Monday, May 23, 2005

Wanted: Cross between SimCity and CAD/CAM software (and argument for how such a thing could be a big seller)

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This is a piece of software I want to own and play with; if I mention it on the web, maybe some enterprising young programmer out there will actually make it for me! It'd be a cross between a videogame like SimCity and a powerful design program like CAD/CAM software; like SimCity, the goal is to build an urban environment, but there is no game play, no worrying about budgets or zoning, no changing traffic patterns. Instead, the main power of the program is that you can go into very specific areas of the environment if you want and profoundly customize their look - either pick from dozens of predesigned cool templates for a variety of categories (churches, low-rise apartments, sidewalk retail, etc), or get really nerdy and design it yourself from scratch. That way you could designate a large area of land and have the program automatically develop itself, like SimCity does; but then go into one specific area (your "downtown," for example), and pick the look building-by-building from a variety of templates; and then when it came to one specific building (City Hall, for example), you could sit and actually design the building yourself and get as weird or crazy as you want.

The point of playing with such software, then, is to build as cool-looking an urban envrionment as possible, and to easily share the environment with others. So for example, you take all that processor power that was formerly running the game, and use it instead to let people record virtual tours of their environment, "filmed" by the computer from a sidewalk point of view, as if you were actually walking or driving through it. These could then be saved as MPEGs, for non-players who just want to see what you've done. But then you could export the entire environment as a file that could be posted on the web, so that other players could download the actual environment, go in and play with it themselves, even alter it if you turn on that permission in the export process. This then is how the company would make its money; by sponsoring a vibrant fan community on the web, with a website that made it easy for users to post and swap homemade environments. And for marketing purposes, the company could do things like design their own special environments for download, or do interviews with environment designers who become popular, or partner with Hollywood to release environments based on TV shows or movies. (How much would you love a version of The Simpsons' Springfield like this?) And hell, a daring company could even make their API available to the public, to let others come up with all kinds of interesting new applications - imagine a couple of smart high-schoolers figuring out a way to hack a Grand-Theft-Auto-type driving game into user-created environments, or a role-playing MUD.

Okay, so who's going to build me this?