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If you follow any of our coverage here at Gaming Blend, it's unsurprising to hear that EA has been misleading saying that SimCity must always be online to play it at all. The thing is, the modder, Azzer, who achieved the offline capabilities of EA's recent SimCity release talked with Rock, Paper, Shotgun and expressed that making the game offline and saving your own cities locally to your hard drive is a pretty easy feat to achieve.
You can always count on Rock, Paper, Shotgun to ask the questions that always pester the community and have gamers begging for an answer...and that's exactly what they did. The modder who outed Electronic Arts about the offline mode and later outed the security flaw in their always-on DRM that allows modders/hackers to destroy anyone's online city has come forward to talk honestly about the GlassBox and the way SimCity actually works, saying...
“They could make an entire region single player offline with absolute ease. It would be as simple as coding in a switch saying, ‘Is this person playing single player? Take the power values of each city from local memory instead of ask for it from the server instead.’ The only thing missing is saving to local hard drive – but let’s be real, the code for saving your city already exists, I can’t imagine even that would take more than an hour to put into the client (and it probably already exists in the client for development builds), plus a little bit of time for the UI elements for Save/Load.”
I'm not going to rewrite RPS' article; it's worth reading and they deserve the hits for being legit. What I will do is summarize some of the technical stuff to get that out of the way: SimCity is essentially still a single-player game with light multiplayer synching. In other words, YOUR computer does all the calculations and computing. EA's servers are just there to monitor your experience and save your game.
EA keeps some light raw numerical data on their servers from when you login that allows for region play, but the real kicker is that you don't need to stay online to keep some of the region play features active, as noted by Azzer...
“For an offline mode,” ... “instead of asking EA servers how much power is available from a fellow city in the region, it will simply have it in memory, as a small handful of values from another city. No live calculations done on them. Just raw values, all the EA servers send anyway. And as you’ll only be playing/simulating one city at a time in offline mode (cities you don’t play are “frozen in time”) – those values of how much spare power, resources, etc. other cities have won’t even need updating, until you change cities.”
To summarize this in even plainer English: it would be the equivalent of downloading someone's custom skin from Unreal Tournament and once it downloads you'll always be able to see it and play with it, even when you play offline.
Does this mean an offline patch could be coming soon from the modding community? We all know that EA is in major PR mode, banning all forms of mod talk on their forums and even clusterfailing their own attempts to run damage control on other forum boards like NeoGaf. Still, I wouldn't put it past like-minded modders like Azzer to release a community patch at some point that will enable offline mode, soon.
I would just like to point out that this is still all EA's fault despite them forcing Maxis to be the target on the range. They're the publisher and they get the final say-so for things like DLC, DRM, release dates and security measures, just like what happened with Aliens: Colonial Marines and Sega. We can't just absolve the publisher of any responsibility for what appears on a distributor's shelf because the developer designed a poor product. Q&A, testers and publisher oversight exist for a reason.
Just note that this is a company who uses your favorite developers to take the fall for every bad decision they make, just like with Casey Hudson and Mass Effect 3. But you can always count on their executives like Peter Moore to gloat on public forums when they think they're in the clear, just like when they stood by the From Ashes day-one DLC.
I'm just hoping that modders can fix up SimCity to salvage this mess, as the only losers so far have been gamers.