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Lead Designer Stone Librande Updates Explaining Glassbox

Hello, I’m Stone Librande, the Lead Designer of SimCity, and I wanted to take a moment to address some of the questions that I’ve been hearing about our game. Now that we’re getting close to resolving our server issues, we’re putting a lot of attention on improving the simulation based on the community’s feedback.

SimCity is built on GlassBox, which is an agent-based simulation engine. At the surface level, GlassBox is designed around the premise that “Agents” are created to carry data to various “Sinks” around the city. In SimCity, you can think of the “Agents” as Sims and vehicles. The “Sinks” are the buildings that receive money, happiness and other resources from these Agents. During development we tested many cities in a variety of scenarios, but there are almost limitless permutations. Now that the game is in your hands we are seeing the emergence of many cities that test our systems in unique ways. It’s great to watch this happen because at its core SimCity is a game about experimentation and exploration. (Of course, it’s not so great when these experiments reveal bugs.)

We are constantly tuning the game and through the telemetry of our players we are shaping and evolving the experience to accommodate many different play styles. When bugs are discovered we will address them as quickly as possible, with updates such as the ones we’ve been rolling out over the past week. Our main focus right now is updating the pathing system that the Agents use to get to their Sinks. Running a successful city means keeping the traffic flowing and we are actively working to make this system better.

We understand that when cars always take the shortest route between point A and point B there will be unavoidable (and illogical) traffic jams, so we are retuning these values to make the traffic flow more realistically. Guillaume Pierre (our lead scripter) talked a bit about the improvements that we are making to the traffic system in the game here. To dig a little deeper our roads will have a weighting system based on 25%, 50% and 75% capacity. As a road hits those marks it will become less and less appealing for other cars, increasing the likelihood of them taking an alternate path if one exists.

We are working on additional fixes with the pathing of our Agents and these changes will streamline the way that the simulation unfolds in your city. For instance, emergency vehicles will not get blocked in their garages and will move into empty lanes to get around traffic jams. We’re also working on preventing service vehicles from clumping up (for instance, only one fire truck will respond to a fire instead of two) and improving the way that Public Transportation operates in the city. We are currently testing a patch internally and hope to have it out to you soon.

SimCity is a simulation but it is also a game. We wanted to make managing the mundane day-to-day functionality of a city a fun experience. We wanted players to be invested in the lives of their individual Sims, which is why you can click on one and see a name and small story about what is happening to him or her at that moment.

On that note I wanted to take a moment to address a question that’s been coming up: the persistence of our Sims. The Sims in the game are persistent in many respects. They go from a home to a workplace or to a shop and back each day. Their happiness, money, sickness, education level, etc. are also persistent and are carried around the city with each Sim as the simulation unfolds. But many aspects of the Sims are not persistent. They don’t own a particular house or have permanent employment. We also don’t track their names, their clothing, gender, or skin color. We did this as in attempt to increase performance so that we could have more Sims in the city. Ultimately we didn’t feel that the cost of adding in that extra layer of micro detail made the macro game play richer. Game design is filled with tradeoffs and compromises like this and we are constantly evaluating these (and many other) decisions.

I want to end on some good news. We are slowly re-enabling some of the non-essential features that we had turned off during the week of launch. Regional Achievements are live on a select number of servers and we’ve re-enabled Leaderboards on the Test server. We need your help testing the Leaderboards so I encourage you to go to the Test server so that we can expedite the timeframe in which this feature is brought back to the rest of our servers.

We’ll continue to provide you with updates on the game as we make these changes. We appreciate all of the feedback that you’ve been giving us and I want to assure you that we’re listening. It’s fascinating for us to see all of the different ways that players are testing our systems and we’re excited about making SimCity better with your help.

See The Original Post Here

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Sims 3 World Sale Thursday

More than likely the “March Madness” sale that happens regularly… so it may or may not interest some of you. I ended up picking up Lucky Palms during Cyber Monday, so unfortunately I fall into the second category of shoppers :) I wonder what will happen with Barnacle Bay though, so I may just sneak a peek tomorrow during my site researching!

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The Sims 2 Double Deluxe Winner!

