Why did a SimCity offline option take so long?

One of SimCity's lead engineers explains everything that's gone into turning their formerly online-only game into an offline experience.

Electronic Arts development studio Maxis recently announced that they're working on an offline mode for SimCity that will be available in the next patch. But coming 10 months after the game's initial release, why did it take so long?

One of SimCity's lead single-player engineers, Simon Fox, discussed those difficulties in a post on the official SimCity website. Fox wrote, "Lucy [Bradshaw, Maxis general manager] once said that offline wouldn’t be possible 'without a significant amount of engineering work,' and she’s right. By the time we’re finished we will have spent over 6 and a half months working to write and rewrite core parts of the game to get this to work. Even things that seem trivial, like the way that cities are saved and loaded, had to be completely reworked in order to make this feature function correctly."

As was stated before by Bradshaw, an offline mode didn't fit with the game's original vision of interconnected cities. Although some players were able to find a workaround to play offline, Fox wrote, "...they were unable to perform key actions like communicating with other cities that they had created locally, or with the rest of their region(s), or even saving the current state of their cities."

As further explanation, Fox wrote, "SimCity was written to rely on the servers. The game routinely pings the servers for critical pieces of data (region status, workers, trading etc.) and it relies on that information to keep the simulation moving. This meant rewriting the entire system, which previously existed in Java, and putting it into C++. We’ve had to knock out the internet pipe stuff. There’s lots of code that hits the servers looking for information. We’ve had to write a lot of code to produce that data locally, specifically for region information."

The update is nearing completion and Fox says his team has been working on the update since August. "We’ve hit Alpha and are in the final stages of testing before we release it as part of Update 10 in the future."

However, the removal does mean there will be some sacrifices. Fox wrote, "We had to remove parts of the game for it to function properly as well. This means removing lots of code integral to Multiplayer [including] code and UI supporting Trading, Social Features, Global Market, Leaderboards, and Achievements. And, all without crippling the Multiplayer game."

While the reaction to the change has been mostly positive across the Internet, many comments in the Maxis post lament the fact that the update will not increase the size of cities users can create. But how do you feel about the news? Will this encourage you to get back in and try it out, or is it too little too late for SimCity?

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Discussion

278 comments
aliamer2
aliamer2

is the offline mode released yet?


nicecall
nicecall

I love reading stuff about these monkeys over there at EA, can't believe this company is still in business!

chickenchaser78
chickenchaser78

I've always been a fan of Simcity and finally found time to look for a new game to play.  So I'm now thinking of buying this game.  Now that it's been out for a while, and they added offline mode, is it worth $40?  Have they fixed anything?

samsam_sam
samsam_sam

Wow, I still sometimes lose server connections for no fricking reason! I don't like SimCity but not SimCity5, Glad to hear they took 10 MONTHS to fix this issue. I fucking hate it when companies filled with gred try to cripple games with a good franchise. Diablo already failled, So why think about simcity? EA should be ashamed, Shitty liars that said an online mode wouldn't be possible. Why didn't you make a plan B if stuff fails? THATS IT ANYMORE GAMES WITH DRM= NO BUY!

megakick
megakick

They are shutting down the servers...

Slick Mvp
Slick Mvp

want to see how well ea is doing? look how well they managed battlefield 4 lol. They knew before releasing the game it was riddled with bugs and unstable which is why there is a class action lawsuit from shareholders lol FUQ EA!

Hvac0120
Hvac0120

I'm interested to know the story behind the decision to make the game online-only in the first place. EA may not hit the mark with every game, but their decisions are always calculated.

RoachRush
RoachRush

You shouldn't have made it online to begin with, you jackasses.

Tomdogg
Tomdogg

Took you guys long enough...

tsunami2311
tsunami2311

To little to late, maybe when I can pick the game up in the bargin bin oi will get it

Red Lagoon
Red Lagoon

lmao! First they explain why it must be online ("for the sake of the game") and than they explain why it can work offline... bullcrap!!!

cjtopspin
cjtopspin

EA is like the guy who smokes a cigarette at the gas pumps.  Everybody but him knew what the eventual outcome was going to be.  The only problem with this scenario is that EA never dies.

OrgeLambart
OrgeLambart

EA.... we'll force this game to be online only... that will stop pirates......  Still doesn't stop pirates, only gives your paying customers a headache....

telaros
telaros

and yet it only took a modder 1-3 days to make an offline patch. I call BS EA.

Mark Cianciosi
Mark Cianciosi

ben, im sorry, but pc gaming??? cheaper??? you sir need to wake up out of your dream. it may be cheaper to you because your mommy and daddy can buy you a top of the line pc (which you need to update every damn year just to keep it up to speed.) plus, some of us want a real challenge in games. we dont have to mod and cheat our way to victory.

VenkmanPHD
VenkmanPHD

Here's an idea.

...DONT MAKE GAMES THAT REQUIRE THE INTERNET.

Dumbasses.

