Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been gaming.
The zombie shooter Left4Dead has recently seen the release of two fan generated campaigns Dead Before Dawn and One 4 Nine.
Dead Before Dawn takes the basic premise of the Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead where the characters work their way to Crossroads mall where they make their final stand and eventual escape (hopefully). The campaign does a nice job of expanding upon the idea of completing tasks beyond the ‘start the generator and wait for the horde’ task that most of the Steam generated scenarios rely upon. Granted they’re almost all essentially re-skinned versions of that task but at least there’s a bit of variety.
It also felt like there was a lot more ‘explorability’ in this campaign setting than in the original campaigns with multiple ways to get to the same end point. The game was a little buggy (I got hung up several times and had to restart) but not outrageously so for a non-official campaign and it was a challenging play throughout.
I haven’t played One 4 Nine yet but it uses the zombie apocalypse as a function of secret government tests theme. It’s received very high ratings and the authors continue to tweak it with the most recent update being posted on the 14th.
I also picked up the beta version of Fate of the World which advertises itself as:
…a global strategy game that puts our future in your hands. Decide how the world will respond to rising temperatures, heaving populations, dwindling resources, crumbling ecosystems and brave opportunities.
If you buy it now you get it at a discount, can play the beta version now plus some extras and so I figured I’d give it a shot for $16.
The beta version has one scenario available for play which involved dealing with the consequences of a world wide oil shortage and limiting the effects of global warming. You play the role of the head of a global environmental organization that actually has power and resources to do things. The world is divided into 12 regions that act as coherent political entities that you have to engage with. They contribute to your cash flow while members of your little club but can also assert their sovereignty and kick you out if they think you’re dissing them.
The game starts in 2020 with turns covering 5 year increments and ends in 2120. ‘Victory’ involves keeping global warming increases under 3.5 degrees, the global HDI above .5 and maintain membership in at least 5 (I think) regions.
The beta version of the game doesn’t come with rules but the basics of the system are fairly easy to figure out. The nuances and interactions of the numerous factors and components of game play are more difficult to figure out and time will tell if that’s going to be part of the game (‘Hey! You’ve switched the entire North American transportation industry to biofuels. Great work on reducing emissions! Oh, by the way, 200 million people are dying of starvation in India because nobody is growing food anymore. Nice job.’)
I have to admit I underestimated the complexity of the game system because the user interface is so simple. I suppose there will be critics that argue with some of the underlying science involved but it is neat to see how interconnected environmental/developmental/economic policies and played around with various strategies like focusing only on the developed world, trying to do a bit of everything everywhere and trying to strong arm the world. The possibilities are endless and even within those broad strategies there are so many potential alternatives you could (and I wanted to) always feel you’re so close to success with just a bit of tweaking (I haven’t made it yet). Focus on heavy R&D, business friendly policies, heavy handed regulation, disaster mitigation or whatever your heart desires.
And don’t get the impression that this is all about tree-hugging, feel good lefty stuff. The game designers seemed to want to give you a lot of options to accomplish your goals. So, in one game I launched (covertly, of course) a biological plague upon India to reduce its population (using too many resources and becoming politically unstable threatening to kick me out) by 25% in five years. In the same game I also overthrew a government or two, launched an insurgency and implemented a secret sterilization program in China’s water supply (hey, you can’t make an omlette without breaking a few eggs). Unfortunately, my scheme was found out and I was brought to trial for crimes against humanity but what are you gonna do? The pressure you feel as you see that temperature creep up every turn and you get the news of species going extinct, mass famines, natural disasters and wars makes you contemplate increasingly drastic measures, especially when you start to see whole portions of the world start to kick you out and you realize you’re pulling in less and less money to do things in fewer and fewer parts of the world.
There’s tons of data and metrics here so I assume you can totally geek out if you want. GDP, employment, demographics, energy usage by sector, etc. etc. etc. all changing as a result of your policy decisions.
I hesitate to say this is a ‘fun’ game in the same way L4D or even another strategy game like the Total War series but I suspect that’s because there’s less opportunity for periodic payoffs. Things are grim and probably going to get grimmer and the best you can hope for is a pathetic crawl across the finish line by the skin of your teeth. But I was hooked for gobs of time on it over the weekend and have a half a dozen strategies peculating in my mind that I’d like to try.
The game has definite teaching potential and I’d like to see a co-operative version (with players either playing as the heads of regions that can cooperate or not as they see fit or on some executive council where negotiations could add a whole additional level of complexity and realism to the game).