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."

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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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