EA: SimCity Offline Mode Took Six Months to Implement

According to a new blog post over at the official site for SimCity, lead engineer Simon Fox says that transitioning the once always online city building simulation into an offline game has taken him and his team six months to complete.

"[O]ur entire architecture was written to support [networked play], from the way that the simulation works to the way that you communicate across a region of cities," Fox said. "So yes, while someone was able to remove the 'time check' shortly after launch, they were unable to perform key actions like communicating with other cities that they had created locally, or with the rest of their region(s), or even saving the current state of their cities."

Fox explained that the original game relied on communicating with servers for region status and other information via a Java-based system. Letting this information be distributed offline meant rewriting the entire system in C++, he claims.

"Even things that seem trivial, like the way that cities are saved and loaded, had to be completely reworked in order to make this feature function correctly," Fox added.

The offline mode will arrive with SimCity's Update 10, which is coming very soon. The update will also allow offline players to install and use mods, though they are limited to cosmetic customizations.

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  1. 0
    Neeneko says:

    *nods* I think one of the reasons planning is such a specialized (and often trivialized) skill within software engineering is tasks are often assumed to be simple, when someone else is doing them.

    This can get really messy when hobbyists, students, or people working in other areas of computing (for instance, web developers commenting on embedded projects) try to take guesses at how complicated a change is in a domain they have no perspective on.

  2. 0
    Technogeek says:

    I'm reminded of a post IdolNinja made about his mission replay mod for Saints Row 3.

    I’ve also been reading some pretty shitty and ignorant comments that players have been posting on forums regarding how “Volition is lazy because look what the modders did with mission replay.” Everyone needs to stop for a moment and realize that this mod was a complete fucking nightmare to get working right and introduced a massive amount of bugs.


    The main problem with replay is with how the open world changes over the course of the game and permanently loads and unloads different zones that need to be tracked. The missions and cutscenes expect a linear progression and for the world to be in  a certain state for everything to work right. Changing even one thing in a replay has a cascade effect that touches almost every single other mission and the open world itself, most notably how stronghold cribs work both before and after you acquire them.


    The bottom line is that there is absolutely zero chance that Volition could have shipped this feature without an ungodly amount of additional testing and bug fixing. If it was my my call, this would have been the very first thing I would have axed to make release date.


    While implementing a full offline mode for Simcity may seem like a far simpler task than implementing a feature like mission replay, that doesn't mean the code is going to be any simpler to change, particularly if (like the original dev post stated) they're changing out a good chunk of the codebase.

  3. 0
    Neeneko says:

    Having worked on projects that took an online game and made it offline, I actually would not be surprised if it really did take a small team 6 months to do this.

    Keep in mind, the modding community was able to make a quick change to get limited functionality.  They did not have to worry about completeness, or bugs, or stability, or consequences.    EA's team on the other hand would have to go through regression tests, validate ALL game functionality or make a case for what features would no longer be functioning, properly wall off sections of code so they don't get accidentally triggered, etc.

    What the EA team did was a MUCH larger project then the modders.  Sometimes it is easy to get 95% there in a short time and still have that last 5% take months… add onto that the process one goes through at a large company to 'go gold' (i.e. sign off by testing, marketing, mangement, and getting on everyone's schedules for that)…

    Now, I would not be surprised if they did simply stall on it, or were lazy, or it had low priority and the developers were double booked, but the project length does not sound unreasonable to me.

    *sigh* and now I have to get back to looking at a SOW for how long it will take to build a bridge from a stand alone game to integrate into a larger one.

  4. 0
    Technogeek says:

    Possible in that it had all the functionality of the online mode? Because the developers seem to be arguing otherwise. Then again, I stopped playing the game after maybe three days, so maybe they got it working later.

  5. 0
    MaskedPixelante says:

    EA is going to tout how much of a struggle it was to get this thing working right so they don't look weak in front of the shareholders. Either that, or it really did take 5 months and 23~ days to implement some kind of local save system.

  6. 0
    Mr.Tastix says:

    Since a few groups were able to prove the existence of an offline mode within weeks of the games release, EA is pretty much screwed not matter how you look at it.

    Either it took them six months because they figured people would forget about it or they were lazy, or it took six months because they're incompetent.

  7. 0
    KaylaKaze says:

    I believe it. As a developer myself, I'm constantly appalled by the incompetence and slowness of other developers, probably the vast majority of which get paid a lot more than I do.

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