Cities in Motion


posted 1/12/2011 by Tom Bitterman
other articles by Tom Bitterman
They do things differently in Europe.  Turns out everybody over there doesn't have their own car.  Many people take (gasp) public transportation to get from place to place.  What's next, socialized healthcare?

Despite initial feelings of confusion and distaste, it turns out that setting up a public transit system for a city is an interesting exercise in decision-making under constraint – in other words, a game.  “Cities in Motion” (CiM) is a game very much in the SimCity/Transportation Tycoon mold.  The player is presented with a limited resource (money), some obstacles (the city itself, with its buildings and roads and other limits on construction) and some goals (people need to get from place to place, the company needs to make money), and is expected to find some way to make this little world work.

CiM is no exception to this pattern.  You are cast as a transit-troubleshooter, called into city after city in order to fix the issues they are having with their current transit system.  Each scenario takes place in a storied European city – Amsterdam, Berlin, Helsinki and Vienna to date, with more certainly to come.  Each city has some of the same problems (make money) and each has some unique challenges (e.g. Amsterdam's canals make laying out surface routes a challenge).  The premise of fixing up famous cities is a nice touch, helping the player feel immersed in the setting.

Once the game starts the player is presented with a colorful city interface that runs along in real time.  Time can be sped up, slowed or stopped but the real point is to set things up so they can run more or less on their own, while the player only intervenes when important decisions need to be made.

To this end the game displays important information in a graphical manner, right on the map.  For example, it is easy to see whether people are using a given bus route by looking at the stops and seeing whether the little people are lining up there.  The city view is fun to watch and provides an adequate amount of information when things are going well.

When things aren't going well the player can call for different overlays to be applied to the city.  Overlays highlight important demographic information such as where blue-collar citizens live, or where tourists like to visit.  This information can be invaluable when planning new routes or modifying existing routes to meet demand.

Blue-collar workers?  Yup.  CiM goes into some depth in terms of what types of people live in your city and where they want to go.  There are several different types of citizen (blue-collar, student, retiree, etc.) and they each have places they live (blue-collar housing, student slums, retirement homes, etc.) and places they want to go (blue-collars want to go to work, while students want to go to school and retirees like parks).  Building transportation that follows these needs is the ticket to success.

Luckily the budding planner has several different types of transport to build, including buses, trams, a metro/subway, water buses and helicopters.  They each have different build costs (subways are expensive, buses cheap), running costs (buses can be expensive, metros are cheap), passenger loads (helicopters carry few, high-paying passengers while metros carry lots of low-paying passengers), maintenance requirements, fuel costs, and other complications.  Deciding on the right mix of transportation modes can mean the difference between profit and loss.

This is a preview, not a complete review, so problems in the game your reviewer played will be mostly glossed over.  It would be remiss, however, not mention the biggest issue – information, or rather the lack of same.  There are various screens that present info in a spreadsheet-like manner – info such as average passengers/trip and total revenue.  Unfortunately it was difficult to tell what was really going on in terms of profit/loss.  There was no single place that would lay out, for each vehicle, how much it was bringing in vs. how much it cost to run - rather important info.

Also handy would be a route planner/helper.  It can be frustrating to build a route from, say, blue-collar housing to blue-collar workplaces and find out that no one is using it.  Why not?  There is no real way to determine whether a route would be used before building it, and no way to tell why it is/is not being used once it is built.

There is still time to add these features before release, however, and the basic game has a lot of potential.  Transportation sims as have been pretty sparse lately, and “Cities in Motion” looks like a must-buy for fans of the genre.

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

In summary, “Cities in Motion” looks to become a solid transportation sim in a colorful package. A comprehensive city model and a wide assortment of transport modes provide a wealth of choices to the aspiring city planner.