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When EA announced that they were working on a new SimCity release, I was cautiously optimistic. After the debacle that was SimCity: Societies, I figured that the franchise had nowhere to go but up, assuming it didn't die completely. Maxis is the studio back at the helm for their flagship title (one could argue that distinction actually belongs to The Sims - it's a hard call, given how obsessive fans of each franchise tend to be), which was the first positive sign for SimCity (2013) - EA had outsourced the production of SimCity: Societies to Tilted Mill Studios.

Of course, with every scrap of positive news, there are always things to be apprehensive about. EA is not a company known for caring about much else than fattening the wallets of their executives and with that mindset comes the fallacy of making games which attempt to be all things to all people and, at times, fail spectacularly at doing so. Even when a game is good, EA has a nasty habit of reaching as far into their customers' pockets as possible. Witness the ridiculous number of expansion and mini-expansion packs available for any iteration of The Sims franchise - and then, on top of that, for The Sims 3 there was the implementation of micro transactions for digital clothing and furniture. It was a crazy-making move for both completests and the frugal.

Still, as SimCity Classic was the first computer game I really enjoyed playing and the one which led to an addition leading me to SimCity 2000, SimCity 3000 and finally SimCity 4 Deluxe, I signed up for a chance at the closed beta of the new SimCity when it was made available. I doubted I'd get picked, however last Friday there was an email containing a code just for me.

I initially installed the game on my desktop XP machine, where upon launching, it gave me a warning dialogue about my graphics card not meeting the minimum standards required to run the game. After clicking "okay," the game loaded, and spread before my eyes was the most beautiful graphics glitch I'd ever witnessed on a high-definition monitor. Had the EULA of the beta not prohibited me from doing so, I'd have taken a screen shot and posted it.

Annoyed, but undefeated, I instead installed the game on my laptop, which is running Windows 7. Again I got a warning about the graphics card not being up to spec, but this time I was able to actually see the game I was trying to play.

So, how was that gameplay?

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After much thought I have made up my mind: SimCity Societies will be the first SimCity-branded game that I do not wish to play nor own. I honestly think that EA really dropped the ball on this game. One thing I loved about the SimCity series was that it got progressively more complex and realistic with every new iteration. Societies has an interesting concept with the idea of "societal energies," but EA has thrown out the baby with the bathwater by using this to replace the urban planning concept, rather than having it as an augmentation.

Not much else to say on the subject. Oh, I have plenty of ideas for the SimCity game I wanted to see as the sequel to SimCity 4, but said game is not going to materialise.

On the up side, I still have the opportunity to get much more play time out of The Sims 2. I've yet to get the Seasons and Bon Voyage expansion packs (I'm not so much interested in the "Stuff" packs - no one needs that much "Stuff") - and once I buy them and a RAM upgrade for my computer, I'll actually install and play them.

I'm still a bit disappointed in the turn SimCity has taken - I play that and The Sims for entirely different reasons. While the former allowed me to unleash my inner road geek and urban planner, the latter allows me to indulge my not so hidden desire to play god. In fact, I think The Sims may very well prove the existence of a higher power; suffering isn't the result of man's inhumanity to man or the fact that universe is inherently chaotic, but a sign that our gaming overlord was bored and demands entertainment, else the plug gets pulled. So I'm not exactly a benevolent deity, okay?

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Dirk, webmaster of SimCity fansite Simtropolis, recently had a chance to do a brief interview with EA Sims Division Vice President Rod Humble. I have to admit, the interview did somewhat put me at ease about the future of the SimCity series, however I remain guarded. Also the screenshots (exclusive to Simtropolis) seem much more on par with what I've come to expect from progressive versions of SimCity.

