Master Planning Unleashed: Gamers and Cities - Skylines

Interview with Karoliina Korppoo, Colossal Order

The planning delusion

City-building game by Colossal Order, Finland

Published by Paradox Interactive on the Steam platform in March 2015, Cities: Skylines is a game that advances an earlier simulation experience, Cities In Motion. It combines extensive urban-planning tools, architectural and civil engineering abilities, along with the capacity for user-generated modules – ‘modding’.  The result is that the single player can operate like a developer on steroids, advancing rapidly from a starting position game of a 2km square plot at an exit on the freeway/motorway/autobahn. Broad acclaim has been mildly tempered by concern that the simulation doesn’t impose random acts of disaster.

Cities: Skylines Game Designer Karoliina Korppoo explores the appeal of these planning games, signals a common challenge of games designers and urban planners, and how to signal status and virtual "keeping-up-with-the-Joneses" in creating games houses!

Context

Since the slow growing phenomenon of Sim City (1989) and its various iterations, ‘town-planning’ has become a significant gaming genre. What’s the appeal? What kinds of players are the core audience?

Karoliina Korppoo: City-building is all about creativity and self-expression. People have a need to create things and further develop what they have created, to learn and do better, and that's what makes city-builders so enticing. The audience is very wide and varied, as the game is basically a tool to express yourself, and thus does not limit the player much. This makes the game appeal to many types of players.

Research

What kinds of research or sources have you conducted around professional urban-planning for Cities: Skylines? Which ones have been the most useful?

Karoliina Korppoo: From the start of the project it was clear that we wanted to make a game that's more about fun and simulation. While the traffic system is modeled after real world traffic, most of the features are done by researching older games to make sure the features are tried and true. With tight schedules and a small team we wanted to mainly iterate on things that already worked quite nicely, and add just a little bit of our own innovations, to make sure we can make the best possible game with the resources we had.

Making

You wanted to extend the boundaries of this genre of game, what were the technological challenges you faced?

Karoliina Korppoo: The main challenge was to create a user interface that allowed the game to have depth and lots of things for the user to manage without being complicated or clunky. The traffic simulation was also something we struggled with.

Traffic is basically the end game content of any city-builder, so it had to be challenging, but work logically and not be too intense for less experienced players to manage. One thing that also needed some extra thought was the map area. We wanted large areas for the player to build on, but still to keep the system requirements modest so the game would work on most computers.

The Visual

The original Sim City whose aesthetic, like all art, was determined by technology moved from a flat topology of space into a more ‘3D’ type visualization. What new technological developments have enabled you to generate state-of-the-art visualization for Cities: Skylines

Karoliina Korppoo: We chose to have an imaginary modern American city as the general visual guideline for the base game. The buildings start at level one looking like contemporary houses, but advance a little bit into the plausible sci-fi future in the visuals. The fanciest buildings in the game are the huge monuments that are visually stunning and quite futuristic.

Do individual games artists also bring their signature style to the visual environment? Was this a factor in your choice of artist?

Karoliina Korppoo: Our artists are very talented and get to use some freedom when working on the game. They like quirky little details, like the advertisements around the city that they have planned themselves.

The most difficult visual challenge in Cities Skylines?

Karoliina Korppoo: Making sure that everything goes well together, but at the same time visually tells of the level and function of the area. It's quite tricky to make a level 2 house look just a tiny bit fancier than a level 1 house!

One of the most successful elements of Cities:Skylines is how it enables users to ‘mod’ (modify) architectural features. Have you seen any examples of these user/community generated buildings, and do they make the city more diverse or anarchic? What have been the most interesting innovations?

Karoliina Korppoo: I'm always amazed at how skilled the modders are. Mostly they want to do buildings that fit well into the game world and they do a great job.

My own favourites of the more quirky ones are the Enterprise Park, which boasts a statue of the Starship Enterprise, and the lovely Sim City-esque buildings done by Gula.

Futures

What unexpected insights do you think an urban planner or developer might take away from looking at the spaces players have developed in Cities Skylines? What’s next in city-making games? 

Karoliina Korppoo: IThe latest addition we did to the game were tunnels, which we had been planning for even before launch. They bring a lot of new options into traffic planning! Skylines is a utopia, but the traffic is something city planners can look at and understand, because it's carefully modeled after real life traffic.

While Skylines is not meant for simulating actual cities, it does allow people to test out traffic solutions and to see what results might be in the real world. We plan to keep working on Skylines to provide more content for the players and are keen to hear what players want. So for anyone with an idea on what they would like to see in the game, don't hesitate to come to the Paradox forums and share it with us!

For more info on Cities: Skylines click here

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