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What's so fun about city builders?

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I'm working on a City Builder game at the moment, and I have a few basic ideas of what I feel makes the city builder games fun and addicting.  What I'd like to hear are other peoples opinions of exactly what makes a city builder so fun.  If you could, please include a reference to a city builder game you like, what compelled you to start playing, and what kept you playing.

 

Thanks.

 

I'll start:

 

I really like Galactic Reunion, an older game, which involved wars with alien species, advancing technologies, discovering new solar systems, establishing colonies and mining for resources.  I can't really say what drew me in in the first place.  I think it was a 5$ game box that I passed by and just thought to try it.  I found it quick and easy to start placing buildings in my world, and then expand to my local moon.  What kept me involved and loving the game for so long was that it had a long game play time to get around to things.  There were always different ways to expand.  If/when you run out of funding, you can start looking at back logs of new discovered planets.  And switch mining resources to work more on the materials of value to you.  I liked that aspect a lot.  It was one player (no multi-possible).

 

I really liked that the advancement of my own people helped improve things.  I could hire the best advisors to begin with, or I could start with cheaper ones and send them to college.  I had a lot of ways I could push things to get to my core goals of the game.  

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Well Anno 1602 and 1404 are some of my favourites, along with Caesar 2. I suppose I enjoyed in Anno that it had specific stages of development that gave you a sort of focus of your building ... you wanted an industry of ale and cloth first, than you wanted bricks, bread and beef ... each stage rewarded you with higher tax paying citizens.

 

Another draw of the Anno series was you could have several separate cities on the one map and trading with freetraders and "rival" cities was necessary to initially prosper (Once you where a midsized city you could often monopolize these industries ... although in the late game where you had metropolitan cities you had to start really on trade from others again as you couldn't cope with your citizens demands).

 

I enjoy easy initial progress, limited perhaps by limited resources but forgiving if you spend them, with the later game becoming more complex, maintaining resources and money grows importance ... I'd at least to have more than a ramshackle village and a few farms before the gods get angry with me for not building them a massive marble temple (looking at you Caesar 3!).

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Hello, big city building fan here.

I'm also the creator and webmaster of http://xlnation.net, the largest community for the Cities XL series.

 

I like city building games because they allow me to be creative. I love fine-tuning my cities' inner workings and to see the complex interaction of a bustling city in full 3D. Cities XL is my favorite city building game because it has nice graphics and I can create beautiful large cities with it. I did not buy the new Sim City because EA really botched the game.

 

P.S. I am also (very slowly) playing around with my own city building game project. Good luck!

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There is a website, citybuildergames.com, where a lot of city building people are. You might ask them rather then the general sampling of game devs here.

 

Personally I like complex production trains and managing citizens needs and such.

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I did not buy the new Sim City because EA really botched the game.

 

I remember reading an article about a guy who lived in Massachusetts and had terrible traffic in the city he lived in. He recreated his city in the new SimCity and was able to not only recreate the traffic issues but also pinpoint where and why it was happening.

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A partial city building fan here. What makes City Building exciting for me was that I enjoy games which actually make me think and looking at how my city builds into a flourishing economy. 

 

Personally, I enjoyed playing Tropico 3 and Tropico 4. The complexity and realism of the game really impressed me.

 

Just a summary, it's a game about building a city in the Caribbean during the Cold War period. Other than building a city, you have to manage the diplomacy between USA, Russia and Europe as well as keeping the different factions in the city happy. Building churches to appeal the religious people, having free housing to appease the communist and so on.  

 

What I liked about that was the high level management required to rule the island. You have to plan how you want your city to develop economically and politically right from the start. Also, the game actually gives you a lot of freedom to control how you play the game. You can actually implement policies which helps to propel your island forward in a certain direction. For example, if I wanted the city to rapidly increase in population, I can basically allow immigrants, regardless of the skill level to enter the city. 

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Also aesthetics! I want to have nicely laid out streets and blocks of buildings ... not a big mash of structures in order to get all the necessities into the smallest space possible (An the only way it seems your citizens can access them is taking a shortcut through their neighbors backyard).

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I enjoyed in Anno that it had specific stages of development that gave you a sort of focus of your building ... you wanted an industry of ale and cloth first, than you wanted bricks, bread and beef ... each stage rewarded you with higher tax paying citizens.

 

Thats an interesting point.  So far in my design, I was making it small pieces of everything, and then expanding in some additional layers of complexity (more details that can be configured at larger scale, etc..)  I'll have to think about what might be good splits in my game for technology/silos of abilities.

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I love fine-tuning my cities' inner workings and to see the complex interaction of a bustling city in full 3D

 

I like this perspective.  As in , you do one thing, and it has a ripple effect.  It seems like it would be good to help amplify that out a bit, so you can see the influence different buildings have on each other.  Sort of like an RPG sword that gains fire.  The sword is good, the fire is good, both have clearly noticable effects, and together it becomes even better.  I'll have to think of good ways to make the game display the effects of your layout strategy.

