The new videogame Half-Life 2 has by far the most realistic simulation of a city that’s ever been created. It would be great if city planners could take advantage of this technology. Imagine, for example, if San Francisco hired a game company to create an ultra-realistic digital version of its downtown. The city could produce simulations of how its plans would change neighborhoods, making the plans more intelligible to residents; meanwhile, the game company could earn millions on its hit new title, Lombard Street Funny Cars, or whatever.
The problems, of course, are myriad. Models would take time to produce and go out of date before they were finished, and it would cost a fortune to keep them current. (This problem could be mitigated by drawing from GIS data, such as the locations of fire hydrants and street trees, to build and update models.) Advances in technology would make even the most advanced models look antiquated in five years. Also, small cities couldn’t afford this technology—a model of, say, Des Moines wouldn’t make any money for game companies, and Des Moines wouldn’t be able to pay the entire cost of the model by itself.
But it would all be worth it if someone made a real game called Lombard Street Funny Cars. I would totally play that.