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Viva La Banana Republico!

I do not play a whole lot of games from the "city builder" genre.  SimCity (the original) was briefly fun, but it was not long until I found laying down residential areas and providing them with power to be a substandard gaming experience.  Making citizen satisfaction charts change because I zoned a building is rather a rather trite concept of gameplay, don't you think?  That's not fun interaction... not for me, anyway.

Modern city builders have come a long way since SimCity (a 1989 game) but the trouble is that they will usually make one of two mistakes.  The first is to utilize too much abstraction, simulating the individual in broader lights, to the point where there's a loss of suspension of disbelief as some arbitrary game design decision rears its ugly head.  The second is to fall too far into the territory of becoming a real time strategy game.  You end up with a unit-commanding game that is mired down with a kludgy city management requirement.

Last weekend came a new Steam sale of Tropico 4 and, with it, renewed hope for the "city builder" genre.

Absolute power.  Tropico 4 does not so much spell it out, but this is what the appeal of being a dictator of your own Caribbean island is all about.  You're the boss, , but not only that: you're a boss without a higher authority.  This is a communist dictatorship in a remote island that goes largely ignored by the other nations of the world.  Consequently, you're in complete control:
  • You declare what is built, be they job-producing, homes, or so on.
  • You arrange your island's imports and exports.
  • You (or your methods) are your island's foreign policy.  
  • You can shut down immigration or emigration.
  • You set the minimum wage.
  • You decide who lives or dies.
Yet, how is this unusual for a city building game?  Perhaps the dividing difference is that Tropico 4 takes extreme efforts to simulate the individual people in your little banana republic.  There's very little abstraction (other than temporal) here, each citizen of your island is fully modeled.

At no point is any one person in your empire invisible.  Even when they go into a home or business, you can click it and see them on the building overlook.  Right click them to fire/evict them from that building.  Check the person's info panel, go to the thoughts section, and read a little blurb about them complaining about being fired, or even suspecting somebody in the government had them fired.  Things like this affect their "respect" score, one of several such scores that determines their overall level of satisfaction in life.  Push them around too much, and they'll become criminals, even rebels who seek to dethrone you... of course, you could always have them killed, but this will impact the respect of their friends and family.

The people in Tropico 4 would seem to matter: you know their names, you can zoom in and see them walking about on the map: going to work (they each wear outfits appropriate to their profession) picking up food, attending church, picketing against you, and other wastes of time to be found in mundane life.   Because of this extra effort in making your little computer people hold some semblance of significance to their lives, your decisions as their communist dictator hold that much more gravity.

It's not that I enjoy lording my power over others, I just enjoy that you can.  In fact, aside from hedging my slush fund regularly (it serves to boost the score for the mission) I've been a fairly benevolent dictator.  I don't like grief play in online games, and I don't even like griefing my little computer people.  About the cruelest thing I do is drag my criminals off to jail, because they're just a waste of money until they're reformed.  I've generally been keeping everybody's happiness scores pretty high, so I have not had much in the way of rebellion to worry about.  However, I've also had rather slow progress in general, because all that money and construction time spent on making people happy is time not spent on things that could be making me money.

There's a lot more one could say about Tropico 4...
  • Though you are El Presidente, with no bosses, keeping individual factions and the superpowers happy is a factor.
  • There are random sub-missions being given to you to do certain things to please certain factions or earn certain rewards.  
  • The level of detail in the natural disasters.
  • The funny (if repetitive) radio broadcasts and the funny personalities of your talking heads, including the overly sexualized leader of the intellectuals and the drunken leader of the religious faction.  
  • The game is very technically advanced, a gameinformer reviewer said they hope SimCity lives up to Tropico, and not the other way around, and I'm inclined to agree.  
  • And more.
Each of these add more significance to the game, but I've said enough about it for one blog entry.

Planetside 2 Loometh

Tomorrow, Planetside 2 releases, for reals.  I stopped playing the beta quite a few weeks back.  Part of that was because it had issues.  A lot of that was the Battlefield 3 balance: I did not feel as I though I was in control when playing Planetside 2, and that's just not a place I like to be.  There are other things to be said about it...

I've got critiques.  TotalBiscuit probably has many complaints and more.

... but to a larger extent, I somewhat ducked out of the Planetside 2 beta because I don't want to burn out from this game in the beta.  I could very well enjoy this game, and I know that playing a game in beta can sour your perspective on it by remembering things that no longer apply.  I've done that to myself there, and big games like Planetside 2 don't came around often enough.

That said, I'm definitely going to give Planetside 2 a spin.  Because the game is "free to play," it won't cost me anything more than bandwidth and time to do. 

Until then, at least I've got Tropico 4.  In fact, considering massively multiplayer games tend to have a host of problems near release, I'll probably have Tropico 4 for quite some time after it releases, too.
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