Chirpy is the fictional Twitter in the Skylines world. Through it, you can see what your citizens are saying and worrying about. The cool thing is that it’s part joke, part world-building, part brandingThe devs refer to players as “Chirpies”., and partly an effort to show that unlike Sim City, this game is set more or less in the present.
On the other hand, Chirper is awful.
Really awful. This is a bad and terrible feature, which seems to serve no other purpose than to reduce your enjoyment of the game. The design is so bad that it’s hard to nail down where it all went wrong. It has numerous problems that all combine and feed into each other to form a massive feedback loop of suck.
Yes, it’s a small feature in a big game. But that only makes it more mystifying how there are so many problems with something so small…
1. Chirpy is full of jactivists.
|Hey Lorax, we’re chopping down and re-planting a couple of acres of trees in the middle of this vast forest. And if you have a problem with that, then WHY DID YOU MOVE TO A TOWN BUILT ON LOGGING? #MoveAwayAlready #Dipshit|
As in: Jackasss activists. Those people that take a good cause that we all agree with and make it into something tedious, patronizing, unpalatable, or irritating. Like PETA. Most of us hate animal cruelty, but when PETA does something stupid and pointlessly controversial you find otherwise reasonable people saying, “THIS MAKES ME WANT TO EAT A PUPPY.” There are reasons why this happens, but that’s not the point.
The point is, the hashtag-using Chirpers come off as the worst sort of cause-boosting, preachy, condescending little bumper-sticker activists ever devised. If you do something they like, they’re smug. If you do something they dislike, they’re sanctimonious.
I’m sure that’s completely realistic. I’m sure that if you’re in government your citizens frequently come off as arrogant, ignorant, and entitled. But I don’t think we’re here for that kind of realism. I mean, if we’re looking for realism then I’ll point out how realistic it is to have to fight with the city council for six months and get three dozen permits just to form a committee so you can launch a study to investigate getting a quote from a contractor so you can propose a change in the budget to re-configure a dangerous intersection. That’s realistic, but I don’t want to play the videogame version of that.
These are your citizens and you’re supposed to care for them, and right away Chirper makes you wish you had the Sim City disaster tool at your disposalYou can get your revenge if you put the sewer outflow upstream from your water supply and murder the whole place with cholera. But that feels less like a natural disaster and more like straight-up biological warfare.. And it only gets worse as the game goes on because…
2. The Game is designed to maximize their complaints.
In the early game, you get financial rewards when you hit certain milestones. It also activates new obligations for you to manage. So you hit (say) 300 people and suddenly both schools and clinics are unlockedOr something like that. I can’t remember the actual order.. But your lump sum will only be big enough to build either a school or a clinic. And the chirpers with bitch about whichever one you put off. So you build a clinic and for the next five minutes you get bombarded with condescending stuff like: (Paraphrase.)
How hard is it to build a school? #EducationMatters #ChildrenAreTheFuture
And then you hit 500 people and you get another lump sum. And it unlocks fire departments. So now you can either afford a fire department or the school. (Protip: Fire department. The fires in this game are ridiculously common and your idiot citizens will begin lighting themselves on fire the instant the fire station is available.)
So basically you spend the first half hour or so of the game with your citizens continually haranguing you and passive-aggressively telling you how horrible you are at your job. Yes, you can save up enough money to shut them up early by forgoing your city expansion. But are you really willing to sit idle and put off your plans just to placate these insufferable pricks? I wasn’t.
You might argue that this hostility is there to reflect real-world political arguments but…
3. Chirper is a thousand voices with one thing to say.
If you pass a recycling law in the real world, it will be controversial. Some people will love it. Other people will think it’s dumb busywork that does no good. Another person is behind the idea in principle, but resents the fact that they have to sort their tiny load of trash while Monolith Burger down the street gets to fill a dumpster with unsorted trash twice a week. Another thinks recycling is a nice idea, but there are more pressing problems to spend this money on. Another person thinks the wrong things are being recycled. Another thinks that the recycling law doesn’t go far enough, or isn’t enforced enough. Another thinks the rule impacts [disadvantaged group] for the benefit of [powerful group]. And so on.
In Chirper, everyone loves to recycle. Instead of differing opinions to give the world texture, they repeat the same things to each other. They speak with the editorializing voice of the game designer, who is telling you that policy X is an unambiguous good.
So it’s a wearisome echo chamber. This is bad, because…
4. Chirper is your central source for bad news.
Chirpy is your replacement for the “newspaper” feature of Sim City, and also a replacement for the Sim City advisers. This is how you find out about stuff going wrong. This is how the game tells you about disasters that are brewing. You’re supposed to read this entire feed and look out for complaints about problems.
