Scale in Vidyas: A Rant

One of the things I enjoy in life in general is knowing the scale of things. I’m a pretty visual person, so that allows me to get a better grip on things, and allows me to play with it in my imagination. It’s one thing to know that X ship is Y meters long, but knowing how it looks next to other things helps me to get that picture in my head.

And, when scale is established, in whatever sort of art, I like it to be right. If it’s something that uses an already-established world, I like things to be consistent – one thing I have against all Trek after 2009. Another thing I dislike is how some things are stated, but the visual evidence is counter to it. Mostly what I’m talking today about concerns city stuff, especially in city builders.

When a game has negative achievements.

It grinds my gears more than a little when a place in a game is said to be a great city, a small town, or anything in between, and we don’t see it. Open world games are generally quite guilty of this. Now, I realize that, until fairly recently at least, having a realistically-sized city was practically impossible, for several reasons. A big city, or even a small town, with proper NPC’s, would be very taxing on bad hardware (consoles), and crafting that would be hard on the devs even taking that out of consideration; procedural generation is a possibility, but that’s boring for the player (see Daggerfall). That consolization is a big issue: both Oblivion and Skyrim were heavily impacted by having to fit to X360 and PS3 specs. The Witcher 3 is the best about this, but even there there is some small scaling down in most places.

And then we get to the city builders themselves. Again, there are hardware limitations that we have to consider – for older stuff. But it’s always bugged me that I can’t really make a proper city in something like Cities: Skylines or SimCity 4. I think it might be somewhat possible with SimCity 4, but you have to build it piecemeal, and not have it be one continuous city, with all the gameplay limitations that come with that.

Sounds like a nice place to live.

Cities: Skylines has other issues. Look at the above picture: on the right, there is “low-density” housing: one- or two-story dwellings, with some sort of lawn maybe. On the left, there is high-density housing: skyscrapers and such. If you look closely, those both have the same footprint, generally. That’s crazy. More on that in a bit.

And, if you look on the bottom, with the stats and such, we have 84k people. Obviously, a city of this level of development would have many, many more people. And, if you follow the in-game progression, this is supposed to be a major city; my city irl feels like a mere town, and yet has 100k people. This is something I’m more willing to look past, though: simply add a zero on the end, and it ends up being much more believable and appropriate for the scales the game can reasonably run at.

My bigger problem is with the scaling of space. The devs have given out a scale for this game: 8m per side for a square. That means we can build cities from real life into the game. At least in theory. The above is the main part of my hometown. Each buildable block is 2km x 2km. Thus, the main part of my small town fills almost an entire block, since it is one mile square, which is about 1600m square. Above, you can see the difference between the layout of my irl town, in the right and center, with the normal density of buildings and roads for the game, on the left. Way different. So different, it breaks the game to try to be real.

And, at 8m squares, you get buildings with small footprints. The growable buildings here (the ones the game builds itself) are I believe up to a max of 4×4 squares, maybe 5×5. That gives up to 40m a side, for buildings that are quite tall. Up to, because they tend to have a plot around them. There are plopable buildings (player-placed) that are much bigger, which is ok, but those tend to be limited.

For me, it’s so immersion-breaking to have these huge, hyper-dense cities. I want to be able to rebuild the towns and cities I’m familiar with, to see how traffic breaks, or if the place could survive as it is, in-game. But I can’t. And it bugs me. Oh, how I wish for a city-builder with proper scale! But I doubt it will happen anytime soon, not until the console goes the way of the dodo.

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