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Three Moves Ahead Episode 133 – We Built This City

September 8th, 2011 by Rob Zacny · 12 Comments · Podcast, Three Moves Ahead


Tropico 4 gets Rob, Troy, and Julian talking about city-builders and their quirks. Why are their politics so artificial? Troy notices that videogames say the business of cities is business, but at least they give strategy gamers something to look at. Soren joins midway through, because he can’t stay away, and Julian wonders where the genre should go.

Rob’s Tropico 4 Wot I Think

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12 Comments so far ↓

  • Chris King

    Thining of the question of Victoria 2 style systems and City builders I am not sure they would really work. I suppose it comes down to what do you expect from a city builder. For me it is the God like expierence you have. The more you away from that the less it will be a city builder, and more some standard straegy game.

  • Ginger Yellow

    Sim Cities Societies has a little of what the podcast was calling for – for instance security is a trade-off in ways that it isn’t in most city builders. It’s far from a perfect match though – the idea of neighbourhoods is even less present than in say, the Anno games. And it’s just not a very good game. Speaking of which – no love at all for what is the premier example of the genre today? Especially since the upcoming game seems to be pursuing some potentially interestinh ideas (environmentalism versus industrialism etc).

  • Hell-Mikey

    Anecdata in support of Mr. Goodfellow – yes, dwarves were especially important to getting me to try Dwarf Fortress. That and mining versus building. Mining pushes back the black, an exploration trope in strategy games frequently discussed on the podcast. City builders struggle relatively to 4X games as well, because they tend to drop the eXplore component.

  • j.eel

    Honestly, I thought Tropico 3 was one of the best fits of “theme and mechanics” I’ve ever seen, just because it was the typical city builder mechanics of an implausibly omnipotent leader justified by the fact that you are meant to be a banana republic dictator. Of course, the fact that you still “win” by turning your island into a functional little efficiency engine and keeping people happy doesn’t fit all that neatly, but otherwise it’s almost like an adaptation of James Scott’s “Seeing Like A State.” http://www.amazon.com/Seeing-Like-State-Condition-Institution/dp/0300070160.

    Actually, one of the games that best dodged the problems the panel identifies with most city builders and their themes was King of Dragon Pass. Everything from the interface to the fact that it had strict mechanical limits on your ability to become an optimized giant economic juggernaut was surprisingly well-balanced. It also used the fact that you’re embedded in this clan culture to fool you on what the optimal choices actually are; some things that we intuitively think of as good economic decisions just don’t work in a this kind of tribal setting, and so on. Forcing you to manage various kinds of crops and livestock also avoided the old “do nothing but make money” issue. I really wish people making more traditional city builders, or strategy games in general, would take some lessons from it. Rob’s taste for “things going a little bit wrong” is basically the organizing principle of the entire game.

  • j.eel

    And actually, weirdly, a lot of the things the panel wants from city builders, the idea of different interest groups demanding different things, are most present in the descendants of Theme Park: Startopia and The Movies. In each game you have different constituencies of residents/employees who have different needs and demands, and actually sometimes manage to capture the dynamics of causing problems by showering favour onto one group or another other.

  • Ginger Yellow

    I think management sims and city builders are basically part of a continuum rather than entirely separate genres. They’re both primarily about logistics and efficiency. Hence I thought Soren’s mention of Patrician was entirely warranted.

  • Bred

    So what’s the secret? Do you have to say Soren’s name 3 times or is it more complex, like blood offerings and burnt sacrifices?

    I’d like to play a game that puts you in charge of a historic city. Like London during the industrial revolution, or Chicago during prohibition (just 2 examples, there are many other possibilities). Wargames have been successful simulating individual battles or campaigns, I think there is potential for a city builder/manager to do the same.

  • Cammurabi

    Too bad that Tropico 3 and 4 are so amazingly easy. It’s weird to even compare them to playing the original Tropico, where you had to struggle mightily to stay in power beyond 15 or 20 years if you were playing really well, and earlier if you were playing poorly. I played absolutely no games of Tropico where I didn’t have to fix elections, but I’ve honestly never had to do it in Tropico 3 or 4, there’s simply no challenge if you play the economic game.

  • Smashbox

    I felt like the conversation about city builders and SimCity in particular focusing on acquiring money may be based on a false premise. I would argue that fiscal solvency is the means not the end. The goal of playing a city builder is not making money. It’s building a city YOU like. That’s it, and it’s why this genre can be one of the most interesting, in my opinion.
    The idea of ‘score’ and quantified goals is an expectation carried over by players of other games. Nothing about SimCity implies that you should focus on increasing your surplus. The thrill is in creating and having things work.

  • Ginger Yellow

    Sim City is, I think, still an exception though. It’s still arguably the most indirect city builder out there. You zone for industrial rather than building an iron smelter. I’d agree that money isn’t the primary goal of most city builders, but it’s certainly a very high priority. And certainly city growth is key in pretty much all of them – even if size isn’t an explicit objective, you need it to achieve the explicit objectives. Even in something like Children of the Nile, you’re not going to be able to build a pyramid without the infrastructure, and hence city size, to support its construction.

  • The Tropico Side Quest

    […] The more I play Tropico 4, by the way, the more I like it. The humor is forced and the stereotypical faction/nation leaders are just on the line between silly and “what the hell?”. But under the goofy exterior and lame jokes is a solid city builder that asks you to make decisions that aren’t math problems. This is not an Impressions game where you had to count off the number of squares you had before plopping down a market; it does feel organic, it does feel like you are responding to pressures that are evolving out of your city’s requirements and the mission demands and you have the power to say no, so long as you are aware of the price you might have to pay for it. (We talked about Tropico 4, of course, on the podcast a few weeks ago.) […]