A screenshot of the latest version of SimCity, available March 5.


Infrastructure also plays a role in SimCity, as shown in this water data layer.


In multi-city mode, firefighters from neighboring cities can help out when disaster strikes.

Things are about to get mighty complicated in SimCity. The newest version of the urban-planning computer game from software company Electronic Arts (EA), due on the market March 5, is all about connectivity. For the first time, players will have to be connected to the internet to build their cities. Adam Smith’s invisible hand will work its will on your creations in response to the choices made by other players. Their voracious consumption of electricity will fill the coffers of your city, with its power plant—until another player decides to build his or her own generating capacity. Then again, this being a game and players being players, your friends may delight in sabotaging their neighbors just for the fun of it.

Ocean Quigley, creative director for SimCity, offered Urban Land a peek at some screen shots—and some thoughts about his game and real-life cities.

On the potential for cross-border conflicts: Say your friend builds a coal power plant just upwind from your school, or puts sewage outflow—untreated—near your water intake. The game has no method for handling disputes. “I suspect you go to chat and start yelling at him,” Quigley says.

On his city-building background: “I’m not a city planner: I’m a game designer, an art director,” he says. “I went to school to learn how to draw naked people.” But the developers have a library of city literature to inform their work. “The intent is not to make an academic model. The intent is to make a delightful city toy for people to play with. But it is important that there is an integrity to it.”

On transit and green issues: “There is more to a green city than transit.” By the time your city reaches any significant size, you’re going to need to give it transit, he notes. But it’s also important, from a green perspective, how the city is laid out. Do the people live close enough so they can walk, or must they drive? He was asked whether green cities will attract more residents. “It will attract maybe more discerning residents,” he notes. “You can choose to build a brawling, dirty industrial city. You can build Pittsburgh circa 1890. Or, if you build an educated, high-tech commercial sector, you’ve got to build a city that attracts educated people.”

On single-use zoning versus multiple-use zoning: “SimCity is all single-use zoning. It’s just the limits of our system. . . . For the player, zoning is how they are controlling what shows up where. It’s one of the primary controls, one of the primary palettes you give a player,” he says.

On how creating SimCity has changed the way he looks at cities: “It makes me much more aware that cities are networks of systems.” He’s noticed that in the Oakland, California, hills where he lives, there is mostly single-use zoning. “I’ll be out with my kids and will say, ‘Oh, that looks like medium-density residential zoning.’ “

On what is most likely to surprise players: Says the visual artist, it is “how painterly, evocative, and sensual the experience will be.”