Last month we started a competition to win a copy of The Sims 2 Double Deluxe. The competition closed on the 11th March and we’ve randomly selected our winner.

The winner of the competition is Robb:)

We have sent out an email to you, Robb, so check your email so you can claim your prize.

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SimCity Blog Updated With A Streetcar Post

The SimCity crew have updated their blog with a posting about how Streetcars work in the game as they’ve  gotten a couple requests for it. It’s really neat how the programming works behind the transport. They even mention that they are looking into how to address traffic (jam) concerns.

SimCity Street Cars

Hello mayors! We’ve noticed there have been a lot of questions about how public transit works under the hood, so today I’m going to lift that hood.

Let’s look at a city with a simple streetcar loop going through it. There are a few stops and a depot, and some cars are going from stop to stop, picking people up and dropping them off.

Now let’s look at the pathing data for the “pick up” destination. This destination becomes available to the streetcars when Sims are waiting to be picked up at a stop.

The numbers with “<- X ->” represent how many people are waiting at stops on that particular road segment, while the other numbers represent the distance to the destination minus the number of people waiting.

Going clockwise and starting from the top left, you can see there are 10 people waiting, then 15, then 5, then 1, then 48, then 21.

When a streetcar leaves the depot, it’s going to make a left turn, as there’s less “work” to get to the 21 people who need to be picked up, since the stop is very close and the 48 people who are waiting on the right are too far comparatively.

If there was a situation where 300 people were waiting at the first stop to the right of the depot, and only one was waiting on the left, then the streetcars would make a right turn as they exit every time until everyone in the crowded stop is picked up. Then the next streetcar would make a left turn to pick up that one person.

There are a couple of obvious issues with this approach though:

  1. If there are 300 Sims waiting for the streetcar on the other side of the loop for example, they may have to wait a long time for the vehicles to make their way. To remedy this problem, we’re looking into make crowded stops “high priority pick-up” destinations that transit vehicles will go to first.
  2. Another problem is that, well, all the vehicles that are in the same area and want to go to the same destination type will all follow the same path, resulting in clumping and general traffic problems. We’re looking into various ways to improve the situation so traffic will spread out better.

You can also see that the data regarding streetcar destinations is only populated on the avenue with streetcar tracks. Regular roads are not part of the calculation (it says “inf” for “infinite” in the picture.)

Now let’s talk about what happens when a streetcar makes a stop. First, we try to drop off as many people as possible, based on the type of destinations located near the stop (like workplaces, shopping, home, school, etc). Then we pick up people based on what types of destination are available near other streetcar stops. Finally, we decide where the streetcar should go next.

If there is still room in the streetcar, then there’s a 75 percent chance we’ll send it to pick up more passengers. That said, if there’s nobody needing to be picked up at any stop on the line, we’ll make the streetcar drop off passengers at the first “DropOffAtX” destination, based on where the passengers want to go.

And then if that destination is not available, we’ll make the streetcar go back to the garage. (Streetcars do not use the “Trade Pick Up” destination, that’s only for buses, ferries & other vehicles that can go to other cities to pick up commuters and tourists.)

In 25% of the cases if there’s still room in the streetcar, as opposed to 100% of the time if it’s full, we’ll send the vehicle straight to a “drop off” destination.

Finally, if the streetcar is empty, there’s a 25% chance that it will go to the closest next stop on the line, and a 75% chance it will attempt to pick up passengers. And if all the stops have been visited recently, or there is nobody waiting to be picked up, then it will go back to the depot.

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New Store Poll… With A Twist!

Think you can pull yourself away from watching your Sims study and go streaking at University long enough to help the Sims 3 Store again? They’ve posted a survey link HERE that they’d like if you filled out. Unlike some of the last ones, this one is a fill-in-the-blank. Nifty :)

(Hint Hint; I’ve submitted that I’d like an Event Planner/Party Planner premium content/store career as I am one in real life… you could help someone out here :P)

While I’ve got you…

So I haven’t really seen outside in a couple of days now as I’ve been sucked into my computer playing The Sims 3 University and Simcity. You’ve all had enough days now to tell me what you think of the new releases so far, so have at it! Both did really well in the UK game chart last week, so I’d like to know how you’re playing. Did you start a new family to send to school or ship of the folks? How many cities do you have up and running, and are you checking out public regions or doing it old-school private?

