In 1999, Ocean Quigley had a dream. While working on SimCity 4, the 15-year veteran of EA-Maxis pondered the difficulty of creating "real" people living inside the simulated city -- "real" meaning they would be fully programmed to react with each minutiae of the environment.
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"We kind of nurtured these visions of what it'd be like to create a city with that level of fidelity and truth to it," says Quigley, the creative director for the current SimCity project.
The game takes customization down to a minute level: Each person living in your city will be simulated by the game's engine.
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"Before, SimCity used to be like paint programs with sprites, but now we are taking all the things that make a city tick and embedding them inside the buildings and on the roads," says Quigley.
That means you can follow a Sim as he leaves his home to fight traffic, turn back because of delays, choose to take a different route, etc. You can see a person's name, what he's thinking about and what his motivations are.
Furthermore, visual clues hint at the nature of inanimate objects. Buildings that need power sit darkly; graffiti-sprayed homes reflect areas of high crime. You can also check in with vehicles and machines, receiving status updates like, "I'm a garbage truck and I just picked up garbage."
"There is a level of realism and fidelity to the actions in the world because of this technology that we've never had before," says Quigley. "You can watch something for awhile, and you can poke at the world and see what individuals are doing. The underlying simulation the rest of the game follows from the depth of the simulation. You are playing in a larger regional and world economy."
You can also follow crimes as they happen, but more importantly, see where criminals come from. Quigley says the team studied several theories on why people become criminals, and boiled it down to two factors players could control: employment rate and education. A poorly educated, unemployed Sim is likely to turn to crime as a means to support itself, so improving those factors is a way to stop criminals.
That said, stopping crime isn't the only way to win the game. Quigley assured me that there isn't anything heavy-handed about SimCity
"The things I want people to understand at the meta level aren't things like 'crime is bad' or 'you should educate people.' It's more that I want people to understand that there are so many moving parts and mechanics to making a city work, like water, power, sewage, police," he says. "I'm not so much after narrow political messages, but more to make people understand the mechanics of cities."
That means there are several ways to succeed in game. In older SimCity games, your goal was to build a city as densely populated as Manhattan. Because there are so many industries that can sustain a city, such as factories, tourism and technology, any combination of strategies can lead to a successful city.
"One of the things I want to emphasize is this is a sandbox," says Quigley. "If you want to make a sprawling, industrial city that is polluting like crazy, that's a win condition. There is a range of different things your city can achieve."
Players don't have to decide from the start what type of city they want to create. Instead, the game presents them with a variety of choices throughout, and cities evolve from there.
"We're trying to make the ultimate toy city," Quigley says. "We have given the player a sense of omniscience. Anywhere they look, there are details that make it feel like reality. I think it will change people's experience with games."
SimCity will be released February 2013 for PC.
This story originally published on Mashable here.