Review: SimCity

Gregory sez, "Jonathan Cresswell delivers a perfect, succinct review of the new DRM crippled Sim City that will make you feel like you played the game."

SimCity, of course, requires an always-on network connection -- to a server that wasn't working.

Review: SimCity


    1. Yeah, I’m a little confused.  At first I thought the error page was the review itself (artistic!) but then I tried to go to his homepage and it looks like the whole site is down.

    2. Don’t bother:

      is just the loading image

  1. Yep I get the error too.

    This is why I won’t buy SC5, despite having bought and loved every other version.  Even if the server worked perfectly, I don’t want other people messing up my nice little computer world.  Also, a very high likelihood that Maxis will get tired of the game before I do, and close the servers.

    1. Let’s make sure we’re pointing the blame where it’s due. While, admittedly, I have no knowledge as to the specifics of their relationship, it sounds like all of the good in the game came from Maxis and all of the terrible came, as it so often does, from EA.

      1. so, you’ve never downloaded a real app with real drm-crack that is also spiked with malware via bittorrent?

        lucky you and your lucky amish internet that blocks such things.

        1. so, you’ve never downloaded a real app with real drm-crack that is also spiked with malware via bittorrent?

          Keep in mind a lot of those “malware” alerts are false positives when it comes to cracks.  Some of the cracks are marked as malware because the anti-virus companies are in cahoots with the developers to scare people away from them.  Many cracks are harmless to your Operating System and at worst may cause a crash of the app because of being poorly written.

          I’m not saying that there aren’t plenty of malicious malwares embedded in cracks, games, etc., but that’s not the entire story.

          1. I must just be unlucky. I always had to rely on a friend to find something that didn’t want to data-bomb my system, or use it as a home-base for spamming the globe.

    1. The advantage, from EA’s perspective, of online-play “DRM” is that you can’t hack what you don’t have access to.  That is, some of the game is inaccessible on their servers, so any version that removes the online component is a non-functional, partial game.  So those “DRM-free cracked” copies that will show up on Bittorrent will be nothing but malware.

      1. That was the notion behind Ubisoft’s attempts at always-on DRM (which were a disaster for legitimate customers during the launch window, just like this) with Assassin’s Creed 2, and people had an emulated server that fed the right magic numbers to the game (i.e., a working crack) long before Ubisoft was prepared to drop the always-on requirement for the game since their sales window had mostly passed.

        However, there is likely to be plenty of idiot bait out there, as well.

        1. Actually this is quite different from what Ubisoft did – the online requirement there was just to function as DRM.  All you had to do was recreate the stream of numbers coming out of their servers and you could play the game.  Here the algorithms running on the servers represents part of the gameplay itself.  No one’s going to figure out that functionality just by looking at the output if it’s sufficiently complex (which it is).  Best case scenario is that you create entirely new gameplay that’s quite different from what’s going on in EA’s servers.

      2. Exactly., you could only crack this drm by somehow mocking a EA server. Probably like they did to have standalone WoW servers.

        I think i’m more pissed off that they will turn the server off one day. I can still play the first simcity they released if wanted to but i doubt i will be able to play this game in 10-20 years time.

        1. I’ve worked on MMOs and seen the “private” fan-made servers, and the algorithms the fans come up with are quite rudimentary compared to the real thing.  With something like Sim City, which uses some pretty serious math to run the simulations, the fan version won’t be even remotely comparable.
          EA’s pretty infamous for turning off multiplayer servers barely a couple years, in some cases, after the game was first released for games that have regular sequels.  For a game that requires a server for any play at all is obviously a different situation, but if they make a sequel, a strong incentive will be there for them to turn off the servers for this game.

  2. I’m also really disappointed.  I’ve been a huge SC fan forever, and I still play Sim City Destinations on my current laptop when I have downtime, but I won’t buy the newest version, probably forever.  Which makes me sad.

    1. Haha, I read SC and understood Starcraft. It’s exchangeable in this context, though:
      I didn’t want to get Starcraft II because of being forced to be online (and being denied to host multiplayer games myself and so on). So last fall someone (who wasn’t aware) gave it to me as a present … alright, thought me, get over yourself and play the game, you know you want to! So I tried and failed, because someone else had apparently already figured out and used my game key.
      So I had a freshly unsealed package, installed the game for three hours (including replacing almost the entire install with downloaded stuff).
      What followed were three weeks of back-and-forth with the Blizzard support. It wasn’t before I had sent them photos of my ID, the package, the key, the receipt (really good luck my friend still had that and found it! I wouldn’t have) and the account number it was paid from (!), that I was finally allowed to play my game.

