How Sim City Finally Got Its Offline Mode

Sim City's launch may go down in history as the most maligned of all time. To begin with, the online-only game was close to unplayable, as players swamped the servers. Then hackers seemed to make a mockery of Maxis' claims that the game's architecture was built from the ground up by figuring quick and easy ways to play offline. It was, in short, a complete disaster.

And hanging above it all, the spectre of Digital Rights Management. Gamers were cynical: just how much of Sim City's online-only ambitions were an attempt to combat piracy via a complicated, broken form of DRM?

Well, according to a new blog by Simon Fox, lead engineer Maxis, the team were being 100% honest about the situation consumers endured at launch. Making Sim City offline enabled wasn't as easy as flipping a switch. It was actually a gruelling process that began almost as soon as the game went through it's difficult beginnings.

"The original creative vision for SimCity was to make a game where every action had an effect on other cities in your region," he said. "As such, we engineered the game to meet this vision, setting up the player’s PC (client) to communicate all of its information to the servers. That means that our entire architecture was written to support this, from the way that the simulation works to the way that you communicate across a region of cities. So yes, while someone was able to remove the “time check” shortly after launch, they were unable to perform key actions like communicating with other cities that they had created locally, or with the rest of their region(s), or even saving the current state of their cities."

According to Fox, it took the team almost 7 months to completely rewrite core parts of the game in order to make Sim City work as an offline game.

"I wish it were as simple as flipping a switch and telling the game to communicate with a dummy client rather than our server, but it’s more than that," he explained. "Entire calculations had to be rewritten in order to make the game function correctly."

Simon Fox goes into more detail on how the offline mode in Sim City was achieved here. They are, at this point, very close to being able to offer the offline mode via an update.

"So where are we at right now? We’ve been working on this since August and now, we’ve hit Alpha and are in the final stages of testing before we release it as part of Update 10 in the future. On behalf of the engineering team, thank you for your patience on this one. We know you want Offline play in SimCity and we are really happy that we are finally getting ready to deliver it to you."

Engineering SimCity for Offline Play [EA]


Comments

    Entire calculations had to be rewritten in order to make the game function correctly

    I thought one of the major issues is that the game DOESN'T function correctly beyond a certain city / simulation size, and this was covered up by making all the review / demo versions time limited. With that taken into perspective, this statement about offline mode is a bit of a joke.

      Maybe thats why entire calculations had to be rewritten. So that it could function correctly beyond a certain city / simulation size in offline mode?

      With what taken into perspective? If i knew absolutely every step of developing a game like sim city then maybe i could.... But i don't.

    Can't wait until this drops under $15. By then it will probably be all patched up, and I'm gonna hit it.

      Or you could buy Sim City 3k now and not deal with the headaches.

        Or even SimCity 4, but that requires trying to limit the processor affinity.

          add -CPUCount:1 to the end of the target line in the shortcut for SC4.

    As such, we engineered the game to meet this vision, setting up the player’s PC (client) to communicate all of its information to the servers. That means that our entire architecture was written to support this, from the way that the simulation works to the way that you communicate across a region of cities.

    Hang on. Wasn't it reported by another Maxis engineer that there was no model simulation but only message passing?

    I'm open to being wrong but I am sure this did happen.

    Last edited 15/01/14 9:59 am

      Makes sense. It would only have to be message passing if every other city in the region was having its simulations run by another player. Not being able to rely on other players to 'crowdsource' your region-member cities would mean having to come up with some way of summarizing what's going on in them.

      Ironically, there's a good chance the summary algorithm will run better than the actual real-time Sim calculation, bypassing all the routing issues etc and basing productivity etc on which facilities are in place rather than how you're piping your flows through the city, meaning that unlike any other game, when a node (city) in your plan is experiencing issues, the best thing for it will be for you to take your attention AWAY from it and work on a different city. :P

    And yet for each Sim City there is a next gen NBA 2K14 that flies under the radar on launch.

    It is almost as if they should of maybe tried with an offline game and added a compelling online component - bah but what do I know

      /\ this!
      Innovations aren't that common with major game companies, and maybe if the online mode was sold to us with actual benefits and maybe we wouldn't be as cynical and assume it was just DRM

    The real reason I bet is that sales have slowed or stopped enough that they don't want to support the game anymore and will shut down the servers in 3-6 months so they are rolling out the offline mode now.

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