SimCity BuildIt has been teased here and there, but specific details have been a bit sparse. That is, until now.
We recently had the chance to ask EA Mobile’s Vice President and General Manager, Jason Willig, some questions about the series’ new mobile outing. I was also able to get a live demo at EA’s recent Naughty & Nice event in New York, so I’ve got some serious impressions to share. After the questions, of course.
148Apps: Aside from the platform (obviously), what would you say are some of the biggest differences between SimCity BuildIt and SimCity?
Jason Willig (JW): There are similarities with the PC game, but SimCity BuildIt is, by design, very different. There’s a rich simulation under the hood and we’ve retained iconic elements like Zones, Services, Traffic, Data Layers, Disasters, and Specializations, but the whole experience has been reimagined to make SimCity more approachable for mobile players. We changed the name to help players understand that this is an all-new way to experience SimCity. This is not “SimCity Lite for Mobile.” It’s a ground-up design for a new generation of mobile gamers that we hope will also appeal to our most die-hard/loyal fans - not replacing what they love about the PC games, rather putting a different spin on a SimCity experience while retaining its essence and magic.
We introduced crafting into SimCity BuildIt, as well as the buying and selling of those crafted goods; it’s super fun and intuitive for a mobile city builder. We also simplified Zoning and Services to make them more approachable. The game map is quite large, with plenty of room to expand. And while BuildIt is designed to be played while connected to the internet – just like most mobile games like it – players can continue in off-line mode if their connection is interrupted, though some features will obviously be disabled (like trading goods on the global market, visiting other player’s towns, and making IAP’s).
And finally, we’ve added an all new crafting mechanic that will let players create goods to fuel their progression and even trade with friends. We think it’s an awesome addition that will really resonate with mobile gamers.
148Apps: Does SimCity BuildIt do anything to take advantage of iOS 8's Metal, or the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus hardware? If not, is anything planned?
JW: Not at the moment, the game is nearly complete, so we didn’t have time to go too deep with the new hardware, but we think players will be surprised to see how far we pushed the hardware.
148Apps: Were there any unexpected challenges in designing an all new SimCity for mobile devices?
JW: Where do I start! Yes. First and foremost was the challenge of bringing this amazing but relatively complex PC experience to a small touch screen, and to a massive new group of gamers who play very differently than their PC counterparts. Next was to “open up” the magic of SimCity to a mobile audience who want and expect different things out of their gaming experience, but who also love what SimCity represents: strategy, challenge, meaningful choices, open-ended–ness, and a healthy dose of control and chaos. The biggest challenge overall was preserving the authenticity and integrity of SimCity while making it more approachable and immediate for both a new audience, and longstanding fans of the franchise.
148Apps: I can still trigger all sorts of disasters to trash my city, right? Maybe not alien invasions like in SimCity 2000, but perhaps a big fire or something?
JW: Oh yeah, there are Disasters in SimCity BuildIt. It’s a feature that gets unlocked once the player hits a certain Population threshold. Taking on Disaster challenges earns players Golden Keys that they can use to Specialize their cities. There are several Disasters with more planned.
[There was a short video of gameplay footage here once upon a time, but after already getting the go-ahead we've been asked to take the video down. Our apologies. Just imagine something that looks a lot like 3D SimCity on an iPad. - Rob]
Thanks to Jason for answering our questions, and I have to admit I’m looking forward to getting some hands-on time with SimCity BuildIt. The 3D visuals are quite nice, and there are a lot of little details to appreciate that you can zoom in on to appreciate even more (traffic patterns change throughout the day, street lights turn on at night, police will patrol neighborhoods, etc).
It also seems as though a number of typically irritating free-to-play tactics are absent, such as needing to constantly check-in to collect funds from buildings. Instead, your buildings will generate income automatically even while you’re away, and the funds go straight to your back account. You also won’t have to worry about having a set number of
imps workers to manage your projects.
Honestly though, it seems like a streamlined SimCity with an emphasis on completing tasks to earn special items for upgrading buildings and creating special structures. That, and you can trade materials with other players using an in-game trading depot of sorts (think World of Warcraft’s auction house and you’ve got the general idea).
We haven’t been able to get a concrete release date yet, but SimCity BuildIt will be available for free on the App Store later this year.