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Am I An Idiot For Playing SimCIty?

Never write a question in a headline if you don’t really want people to answer the question, but there it is. I’m wondering how stupid I should feel for playing the new SimCity day after day last week — while I was on holidays! Especially since I was getting angrier about the game day after day.

The SimCity mess has been well-chronicled. Game launches on March 4, requires on online connection that its publisher, EA, can’t actually support, foul-ups and apologies ensue, as do gradual server improvements.

Our reviewer, who tagged the game with a “Not Yet” (Answering whether you should play the game) optimistically suggested that “somewhere beyond the rage, pain and technical issues there’s an amazing game that I’m dying to play.”

Let me announce today that that “amazing game” is reallllly well-hidden.

Let me also announce today that, for all the insults I want to send SimCity‘s way, the fact is that, given a week off from work (a stay-cation!), a week when I could have played anything, I played this game several hours a day, several mornings in a row.

So if I give you the impression that this game sucks, I’d be like the guy at the diner who tells you the pancakes suck and then orders another plate of them the next day.

But, come on. Look at this:

Above you’ll find a display of crime in the city of Bankruptcity, a city where the police commissioner is complaining that crime is out of control.

Hey, commissioner, how about your police officers — represented by those little blue teardrops — cross the damn intersection? You see this? The purple represents police coverage. I have a massive police station in the top left of that screenshot. Two blocks away! I have cops all over the streets and yet somehow I have no police coverage two blocks away from the police station.

It’s not just the cops who are morons in SimCity. For some reason the people who track the trade are fools, too.

You’re looking at the town of Biddle’s Hope, where we’re trying to make computer processors and doing our damnedest to import alloy. But look at that “Trading” box on the right. No sign that we’re importing alloy. Argh!

This is the sad discovery I’ve made in my recent SimCity binges: those mostly-fixed servers manage to simply provide me more opportunities to load a game that makes no sense to me.

This game is about building and managing a city, right?

It’s sort of a chemistry set in an extended urban metaphor?

And maybe the most realistic version of a game like this would be full of the idiosyncrasies a real city might experience in real life? Like, maybe the cops don’t go to that corner because they’re afraid of the criminals there or because they’re lazy or something? And some mob dude is preventing us from importing alloy in Biddle’s Hope? Or a truck broke down somewhere?

Could this be it? Could SimCity be the most realistic game ever made? Or is the damn thing just broken? (Option three: Maybe I just suck at this game.)

My recent sessions with the game were triggered when, two weeks ago, Sam Biddle, ex-Gizmodo guy and now editor of Valleywag, coaxed me into playing SimCity again. I hadn’t touched the game in about a month. When I’d last played, I’d built an education city. A university town. It had gone well until my colleague Mike Fahey pulled the plug on this city. Since the big gimmick in this SimCity is that cities in the same region can help or hurt each other, I suffered the consequences. No more electricity from Mike. No more water. I had to bankrupt my city to keep basic services running. It was a disaster.

Sam started a new region, built a thriving coal-mining town. He ran a huge budget deficit but made up for it with profits from his coal exports. Kirk made a city, too. I hopped in, made an education city, thought things would go ok. Except…. Sam’s residents never came to my schools. I’d built a university and the dimwits in his town couldn’t be bothered to enroll in it. We built train stations. Ferry docks. Nope. No one came. The fools.

My education city — Biddle’s Hope — went in the red. So I built another city: PlayItAgainsville.

Yeah, that didn’t work out either.

It was going to be a gambling city. But people wouldn’t come to the casino, not even when I built a Russian tourist attraction next to it.

I bulldozed that casino. PlayItAgainsVille would now be a high-tech city making computer processors. For a while, that worked. I ran a deficit, as Sam did, but I made huge profits in processor sales. Too bad my city was drying up. And… what was with my factories complaining that workers were unskilled? There were schools all over my city and a university one city away!

I made a third city:

Bankruptcity actually did well. They export coal. Success!

I had so much success that I started constructing an arcology tower — one of the end goals for the game. You can see it in the background there. All I needed was for my cities to export the right goods to the arcology work site.

You know, like alloy.

Remember alloy?

Here are three screenshots taken within seconds of each other, showing the alloy-exporting progress from the perspective of my three cities.

Spot the difference!

Ever since I started this arcology, the game can’t seem to keep it straight about whether I sent enough alloy to my arcology.

Does not compute! Literally.

Also, note the lack of a play-clock in the lower left. That’s a bug that happened every day I played the game.

Aggravation piled upon aggravation last week, but I kept playing. I kept playing because this game had proven to be, just that, a game. It was a game with rules I didn’t understand, a game that vexed me, that seemed to break or trick me or who the hell knows what. But a game it was, nevertheless.

Some time last week, the switch in me was flipped: I was going to beat this thing.

I was going to juggle this game’s ridiculous fake finances.

I was going to accept that fact that it wants 2000 people to study at my university in one day but won’t ever exceed 1700 no matter how many houses, passenger stations, roads and bus stops I build.

I was going to accept that my oil-run power plant was going to run out of oil because the trucks trying to deliver oil to it were perpetually stuck in a traffic jam.

I was going to conquer this game, build that arcology tower and win.

Wait a minute.

Really?

Why was I going to do that? Glutton for punishment? Or player of an unintentionally fascinatingly-difficult game?

After a few mornings of this, I bailed. I saw a new 2.0 update would be coming out for the game. Coming right now as I write this, in fact. Maybe it would fix things. Maybe it would expose the amazing game that seemingly should be here.

All I can say for now is that I really wanted this game to work, and I’m not convinced, given the amount of playtime I’ve gotten out of it, that it’s really failed me. I just know that I hate to love it right now. And kind of love to hate it.