Ahead of the release of its second modern city building sim next year, Cities XL developer Monte Cristo has been telling us how it hopes to surpass genre benchmark Sim City 4.
Here the developer's technical director, Patrick Marchal, tells us how Cities XL's multiple online functionalities will revolutionise the genre, about the challenge of making the title both accessible to a wide audience and yet still a deep experience for core gamers, and why the company hasn't thought about taking the game to consoles.
Arguably the city building genre hasn't evolved much since Sim City established the basic rules. What's fresh and innovative about the direction you're taking with Cities XL?
Marchal: The basis follows the genre to generate a believable simulation and a huge set of realistic building and structures, but today's technical progress has a tremendous impact in terms of what we can now deliver from a satellite view to an amazingly detailed, alive street level view.
However you might say that these are just logical evolutions of the genre. The real revolution for the genre comes from Cities XL's online functionalities and services.
Cities XL seems to comprise of three games in one - single player offline city building, mission-based management modes and a persistent world MMO. Can you tell us a little about each of these?
Marchal: I don't much like the expression "three games in one" - I would rather say Cities XL aims to offer a full scope city building simulation both solo and multiplayer.
While you will face classic Sim City style gameplay when playing on your own, the MMO approach (which we call the "Planet" offer) will give you access to a persistent planet with a player-dependent economy.
This opens up completely new possibilities in terms of trading cash and resources, allowing you to specialise each of your cities or to build together what you couldn't achieve on your own. We will provide all the usual features like chat, customisable 3D avatars etc.
What you call a mission-based management game is I believe a reference to what we call GEMs (Gameplay Extension Modules). In fact they aren't mission-based, but fully-featured tycoon-style games that are integrated into the larger city context. Each one adds hours of gameplay in solo mode and allows you ultimately to produce more resources that you can trade online. It is like running a business and competing with others for clients, whether that's from winter tourism, a theme park or from a specialisation in the motor industry.
You're giving gamers a lot of options but it sounds as though it could be a little complicated. How important is it that the game's accessible to a wide audience?
Marchal: We know not only from our previous experience in the genre, City Life, that many city builder and tycoon fans are casual gamers, so it is really important to make the game accessible to a wide audience, all the while providing a deep experience to core gamers. That's why we have opted for a modular system.
The player can basically choose the level of complexity he's willing to take and how deep he wants to micromanage. Take the mass placement tool and you can tag areas a lot yourself or just let them grow organically; take the traffic management and you can define your lanes or just use standard lanes, or stay in the solo mode if you want to learn the tricks of the trade, and just decide to join the planet when you are comfortable enough with the game. We are also strong believers that the community will help newbies in the system, and to be honest we will reward them for that.