With Simple AI Like This, Why Does SimCity Need Cloud Computing?

With more and more players able to connect to and consistently play SimCity now, they're seeing what GlassBox, the game's simulation engine, has to offer. GlassBox has been pitched as an enormously sophisticated engine that supposedly requires the game's servers to supply some computing power, necessitating the game's notorious always-online connection. But a lot of forum threads, comments and YouTube videos show behaviour unworthy of such a claim.

That's an issue because many remain deeply suspicious that the cloud computing isn't really all that necessary, and the claim of it is a cover for implementing an always-online connection as an antipiracy measure.

Yesterday, Stephen Totilo showed he was able to play the game, in what seemed like a complete state, for 20 minutes with no internet connection. Rock, Paper, Shotgun reported that an anonymous developer on the SimCity team said the servers were handling typical cloud tasks, such as storing game saves and routing messages between players. "But for the game itself, no, they're not doing anything," he told RPS.

Now we have this.

That video shows an evening commute; it was mentioned in this thread over on the game's official forum and has since gotten a lot of traction on NeoGAF and SimCity's subreddit. Sims returning home simply go to the first available house. The singleminded traffic pattern creates issues that break the simulation elsewhere in the city.

Over in EA's crowdsourced help forums, a player says"the agent system that is used for utilities (power, water, sewage) seems to be identical to the system that handles traffic", and it seems to explain why services become broken in the city. It explains why, for example, workers on the way to a job don't go to a specific building, they simply go to the first open job and fill it. It explains why casinos go bust unless they're placed right at the entrance of a city, he said, and are harmed by streetcar stops, because tourists are simply shoppers from another town. Public transit next to a casino mean they board a bus and go to the nearest shopping district.

"In the evening, when work and school lets out, they all leave and proceed to the absolute closest 'open' house," he notes. "They don't 'own' their houses. The 'people' you see are actually just mindless agents (much like the utilities agents, as I said earlier) making the whole idea of "being able to follow a 'Sim' through their entire day" utterly POINTLESS!!"

Here's another video, uploaded on Friday, showing how the game handles pathing when it's given a massive congestion problem and a higher capacity, if longer, alternative route. It doesn't use it. Traffic takes the shortest distance between two points. And still another video in timelapse (but still 10 minutes long) shows a city growing to 200,000 population with entirely residential zones -- no commercial or industrial zones, no traffic, and basic services.

What's so sophisticated about that?

Maxis created the impression that offline computing was necessary to handle this type of performance back in December, when the studio was trying to get in front of the suspicion of (and hostility to) the always-online requirement. The studio's general manager, Lucy Bradshaw said GlassBox "can track data for up to 100,000 individual Sims inside each city.

"There is a massive amount of computing that goes into all of this, and GlassBox works by attributing portions of the computing to EA servers (the cloud) and some on the player's local computer," she said. She more or less repeated this statement to Totilo over the weekend, when he inquired about the feasibility of giving SimCity an offline mode.

I've asked a Maxis representative for a response to these gamers' complaints and for an explanation of a specific in-game action or experience that depends upon cloud computing, or if the poor AI shown in the video is something that is being addressed by a patch. Any response we receive will be updated here.


Comments

    Well, this explains a lot why my cities shit their beds.

    Actually, come to think of it, there was this one time I had a massive traffic jam right in front of my fire station because of similar behavior to these videos and no one would let the fire truck through.

    Shit just burned for weeks.

    Last edited 14/03/13 1:04 pm

      Enough of your technobabble! In layman speak, we're not all rocket scientists sir!

      i Had this with my street cars - they would all go to the nearest stop after the depot and then just cycle between the two and ignore every other drop in the city.

    "The run up to the game left many with the impression that..."

    This sentence is as incomplete as the game.

    So what you're telling us is that the advertised features aren't really being delivered. Yes this happens all the time with games, but for a "simulation" game to not really be running detailed simulations as advertised is a serious concern.

    WOW never expected EA and now MAXIS to lie to us. Damn them

    Seems like they need to implement some algorithms found in routing protocols. It is like they are using RIP (even then without hop limit) instead of OSPF.

