I Play SimCity Social for the Writing

Tue, Feb 19, 2013

Casual, Facebook, Features, Social

SimCity Social?” they ask me. “Sure, it’s got the SimCity branding and all, but isn’t it just another click-and-wait Facebook game?”

Though I know the look of skepticism it will produce, my reply is, “Oh, I play SimCity Social for the writing.”

Since I can feel your dubious smirks already, let me explain this. Game writing is not always a matter of grand, sweeping narratives, or deep characters with engaging stories and motives, or even tear-inducing humor or emotion. Mind you, I do enjoy all of those things, but it’s a bit much to ask for a point-and-click city builder.

The strength of SimCity Social’s writing is in its thorough and ongoing attention to detail. If you’re unfamiliar with the title, gameplay consists largely of laying down businesses and attractions in your city, paying from your pool of collected resources to construct them, and then periodically “harvesting” those locations for more resources so you can build more, expand, and so forth. However, unlike most games of the genre, SimCity takes one extra important step to differentiate the various stores, factories, and attractions other than making them look different and produce different payouts. Nearly every single thing you can build in SimCity Social has at least a dozen unique jokes hidden in it, if you’re paying attention.

For example, at any time, you can interact with a building even when it’s not ready to collect. As with most any other action in the game, this causes a progress bar to briefly appear, to suggest that your in-game “mayor” is busily performing their civic duty there. However, most game designs would simply throw up that progress bar and say “Visiting…” and be done with it. SimCity Social has taken the time to compose a different interaction message for every different building – potentially even two or three randomly selected ones. One might visit the furniture factory and see “Fluffing Pillows…” or the firehouse and see “Petting Dalmatian…” and so on. The same thing happens when you upgrade a business; each location has 3 humorous and unique additions you can install in exchange for your resources. The fashion boutique may ask you to “Hire Secret Shoppers,” for example, while the city park might benefit from the purchase of some new paddleboats.

This level of detail is everywhere in the game. Each business can have some of your in-game citizens (played by your Facebook friends) assigned to work there, with six different location-specific jobs available. Visiting your friends’ cities allows you to do favors or pull pranks at any given spot, with each business having its own colorful choices – will you visit the skyscraper to eat at the rooftop restaurant, or spit from the balcony? Nearly every single possible interaction in the game has a different throwaway joke written in, depending on where you choose to perform it.

If you’re playing SimCity Social just for the sake of expansion and advancement through its reward-based quests, it is entirely possible to miss all of this stuff. But someone on the design team took the time to sit down and write literally hundreds of cute little jokes for the game that are there if you’re paying attention… and every time the game gets new buildings and content (which is frequently), they write new ones to go with them.

That is the kind of detail that turns a click-and-wait social game into actual fun, for me. And that is why I play SimCity Social for the writing.

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