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Diagnosing Liberty City's crime problems using SimCity Exclusive
Diagnosing Liberty City's crime problems using  SimCity
March 19, 2013 | By Mike Rose

March 19, 2013 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Design, Exclusive

After previously modelling my home town in the new SimCity, as a means of diagnosing the town's traffic problems, I was hugely keen to get back into the game on launch day and try some extra experiments.

A quick recap: the new SimCity is a city-building game that has a semi-casual exterior very much in the same vein as The Sims, yet underneath houses city-planning tools that have the potential to do a remarkable job of modelling real-life situations, as my Northenden experiment hinted at.

For my next analysis, I wanted to think a little outside the box. Modelling real-life scenarios is great, but what about modelling the infrastructure of virtual cities?

The virtual city in question is Liberty City, the real star of Grand Theft Auto IV. It's offers a real sense of bustling city-life as you bomb around, aimlessly running pedestrians over and gunning down cops.

The real question, of course, is how the police force of Liberty City allows all of this crime to happen. It's not just Niko Bellic, Johnny Klebitz and Luis Fernando Lopez who are allowed to run rampant with hardly any backlash from the law -- the city is overrun by various mobs, and it makes you wonder whether Liberty City could do with an extra police station or five.

GTA IV's Liberty City

With this in mind, I decided to find out the answer by modelling Liberty City in SimCity, and then monitoring the crime in the city to see if there's enough police on the beat. And while I'm at it, I might as well see how the rest of Liberty City's utilities fare as well.

Due to the maximum size of cities in SimCity, I obviously wasn't able to model the entirety of Liberty City. Instead, I chose to model the bottom half of Algonquin, the central island in the city. This includes Castle Garden City, Star Junction, Lower Easton, Chinatown and City Hall. What you see below is my attempt to model Algonquin as closely as possible, with roads, police stations, fire stations et al all placed in exactly the formation found in GTA IV.

intro 1.jpgintro 2.jpgintro 3.jpg
My version of Liberty City - click to expand

It turns out that -- surprise surprise! -- Liberty City does not have a large enough police presence. OK, so criminals aren't able to go on rampages like in GTA, but crime was a constant issue throughout my play with Liberty City, and my crime advisor kept telling me to build more police stations.

It appears to boil down to two issues: First, the police stations present in Liberty City aren't spread wide enough, and the southern docks in particular have next-to-no police presence at all. Crimes are being committed and reported, but there's not enough police officers available to stop them happening. Essentially, the positioning of the police stations in Liberty City is patchy at best.

And then there's the issue that there's currently not enough space to even hold criminals in Liberty City. People are being thrown into jail cells in the four separate police stations until they're all full up, and subsequent perpetrators are simply given a telling off and allowed to walk.

crime 1.jpgInterestingly, solving the problem didn't actually take all that much effort. By simply placing a fifth police station towards the south of Algonquin, this allowed officers from the other stations in that area to spread themselves a little better, causing crime figures to be greatly reduced, and my advisor to stop nagging me.

But this isn't really the full picture. The population of GTA IV's Liberty City is 8 million. Split that into 10 parts, and count the area that I am modelling as a single part, and we're looking at a total of 800,000 people.

However, the population of my Liberty City peaked at 200,000 before grinding to a near-halt -- it would have taken me many, many hours to coax it much further, it was never going to reach 800,000. This means that the population of GTA's Liberty City is far denser than mine -- we're talking a ridiculous amount denser -- and of course, where they're people packed into tiny apartments and poorer living conditions, there's always going to be more crime.

crime 3.jpgThis would explain why the crime levels in GTA IV are so high. The number of people living in Liberty City is simply too much for its infrastructure to bear, and you'd no doubt be hard-pushed to keep on lid on all the wrong-doings going on.

Also of note, and perhaps the real cause of crime in Liberty City, is the fact that there simply aren't enough jobs to go around. I modelled all commercial and industrial areas in Liberty City based on where shops are found in the real version, and as it turns out, there aren't enough places to work.