McGregor
McGregor

I just ended up downloading a "hacked" version of this for my bro-in-law (I still haven't played it). He bought it and couldn't connect for a few days...Thus proving that all their drm/security just hurts the people who support the company. I don't think he has played the legit version he purchased at all. As far as I'm concerned, the download wasn't illegal, because a purchase had been made. If you want to talk about illegal, I think it should be illegal for a company to sell me a software product that doesn't work, and then refuse to give me a refund.

Joseph BmrSnr Jacobs
Joseph BmrSnr Jacobs

Ya know.. The icing on the cake is that one of the lead engineers tried to explain "everything that's gone into turning their formerly online-only game into an offline experience."

tim1935
tim1935

Is Simcity still relevant?

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

Here, I'm going to detail the Sim City development timeline and what likely happened.


Designer 1: "So EA mandates that the game have an online component"

Designer 2: "For DRM?"

Designer 1: "Yeah, but we're supposed to pretend it's for social features and multiplayer.  You know, the usual nonsense."

Designer 2: "Sigh...ok whatever.  Ok, let me start on that requirements doc"


2 months later....


Designer 2: "Ok done.  I've got Trading, some kind of global market, achievements, some global leaderboard, and social features in the spec.  Our survey participants didn't really care about any of those but EA wants them in so they'll be in."

Designer 1: "Hey I got an idea to make the work easier...what if we wrote the game in Java?"

Designer 2: "That's a terrible idea.  We'd never get the performance we need.  Remember what happened when we prototyped it last time?"

Designer 1: "Yeah I know, but we're going to have people connected to our servers all the time for the DRM-*cough* I mean, all those multiplayer features you just talked about....what if we had the servers also sharing some of the computation load?  Then we wouldn't need to get perfect performance on the client and we could use Java."

Designer 2: "Hey, that might actually work...."


8 months later....


Dev 1: "The beta testers are raging over the whole forced online thing.  They want an offline option, especially since most of them just want to be playing single player."

Dev 2: "It's the most requested feature."

Designer 1: "Uh....we can't do that."

Dev 2: "Why not?"

Designer 1: "We can't implement offline because we won't get enough performance."

Dev 1: "Well we better implement it or players are probably going to riot.  We're probably going to get nailed in the press too."

Designer 1: "Release is in 2 months.  It would take us like 8 months to rewrite everything so the performance doesn't suck.  Do YOU want to be the one to tell EA we have to delay the game for 6 months?"

Dev 1: "Er...."

Dev 2: "Sorry sir."

Designer 1: "That's what I thought."


After launch....


EA Suit 1: "We're getting nailed in the press!  Review scores are awful!  We just won Worst Company in America again because you idiots didn't include an online mode!"

Designer 2: "But you told us not to-"

EA Suit 1: "I don't care what you were told!  You're going to get this into the game as soon as possible.  People are demanding refunds on Origin.  REFUNDS!  We didn't even implement a refund feature on Origin!"

Designer 1: "But sir, it'll take us-"
EA Suit 1: "JUST GET IT DONE."

Designer 2: "So should we tell the players that we're-"

EA Suit 1: "ARE YOU CRAZY!  You're going to go out there and tell everyone that the game right now is exactly what it's supposed to be, that it was YOUR vision all along."

Designer 1: ("I fucking hate working here....")

catsimboy
catsimboy

"We had to work really hard to un-stupid the game." That's what I'm getting from his quotes. This all could've been avoided if they made a normal SimCity first and then put multiplayer in it. Instead they made a multiplayer SimCity and said 'Screw you' to anyone who wanted to actually build a self-sufficient city.

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

"We had to remove parts of the game for it to function properly as well. This means removing lots of code integral to Multiplayer [including] code and UI supporting Trading, Social Features, Global Market, Leaderboards, and Achievements"

And nothing of value was lost.

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

"Always-Connected is a big change from SimCities of the past.  It didn’t come down as an order from corporate and it isn’t a clandestine strategy to control players.  It’s fundamental to the vision we had for this SimCity.  From the ground up, we designed this game with multiplayer in mind"

"So, could we have built a subset offline mode?  Yes.  But we rejected that idea because it didn’t fit with our vision."

-Lucy Bradshaw, Professional Liar and EA Developer

SecularSage
SecularSage

Shame on Maxis for building a game with features gamers didn't want or need and trying to force them. They could have saved themselves a lot of trouble by making two versions of the game that share the same basic assets and code (like GTA Online) in the first place.


I love the SimCity series, but I'm unlikely to ever buy the new game. It's much more rewarding to just fire up SimCity 4 or SimCity 3000.

naryanrobinson
naryanrobinson

"One of SimCity's lead engineers explains everything that's gone into turning their formerly online-only game into an offline experience."

...

"We changed our minds and flipped the switch."

