Let's be perfectly honest - SimCity was a disappointment. Not that it was a poor game by any means, but it failed in a couple of respects. Firstly in delivering a great experience at launch, secondly the scale of the cities felt underwhelming. It felt more like constructing small sections of a city than building a great sprawling metropolis. As Paradox Interactive (publisher of Cities Skylines) CEO Fred Wester took the stage at their Gamescom presser he wasn't shy about pointing out the flaws of the competition. In fact the announcement trailer of the game even presents "play offline" as a feature.
Enter Colossal Order, a small Finnish studio whose two mass transit simulations Cities in Motion 1 and 2 have found a dedicated following. At this year's Gamescom the team unveiled Cities Skylines where you no longer only manage bus lines and trams, but actually build the city yourself.
"This is definitely a bigger task as well for us as a company, but we have always dreamt of making a city builder game," said CEO Mariina Hallikainen. "We loved working on Cities in Motion 1 and 2, but it was completely focused on mass transit. This time it's going to be like basically taking control of the entire city."
The approach taken with Cities Skylines is that of a city builder where you can expand your city to great scale, either trying to build one giant city or perhaps create a series of smaller towns within a region. Customisation and modding (there will be full support for SteamWorks) is at the core of the offering and Colossal Order point out how important the community has been with their previous games.
"This is a kind of free-form city builder where people get to really join in to the development through the user created content which I think plays a huge part at least in our previous games," says Hallikainen. "So we're really putting emphasis on the modding tools, people get to create their own assets, they get to actually make really cool advanced mods with our new API for that. This game is like bigger, more control to the player all across the board."
Another thing that appears different when looking at Cities Skylines compared to SimCity is that it focuses more on numbers and demographics than individual citizens. Where SimCity has the shared heritage with The Sims, Cities Skylines is perhaps more depicting what it's really like running a city. The economy isn't overly complex as you adjust tax rates and set policies, and the developers noted that at times economy has been a bit overly complex in city builder games and they wanted to move away from that and provide an easy to overview financial system.
We didn't get to go hands on with the game ourselves at Gamescom, but judging from what we were shown the interface is very easy to work with. There is definitely lots of potential to go crazy with your roads and there is fun potential as far as pollution goes (placing your water pipe down river from your sewage plant will make for some interesting scenarios).
Of course, there will also be an element of public transport in the game, even if that's not Colossal Order's main focus this time around. There is also going to be airports and ports to bring in goods from other cities.
With great ambition comes a lot of pitfalls and it remains to be seen if Colossal Order have what it takes to succeed where Maxis may have stumbled. But there is a lot of promise here.