It’s time for another round of video game Show & Tell. How are you getting through the quarantine? Replaying old favorites? Buying new stuff? Finally getting to work on that huge backlog?
Here’s what I’ve been doing:
I finished this game last week. It was pretty good. I liked it less than Doom 2016, which I liked less than Doom 1993, but Doom – like pizza and sex – manages to be fun even when it’s not the best.
I know I have a reputation for being the weirdo that reads all the lore items, watches all the cutscenes, obsesses over codex entries, and listens to all the audiologs, but not this time. The designer really wanted to flesh the world out and so there’s lots of background details explaining why Earth wanted to tap into hell energy, what the demons want, where the demons come from, how the Doom Guy became an unstoppableIn the story, he’s unstoppable. When I was playing, he got stopped a lot. killing machine, and a bunch of other stuff. I like that they tried, but this franchise was always based on narrative minimalism and I’ve never been curious enough to learn more about how this wacky world works. I read the various codex entries for the first couple of hours, but there are a lot of them and I didn’t feel like bringing the flow of gameplay to a halt every couple of minutes to read three more short paragraphs on the military structure of hell demons.
I appreciate that they were trying to make the game more skill-based. In the old games, you just need to keep firing and backpedal like crazy. You could switch weapons if you ran low on ammo or you got tired of your current murder-tool, but you were free to settle into a rut with your favorite gun for hours on end. Now you need to switch weapons constantly and use your specials on a regular basis: Chainsaw to replenish ammo, grenades to refill health, and flamethrower to get armor.
It’s not a bad system, but I wasn’t in love with it.
I’m finally done with this. Like I said before, the pixel art here is fantastic. This is a great looking game with a lot of charm, but the longer you play the more unfinished it feels. I never reached the end, and I’m not sure how close I got. Eventually I hit a point where I needed to raise a bunch of money. I worked out it was going to take me several in-game weeks of saving to make that much. A day is a few minutes long, so we’re probably talking about an hour and a half of real-world time. That’s not a lot, but I was already suffering from repetition fatigue and my heart just wasn’t in it.
The big flow-killer for me was the lack of inventory space. You need to build and upgrade a lot of stuff around the map. Ideally, you’d just carry a few stacks of all of your building supplies with you and draw from those as needed. But your storage space is too tight to do that. Also, there are way too many workstations. There are four different workstations just for wood production alone! Imagine if Minecraft had twenty different crafting tables for different things, and each one had a unique and complex recipe. I really don’t see what that adds to the game, aside from busywork and more trips to the wiki.
So you decide to build a new widget factory. But it requires some doodad you don’t currently have on hand. So you walk all the way home to get a stack of doodads. Oh, but you’re out of them. So you walk to some other location to gather a resource, and then walk home to make more doodads. Then you take your doodads, walk back to where you started, and realize that somewhere in all that messing around you consumed a couple of nails. You need ten and you only have eight and so you need to walk home yet again but who cares the day is over at this point and your character is falling asleep and to hell with this noise I’m tired of walking and wiki-reading and why am I even playing this game every action has so much friction and I’m losing my mind ahhhhhhhrrrrg!
Despite this, I really did like the game. The gameplay loop of getting a body delivered, doing an autopsy, embalming the body, burying it, and decorating the grave was really satisfying. Doing research in the alchemy lab was fun. Building up all your production facilitiesWorkshop, vineyard, farm, quarry, graveyard, alchemy lab, church, and beekeeping field. was really great for delivering a constant sense of progression and giving the player new systems to play with. But ultimately I got tired of the endless walking, constant alt-tabbing to read the wiki, and endless inventory shuffling.
About once a year I come back to this gem and remember how good it is. This thing is still getting new DLC, still being updated, and still retains the distinction of being the very best city-simulation ever made.
I don’t have much to say beyond, “Yup. Still good!” So let me throw in this random nitpick that’s been bugging me since 2015.
I keep hoping one of the DLCs will address the goofy-ass system the game uses for handling dead bodies. I can understand the other city services: Police cars are dispatched to eliminate crime, fire trucks eliminate fires, and hospitals cure non-specific sicknesses. This all works as an abstraction of problems we have to deal with in the real world.
But getting rid of dead bodies? That’s just not a major challenge of building a metropolis. It’s something that needs to be done, sure. But it’s not an area where city planners need to be involved. But even if we ARE going to simulate body-disposal in the game, can’t this system just piggy back on the existing hospital / clinic system? Do we really need to maintain a completely different set of buildings for this?
Worse, the buildings don’t even make sense. Once your city gets big enough, you need a ridiculous number of crematoriums. Like, I’ll get to a point where crematoriums are covering the map like Starbucks, and yet they still somehow fail to keep up with demand. Bodies will linger in a building for months without getting picked up. And when you ask on the forums people just recite the usual suggestions: Build EVEN MORE of these damn things and make sure traffic is flowing freely. I don’t think either of these things addresses the root of the problem: I’ve even had bodies linger in a building when there’s a crematorium right next door that had many available hearses. Then you click to see where the hearse is for this body and you discover it’s on the other side of the city, stuck in traffic in the industrial district. I don’t think that’s a problem with my city design.
I’ve made a lot of cities, and eventually body removal becomes a big problem regardless of how robust my disposal system is or how efficient my road system is. This system is flat-out broken, and has been so since launch. And none of the dozens of patches have addressed this. I’ve even downloaded mods that made crematoriums 10x as effective, and I’ve still found instances where bodies hung around so long that occupants abandoned the buildingWhich also doesn’t make sense. If this actually happened, people would just start tossing bodies in the river or whatever. That would create problems, but it wouldn’t result in entire factories going out of businesses and abandoning the building due to the presence of a single body..
How often do you see crematoriums in real life? I know they exist, but I can’t remember the last time I saw one. You don’t need that many. You certainly don’t need ten crematoriums for every police station in the real world, even though that seems to be how things work in Cities: Skylines.
I think part of the problem is the “death wave”. Sometimes you’ll get an absolute ton of people suddenly dying at once. My money is on this being a problem with immigration.
At the start of the game, your city grows very, very quickly. You’ll go from zero to tens of thousands in the space of a year. My guess is that the vast majority of immigrants start out as young adults. So you get this abrupt surge of people that are all about the same age. Then a few decades later, they all hit old age and die at about the same time, overwhelming your vast network of crematoriums. I don’t know if this is actually the problem. To study it, you’d have to go around and click on individual citizens to perform a sort of manual census. That sounds like a tedious job, so I’ve never done it.
At any rate, this is simulating a system that doesn’t need to be simulated, that doesn’t add anything to the game, and that doesn’t work properly anyway. If there’s one change I could make to the game, it would be to remove body disposal entirely. The game treats all commercial services as one big abstraction, and crematoriums should be part of that system. I didn’t need to manually place gas stations and grocery stores to make sure they’re properly balanced, and I shouldn’t need to manually construct crematoriums. This isn’t a hard problem to solve and it doesn’t need to be in the game.
I’m glad I got that off my chest. I still love Cities: Skylines, but this body disposal stuff has always bugged me.
How About You?
So what’s your story? What have you been playing for the last few weeks? Anything good? Terrible? What are you looking forward to?
 In the story, he’s unstoppable. When I was playing, he got stopped a lot.
 Workshop, vineyard, farm, quarry, graveyard, alchemy lab, church, and beekeeping field.
 Which also doesn’t make sense. If this actually happened, people would just start tossing bodies in the river or whatever. That would create problems, but it wouldn’t result in entire factories going out of businesses and abandoning the building due to the presence of a single body.
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