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Being a good neighbor in SimCity


One of the most interesting aspects of the new SimCity is the way pollution and the environment play into the new multiplayer features. The latest installment of the franchise is being prepared for next year, so there's no playable version yet for me to see the mechanic in action. In the meantime, EA Maxis was willing to play out some scenarios during a visit to the Emeryville, CA, offices last week.

Once a new game is started, players can create a region and invite friends to add their own cities. Each city has the potential to share with its neighbors. The citizens of one city may travel to the other to enjoy casinos or shopping, for example. Keeping Sims within the city happy keeps the economy flowing.

Connecting cities in this way opens the door to interesting scenarios. One city could be a supplier of coal to other locations, reaping the cash rewards of being a supplier and allowing its neighbors to progress in the game despite limitations. It encourages cooperation, something EA Maxis will support with added bonuses and possible achievements.

Gallery: SimCity (3/28/12) | 6 Photos

Beyond cooperation between players, SimCity focuses on the environmental effects of each location. The aforementioned coal baron could be lining his or her pockets with its supply of the fossil fuel, but the factories built to distribute the resource and provide jobs to the city will pollute the entire region over time.

"These are real issues in the real world. These are things people talk about every day and it's a reality," lead producer Kip Katsarelis told Joystiq. "SimCity has always kind of had green options and we want, through this game, for people to look at the world differently. We just want to present these real-world issues, bring them into our game, model them after reality and give players options on if they want to even opt in to any of that, if they care about it, and options on how they want to deal with it. And then make the results something they're aware of through their actions."

A potential problem is whether or not other players will care about the outside affects of their developments -- perhaps even intentionally trying to pollute neighbors. Katsarelis didn't go into detail, but said there would be options to take care of pesky griefers. Nobody wants Crimeopolis next to their green sanctuary, right?

But Katsarelis is not trying to preach about the environment -- it's just a natural way to promote cooperation and illustrate the symbiotic relationship of neighboring cities. "We've done this in the past, and we definitely want to keep it as light as possible. This is not the game about building the greenest city, lower your carbon footprint and win -- 'good job!' This is a game where you're rewarded for many different states on where you want to take your city and it's really up to you where you want to take it. Go be the richest mayor ever, that could be your goal -- it doesn't matter how you want to do it."

SimCity is bolstered by an optional mission system, which provides rewards to players for completing certain actions. These haven't been finalized yet, so examples given were mostly hypothetical -- drop the crime rate, for instance. "The missions are opt-in, so the player who wants to just get in and rip through it, they can do what they want -- but we know gamers today really like that mission based system," Katsarelis said. "They know what the carrots are and they want to get there. And they want to be rewarded for doing it, so we're definitely going to offer that."

Katsarelis said EA Maxis is drawing inspiration from The Sims 2, its own sequel to the wildly popular SimCity offshoot. "I think we took a lot of inspiration from The Sims 2, what they did with want spheres and how they changed from the first Sims into a really different experience. That's gamers today and that's what we're targeting." That's from a gameplay standpoint; from a visual perspective, SimCity takes cues from tilt-shift photography.

SimCity is expected to launch sometime in 2013.

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