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SimCity rebuilt for modern life
by Staff Writers
San Francisco (AFP) March 4, 2013


A 10-year wait ends Tuesday with the arrival of 'SimCity,' a computer game that challenges players to build thriving cities in the face of conditions such as limited funds and climate change.

The sequel to the city-building computer game that factors in real-world consequences of energy choices, urban plans, and policy decisions debuts in the US for $60 a copy.

'SimCity' will be available in Britain three days later as part of a global rollout, according to game publisher Electronic Arts. The game is tailored for play on personal computers powered by Windows software.

Millions of people have played SimCity since the computer game designed by Will Wright was first released in 1989 but the Maxis Studio title to hit on Tuesday will be the first fresh installment to the franchise in a decade.

The original title won a broad, devoted following and led to a successful line of "Sims" strategy games in which players manipulate worlds and animated characters in simulations of real life.

Technology in 'SimCity' has been updated along with forces influencing the health of cities and the happiness of inhabitants, according to Maxis.

Along with rich 3-D graphics, the game will have a new simulation engine that enhances its realism and extends ramifications of urban design decisions past borders to affect neighboring cities.

SimCity has garnered enthusiastic reviews and won early endorsements from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and the director of the Academy Award-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth."

Maxis collaborated on the title with Games For Change, a group devoted to the creation of games that combine fun with learning about social issues.

"I love the game," said "Inconvenient Truth" director Davis Guggenheim, who played an early version with his son last year.

"Climate change is the biggest crisis of our time, but there is a disconnect because it is not in front of us," he added.

"When you play 'SimCity' it is in your face; if you build a coal power plant you feel the consequences -- smog in the city, water table getting dirty, and your people getting angry."

Twitter co-founder Stone described 'SimCity' as encouraging systems that help make "better humans, a smarter world and a healthier planet."

Players become virtual mayors, guiding development of pretend cities and reaping rewards or suffering ramifications of decisions.

"Their mission is to make a thriving, happy city," Erik Reynolds of EA said of the game on the eve of its release. "It you don't have enough schools, you will have uneducated Sims and uneducated Sims get up to no good."

People can play SimCity solo, or establish in-game regions open where as many at 16 cities can be built by different players.

"If you have a super-dirty coal burning town and a neighbor is green, when the wind is blowing in their direction they will reap what you've sown," Reynolds said.

Play in regions is hosted at the EA online Origin game forum.

Early this year, EA kicked off a SimCityEDU project with in-house nonprofit studio GlassLab to test the game's potential as a tool for promoting science, math, and engineering in public schools.

Some teachers and children in schools in the California city of Oakland dabbled with SimCity game as part of a GlassLab effort to explore its potential for teaching children and getting them excited about technology studies.

"There is huge focus on mastering new skills to run a successful city," said GlassLab general manager Jessica Lindl.

"These children are coming in on their own during recess to play the game and we literally have to tear them away from the computer when it is time to go back to class," she continued.

Feedback from the students will be used to specialize a version of SimCity for schools, according to Lindl. Backers of GlassLab include the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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