Nick Cych
Nick Cych

Truth hurts get a console better gameing

meatz666
meatz666

"they were unable to perform key actions like communicating with other cities"

Well, the current version can't as well. My two cities, with loads of transports between them, still have 3000 unemployed/3000 unfilled jobs.


"Trading, Social Features, Global Market, Leaderboards, and Achievements."

Yeah, because when we think SimCity, that are exactly the features we think about.


EA, fix the commute system, or open the borders. Then I can think about launching this game again, and maybe, just maybe, lift my EA embargo.

Daniel Leon
Daniel Leon

Why is everyone payin attention to someone that looks hella drunk in all of his pictures lol

Lee Bailey
Lee Bailey

Nope, faith in the two of them really.

HapiJoel
HapiJoel

What really grinds my gears - and I don't even play SimCity - is how the engineers seem so put out and pissy that they've had to do all this work to please the players.

crushbrain
crushbrain

public class SimCity

{


    IGetData datasource;


     public SimCity(bool IsOnline)

     {

          if (IsOnline) datasource = new PingServerForData();

          else datasource = new GetGeneratedLocalData();

     }


     public void RunSim()

     {

            datasource.LoadSimData();

     }

}


Darth_Ultima
Darth_Ultima

@cjtopspinNo kidding about the EA never dies part.  They have been recycling the same Madden game over and over and the bros run out to buy it year after year because they have an exclusive contract with the NFL.  And they now have exclusive rights to make Star Wars games.  I want to know how many infants they had to sacrifice to the frozen head of Walt Disney to make that happen.

DrDobalina
DrDobalina

@telarosThere's a BIG difference in a hack that kind of works in some ways, but has a huge amount of problems, and a tested release of a product. Unless you're a programmer, you won't understand this.

cjtopspin
cjtopspin

Just updated my computer after 10 years.  Spent about 900 bucks to get it top of the line while simultaneously using it for work...which means I can write all of that off.  Looks a hell of a lot better than my XBox at 1080 and the games you can buy with it are much more challenging and OLD games last forever...see...they have a much higher replay value with those mods you seem to frown upon.  Hey, I like the console games too...but I won't flame them because I prefer the PC over consoles.

cjtopspin
cjtopspin

@McGregor Very true.  I was lucky cuz I bought my DD copy on Amazon.  After a few days I called and got a refund.  Apparently with all the refund requests they were getting they put a stop to it after the first week.

stev69
stev69

@tim1935 Well its an outstanding example of how not to treat your player base, so its relevant in that respect.

thorn3000
thorn3000

@Thanatos2kdamn man, congrats, this is great, the "I don't care what you were told!" is awesome, especially if there has been a change of leadership in the meantime or leadership just conveniently forgot as they are never at fault...

ilgaar
ilgaar

@Thanatos2k  EA Suit 1: "We're getting nailed in the press!  Review scores are awful!  We just won Worst Company in America again because you idiots didn't include an offline mode!"

naryanrobinson
naryanrobinson

yeah get a beter gameing have good time happy yes ok.

thorn3000
thorn3000

@HapiJoelhonestly you likely have 0 idea about the kind pressure they want through and unlike an exec they are not getting paid for that pressure

solokingxrobert
solokingxrobert

@crushbrain  public class SimCity

{


   IGetData datasource;


     public SimCity(bool IsOnline)

     {

          if (IsOnline) datasource = new PingServerForData();

          else datasource = new GetGeneratedLocalData();

     }


     public void RunSim()

     {

            datasource.LoadSimData();

     }

}


Wrong!!! before IGetData datasource; you need to have an input like Class NetworkServices to retrieve the connection


AndrewZ332
AndrewZ332

@crushbrain could you explain to the layman what this specifically does? looks interesting lol

penpusher
penpusher

@DrDobalina@telaros when I think of what the modders did what comes to mind is EA's statement shortly before that it was impossible to run the game offline. They then retracted that. I get your point, but that event blew trust in them apart. Many of us will be calling BS on EA for a while.

HapiJoel
HapiJoel

@thorn3000 @HapiJoel and neither do you :| I'm not an idiot, I understand where they are in the food chain, but its not the gamers fault they didn't like their game, and its their job to sort it out.

DrDobalina
DrDobalina

@AndrewZ332It's an edgy kid trying to look clever. There's quite a bit more to it than that pathetic piece of "almost code" - that's why the people working in games companies make the money, and the edgy kid posting garbage in the comments here doesn't.

crushbrain
crushbrain

@AndrewZ332 It doesn't really do anything. But for those who can read code it proves it doesn't take 6 months to make the change. If the game is engineered soundly (which may not be the case) it would be a matter of switching out one source of data for another.

Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@crushbrain@AndrewZ332No, the true problem is they originally wrote the game in JAVA instead of C++ like almost every other game is written in.  Why?  Performance.


I'm betting when they switched from PingServerForData() to GetGeneratedLocalData() the game ran like CRAP.


So they had to rewrite everything like they should have written it the first time.  The design of this game was COMPLETELY dysfunctional.