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SimCity, Plain And Forestalled

True to my word impulse buying habit, I did indeed spring for SimCity, at full price, the original "digital deluxe" download-from-Origin-only version that included the Heroes and Villains expansion because my extended playing of City Of Heroes made me a sucker for that sort of thing.
By being fashionably late to the party, I managed to avoid becoming a casualty of all the bothersome drama related to Origin's decision to make SimCity an online-only game, only to force legitimate customers to face a server bottleneck that prevented them from playing.

Speculating why SimCity's was online-only, despite you throwing a fit about it.

Is it really true that the online mode was easily rectified?  Maybe, maybe not.  I'm inclined to side to a middle answer on the subject: Origin needed SimCity to be online because piracy on the PC is too easy to do, so they needed some kind of DRM.  But the pimply-faced geeks that make up their prime customer demographic don't like DRM imposing on their freedoms, man.  Yet, customers are usually willing to not give DRM a second thought when it's an integral part of the game, this is the entire persistent-state online game genre.  So the official (if unexpressed for obvious reasons) answer is that SimCity was made to be online whether it needed to be or not, and anyone who hacked the game to prove it can run offline is missing the point.

For that matter, I'm pretty sure that Origin knew that it was highly likely the servers would be unable to handle the demand at release.  They might even have known that any of their players with the smallest shred of tech-savvyiness would have implicitly realized that there was no need for a type of game that had never been online-dependent to suddenly become online-dependent.  But, for the reasons expressed in the previous paragraph, Origin wanted SimCity to be online, enough so to brave these problems in order to make it happen anyway.

If Origin wanted it that badly, why is offline mode is on its way now?  Partly because the major release sales of this AAA game are now behind them, and some people have modded around the online-only restriction anyway, so there's simply no point to being stingy with the DRM.  Partly because scaling it back into offline mode has generated enough hype that it might get some more sales.  However, mostly it's going to be because maintaining servers is expensive and, if SimCity has an offline mode, then they can continue to sell the game long after those servers are gone.

Forget that - how is SimCity, anyway?

So I've been playing SimCity for about 21 hours now, and my impression of it is that it's a capably-executed city builder game.  I've seen this genre executed in a smarter manner by Tropico 4, a game whose overall balance is quite a bit tighter and more effective.  The SimCity tradition of zoning commercial, industrial, and residential is quite likely to introduce spacing problems that feel less like a part of playing the game and more like an interface problem.  However, SimCity does have a couple of cool features that make it worth playing:
  • The presentation is cool.  The whole thing has a laid-back contemporary city motif that successfully conveys a great deal of patented Sims charm.  There's lots of clever touches to the animations, sounds, and other special effects to reinforce the overall package.
  • The interaction between different cities in the same region is cool, and implemented to a far better level than any other city builder I've played.  This creates a whole metagame of lending utility vehicles, resources, and a global market, among other things.
If I had bought the standard edition, I could have got SimCity for $40, which is just slightly more than the $30 my frugal gamer senses tell me would have been the best price in an ideal world.   However, I'm glad to see SimCity has enough depth to it that it's not complete casual pap, even if it clearly was designed to appeal to that audience.

One important flaw that I want to take the time to point out is that the traffic system is marred by streetcars getting confused if you build them with any kind of intersections.  This seemingly minor issue is actually a major game breaker, because a working streetcar system is the only way to avoid crippling traffic jams in a higher population.  Fortunately, there's an easy workaround of making sure streetcar routes operate only in circles or lines, insuring they are never required to make a choice at intersections.  However, I wonder why this glitch has not yet been fixed in the ~9 months SimCity has been released.  Sometimes, I think there's something rotten in EA Maxis's offices.

Back to Minecraft, I guess...

I'll probably play some more SimCity in the future, but I have some serious doubts that I've accomplished enough in an extended SimCity session.  By that, I mean Minecraft (plus all the mods I've installed for it) probably has SimCity trumped in the overall department of, "Sure, I wasted all my free time playing this game instead of doing something more productive, but at least I built something cool!"
This Japanese village looks very picturesque just sitting against this extreme hills biome.
Since I've mostly been playing SimCity, I haven't had a whole lot happen in Minecraft since my last entry on it.
  • I explored the surrounding area trying to find some cactus blocks so that I could build a jagged blade in Tinker's Construct, but mostly uncovered beaches and extreme hills, as well as a couple of Japanese Millenaire settlements.  I returned empty-handed, but then I found that a dye trader visiting in the Nord village back at home was selling cactus blocks.  Next time I go exploring, I'm taking a small airship.
  • Despite performing a great deal of spelunking, I haven't found more than one diamond this entire game, and I'm tired of it.  So I've built a new Steve's Carts mining cart that has lava-avoidance, tunneled diagonally down near bedrock, and am going to do some semi-automated strip-mining with it.
A mineshaft is the least-interesting way to mine, but fortunately I've got Steve's Carts to mitigate the monotony.
My current goal is to get a tree farm up and running so I can have a source of renewable fuel.  While there are a lot of trees in the forest biome I am in, I burn too much precious daylight trying to harvest them all now that TreeCapacitor accurately slows my cutting time to reflect the size of the tree.

Regular attacks by creepers and other mobs continue to be a problem.  Instant death by point-blank creeper is more common than it has been in a long, long time for me (I should consider enchanting some armor with blast resistance).  I might just have to start hanging around well-lit areas and walling out the rest.

An annoying thing I've noticed earlier is that the Minecraft launcher won't terminate after game is launched, or even after I quit the game.  Googling a bit about it, this might be a glitch with my 64-bit JAVA installation on Windows 7.  What I don't get is why the launcher generates so much work - it thrashes my CPU so hard that it worries my motherboard monitoring application.  Just what does that launcher do when left to its own devices?  If I had to guess, maybe it does peer-to-peer file distribution for Mojang.  Anyway, a workaround is just to kill the launcher's javaw.exe process with the task manager (after launching Minecraft and leaving its javaw.exe running, of course).

Restarting again...

Some time after I initially wrote this blog entry, I tried to load up this game of Minecraft and it crashed.  It was simple enough to figure out which mod was the culprit by just removing them one by one and seeing which one allowed me to load the game.  It was Millenaire, a mod whose ambitious villager implementation has undoubtedly been the cause of many crash bugs in the past.  I checked for newer versions, and there have not been any since October of last year.  I can't risk having another game be broken like this, so I guess I have no choice but to remove Millenaire.

This sucks.  I was really hoping that I'd be able to keep the current game and build something huge in it, a crowning achievement of version 1.6.4, and then put Minecraft aside.  However, removing Millenaire fundamentally changes the game world enough that I need to restart.

It also sucks because of the economic importance of Millenaire.  It rankles that cobblestone and dirt, the two most common blocks in Minecraft, accumulate with no real purpose.  I've installed Balanced Exchange as a substitute to make up for this, but already know that it's not my idea of balance.  To simply trade resources around without a limited supply of things to trade them for neuters an essential sense of scarcity.  Millenaire made up for this by limiting what I could trade for.

I've already started a new game, but my heart's not really into it anymore.  This might be the end of my dabbling with Minecraft 1.6.4.
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