      This will not happen again.

      Best thing: They could have just shrugged it off, because according to their own deliberate conditions, they do not need to honour any receipts older than 30 days, and those had passed already. The people I dealt with were relatively reasonable but the whole policy isn’t.

      1. That is an awful lot of work to get to use a product that was purchased for you.

        I hope you sent them a bill for $50 to cover your time and expenses.

      2. Man fuck those fucking fucks. I grew up on arcade and console games so maybe that explains my vitriol for these antics. When you wanted to unlock a new level or character or “pick-up” (remember that word?) you had to complete the game 3 times in god-hard mode, standing on your head.

        I was actually contemplating buying Diablo 3 at some point but I’d forgotten about the always-on aspect. I hope the games industry moves away from this idea. I also hope EA are sued for this. There must be some law about this. You’ve paid money for a product you cannot even use. The fact that people are supporting them with their wallets just baffles me…

        Don’t forget EA are the same company that released the same game with a different title and packaging:

        While I don’t agree with Blizzards business model I can at least respect the fact that they create good quality games. EA just release the same shit year after year. They should setup a subscription service for their sheople customers that keep them in business.

  3. Reports are that, even if you do make it on, the reliability of server-related functions is…excitingly eccentric. Cities becoming corrupt and having to be rolled back for no known reason, movements of goods between cities disappearing into the aether, entire citices occasionally vanishing…

    Plus, of course, this ‘persistent/online’ nonsense has destroyed the ability to save and reload, thus ruining the classic pleasure of building a city and then unleashing disaster just to see what happens…
    Game over man. Game Over!

  4. It’s not just crappy always-on DRM. It also deliberately screws with the mechanics to force you to play multiplayer – small cities, cities that cannot exist in isolation. EA took the ultimate single-player sandbox game and turned it into Farmville.

    At this point, I wouldn’t buy the game even if they fixed (or someone hacked) the always-on requirement because it simply doesn’t sound like the game I wanted.

    Anyway, what with EA announcing that every game they release from now on will contain microtransactions, I’d never buy anything from them anyway. If that’s the way the industry is going, I’m done with it.

    1. So then they don’t need to worry about your opinion as a customer. You were never going to buy the product anyway.

      1. Yes, you could look at it that way. The ever-shrinking customer base of people who will put up with their crap will accept the most onerous restrictions. Eventually, the one remaining customer will have the server all to himself.

  5. And this, software companies of the world, is why I pirate your crap. I’ll get a nice cracked version of SimCity that some release group has very kindly excised your fun-killing DRM from, and play it whenever I want, wherever I want, without having to worry about whether or not your servers are up or if I currently have an internet connection. Or, you know, I’ll just go back to playing the last decent game Maxis made, SC2000

    1. Please, no. Don’t even pirate this game. Treat it like the pariah it deserves to be. Don’t let this code reproduce by running it on your machine. EA will count the piracy numbers and see that as a sign that, at the very least, people are playing the steaming turd they call a game, and if anything it’ll encourage them to just get a bigger DRM dick to wave around.

      Like Spore and Diablo III before it, I refuse to even pirate this game. And before anyone accuses me of being an astroturfer, I first point to my long comment track record on BB, and I second would like to state for the record that EA is a cancerous stain on contemporary gaming, and they’re dragging Maxis down to their level and making them roll around in shit together. GlassBox (the engine powering the new SimCity) appears to be a very solid, impressive engine, but this game never should have even been made.

      1. Absolutely. Was crushed to learn of Spore’s server dependence since I was looking forward to playing. Now the same with SimCity. So sad, but they are just video games and there are plenty more out there to take my mind off losing these two. Get it developers? The Execs at EA are wrong and costing you money.

        1. FYI, Spore runs just fine offline.  It’s the only way I play, because the online experience kind of sucks.

          1. The offline experience also kind of sucks, so there’s an elegant balance to the whole thing.

    2. If, as reported, they’re running game algorithms on their servers, you can’t pirate the game.  The best you can do is try to recreate what’s going on on their servers (by guessing) and writing your own code to simulate that.  But since there’s some serious math involved, no one’s going to even remotely accurately replicate that part of the game.  This is the genius of online play – you simply can’t pirate it; the best you can do is make your own “fan version” of the game.
      The days when disgruntled players could patch out the DRM are over.

