SimCity: The greenest ever Sims is here

The cult urban planning strategy game is back after ten years and could be the most environmentally friendly game ever

While some people use computer games to play out their fantasies of killing Nazis, winning the World Cup or, yes, stealing a Ford Mustang and running over a granny, for others there’s nothing more compelling than sitting down for a few daring hours of urban planning.

The thrilling, competitive and sometimes taboo-breaking appeals of games like Call of Duty, Fifa and Grand Theft Auto are obvious, if not everyone’s cup of computer-generated tea.

Yet the millions of sales garnered by SimCity during the mid ‘90s proved that the ostensibly dull prospect of designing imaginary logistics and infrastructure can be gripping too.

Now the cult strategy game is back after ten years, launching in the UK today with a typically dry-sounding tag: it could well be the most environmentally friendly game ever.

Despite sounding like a game reserved for the modest demographic of computer geeks whose wallets contain Greenpeace membership cards, it is poised to prove once again that seeing mayoral opinion polls rise by opting for clean hydroelectric dams over dirty fossil fuels – and avoiding drought by building too big a city in too dry an area – can be just as satisfying as seeing your pixelated alter-ego blow up Hitler.

So just as books and films have inspired artists and world leaders, can green games help change the world?

“For better or for worse, yes,” says the new version’s creative director, Ocean Quigley. “I know a lot of people who say they became city planners, architects or civil engineers because of SimCity... It’s the game that takes the environment most seriously. A green city is something you’re striving for, and the consequences of not having an environmentally clean city are made obvious.”

Just as city planning cannot always go to plan, so too with game launches.

The new SimCity requires a constant internet connection, but many users in the US have been unable to access the system – some websites had to postpone their verdicts because their reviewers could not play it. Today’s launch in the UK seems to have gone more smoothly, but there are still reports of some British fans being disappointed.

For those who can get online, the enhanced environmental aspect of the game might fox some players. Asked to step away from his newts for a few hours to try his hand at running a virtual metropolis on SimCity for a Granada TV show hosted by Tony Wilson back in the mid ‘90s, former London mayor Ken Livingstone immediately opted to power his town by coal to ensure, predictably, “strong trade unions”. Were he to play the new game with that kind of attitude, it’s likely a virtual Boris Johnson would come along and stamp on his electoral prospects.

It could hardly be more different to role-playing shoot ‘em ups, not only in genre but to a large extent in morality – building something good rather than destroying it – which is how Mr Quigley prefers things.

“You are the god of this landscape, making decisions that dramatically impact the wellbeing of an entire population. So you’re not a thug going through the city trying to steal cars, you are the one making decisions that affect hundreds of thousands of your little Sims going about their lives.”

He adds: “The subject matter of a game like Grand Theft Auto doesn’t appeal to me personally, though I have immense respect for its designers… Grand Theft Auto is the inverse of SimCity. You’re the authorities trying to make the city work, but there are these bad actors in your city. If you don’t educate your city, you have these criminals going through creating mayhem, burning down houses and robbing shops, and they become a pox on your city.”

Part of the fun, of course, comes from seeing the bad effects of bad choices. Indeed, for the sadistic municipal overlords, you can let the citizens “sicken or die” and watch what happens.

“You’re going to have a bunch of people who aren’t going to work and aren’t going shopping, the economics of your city will suffer, and as the people who remain will be miserably unhappy and abandon your city as environmentally refugees, you’ll end up with large swathes of decrepit abandoned city as a result,” says the designer.

There are still more silly risks involved in being a SimCity mayor of course, ranging from “a small-scale raid by UFOs” to a “giant lizard that comes and stomps through your city”.

However, Mr Quigley insists these have a more serious purpose. “Zombies start coming out and they infect other people, and that’s an epidemic simulation of the flu or ibola. It’s doing it with a comical, absurd skin, but in terms of its impact on the city they’re a proxy for infectious diseases.”

So what is the fascination with creating a make-belief city, even if it does mean spending hours planning a water and electricity system?

“There’s a fascination of creating a little model version of the world that you lord it over, that you’re the creator of and the god of,” Mr Quigley tells The Independent.

“It is about the mundane realities of the world around us, you’re not commanding a squad of space marines with laser guns to shoot at the bug aliens – you’re dealing with commuter congestion. You project your own experience into the game, in a way that I think is deeper and resonates more.”

The graphics in SimCity resemble American cities. But in terms of realism, of course, most of the biggest new cities in the world are in China – places that barely anyone in the West has heard of but which contain millions of residents, their high rises apartment blocks eating up vast tracts of land and changing the global balance of power.

SimCity is much more like a new city built by the Chinese Communists over the course of three years out in the middle of nowhere, and has all the pros and cons: a rational design but all the pollution and congestion and healthcare issues.”

China is hardly known for any care for the environment in its urban landscape – the pollution readings for some of its cities regularly top the maximum reading on the scientific scale. Perhaps Beijing would be a better place if the country’s new president, Xi Jinping, took a bit of time off to play the game.

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
News
videoWatch Lynda Bellingham's tragic final Loose Women appearance
Sport
A view of today's Spanish papers
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
The last great picture - Winner 'Black and White' and overall 'Wildlife Photographer of the Year'
art
News
people

Sport
sportAtlanta Falcons can't count and don't know what the UK looks like
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg
music

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

News
The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions
News
news

Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 pose for Children in Need 2001
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Right Here' singer Jess Glynne is nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards 2014
musicExclusive: Jess Glynne hits out at 'ridiculous' criticism of white artists nominated for Mobo Awards
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voices

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution
books

Review: Witty banalities aside, the comedian has an authentic voice

Arts and Entertainment
Separated at birth? Frank Sivero (left) claims The Simpsons based Mafia character Louie on his Goodfellas character
arts + entsFrank Sivero sues Simpsons studio over allegedly basing mobster character on Frank Carbone
News
Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right) with former 'Washington Post' executive editor Ben Bradlee
people

The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    IT Support Analyst - London - £22,000

    £20000 - £22000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chel...

    Database Administrator

    £300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - SThree Group - Leeds

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: SThree Group has been...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - SThree Group - Bristol

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: SThree Group has been...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London