SimCity Needs An 'Undo' Button

No, I'm not making a joke about how SimCity's makers doubtless wish they could hit "undo" on last week's embarrassing, disastrous launch. (Though I don't doubt that's the case.) I'm saying I think SimCity actually needs an undo button. You know, Control+Z. A shake of the smartphone. A little button with a backwards-curving arrow on it.

Over the weekend, I finally had a chance to play the game for a couple of extended periods of time, and an undo feature was the first thing I found myself missing. The first time I accidentally created (or, in the game's goofy parlance, "plopped") a convention centre two blocks from where I'd intended, I reflexively went for Control+Z and found, to my chagrin, that it didn't work.

I remember having the same instinct when playing the game at a preview session a little while back. The reflex to hit undo is simply ingrained in my process at this point. When I'm recording music or writing a score, working in Photoshop or writing an article for Kotaku, the ability to move forward and backward in time has become a vital part of my creative process.

I'd hazard a guess that I'm not the only one who, upon starting SimCity, found himself reaching for the undo shortcut. And yet the game offers no such option. That's not new for SimCity, mind — impermanence is at the core of the series, and the new game is no different. As always, the bulldozer is your undo button.

It's one thing to live with conscious decisions, and quite another to live with accidental mouse-clicks.

But there is a difference between the new SimCity and the old games, and it's one that I fear will have a significant chilling effect on my long-term enjoyment of the game. It's tied, as I'm finding most of the other things I don't like about SimCity are, to SimCity's always-online, cloud-based gameplay.

Past SimCity games did have a sort of undo button — you could reload your past saved games and undo everything you'd done since you last saved the game. As a result, it was actually freeing that the game didn't let you immediately undo a bad placement or unfortunate strategy. It was possible to spend a half hour seeing if you could correct an error, and then, if you'd really hosed yourself, reload a save and try again. If you did manage correct out of the mistake, it was particularly rewarding.

In the new SimCity, that's impossible. You live with every mistake, and so far for me, that's made the game less enjoyable. I like that in SimCity, as in past games in the series, my decisions have consequences. If I decide to encourage gambling in my city, my crime rate will go up. If I run a profitable mining industry with oil power, my skies will grow brown with pollution.

But it's one thing to live with conscious decisions, and quite another to live with accidental mouse-clicks. The new SimCity has a relentless, often compulsive forward momentum to it. That, coupled with a lack of true control over the flow of time, leaves me feeling powerless in a way that I don't really enjoy. Mistakes that in past SimCity games would have been a worry-free excuse to experiment instead feel like a frustrating waste of time and resources.

Ever since I first played it, I've been concerned that SimCity would feel somewhat transient. As every city is a constant state of flux, and without the option to create discrete saved games, I worried that it'd all feel a bit like writing in the sand.

Now that I've played the game for a longer period of time, I've found that feeling has only grown more pronounced. SimCity encourages me to experiment, but once I'm done experimenting, my only options are to live with my mangled results or clear the slate and start fresh. As a result, I feel like a stone skipping across the surface-tension of a potentially deeper game. I've yet to feel as though I'm actually building anything in this city-building game.


    I have to admit, on more than a few occasions i have also thought the same thing, accidentally bulldozing a high wealth skyscraper, instead of the mid wealth abandoned one, and losing a good 2k worth of hourly income.

      I agree with you there; there should be an "undo bulldozing fail" button. I don't agree with the article's assertion that there should be a universal undo function, though. The bulldoze tool is essentially the undo button, and the money lost by way of buying a building and immediately deleting it is the mild penalty for using this undo feature.

        They need to simply make it a "select and highlight" building/area with a confirmation.. is that not how it is in the game?

          When you're about to bulldoze an important building like your Town Hall or a fire station it will ask if you really want to do that. Anything else just gets demolished.

        Mild penalty not so much. I had saved for a medical centre. Placed it then realised I have no room for the rooms in that location and the road ways were perfect so deleting them was a terrible option. My only options left me 20 grand out and waiting for more money to try again.

    Not to mention you can't destroy your city with disasters and then reload a save...

      THIS! how fun was that, knowing you could just go back to it. And getting that super hero to save your city was pretty cool.