      1. See my comments above regarding AC2. People will reverse-engineer the magic tokens coming through their router from the mother ship. It’s only a matter of time.

        1. You missed the point of the post you reply to.  “Magic tokens” are not what is coming from the mother ship.  Some, relatively trivially bypassable, DRM systems to follow the “do game stuff locally; reach critical breakpoint; send request for magic token; receive magic token; if magic token is correct, keep doing game stuff locally” sequence.

          In this case, significant parts of the actual game logic is simply not installed on your computer – “cracking the DRM” would require re-implementing the entire game AI as an open source effort.

          Compare it to “cracking the DRM” on Google Earth so it can run without a network connection – you would have to somehow get multi-layer hi-res, 3-D, constantly updated geographic data on the entire Earth, installed on your computer.

          1. The game’s AI engine will probably get leaked eventually and then someone will take it and convert it into something you can run on individual PCs.

            Then, ironically, SimCity might be worth a damn to actually get and play.  We’ll see…

        2. I think SimCity’s server side components are much deeper than AC2s. You’d need more then just convincing the game it is communicating with a server properly, you’ll need to fully emulate the server as not only does all the data appear to save server side, but commands seem to execute there too (when things get laggy/server disconnects, all your options can disappear, you’ll click the road build button and none of the various types of roads show up).

          I could be wrong, but I’d liken it more to emulating a WoW server. Which has been done, and will certainly be done here in time. 

          1. It would be analogous to an emulated WoW server.  As I mention above, WoW servers actually haven’t been accurately emulated.  People have created servers that pump out data when the client asks for it, in a format that the client accepts, but it’s not the same data that a “real” WoW server would put out.  And if people can’t figure out how to emulate a relatively simple set of algorithms, they sure as heck aren’t going to figure out Sim City, which uses some extremely serious math.
            Which is to say, someone, may, in fact, eventually come up with a supposedly “cracked” version of Sim City, but it won’t actually be the same game.  At all.

        3. As I said, the tokens coming from servers to allow single player games to run are a completely different situation.
          Now, there are people running “private,” fan-made MMO servers, having (supposedly) reverse-engineered the official servers by looking at the output, but as I mentioned above, having worked on MMOs I’ve seen the difference between the official servers and the fan-made servers, and they’re not the same thing. People aren’t accurately reverse engineering the mechanics going on in the servers.  They’re creating something different and comparatively simple.  And the algorithms behind most MMOs don’t involve very complex math, very much unlike Sim City.
          So yeah, someone may come up with a “private server” version of Sim City, but it quite literally would not be the same game as Sim City.

      2. People keep saying that the servers are doing “serious math”.  Why is everyone using the same phrase; is it coming from a review or press release?
        Also, moving significant processing to the server is seriously dumb. The kind of load you would expect will require a great deal of power and expense — which is entirely avoidable. If this what they are really doing, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that this is why their servers are down.

        1. No, that’s just me.  My point is that the math used for simulations like Sim City is heavy duty stuff compared to the sort of algorithms you’d find in the mechanics of an MMO, for example.  And it doesn’t have to do a significant amount of processing on the server side for this to work as unbreakable DRM – they just have to do a small amount of processing of algorithms using sufficiently advanced math.  (Hell, all they really need is any processing of any complexity and it’d be unlikely that anyone would accurately reverse engineer the functionality.)
          I’ve heard that the server issues have to do with servers not being set up to scale properly with the traffic. Which also seems pretty dumb.

  6. Connecting to Comment

    Estimated load time: 1 hour 20 minutes.

    Thanks for your patience. While you wait,
    why not try another of bardfinn’s comments!

  7. If you were thinking of getting Sim City but haven’t played Tropico 4 yet, go to Steam and get that instead.  When I was playing the SC beta I constantly felt like I just wanted to role play as good ‘ol El Presidente again.  Tropico has all the fun (and more) that SC has been robbed of, so give it a shot!

  8. It never ceases to amaze me how the largest publishers never seem to understand the guaranteed launch-time disaster this type of thing causes. I feel for the developers who worked hard to make this game and KNEW this was going to happen yet likely had no ability to stop it.

    What baffles me even more is that despite the reliable backlash and ill will these methods of DRM cultivate, that seems to be the continued direction the industry is taking, except for the indie scene which actually seems capable of making smart decisions. 

    The mega companies like Sony keep trying to convince people that what they want is more and more online integration for non-multiplayer games so they can sneak this kind of thing in. Now that graphical upgrades are becoming increasingly less relevant and underwhelming, these companies are desperate for buzzwords like ‘social’ so they can justify releasing a new console.

