In terms of gameplay, we were inspired by a number of classics, but most specifically, our experiences with three games shaped AdvertCity the most:
1. Simcity 4
Whenever you have a game featuring a city as the primary gameplay element, there will always be comparisons to the SimCity series. But SimCity 4 had a special atmosphere that somehow transcended the genre just a little. There was just something about it; the combination of haunting, droning soundtrack and dynamic, detailed cities - for the first time, really too big to keep track of every detail.
AdvertCity's procedural cities, although not under the player's control, share that depth of overwhelming detail. You can't keep track of every building in the city, you're exploring and discovering the whole time - and getting lost, and disorientated, and discovering anew.
Perhaps most importantly, in SimCity 4, there was a certain darkness under the surface. There was a tendency towards decrepitude and dilapidation that hadn't really been so heartfelt in any other city building game prior. Your cities tend towards urban sprawl in a grimier way than previous SimCity games ever allowed. Some look like seriously unpleasant places to live. When you'd suffer an economic downturn, one of the more wistful and dreamily regretful music tracks would play, you'd see your buildings gradually crumbling. And every now and again, a sudden shock as a building just outright disappears and something else reappears in its place, a surreal and somehow violent sprite change.
We wanted to convey some of the same sense of urban decay coloured by regret in AdvertCity; sometimes a building will downsize, or more and more lights will wink out as a building gradually empties. And every now and again, a building will sureally just vanish and be replaced by another - sometimes smaller, sometimes larger, delivering that same shocking jolt.
2. Black & White
Black & White has always stuck with us because of its perspective, and that was the inspiration for AdvertCity's neither-fish-nor-fowl perspective; In AdvertCity, you have a godlike overview of the city, but you move through the space like a first person character, with FPS controls. The WASD keys
fly you around, with ctrl and space floating lower or higher, as if you were in noclip mode in Quake; mouselook lets you look around, first person style, and yet it's definitely a god view on the city.
It places you in the role of an ineffable agent, something both bigger than the city on one level, and entirely incorporeal and incapable of directly affecting it, on another. That was how we felt when we played B&W. To convey this feeling, and yet allow the player to interact effectively with the city under them, we had to tweak movement a lot. The camera movement code was one of the most iterated over features in AdvertCity - it took us a long time to get the floatyness of the camera just right.
3. Dwarf Fortress
This is perhaps the most important inspiration for many aspects of AdvertCity. The detailed economic simulation which is entirely hidden from the player, except through a few subtle glimpses at effects, from which the player is left to infer cause. And of course, the entirely opaque interface with a steep learning curve, no tutorial and minimal hand-holding.
Behind it all is a massive and detailed world, where every single citizen is modelled in detail, but none of which you can affect directly - all your interactions, and effects on the world have to go through orders, which in Dwarf Fortress may or may not get carried out. AdvertCity is a bit more lenient in that regard, in that your advertising is placed immediately when you buy it - but that is the full extent of your effect on the world; light falling on eyeballs. Through that you can slowly but surely make money, buy buildings, hire employees, take over other megacorps, perform dodgy deals with evil hacker corporations, and affect the lives of millions of people. But in a completely hands-off way.
A matter of perspective
All of these three games have that in common - you, your perspective, has no effect. You in your vantage point in the sky are entirely unobservable, and only decisions you make spread like ripples through the pond of your world. To those affected by them, most of the time you are less than a force of nature - you're simply a collection of acts of random chance. You personally, if it weren't for your actions, may as well not be there.
And yet the game either goes your way - or doesn't. Success and failure are real. The forces you manage are, initially, tiny and insignificant and easily snuffed out if it isn't for your wise intervention - despite your godly perspective, you are far from omnipotent. This paradox of the viewpoint is the key thing, really, and is a core thread that runs through AdvertCity.