I switched off my Internet to see how long I could keep on playing.
It didn't last long, but what I discovered intrigued me.
Prior to the official release of SimCity, I'd already seen that the game could run offline if a signal dropped. I play the game on a laptop (a powerful one!) and my WiFi signal at home isn't always so hot. So, when I was playing on a press server a few days before release, I'd get a pop-up indicator telling me the network connection was lost. I could keep merrily building my city, and, when the connection came back, there were no hitches.
The folks behind SimCity have long maintained, however, that their game is made to be played online. That requirement isn't just DRM, they say. It's for gameplay—for simulating parts of the inter-city gameplay, for doling out challenges.
They say this all the time, up to and including last Friday, when SimCity studio boss Lucy Bradshaw told the website Polygon: "With the way that the game works, we offload a significant amount of the calculations to our servers so that the computations are off the local PCs and are moved into the cloud." This, she explained, is why an off-line is currently a no-go for her team at Maxis. "It wouldn't be possible to make the game offline without a significant amount of engineering work by our team."
The game has been running better and better this week. The new servers have made connections easy. So an offline mode isn't as direly needed. But, can this game, as it is designed, really not tolerate offline play?
Yesterday, I tested this assertion. I started playing my city, the mining mecca known as Newer Landland City. I turned off WiFi and then tried to zoom out, check the region and zoom into one of the other cities in my region.
Connection lost. Booted to the game's title screen.
I turned my WiFi back on and returned to Newer Landland City (henceforth referred to as NLC). I laid down some roads. I probably zoned more residential, because my cities always need more residential.
While I was doing this, I was running Microsoft Network Monitor 3.4, a program that scans your computer's network usage and shows which applications are talking to the network. You can run this, too, and probably should, because I'm not able to tell you a whole lot about the activity I saw. Most of it is Greek to me. What I can tell you is that SimCity.exe connected to Amazon IP addresses in Ireland—presumably Amazon servers used to network the game. For the most part, my game, running on North America East 3, connected to this IP address. Ireland servers? North America East? Who knows how this works! What I do know is that it seemed like my game was talking to the network a lot, several times a minute.
If my city talked to the network that much, then, turning off the WiFi, I expected to see some catastrophes pretty soon.
I did not.
I could continue to lay down roads. I added a recycling plant. I upgraded it. Five minutes into being offline, I got a notification about a neighboring city.
Fifteen minutes into being offline, I was notified that my garbage trucks had successfully serviced a neighboring city and made some money off it.
The buildings in NLC seemed to be rising and falling just fine without the network. But what of my exports? NLC is a mining metropolis (well, more like a mining manor), and we export ore and coal. About 18 minutes in, my factories were full. My exports weren't going out. Because of the lack of an online connection? Or due to my mining facilities working overtime? I'm not sure, because, 19 minutes in, I got the alert you can see atop this story. The game had decided enough was enough. I had to quit to the main menu.
I then restored my Internet connection, returned to my city and it successfully synched to the region.
What if I had refrained from exports? Could my city have lasted longer? What if I had been playing at standard speed instead of triple-fast cheetah speed? My colleague, Mike Fahey, who runs an education city in the same region on the same server tried to repeat my test while playing at normal speed. He hit the same wall as I did in about 20 minutes.
Last week, I posted the same question about the possibility of an offline mode to Bradshaw that Polygon and others did. Over the weekend, I got a reply.
Me: "SimCity uses its online connection to connect player cities and support online challenges, but it seems clear now that some sort of offline mode would appease many fans. Is EA going to enable this option for the game?"
Bradshaw: "Online connectivity as a creative game design decision was infused into the game's DNA since its inception and so we're fully committed to delivering against that experience first. A significant portion of the GlassBox Engine's calculations are performed on our servers and off of the player's PCs. It would take a significant amount of engineering work from our team to rewrite the game so that all of those functions are calculated locally without a significant performance hit to the player."