    I miss the days when mainstream games weren’t created as some sort of sickening ‘lifestyle’ marketing strategy.

  9. There was a time when I used to pirate games because I just couldn´t afford them. Now that I could I find that you can´t actually buy games anymore, just give companies money to let you play their game as long as they please. Hmmm … how about no?
    I´m buying plenty of DRM-free indie games these days though.

  10. I don’t need to read any reviews of the new SimCity.

    I love the game and have loved it since the original. I have been looking forwad to getting this one since it was announced that it was going to be published. Unfortunately, I won’t be getting this one, after all.

    My Internet connection is not always on.

  11. I don’t often engage in schadenfreude, but I must admit it gives me great pleasure to see a company that treats its customers like they are potential criminals get hammered in the press. Checking Metacritic, it appears that the critics gave it an 82 when they were able to play in the pre-release non-lagged regions. The users are giving it a 2.0! And IGN posted a front page article that says

    “Please don’t purchase it until there’s a reasonable expectation that you’ll be able to actually play.”

    I wonder how many customers they scared off. I hope it is a lot.

    1. Any time you find yourself asking “Did The Simpsons do x before Family Guy” the answer is yes.

  12. Want to play SimCity multiplayer? How about SimCity 4 + Dropbox? Or use Wuala instead.

    The trick is that you need to enforce certain rules to prevent smashing someone’s changes by working in the same area. At its most simple, you can’t be using any plugins or mods that the other players don’t have, and you shouldn’t build or alter any city directly adjacent to a city someone else is actively working on. SC4 appears to (sensibly so) divide up the map into smaller sections, and it doesn’t care about sections that don’t change.

    This way, you have your cloud storage be the host location for storage, and each player works on their own section. When you save, it pushes to the cloud. People working on other sections of the map aren’t affected when they push their saves, as long as they don’t build where the game won’t be able to reconcile changes made by two different people simultaneously.

  13. All the (well deserved) drama about connection problems aside, once you do get into the game, it is a ton of fun. 

    The game is a pretty huge departure from previous SimCity titles, instead of BUILD BUILD BUILD, you spend most of your time micromanaging components to try and keep your city healthy. I have about 8 hours of time sunk into the game, and all I’ve got to show for it is two cities with a total population of roughly 15,000.

    The challenges of balancing wealth types and industry will suck away days of your life.

    Once you can play the game, that is.

  14. I cancelled my order for two copies (one for me and one for the wife) when I found out about their stupid “must always be connected” DRM.  We are often in places where there is nothing but fifty cent/minute satellite connections that are spotty and intermittent and be damned if we’ll pay good money just to keep playing something we purchased or have the game go down several times an hour as connectivity waxes and wanes.

    Even without the travel aspect, I simply will not buy a game that hobbles my play in this fashion.  Fortunately we both enjoy playing the older versions and there are excellent and legal sources for a surprising number of our favorite antiquities.

  15. I very rarely play games, but even I was tempted to buy the new SimCity when I heard it was coming out.  The developers destroyed that possibility once I very quickly found out about all the draconian DRM.

    The DRM has overshadowed the game.  What a dumb, shortsighted way to lose an opportunity to sell a game to people by punishing people who actually do buy your game.

    I now mistrust the developers and wonder what nice, little, hidden daemons will they have running non-stop on my computer using up resources just to protect their ever previous DRM schemes?

    Another example of shortsighted, greedy people tripping over a dollar to pick up a dime.

    SimCity… You coulda’ had class. You coulda’ been a contender. You coulda’ been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what you are, let’s face it. It was you, SimCity.

    1. I am not aware of people complaining about SimCity having hidden daemons running on your PC – people are upset that it is an online only game, like World of Warcraft.  They wanted a standalone version.

      1. I am not aware of people complaining about SimCity having hidden daemons running on your PC

        Maybe we should check for it? Why put it past them? I’m not loading that POS on my computer.

  16. I don’t like people conflating “online play” with DRM.  Is World of Warcraft DRM crippled because you can only plan online?  How about Eve?  or Multiplayer Starcraft?  SimCity 5 was designed to be an online only game.  That might be stupid, (and don’t get me wrong, I think it is) but it is not the same as when Sony installed rootkits on people’s machines in the name of DRM.

    1. Those other games you mention are primarily multiplayer. I think in this case, the online portion was largely influenced by DRM. It’s an excuse to keep it online, nothing more.

Comments are closed.