Published on March 14th, 2013 | by Fraser Brown3
Cities, Lies and Youtube videos
One of the few things you can count on in this world is the fine folk at Electronic Arts lying to consumers and press. The sun rises and sets, EA tells fibs. Ever since SimCity launched, and, in fact, even before, people have been clamouring for an offline mode. And why, for goodness sake, not? If one decides not to play in a region with other people, otherwise known as a solid way to enjoy one’s self without some other arsehole ruining your city with their pollution, what’s the benefit of playing online? I thought that this wasn’t DRM. Of course, I never actually thought that, because this is EA.
Every time the word offline was brought up, sometimes in hushed whispers by those who were afraid the fury of the multiplayer addicted hordes would descend upon them and their families, EA Maxis would respond with “It’s impossible”. The server ran “calculations” necessary to keep cities functioning, and the amount of time and effort involved in engineering this new mode would be too much. God forbid they add a sensible, much requested feature.
According to an anonymous source who worked on SimCity, this is absolute bloody nonsense. This insider spilled the beans to the fine folk over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, confirming what some had already long suspected after actually running the game offline for significant chunks of time before the game realised they were trying to play it in a way one might expect to play a video game.
On the topic of this eldrich calculations being performed by Lu-Kthu, EA’s server-womb, dripping puss out of its many warts, the insider revealed the substantial amount of bollocks Maxis studio head Lucy Bradshaw has been spewing. “The servers are not handling any of the computation done to simulate the city you are playing. They are still acting as servers, doing some amount of computation to route messages of various types between both players and cities. As well, they’re doing cloud storage of save games, interfacing with Origin, and all of that. But for the game itself? No, they’re not doing anything. I have no idea why they’re claiming otherwise. It’s possible that Bradshaw misunderstood or was misinformed, but otherwise I’m clueless.”
So, besides facilitating the online features like region-play, what is the purpose of these omnipresent servers? They wouldn’t, perchance, exist to combat piracy? Ho ho ho, of course not. That would be something akin to DRM. No, they exist because EA is required, via a contract made with their dark masters, to make everything obtuse and as annoying as humanly possible for consumers. Why the fuck not? It’s not like people suddenly stop buying their games when they actively put obstacles in the way of said people enjoying their games.
The servers do make sporadic checks, however, but they aren’t in real-time. So, rather than it being like an ever-watchful, cruel god, it’s actually more like a peeping tom, occasionally buggering off to have a sly wank, before returning to spy on you enjoying your private moment.
The insider goes into further detail about the activities of Lu-Kthu/Mr. Peering Through Your Bedroom Window As You Slowly Remove Your Bathrobe. “Because of the way Glassbox was designed, simulation data had to go through a different pathway. The game would regularly pass updates to the server, and then the server would stick those messages in a huge queue along with the messages from everyone else playing. The server pulls messages off the queue, farms them out to other servers to be processed and then those servers send you a package of updates back. The amount of time it could take for you to get a server update responding to something you’ve just done in the game could be as long as a few minutes. This is why they disabled Cheetah mode, by the way, to reduce by half the number of updates coming into the queue.”
Yep, that’s a well designed game. To ensure the servers can keep tabs on people, they slowed down the game and removed a feature.
Rubbing salt on this fresh wound already containing no small amount of glass(box), the insider touched on the engineering effort that would be required to make SimCity singleplayer. “It wouldn’t take very much engineering to give you a limited single-player game without all the nifty region stuff.” Oh dear.
No need to take his word for it, however. Not only can you already play SimCity offline for short periods of time already, one industrious chap has modded the game and has been able to play it offline indefinitely.
Because the game is no longer connected to Lu-Kthu, it can’t be saved and obviously regional features are removed, but there it is, offline, and completely playable. Not only that, but the modder is even able to build outside of the ever-present, draconian borders which restrict cities to the size of pitiful towns. Impressively, even when it is once again connected to Lu-Kthu, the road placements outside the borders remain.
Thus, not only can SimCity be played offline, it’s actually quite simple to do. No engineering teams staying up all night trying to rebuild the game. EA Maxis are not only lying to people clever enough to see through their bullshit, underestimating and insulting their customers, they have purposely restricted players and simply don’t want to add an offline mode. It has nothing to do with it not being possible.
I was originally going to be reviewing SimCity for AWESOMEoutof10, but as EA don’t send us review copies (and are unlikely to do so if they ever read my John Riccitiello/Cthulhu crossover erotic fan-fic) I’d preordered it along with the rest of humanity. I soon cancelled my preorder, and couldn’t be happier. That said, Liam Dean, who is far stronger of constitution than I, has been stomaching the server nonsense and playing through the game. Review incoming.