by Marcus Mulkins
previewed on PC
Is this the "next generation"?
Most people think the city building genre started with SimCity, released in 1989 by Maxis. If you're talking about the modern incarnation with graphics and everything, then yes, that is correct. In reality, however, city building games have been around since the 1970’s when they were just text based adventures for BASIC. City building games have always been about YOU deciding what needs to be done for your city, where the money (or grain) will be spent, and what goes where. Once the Graphical User Interface came along, decisions could be displayed down to the last pixel. What has changed over the years is that as the tech got better, the mix of choices and pallets of CGI Lego blocks became more complex -- and more realistic. At the root of every city building game is the question, "What happens if I put this here?" All that really changes is how pretty the graphics and the action become as technology moves on.
Along comes "Cities XL"
Nearly all city-building games have been solitary affairs, with you camped out in front of your PC, getting a cramp in your fingers as you move your mouse cursor all over the monitor screen. Click-drag, click, click, click-drag. Other than scenarios where you are given only so much time to erect X number of structures, or to accumulate so much money in the Treasury, you might recognize an interesting fact: You don't "win" in a city-building game. You can lose easily enough, simply by failing to build wisely AND keep your citizens safe and happy. But if you consider what it is that you try to accomplish, the best you can say is, "Well, I haven't lost." That's because what you are doing is making your city viable. That is, it hasn’t collapsed - yet.
Cities XL, on the other hand, is attempting something groundbreaking – you can play the game, live, with other players. This isn't like the "multiplayer" kind of game where you each play your own offline games and then compare scores online. Here you will be able to build up to five different cities on a virtual world where others may also build up to five cities -- and then those cities can interact with each other. The players will also be able to get into the game themselves -- literally. Create an online avatar and drop it into the virtual world, and then go sightseeing! Visit your cities, or any of the cities of your fellow city-builders. Check out how they did that tricky section where the zoning restrictions bumped up against some quality of Life issues for some of your citizens. (And then blatantly plagiarize it, of course.) Or simply see the sights. Keep in mind that as a visitor to another's city, it will be strictly, "Look, but do not touch." But do take advantage of the fact that avatars can actually interact with each other when players are online at the same time. Arrange a rendezvous in advance and you can go traveling with friends! Or maybe just browse someone's latest megamall creation. The possibilities seem limited only by your imagination.
What else is new?
The main function of the cities interacting with one another has to do with the virtual world's Economy. Thriving cities need a steady flow of goods and commodities to keep them functioning smoothly. That includes Happiness issues as well. But like cities in the Real World, one given city can't be all things to all people. There may be as many as 20 or so products produced in one city - but you'll need closer to 50 commodities to keep your citizens satisfied. Now, you could try to balance five cities in order to have one pump out all the products and have the surplus shipped out to your other cities, but what fun would that be? Wouldn't it be more realistic for each of your cities to ship goods all over the globe? And likewise import your shortages from all over as well? Just make sure your balance of trade does better than the real US.