I wouldn’t have guessed that this city simulation video game turned eight years old last month. I’ve known about it for a long time, and I even subscribe to the r/CitiesSkylines subreddit to see screenshots that people post showing their cities.

screenshot of a town created by u/Tramter123 (posted to Reddit) showing a lot of surface car parking lots
The screen grab above isn’t mine. It looks like u/Tramter123 got carried away trying to recreate Any American City and built a lot of surface parking lots. I will need to learn how that affects traffic flows and land values in the game’s mechanics.

What changed is that last week I was having dinner with a friend and he described the videos published by City Planner Plays, a practicing urban planner who resides in Madison, Wisconsin. I watched a video with a title that caught my attention (it was about monorails and trams) and a couple of days later I decided to try it out.

My first gaming session was a little frustrating or stressful…I don’t think having studied how cities happen and how they happened has given me any insight into how to be successful at this game.

I’m still learning how to manipulate the game yet I’m already familiar with the process of this game that it shares with many others: as something grows, you unlock more resources but have to respond to more needs. In Cities: Skylines, the population grows, a cemetery is unlocked, and then someone dies so you have to build a cemetery immediately.

In Rollercoaster Tycoon, the goal was to increase your park’s visitors by building more rides. As attendance grew so did the level of trash and the number of janitors that had to be hired, but sometimes you had to wait to earn more revenue because you couldn’t afford a third janitor yet.

My little town in CS is called Springvalley, which started with being connected to an expressway interchange. The water source is a river. I tried to build a quay and some waterfront property but the city is on a cliff and I wasted a bunch of money trying to level and reshape the earth.

Since Springvalley reached a population of 2,500 people this evening (during my second session of the day) the game unlocked transit. Okay, I think this is why I want to keep playing – I want to see if I can design a transit network bound by whatever constraints the game has implemented.

City-building in real life

I posed a couple of questions to myself after playing. City-building is kinda fun [yeah, duh] but is it possible to make real-life city building fun and more broadly enjoyed?

Relatedly, are there ways I can modify and use Chicago Cityscape to guide people through the local city-building process using the fun and mechanism games like Cities: Skylines (and its predecessor, SimCity)? Read Anthony Moser’s response.

Enjoy this short video of the camera following a bus to the industrial district (and excuse all of the pollution).