Indie city-building games finally take climate change into account

“The alternative reality allows us to push the levers putting pressure on societies to extremes that would not really be possible in a realistic framework”, Frostpunk design director Jakub Stokalski told WIRED. “And what happens to large groups of people under pressure is really the theme.”

While by Frostpunk volcanic history allows humanity to get by, its most recent expansion, Last fall depicts efforts to prepare for disaster even as large sections of society deny that it is coming.

“Doing The last fall, the question was, what will you sacrifice to ensure yourself a chance for the future, ”says Stokalski. “But not for yourself; for other people. This sacrifice could not only be yours, you can choose to sacrifice others whether they like it or not.

This scenario is a natural extension of by Frostpunk Notions. It is not really on climate change, but questions of who and what to sacrifice are more at the heart of our attempts to tackle the problem than debating where your city’s sleek recycling center will be most appealing. It’s a game of questions, not goals.

“Companies under pressure, and what the player will do to ensure their survival, is an interesting space where we can ask uncomfortable questions,” said Stokalski. “I find these questions interesting because it is the players who have to answer them by making real choices. And we reap the consequences on our way to “beat” the match.

“I think that’s the unique ability of the games: to ask questions that the player has to answer with action rather than statement. And I think it’s important to know more about ourselves, because only then can we try to be better.

Stokalski and his colleagues at 11 Bit Studios are working hard on Frostpunk 2, who will see their alternate reality shift from coal to oil. Stokalski considers the two resources to be symbolic; coal keeps a fire burning in a freezing world, while petroleum is “an eye-opening resource, a source of energy that has enabled tremendous human achievement, but is also dark, sticky, and smears everything it touches.” . It’s not an explicit commentary on the era, but it’s also hard to pull the barrage of negative headlines – “the density of really shitty news,” as Stokalski puts it – out of game development.

Yes Frostpunk challenges players to think about people in cities, Terra Nil reminds them that there are places humans shouldn’t be. The upcoming simulation challenges players to rebuild a city, transforming old urban wasteland into a regenerated natural space. If you manage your resources properly, your last act will be to recycle your tools and go, leaving no trace of humanity’s presence behind you. This is an implicit review of games like Civilization 6 and Horizons, where the climate is just another bump in the road of infinite human expansion.

Provisionally scheduled for 2022, Terra Nil is the latest track from independent South African studio Free Lives, which previously commented on war and masculinity – in its unique way – with hyperbolic Broforce and Genital jousting. One of the goals of lead designer Sam Alfred is to show that city builders can still be fun and engaging even if you remove, well, the building.

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