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There is a website, citybuildergames.com, where a lot of city building people are. You might ask them rather then the general sampling of game devs here.

 

 

  I had never heard of them before, thanks for introducing me to it.  I posted a similar question just now on their site: http://www.citybuildergames.com/index.php/topic,3046.new.html#new

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you have to manage the diplomacy between USA, Russia and Europe as well as keeping the different factions in the city happy

 

I had originally planned on avoiding politics.  I debate on the necessity of it.  I remember playing the 3rd or 4th sim city and starting to get annoyed with the amount of social politics I had to trouble shoot.  but at the same time, I feel like the game improved because of it as well.  I'm a little worried about making sure any political engineering remains fun for most players.  Do you have any recommendations on the political aspect?  how it was presented to you, etc...?

 


You can actually implement policies which helps to propel your island forward in a certain direction. For example, if I wanted the city to rapidly increase in population, I can basically allow immigrants, regardless of the skill level to enter the city. 

 

Interesting.  In most city builders its really about doing things to attract population at all, and not really focusing on the quality of constituents..  I hadn't really thought of tagging a useful nature to the population.  but I think thats a great idea.

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Also aesthetics! I want to have nicely laid out streets and blocks of buildings ... not a big mash of structures in order to get all the necessities into the smallest space possible (An the only way it seems your citizens can access them is taking a shortcut through their neighbors backyard).

 

Thats a really good point.  I've been thinking more towards traffic now, particularly in my game its more fine tuned like a dictatorship, where you are also classifying what capabilities factories get.  So if a factory that's building tires is all the way across town from a factory thats building cars, it will take longer for completed materials to be done.  And adding more of a focus to the types of manufacturing and craftsmen are in the same building, the better that building/product will be produced.

 

I think you also pegged the nature of SimCity 1 (and many others) where you called out an area and the city would just build it up for you.  Where you could make a 20x20 area, with no roads in it, only around it.

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I had originally planned on avoiding politics.  I debate on the necessity of it.  I remember playing the 3rd or 4th sim city and starting to get annoyed with the amount of social politics I had to trouble shoot.  but at the same time, I feel like the game improved because of it as well.  I'm a little worried about making sure any political engineering remains fun for most players.  Do you have any recommendations on the political aspect?  how it was presented to you, etc...?

 

Yes, I would agree that sometimes having too much politics would actually act as a deterrent sometimes as it may increase the complexity of the game which may deter casual gamers. However, I believe that politics may be necessary to add flavor to a city building game. It can be as simple as actually introducing a few random nations which can act as trading partner supplying crucial materials, military allies which simply helps you in the event of the war.

 

Each nation can have different personalities, some are rather aggressive and will attack you if things go around a couple of times while others are conceding which will never be offended no matter what you do. Some things that you build in your city will irk them. For example, building an oil refinery will actually incur the wrath of a nation specializing in oil refining due to the competition that will arise. On the contrary, if you provide disaster aid to some nations, the relationship will actually increase.

 

 

 


Interesting.  In most city builders its really about doing things to attract population at all, and not really focusing on the quality of constituents..  I hadn't really thought of tagging a useful nature to the population.  but I think thats a great idea.

 

Actually I think the attracting population feature would be to me, an additional alternative to playing a city building game. Instead of relying on a small labor pool, you can opt for a different style of playing, actually attract foreigners to work be it them being skilled or unskilled. However, like most features, there has to be a drawback, if you attract too much foreigners, the locals would actually feel angered and lose their sense of belonging causing tension in the community itself. 

 

I'm just curious, what type of setting are you looking at? Ancient, medieval, modern, futuristic?

 

Edited by DtCarrot

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Well, using Simcity, Civilization and Settlers as a basis, I personally just love the economic aspect of it and propagating/evolving something out of nothing. Trying to figure out the system, learning how to earn the most money, how to dominate and ultimately how to get the most "points" is what drives me to play these games.

 

I've been a little demotivated after the SimCity reboot though, but I do like a good economy game if it's deep enough. But it does need to be deep enough, that's one of the most critical parts of these games IMO. Very easy to become too shallow. EVE Online is superb with regards to depth, but the only problem I see with that game is that it's too slow-paced for my liking. So pacing is definitely a factor as well, that whole idea of feeling that you have to wait forever for something. If a player needs to wait, then you should occupy him with something else to do that's similarly enjoyable. That's what creates true depth in a game, IMO.

Edited by Malabyte

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Personally I enjoy the "What if" aspect of design and management. 

 

How can things be arranged in such a way as to produce a favourable and productive outcome?

 

Ideally there should be more than one way to tackle any given problem, and no truly dominate solution that completely outstrips any other.

 

I'm also a very big fan of general sandbox form with light goals, or alternative paths. Choice is a big factor, so if there is really only a single style that works, or very few options with which to use to advance, then the game is less interesting. (On the other hand, if anything and everything 'works', then the game is generally boring as there become no setbacks.)

