Gameplanet: It's been an awfully long time since the last SimCity, so why now?
Jason Haber: We feel like now the technology has really reached the point where can make the game we really want to make.
Gameplanet: The demo here showed a fairly quick rate of moment for all the ground units, can you actually play the game in real-time?
Haber: Traditionally, SimCity has always run faster than real-time, we also feel like that really helps the tilt-shift aesthetic. If you look at tilt-shift videos, you'll notice part of the style is that they move faster, we feel that really helps the look we're trying to achieve.
Gameplanet: What are some of the new features you've been able to introduce with the GlassBox engine?
Haber: For SimCity, first and foremost it's the multiplayer gameplay, the ability to play together with friends in your region, and also the GlassBox technology, the ability to simulate the game with integrity. What you see is what you sim, so every little piece is actually representative of data in the game, and given objects in the game.
And then there's city specialisation, the idea that you can build a city and it doesn't have to be like one big New York or London, you can actually specialise to be different types of cities. You can have a casino city, or a coal town, or whatever you want to do. We feel like that adds a lot of options to the gameplay. And then there's the 3D constructible world, and the tactility, it's the idea that you can take a building and upgrade it by adding different modules. Also just the fact that even copying a building or zoning is fun, it feels fun to do.
And finally, it's the idea that the Sims themselves would give feedback. We didn't show a lot of that today, but you can peer into your Sims thoughts, see what they're thinking, or even that they can make requests and you can decide whether you want to act on them, or ignore them. So those are really the big new SimCity features.
Gameplanet: So in regards to building different types of cities, how does the terrain generation affect this? Can you, for example, build a city next to a beach or a river?
Haber: When you pick your location for your city, there will be certain resources that are inside that area, and they'll actually influence what kind of city you can build. You can ignore them if you want, but obviously, if you're in a box without water you can't make a water town. If it's a box without coal, you can't specialise in coal. So when you're picking your location for the city, it's important to look at what resources are in that area.
Gameplanet: What kind of optimisation will you do to ensure the end-game doesn't get unbearably slow?
Haber: The good news is that our lead architect, from the start, has kept an eye on performance to make sure the game performs at as close to the specifications that we want it to, or hopefully better than what we're aiming for. We're also constantly running tests on our minimum specs so we have an idea on how our game runs on those machines.
Gameplanet: How does the finite resource system work?
Haber: The best example is coal – today we showed you the coal power plant, and to keep it going, you only have so much coal in your box. So you can mine it for as long as you want until it runs out. When you're out of coal, you have to figure out where you're going to get your coal from – are you going to import it from the global market and pay for it, or is someone else in the region going to send you coal? Or are you going to give up on coal altogether and go for some other resource?
Gameplanet: There's been a lot of discussion about always-on internet for this title, what's required?
Haber: You do need to log into Origin, but you can still purchase it through different retailers. You will need an internet connection to play the game. With that said, we've built the game from ground-up to be multiplayer, to really simulate the situation where cities influence each other as they do in the real world. This will also allow you to save your game in the cloud, so should your computer die or explode, or you just want to go to a friend's house and play you can just log in and load up your game and you'll be ready to go.
Gameplanet: We saw in the demonstration an arsonist who had supposedly arrived from another city to deal damage. Is it possible to wage wars on nearby cities using subversive units like this?
Haber: It's an interesting question as to how you would purposely make that happen. I'm sure there will be players who figure out ways to do that. I think the better way to look at it is that there's always going to be a positive and negative influence on every city. Defining what those are – well, we're still working on it, basically. You'll see more of how that sharing works – both advantageous and disadvantageous – at E3.
Gameplanet: We also saw the Power Station and the Fire Station in the demo, can you give us an idea of what other building types we can expect further on in the game?
Haber: I think you can expect to see a lot of things you've seen in previous SimCity editions. I can't go into specifics right now, but there's a lot. The idea is that a really a big part of the gameplay is about what things you put down in your city, and how they behave.
Gameplanet: What's the largest sized city we'll be able to build?
Haber: The city you saw today is "one box" sized, that is, 2000 by 2000 metres. The idea is that you can play a region as well. The regional play is still connected so that if you wanted to play a bigger city, you could play an entire region on your own. I'm sure there are power users that will take our biggest region – and we're not sure how big that is yet – and play every city in the region. That's going to be a lot of work, but I'm sure there are people who will do it! [laughs]
Gameplanet: How will the scenarios work? Will it be the traditional model of achieving particular population or monetary levels?
Haber: We're not really talking about that today.
Gameplanet: Fair enough! Can you talk about SimCity 4's influence, any mistakes from that title you're actively trying to avoid in SimCity 2013?
Haber: One thing we really wanted to make sure of was to make the game accessible to as many people as possible. SimCity 4 is pretty daunting with a lot of the data that it gives you, so the idea is to have the city itself give you that feedback, so it's easier for the newer players to understand what's happening.
Gameplanet: So essentially this will be a much easier learning experience for new players?
Haber: That's what we're hoping, yeah. We want to make sure it's still satisfying for hardcore SimCity players, we'll definitely be catering to them as well.
Gameplanet: You saying earlier about what we can expect at E3?
Haber: Multiplayer. In action! I can tell you that.
Gameplanet: We'll chat with you about that then?
Haber: Sounds good!