Cities: Skylines 2 is about to come out. It has been available for preorder for a while now and I’m excited to get it. But it does have one flaw that most video toys have: The developers are trying to make it a game. I think that the term “toy” for a video game was first used back when Sim City 1 came out. It’s game-like but there is no way to win and no score to keep. It was a toy to play with. Cities: Skylines and its predecessors fall into a common trap where the developer wants to make it more like a game and adds tech trees and progression to give it a competitive feel.

The tech tree is an evil thing. It’s not because the tree limits progress that it’s a bad thing; It is the fact that the trees are so often structured in some arbitrary not-real-world sort of way that causes problems. Take a look at the image above and notice that trains come after basic transportation services. Now consider that subways were being built in the USA at a time when people were using horses to pull carriages around the city streets. Notice how water transportation is lined up with trams even though canals preceded railroads during the Industrial Revolution.

I don’t know the best way to fix this. In my mind, if a city is started as a few small buildings along a freeway any time after the year 1930 then every technology should be available. What city can’t, if it has the money, hire a consultant to build a hyper-tube? Why have a tech tree if the only purpose is to stop players who have tons of money from advancing in whatever way they see fit? Why have “development points”? The reason is an arbitrary desire to give the game arbitrary limitations so players need to accomplish arbitrary stuff in order to progress. This is lazy design in my opinion and leads to things like games having real-world time scales where players must play for hour after hour until they can unlock the next feature that makes the game fun. Heck, why not add loot crates?