When Maxis announced last year that a sixth installment in the SimCity franchise was coming the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. From the announcement, it looked to be a dramatic overhaul from previous titles featuring full 3d graphics, online multiplayer gameplay, a new engine as well as several new features and gameplay changes.
Normally when we benchmark a first person shooter, finding a good portion of the game to test with is simply a matter of playing through the game until we find a section that is rather demanding. This generally requires an hour or two of gameplay and then we get to test in full. But with SimCity things were considerably more complex and time consuming. Because the game's progress is stored on EA servers it’s not possible to just download and use someone else’s saved game of a massive city.
There are a few pre-built cities, such as the one used in the tutorial “Summer Shoals” but with a population of less than 4000 sims it doesn’t exactly make for the most demanding test environment. Therefore we created a city with half a million sims and three more cities just like it on the map.