When you think of building simulators, you generally have a pretty solid idea of the mould that nearly every game of the genre falls into- but with Project Highrise, SomaSim took a pretty different approach. Rather than zooming out, they zoomed in, but while doing so, they also made sure to keep the nitty-gritties of the genre intact, so that the actual management aspects of gameplay weren’t left behind. Inspired heavily by classics such as SimTower, Project Highrise appealed to a great many people when it first launched, and not too long ago, it opened to door to new audiences when it launched on consoles as well with its definitive edition, bringing together all the content for the game in one package.
We sent across a few of our questions about the Architect’s Edition’s launch to developers SomaSim- the following questions were answered by SomaSim co-founder Matthew Viglione.
Note: This interview was held prior to the game’s launch.
"I’ve always been a huge Nintendo fan. Some people count sheep or something, but if I can’t fall asleep, one of the things that I do is walk through the entire original Zelda map in my head. So a big part of it was really wanting to see my game with on Nintendo."
After its initial release back in 2016, what made you decide that you wanted to bring over Project Highrise to consoles as well?
I’ve always been a huge Nintendo fan. Some people count sheep or something, but if I can’t fall asleep, one of the things that I do is walk through the entire original Zelda map in my head. So a big part of it was really wanting to see my game with on Nintendo. And around the time we were finishing up the Las Vegas expansion, friends of ours who we work with at the Indie City Coop here in Chicago got a Switch devkit. Seeing that gave us the initial idea of “Hey, there aren’t really any sim games on Switch. Or really very many on consoles at all. We should try it!” But we were already working on a (very different) mobile version of Project Highrise, so being a tiny team, we had to put consoles that on hold for a while. But that combo of me being a Nintendo junkie and our desire to bring more sim games to the console is really what led us to the decision.
What extra content can players expect to see in the Architect’s Edition?
First, the Architect’s Edition is the complete vision of the game. It’s got all of the content that we released over time on PC, so the Las Vegas expansion and all four of the content packs – Miami Malls, Tokyo Towers, London Life and Brilliant Berlin. It’s also got some very swanky mid-century modern decos that are exclusive to the Architect’s Edition. Also it’s got a brand-new scenario/campaign mode. As the PC version grew and we added content slowly over two years, we developed a bunch of new scenarios to showcase the new content. Since the Architect’s Edition comes with all of that content out of the box, we were able to present the scenarios in a much more narrative, progressive campaign.
Management and building simulators usually go for some very specific concepts and then expand them in various ways, but Project Highrise does the opposite, by bringing it all together in a single structure (literally). What was the thought process while coming up with this concept?
We always start with the complex system we want to simulate. In this case, it was a skyscraper rather than a city or a rail network or a prison yard. Living in Chicago (where skyscrapers were invented), we see these enormously complicated vertical ecosystems – how do you get people and water and materials a quarter mile up in the sky? How does something like that work as an economic unit? What are the moving parts that need to be built and managed to keep it all going? It’s those kinds of questions that really drive our larger game designs.
"Both of us as co-founders were big fans of SimTower when it came out and we both spent many hours playing it. I mean, there are only a few tower/skyscraper sim games so comparison is inevitable. Like every amusement park sim gets compared to Roller Coaster Tycoon, right?"
Comparisons with SimTower have been plentiful among audiences who’ve played the game. Was that something you consciously looked at during development?
Both of us as co-founders were big fans of SimTower when it came out and we both spent many hours playing it. I mean, there are only a few tower/skyscraper sim games so comparison is inevitable. Like every amusement park sim gets compared to Roller Coaster Tycoon, right?
You’ve obviously been supporting the game since its launch with plenty of content updates, but do you have more stuff planned for the future?
The Architect’s Edition really represents our full vision of the game, so we’re probably done living with Project Highrise – at least for now. We’ve been very fortunate. As a designer, I had a bunch of ideas that I wanted to explore with Project Highrise, but time and cost and other “real world” concerns meant that I had to pare down the design to the essentials to make sure that what we initially released was as good and polished an experience as we could make it. But players on our community have been amazing since release and kept supporting us, so we were able to add most of the ideas that we had going in – and then some. That has been terrific. We were really lucky in that regard. We’re very grateful to our players for allowing us to live in the Highrise world for as long as we have been able to.
