Cities: Skylines

Getting Lost In The City

Setting Off

Back in late 2018, my mind was noisy – more than it had been in a long while. Work was messy and kept spilling over into my evenings and weekends at home but only in my head. I wasn’t physically working overtime but mentally I kept thinking about work and putting the time in for no pay and no benefit. Anxiety, irritability and getting distracted: everything you want when you’re in your home (where you live) with your wife (who you love) in your life (which is good).

I called my work’s employee assistance scheme hotline. Arranged some chats with a counsellor who helped me change my routine, learn to acceptance some of my work’s messiness and generally to be mindful and present. Two positive changes I made was tracking my moods and meditating.

After a few months, I felt I had a good handle on things. I’ll be writing about all this in another post in the future but for now, let me ask you a question:

How did you feel in January 2019?

Here’s how I felt:

I tracked my moods using the Reporter iOS app and graphed it out in my Bullet Journal. Can you spot the day when I drove my wife to the airport for her work trip abroad?

Like I said, I’ll write more about that another time.

The reason for this mental health introduction is that there have been three other times in my life when I’ve dealt with a distracted, worried and anxious mind by diving deep into a game of one form or another.

  • When university exams freaked me out I grabbed my flatmate’s Civilisation IV strategy book and set to conquer the world. I “one more turn”ed my way through the relentless study days and nights.
  • When working on a tough shipbuilding project in Portsmouth I bought an Airfix model kit of HMS Victory which was berthed in the Naval Base. I cut and glued a small ship together.
  • When I was burned out from work in late 2018, I needed to lose myself in a game. I needed to get lost in a city. Enter Cities: Skylines.

Are we there yet?

I’d been planning to take a trip to Cities: Skylines for a long time. Skylines is are to SimCity what Planet Coaster is to Rollercoaster Tycoon or what Two Point Hospital is to Theme Hospital: High quality, modern interpretations of classic sims. Get a dose of nostalgia with visual and quality of life improvements to help it go down smoothly. I shall build me a city of my own design under my own control with no work mess.

Skylines really doesn’t make it easy for the newcomer. After installing an Edinburgh mod I squinted at the screen at the tiny row of similar icons and was lost in a bad way. How do I start? I’ll check the Wiki. Nope, that is already jumping into how to optimise roads. Maybe Youtube? Again with the optimal road layouts- I don’t know the flow of the game yet.

This is how the Beginner’s Guide to Cities: Skylines begins. The community is invested and passionate but there is a lot taken for granted.

Honestly, my experience playing Dwarf Fortress for the first time was easier than starting out with Cities: Skylines. Hire a local to be your tour guide if you can.

Through a combination of in-game help and a Steam player written guide, I managed to make some strides. I soon learned that everything hangs off roads. Build your roads to build the city. Build your roads poorly and suffer traffic congestion consequences.

Here you can see New Edinburgh taking shape. Arther’s Seat stands tall in the background but everything as we know it started as a level green meadow. I built an Industrial zone close to the entry motorway (too close I’d learn later) and threw my wind-powered turbines on the each of town(‘s starting square).

Slowly but surely I found a rhythm and Skylines delivered me to a fairly zen place. New Edinburgh gently expanded and new options for roads and buildings unlocked. I merrily painted a commercial zone here, some small residential zones there, a happy little bush over here.

I broke out of the grid layout of roads and built a circular New Town for the high-density commercial and residential zones. I then branched out too far and accidentally created a kinda-looks-like-a-swastica zone BUT there is an opera house there. So, you know, not racist. Just saying. They are cultured people there.

Building the city amounts to satisfying the needs for residential/commercial/industrial/office zones and ensuring there are adequate city services on offer such as policing, firefighting, medical and rubbish collections. It all flows nicely together with the exception of the traffic which is always causing a problem somewhere. But you know I enjoyed unpicking the problematic road systems I’d created. It’s a forgiving system with plenty of flex and not once did I feel that I had ruined my city.

I made it as far as planning out the public bus services. I channelled what I had learned in Mini Metro and what I learned from Lothian Buses and made sure that buying a ticket requires an awkward amount of change. Boom, satire.

Looking back at my earlier escapes into gaming, I never finished building that model boat and for as many games of Civ IV I’ve played I’ve seen a Victory screen perhaps twice. I haven’t completed Skylines but for 12 hours it gave me the relief I needed. I will return to New Edinburgh eventually. But for now, I’m enjoying real Edinburgh again.