SimCity multiplayer lets players share their energy, population and smog

SimCity's multiplayer component represents a new kind of multiplayer interaction altogether; one that deals less with cause and effect, and more with decision and prolonged repercussion.

SimCity's multiplayer component represents a new kind of multiplayer interaction altogether; one that deals less with cause and effect, and more with decision and prolonged repercussion.

Those two things might sound synonymous, but there are some subtle intricacies. In fact, all of SimCity's multiplayer interactions are subtle. Whenever you connect your city with that of a friend — a pact which places them in relatively close proximity on a much larger map — the decisions each of you make will affect the other in oftentimes indiscernable ways.

A hands-off demo at EA's E3 booth demonstrated some of these interactions, all of which are predicated upon how you've specialized your city. That industrial, blue collar burg will provide valuable energy and resources to anyone networked with it, but will also send waves of toxicity in their general direction. The tourism hub requires a lot of resources and power to operate, but supplies a steady stream of visitors to boost neighboring areas' economies and populations.

Cities can stand well enough on their own, but they're well served by these kinds of symbiotic relationships. A player who doesn't want their city to turn into a toxic wasteland could wheeze some of the juice from their coal-powered neighbor at a fraction of the pollution toll. You could even build your entire economy on these interactions, like the energy and cash-poor but super-beautiful tourist town, which requires the assistance of foreign parties to fill those needs.

These adjacencies can work together to build "Great Works," massive, multi-week projects which demand a ton of time and resources from their creators, but provide a ton of shared benefits to their neighbors. The demo we saw tasked three cities with building an international airport; a Herculean undertaking which pulled resources, personnel and cash from all three, but rewarded them with huge boosts to their freight and population in return.

Your surpluses and deficiencies are easily tracked using SimCity's GlassBox engine, which buffets the player with easily digestible information at every turn. I can't stress how big a deal this is going to be — all the micromanaging that proved too inscrutable to master in previous SimCities looks ... well, manageable, thanks to this engine. Got a crime problem? Use a heatmap to find the trouble areas. Building a light rail? Use the efficiency meter to find the best places to build stops.

What's most promising is how different the cities shown in the demo look, all customized by the user's decisions — both the broad and more narrowly-tailored ones. How do you want your cities to look? Cluttered and grid-based? More arboreal with winding mountain roads? Grey and industrial, or glistening with modernity and clean energy engines? The buildings themselves can be outfitted with modifiers to make them more efficient, like a garage for your new smelting foundry. Smelters need to park too, you know.

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