Back in the day, games like SimCity flourished. Heck, Maxis alone created about a million and one games with the word Sim in the title, from SimIsland to SimAnt to eventually the Sims. However, these days it's much more common to see hardboiled action heroes or grizzled military men staring down the barrel of an AK-47 than it is to see gamers developing their own perfect perpetual energy utopia complete with football stadium. Why is this?
Well, there's a number of reasons, the first of which being the overall downswing in PC gaming. It's no lie that consoles are ruling the gaming market these days. Even though PCs have been getting more and more common and more and more powerful, playing games on a PC seems too complicated for a more casual audience. This is partially because the idea of "minimum required specs" was never explained all that well. When you purchase a PS3, any PS3 game you buy will run on it. However, purchase a PC game without the knowledge of your computer's internal workings and it may not even run on a totally new rig.
Most PC games have found their way to consoles over the years. Heck, just look at FPSes. They are flourishing in the console world, pumping out hit after hit like the Call of Duty and Battlefield series. Even point-and-click adventure games, a staple genre of the PC gaming world, have managed to make their way to consoles. Look no further than Telltale games and their most recent Walking Dead adaptation.
However, simulation games never successfully made the jump to the console paradise. Many of you may remember the original SimCity on the SNES. Many of you may also remember what a pain it was to control that game without a mouse and keyboard. Sandbox Simulation games are known for their many moving parts all working together to create one game ecosystem, and that many moving parts simply aren't controlled well with a few buttons and an analog stick. Could you imagine laying out zones in SimCity 2000 with an Xbox controller?
So Sim games are unfortunately stuck on the PC (besides the multitude of crappy ports we keep seeing hit consoles), but this can be used to their advantage. Sim games of the future will have to make good use of the inherent tools they have on a PC platform in order to survive in an incredibly competitive gaming market. Luckily, the newest SimCity by Maxis is doing just that. First of all, it's utilizing keyboard and mouse controls to their fullest. You can now make roads curve, make zones of any size, and even edit the tiny graphical minutia of the buildings you create. Future sim games will need to focus on this as well. The keyboard and mouse interface can make any game a powerful graphical editing platform, allowing users to deeply customize their gameplay experience.
Of course, editing the perfect building isn't fun unless you can then show off that building to your friends, and that's where asynchronous multiplayer comes in. In the new SimCity, your city exists within a universe populated by other cities as well. These cities will grow and flourish with you and will be affected by your city-building decisions. While this does mean that you will have to keep your crime and pollution in check or else you risk displeasing your neighbors, it also means that your neighbors can simply scroll over to your city to see what you have created. Maxis first tried this asynchronous multiplayer tactic with Spore, but it was implemented shallowly. SimCity's asynchronous multiplayer, on the other hand, will be ever present, constantly effecting your city's grown.
Asynchronous multiplayer is not limited to the PC platform, but it's certainly easier to implement there. Sony's and Microsoft's rules for using the PSN and XBLA are strict and confining, and any interesting online system has to be reviewed extensively by either company. On the PC, however, all you need to do is program it. The open Internet has far fewer restrictions than console networks have.
This is the key to making any future simulation game become a big hit: focus on what the PC does well. The PC allows you to get into the nitty gritty of editing. It allows you to control multiple things at once. It's perfect for the "sandbox" play that we love so much. From there, we just need to push the boundaries of our sandbox further. SimCity is great, but eventually I want to sim everything from vehicles to planets to microscopic bacteria.
So I guess what I'm saying is that eventually PC simulations should push toward being what Spore promised to be, as opposed to what it ended up actually being.
Angelo M. D'Argenio
Date: June 27, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*