I don't make video games. Maxis does. EA does.
I can't tell how many things were going wrong in my city during the 19 minutes when I played it offline. I don't know how many calculations weren't occurring. And, for the record, I enjoy playing the game online with friends in my region.
Those 19 minutes nevertheless provide a glimpse at an alternate to what we've been required to experience with the new SimCity. I've played an offline version of this game that looked great and seemed to run pretty well. Imagine if we could get more of that.
Yesterday we told you about Star Wars: First Assault, the troubled multiplayer shooter that may never see the light of day thanks to uncertainty at the development studio LucasArts.
First Assault was to be a downloadable "predecessor" to Star Wars: Battlefront III. It was supposed to come out this spring, but LucasArts froze all hiring and new game announcements in September and has yet to decide whether or not to release First Assault.
Today we've got some more images from the troubled shooter. Click to expand:
Gritty heroes fight demons from hell with guns in a brownish world spiraling out of control — if Journey to Hell's story sounds clichéd, that's because it's supposed to be. It says so right in the iTunes listing. "Cliché-packed Journey to Hell" the developers call it, an apt description if I've ever read one.
Journey to Hell wants to be a formulaic late 90s third-person shooter, and it doesn't shy away from outdated gameplay mechanics to get there. Unexplained glowing walls block exits as shambling zombies fill the area, often appearing out of thin air behind the player for maximum shock value. Bullets fly and demons fry as music from heavy metal band The Slaughters fills the air.
Developer DogBox recreates the vibe of those heady days of mindless gunfire handily — I'm just not certain it needed recreation. I'm fine with those days being behind us. I've played enough of this type of shooter.
I've played the better. The touchscreen controls for the third-person segments of the game don't lend themselves to precision, and with the right thumb controlling the camera and shooting, changing perspective is often accompanied by a hail of unwanted bullets.
Compounding the control issues, Journey to Hell runs slow, even on my fourth generation iPad. The game listing says that 40 enemies can be on screen at once. With less than a quarter of that number the game stutters and jerks. I imagine 40 at once must feel like playing a Viewmaster.
Hopefully the technical and control issues can be fixed, as there are some nifty mechanics waiting for players that can cut their way through the cliché. Weapons and characters are upgradeable, with special powers and enhanced stats awaiting dedicated players that manage to decipher the game's menu system. The first-person Treasure Hunt mode is a lovely touch, giving players a more intimate look at the game's gorgeous graphics without having to see their character stomping around like a 'my first 3D animation' project.
If Journey to Hell played half as good as it looks it would be worth every penny of its special $3.99 introductory price. As it stands, DogBox has a lot of work ahead of them if they want anyone to buy it once that 'sale' ends.
In what might seem a wee bit familiar to fans of a certain city-building video game, the folks at ComiXology have had to apologize for offering a product that their servers can't handle. Two days after the leading digital seller of comics announced a short-time offer for 700 free, downloadable first issues of Marvel comic books, the company has had to pull and postpone the sale.
"We expected a high degree of excitement for the Marvel initiative–and had believed ourselves prepared–but unfortunately we became overwhelmed by the immense response," ComiXology CEO David Steinberger said on the company's blog yesterday. "We're still struggling to keep our systems up." Basically, their servers couldn't keep up.
He says the offer will return when ComiXology is better prepared.
One wonders exactly what kind of response they were expecting when offering 700 free Marvel comics for iOS, Android and web browsers.
We'll let you know when the offer's back on.
A Message From The CEO [ComiXology]
My fellow Americans, our long—and I do mean long—nightmare has passed, and we have peacefully chosen a new cover star for NCAA Football 14, restoring faith in our great democracy and the rule of law. Following a 77-day fan-voted election that actually saw the investigation of voting fraud, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has been declared the winner by EA Sports.
