BalanCity, due out this summer, touches upon one of the major difficulties with constructing a city, one that videogames often miss out: fighting against uneven foundations. The concept of the game is deliriously absurd—mount a mass of buildings atop a seesaw—earning the creators the right to summarize it as “if SimCity and Jenga had a love-child.” You have offices, airports, train stations, power plants, monuments and more to pile on top of one another, all while ensuring that the total weight is evenly balanced.
It seems that at all times you’ll need to be aware of the physics at play here, especially as these buildings aren’t vacant blocks. This is a city builder after all, and each building you precariously place on the pile will still need to serve a function—it’s this that will push your efforts to tipping point. When establishing a neighborhood you’ll need to ensure the would-be residents of these homes have power, access to jobs and public transport, as well as nearby trees to free the air of smog. Not to mention that setting up an airport will mean a plane, with all its girth and weight, will regularly swoop in, adding further stress to your piling, wobbling tower.
On top of this loose concept (which is essentially the “Free Building” mode), BalanCity will offer more specific, increased challenges such as recreating famous cities and their landmarks, with San Francisco being the first of these. Missions will also be available to pursue, requiring you to reach certain goals with your swelling mass of concrete and glass before going onto the next one.
As silly as the game might be, there’s a truth that underlies BalanCity‘s extreme disaster-proofing, one that all architects are extremely familiar with. Gravity is a helluva thing. The act of erecting a building is to constantly counteract this unrelenting force—it’s a battle that cannot be won, only sustained. And it’s one that is always facing new challenges, especially as cities become more populous and less spacious, meaning a demand for more houses is forcing architects to build ever more vertically. On the contrary, videogames that involve construction are often fantasies built within zero gravity spaces, at least in the case of the building blocks. The absence of gravity in these games speaks of its horrendous might. To simulate it is to ensure not only a clumsy building process but, ultimately, the eventual destruction of everything created in these virtual workshops.
Videogames, then, typically serve as a place where the unbuildable can be built: this is their enticing promise. BalanCity works against this. In fact, it accelerates the reality of architecture, demanding that it topple much faster due to the seesaw holding everything up and the gravity pushing it down. However, a city performing a balancing act isn’t as far-fetched as you might think, as we humans are hardly averse to building seemingly dangerous structures. Look to the WoZoCo apartments in Amsterdam, which sees 13 housing units cantilevered so that they are literally suspended in the air, hanging to the rest of the apartment block. Or Takasugi-an in Japan, a tea house that is balanced on top of two chestnut trees, high above the surrounding canopy. There’s also the Hanging Monastery in China, which has for 1400 years clung to a cliff, appearing to hover 75 meters above ground.
If anything, BalanCity‘s goofy premise only moves videogames closer to the wilder side of actual architectural efforts and considerations.