SimCityNet: a Cooperative Multi User City Simulation

SimCityNet is an animated interactive system simulation game, providing a set of rules and tools for planning and building a complex dynamic simulated city. Several people on different workstations can participate in the same game, cooperating and coordinating their actions over the net.

Working together, you can zone land use, hook up the power grid, build roads, bridges, parks and stadiums, raise taxes, and even summon disasters, causing the city to grow and thrive, or crumble and die. SimCityNet features multiple city views and maps with overlays, simultaneous editing and user interface interaction, "voting panels" for group decision making, and multimedia communication and annotation features ("bridges between players").

The multi user interface supports communication via three media in parallel: text, sound, and graphics. It includes a scrolling text log for telegram messages, a networked audio server for sound effects and voice intercom, and shared cursors and graphical overlays for pointing, gesturing, annotating and editing the map.

I propose to build a model of the Amsterdam neighborhood near the conference ("bridges between dijks"), and let people walk up and interact as they please. Experienced SimCityNet players can participate, using the shared environment and communication features to demonstrate the system, advise other players, and coordinate the game.

The purpose of the experience is to create a constructive cooperative virtual environment, where people can collaborate towards a common goal, take part in group decisions, and share resources, responsibility, and the consequences of each others actions.

SimCityNet is robust and easy to use, with engaging interactive sound effects and lively graphical animation, so it's fun to watch as well as play.

SimCityNet can be played across several different makes of computer at once ("bridges between brands"). It presently runs on color SPARC and Indigo workstations (and is easily portable to other Unix platforms), and plays over the net (but without sound) on other 8 bit color X terminals and workstations. I can ship my own SPARC if necessary, and I'm trying to obtain support and a loan of equipment (hopefully Indigos) in Holland.

It would be useful to have a high resolution video projector, visible from the other workstations. The projector could display overall city maps, graphs, messages, statistics and other global data, so players don't need to spend their own screen space.

I need enough floor and table space to place workstations where people can walk up to them and use the keyboard, mouse, and microphone. Most could be together in a group within view of the video projector, but others could be in remote locations.

The workstations, network, video projector, and posters must be set up and torn down, but none of that's very difficult. Thin wire ethernet would be preferable, and would require thick to thin transceiver for the workstations equipped with thick wire ethernet plugs.

Once SimCityNet is set up and running, it doesn't require special supervision. I will attend and demonstrate the system as much as I can, but during other times, unless someone volunteers, it can run on its own, as long as there's enough security that none of the equipment walks off.

I'm presently implementing SimCityNet on X11 for DUX Software (who licensed SimCity from Maxis). It's mostly functional now, and will be ready to demonstrate, but not yet released as a product, by the time of the conference. Soon I'll have an "Alpha" demo version for the SGI and SPARC, for limited distribution to INTERCHI reviewers and other interested people. I'll make a video tape as soon as I have the time and equipment.

I've given many talks and interactive presentations at conferences, and run demos at trade show booths. At CHI'90, I participated in the "Empowered" performance (giving a whirlwind tour of pie menu based user interfaces I'd implemented). Last year, I ported SimCity (single user) to OpenWindows on the SPARC (which won "Product of the Year 1992" from Unix World). I worked as a developer of The NeWS Toolkit (at Sun in Mountain View) and the HyperLook UIMS (at the Turing Institute in Glasgow), both of which I used to port SimCity to the SPARC. To implement SimCityNet on X11, I'm using the Tk toolkit, which I chose to use because it's free, simple, and extensible.