I think, therefore I harm
In 1989 came SimCity, an open-ended city-building video game designed by Will Wright. I only discovered this game in the mid 90s, and it stole many hours off my study time in college, despite its low graphic quality and limited variety. When I got my very first own computer, a 486, I also got a copy of SimCity 2000, released in 1994. Better graphics, larger building diversity, it stole yet more hours out of me. Why study for an exam when you could turn a village into a magnificent metropolis? SimCity 3000 in 1999 improved on graphics even further, but was a bit more kiddish in style and wasn’t as challenging. It couldn’t keep me on for as long.
The ultimate release in the franchise came in 2003 with SimCity 4. It was initially quite buggy and required quite a good computer, but I only bought it after the release of Rush Hour, it’s expansion, later that year, soon after I had acquired a new computer. At that point, it was running fine, with a few patches and a few fan-made fixes. I’m not sure if I spent more time on this one or on SimCity 2000, but it sure took valuable hours of sleep from me. The then superior graphics and almost infinite play styles made it the best SimCity. Ever.
Unsure of how they could make a better SimCity, the company tried a different direction for the franchise with SimCity Societies, which turned out to be a failure. You could not change the game that so many fans had loved for 15 years.
Then, for a decade, nothing. Societies had killed the franchise. But fans didn’t leave it at it, and hundreds of mods (fan made modifications) were available to enhance the already excellent SimCity 4. Wanted to make Dublin? Someone had made just the right landmarks. Wanted to make Leeuwarden? Someone had that perfect rising bridge. But after a while, people were getting tired, and alternatives were looked into. I tried City XL. Though a creative game, it came with no challenge whatsoever, as it lacked any mechanics of a city simulator.
But then came the news. Electronic Arts was designing a new SimCity. I watched everything there was to watch, read everything there was to read. I waited for that game for well over a year, until it was finally announced that the game known so far as SimCity 5 was to be released on March 5th, 2013. At that point, you could preorder it for $60. A bargain, I thought, for such a good and beautiful city simulator. Oh wait! I could preorder the deluxe edition, with extra buildings, for $80. I can afford that.
The release day came. I had a week off, and I had rejected any invitation for activities that would have interfered with my play time. SimCity 2013, as it was now known, was here. I downloaded and then… nothing. Just an empty shell. Like if I had bought a huge mansion with a magnificent exterior and garden, and absolutely nothing inside. A front door that led nowhere. An empty box.
Oh, the first hour was nice. Astonishing graphics. But then… No mechanics at all. More bugs than I could possibly count (and I count things for a living). People were asking for refund by thousands. Gaming websites were sharing the all-time low reviews. But hey, I didn’t wait that long for that, and paid that much for nothing. They obviously haven’t had the time to complete their game for release date, a patch was surely on the way.
Indeed, within days, a patch was released, which fixed nothing. And a new patch, another few days later, fixed even less. The developers reveled that the game was working as intended. They were only working on the few remaining bugs. What?
Soon, the company acknowledged that they had screwed. Too many bugs, they said, but they never acknowledged that the worst problem wasn’t the bugs, it was the absolute absence of any game mechanic. It wasn’t the promised revolutionary city simulator, it was just a pretty looking Lego builder. To apologize for their mistake (the bugs), they offered a free game. Among the choices were Bejeweled and other very old games. Should I ask for a refund or accept the free game? I decided to make my message clear, and like many other fans, despite already owning the game, I picked SimCity 4. I uninstalled SimCity 2013 within two weeks and never looked at it again. It was the worst $80 I ever wasted.
Soon after the disappointment over SimCity 2013, I heard of a different game being developed. Ironically, I learned about it from the official forum for SimCity. A city-building game was being developed that sounded better.
I was taken to a website (really a WordPress blog) where I learned the game was being developed by a single individual who had left a paying job in the video game industry to found a company of his own. Interestingly, the guy posted approximately once a week, to not only say how the development went, but to share experiences. How he fixed that nasty bug, how he learned the difference between DirectX 9 and 11, how he experimented with 64-bit software. He even explained how he went to the forest with his bike and microphone to record the sound of birds and rivers to put in his game. Week after week, you could learn everything that he had to go through to design his very own game, from the ground up.
For over two years, Luke Hodorowicz designed his own game engine, graphics and sounds. All by himself. Sometimes explaining how he had to motivate himself to keep working, despite having slow results. The result is Banished, which he describes as follow:
In this city-building strategy game, you control a group of exiled travelers who decide to restart their lives in a new land. They have only the clothes on their backs and a cart filled with supplies from their homeland.
The objective of the game is to keep the population alive and grow it into a successful culture. Options for feeding the people include hunting and gathering, agriculture, trade, and fishing. However, sustainable practices must be considered to survive in the long term.
From a few followers at first, Luke grew his following to hundred of fans, many of whom admitted having heard of the game after the failure of SimCity 2013. Initially scheduled for late summer 2013, and pushed to later that year, it will finally be released next week, February 18th. Almost one year after SimCity. (I think it would have been ironic if he picked March 5th.)
[Edit: This game is now available for purchase, links are below. This article was posted one week prior to release.]
The game is not released yet, and no preorder is possible. But some people have had the chance to try it out and a few Let’s Play videos are available on YouTube (I watched the first part of one of these, which went through the tutorial, but refused to watch more so as to not spoil it for me). Already, the critic is tremendous.
“Shut up and take my money!”
“This looks so beautiful and I am so excited to try this out!”
“Incredibly easy to masturbate to.”
“My co-worker’s half-sister makes $83/hour on her laptop.”
Banished will be available on Steam and from the developer’s website (DRM-free!!!) on February 18th 2014 for $20. For Windows XP or later, on pretty much any computer built in the last 5-6 years (2 GHz dual core, 512 MB of RAM, 512 MB DirectX 9 graphics card with shader model 2.0).