You may laugh when I say I hail from the land of 10,000 lakes (more like 14,000, so ha!), but Minneapolis, Minnesota has one of the best public transportation systems in the entire nation. After visiting San Francisco and experiencing the MUNI system, I was much ready to send a nasty letter their way. I was looking for a way to translate how best to go about a complete overhaul. I thought I finally found one when I saw that I had the opportunity to play the Cities in Motion BETA (as in, this title is in progress). I thought, “Yes! I’ll make an awesome transportation system and send them my save. That’d be better than a schematic and would show them how effective a new system could be.” Well, that may not work out as well as I hoped.
Cities in Motion is a lot like Sim City, but the point is to create an effective and profitable public transportation service. I don’t know about you guys, but that sounds like an awesome idea. I was very excited to try this out as I wasn’t sure just how they’d go about doing this. To me, it seemed like a more focused scope on what could have just been a bigger city simulation game. Though, that didn’t dishearten me – it only further piqued my interest. By having a focus as narrowly defined as public transportation, the possibilities for an immersive and intriguing experience seem quiet vast.
I started my first game in a large sandbox that took place in Venice. The graphics looked amazing, and I appreciated the detail that the game presented. The water effects were great and reflected appropriately while the buildings looked fairly distinct. I can’t say that I was completely wowed, though, as it looked a bit deserted, and there didn’t seem be too many extremely defining landscapes or buildings. At least there was a lot of love in the detail as I noticed all the pedestrians going about their day in seemingly reasonable fashion. All in all, the game’s presentation was clear and effective.
After jumping into the game with no plan, I noticed fairly quickly that I had no idea what I was doing. Overwhelmed, I moved on to the tutorial instead. In my first attempt, the interface seemed confusing and limited, and I thought that I may be missing something. Sorry to tell you folks, but I wasn’t missing a thing. After only two prompts guiding me along my way, the game let go of my hand. I have no idea if I’m misunderstanding the functionality of the tutorial, but it was clear that I was going to have to give up on the idea of a proper introduction into the game’s mechanics. Frustrated, I had to take on the bull with no idea as to where to start.
There are five different forms of transportation: bus, tramway, subway, ferry, and air. To set up routes, the player must set up stops where the passengers can get on and off. For the tram, the player must also lay down tracks with stations and pick-ups. Much like putting down tram tracks, the player must also make subway tracks underground. The ferry needs A and B points, just as air does. The setting up of pick-ups/drop offs is an easy enough concept to understand in its scope, but actually laying them down is needlessly tedious – ‘needlessly tedious’ being a common theme of the Cities in Motion BETA. The mouse must be in the very right spot for the game to accept laying down a pick-up sign.
Once points have been established, a line must be created. A line is essentially a route. Each line has destinations and pick-ups/drop offs on the way. The routes must also come full circle in many cases. These routes must be made efficiently as gas costs money and the customers will be more satisfied with their experience if it is intuitive. Once a route has been completed, the player must purchase a vehicle and dedicate the vehicle to that route.
Laying down tram lines or tunnels can be kind of fun for the creative and critical thinking types, but there is a lot that is in the way – trees, buildings and so forth. The player may delete objects, but it’s not a city builder. Thus so, players can destroy but not create. The player is actually rewarded with money for deleting objects. Really, the only practical downfall to deleting buildings is that people have less reason to make it to that part of town. Deleting buildings for the sake of public transportation makes the town look incomplete and something doesn’t feel right. I understand it isn’t meant to be a city builder, but something needs to be done in how the player rearranges the landscape that is presented. This leads to a larger issue;
Making things work across the board, in all forms, is tedious and just doesn’t seem natural. There should be satisfaction to creating a working system, watching it thrive and making it better. In Cities in Motion’s current state, that satisfaction is present; however, things get so messy and confusing that the job never feels complete. For something to feel complete, it doesn’t need to be finished: It simply needs to be able to stand on its own. I realized that as I was creating messy transports, I would go absolutely daffy looking at how ugly things look. Seeing the town incomplete and ruined by my hand is a discouraging sight that I don’t want to feel responsible for. The process is so tedious and long winded that there isn’t any way I can take a break and feel satisfied with the progress that’s being made.
Other than creating an effective form of transportation in tangible ways, the player’s motivation lies in being profitable. The idea is to be rich, or at least not go bankrupt. The game starts the player out with start-up capital and allows the player to take out loans from different banks with varied interest rates. The game’s interface tracks the player’s progression through charts and fancy looking lines. The players success is largely built on the satisfaction of the customers. The value of money makes very little sense, though. 1200 dollars for a bus and loans go up to 20 grand?
With money being the goal, a great reputation assures the player’s transportation company is successful. Higher reputation can be earned by having an intuitive transportation system and having aesthetically pleasing options for the customers. The economy system is vital and appropriate, but somehow I couldn’t find it within myself to care too much. Essentially by making money, the player enables their own expansion. Yet, without a greater goal – of which there seems to be none – I feel like the motivation has to come more from within. If creating an effective system is enough for the player, so be it; because there isn’t much else. To be fair, the campaign (which is not available in the BETA) may provide the necessary motivation to continue on with this title.
The gameplay itself can be cumbersome, and this is nearly the sole responsibility of the poor utilization of intuitive interface. As I’ve mentioned, the tutorial was hardly any help. Even thinking about the frustrating time I had trying to navigate the menus makes me want to stop writing. For example: to buy a bus, the player must highlight the bus they want and click a button that looks like a down scroll to purchase the bus. To sell it back, players click the “up” button. This seems simple, but actually took me a lot longer to figure out than should be okay. The menus are hardly intuitive and very frustrating.
Overall, I wish I could say I was enjoying my experience more than I am. I haven’t even gotten all that far, to be honest, because this game is just so darn infuriating to figure out. I may have referred to this game as tedious a lot, and that may seem like a given for a simulation, but the interface makes this Cities in Motion needlessly so. To be fair, this game is in beta and changes could be around the corner. I’m hoping this game is able to pull things together, because the concept really is very cool, and I’ve seen some very great videos that show the potential of what the game could be. Cities In Motion, with forward thinking ideas, an immersive economy, and beautiful visuals, is being ruined by ridiculously frustrating interfaces, tedious gameplay mechanics, and lack of drive. At this point, I’m just looking to flood Venice and tell them they can all buy their own dang gondolas and figure things out themselves.