Cities: Skylines was one of last year’s biggest PC games, pleasing fans of the city simulation genre with its SimCity-like systems and a heavy emphasis on modding - a fact that really helped increase the game’s popularity.
After releasing After Dark last year, Colossal Order has now released new DLC for the game titled Snowfall. As you might expect from the name, this DLC brings winter to your cities. We spoke to Colossal Order’s CEO Mariina Hallikainen about the new expansion pack.
GameWatcher: Why did you decide to focus the expansion pack of this content on weather?
Mariina Hallikainen: Well basically it was really something that we had hoped to have already, just like we did with the day and night cycle. It’s something that has a great impact on the visuals and the look of the game and it was really something that - because in the base game we couldn’t have it - we wanted to bring in as an expansion. And [with Colossal Order] being from Finland, I think it’s very obvious we want some snow. It just feels so familiar to us, and there are so many things that you have to take into account when it’s snowing. It’s really like the reference point is the Finnish winter, which is never-ending.
GameWatcher: How do the new elements change the way that the game is played?
Mariina Hallikainen: Basically in the snow maps - we’ve got snow as a separate theme - you have different kinds of services and policies that actually affect the game. If you think about the snowfall the roads would be covered with snow and it would be more slippery for the cars to drive, you have to make sure you have the snow plough service clearing the roads. You can also force, for example, winter tyres to the cars. It’s also about the energy, electricity and heating. So naturally the temperature will be lower so the electricity consumption is greater; you have to figure out how to tackle that one. You can set up heating pipes which is basically a cheaper way of heating the houses than electricity. So it gives you a little bit of extra services to deal with the cold weather and snow.
GameWatcher: Did you take much from real-world city management when you were designing features like these?
Mariina Hallikainen: Well it’s basically what we have always done. We’ve done the research ourselves and kind of analysed it and then as we take inspiration from the real world we still really want to keep the game as a game in a sense. They’re supposed to be different challenges and it’s really about thinking how things are done, and this was very familiar to us - being Finns - we should know how to heat the houses to be honest, otherwise we’d freeze to death. So we decided to put great effort into studying how things are done in the real world and how we want to incorporate those into the game.
GameWatcher: Does real-world cities affect features that you implement into the game? Are there ever elements that you add because of cities that you have lived in?
Mariina Hallikainen: If you think about the weather, for example, it’s definitely something that for the whole autumn and winter while we’ve been working on this expansion pack we’ve been just looking out of the window getting references and inspiration. It’s something that feels familiar to us. It’s very funny that we have been working on this because it became very clear that we started to pay more attention to what was happening around us in the city and how people actually work and move from one place to another. It’s very interesting to kind of focus on those kind of things that when it’s normal you don’t necessarily notice. This also affects how we’re travelling nowadays. We check different things in the city and ask ‘how could we make this work in the game?’. It’s kind of interesting.
GameWatcher: Do you find that you’ve started gamifying the cities that you live in and figuring out how something might become a game mechanic?
Mariina Hallikainen: Yeah definitely. For example the new tram systems that we’re adding in - and we’ve also extended the public transportation UI quite a bit - but it’s definitely something that our lead game designer is interested in. She’s actually from Helsinki, which is the only city in Finland that we have trams in, and she’s totally into those. She’s familiar with that and it’s something that she has been keen on introducing. We got a lot of requests from the community asking us to add trams and she’s completely on board with that from the beginning.
GameWatcher: How do you balance new features to make sure they work smoothly with the existing game to make sure they aren’t too jarring?
Mariina Hallikainen: Well basically it’s a lot of testing. In a simulation game like this balancing is probably the biggest task we have, so we just have to implement the features and just keep tweaking until it feels right. It’s definitely time consuming to figure out. First we have to figure out what kind of features we want to implement that can actually feed the game and then kind of work from there. And then one of the things that we wanted with the winter theme was to have it as a separate theme because there’s so many new things related to it that it needs to work well. Basically, because we’ve been asked ‘why didn’t you implement this in a way that we have different seasons?’ and one of the reasons for that is that if you think about the seasons changing then you would have to make services for each of the seasons and then kind of balancing that and it would be very kind of tedious work in the end. So we decided to have the winter theme as a separate one so you could just focus on the separate challenges of the cold weather and the slippery roads bring. On the other hand it is definitely one of those things that in this kind of game I don’t think the balancing work ever ends to be honest. I think there’s always something that we can tweak.
GameWatcher: Do you expect that even after you’ve released Snowfall you’ll still need to tweak the new features?
