On its Steam page, the upcoming city-building game Floodland bills itself as a “social survival game set in a world devastated by climate change.” The developer is Vile Monarch, a new studio co-founded by Kacper Kwiatkowski and Grzegorz Mazur, who also co-created Mine War at 11 Bit Studios. However, when I walked into Gamescom 2022’s hands-on appointment, all I knew was to expect a then-unannounced city builder to somehow address climate change — and I’ll admit I wish there was something different.
We’ve written before at PCGamesN that games that build large, complex things rarely address one of the biggest drawbacks of doing so: how weird the environmental impact is. Whether it’s a city builder, factory sim, or other industrial management game, there are very few experiences that show any response from nature to your pollution of it or your depletion of its resources. This is especially true if you want a realistic simulation. Factorio will send swarms of aliens to attack your factory as it spews smoke, but as players burn fossil fuels and leave, describe the processes and consequences of habitat loss, sea level rise, ocean acidification and overall global warming where is the game? Landing in the wilderness?
Alas, that game won’t be a blast, but at least it’s eager to show us the consequences. Vile Monarch is clear that climate change “is the catalyst for a series of events that will destroy our world”. Soaring sea levels have replaced countries as we know them, into chains of islands, swamps and isolated groups of survivors. I asked the writer Alexander Stroganov why no one had tried something so explicit before.
“The fact that it’s a political issue has a lot of skeptics,” he replied. “Any subtle subject sometimes takes a while of patience, and I think that might be a little mature. But I think it’s finally caught on, and that’s why. It’s just a matter of time, now is the time.” The collapse of the game is linked to climate change, Stroganov insists, “We want to make a game that is hopeful, despite the catastrophic, catastrophic setting.
“The darkest thing about this game is its plausibility. But at the same time, it shouldn’t be [about] intimidate. That’s not the point. In the end, this is a game about human nature. Many of the problems in the game and its post-apocalyptic world can correspond to what’s going on right now. Games are supposed to be about hope, right? Whether it’s after it’s too late or before it’s too late, it’s still about people and how we can come together to build a society. ”
I choose one of four factions with different ideologies to start my practical course: I choose the crew of an offshore oil rig, which includes many engineers and scientists, but believe in “swift rational decisions from a strong central authority” ”—or, as their description sums it up, “New World Despotism.”
My team started on a small island and was tasked with finding an abandoned power plant nearby. For a hopeful game, the atmosphere was sad: abandoned buildings and rusted water towers overgrown with weeds, and our modest camp was overrun by frequent showers. Water is everywhere and not only surrounds this damp island, it even pervades what we see on dry ground: the art style is reminiscent of watercolor painting, with many drab pastel shades, and it feels like the colors are flowing, as if watching the game through tears Eye. Even the user interface emerges from the brushstrokes.
The first stage of rebuilding society is to build water, food and shelter, for which we look for supplies including garbage, a basic building material. There are a few different ways to forage: I can specify foraging areas to automatically send citizens to; I can click on world ruins to collect directly from them; I can place foraging buildings so that larger resource nodes fall into them the catchment area. After these nodes are exhausted, the building will be useless – I need to scrap it and build another one near some new nodes.
There’s no clear world explanation for why collection methods have to vary for one type of resource, and relocating buildings is annoying – it feels a bit arbitrary and hectic. It’s also poorly explained; if I had understood the methods earlier, I could have had a better start, as I lost some villagers, thirst and hunger due to poor supply chains, as my village started to grow, I don’t have enough people to fill all the vacancies and unlock more complex buildings.
Aside from a more hopeful tone, another difference, aside from a more hopeful tone, is Floodland’s focus on exploration, I compared to Frostpunk — another city-builder set by 11 Bit after an environmental disaster. Your burgeoning society will move from island to island and face the challenge of traversing and even exploring waters of varying depths. Stroganov compares to the Anno series, where you expand to different parts of the main island and then to different islands entirely in search of resources. But there’s always a point, relatively early in each game, when the map is “done.”
“Here, because of how difficult it is to go from flooded land to flooded land, and because the number of people grows exponentially and there are a limited number of people doing a limited number of things, exploration will be with you until almost the end of the game …so it feels better paced and gives depth to the game.”
You’ll meet other survivors on these tours, adding them to your growing community, and the focus will shift from survival to political and social issues. You need to maintain the peace between the different factions, choose your values and pass laws according to them. You also have to deal with people who may disagree with your vision for the future.
It is in work like this, I think, that the tone of hope emerges more strongly. In my brief time, I didn’t quite get to the power plant as my skinny village struggled to find balance. Well, it wasn’t a terrific success, and I made my hands feel like a bit of a failure. But the gorgeous art style, very plausible premise, and the possibility of more engaging mechanics late in the game piqued my interest. You can check out these exciting city building and management games while you wait for Floodland’s November 15, 2022 release date.