    I have to admit i did notice this when watching school busses, they dropped off 40 sims at the first residential stop, and then all 40 sims conga lined into and then out of each house untill the line was no more.

    Traffic seems to do similiar, and if you dont have a commercial district on a main road the sims are to dumb to find it.
    Having set my residential as a grid in my mining city, i have a R district, and 2 blocks over is a shopping district, BUT because the Sims dont drive/walk past it to get to work/uni they ignore the fact that it even exists, and leave due to no shopping available. (even tho it is the same wealth level)

    I've also noticed buildings living next door to parks give the unhappyness reason of "no parks in our area", these houses get bulldozed due to being to stupid.

      "...these houses get bulldozed due to being to stupid."

      I'm warm and fuzzy inside knowing i'm not the only one who does this.

    Wow, those videos make the game look awfully primitive ... :\

    Server issues, people finding that you can play the game offline (even if limited), and now bad gameplay mechanics... Well that's taking this game off my buy list for a long long time.

    I've taken to adding to my emails to friends/family: "Hope you and anyone you care about have safely managed to avoid the atrocity that is the latest Sim City game."

    I know it's probably silly, but I care about these people and hate to think of them suffering.

    I really want to try this game, but with the buggyness displayed up top, server issues, and the price. I am not too sure I will be giving this game a shot. I've never played a Sim City properly, (had like a demo back in primary school of one of them and had fun with it then.)

    Man this infuriates me. Not being able to get a refund on a faulty, unfinished and falsely sold product should be illegal. It just hurts all the more because I paid the full Aussie markup price of $80 which Maxis get to pocket quite happily.

    I want a refund, or a freaking damn good free game in return. Hell I'd just be happy if they refunded the markup they added on

      You could get a refund really.. under ACL, with this level of misrepresentation you should be able to.. however if you have played the game for many hours already, it might hurt your case.

    Maybe proper AI was another feature disabled for the time being?

    "There is a massive amount of computing that goes into all of this, and GlassBox works by attributing portions of the computing to EA servers (the cloud)" ... give me a break. I don't see any other games requiring computing done by servers, some of which seem far more complex than this game (especially after video's as ridiculous as this). It's DRM through and through. Don't piss on people and call it rain.

    Gameplanet.co.nz are reporting that a developer has confirmed GlassBoxs lack of need for a server...
    http://www.gameplanet.co.nz/pc/news/1024491.20130313.SimCity-neednt-require-server-access-to-run---developer/

    I was wanting to play this (my current computer isn't good enough :( ), but now I don't feel like I'm missing out on much.

      Just as this article is reporting the same thing. The original story was run by Rock Paper Shotgun.

    Even if they spoke the truth about offloading computing to the "cloud" (which they haven't), it would be the dumbest thing they could possibly do. Sure, a powerful server can beat the processing of a gaming computer, but why would you want to take on the processing job from possibly millions of computers. Talk about wanting to bottleneck everything.

    In computers, you would want to parallel processing as much as humanly possible, aka let the damn game computers run it themselves. Just set the min specs as needed.

    The only thing you want the cloud to do is synching data between users.

    Having worked in a traffic engineering department for a couple of years you have no idea the rage that traffic pathing in this title instills in me

      Honestly if I were building a game like this I would be wanting people such as yourself advising me on how to work traffic and roads. It would be pretty shameful if I didn’t.

      Hah! I had a friend who used to do that! It sounded... genuinely frustrating. For what little she talked about it. Kinda never wanted to complain about traffic to her, in case it resulted in a look of withering scorn, and a forceful but solemn intonation: "YOUR DELAY IS AN ACCEPTABLE LOSS. THE PROJECTIONS HAVE SPOKEN."

    I was going to wait for the game to get over it's server issues and then go on sale.. but all this other stuff... the game is beyond broken. How was this not picked up during beta? or during media previews? How? Because they limited the sessions to 1-hour at a time.. no one beta testing or previewing would have had enough time to build up a city to a point where stuff like this becomes obvious. In-house testers would have know though....

