Last September I started a series on this blog called “Building Story Worlds.” My initial intention was to write a number of posts on how to create cities for story-writing purposes. The idea started when I saw the great work Sim City fans were doing on Simtropolis’s City journals. Some of them are truly high quality and updated regularly, such as every week or every few days. Many city-builders have created elaborated stories of revolutions, political upheavals, overthrowing of kings to be replaced with republics, romantic love stories, and changes in cities like added canals, country border alterations, subway systems complete with maps, magical beings tampering with the human world, and cities from the future. Some city-builders are quite creative story writers as they’ve built entire stories around their artwork.
I’ve always liked maps, architecture, and pictures of cityscapes and played Sim City off and on throughout my teens and 20s. But my first love was story writing. So last year, shortly after the release of the new Cities: Skylines (you can find my game review here), I decided to build cities for my story worlds and share my creative process with you, if that’s right up your alley (along the lines of my Art of Creativity Series which you can find here). This series will be focused on how Cities: Skylines encourages my creativity as a story writer.
Assets in the Cities:Skylines Workshop
Stories need sharp, clear images to be enjoyed. If you’re reading a book, the author must be able to create that image in her reader’s head. For video game designers, it’s all in the digital graphics. Graphics in video games like Skyrim and Final Fantasy have improved their graphics greatly over the past decade, and the newer Dragon Age has had to live up to a new standard of color and graphic detail, since its inception in 2009. Since the advent of Sim City 4, in 2003, so have city-building games. In Cities:Skylines, you’re able to have more control on the shape of roads, the mountains and rivers in the landscape, and zoom onto the Cim people on your streets. I still think Cities:Skylines (CSL) doesn’t quite capture the appeal and beauty of its predecessor, Sim City 4, or even some buildings in Sim City 2013, but the functions of the new game make it more playable, and build-able for creative people like me. However, the assets being built by designers, including a former Maxis-employee, known online as Gula, has up-scaled the ability to build large, sprawling, powerful and pleasing cities for all players.
Today, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite assets up to this point:
Joseph Chamberlain Clock Tower by BlockHeadGames
Space shuttle by Aeon / & Ares V Rocket by dadofu
Regal Theater by MrMaison
Mad Tech and Fox Industries by Populous
Stadium by Drosovilas
The Achilles Tower by Visu
Kingdom Tower by Gula
There are lots of others I like and use, as I have close 750 assets and 6 mods, however, these are the ones that stuck out for me as I was making my choices.
My only frustrations with user-made assets are 4 things:
- No Name to the item
- No picture in the User Interface
Sometimes I download parks or Unique Buildings, but more often it’s parks, that don’t show up on my User Interface. With 7,000+ assets and hundreds of parks, it’s often too difficult for me to find the park I need when I’m neighborhood planning, which makes me want to quit for the day to the point where I don’t want to come back to the game for a long while. I feel like city building in a professional game should be quite seamless — which I think Cities:Skylines does really well when it comes to the road flexibility — but a simple thing like no picture in the user interface, even if it appears on the Steam Workshop — it’s near impossible to build a city without a picture to the asset, doubled by the fact that the Vanilla game doesn’t list the name of the item in the User Interface. All you get is a picture, unless the asset developer doesn’t upload a picture — which means, no picture, no item name.
- Poor quality 3D Art
- Countless Ugly Billboards
As a user, I get very frustrated when an asset has ruptures, is poorly thought-out, or just sloppily assembled. I’m not a visual artist, so I cannot imagine the effort needed to put together near-perfect 3D art for a video or PC game, but I can tell you what bothers me as a player. The game is still new and I’m sure it will go through its fairshar of setbacks, but I don’t see lots of quality work on the Steam Workshop, for things I need in my cities, like space ports, medieval style buildings, a variety of houses of worship, stylish hospitals, police stations, and schools. My asset needs as a city-builder, much like others on Simtropolis, run the gamut of history and time. I see lots of poorly sketched assets and few really great designers. I think there’s more graphic design talent out there but I don’t see enough good content, yet, for me to consistently play and build, say a few hours a week and build elaborate and exciting cities for my characters to live, work, and play in. The incessant billboards on my beautiful Vanilla-game buildings are also still quite repulsive. Where are all the decent 3D designers hiding and why aren’t they building for Cities:Skylines?
I still think Cities:Skylines is a great game, as I am still playing it. Like Sim City 4, I think if users keep creating good stuff and game developers at Colossal Order keep delivering on their promises, this game will have a long run, quite possibly as long as Sim City 4 (12+ years), or more.
As far as this series of blog posts go, I’m not currently writing a novel, but as a writer, the ideas don’t stop flowing, so I’ve decided to dedicate my creative energies to my world building, with CSL as a tool. If you’re interested in more game-specific content, I’ve started a blog dedicated solely to technical Cities:Skylines material and can be found on Steam as Fearless Mayor.
Thanks for reading and have a great Thursday =)
EDIT: An earlier version of this post said I had 7,500 assets, in fact, I have 750 assets currently I’m subscribed to on Steam Workshop.