Maxis explains Simcity offline complexity

SimCity traffic jam

Maxis’ Lead Engineer of Single Player Mode, Simon Fox took to the SimCity blog to explain the complexity of overhauling the game to operate offline.

The short version is that it’s a lot of work as a lot of core game system elements have to be yanked from server-side processing and bolted-on to client-side processing.

Maxis recently announced that it would be patching in offline gameplay support for the ostensibly always-online game – and although this is good news, it also rankled series fans.

Why? Because before the game was even launched, gamers were bemoaning the system. Many view it as a new form of DRM madenss; Maxis maintains that offloading game processing to the cloud was a solution for players with old PC hardware.

The fans weren’t buying it, and after the initial resolute face from EA and Maxis backing the always-online decision, it seems they have caved to demand.

According to Fox, the offline patch has been in the works for over 6 months. In his blog post he described the complexity of rebuilding a game that was originally intended to make use of server side processing (again, the voracity of this claim has been disputed by many armchair gaming experts).

Now, I don’t doubt Fox regarding the complexity of redesigning core elements of the game so offline mode will work – the question is, why didn’t Maxis just create the game this way in the first place?

Why have we yet to hear any form of admittance that they made a mistake, or get an apology? We’re getting an offline mode despite protestations by Maxis and EA, so they clearly made the wrong choice in the first place. Then again, they already have our money, so why bother apologising (thanks Murph).

Why did they wait more than 6 months from the apparent decision to take the game offline to make the announcement? It would probably have been a PR disaster either way, but at least they’d have bought themselves 6 month’s worth gamer respect for admitting their mistake closer to the launch. Perhaps Maxis and EA hoped gamers would forget all the strong statements regarding the necessity of the always-online element of the game?

And since the developers are begrudgingly delivering the game fans actually wanted, when are we going to see fixed AI, larger maps, and the inclusion of core SimCity mechanics such as agricultural zones and subways?

This SimCity balls-up has really left a horrid stain on the gaming psyche of series fans and I, for one, am not sure I even care about the game anymore.

Are you a SimCity fan? What do you think of this turn of events? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • Wyzak

    Quite simply really: The game didn’t sell nearly as well as they expected it to (especially after the thousands of refunds), and because they’ve spent a ton on the game they are trying to salvage the game and pocket a bit more money from this game. Adding offline play was a minimal job which then opens up a potentially massive market.

  • Easypickingsboy

    It is a pity. With all of the hype when it has just released I remember wanting to pick up a copy but the horrible online issues that I had read about (and lost save games a.k.a. villages) just put me off (it reminded me of Diablo 3 which I vowed to never play but yet gave in to the hype and inevitably experienced so many Error 37’s that it drove me mad).

    Always-online games that can effectively be played alone without others (your i.e. the standard multiplayer where it is obviously a requirement) will no longer ever make it to my cart I’m afraid.

    Oh and the clever boys already proved that a mode of offline play was already possible (true, initially without saving but it didn’t take them six months to implement that either) so really the only thing they could not do was the village-interaction stuff – that must have been what they meant by our machines not being capable of simulating without the ‘power of the cloud’.

  • Jaid Orfali

    Still wouldn’t buy it.. EA/Maxis giving us:

  • The Rich

    Personally James I’m with you on this one in terms of your comment about not even caring anymore (though I do hope you continue to bring us the news on it haha). I was so extremely excited for this SimCity as I’m a huge huge fan of the series (still playing SC4 from my Steam Library ohhh yeahhh), but all the nonsense with this new Sim City has really killed the game for me. Frankly, I don’t even know where my game box and cd is right now. I mean, I’m sure it’s somewhere in my flat, but I have almost no idea where, exactly haha. That’s how little I care about SimCity at this point. Far Cry 3 on the other hand…. now THAT is a game. 30 hours and counting! Not bad for $7.50.