PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Jason Haber, SimCity

SimCity was my absolute, hands-down, favourite game of E3 2012. I loved it the moment I heard the rumours, and that love was cemented when I first laid eyes on it. Now I've actually spent a few all-too-brief moments with the game and I can honestly say: March 2013 cannot get here quickly enough.

To bring you up to speed with where I'm at, I spent a little time with Jason Haber, producer at Maxis working on the SimCity project, and we chatted about all sorts of stuff relating to the game. Specifically: Curvy roads, macro/micro, multi-purpose cities and exactly how Maxis has created a generation of perfectionist gamers.

Now, let's deal with something obvious: The art design is far removed from the original city-builder and its blue-block Commercial areas. It's almost equally far away from the techy, "modern" interpretations we saw in the late 90s, with ultra-detailed, ultra-technical gridlines, power cables and water pipes. This new look (stil not 100% final, as we are often reminded) is stylised, tilt-shifted, and animated to within an inch of its life.

...and it works. It felt to me like I was playing with a toy city, a digital scale-model miniature train set, perhaps. Previous games have felt more like an experiment, a procedure - "What happens if I do this?" - but that feeling has gone, this time around.

A better way of putting it: Another feeling has arrived - the city felt more real, more alive, and much more than the collection of 1s and 0s that I would manipulate in SimCity 2000. The 2013 SimCity is something to play with, not just experience.

In my time with the game, I got to lay down some (curvy) roads, build a fire station or two, and even
spend a few moments getting down and dirty with the local sewerage system. I zoned and rezoned, bulldozed, built, and zoomed right in to watch little tiny delivery trucks take even tinier packages from doorstep to doorstep. I followed an unemployed man around until he discovered a factory with a Help Wanted sign. I interpreted graphs and maps and analysed where to put parks and where to put water towers. I watched a soccer match... and then, horror of horrors, I watched my beautiful, tiny, unfinished city get smashed to pieces. (I giggled the whole time, in case you were wondering.)

SimCity - Multi-city

SimCity - Multi-city

Now, I was working with a very locked-down build (no multi-city play for me!), and my fingers itched to click that off-limits "Options" button, but what I was able to access was amazing. While many of us would probably be happy with an earlier game wrapped in a new coat of paint and at a higher resolution, the 2013 SimCity is much more than that. Maxis has potentially created something that will have the same sort of (meteoric) impact as the classic, favourite, SimCity 2000, bringing the city-builder to a whole new generation of gamers.

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