At a glance...

Previewer Platform Publisher Developer Players Release Date
Richard Pilot PC/Mac Paradox Interactive Colossal Order Q1 2015

Cities: Skylines preview

The city builder is considered by some to be the holy grail of simulation games or least that's the case according to developer Colossal Order. They're in a position to know a thing or two about these sort of games having released Cities in Motion and its sequel over the last three years. While both of these games deal with transportation management, they've had their sights set on full city management, and thus at Gamescom they announced Skylines. This is the game they've always wanted to make, taking the charm of the first Cities in Motion and the flexibility of the second game, going beyond transportation and applying it to city building at large.

It started off small, and I was shown a small section of land with a freeway running through it. You could drag roads out to build the general structure of our fledgling city, and even upgrade roads on the fly without destroying the old ones first. Next came zoning and very quickly there were residential and commercial sectors planned out. There are some helpful tools that allow you to quickly set up these zones, such as being able to fill in city blocks that you had defined with your roads, or even using a brush to effectively 'paint' onto the grid structure of your city. Very quickly, people started moving in; this all felt very familiar.

It's not all about houses, factories and office blocks

It's not all about houses, factories and office blocks

Next up came power and water. Water actually needs to be taken from a water source in the map, in our case the huge river that flowed through our little section of the world. After building a pumping station, water can be distributed underground with piping, and all houses within the radius of these master pipes are automatically satisfied. However, what goes in must come out, and the path the pipes take must end in a sewage station also located alongside the river. This has a more direct impact than you might expect, as the sewage will pollute the river, changing its colour to a muddy brown. This is then simulated alongside the flow of the river, so you definitely want to build your pumps upstream or else risk contaminating the populace. I was shown the same city much further into the game and whole swaths of the river had become rather polluted. There will be a few ways to combat this, although you may not even care as you can alternatively ensure you have a good healthcare infrastructure to protect anyone who drinks the contaminated water. The decision is yours. Power, too, is affected by its infrastructure, so the available wind turbines had areas where they'd be more effective, with the possible power generation values previewed as you ponder where to place them. The game divides areas of buildings into regions, and you must connect these up with overhead power lines to power your city.

Our small little community had houses, commercial zones, water and power, so how were they feeling? Evidently very pleased as "#greatmayor" popped into view. That's right, Skylines comes with its own in-game parody of Twitter called Chirper, and it's a great way of sensing the mood of your citizens who will let you know whether you're doing a great job or if you're a "#badmayor".

It has the look of a quaint model village

It has the look of a quaint model village

So far I had only seen a small sandbox in which to build, and I was beginning to worry that the game would suffer the same problems as other recent city builders. There was nothing to fear as next I was shown how city expansion works. The map at large is divided into smaller tiles, and as you progress in the game you get the ability to expand into these regions by purchasing them. These are not a separate level, but actually increase the land upon which you can build, and the overall area you can build in is huge. Whilst you do get limited in how many tiles you can buy over the course of a play session, it is more than enough to build huge cities. As you'll be purchasing the tiles yourself, you are able to chose the direction you get to expand in. Do you want to follow the river or head into the mountains, or perhaps a little of both? You're not limited to expanding in a square shape, so your city design can get quite varied.

With such large areas to play with, you'll need some tools to help you. This is where districting comes in, which allows you to subdivide your city how you like. Do you want a financial district inside a larger area? Do you want to expand along the river to build a little community away from city life? The beauty of this system is when you combine this districting with your policies and budget, not only can you apply them to the entire map, but individual districts too. For example, you can raise the transportation system budget in your large city district to increase the number of buses on the streets, whilst reducing it for the outer regions. There are many policies and budgets to play around with for most aspects of the game, from education to taxes, ambulances to police presence. When building the additional utilities that unlock during the game as your city grows, you'll have a number of info views to help you decide where to build. These act as heatmap views that show you the strength of each utility. These also help with placement, automatically previewing what the updated heatmap would look like when you snap a building to a road. There is a large amount of depth here, particularly when combined with your policies. Just because a region is showing as healthy doesn't mean it can react quickly to an epidemic as the ambulance service may be affected by a reduced budget. There are many systems in play and it'll be fun to see how you can balance them throughout a session.

You really can zoom quite a long way out

You really can zoom quite a long way out

I also got a hint at the team's ambitions for modding. From day one the game will have Steam Workshop support, and there is quite a lot you can share. The game will ship with a level editor allowing you to create your own maps to develop in using any of the three tilesets (desert/forest/central european plains). You can also share fully developed cities so if you've made a pretty efficient version of Cologne (the city Gamescom takes place in), then you can share that too. Diving deeper, there is plenty of customisation you can create and share, such as making decorations that can be built in the game using the asset tools; I was shown a custom park that uses one of the buses from Cities in Motion 2. If you have a talent for coding you can submit your own modifications for others to play too.

This is just scratching the surface of City Skylines and there's plenty I didn’t get to talk about, like the way transportation and bus routes work in the game, or how you can upgrade the level of your citizens. In many ways Skylines seems to be the city management game we’ve been waiting for, and the ability to share your cities and create modifications is just icing on the already impressive cake. The game is due to arrive on PC, Linux and Mac next year.

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