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What Is a Complex City-Building Game?

What Is a Complex City-Building Game?

    Last Updated on February 2, 2023

What makes a complex city-building game? The genre of city building delivers a degree of management and attention to detail few other genres can replicate. For this game genre, one must be on top of everything. It also helps to be steps ahead to achieve the best results.

This isn’t to say that these requirements are the gatekeeping aspect, but they are the selling points of the genre. Some top city-builder games tend to put complexity ahead of fun, and the player base understands why. 

A complex city-building game is generally “unfun” in the eyes of those who prefer fast-paced gameplay. Genres like first-person shooters, MOBAs, and battle royales are where the fast-paced action is at. 

This means that city-building life isn’t for everybody. But, it also invokes its brand of fun in those people who like to manage and be meticulous. So, what does a city builder need to have to be complex— to be fun?

Player Agency

For a game to be successful in this genre, there needs to be plenty of leeway for the player. A city builder that puts this first and foremost is Cities Skylines. This game was released in 2015, and since then it has been updated to the marvelous game it is today.

With so many community moderators and developer support, both parties have taken the goal of player agency. It is truly a complex city-building game for its generation.

The goal of Cities Skylines is that there is no set goal. You are given a starting amount of money, and you are on your own from there. The game puts in your hands the task of creating, managing, and maintaining the city of your vision.

All aspects like sanitation, health, commerce, industry, and yes, traffic. You can make your city a walkable city, a city of roads, or a meticulous real-life metropolis. The choice is yours and it is all possible. 

Random Events and Emergencies

Another part of a city-building game is its deceptive rogue-like nature. As with every simulation game, because the genre is in a way, there is some unpredictability involved. Things like objects getting broken, weather, conflict, and fire, are all things a player will encounter in this genre.

Variables like this make the gameplay interesting. It will also test the player’s preparedness and skill to tackle emergencies on the fly. RimWorld exemplifies chaos and is embedded in its core game design.

The game, made by Tynan Sylvester and his team at Ludeon Studios, is a story generator. Dropping you onto a planet is integral to its design. That is also how you start to brave its many challenges and horrors.

At any point in the game, it subjects you to situations like raids, diseases, and packs of manhunting animals. There is also an option to pause the game. However, a player’s ability to micromanage and respond to these events is the skill expression of RimWorld.

Of course, the emergency response needs experience before improvement. But, the record is clear— it is essential to any CB game.

An Endgoal

While not many games in the genre have it, an end goal is essential to some players. This also serves as the main focus for any player, as is customary in all games. Even more, the end goal for many CB fans takes away the main fun of the genre. Specifically, its sandbox nature. 

Developers often leave a complex city-building game open-ended for a reason. It’s because the player’s goals are the end goal, which goes back to player agency. Therefore, it takes great design and care to make a compelling end goal in a genre not known for that mechanic.

Jakub Stokalski and 11 Bit Studios’ Frostpunk is a cult classic that took the community by “frost storm.” Fundamentally, it plays the same as any city builder game, with its special niche being the weather, which is your overarching opponent.

It will be the main factor in your decisions as it will affect the way of life for your citizens, your power generation, and your weapon against it, heat. The game sets you out on a ticking time bomb, and at the end of that time, is a cataclysmic snowstorm that causes temperatures to drop to -150 degrees.

At this point, the game will test your preparedness to the maximum. After all, the end goal is simple—The City Must Survive.

Managing isn’t for everyone, but for the community that does, this genre will be their refuge. It is an entertainment niche that tests a player’s skill and creativity in creating things and handling situations.

It’s a life within life, they say, and it’s true, the core design is that you need to keep everything in tip-top shape. If this is the genre for you, it will take up your time, because managing things and seeing them grow takes time.

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Written By
Jean Salgados

Spent all the years of his college writing for the school newspaper and transitioned to casting Dota 2 games shortly after graduation.

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