City builders have been a staple of free-to-play gaming for as long as anybody can remember. Anatoly Ropotov knows this better than anybody. The CEO of Game Insight, Ropotov was one of the first developers on the scene to try and merge the worlds of city building and social play. It started with Super City on Facebook back in 2009 — before the days of CityVille or even Social City.
Later, in 2010, he led his team to create My Country, a mobile title that has since seen countless updates (and, unlike most games that have been retired, is still available for download and has past time-limited events unlocked for the player’s enjoyment). In 2013 My Country saw its first sequel, the pseudo-space-aged 2020: My Country.
But today, in 2015, times are changing. The idea of a city simulator game almost seems quaint on mobile. With the exception of games like SimCity BuildIt or the licensing-driven The Simpsons: Tapped Out, it would be damned near impossible to get traction with a new title set in this well-worn style.
So Ropotov is trying something new.
Today the studio has announced the next game in their metropolitan simulator series, My Country 3D. More than just a graphically impressive overhaul, My Country 3D combines the city-building elements that players expect from the series with the sort of townsfolk management you might find in Nintendo’s seminal village simulation series, Animal Crossing.
I recently had a chance to go hands-on with the game during a studio visit in Riga, Latvia, and found myself fairly impressed by the wide variety of faces and places the game offered. Buildings offer plenty of customization, and different citizens will be required to fulfill different roles in your town.
In the tutorial I played through, for example, you’ll meet a lonely cab driver without a place of employment. You’ll need to build his cab stand, visiting other local businesses to meet his needs before you can put him to work. Once you do? He’ll happily drive over to the train station to help shuttle new citizens to your town. And if he’s not needed for that, you can send him off to pick up fares in town and earn you money.
Once you’ve spent some time with the game, you’ll be able to unlock new areas with different features (for example, we caught a glimpse of both a farm and a seaside resort), though our hands-on experience with My Country 3D was fairly limited. In fact, despite the wide variety of things it seems you’ll be able to do once the game gets underway, the tutorial we played felt so “on rails” that it was hard to see the level of choice that we’d been expecting after learning all of the game’s intricacies from Ropotov.
But alas, it’s just a tutorial — and probably far from the final one.
At this stage, the game could also benefit from a more meaningful connection between the player and the townsfolk. One of the things that keeps Animal Crossing’s mayors coming back for more are the relationships they’ve built with their village’s unique personalities. But in the build of My Country 3D we experienced? Rather than a conversation with the taxi driver, we were shown his needs as items presented in a speech bubble.
Personality goes a long way, and while My Country 3D definitely has it in its design, it may need to find some extra “oomph” to get players to connect with its citizens. Still, the game isn’t launching in the immediate future, so there’s potentially time to make the sort of tweaks needed to address this should the studio feel it’s warranted.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a mobile game borrow elements from Animal Crossing (see Castaway Paradise, Seabeard), but its the first time a studio as large as Game Insight has tried their hand at the formula. And combining it with an existing franchise and more traditional city-building components could be exactly what’s needed to make it gel with a mobile audience.
It’s also just exciting to see Game Insight bring the AAA production value they’re applying in the hardcore space (X-Mercs) to their casual games.
Free-to-play mobile games are growing up, and the exceptional difference between My Country and My Country 3D is indisputable proof of that. Expect to see My Country 3D arrive on the App Store as an iOS exclusive (hopefully) before the end of the year.