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SimCity’s Glassbox Engine: Unit Operations or ANT?

So the Sim City developers have just released a video showing off the simulation behaviour of the new reboot SimCity coming next year. It’s quite rare for any developer to show a demonstration like this at an early stage, irrespective of graphic ability, so they must be fairly proud of their engine.

The Glassbox engine is a major overhaul to the previous SimCity games and goes someway into establishing itself (in my opinion) as some sort of functioning procedural unit ontology, worthy of something Bogost would have founded in Unit Operations. The first thing that jumps out (to me anyway) is the dependency of ‘agents’ in the simulation of the game. Agents can be any discrete thing, a person, a car, a unit of water or pulse of power travelling across a path to a destination. Furthermore each building unit (which the developer calls a simulation unit), is constructed out of further independent unit agents, boxes, coal, workers which enter and exit the unit of the building, and travel to other parts of the city. Each agent triggers further simulation rules as they reach another simulation unit, but not in transit.

It wouldn’t be fair to do an expository analysis of this for a game which isn’t out till next year. There are of course many academic sources linking the ontology of Latourian ANT to video games like Sim City, the parallels are obvious (and what academic interested in procedural technology doesn’t love SimCity?) But rummaging around in my thoughts, it seems to me that this new simulation has more in common with Bogost’s ontology of Unit Operations; the one-to-one representation of a unit’s workings and transformations; the procedural configurations that take place according to set rules. This reboot seems to be explicitly coded towards a Bogostian ontological understanding.

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