Take the 2-minute tour ×
Game Development Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional and independent game developers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

What's the best way to represent a realistic population number (e.g USA:317,569,000) in game?

For example, Civilization your city has 1 Citizen. Obviously, a city can't just have one person in a city but Civ seems to do a good job at representing citizens that way.

What I'm after is to represent 300+ million in an easy to swallow number to a player.

I have a calculation which states that, in theory, to have 300+ people you would need 79 million 4 person dwellings. (I understand this may not be totally accurate, but it works for my needs)

It seems tedious to have the player do that with a couple of methods I've thought about.

So my question then is I need some way to make the game and the player aware that the player's city has 100,000 people in it without making the player create 25,000 dwellings.

Update 1:

As @Patrick M states, in Civ you only have to build one of a building type.

Much like dwellings, it doesn't make sense to force the player to build one police station/1000 people.

I have a formula that calculates the theoretical population limits of an area and I want to constrain the player to this limit. (Players have a reason for wanting larger regions)

However, I don't want the player to instantly have 10,000 citizens simply because he built a "house/neighborhood".

I want to represent real world constraints and requirements without the super micro management that would be present in forcing the player to build 2,500 dwellings (to get the 10k)

share|improve this question
How much micro-management do you want the player to have? Does the player build everything in the city, or could you have a governor (like in Civ) manage the city for the player according to a growth curve. –  Yos233 Feb 21 at 15:31
@Yos233 that was part of my rub, I think. I don't want a large amount of micro-management because that is often annoying to me as a player. I do want to make the player choose buildings to place in a queue, much like Civ –  Eonasdan Feb 21 at 15:34
Sim City zoning is something you might want to investigate –  SpartanDonut Feb 21 at 18:49
@PatrickM see my edit. Does that help? –  Eonasdan Feb 21 at 20:00
the game is more Civ like then SimCity. 1) world domination :) 2) It's an MMORTS that will be sort of real-time. (accelerated). The map is broken into regions that players will control. There will be one city per region. –  Eonasdan Feb 21 at 20:23
add comment

3 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Making an answer from my comments, because I'm ending up more long winded than I expected.

Riffing on your Civilization thought, consider that you build one theatre or one supermarket and that's "enough" for the city whether it has 3 or 30 citizens in it. Whether your goal is to get a reasonable looking visual proxy or to require a reasonable amount of building management for a player to grow their city controls what type of abstraction will work for you.

You ask for a 'best' approach: well, "it depends" :-)

I think you might provide even more context over what your game is like. For example, Sim City does require you to build a police station for X many citizens or crime skyrockets. But the scope of Sim City is smaller than Civilization, so it works with that granular level of micromanagement.

Consider answering at least

  1. What is the overall objective of the game?
  2. What type of gameplay are you wanting? Tactical? Strategy? Simulation? Real-time or turn-based?
  3. What is the scope of the game? How many cities/regions do you expect a player to control?

These should get you a rough guideline of what to start with, but ultimately, you'll probably have to tweak the micromanagment characteristics of the game based on what feels right (requires effort and though, but is still fun without bogging you down).

So for example, you have listed USA as a region at ~317 million population. Say you decide this is a reasonable halfway point for the scope of your game, so you want people to be controlling twice this amount of people & resources at the end of the game. So you set your target at ~750 million population. Now you decide you want your game to last for ~5 hours under typical circumstances and you decide that if a user has to manage their housing more frequently than once every 15 minutes, they'll get bored with that mechanic. That gives you a guideline for ~20 houses (skyrises, neighborhoods etc.) = ~750 million people, or around 37.5 million capacity for each (house building) they build.

You mention not wanting to immediately grant citizens to fill these buildings. That means you will have to decouple your growth calculation from your infrastructure building. I would suggest you have separate resources be consumed for each (e.g. it takes wood+workers+time to build houses and food+time+happiness to fill them with people).

It sounds like you want to impose a 2-tier cap on the population for a region: population will grow until the minimum of either the built infrastructure total or the region total is built. A region population max cannot be increased, but you can built more infrastructure up to (or even over) the region cap. Or, you could make this abstraction work by only allowing a given region to have y number of housing buildings built in it.

Also, a citizen Civ is a flexible thing. A Pop1 city might have ~100 citizens, a Pop2 500, Pop3 is 2,000 etc. until Pop30 is ~50 million. You can usually see the 'real' number on the city management screen somewhere, as well as your nation's overall population. This neatly encapsulates the exponential growth of populations.

If it seems weird to you to have the first building immediately support millions of people (for instance, you have the game start in prehistory), then an exponential scale could be right for you. Or you could take a different approach with upgrade-able buildings. The Ceasar video game series had housing that started out at low level and would automatically upgrade if you provide it with certain resources (like food, water and goods). Alternatively, you could use a resource-spend model where upgrading the buildings make them exponentially bigger and better, but each upgrade costs progressively more resources.

This obviously isn't a direct answer to your question, but hopefully you'll find some inspiration from my ideas.

P.S. It sounds like a fun game! Good luck!

share|improve this answer
Thank you for your answer. I think I'll be able to work it out from here. I'll send you a an early access code if I make it that far ;) –  Eonasdan Feb 22 at 2:24
add comment

TL;DR Represent key elements in your city such as neighborhoods, armies, huge-centers such as malls, stadiums, instead of representing each dweller individually.

If your city has 100,000 people you don't really need to represent those 100,000 or even 25,000. The player only cares about the output/input those 100,000 represent as numbers. For example if your city has 1 million and increased into 1.5 the player only needs to know that the consumption of electricity will increase by 50% factor (that's just an example).

Regarding managing those dwellers, IMO, you don't need to introduce too much micro management, even 200+ can be too much to manage. You only need to represent key elements in your population, for example armies, scientific centers, neighborhood, so the player won't manage each citizen but actually the facilities and areas that represent those citizens.

share|improve this answer
Beautiful! And a duh for me. Represent neighbors or smaller groupings in buildings which can be represent a large population. I think this helps me solve some other problems I was having. I'm going to try this out. –  Eonasdan Feb 21 at 15:36
Thank you for your answer. It helped me move in the right direction –  Eonasdan Feb 22 at 2:20
add comment

You can represent population groups by some small populated regions (maybe 5-6 houses or a whole neighbourhood), and so 100 000 citizens can be represented by 600 regions with an average 166.6 citizens/region or even less regions for simpler micro-management. You also don't need to be aware of what each citizen is doing, you only need to be aware of what the entire region is doing.

share|improve this answer
Thank you for your answer. It helped me move in the right direction –  Eonasdan Feb 22 at 2:23
add comment

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.