Sep 10, 2018

What If Life Were Like the City Builder Simulation Video Game Cities Skylines?

I don't consider myself a gamer. However, like many kids who grew up in the 1990s, I did have a major hankering for the Nintendo and Super Nintendo. There was one point in my childhood that I almost edged onto sociopathy when I used my best friend at the time just to go to his house to play video games. I think his parents eventually caught on when they realized that Lance had gone out to play and I was left in his bedroom stomping on those pesky Goomba characters that are Mario's constant aggravation.

I stopped playing Mario and advanced onto city builder games

One game did stick with me after my Nintendo phase wore off (by the time I was in Sixth or Seventh grade). I started to play Sim City and - at some point - I discovered a game that my brother had installed on his computer - A-Train. My interest in city builders was born. It's not a big surprise that I fell into city builder type of games. I had (and still have) a fond affection for Matchbox cars. And I always liked playing around with maps; and, my older brother liked maps too; I think at one point he and I - in one of our rare bonding moments - worked on a super map of an imaginary city in which we pasted a bunch of white colored posters together with tape and mapped out our city in number two pencil. It was epic. I think we had a city that was composed of at least twelve or thirteen pieces of poster-sized paper.  
La Grange! Oh how I loved making this city.
I have played all of the Sim City games. But it wasn't until Cities Skylines came out in 2015 that I really saw the potential of a city builder. What a game. What I like the most about City Skylines is that the gameplay is more dynamic than Sim City. First of all, a player has a much larger cityscape to play with and the city feels integrated even across multiple districts and distances. One train station built in the northwestern part of the map can affect what happens in the city center. 

And I am always amazed by the simulation. There is a cause and effect reality to Cities Skylines - and most city builders - that make it playable. It almost kind of feels like real life. 

A story of my own Cities Skylines City: La Grange

There is one city I built in Cities Skylines that I am proud of and still play it from time to time. It is a coastal city. I called it La Grange. I have a crappy Mac Mini that is not designed for serious gameplay so I have to play the game at the lowest graphical level - and I usually try to aim for a city that does not have more than 130,000 people. Of course, I use mods. That's probably the second best part about Cities Skylines (the first best part is naming everything like you are Adam and Eve in the Garden) - you can access a treasure trove of user created buildings, roads, and tweaks to the vanilla game. I particularly like using the multiple track enabler mod so I can have subway systems with double, triple, and quadruple tracks. The automatic bulldoze mod is a must because who wants to manually bulldoze every abandoned building; the same goes for the automatic emptying mod (although it is just easier to not have cemeteries and landfills in your city).
Look at those cims scurry to catch the bus!
The third thing I like about Cities Skylines is that it is essentially a traffic simulator game. Everything and everyone has to move around your city. Tiny tweaks in the gameplay can drastically change your cims' movement (N.B.,  In Sim City citizens are called sims but if you are playing City Skylines they're called cims. Get it?). For example, I recently moved a bus stop at a very busy intersection and all of a sudden there was a sudden, mass movement of people in the game briskly walking to the next stop.


Traffic is a nightmare - I still can't alleviate the congestion at my airport.
It took me a long time to build a good city. The trick is making a decent transit infrastructure to move cims around the city; that includes subway, and bus connections, as well as an integrated interstate highway system. The game has a monorail system which is fun to use but cims do not like to use it. Trams are great as a replacement for buses that use a heavily traveled route. Cable cars, ferries, and hot air balloons are also an option.

Building a city with districts that have enacted policies unique to their district - no heavy traffic or recycling initiatives - can really change the make-up of gameplay as well.


What if life were like a city builder game?

1. Everyone would go to work, go home, and go to ONE park or commercial zone.
2. Your car would disappear into thin air at random times.
3. The bulldozer would be God. Essentially.
4. It would be like that movie The Truman Show. But with more bulldozers and cims.

The developers of this game, Colossal Order, keep coming out with new iterations of the game. The newest one is Park Life - which I really like because it allows you to make a more interactive park system in a city. As with most city builder games zoning is really important. There are residential, commercial, industrial, and office zones. Zones build up around the road network - but as the city grows and the zones max out along the street grid there are often pockets of green space that now I can populate with micro parks and whatnot. 

It's funny. My post is becoming an advertisement for a video game. Who knew my blog would boast of such things! I want to wrap up by saying the toys and games we played with as kids do somehow find there way into adult life. I don't have posters scribbled in graphite but I have a saved game that I love to load up every now and again. So, every city tells a story. I don't play this game every day. I play it as a way to zone out and to relax. It is one activity that I can do where I can empty out work-related stress and just focus on planning my little city of La Grange. I think I need to upgrade my Mac - though - if I want to simulate more cims!

Check out the cityscape of La Grange. Can you spot the arcology?
Another view of La Grange with the city sewer system in the foreground.

It's fun to follow individual cims to see where they go.

I'm obsessed with creating zoos and parks.