There’s been some demand for multiplayer aspects in the game. Do you have any plans of maybe adding some stuff to that effect in the future?
We’re not really a multi-player kind of studio, to be honest. As players ourselves, it’s not what we do, so it’s not really something we’d feel we could deliver to our players.
Traffic management isn’t something that the game concerns itself with. Was it something that at any stage in the development you considered adding, or did you just feel it would have made things tedious?
Honestly no. From the beginning it was something that we consciously decided to minimize. Traffic flow is not a major issue in real skyscrapers – architects and engineers figured that out pretty much right away over a century ago. If you go to the lobby of any big building in downtown Chicago today, elevators just work and if you wait 60 seconds, that’s a very long time. For us, there were so many other bigger systems and challenges that were interesting to explore – economies, utilities, services, and tenant relations just to name a few. And that’s really where we wanted to focus our game design.
"About half of the new content we added came from player feedback – with them asking for things like lobbies, or ways to change gameplay or rooftop decos, etc. Otherwise, it’s about adding new systems that layer onto and compliment what is already in place."
Project Highrise is a game that can provide both, a leisurely sandbox experience, or a more challenging one where thinking ahead is quite important. How do you balance the two?
That balancing comes from one of our key underlying principles of sim game design – let the player mess up. If you just let players explore at their leisure, that’s how they learn those important long-term lessons and to think ahead. It’s important for players to realize “Oh, next time, I’m going to arrange my elevators differently” or “Hmm… maybe next time I don’t put restaurants there…” Giving players the freedom to explore the simulation is key to both of those things and what gives sim games their replayability.
Project Highrise is a game that inherently lends itself to almost infinite replayability. With that in mind, what’s the impetus behind adding more content, and how to differentiate it from what the game already has?
About half of the new content we added came from player feedback – with them asking for things like lobbies, or ways to change gameplay or rooftop decos, etc. Otherwise, it’s about adding new systems that layer onto and compliment what is already in place. We deliberately make all of our expansion content 100% compatible with old save files. We want players to get new content, load up an existing saved building and then want to start again differently with the newly added stuff.
What are some of the biggest things you’ve learned from Project Highrise that you’ll use for potential future projects?
The big one for us was that launch day is just another milestone. When the game came out initially in September 2016, I don’t think we realized we’d still be working on it for nearly three more years. Like I said, we’re a tiny team, so that means that we really didn’t start on anything new until very recently. Next time, we want to do better planning to make sure that we can keep growing our released game and start working on a new project. As part of that, anything we can do to have more direct connection to our players is definitely something we want to do. When they get excited about ideas, it makes us even more excited to make them.
From a development perspective, how do you find the Xbox One X to be and how do you compare it with the PS4 Pro?
We’re a Unity studio, so getting the game up and running on the consoles wasn’t a major obstacle for us. The Xbox has some unique requirements around player sessions and signing in and out, but other than those platform-specific things, it was pretty similar.
How is the game running on the original Xbox One and PS4, frame rate and resolution wise?
It’s HD at 30+ FPS on both.
"It’s full resolution and 30+FPS on Switch as well. I actually really love the way it looks on the Switch. Our UI is gray and black and with the gray and black Switch, it just looks pretty neat."
What is the resolution and frame rate of the Switch version in docked and undocked modes?
It’s full resolution and 30+FPS on Switch as well. I actually really love the way it looks on the Switch. Our UI is gray and black and with the gray and black Switch, it just looks pretty neat.
The PS5 specs were recently revealed in an interview with Wired. What are your thoughts on that?
We’re so early in development of our next game that we honestly haven’t had a lot of time to focus on those. However, developing our next game for consoles from the get-go is something we’re pursuing, so as we get deeper in, it’s something we’ll get into a bit more.
The PS5 will have a Zen 2 CPU processor which is a major leap over the Jaguar found in the PS4. How will this help in games development?
Will the new tech, there will be reflections everywhere. Ray tracing will be the lens flare of the next console generation.
Do you think cross platform will be one of the defining features of next-gen consoles?
It seems to be the way that several platform (and erstwhile platform) holders seem to want to push. Ultimately, like anything in our industry, it’s really up to the players to decide. Either cross platform or no, it’s up to platform holders to make that sell to the playing public.