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The SimCity series has been one of, if not my favourite game ever since I discovered the original game illegally installed on one of the PCs way back in high school. In comparison to the versions which followed, SimCity Classic (as it would come to be known) was deceptively simple. One had only three zone types with no subsets, two power plants to choose from (coal or nuclear), two networking types (road or rail) and Police and Fire Stations were the only civic buildings available. Despite it's limited scope of building options, however, SimCity Classic was engaging enough in game play and realistic enough graphically that a kid who never had the time, money or space to set up a model railroad found this to be a suitable and thoroughly engaging alternative.

The initial sequel, SimCity 2000 was released in 1993. This game still holds a distinct feature that subsequent titles in the franchise would be without: the ability to import cities from the previous version of the game. SimCity 3000 followed in 1999 and SimCity 4 was released in 2003 (followed by the Rush Hour expansion pack later that year). Frankly, I was wowed by each subsequent release, many times before even playing the game itself. For me, more building options and more complex game play were good things. With it's bevy of options and incredibly realistic graphics, SimCity 4 is well nigh the definitive version of the game. I am not the only one who thinks like this, as the dedication of fan communities has extended the shelf life of SimCity 4 indefinitely. The Network Addon Mod, hosted at the Simtropolis fansite is like getting a second Rush Hour expansion pack (just make sure you have the RAM to keep the game running), to say nothing of all the creations made by fans using Maxis' Building Architect Tool (BAT).

I was not without some consternation when I heard the next version of SimCity was to be "taken back to it's roots" and made so that a novice could pick it up and play it. To me, it seemed like they were going to dumb-down what had become a completely awesome game. Sadly, little has developed recently to assuage these fears. Yesterday, it was announced that Games For Windows would be running an article on the "rebirth of SimCity" in their July issue. By today, more information has surfaced about the fifth incarnation of the series, now known to be titled SimCity Societies.

1UP.com had this to say:

It definitely continues the SimCity line, but this absolutely is not the same old SimCity...for better or worse. For one thing, EA turned its eye outside of its own campus and tabbed Tilted Mill Entertainment for the development duties. While that name may not immediately ring any bells, this studio packs plenty of folks experienced with city builders, and comes fresh off of creating Caesar IV. That game fared only passing well in our review, but the focus on managing your citizenry almost surely gives a glimpse into where the designers intend to go with the "societies" angle.

These are not exactly inspiring words. The accompanying screenshot did not help matters. If you ask me, I think it looks like a freaking cartoon! Furthermore, it is a bad sign that EA decided to switch from long-time designers Maxis to a new development company. In the corporate world this may be seen as a bold move - "thinking outside the box," "gaining a fresh perspective" and other assorted clich├ęs, however, computer games are more of an art form (like music and movies) and we all know what happens more often than not when a sequel to a beloved film has a new director.

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Jeff Green, editor for Games For Windows recently posted the following in his weblog:

[The] July issue of GFW is being printed now and will be in mailboxes shortly, and it is, if I may be so bold, and I think I may since this is my blog, a great one. The cover story is one of those OMG WORLD EXCLUSIVES WE SAW IT BEFORE YOU DID HAW HAW stories that magazines love to crow about even though the Internet is making all that irrelevant anyway.

I'm not allowed to tell you what it is yet, but will be posting the cover next Friday, jeebus willing. Suffice it to say it's the new game in one of PC gaming's oldest franchises--a series w/bazillions of fans. Ryan Scott wrote the story and did his usual kickass job, because Ryan KICKS ASS.

Since that posting an image of the July cover has surfaced in various corners of cyberspace. The graphic features a computer-rendered city skyline with the phrase, "SIMCITY REBORN!" in large black letters across yellow police-tape in the foreground.

Makes one believe that the release of a new version of the game is right around the corner. Gamestop even has a listing for a previously unknown game entitled "Sim City Societies.

About the only thing any of us drooling geeks know right now is that EA is working on a new SimCity title - they announced as much some time ago. Any other information about said title, for example: whether or not it is the long-awaited fifth instalment of the SimCity series, is locked in the pages of Gaming For Windows and won't be seen for a couple more weeks.

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Seth Warren

May 2017

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