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Lucy Bradshaw Addresses SimCity Problems

Lucy Bradshaw has addressed the problems with SimCity, which Maxis are working hard to resolve, and has even offered something for your problems.

Here’s a quick update on the problems we were experiencing with SimCity – and a little something extra for people who bought the game.

The server issues which began at launch have improved significantly as we added more capacity.  But some people are still experiencing response and stability problems that we’re working fast to address.

So what went wrong?  The short answer is: a lot more people logged on than we expected.  More people played and played in ways we never saw in the beta.

OK, we agree, that was dumb, but we are committed to fixing it.  In the last 48 hours we increased server capacity by 120 percent.  It’s working – the number of people who have gotten in and built cities has improved dramatically.  The number of disrupted experiences has dropped by roughly 80 percent.

So we’re close to fixed, but not quite there.  I’m hoping to post another update this weekend to let everyone know that the launch issues are behind us.

Something Special for Your Trouble

The good news is that SimCity is a solid hit in all major markets.  The consensus among critics and players is that this is fundamentally a great game.  But this SimCity is made to be played online, and if you can’t get a stable connection, you’re NOT having a good experience. So we’re not going to rest until we’ve fixed the remaining server issues.

And to get us back in your good graces, we’re going to offer you a free PC download game from the EA portfolio.  On March 18, SimCity players who have activated their game will receive an email telling them how to redeem their free game.

I know that’s a little contrived – kind of like buying a present for a friend after you did something crummy.  But we feel bad about what happened.  We’re hoping you won’t stay mad and that we’ll be friends again when SimCity is running at 100 percent.

SimCity is a GREAT game and the people who made it are incredibly proud.  Hang in there – we’ll be providing more updates throughout the weekend.

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Internal Maxis Memo from Lucy Bradshaw

With Maxis working around the clock to ensure that their servers can meet demand, similar to other online game launches such as Guild Wars 2 and Diablo, an internal memo has been sent out by Lucy Bradshaw.

Id like to also add that it’s a shame to see this new SimCity affected by server issues. If you see negative user scores, see if it’s about  the game or the servers – the majority is about the servers. Give it a go and I’m sure you’ll love it if you’re a SimCity fan.

“I’ll start by saying that I couldn’t be more proud of SimCity and the Maxis team that made it and are supporting it,” Maxis general manager Lucy Bradshaw wrote in an email sent to staffers at the studio. “The game launched with great reviews from both new critics and the veterans who have loved this franchise for so many years. SimCity is a software achievement that everyone at Maxis is extremely proud of. I am also thankful for all of the hard work put in by our marketing, EA Global Publishing and Origin teams, which drove very strong Day One performance around world.

“Then we launched it.”

While Bradshaw pointed out that more than 700,000 cities were built by players in the first 24 hours, she also noted that many gamers are “experiencing server instability and consequently, the rollout in North America has been challenging. It’s also now evident that players across Europe and Asia are experiencing the same frustration.”

Maxis’ top priority, she said, is to “quickly and dramatically increase the number and stability of our servers and with that, the number of players who can simultaneously access the game.”

Three servers were added to the game yesterday and several more are planned for the weekend, she wrote.

“I’D LIKE TO SAY THAT IT’S NOT FAIR — THAT THE GAME SCORE SHOULDN’T BE PUNISHED FOR A SERVER PROBLEM. BUT IT IS FAIR”

Bradshaw also detailed the company’s efforts to address the growing tide of hostility among their fanbase.

“Maxis is working 24/7 to deliver on our promise,” she said.

Bradshaw noted that the server issues are also impacting review scores, saying that the Maxis Communications team is “working one-on-one with media to manage this as closely as possible.”

“I’d like to say that it’s not fair — that the game score shouldn’t be punished for a server problem,” she wrote. “But it is fair.”

SimCity is an online game and critics and consumers have every right to expect a smooth experience from beginning to end,” she wrote. “I and the Maxis team take full responsibility to deliver on our promise.

“Trust that we’re working as hard as possible to make sure everyone gets to experience the amazing game we built in SimCity.”

Thanks to Black Scorpion Sims