Throughout Simcity's massive public flameout last week, questions were raised (repeatedly) about EA's claims that an offline, single-player mode would be a massive undertaking because of the amount of calculations being done server-side. As many people pointed out, this seemed to be a choice EA had made in order to prevent piracy, rather than a necessity due to the (shoehorned-in) social aspects of the game.
Minnesota Viking's kicker, Chris Kluwe, was one of the many voices finding EA's claims dubious:
The fact that EA requires an "always on" connection is ostensibly because so many operations are taking place server side that your computer won't be able to handle it (which is a blatant falsehood, since when I was streaming the other night, the only times I DIDN'T have latency was when I was disconnected from their servers and my computer had to run all the game operations), but in reality it's to try to combat piracy.
John Walker's recent Rock Paper Shotgun piece on SimCity's "inherent brokenness" (and why gamers shouldn't let EA walk this one off) echoed this sentiment.
SimCity, of course, could be a single-player game. Ignore the utter nonsense about how some of its computations are server-side. What complete rot. As if our PCs are incapable of running the game. I'm sure some of the computations are server side! But they damned well don't need to be, as all of gaming ever has ably proven.
EA, however, continues to claim otherwise, somehow expecting PC users to believe that without its valuable servers picking up the computational slack, the game would be unplayable. (Or, more so, I guess...) Unfortunately for EA and its "talking points," a Maxis developer has stated exactly the opposite.
A SimCity developer has got in touch with RPS to tell us that at least the first of these statements is not true. He claimed that the server is not handling calculations for non-social aspects of running the game, and that engineering a single-player mode would require minimal effort.
Our source, who we have verified worked directly on the project but obviously wishes to remain anonymous, has first-hand knowledge of how the game works. He has made it absolutely clear to us that this repeated claim of server-side calculations is at odds with the reality of the project he worked on. Our source explains:
"The servers are not handling any of the computation done to simulate the city you are playing. They are still acting as servers, doing some amount of computation to route messages of various types between both players and cities. As well, they're doing cloud storage of save games, interfacing with Origin, and all of that. But for the game itself? No, they're not doing anything. I have no idea why they're claiming otherwise. It's possible that Bradshaw misunderstood or was misinformed, but otherwise I'm clueless."
So, it's exactly as many players (and unhappy customers) believed. SimCity's always-on requirement does little more than any other always-on requirement: attempt to prevent piracy. Demanding every player always be online throughout the entirety of their single-player game is ridiculous. The Maxis insider who spoke to Rock Paper Shotgun says that not only is a single-player version SimCity possible, but that "it wouldn't take very much engineering" to make it a reality.
Players elsewhere are also discovering what Kluwe had: that the game runs, at least temporarily, without an internet connection, something that shouldn't be possible, according to EA's claims that its servers handle a "significant amount of the calculations."
Kotaku ran a series of tests today, seeing how the game could run without an internet connection, finding it was happy for around 20 minutes before it realised it wasn't syncing to the servers. Something which would surely be impossible were the servers co-running the game itself. Markus "Notch" Persson just tweeted to his million followers that he managed to play offline too, despite EA's claims.
The Maxis insider points out that the Glassbox engine running SimCity processes the actual simulation client-side, before sending out updates to EA's servers. These updates are then queued in the regional server until they can be processed, which (depending on server load) may take several minutes. This helps explain why gamers are able to run for a limited amount of time without a connection.
EA has remained adamant that a single-player SimCity is logistically impossible, but that claim is suddenly holding a lot less water. This revelation doesn't bode well for EA's leaky Claims Waterholder or any future endeavors it had planned that might have relied on its "our supercomputers do the thinking for you!" rationalization in order to force more "online-only" requirements down users' throats. This online-only requirement is no different than others before it. It may battle piracy, hacking and cheating, but makes onerous demands of its paying customers every step of the way.