One-Man Indie Project Citybound Aims to Out-SimCity SimCity

An ambitious new project from an independent developer looks to be just the thing to take the bitter taste of the SimCity reboot away.

News by Pete Davison, .

Last year's SimCity did a few interesting things, but ultimately it was something of a hot mess that is still being cleaned up today.

And while there are people who are persevering with Maxis' title, many have since moved on to alternative titles such as Cities XL, Banished or even the terrifying rabbit-hole that is Dwarf Fortress. But none of those games have quite managed to provide the same kind of magic as the earlier SimCity games. Each of them do their own things really well, of course, but earlier incarnations of what was once Maxis' flagship series still provide the benchmark for how good the citybuilder genre can really be.

Enter independent developer Anselm Eickhoff, then, who politely describes his own feelings about the new SimCity as "mixed" and explains how he could see the unrealized potential in Maxis' creation. Eickhoff felt that the disappointment that was SimCity left a yawning hole just waiting to be filled by the next great citybuilder sim -- and, since he was a big fan of this type of game, he felt he had the knowledge and skills to have a good crack at providing what people want.

Procedurally generated buildings spring up around the road network you build; meanwhile, individually modelled cars drive around your streets. (Click for animation)

The result is Citybound, an ambitious project with some specific goals: it will be single-player and completely offline; it will simulate one whole huge region at once; it will be affordable and not rely on DLC; it will be inherently moddable from the outset; and it will make use of an Early Access model for a reduced price.

Eickhoff has made the interesting decision to write the game in JavaScript, using WebGL for its visuals. The reason for this is to ensure that the game supports Windows, Mac and Linux systems from the outset without the need for complicated porting. Eickhoff is also most comfortable with JavaScript as a programming environment, but notes that he intends to bundle the game with its own fullscreen browser (node-webkit, for those in the know) so it both looks and feels like a native game. The advantage of programming the game in JavaScript and making use of technologies such as HTML5 and WebGL, however, is that aspects of the game that don't require native, proprietary features -- things like saves and the like -- can run in any browser, allowing you to do things like share 3D snapshots of your hard work online for anyone to take a look at.

Citybound makes use of what Eickhoff calls "microscopic agent-based simulation" -- but deliberately doesn't go so far as SimCity did by modelling the flow of sewage through the city, for example. This means that individual cars and pedestrians are simulated; poop blobs are not. An example video on Eickhoff's site demonstrates a 3.2x3.2 square mile street grid with 51,000 cars, each with individual pathfinding, basic collision avoidance and variance in behavior, running at 30 frames per second on his four year old gaming PC.

Procedural generation is a big part of the game. Procedural buildings will sprout up around the road networks you construct, allowing for an enormous amount of flexibility in city layouts -- something that SimCity didn't encourage all that much. At present, buildings are all rectangular, but Eickhoff intends to incorporate different types of construction and building shapes as development continues.

In terms of gameplay, Eickhoff is intending it to follow the SimCity mold fairly closely. You'll zone areas for various purposes, and demand for residential, commercial and industrial zones will change over time. You'll need to manage the city's utilities -- electricity, water and sewage -- and ensure that it has good service coverage. You'll also need to take care of public transportation, and Eickhoff intends to incorporate agriculture, too, potentially allowing for the creation of rural areas rather than just sprawling metropolises.

The urban sprawl it's possible to create in Citybound puts SimCity's tiny plots to shame. Notice how the buildings are larger towards the center of the city.

Since Eickhoff first revealed his thoughts and prototype footage on his website at the end of February, he's attracted over 100,000 unique visitors to his blog, gained 480 Twitter followers and attracted $380 in direct donations, $150 in Bitcoin donations and $30 worth of Dogecoin donations.

"I am overwhelmed and incredibly thankful," he wrote. "Most thankful I am for the dozens of people who offered help in all kinds of areas: music composition, audio engineering, 3D modelling, writing, design, coverage on blogs, podcasts and YouTube channels. Even more relevant to this project: real architects, civil engineers, traffic modellers, geologists and all kinds of other knowledgeable people offered there advice. With their help this could become the most informed city building game ever."

The strong support for the project has inspired Eickhoff to make some changes in his life and focus his attention on Citybound. He intends to continue working part-time, but "only to afford rent and some noodles" -- the rest, he hopes, will come from donations. He intends to get a playable alpha with core gameplay mechanics out of the door within 1-3 months, and progress from there.

Whether Eickhoff will be able to produce a convincing contender for SimCity's former crown working largely by himself remains to be seen, but it's clear from his posts to date that his heart is very much in the right place. For citybuilder fans, this looks like a project to keep an eye on -- stay tuned to the official website for the latest news.

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