I turned it off to save my sanity, but there’s no other signal in the game that anything is going wrong. So often I’d pull the camera back from some fiddly traffic snarl I’d been working on to find (say) that a whole neighborhood is now complete desolation because I accidentally cut their power and didn’t know about it until I swung the camera around.
Why does the mayor need to follow the entire city on “Twitter” to know what’s happening?
But even when you do see a disaster message, you can’t know if it’s for real at first because…
5. Many messages are glitchy noise.
|Is something wrong with the morgue? Oh. Nope. It’s just one of those pointless messages to tell me about a problem I’m not having.|
When a new house is built, there’s a couple of seconds between the time the house is done and the moment the power and water kick in. And during that brief second, the inhabitant will often hit Chirper with bellyaching.
Showering with bottled water is so expensive! When will the city fix its water problems?
So when you do see something that looks like trouble, you have to stop what you’re doing and see if this is a real problem or just more random noise. And the “noise” I’m talking about is a literal thing because…
6. Chirper is incredibly distracting.
When a new message pops up from one of your thousands of subjects, the interface beeps Every. Single. Time. The Chirper window opens to show the message. And the window is given prime interface real estate: Right at the top, in the center.
And then you have to dismiss the message, which isn’t very fun because…
7. The Chirper interface is horrendous.
The ‘X’ to dismiss a message is tiny. And it moves around, depending on the length of the previous message, so if there’s ten items in the queue you can’t remove them all by quickly clicking ten times in the same spot. You’ve got to play whack-a-mole with this dancing button.
And you’re going to be hitting that button a lot, because…
8. The Chirper messages are relentlessly frequent.
|Check traffic. Make sure the water is still good. Have a look at the power plant situation. Delete a dozen unread Chirpy messages. Repeat.|
Imagine playing a game on Steam or Xbox Live and you’re getting a couple of messages every minute. That’s what it’s like. It’s this constant beeping popup. Most of them are not disaster notices. Most of them are just pestering distractions. You’re trying to play this videogame, and it will not leave you alone for 60 uninterrupted seconds to concentrate on a particular problem.
But now you’re thinking that means there’s a lot of flavor text for you to read? Not so much, because…
9. The Chirper messages are mercilessly repetitive.
|Oh hey. The lost wallet message again. It’s been almost three minutes since the last time I saw that one.|
Within the first fifteen minutes of the game, you’ll have seen 85% of what Chirper has to offer. For the rest of the game you’ll just see that same crap, again, and again, and again. Ten years after you enact a policy, they will still be commenting on it. (The same comment.)
So you can’t take it anymore. You’ve had enough of this pestering. It’s time to turn Chirper off. So you open up the options to discover that…
10. The Chirper messages can’t be turned off.
Without using mods, you can’t get rid of Chirpy. The best you can do is have it NOT automatically open up the Chirper window when a new message appears. It’ll still beep at you, and you’ll still have this stupid window taking the top-center of your screen. Yes, there is a mod to disable Chirpy. Note that using mods disables achievements, which kind of adds injury to insult.
(Note! Between the time I wrote this and the time I posted it, Colossal Order released a patch that let you turn down the volume on the Chirper messages. The messages still pile up at the top of the screen so it’s not quite the same as disabling it totally, but it makes it possible to ignore the little bastard and just play your dang videogame.)
I love this game. I really think it’s the best city builder ever made. The engine is amazing, the level of detail is stunning, and the mechanics are engrossing. If you’ve ever enjoyed a city builder, then get this game.
But Chirpy is a failure and works against the game at every turn. It’s outrageous that there isn’t a built-in way to turn it off and unthinkable that this is how you’re supposed to find out about problems in your city. #BadFeature #Death2Chirpy #Mods4Ever
 The devs refer to players as “Chirpies”.
 You can get your revenge if you put the sewer outflow upstream from your water supply and murder the whole place with cholera. But that feels less like a natural disaster and more like straight-up biological warfare.
 Or something like that. I can’t remember the actual order.
A look back at Star Trek, from the Original Series to the Abrams Reboot.
A look at the main Borderlands games. What works, what doesn't, and where the series can go from here.
Philosophy of Moderation
The comments on most sites are a sewer of hate, because we're moderating with the wrong goals in mind.
The Truth About Piracy
What are publishers doing to fight piracy and why is it all wrong?
The Disappointment Engine
No Man's Sky is a game seemingly engineered to create a cycle of anticipation and disappointment.