The Charm Cities Blog

News and updates on the Charm Cities project

City-building in the time of COVID

by in |

A rendered image of an empty city street based on Edward Hopper's painting Since the very beginning, city-builder games have included iconic disasters - kaiju attacks in the original SimCity, the one-eyed city-wrecking robot in SimCity 2000, and now meteors in the Cities: Skylines "Natural Disasters" DLC. The Charm Cities community survey made it clear that people really do enjoy the heck out of those, and my spouse even suggested I reach out to House House about putting an Untitled Goose Disaster in Charm Cities, which... oh, believe me, gonna make a call when we get to that point. And yet I don't think anyone designing a city-builder game, myself included, ever imagined a natural disaster quite like this one.

In the "Natural Disasters" DLC, you respond to all natural disasters the same way: your early-warning systems give you a heads-up, you order everyone to the emergency shelters, you wait a ridiculously long time because the early-warning systems are too effective, you watch the disaster unfold, you wait for your disaster response unit to clean up the mess, and then you continue on. But here we have a case where the only hope to save hundreds of millions of lives is to simply... pause all of human society for a while. How long? Unclear. What will society look like when we can finally unpause again? Unclear.

From the perspective of someone who thinks too much about how cities and societies function, this presents a fascinating mental challenge. (And sometimes you just have to embrace the fascinating mental challenge rather than actually allow yourself to contemplate the frankly unimaginable human suffering.) We spent two decades switching every industry over to lean manufacturing and just-in-time supply chains, which were fundamentally predicated on the idea that people wouldn't do anything unexpected. Then one day everyone stopped pooping at work and suddenly we had way too much commercial toilet paper, not enough retail toilet paper, and no way to transition. Businesses everywhere are shutting down, furloughing people, and closing for good, which has sent so many people looking for unemployment insurance that the charts are frankly mind-boggling. And yet while many people are losing everything, others (including some you might not have thought of) are becoming rich. And no one can even begin to guess how the world will look when all of this is done. You know all this, I know. You're in it too! One of the strangest aspects of this particular disaster is that we're all part of it; some places are reacting better than others, but we've arguably never been more in the same boat, as a species, than we are right now.

If you've been watching the GitHub repo, you've probably noticed that it's been quiet. Some of that is because I've been doing more Blender modeling work than actual development for a moment - I'll post some progress pictures of the realistically scaled power plant I'm working on soon. (From a strict development perspective, it would be smarter to just use primitive cubes as project assets for now and focus on gameplay - but, once we finish Phase One, we're going to need to seek more publicity and even funding. For that, we're going to need to demonstrate not only basic gameplay but also a bit of visual pizzazz.)

For the past two weeks, though, I've been at home with a full-time job, a four-year-old, and a kitchen sink that fills up every thirteen seconds. (HOW. HOW DO WE MAKE SO MANY DISHES.) The demands of doing my job, educating my child, maintaining my household, caring for my relationship, and caring for myself, all amid the emotional burden of isolation and a constant stream of news that offers little but despair... well, it's been hard to find time for Charm Cities. I'm hoping that the coming week offers more opportunities. We'll see.

One thing that does keep me going - even if it sometimes makes me feel guilty that I haven't had more time for the project - is the ever-growing number of people expressing interest and joining our little community. So hey, why don't I end this on a call to action?

Here’s are some ways you can look away from the yawning abyss of social isolation and do something helpful to get the initial phases of Charm Cities up and running:

  • If you're familiar with Unity, go ahead and clone the GitHub repo and take a look around. Be sure to look at the Road Map to see what the goals for Phase One are.
  • If Blender is more your thing, check out our Asset Guide and see if there's anything you want to make there. The top priority right now is residential buildings, since we're going to be growing some of those in Phase One.
  • Maybe you could help us continue to flesh out the project planning wiki; ask for a wiki account in the Discord.
  • Have a blog entry you'd like to write for us?
  • A feature you think Charm Cities should have?
  • Or even just a cool link about cities or city-builders we should share on social media?
  • Let us know! Even something as simple as stopping by the Discord to chat about nothing in particular helps keep us all engaged and excited.

Stay home! Stay safe! Build cities!

About Martin Sherman-Marks:

Martin Sherman-Marks (he/him), the founder of the Charm Cities project, is also a developer, writer, project manager, Concrete Professional™, and ADHD disaster child. He lives in West Baltimore and has very strong feelings about the fate of the Red Line. He's @flying_ghoti on Twitter.

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