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Try something new: learning to sim with Tropico

Monday, 28 May 2012 03:22 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Even veteran gamers need to stretch themselves sometimes. We sent Brenna on the adventure of a lifetime to master both a new genre and a tiny tropical nation.

VIVA EL PRESIDENTE

Tropico is a series of management simulators for Mac, PC and Xbox 360 dating back to 2001.

Lately developed by Haemimont Games for Kalypso; the first was the product of PopTop Software, now absorbed into Firaxis.

Set on a series of fictional Caribbean islands during the Cold War era.

According to this fortune cookie, it’s good to break out of your comfort zone, challenge yourself and try new things. Every now and then I get a mad desire to learn how to properly play an unfamiliar genre and spend four or five hours humbling myself before swearing off the whole thing for ever and ever (again).

Recently I took this go-getter attitude to Tropico, expecting a smilar pattern. I like the idea of Tropico because you play El Presidente, a trope I have loved ever since The Young Ones. Also, you get to arrange building in pleasing patterns, and since I still live in a rental, I need to scratch my home decor itch somehow.

Tropico (3 or 4, I’ve been playing both) famously allows for rapid zooming between the micro and the macro, in both graphics (interestingly, my recent, dual GPU SLI build wheezes slightly when I turn even Tropico 3′s graphics up to ultra and scroll in and out – the level of detail is astounding and both games are quite future proof) and gameplay. It’s a compelling blend of The Sims-like management (checking the individual needs and thoughts of citizens), city building (laying out roads and regions for maximum efficiency), broad political strategy (juggling internal factions and international relations) and even real-time strategy (producing and managing resource chains and structures).

It’s a heck of a lot to take in, especially if you’re a total newb like me, and while the tutorials in both games make a decent attempt at introducing the basics, they basically fail – being shown how to access dozens of graphs or check one of 100 citizens’ political affiliation doesn’t teach you when you should actually do it, why, and what to do with the information afterwards.

My first few hours as an island paradise dictator were not that impressive. I had goals and I worked towards them, but I kept running out of money and being swamped by rebels. I couldn’t work out how to resolve the problems my advisor flagged or even if I had to, and everyone kept protesting and voting me out. I had information overload. I was frustrated. I was bored.

A trailer for Tropico 4′s most
recent DLC, Modern Times.

Then I figured out for myself one teeny, tiny detail – how to navigate one of the many, many sub menus – and suddenly it was like my mind opened. Phenomenologically, it was the exact opposite of a gbeneral anaesthetic; numbers rushed forward and resolved themselves as meaningful signifiers; my vision expanded so far I was looking into each ear; the sound and fury resolved into tracable patterns of thought.

Aha, I told my cat. Aha look. This citizen wants to go to the pub. He doesn’t give a shit about the GDP, which is the goal of the level. He just wants to get pissed.

And so, living out a lifelong dream, I built a pub. And then a clinic. And then some new houses. And then some places to work, because somebody else had no money to spend at the pub. Sometime later – I honestly could not say how long – a message popped up on screen informing me I had won the first level of the campaign.

Tropico has its flaws; it’s not as difficult as hardcore simmers would like, and while it touts itself as a bit of a sandbox in the end you’re almost always going to get better results and make more money if you take the benevolent man of the people route rather than any particular extreme. But it does something quite different to the triple A releases I normally devote my time to, and in working to master it, I feel a sense of satisfaction missing from those games where I already know how to play before the title screen pops up.

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5 Comments

  1. GrimRita

    haha. its always interesting to read view points from someone new to the genre. I simply love Tropico. Why? For me, its the perfect Sunday afternoon/evening game.

    Its not too taxing on the brain, easy to get into and passes the time. Your views kind of remind me of my experience with Counter Strike. I havent played it for years and jumped back in to it over the weekend and I just didnt have a clue where I was going and was simply canon fodder lol.

    Grabbing the basics(or in CTs case working out the maps) comes with time and once it all pieces together…frustration is replaced with satisfaction

    #1 3 years ago
  2. majicship

    I have been playing Civilisation Revolution on Xbox 360 for a year solid now. I had never played anything like it before and it just grabbed me and didn’t let go. It’s challenging as well as being great fun, but I have tried R.U.S.E. and Tropico 3 and I can’t get my head around either of them. Since I have been playing Civ Rev I have found that I now prefer to play games that don’t require shooting zombies. I am currently maxed out on Fight Night Championship and am about to launch into Grand Slam Tennis 2. It’s refreshing to have a change every now and then.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. GrimRita

    RUSE is just poor – Tropico is more Sims esq than Civ. Tropico has more micromanagement than Civ since you’ve got to keep your people happy.

    In Tropico, money is key – so the sooner you start exporting stuff, the sooner you can grow your city. Ports, minerals and oils are key.

