The Happy, Despondent, Shiny, Gritty People of SimCity: Cities of Tomorrow

Future, tense.


In fifty years, what will the world’s cities be like? Will they be glossy, pollution-free metropolises with abundant glass towers and clean-fuel hovercars? Or will they be disgusting trash heaps filling the air with smog and giving rise to murder and arson?

I like to think they’ll be more like the former than the latter, but I am thankful for video games that let me express my selfish, evil side. While I’m typically a goody two-shoes when I play games, I took pride in my blackened, hellish world in Black & White 2. I was a god to be reckoned with. Cities of Tomorrow, the first full expansion for SimCity, will allow me to take my evil deity tendencies and translate them to mayorhood. Watch out, Kevinville: hard times are coming.

Electronic Arts’ Jason Haber recently walked me through a demo of SimCity: Cities of Tomorrow and did what I thought to be impossible: got me excited to return to a game I haven’t been keen to revisit. And it’s the idea of crafting a dystopian municipality that has me most excited. Cities of Tomorrow includes two new specializations that allow you to morph your city into one that reflects your vision of the future.

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My vision is bleak.

In my city of the future, violet clouds of dust and smoke rise from factories, and black-and-neon megatowers fill your vision. Think of Coruscant’s Underworld as depicted in several Star Wars narratives. Crime rates are high, the citizens are sickly, and the skies are polluted. When the devil over my right shoulder wins out, this is the dystopia I imagine, and when you partner with a corporation called OmegaCo, it’s the digital reality that can play out in front of you.

OmegaCo is all about profit. To begin your path towards public despair and chronic smog, you first build an OmegaCo factory. If you feed the factory oil and ore, it begins to produce a mysterious resource called omega, which Haber calls “the last technology you will ever need.” Sounds great, yes? It certainly is if you like to rake in city revenue. As Omega is transported to commercial and industrial buildings, those businesses become OmegaCo franchises. As mayor, you receive a franchise fee from each of these buildings, and as you convert more of them, you unlock more ways to extract resources from the fertile ground Mother Earth has provided you, and ultimately earn the ability to manufacture drones.

In omega-driven dystopias, those megatowers look black and bleak, with jade and ruby neon lights making me think of dank nightclubs in the underbelly of Las Vegas.

Mother Earth is hardly happy about this turn of events, obviously. You’ll be putting out many more fires than before. You’ll be needing to get more ambulances onto the streets, and more cops into your police stations. And you’ll be paying exorbitant sums to pump precious, delicious water from beneath your living symbol of corporate hubris. But it’s worth it to watch your drones in action, flying routes above your existing roads, and converting residential buildings into OmegaCo subscribers.

Cities that rely on omega ultimately produce megatowers that touch the heavens. In omega-driven dystopias, those megatowers look black and bleak, with jade and ruby neon lights making me think of dank nightclubs in the underbelly of Las Vegas. Such towers are simulations in and of themselves. As you add levels to them, you give your sims places to shop, live, and work--but you don’t need to share my gross view of the future to build megatowers. If you prefer to follow the advice of the angel on your left shoulder, you can choose the Academy specialization and research green technology that reduces pollution and allows your citizens to thrive.

An Academy-based city doesn’t feature OmegaCo’s questionable ethics. Here, the glassy towers are notable for their turquoise trim and their art-deco-inspired curves. Such a city proclaims its own dedication to natural beauty on first sight, though the particulars are hardly natural. Man-made sky bridges, for example, allow citizens to travel between megatowers without ever needing to set foot on your busy streets, resulting in self-sustaining minicities. Maglevs, which are light rails that run above street level, also assist your citizens in getting to and fro. Maglevs needn’t align with your roads and can be woven in and out of buildings, and neighborhoods will grow underneath them.

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"Crowns" serve as toppers to your pristine utopia. You place crowns atop your megatowers that benefit other aspects of your city. Crowns may provide entertainment to your citizens, scrub pollution from the air, or enhance your tourism industry, and placing more than one of the same type of crown gives you an additional bonus. Underneath your crowns are service levels that provide parks, safety services, and education to its residents. And those residents are the kind that enjoy a bit of moolah to pad their wallets. The wealthier your workers, the faster you can research new levels, new power types, and new pollution-fighting techniques. And as SimCity veterans know, wealthy workers require a lot of effort--and money--to keep happy.

Where OmegaCo has omega, the Academy has a resource called ControlNet, a wireless network that radiates outward from the Academy itself. All of the technology you unlock through the Academy requires ControlNet, which requires no workers to function. And like omega, ControlNet can affect neighboring cities, even when their mayors do not own the expansion. Your futuristic cars will drive to adjacent cities, and drones will come shopping on behalf of their owners. Even if you own only the base game, OmegaCo trucks might convert your buildings into franchises and ControlNet will leak into your city, with all of the benefits and disadvantages that those resources bring.

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Every SimCity mayor will get access to four new regions later this month month, featuring tropical and desert themes. You may also rejoice for the ability to turn off disasters when the expansion arrives, especially when you see the new disaster, a space robot called Outworlder 6, in action. The intruder is all blue metal, green trim, and orange lights, and he descends to Earth in search of precious power before dancing a robot jig and flying back home.

I don’t think my citizens should worry too much about Outworlder 6, however. I am posed to smother their meager lives with thick pollution and corporate corruption. After all: it’s the American way.

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