hard to think of any other major announcements that we can expect.
What's your take on the gameplay tweaks or the idea of an online global economy complicating city simulation even further? Is SimCity a series that you would like to see benefit from advancements in current technology, or has the potential of the genre already been realized?
We'll keep you up to date when any announcements regarding SimCity 5 are made before or during GDC 2012.
Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.