Living in my Cities: Skylines city taught me I am terrible at building cities

What with my occasional fascination with the tiny little people living in the simulation games I play, I thought it might be nice to spend some time as one of them. There are a few mods for Cities: Skylines that allow players to explore their cities from street-level, and what better way to judge my own city-building skills than through the eyes of an average citizen? Hit the shrink-ray: I'm going in.

First step: pick a house for myself. I find an attractive little home in a cul-de-sac (okay, technically it's a dead-end, but I always envied the families who lived in cul-de-sacs because their kids could play catch in the street without having to stop for cars, plus the word cul-de-sac just sounds so peaceful). I name the house 'Livingston Residence' just as I notice it is currently being burglarized. Oops. Well, it's nice to have company over, and if my simulated citizen is anything like the real me, he doesn't have anything worth stealing.

Next, I need a job. I pick a random business on the other side of my city, name it PC Gamer, and decide to recreate my editor's terrible mistake of hiring me. Again, I notice something a little too late: the sign on the front of the building reads "Trash News."

Oops, again. I assure you, that was a complete accident. PC Gamer's news is top quality, provided I'm not the one writing it.

I decide to wait until the early morning to begin my commute, so I spend the evening looking around my neighborhood. The police drive by and put a stop to the crime taking place in my home, though several nearby houses are also being burgled, not to mention a house down the street which, the icons tell me, is both filled with uncollected garbage and at least one corpse. I haven't even gotten off my block but I'm starting to doubt my little city has been designed and managed by a genius.

When the sun comes up, it's time to commute. Using a mod that lets you drive cars around, with the catchy and memorable name of [1.4.0 compatible!]Operatelt [pre-alpha/stilling testing!], I climb into the little station wagon parked outside my house and drive off. Driving is simple: using the arrows keys (though I remapped them to WASD) you can drive around in first- or third-person view, or top-down. The makers of [1.4.0 compatible!]Operatelt [pre-alpha/stilling testing!] have thought of everything.

Driving actually makes me a little queasy. There's collision enabled, so other cars can ram into me, and they do, more or less constantly. Sometimes I'm knocked off the road, sometimes I'm lifted into the air, sometimes I'm just wobbled around a little. That, along with the constant blaring sirens from police cars and ambulances that seem to surround me at all times starts to give me a genuine headache after just a couple of minutes. I consider lowering the game's SFX volume, but that seems like cheating. My little citizens have to put up with this city I built, and so I'm going to force myself to do the same.

I switch to top-down view, and while that doesn't make me feel sick it's still difficult, due to the tank controls and the fact that the ramming from other vehicles never seems to stop, except when a hot dog truck drives right over me.

Finally I pull into a quiet alley just to collect my thoughts for a bit, and decide that the surface streets just aren't viable. The city noise is making me absolutely nuts, so I begin creeping over lawns and through plazas, anywhere I can escape from other vehicles. Finally, I find a nice big stretch of grass leading to what looks like a suspiciously abandoned road.

I find out why the road has no traffic a moment later, but it still beats trying to drive through midtown.

I knew traffic in my city wasn't great, but to experience it firsthand is pretty illuminating, and I finally begin to understand why so many residences and businesses are clogged with trash and dead bodies. I turn down a two-way street and pass a one-lane traffic jam about a quarter of a mile long entirely made up of ambulances, hearses, and garbage trucks. 

That's great. People are sick, then die waiting for the ambulances to pick them up, then lie there dead because the hearses can't reach them because of all the garbage trucks.

This isn't a city, it's a post-apocalypse of my own making. I should go to prison. Well, I should build a prison (knowing me, probably smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood), then go to it, if the prison truck could actually reach it, which it couldn't. I should serve a life sentence in a prison truck, then.

My commute to work lasts long into the night, as I become lost repeatedly (it's hard to tell where I am with no godlike map view) and get rammed so many times I'm starting to grind my teeth. Finally, I give up on the car and decide to proceed on foot.

For this I use the First-person Auto-walking mod. It's much easier walking through the city than driving, thanks to the lack of collisions. The noise, though. The noise is incessant. I stop to rest in a park I thoughtfully built next to another park, but it provides no relief from the constantly blaring sirens of emergency vehicles stuck in traffic. I've only made it about halfway across the city to PC Gamer's News Trash office, and the sun is already setting again.

I still feel like turning down the SFX volume is cheating, but I have a splitting headache so I decide to use a simple trick to making the noise stop: I delete every single hospital and police station from the map. That feels completely fair.

I know, I know, everyone in the entire city seems unhappy to lose all medical and police services, but noise is down, traffic is smoother, and it's not like ambulances were actually reaching anyone. Besides, I left all the morgues, so when my citizens expire amid mounds of trash in this lawless city of doom, at least they'll be properly buried.

Without the noise, the city is much more bearable, and I finally make my walk all the front door of good old PC Gamer, home of Trash News. I'm two days late for work, but I've definitely got some news: my city is a damn nightmare and I should never be allowed to build again.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.