SimCity‘s launch has been full of trouble. From the word ‘go,’ the game’s servers were taxed well beyond capacity, keeping many players from playing the game at all, and subjecting those who could play to the frustration of dropped connections and lost save files as the cloud system struggled to keep up with the player demand. The problem was so obtrusive that EA was forced to kill marketing for the game, and even went so far as to offer those who purchased the title a free game download as compensation.
EA assured the players that they and Maxis were hard at work with a fix, but the cries that echoed from the internet demanded an offline single-player mode that ensured people could play the game regardless of the status of EA’s servers. Unfortunately, this was a demand that, at the time, seemed destined to go unfulfilled. In an interview with Polygon, Maxis’ Lucy Bradshaw explained that, due to the amount of calculations done by the servers for each individual city, creating an offline mode would require a huge amount of engineering from the development team.
That was then. On Tuesday, a story went up on RockPaperShotgun that suggested otherwise. An interview with a source purporting to be a Maxis insider claimed that SimCity‘s servers were not handling any necessary computation for individual cities, only interactions between them, and that a single-player mode would be a relatively easy addition:
“The servers are not handling any of the computation done to simulate the city you are playing. They are still acting as servers, doing some amount of computation to route messages of various types between both players and cities. As well, they’re doing cloud storage of save games, interfacing with Origin, and all of that. But for the game itself? No, they’re not doing anything. I have no idea why they’re claiming otherwise. It’s possible that Bradshaw misunderstood or was misinformed, but otherwise I’m clueless… It wouldn’t take very much engineering to give you a limited single-player game without all the nifty region stuff.”
This would seem to many to be a damning claim. This article also contained mention of a Kotaku story, where the author managed to keep playing his city for 20 minutes after disconnecting from the internet, and a tweet from Minecraft creator ‘Notch’ Persson suggesting the same thing. The story picked up steam quickly, the combination of the unnamed Maxis source and the Kotaku style all but confirming the claim that the game didn’t need a constant connection.
What none of these stories mentioned, though, was that the disconnected scenario had been confirmed by a Maxis dev months ago. Back in December, the Senior Produce of SimCity, Kip Katsarelis, took to the comment section of a Maxis blog post by Ms. Bradshaw [via Platinum Simmers] and answered several fan questions. One such fan expressed concern about the unreliability of his internet connection, and how that would affect his experience:
“As I’m sure is true of many users, I have a somewhat temperamental internet connection, it’s prone to dropping out for days at a time. I don’t see the point in buying a game if 10% of the time I won’t be able to play it because I can’t connect to a server.
Anyway, I’d rather play with no influence from other humans, why are you forcing society upon us isolationists? (Joke.)
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to buy it (loyalty to the franchise and all that), but I’ll complain about it requiring internet a lot.”
Katsarelis answer confirms what Kotaku found in their experimentation, and on some level adds validity to the claim made by RockPaperShotgun’s unnamed source:
“From one old school fan to another, I appreciate the loyalty. We are well aware of connectivity issues many of our customers experience. We’re building our game to handle short burst of outages so player’s can have an uninterrupted experience. And for you isolationists, you can set your regions to ‘private’ and play all alone to your hearts content.”
Maxis designed the game to be able to handle short periods of offline play, as a counter-measure to simply losing all your progress if your internet connection hiccups. This would suggest that an offline mode may not be as completely out of the question as EA and Maxis have been suggesting.
Adding more fuel to this fire, Eurogamer posted an article today, detailing a tweak by YouTube user UKAzzer, in which he disabled the game’s disconnection timer, allowing him to play offline indefinitely. Of course, assuming the reported information is accurate, you cannot access region features, and, as saves are stored on the cloud, you must reconnect to the servers before you’ll be able to save, but if true, this could be a clear sign that some kind of offline mode would definitely be possible for the game.
Internet connection aside, the game still has its problems. Videos surface yesterday, detailing just how broken the game’s pathing system is, leading to huge amounts of in-game congestion. It’s part of a problem with the new GlassBox engine, and one that, in a blog post today, lead designer Stone Librande announced was being addressed. He also mentions an issue with the persistence of the Sims in the game:
“The Sims in the game are persistent in many respects. They go from a home to a workplace or to a shop and back each day. Their happiness, money, sickness, education level, etc. are also persistent and are carried around the city with each Sim as the simulation unfolds. But many aspects of the Sims are not persistent. They don’t own a particular house or have permanent employment. We also don’t track their names, their clothing, gender, or skin color.”
This was part of the complaint raised alongside the pathing issues, as it seemed the Sims within the game were behaving improperly. According to Librande, though, that is by design. He suggests that taking out these micro-aspects of SimCity increased performance, allowed for more Sims in each city, and that the lack of these micro aspects didn’t take away from the gameplay experience at all. He concluded by stating that game design is always a series of compromises, and that the team at Maxis were constantly evaluating this, and all other decisions, meaning there could potentially be changes on the way, if more problems for the game crop up.
It seems that things are on the way to being smoothed over, though. In an interview with CVG published today, Bradshaw stated that server times had improved by 40x, and that connectivity issues had dropped by 92%. Her statement made it perfectly clear that Maxis is still committed to the online vision they have for the game, despite Tuesday’s allegations by the unnamed RPS source.
Overall, the situation is still extremely problematic. Fans are livid that the connectivity problems occurred at all, and having their demands for an offline mode shaken off by EA and Maxis only exacerbated the problem. Now, though, with the possibility of an offline mode all but unequivocally confirmed in triplicate by an unnamed Maxis source, a YouTube modder, and the game’s own senior producer (albeit only in passing), it’s likely that fans are only to grow more upset.
Whether or not EA and Maxis will bow to the imminent pressure and undertake the huge amounts of engineering (or minimal if you buy the verbiage from the unnamed source) needed to add an offline mode to the game remains to be seen. Perhaps a mod will surface that allows people to disable the disconnection timer and somehow save their progress offline, which would likely be picked up by many fans who are angry that it didn’t come from Maxis themselves.
For now, though, we’ll have to wait and see how EA responds to these new developments. With any luck, they will hear the fans’ voices, and attempt to implement a fix that everyone can live with. Stay tuned.