NOTE: This post has been updated to include response from Pascal Mueller Director of Esri R&D Zurich and the creator of Esri CityEngine, scroll to the end to see his response.
CityEngine 2018.0 beta has been out for a while now and is pretty much over, I’ve been lucky enough to have been using it in anger for a bit too. Building on the CityEngine 2017.1 release there are some small improvements, new CGA code as well as a couple of new features, but essentially this feels like a minor release which is not a bad thing. Just because it’s minor doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel like progress , it will be well worth the update!
Firstly a confession, the title is a bit of a click-bait (hey if respectable news organisations can try it why can’t I?) I can’t show you a sneak peak this time or really talk about specifics, well because of um beta stuff and all that…. (last time I had a special agreement). What I can tell you is that if you want to participate in the future CityEngine betas you can sign-up here https://earlyadopter.esri.com . If you like CityEngine and are interested in where it’s going and of course helping out the team at Esri then I thoroughly recommend you sign up!
I can assure you that some bug fixes have happened and a couple of new features added which complement the analysis side of things.
Where next for CityEngine?
The real interesting thing here is how Esri CityEngine is moving very much in the direction of the urban design / geodesign space now. As is much of Esri’s push at the moment, 3D is a natural fit for planners and planning departments. The discussion on cities/urban (smart or otherwise) is a clear market strategy for Esri and the push towards BIM having been resolved through a ‘partnership’ with Autodesk fits nicely.
Planning, designing and development must take the full picture into account. Create, visualize and share in 3D to make better designs and present your work more effectively. Source: Esri
This I guess poses a question for Esri, does it continue CityEngine long term with so many products that seem to tick the urban space box? As someone who has trained many clients in CityEngine and offers consultancy services over the last 5 years I certainly have an interest in its future! There are big questions of whether it will be just consumed by ArcGIS Pro or placed in some cloud container and interacted with via ArcGIS Online.
I think (and I have no insider knowledge here) the answer is all of these things will happen, but also that CityEngine will continue to be a standalone product for the foreseeable future. Esri is in the movie industry now and I don’t think it will want to leave that, but also CityEngine is a great design tool that fits Jack’s interest in urban and geodesign.
“is a simple-to-use 3D city editing and visualization tool” – “Build Flexible Scenarios Faster” – “Create Realistic Context”
The real worry for me is what form will CityEngine evolve into. The marketing literature still talks of easy operation and high quality realistic outputs. Sorry but it’s not easy to learn or use (from a typical planners perspective) and the high quality outputs don’t come instantly (unless you like Redlands building typologies!).
CityEngine’s great power is it’s flexibility of format support and usage. But it has fundamental technical issues/challenges with terrain and roads that need addressing. Esri also needs to decide whether this is a tool for the drag and drop users among us, or some highly technical development environment for urban planning.
One glimmer of light and a direction of travel is the ESRI.lib folder, promisingly for new users it shows a path of drag and drop produce something now. Unfortunately this seems to have gone a little stale, anyone who does CGA coding in CityEngine knows organising and keeping up to date rule files is difficult especially if projects vary like ours do. The ESRI.lib has some great rules I use over and over again, roads and trees, in fact the more generic the better! Give me more of those tree assets! These smaller rules enable a greater freedom and I can write rules that work with these easily because I know they are installed with every CityEngine workspace.
In conclusion, and I’m not good at concluding thoughts so forgive me, CityEngine is here to stay but has some challenges to overcome. Like all software it has to evolve as it’s users ask more of it. Currently I worry that CityEngine as a tool is too technical for widespread adoption this means that businesses will be reluctant to invest in it if only a hand full of users (CityEngine professionals) are out there. On the plus side CityEngine professionals like myself will probably have some consultancy work coming our way!
Update and response from Esri Zurich’s R&D Director
So I posted the link to this blog on LinkedIn and amazingly Pascal Muller (read a post I did called Life Changer to understand why I am honoured to get this) very kindly responded. I have got his permission to post those comments here, these have been copied directly and no editing has been done although I have tried to keep the paragraph breaks. What I now need to do is a follow up post to contemplating this response!
Thanks Elliot, really great read!
I could answer some of the raised questions : ) hmm, maybe we should do an ‘ask me anything session’ here…
(1) You are correct, not a ton of new features in this release. Reason is that we changed our release cycle this year and are releasing now 3 months earlier. As a result the time between CE 2017.1 and CE 2018.0 was much shorter. CE 2018.0 comes out next week and you can expect CE 2018.1 in September instead of November.
(2) Yes, CE is here to stay. There are no plans to discontinue it. In contrary: maybe you have heard about our new product initiative ArcGIS Urban which is basically a streamlined urban planning platform (on top of AGO) for the planning departments of cities. It will feature cool web apps/interfaces and it will also work great with CE. It’s all developed under the same roof here (also includes the 3D JS API 4.x team btw). In the ArcGIS Urban context, CE will (still) be required for the more advanced workflows such as for example Devin’s site plans, Bruno’s Masterplanner, or the various greenfield mega city projects of the HOKs and F+Ps.
ohh, and of course Blade Runner 3 will need these off-world cities Batty was talking about : )
Besides all this, CE continues to be one of Esri’s development platforms where bleeding edge technology gets applied before it goes mainstream, see for example the push on game engines (more about that later…).
Pretty exciting stuff and I am extremely happy that all the pieces fall into place finally, but we know that we have to keep working hard and improve things. Huge thanks for your continuous support and wise long-term thinking.