This post is a copy of a YouTube comment I wrote in response to a “listicle”-style video by GamerZahk of upcoming city builders. You can watch it here.
If EA released a cleaned up “HD Edition” version of SC4 with 64 bit multi-core optimizations, support for Vulkan/DX12, and provided a documented modding API to make things like NAM easier, I would be happy. Obviously that’s not going to happen, but I want to dream. None of the games shown here come close to matching the beauty and charm of SimCity 4. I’m not convinced that individual agent simulation is what will make city builders of the future as good as SC4 was, as it seems to be moving in the wrong direction. I want grandeur, not accuracy. What is the point of having a million independent agents you can click on and follow around if you only ever click on a few here and there? Look at what Maxis was able to accomplish with single core Pentiums with less than a gig of RAM. They used all sorts of tricks to make it look like there were thousands of people living their lives, but it was mostly clever programming and graphics illusions, and it made for a “bigger” and broader game. I have yet to see a city builder that makes interesting use of smart citizen agents. If they don’t do anything interesting or have meaningful emergent behaviour, then there’s no point of doing it in my opinion. They should be aiming for Dwarf Fortress levels of agent interactions, not The Sims.
SC4’s art style and feel has still never been matched, let alone beat. The crisp trimetric buildings were meant to be seen from above, never at street level. The artists of those assets didn’t have to think about how buildings would look from the street level or from any oblique angle, only 4 different rotations. Any artist will tell you that limitations are what make for great art, not the infinite possibilities of a blank Blender canvas. The buildings that are in these games don’t look good at any zoom level or angle, and that sucks.
The first game, Highrise City makes all of the same mistakes Cities Skylines made, only worse. If I can’t zoom out and admire my city, then what’s the point? It looks truly awful. No one is learning from and stealing ideas from SimCity, it seems. The dumb misaligned lot squares with huge gaps are not one of C:S’s good ideas, and I can’t understand why the developer took that idea. Almost every big city in the real world has streets aligned on a grid, so SC4 shines beautifully there, and it works fine in Skylines too. The problem with curved or angled roads isn’t solved at all with the awful mini-square system. Real lots shapes and the buildings that sit on them conform to the space available. Think Flat Iron building, right?
The smaller games with more focused themes (like Banished) have their place, and are clearly easier to pull off for indie studios since the scope is more limited. Farthest Frontier feels like a worthy successor to Banished. Industries of Titan looks good for what it is. Of course neither of those are trying to be generic city builders. Settlement Survival offers almost nothing on top of Banished for no apparent reason, and looks worse. Urbek won’t be as good as Pharaoh. Sweet Transit might look fancier, but OpenTTD is more interesting.
I’m not holding my breath for a true SC4 successor unless Maxis gets back into the game (and the soulless suits at EA keep their hands off).