 

One part that I feel is really lacking in city builders is some semblance of actual realism. I would be very interested in a project that focused more on how a real city works within a larger geo-political framework than itself, of which the city has some influence but no control.

 

Another thing that I would really like to see more of is better road and traffic simulation to a reasonable scale. SimCity has a horribly small and disappointing scale, with utterly foolish traffic simulation for things like emergency response vehicles. (As in taking months for a firetruck to make it two blocks while half the city starts catching fire)

 

Something more organic in nature where the player buys land to build roads and services, basically to modify the environment from its default set of conditions, and from that 'people' come in/grow up, and 'do stuff', like buy/sell land to build homes and businesses. You then set policies and deal with some form of a petition system that is generated by the 'people', and your choices then feed back into the system to change the outcome and how things develop. 

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Another thing that I would really like to see more of is better road and traffic simulation to a reasonable scale. SimCity has a horribly small and disappointing scale, with utterly foolish traffic simulation for things like emergency response vehicles. (As in taking months for a firetruck to make it two blocks while half the city starts catching fire)

 

Yes, I would agree that the traffic system is terrible. Often times I find my city really jammed all the time even when I used the biggest road available with at least 2 paths from the main city(Not sure whether I was just a noob in managing traffic :( ). I think that it would be really cool if there were other methods of transportation like a sky train and so on.This actually gives the user more options of transportation... 

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@DtCarrot, thank you for all your feed back, its been most valuable.

 


I'm just curious, what type of setting are you looking at? Ancient, medieval, modern, futuristic?

 

The current plan, is that it is actually the future, but ruled by a corporation that keeps technology to them selves, while everybody else lives as if it is the dark ages.  Then the corporation tries taking over planets with dragons on them who fight back.  The corp then starts allowing human settlements/towns to start building up and providing them with troops, vehicles, tanks, etc  for war.  An odd mix of stone houses, wooden barns and tank factories put together to fight dragons.

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So pacing is definitely a factor as well, that whole idea of feeling that you have to wait forever for something. If a player needs to wait, then you should occupy him with something else to do that's similarly enjoyable.

 

Thank you grump cat!  :D  I think thats a good point.  Especially during that early point when you don't have as much to do.  It seems like the game should provide you with another direction to follow as well.  I'm not quite sure what.  Perhaps when the city becomes busy to the point that you can't do anything else until you get more funding, a clock marked 5PM flies up, and you get to head out on the town, visit bars, houses, arcades, etc...  That won't be my solution, but an interesting thought.

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If you want to give the player "Something to do" while they wait, then either remove the need for the wait with good time advancement options (if single player), or provide a robust "Advanced planning" system where they can lay out what they will do in the future and try different options.

 

 

Another big thing is that a player should never have to guess about how things will advance. I finally got time to spend with my PC and an up to date copy of SimCity while I had access to an internet connection on that machine. I haven't played in months, but managed to put in several solid hours of tinkering with a pair of small mutually supporting cities. However this has basically ended in frustration. Why? Because The developers in their infinite 'wisdom' designed it such that the lower tier buildings are smaller than the levels above them. This lack of information to the player meant that despite using the grid lines on road ways have a very sub-optimal city layout for hitting the second and third density levels, as about 1/3 of the developed space has 'room' to increase in density.

 

 

Ideally buildings would be based on general areas/volumes, not fixed lot sizes, and structures will conform to the city layout rather than forcing the user to design the city layout purely to the buildings. Do you really think a developer in New York City would say "Oh no, I won't use that extra twenty feet between these two roads... we'll just leave that as nothing and generate zero profit from it". You should still have minimum sizes for various things, but the user should not be completely blocked from expanding something just because they didn't leave an area in the dimensions you as a designer picked. If something is normally 5x5, but I have something 4x7, then I should not be completely without reasonable options.

 

 

Reasonable flexibility on remodelling should also be a feature if you have various transit/connector options. I have always hated having to decimate part of a city in order to upgrade it, rather than simply paying that much more if I need to run a wider road through an area. (Especially in relatively 'low density' areas. Properties could have a 'set back' value, how much room they have from the centre of the road they are built on before the building itself must be demolished to expand the road. Low set back then being less desirable for most property types)

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Anno 2050 - I like the way citizen needs became more complex over time, and that satisfying those needs offers direct rewards to the player. I also enjoy that resources aren't generically available everywhere, so islands have variety. There's a reason for shipping industry to exist, transporting goods from one place to another. And the ship routing mechanic is a real treat to work with.

 

I dislike most facebook 'city-builders' which are just push the upgrade button and wait. But there's a subsystem in Farmville 2 that gives me something akin to pleasure. It's the way that cooking/crafting is executed, in a heirarchical click-fest which I just like. But navigating the recipe book is a disaster.

Edited by AngleWyrm

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