June 9, 2023

On its Steam page, the upcoming city-building game Floodland bills itself as a “community survival game in a world ravaged by climate change.” The developer is Ville Monarch, a new studio co-founded by Kacpar Kwatkowski and Grzegorz Mazur, who co-founded 11bit and worked on War of Mines. When I wandered into my hands-on appointment at Gamescom 2022, however, I could only hope for the then-unheralded city builder to deal with climate change in some way – and I admit I was expecting something a little different.

We’ve written before on PCGamesN about how curious it is that so few games about building big, complex things tackle one of the biggest downsides of doing so: the environmental impact. Whether it’s a city builder, Factory Sims, or other industrial management games, there are very few experiences that represent your response to pollution from the natural world or your use of resources. This is especially true if you want a realistic simulation; Factorio will send a swarm of aliens to attack your factory as it spews smoke, but where are the games that depict the processes and consequences of habitat loss, sea level rise, ocean acidification and overall global warming when players burn fossil fuels and go logging in the wilderness?

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Alas, that game won’t be Floodland, but at least it wants to show us the aftermath. Will Monarch was clear that climate change was “a catalyst for a succession of events leading to the destruction of our world”. Rising sea levels replaced nations as we knew them with island chains, swamps, and isolated groups of survivors. I ask author Alexander Stroganov why no one has tried to do something so obvious before.

“There is a lot of doubt that it is a little bit of a political issue,” he replied. “Anything delicate sometimes requires patience over time and I think it’s a bit about maturing. But I think it’s finally catching on and that’s why. It was only a matter of time, and now is the time.” And yet, despite the link of the collapse of civilization to climate change, Stroganov insists that “we wanted to make a hopeful game, even though the setting is catastrophic, catastrophic.

“The darkest thing about the game is how believable it is. But at the same time, it’s not meant to be [about] Scares people. That’s not real. Ultimately, this is a game about humanity. Many of the issues in the game and its post-catastrophe world can be aligned with things happening right now. The game is supposed to be about hope, right? And whether it’s after it’s too late or before it’s too late, it’s still about people and how we come together to build a society.”

I begin my hands-on session by choosing one of four factions of differing ideologies: I go for the crew of an offshore oil rig that includes many engineers and scientists, but “rapidly logical decision-making from a strong central authority” – or ‘ New World Dictatorship’, as a summary of their narrative.

My crew starts on a small island, allegedly finding an abandoned power plant nearby. For a promising game, the environment is deplorable: dilapidated buildings and a rusting water tower are choked by wild trees, and our modest camp is drenched in frequent rains. Water is everywhere, not only enveloping this damp island, but even what we see on dry land: the art style evokes watercolor paintings, with lots of drab pastel shades that seem to run the colors, as if the game is being watched in tears. The eye even emerges from the brushstrokes that wash the user interface.

The first stage in rebuilding society is to establish sources of water, food and shelter, and to do this we forage for supplies, including garbage, which is a primary building material. There are several methods for foraging: I can define forage zones where citizens will be sent automatically; I can click on world ruins to collect them directly; And I can place foraging buildings so that large resource nodes fall within their catchment areas. After these nodes are exhausted, the building serves no purpose – I need to scrap it and build another near some new nodes.

There’s no clear in-world explanation for why collection methods should differ from one type of resource to another, and moving buildings is annoying – it feels somewhat arbitrary and busywork. This is quite poorly explained; If I had understood these methods sooner I would have gotten off to a better start, as I lost some villagers to thirst and starvation, as my village began to grow and left me without enough people to fill all the job vacancies. And unlock more complex buildings.

I draw a comparison with Frostpunk – another city builder set 11 bits after environmental apocalypse – and Stroganov says that apart from a more hopeful tone, another point of difference is the focus on exploring floodlands. Your growing society will move between islands, and be challenged to cross or even explore water at different depths. Stroganov compared it to the Anno series, where you expand to different parts of your main island and then to different islands entirely in search of resources. But a point will come relatively early in each game when the map is ‘full’.

“Here, how difficult it is to move from flooded land to flooded land, and because the number of people is growing rapidly and there are a limited number of people doing a limited number of jobs, exploration will be with you almost to the end. Game over. So it feels better paced and adds depth to the game.”

You’ll encounter other bands of survivors on this journey, add them to your growing community, and the focus will shift from survival to political and social issues. You have to keep peace between different factions, choose your values ​​and pass laws according to them. You also have to deal with those who may not share your vision for the future.

It is in such labor that the tone of hope, I imagine, can emerge most strongly. I didn’t quite reach the power plant in my short session, as my weak gram struggled to find balance. Not a terrible success, then, and I left my hands feeling a little defeated. But the fantastic art style, very-admirable premise, and the possibility of more engaging mechanics later in the game piqued my interest. You can check out these exciting city-building games and management games while you wait for the Floodland release date on November 15, 2022.

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