    Yeah I agree. An undo button would have been handy. Made a few errors that I would have liked to have undone. My god did I have a massive play session last night, maybe it's a good thing if you get kicked from the game due to server stability - start a new city at 7pm, neck menut the sun is coming up :p

    Or you could just pay attention when your spending large amounts / bulldozing high density area's.....I have done this a couple of times, and I never thought 'they need an undo button', I simply took more care the next time......

    Games are already too easy these days without pandering to people who can't learn from their mistakes.......

    Last edited 12/03/13 2:02 pm

      Its not as simple as that, somethings are misleading.

      i wasted 120k dropping DR VU's HQ, the description leads you to beleive that its benifitial to local industry, but turns out it also lowers the land value signifcantly, so after i "plopped it" hopeing for an increase, the surrounding areas all left due to low land value almost instantly.

      In this case an undo would have been perfect to just replop it, or hell even without an undo, add a "move" option for facilities, charge you half as much as the new building would cost, and make it take a little longer to rebuild at the new location.

      i dont want or need a reset/panic button, but something to allow for small stupid mistakes, would be a great help and wouldnt hinder the game at all.

    you are not alone, I have pressed Ctrl Z many times in a desprate attempt to undo my disasterous mistakes. I blame my use of AutoCAD at work for my habbit of pressing undo when i stuff up lines, much like i stuff up roads in Sim City.

    EA needs an 'undo' button.

      EA needs a 'delete' button.

        EA needs an ALT+F4 option... deleting is too good, lets crash that bitch into the ground and bail just before it hits.

    Ever since the old Rollercoaster Tycoon games I've thought that these sort of complex construction sims should have an intermediary 'blueprint' mode; the idea being that you place or remove object outlines freely to ensure everything lines up the way you want, and then confirm to affect changes based on current blueprints. Far too often things get placed slightly off due to issues like camera angle or visual stacking order (and whether object interaction is based on its graphic or its footprint) or how grid-based placement is handled.

    I think you're mixing up an interface issue with a gameplay issue. Learning from your mistakes only counts if you're the one responsible for the mistake. The undo button itself is only really a band-aid solution for a system which demands more precision than it may itself be capable of.

    No undo? BE MORE ATTENTIVE. Yeah, I dropped a 40K train station in the wrong spot once. Never again. You're planning a city, not playing in paint. Roleplay it!

    Although, I do sometimes knock down the wrong building in the wee hours of the morning when my eyes are blurry. Angry sims are the Maxis' way of saying go to bed.

      Or 'buy something via microtransaction to make them happier!'

    Somewhat unrelated, but have they made any move to remove the all ways on DRM or added a single player side yet? I want to play this game but buying it just tells EA that I'm totally fine with the direction they are trying to take gaming in. (Which is why they are reluctant to give you your money back).

      Nope. Maxis said that to make it single player they have to rebuid the whole thing which is impossible.

        From what I read they said it would be very difficult, but not that they'd have to rebuild everything. Although I agree with the people wondering how much is really going on on the server since you can lose your connection for a good chunk of time and still play with no problem at all while it tries to reconnect. From the way the game continues to work while you're disconnected it's hard to imagine there's actually that much happening only server-side.

          From the way the game continues to work while you're disconnected it's hard to imagine there's actually that much happening only server-side.

          My thoughts exactly.

    You know, Control+Z.

    That's Command+Z on a Mac!!! Sorry - too many PS tutorials.

    Last edited 12/03/13 4:48 pm

      Unless you're smart and swap you modifier keys so control will from then on always refer to control.

    The only time while playing Sim City where I have found myself wishing there was an undo button was in Sim City 4, where I was just about to place a road somewhere and then the camera jumps to an event or disaster somewhere and I accidentally place a huge road that goes through the middle of my city, demolishing everything in its path. This happened to me rarely, but enough times to make me wish there was an undo button.

    I am looking forward to picking up the new Sim City next week, from what I've seen, it actually looks pretty good and I am sure it will be great to play it once all these server issues are sorted out. I do admit that I wish the city areas were larger though, but hopefully it will come in an update of some kind.

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