Robinson joins Charles Woodson (NCAA Football 99) and Desmond Howard (NCAA Football 06) as Michigan Men who have graced the cover. He beat out Texas A&M receiver Ryan Swope in a final balloting conducted by Facebook poll. The final tally was not released.
That's probably because, on the original day the cover star was to be announced, Swope made up a 14,000 vote deficit to lead by 1,000 at the last minute. EA Sports, on the game's Facebook page, said it was looking into claims of fraud and suspended the announcement. Since then, North Korea threatened a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the United States and cardinals gathered in Rome to elect a new pope, though these events may not have been related.
EA Sports said that, since the campaign began Dec. 16, more than 5 million votes had been cast in it—however, these "votes" also came in the form of Twitter hashtags and Facebook likes in a social media campaign that dragged on over parts of four months.
You know what every first-person shooter needs? I mean, besides guns? Dirt bikes. And every other high-speed vehicle imaginable. Because if shooting a helicopter down with an RPG is fun, it's even more fun when doing so while also riding a dirt bike.
The latest expansion to Battlefield 3, End Game, introduced a few new upgrades. Among them is the dirt bike, which you can access as early as today if you bought the DLC.
Some players have already been having fun performing tricks and stunts worthy of action flicks starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (you know, circa the 80s, 90s). You can see a few rounded up by AmazingFilms247 up above.
UNBELIEVABLE New BF3 Dirtbike Clips [YouTube]
So, Surgeon Simulator 2013 came out of nowhere (well, this year's Global Game Jam) to be one of the most hilarious, disturbing games that some folks have played this year. And that was before the folks at Bossa Studios added brain surgery to their in-progress game.
A new video gives a glimpse of just what it'll be like to be a maladroit neurosurgeon in the game. Let's just say that no patient is making a full recovery after SurgSim2013 players are doing hammering at that cranium. Surgeon Simulator 2013 is currently up on Steam Greenlight so there's a good chance you'll be whacking at some poor schmoe's head in this exact way very soon.
In the StarCraft community, making parody music videos has always been a big thing—just look at Husky's Nerd Alert or Temp0. Or New Zealand-based Viva La Dirt League — the closest thing to a StarCraft boy band we'll ever get (though, let's admit, they should be in a higher league) — whose latest video is a really well-made parody of The Wanted's "Chasing the Sun." It was created in association with Blizzard especially for the Heart of the Swarm launch.
Beginning Wednesday, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 will begin offering "personal customizations" on the Xbox 360, the game's community manager said this morning. The items don't affect gameplay—they're items like weapon skins, targeting reticles, and player calling cards. Moreover, the multiplayer map Nuketown 2025, originally a preorder incentive back in November, will be made available for free.
"This content contains either personal customizations or nice little luxuries that I've seen players request," Amrich wrote on his official site. "None of them affect gameplay, but they are small, specific ways to enhance your online experience."
The content comes in themed packs for 160 Microsoft Points each, and will contain a weapon camo, three targeting reticles, and a Calling Card.
Additionally, Nuketown 2025 goes free for everyone on Wednesday, and Nuketown Zombies now comes as a standalone purchase for 400 Microsoft points. (It had originally been included with limited editions of the game.).
Players may also purchase 10 more create-a-class slots for 160 Microsoft points, and Flags of the World Calling Cards. They're grouped by region and available for 80 Microsoft points per pack.
"At the end of the day, all of these items are completely optional, and were created for players who've asked for more customization options," Amrich wrote. "If that's not you, that's fine; everybody gets Nuketown 2025 for free, so definitely take advantage of that."
More information will be available on the official Call of Duty website tomorrow, Amrich said.
Nuketown 2025 free starting Wednesday on 360 [Dan Amrich, oneofswords.com]
Why do we bother putting out new games when there's so much life left in the old ones? Zandronum forum member mr fiat takes the classic Doom 2 multiplayer deathmatch and replaces the marines with cars, complete with dashboards. I want to play this right now.
BYNGU by mr fiat [Zandronum]