Grid vs Cul-de-Sac: Using SimCity to Test Development Patterns

Norman Chan uses a beta version of the new SimCity game to test the merits of three familiar types of suburban subdivision design - a rectangular grid, circular sprawl, and cul-de-sacs.

January 31, 2013, 1:00 PM PST

By Jonathan Nettler @nettsj

SimCity 2013

Norman Chan / Tested

"The metric that matters the most in SimCity is population," explains Chan, in his review of a beta version of the game which is due out in March. "The higher the population, the more successful you are. But moreso than any other game in the series before it (at least in this beta), population is dictated by road design and placement. That's why for the first time, SimCity not only lets you build a wide range of road types (from dirt road to wide avenues), but also curved roads in addition to straight ones."

Over an hour of game play a piece, Chan oberves how much population growth and redevelopment potential is possible in each of three street design types. The orthoganal grid layout fared the worst, with "radiating sprawl" faring better.

"Cul-de-sac design turned out to be the most successful of the layouts I tried, letting me reach over 20,000 population in just half an hour of play. The generous spacing between the cul-de-sacs allowed houses to be upgraded to medium and large-sized homes quicker, though they never converted to apartment complexes in my run. Like with the other designs, I ran out of space well before the hour was up, and found it much more difficult to destroy and rearrange streets without disrupting many cul-de-sacs at once. It was also more difficult to add recreational parks and fountains in this layout, since some structures required much more space than these curling roads could allow."

"SimCity may be just a game, but it's interesting to see how the simulator responds to real-world suburban design scenarios. Players will have to strike a balance between optimizing for 'the game' and building something that's aesthetically pleasing and conducive to their own gaming narrative. I can't wait to see what layouts hardcore SimCity players do to optimize population density, though I don't expect to see any six million population Magnasanti builds any time soon."

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