Joblessness is a key issue, and one of the main reasons why my population growth slowed so suddenly. Jumping in to get thoughts from my residents shows that many are thinking of leaving (and a number have already left) the city as they aren't making any money, and therefore can't pay rent. I can't even begin to imagine how bad it would be if I actually had 800,000 people packed in there.

crime 4.jpgAnd where there's people with no jobs and no money, there's always going to be a higher number of people who decide that the only way forward is to challenge the law. Liberty City's police force never stood a chance, truth be told.

So that explains Liberty City's crime issues then, but what else is wrong in Rockstar's city of dreams? Well, quite a lot actually, as it turns out.

Pollution is actually a bigger issue than crime. I was forced to big a large sewage treatment plant with the maximum number of treatment tanks before the city's sewage problems were only just solved. No doubt if the number of people living in Liberty City was multiplied by four, as per GTA IV's vision, then there would be a rather interesting smell in the air.

sewage.jpgThe air pollution is really awful too, and was the number one issue that the people of Liberty City would complain about constantly during my playtime, going as far as to protest outside city hall. The parks provided in Liberty City did little to quell the angry voices, nor hold back the coughing and spluttering.

As a result, health care in Liberty City was a big issue with my residents. Although deaths was kept to a minimum (I'm guess they don't have a mad man driving along the sidewalks and shooting places up for the hell of it a la the "real life" Liberty City, then), there was always a heavy stream of sick people pouring into Algonquin's single hospital, and I had to upgrade it to its full capacity to even begin tackling the issues.

health care.jpgMy advisors for both health and crime tell me that high traffic levels play a part in how quickly their respective forces are able to deal with calls too. Traffic definitely begins to build up during rush hour in Liberty City, although at more relaxed times it's not such a huge problem in most places.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to see whether traffic buildup is actually a real issue, as SimCity drivers tend to use the shortest route to a destination by road, rather than perhaps the more desirable. This means that the wide, high density roads circling around the border of Liberty City are barely utilized, and instead you get clusters of standstill traffic randomly popping up around the center.

traffic.jpgSo Liberty City isn't as glorious a city as it seems in Grand Theft Auto -- not for its residents anyway. Crime is rampant for a reason, and pollution and poor health care are performing a doubleteam on the population. Will GTA V's Los Santos fare any better? We'll have to wait and see.

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Josh Larson
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Woah, this is like half-real reporting and half game world commentary. Very interesting!

Sebastien Valente
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Hey, it's fun to read and also, great job !

Robert Marney
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This is the virtual city equivalent of the "Where are the bathrooms in this spaceship?" problem: the realistic but less interesting parts like hospitals and sewage are the first to get cut in the translation from Manhattan to Algonquin. For a game about escaping the cops in particular, you'd expect fewer police stations than a sustainable city. Great analysis!

E Zachary Knight
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I love all the complaints about the traffic AI in Sim City. I am speaking as a layman when it comes to AI, but it would seem that the programmers gave all roads the same weight in the A* algorithm the drivers use. Or at least not enough variation in weight.

Lewis Wakeford
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I find it funnier that they treat humans like a fluid instead of individual entities.

Andrzej Marczewski
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Very fun and interesting analysis! How about taking on other virtual cities now?

Tyler Shogren
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Its almost like the new Simcity is less a simulation of a city and more a simulation of a simulation of a city. It certainly looks gorgeous and like it _would_ be a great game, but how can you simulate a city when the cars never use the beltline? Further, how can you balance/design gameplay without such fundamental functionality in place? I'll be waiting for the postmortem on this one, but it seems they should have called it Simsimcity with the tagline "You'll never believe it's not a real simulation!".

TC Weidner
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E Zachary Knight
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This article is not about analyzing SimCity. This article is about how using SimCity you can analyze the problems in both real and fictional cities.

How that translates to "fluff sales piece" is not entirely clear to me.

If you are looking for analysis into why SimCity is bad, you can also find those articles on this site as well.

TC Weidner
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comments removed out of respect for the site, if you feel my comments overstepped, I apologize.

Kris Graft
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Mike worked on this as a follow-up to his previous simulation of his town's traffic during the SimCity beta. He spent a weekend writing this piece because he thought it'd be fun and interesting. Take your ridiculous ranting elsewhere.

Ilkka Heimo
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Awesome article. Had a blast while reading this :). Keep on doing more of these.