SimCity's new release

I was vaguely aware of the existence of a new SimCity game in production over the last few weeks.  Today, I found out it came out yesterday, and I started looking into it.  Adam Sneed at Slate has written a long post about his experience with the game, that has made me drool a little bit:

To tinker with the environment during a preview of SimCity, I created Sneedville, a playground for my more destructive tendencies. The area in which I founded my city was rich in coal and metal ore, so I chose to specialize in industry. [...]

Because of the work available to them, the residents of Sneedville were low-income. This limited the city’s tax revenue, and there was little incentive for people to move into town. Worse, data showed that pollution from the industrial park was lowering property values and diminishing quality of life. It also turned out that the ore beneath the mines was being depleted.

The city was off to a decent start financially, but following the trend lines wasn’t hard. Real estate was limited, so I needed to make a decision. Should I dedicate myself to industry, knowing it will bring money as well as environmental damage, and that the area’s lifeblood would someday run out? Or should I try diversifying the economy by shifting to, say, commerce, education, or tourism?

[...]

Another way SimCity accurately captures in the leading edge of urban planning is through its use of Big Data. Cities around the world are using sensors to measure everything from energy and water usage to pollution levels and crime trends. The game puts the player at the helm of the ultimate smart city as it tracks just about every metric of life in the simulation. At the click of a button, dynamic, colorful maps—inspired by the infographics of data scientist Edward Tufte—present real-time data on traffic, crime, pollution, public health, property values, and much more.

Apparently, there are some serious problems with server access going on right now, but EA says they're working to sort them out.

Video games get proper recognition as art

The Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) is installing 14 video games as exhibits, meaning you can go to the museum and play these games.  Starting with the most important note:  Yes, Tetris is one of the first fourteen games going in, so they can be reasonably trusted to have some clue how to figure out what games are important.  (Tetris is the best game.) As far as I know, reasonable people no longer defend the premise that video games aren't an art form, but it's cool that some of the best games are getting the formal recognition they deserve within the larger art community, rather than only among the gamer community.

From Slate:

How will the video games, which necessitate personal human interaction to be fully experienced, be exhibited for the masses? MoMA says that visitors will be able to play the entirety of short games and experience “interactive demonstrations” or emulations of longer and older games. As for the complex universes of games like Dwarf Fortress andEVE Online, MoMA claims it will provide “guided tours of these alternate worlds.”

MoMA is defining the medium that games take place in as the code -- which seems to me to be a good way to categorize it.  They consider the playability of a game to be its essential component, the thing that distinguishes video games, not just as an art form, but as their own art form.  Slate points out that this differs from arguments that video games are art in that they consist of narratives.  It also differs from the point made by Penny Arcade that the collected works of art that go into creating a video game are what make it art ("If a hundred artists create art for five years, how could the result not be art?) -- so, pixel art isn't what earns the video game its status.

Boing Boing posted a list of the 14 games going in to begin with, alongside their years of publication -- the starting number for a collection aiming at 40 games:

  • Pac-Man (1980)
  • Tetris (1984)
  • Another World (1991)
  • Myst (1993)
  • SimCity 2000 (1994)
  • vib-ribbon (1999)
  • The Sims (2000)
  • Katamari Damacy (2004)
  • EVE Online (2003)
  • Dwarf Fortress (2006)
  • Portal (2007)
  • flOw (2006)
  • Passage (2008)
  • Canabalt (2009)

Emphases mine.  Bold=games I've never played.  Italics=games I've never heard of.  I think I've got some reading up to do.

And congratulations to MoMA for making the right decision and including Tetris in the initial selection.

Arcades are coming back, with a new target audience

(via Wil Wheaton on Tumblr) ArsTechnica has a new article on arcades, The surprising, stealth rebirth of the American Arcade.  The nostalgia factor is helping, but it's coming back on a lot more than just the memories of Baby Boomers -- there's a real appeal that the arcade has found a niche in, that home consoles apparently just can't satisfy, no matter how shiny the controllers are.

After a while they've played all the games... but if it's a place they know they can get as good a beer as any place in the city and [also] play games, then that's what makes it stand out."

That doesn't mean Emporium's customers treat the games as an afterthought to the alcohol, though. "We could be completely full to capacity and all of our tables will be open—no one is at the tables because everyone is out playing games," Marks said. "Any other bar I've ever been to in my life, the tables are the prime real estate, not the games.

But it;s not all bars -- ZAP Arcade in Jordan, Minnesota was opened for kids, not adults.

"There's really nothing for youth there. There's a water tower, a lake, a creek... it's small. That was really our intention when we opened, to be a safe resource for kids, to offer something in the community that was just sort of cheap fun."

The article makes a solid case for the business model of arcades, which seem to have a solid consumer base, even with the high-graphics, super-complicated games you can have in your home. Classic arcade games are simpler, have more replay value, are often more challenging, and the arcade environment makes for a better social play experience.

"The last time I played Modern Warfare on Xbox Live, I stopped playing because I was tired of hearing these immature rants," he said. "We have people playing each other face to face in our bar, they're high fiving, they're congratulatory, they're respectful, they're having a good time. When you play online, you just want to scream sometimes. [The arcade] is just a better experience."