Mariina Hallikainen: If there is a clear need for it, of course. I mean I feel very strongly that even if the game has been released we still should keep an eye on it and - given the time limits and limited resources that we have - we should be able to improve the work that we have done already. We have to think in the long term because we want Cities Skylines to evolve and improve in the future as well and I think looking back at what we have done and if there are places we should improve we should definitely do it.
GameWatcher: Have you noticed that you receive a new influx of players each time DLC or updates are released?
Mariina Hallikainen: To be honest I’m not the best person to answer this one, I think the publisher side might know a little bit more in detail how the sales go. The only thing that I know is that the sales have been going great. And I would like to think that when we actually make these kind of DLCs and the free stuff that comes with that it is always a kind of push for more people to find out about the game and that’s always positive for us. So I would at least like to believe that we could attract more players to the game so that it is basically a growing community.
GameWatcher: Is it important to maintain that community with more and more newer players coming in?
Mariina Hallikainen: Well I think that there’s two things. First of all as I have said before we have to do this for the money as well, it’s not just passion. Because passion doesn’t bring food to the table and Cities: Skylines has been doing amazingly well. But if we think about the future it’s very important for us to attract new players, but also very much keep the existing ones happy. That is something that we are trying to do. We are very committed to listening to the community and improving the game for everybody and not just bringing new content for the new players.
GameWatcher: How do you decide what should be free updates and what should be paid-for DLC?
Mariina Hallikainen: It’s usually based on thinking about what kinds of features we want to utilise in the future. How can we make it so that we can keep the expansions independent? Like, for example, with After Dark it was very important that we had the day and night cycle for everybody. And then kind of going more into that and more deep in the future, which will be the paid content. We can use the day and night cycle in future expansions without worries because everyone has it already. We don’t want everyone to feel like they have to get all the expansions, they can just pick and choose the ones they like the best. And so if you think about in Snowfall we have the weather, which is free for everybody, that is something that we are very excited to utilise more in the future. So now that everybody will get it, it will be easier for us to do so. The modding features are always something we want to keep free, I think the modders are a huge part of the game and the community and we want them to keep working on cool stuff for it. That’s something that we plan to keep free.
GameWatcher: Would you say you’ve learnt anything from After Dark that affected the way that you designed Snowfall?
Mariina Hallikainen: To be honest I think that last year we were relatively busy. The success of Cities: Skylines kind of surprised us in a way and I feel that After Dark and Snowfall were something that we wanted to have in the game very much from the beginning. The core ideas of those haven’t been too much affected by the community. But the trams, for example, is a completely community-driven feature in the sense that it was not really planned for the Snowfall DLC, but people were so insistent on it that we decided we can make it work. I think it’s really cool that there are things that people are suggesting and we can really make it happen. On the other hand there have been a lot of other requests that we haven’t been able to go into yet, but all of those are logged and we have a huge wishlist over here that we are prioritising and thinking about what we will do next. It is sometimes daunting, but also I think it’s very cool that we have such a dedicated community that actually cares about the game so much and it gives us a lot of ideas and suggestions to go forward from here.
GameWatcher: Do you think there’s a risk that by adding more and more features to the game you’ll end up overcomplicating it?
Mariina Hallikainen: I think we’re able to look at the game as a whole and keep it streamlined and everything working together, but it’s definitely something that we need to pay attention to because our earlier titles were very much about micromanagement of the mass transit. We don’t want to end up having this game overcomplicated. There are a couple of things that we are very much looking forward to adding and I think we have the skills to make sure it doesn’t end up being a hot mess, hopefully!
GameWatcher: So you already know what you’re going to be working on next?
Mariina Hallikainen: I always know! That’s my job, I always know at least a couple of years forward. The other thing is whether Paradox allows me to talk about it. But we always have a very long-term plan for everything we do here at Colossal and it’s something that will be adjusted based on the feedback and the requests we get and seeing how things are going. Of course it’s affected, but I try to keep everybody’s eyes on the ball. It’s definitely important to have a clear roadmap on what is to come, because if you think features that we might want to add in the future it’s important to understand what we might want to do with those. Not only for dividing the paid-for and free content, but also how to implement those. It’s very important to understand consequences when implementing something. We definitely want to make those in a way where we don’t end up in trouble later on.
Cities: Skylines’ Snowfall DLC is out now, adding in a winter-themed option, trams and new challenges to take on. It can be purchased from Games Republic for £9.99.