With work featured in the MoMA, Scotland’s Royal Museum and Helsinki’s City Art Museum, Ocean Quigley is an accomplished artist whose early ambition was to not just “paint the world as it is,” but to also “get what it means.” While his landscape paintings may be more reflective of his earlier years in a Costa Rica rainforest and on the island of Maui, Quigley’s current role as Creative Designer for the new SimCity finds him tasked with not just painting “the world,” but also to paint “your world” – and when you think about what SimCity is, “your world” could be anything. Whether that means making a modern metropolis or a destitute cluster of tenements full of homeless people on fire, EA and Maxis are aiming to make the next SimCity a sequel that matters – and that means giving you the tools to bring whatever kind of city your noble (or demented) mind comes up with to life.
We recently had a chance to speak with Quigley about the look and feel of the new SimCity – and the three biggest influences on the overall art style of the game. Read on. You might be surprised!
If you’re not familiar with tilt-shift, it’s a photography technique that plays with focus to make the subject look like a miniature model. In the piece of SimCity concept art above, you can see that miniaturized look at play. “One thing that’s neat is that [tilt-shift] gives you the sense of being larger than the city,” explains Quigley. “You can look down at the city – it’s down here below you – and you have the sense that you can reach in and manipulate it and touch the city. So I love the way that it takes something that’s huge and turns it into something that’s intimate.”
Quigley points to examples of tilt-shift in video as one of the major influences on the art direction in SimCity. In particular, videos like The Sandpit (below) were most influential. “With this tilt-shift aesthetic, time is sped up,” says Quigley. The camera pulls down to the street level in an early build of the game before it’s pulled back out to illustrate his point. “So we are much less conscious of the individuals in the city – and you’re actually more aware of the large scale flow, the large scale movement of cars and people through the city. You see the flow, the patterns, the movements that makes the city look like a living organism.”
In the new SimCity, you’ll be in charge of everything from the macro to micro, making sweeping decisions on your city’s direction in terms of industry or large scale specialization and also choosing carefully when it comes to picking the perfect plot of land for a small public park. So it makes sense that the fine details found in model railroads and cities are also a major influence on the art style for the upcoming city-builder sim.
Quigley also points to the way railroad models use tricks with the scale. “Even buildings themselves are compressed and you get the more interesting elements of the buildings.” But when it comes to the influence of railroad models, it’s more about packing in the most amount of activity into every square inch of your city. “When people build these model railroads, they abstract out all the boring bits,” explains Quigley. “You’re just left with the interesting the stuff where stuff is actually happening.”
We can see the railroad effect while watching the early SimCity build in motion. There’s some cars stopping at a traffic light while pedestrians cross the street. Just down the street, piles of coal travel up a belt to feed a factory. Earlier, we even see a troublesome Sim with a burning desire enter an apartment complex. He sets it on fire and Sims on fire flee the flaming building, screaming and flailing their arms just as a fire truck rolls up to save the day. It’s true. Look closely, and stuff is happening everywhere.
For Quigley, SimCity isn’t about giving you a static world to play in; it’s about giving you the tools so you can build the world you want to play in – and so it is with LEGO bricks, which were always way cooler than Lincoln Logs. But that’s the thing about the new SimCity. Quigley stresses that the game was built from the ground up as a simulation first. “It’s like LEGO blocks in the sense that they are compartmentalized, but the blocks have behavior embedded inside them,” explains Quigley.
In that sense, the look of SimCity may be the first and most impressive thing you notice about the game. But below the visual surface is the real heart of the matter, where the GlassBox engine is working, determining the behavior and keeping track of data on everything from water quality and distribution to whether a Sim will get out of bed and look for a job. Then again, what’s most impressive about the GlassBox engine and the new SimCity is how all those complicated bits of information and behaviors hidden away are easy to take in and interpret because you can see them in action. You see the power grid pulsing to find out which areas have electricity and you see traffic jams when roads aren’t efficiently placed. You can pull up all the charts and numbers if you want, but you won’t need them to tell you there’s a pollution problem when you can see your city covered by a blanket of smog.
The new SimCity isn’t expected to release until 2013. In the meantime, expect more impressions, details on multiplayer, and more about people on fire on GamesRadar.
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