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."