Cities XL Interview

Article

posted 11/5/2008 by The GN Staff
other articles by The GN Staff
Can you introduce yourself and describe your role on the project? How long have you been in the gaming industry and what drew you to your current position?
My name is Jerome Gastaldi and I’m the lucky CEO of Monte Cristo. I have spent the last 15 years producing games and online applications. Cities XL gives the team and myself the possibility to create something new and real ambitious, and that may be not the reason why we all joined, but this is for sure the reason why we are staying!!

What were your main goals for the game when you started development? Could you talk about the central design tenants of the game?
With CITIES XL, we wanted to take the city building genre in a new direction, not just add a feature or two, and call it "done." Games in general are becoming less innovative, because as in the movie industry, game publishers tend to just do sequels over and over again. As an independent developer and publisher, we wanted to do more than just move to the next sequel or expansion, we wanted to think creatively and build something bigger than a sequel to any builder. CITIES XL is a whole new game, like Ultima Online was at the time. We are integrating city building, social networks and online gaming with tycoon/business-styled gameplay.


Other than graphical improvements what other improvements have you made to the series since City Life? How did you want to change the experience from your previous game?
The only real carryover from City Life is that this game has city-building at its core. Other than that, we've worked to build something completely new. As you mention, the graphics engine is new, but we've also added plenty of new gameplay elements.

The city builder, the core of the game, is completely overhauled. What is most important in our type of game are of course the building tools: There have always been debates between "plopping" and "zoning" methods of city design in the genre, so we said "Why not offer both, and a little more?". So, for example, certain building types have "tags" (much like you tag your Delicious bookmarks or Flickr Photos, for example) that might identify a set of buildings depending on their function (f. ex. "Industrial.") and other characteristics (f. ex. size, architecture, richness, etc) Now, when you're starting to lay out your city, you can zone an area, tag it in a very general way ("Industrial") or in a very detailed way (“Residential”; “Small Size”; “American”; “Luxury”) and the game engine will decide, from your tags, what buildings to automatically construct in that zone, rather than forcing you to micro-manage construction. Though, if you like that sort of micro-management styled play, it's still an option.

We've also been working a lot on the transport system and its tools. We want to let players build straight and curved roads, and also give him the possibility to define the usage of the different lanes. Prosperous cities make it possible for players to finance complex tunnel and bridge projects and thus conquer previously inaccessible parts of the map and allow for even more spectacular creations.

A city is of course nothing without its inhabitants. For Cities XL we came up with the Citizen Profile concept, which means that each category of citizen will have his/her own ID, different sensitivities and ambitions. The Citizen Profiles will impact different aspects of the overall game simulation, and thus an influence on the management of your city.

We have also added GEMs (Gameplay Extension Modules). Each GEM is a tycoon-type game in and of itself. A great example that we've been showing off (to great response) lately is the Ski Resort GEM. If you build the Ski Resort GEM, you'll have a small business to manage from then on - so you'll have to staff it, fund it and of course, you get to design it. The Ski GEM is much more than just "lay out a resort and watch it make money," too. It's up to you to choose how many difficult (Black Diamond) trails, easy trails, etc that you'll have, and how many ski patrol staffers you'll have. The better and more challenging the resort is, the more tourists it will attract from across the game world, which means more money in your GEMs coffers to help expand the business to new areas. GEMs will be sold at a pay as you go basis, and while we cannot promise an exact price at this time, we're hoping to keep them down to a nominal cost while reflecting that each GEM is a full tycoon game unto itself. There will be some free GEMs included with the game, and we may also release free GEMs post-release.

The third key feature of CITIES XL is the fact of bringing online and persistence to the genre. If you're looking for an online experience, you sign up for what we're calling the "Planet Offer". The Planet Offer will be available for a very nominal fee, and will give you access to online persistent planets where you can build your cities. This opens up a whole new set of gameplay features - you can trade resources with other players, visit one another's cities, organize events in your towns and much more. Also, the online play takes your GEMs into account - so say you have the Ski resort, and want to attract more tourists. You can advertise in other players' cities (with their permission, of course) and watch as their citizens come to enjoy your resort.


