We don't normally review anything as mainstream as Cityville, which has something like a hundred fucking million MAU, making it vastly more successful than Zynga's previous big hit, Farmville. I don't intend to make a habit of it. And in fact this isn't so much a review as a personal response -- in other words, I feel a good rant coming on, and I'm inclined to run with it.
Before I begin to rant, I should say that actually, I rather like this game. But...
The basic fantasy of the game is "build your own city!", and it's a fantasy to which I am susceptible. I've played a lot of city-building games. A lite, mass-audience, social version of the basic paradigm is, at least in potentio, exciting.
But of course, we're stuck in the land of the FTP MVP game. (That's "free to play," not "file transfer protocol," and "minimum value proposition," not "most valuable player," in case you haven't been following the current jargon). Actual implementation is dictated by both the needs of monetization and -- particularly in Zynga's case -- a charge to innovate as little as possible in actual design.
The image shown at the top of this article is of Chip Morningstar's city (yes, that Chip Morningstar). I want you to notice something about it. Chip has arranged all of the residential buildings at upper right, all of the businesses at middle bottom, and all of the municipal buildings at right bottom. Chip is, of course, a very logical man, and clearly, by the evidence of this city, a classic, min-maxing gamer. Your usual path through the game is as follows: Collect all business profits, collect goods to replenish businesses, collect rents as feasible. It is sensible, from a gameplay perspective, to place your businesses in a bloc, and your residences in another bloc, and to zone your municipal buildings elsewhere.
I want you to think about living in a city like this: You live in a neighborhood that is 100% residential, with no exceptions. To pick up a quart of milk or a roll of toilet paper, you must walk clear across town. Even Stalin was not that dumb.
By contrast, here's my city:
By comparison to Chip's, it's chaos. Everything's intermingled: businesses, residences, municipal buildings, even industry. There's a reason for that; I'm taking Jane Jacobs seriously, and I'm trying to create a livable city. You may see, at the upper right, my attempt to create a large, pleasant urban park, something like Central Park or Golden Gate; what you don't see is what that costs me. I bought two expansions (and these are gated by scarce zoning thingies and population, so hard to get) in order to place nothing but decorations (which improve profits in nearby businesses but do nothing to improve my game if placed in an empty expanse of park) in order to facilitate my view of what a city ought to be -- a pleasant place for people to live.
And yes, when I collect shit from my crap in the city, I have to zoom all over; Chip's layout is far more sensible. Except in the real world, of course.
One of the things about the game that totally weirds me out is "Samantha"'s city:
"Samantha" is the NPC character who introduces the game in the tutorial, and is "your neighbor" in the game, even though, of course, not an actual person -- a common conceit in social games. But look at her city! It's some sort of 1950s garden suburb of a fantasy, for Christ's sake! Every house is surrounded by greenery, there's no density at all. Even in the context of the game, you would never build a city like this, because expansions are expensive, and density is enforced if you want to grow. But beyond that, this is a stupid city. There are no cars in the game, but a city like this could only exist in the context of environmentally catastrophic sprawl -- and it would not be a "city" in any real sense; it would just be a dense suburban area. By which I mean that a sense of street life, the energy that leads to artistic creation, the conurbations that lead to self-sustaining business centers, and indeed everything that makes life worth living for an engaged, intelligent, ambitious human being requires density beyond what Samantha offers. And indeed, a sustainable future requires us to get beyond this kind of idiot sprawl.
If you wanted to build ExurbVille, Samantha's city would make sense. If I am building Cityville, it's -- deranged.
In other words: I loved the initial fantasy appeal of this game (Build your own city!), but the actual gameplay is so divorced from reality that I'm finding it harder and harder to stay interested. The min-max gamer in me says "Make your city like Chip's", but the city lover in me says "That city totally sucks" -- and there's no way to make a city that doesn't suck be remotely optimal in terms of the game.
And as a city lover, and someone interested in the problems of cities, I look at this game and wonder why it's missing the critical systems that make for urban planning and growth. Most importantly: Where's transit? The reason Chip's city sucks is that residential is remote from retail, and from jobs. Lots of toons mill about the street, but there are no cars!. What's that about? Yes, cars are the worst possible form of transit, but they're the reality in the modern urban landscape -- and the problems they cause are critical. No parking? No buses? No ability to build rail or subways?
Where are my bike paths?
Okay, yes, this game was never intended to be a serious urban sim; but might we at least take seriously the questions of what simulating an urban environment means? Even if our goal is simply exploiting existing gameplay patterns, and known methods for monetization of users, we can still build some of these real-world issues into our gameplay; in fact, the connection to the real world, and the meatiness of these issues, ought to make for particularly compelling gameplay.
Here's Mark Green's city, which I won't comment on, since I think it's self explanatory.
And in the meantime, I think I'll go see whether the recent patch to Cities in Motion has made it more playable.