    It feels like the algorithm in use is the one used when you first populate a city and people fill up the buildings as you construct them.. where are all the other algorithms????? My guess is that they knew all about these issues and they were hoping to get a patch released to fix the problems before anyone noticed... these problems with the AI are just too plainly obvious for it to be missed.. this is not something that would only become apparent under high stress when the game went live.. it's something that would have happened regardless and most likely why the sessions were limited to 1-hour for anyone outside the development team.

    Shameful.

      These issues I believe were raised by the Beta testers who were then ignored. So you're probably right.

    Even with all the hate this game is getting, I have still played 40+ hours since release and am totally addicted. The traffic flow in this game is still miles ahead of Sim City 4, atleast cars don't dissapear completely when they reach the end of a road.

      Pretty much this, sure, the game hasn't deliviered on a number of its promises but they are issues you can work around with clever planning

      I might just be a mindless consumer, but I'm with you. I haven't spent quite as many as hours, but it's so addictive!

      Sim City 4 however supports mods which address such issues. The Network Addon Mod (NAM) greatly improves traffic and keeps cars on screen for longer.

    Would an always online game open itself up to DoS attacks? Is that the way to fight always online DRM?

    Myself, i am not going to buy/play this. I love simcitys and it looks awesome but i think i would prefer larger plots of land and i like a demo before paying any new title price. Then i hear about online issues and poor ai routing and i can quickly get over this game.

      For us who have already paid for the game have already gone through enough shit just to get playing, a DDoS really really wouldn't be fair. It's no where near the same level as DDoSing a website. Most people don't pay $80 to access a site.

      Last edited 14/03/13 4:34 pm

        You are right. I did think of websites first and I forgot about everyone who paid for the game. Thanks for the cool reply.

        I don't like the thought of playing a game I paid for until they turn the servers off.

      Yeh.. I am kind of glad for my sake that these new issues have been brought to the public attention... because it's another reason for me to easily forget about the game....

    "The studio’s general manager, Lucy Bradshaw said GlassBox “can track data for up to 100,000 individual Sims inside each city."

    except that the population number and the actual number of simulated sims is different above 500. 100k population is only really about 10k simulations

    This is one game I really wanted, decided not to buy and now I'm glad I got off the Hype Train because it appears the bridge was out.

    The always online talked me out of it and then the microtransactions made it worse. I'm glad but as a As a group of Gamers I think we need to not buy games that have these features so that when EA see we're not buying their games for this reason they'll change the policy.

    I doubt any of the simulation is done server-side. The proof? Using the 'Speedhack' option in Cheat Engine, even up to 50x, and the game still works (well, if it worked properly in the first place). I have been able to use this option for well over an hour. Normally I wouldn't cheat or do this to a game, as it becomes boring quickly and gives an unfair advantage, but I wanted to experiment on the effects of such a thing. This was not done in Sandbox mode either. I believe the game only syncs certain inter-region data for inter-region play and city data to maintain integrity for achievements (prevent cheaters).

    One thing to note is, any speed hack above 5x, and you lose the ability to access the menus when clicking on buildings, so I believe 5x over Llama speed is most likely Cheetah speed.

    *sigh* lost all interest in this game now, has to be one of the prettiest, but most useless simulators ever.. after watching this the only enjoyment I am getting is finding bugs.

    So i'm building a city with no industrial or commercial.. it's going really well.

    HAH! Connect? Sure. I just got booted out of the game after the 30 minutes I was able to play this week on claims my city was "not processing properly" and told me I had to "rollback" to a working state. This is apparently not an uncommon problem that often leads people to have a completely corrupt and unusable city.

    It's like a reverse queue, instead of waiting for 30 minutes to play, you play for 30 minutes, they call a no-go and you lose all progress.

    Last edited 15/03/13 8:06 pm

    It seems to me that if cars are taking the shortest route, then they're just being human? I drive 20km to work every day along the same path, as it's quickest, except on some days when it's dreadfully slow due to traffic and road works. But I don't know ahead of time unless someone calls me and warns me.

    That is, unless the Sims can see the road ahead and still decide to go into traffic despite being given multiple paths.

    The rest (like not owning the house and casinos going bust for not being at the front of the town) is inexcusable if these features were promised.

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