Each player will get a set of dedicated pages to track the status of their cities, their on going projects along with allowing them to post videos and screens of their cities and activities. There's also a player blog which you can update whenever you like to tell other players about your city, and boast about your achievements.

Assuming you're more of a solo player, you won't be "punished" for not going online, you just won't have access to the multiplayer features. You'll still be able to enjoy an incredibly ambitious builder with no time limitations. We are considering a system that lets you track what's going on in the Planet Offer without actually participating, just so you can see what’s happening outside of your game.

Are there plans for any type of goal-centric campaign or storyline mode to pursue? Will there be a sandbox mode so that players can just got nuts with their city without having to worry about any constraints?
CITIES XL is a game without a specific ending where you can decide which challenges you would like to handle: are you caring for the visual look of your city or are you more interested in making money? The great thing about CITIES XL is that even without the story you’ll always have something to do. GEMs will offer regular challenges and via the Planet Offer we'll constantly issue competitions to players.

A city is nothing without citizens, can you talk about the improvements to the citizen system and explain about what needs we'll be satisfying in the game?
In CITIES XL, we've created citizen profiles that relate to how they respond to your actions. Their needs are related to their profile and the size of the city they live in. This is a dynamic system that will ensure that the game is not difficult to get in but stays interesting and challenging with time. The principle carries over to the GEMs with obviously different criteria. Let's say you've built a Ski Resort with many difficult trails, and you're doing a great job of staffing it with Ski patrollers and just generally maintaining it well, you will appeal more to tourist searching for the top ski experience than the one looking for nightlife.


City building games while fun, always end up being populated by the same buildings over and over again. What are you doing in Cities XL that will break up the monotony? Any chance we'll see famous landmarks in the game or not? What about user created buildings?
Our game will have hundreds of different structures at launch, along with some recognizable landmarks. It is our intention to keep either directly, or with the help of the community, a regular flow of new buildings. Because the buildings have an impact on the simulation and will be used on the Planet mode we need to have a level of control to make sure that the impact on the gameplay is pertinent. We already started talking with a few but highly talented custom content makers in the community to team up on this topic.


Can you talk about the GEM system and how it will work in the game? How hard will it be to use? Will players be able to sell their creations to other players for real money or not?
I think I jumped ahead of you, just jump back to question 2 for that overview :-)

As for the city builder core game, the GEMs are designed so that players get higher challenges while learning. They really will be intuitive to every skill level of player.

As far as selling creations is concerned, we aren't planning a real-world currency exchange, but you will find out that your creations can be sold to in-game citizens.

An example that we're throwing around is the automobile manufacturer GEM. Let's say you build that GEM and start designing your own cars. The next step will be to advertise those cars in other online cities and pretty soon you will find citizens in other towns driving those customized cars, and your resources start getting boosted by all these deals. .

These types of games are normally single player affairs but City XL will have a mode which will adjust how many players will be building cities on each shared 'planet'? How will players interact with each other in the persistent world part of the game?
The online mode, or the "Planet Offer" is what you're thinking of. Players will have multiple ways to interact - there are the blogs that I talked about, along with an actual 3D avatar chat system. So you could meet me in a city park in my city, and we'd have custom 3D avatars representing us during chat.

But this level of interaction takes all its value when you start trading with other players: socializing in the game will allow you to create friendly relationships with people you may want to trade with instead of trading with unknown players. As a whole it is a lot of fun ;)


What's the most important thing in creating a city in Cities XL? What things should people keep in mind as they build their cities?
That's a difficult question, as CITIES XL will be just like building a real-world city, so there are many interdependencies. Moreover, the game is designed as a no-ending game and therefore will present players with a lot of potential directions. The game is more than just city-building (think of the GEMs), you might want to focus more on other things. When they’ll play the game, we want players to ask themselves: “What am I willing to do today?”

“Develop my cities?”

“See if I can get more tourists in my Ski Resort?”

“Create a huge landmark?”

“Or simply have a chat with my friends online?”

Any chance we'll see a demo of the game before it's released? Will there be an open beta test?
Yes, there will be a demo before we release the game. We will also do beta testing, but we don’t know yet to how many people we will open it. As soon as we know more about this, we’ll let you know!

We'd like to thank Jerome for taking the time to talk to us and to Ted for helping to setup the interview