    #3 3 years ago
  4. DSB

    I couldn’t resist jumping in on Tropico 4 during the sale, even though it’s really just Tropico 3 with added scenarios, and Tropico 3 to begin with was really just a 3D remake of Tropico.

    The concept is just rock solid though. Want to be a dictator of a small third world island nation? The answer is always going to be “Fuck yeah I do”. It’s just one of those game concepts that everybody’s looking for.

    Like personally I love oppressing the religious faction. I just arrest and kill everyone I can while completely ignoring their demands and carefully tending to everybody else to make up for it. Hell, even some of the religious geeks can’t resist the power of universal healthcare and free housing. Although they’re going to need both under my regime.

    Kinda like The Sims, Tropico is 100% about what you put into it. The simulation itself is pretty lame. Build 5 tobacco farms and you’ll be able to afford anything you like. It’s really only when you go off the reservation and put your own flair on things that it gets interesting, and arguably Tropico 4 has some more interesting quests, but it’s still the same old game, with the same old rules.

    It’s no Transport Tycoon or Theme Hospital, and the DRM is totally ridiculous, but the game definitely holds up.

    Kudos for the Young Ones clip. To this day I still strive to be a little bit Vyvyan and a little bit Alexei Sayle when I wake up every morning.

    #4 3 years ago
  5. GrimRita

    @5 thats why I say its a perfect sunday game. Not taxing but just enjoyable to play when you try and bend the rules around haha

    #5 3 years ago

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  • GTA 5 PC: clean up the streets as a member of the San Andreas PD with this new mod

    Remember the awesome mods for GTA 4 and San Andreas that let you run amok online as a member of the po-po? Well, dust off your taser and load up your gun, because it’s coming to GTA 5. The new mod for GTA 5 is currently in alpha and can be downloaded at palmbeachgames.com. You […]

  • Indie shoot ‘em up Project Root comes to Xbox One, PS4 and PSVita

    Project Root is a self-proclaimed rejig of the shoot ‘em up genre that was released on PC last year, and it’s finally coming to consoles. Combining free-roaming elements with the usual business of shooting things, Project Root was released this week for Xbox One, PS4 and the PSVita.

  • You can now bet on eSports online, starting with League of Legends

    If you’re getting bored with sticking a pony on the races, you can expand your gambling horizons at Unikrn where you can watch esports streams and get a little action on the side. The new platform was set up by Rahul Sood – previously the general manager of Microsoft Ventures. At the moment, customers are […]

  • Has Watch Dogs 2 been leaked?

    Ubisoft employee, Julien Risse, may have inadvertently confirmed Watch Dogs 2, thanks to his online CV over at LinkedIn. Videogamer.com spotted the slip up, in which Risse lists Watch Dogs, the DLC Bad Blood, and Watch Dogs 2 on his profile. Creative Director Jonathan Morin has already talked about his ideas for improvements for the […]

  • GTA 5′s Trevor makes his Jackass debut, complete with leopard-print knickers

    YouTuber Abstract Mode has shared his vision of what Trevor Philips’ life might have been like, had he not been completely batshit crazy. Watch Trevor get mauled, run over, and hit by a train, before taking a majestic swan-dive into someone else’s pool at the climax. Thanks, Kotaku.

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 season pass will cost you £35

    Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 isn’t released until November 6, but you can already hand over your cash for the Season Pass. The Season Pass is available for pre-purchase on Steam for £34.99, and will cover four DLC packs – although the details we have on the content are limited to ‘exciting’ at this […]

  • GTA Online’s cheating assholes are no match for this player’s vengeance

    Think you’re smart for using invisibility and infinite ammo glitches? You need to be taught a lesson, sucker. You can have all the hacks you want but if your GTA Online game is weak, you’ll still get your ass handed to you. As this fool discovered when attempting to hassle another player. There’s a fair […]

  • PS4 sales help Sony’s games division swing to profit

    Sony’s PlayStation business has made an operating profit of 48.1 billion yen ($404m / £261.5m) in the past 12 months. That’s thanks to stellar sales of the PlayStation 4 and PS Plus, even as sales of the PS3 have stalled and the company wrote off costs for the PSTV and PS Vita. The profit puts […]

  • New patch for Dirt Rally gives co-driver’s attitude a tune-up

    Dirt Rally gets a new patch three days after release on Steam. On Monday, we reported that the newest Dirt game has popped up on Steam’s Early Access and is available to pick up for £24.99, as well as giving you an eyeful of tasty screenshots. The patch – released yesterday – fixes some issues […]

  • New The Witcher 3 screenshots show combat, exploration and general carousing

    New screenshots released on the official facebook page for The Witcher 3 show Geralt annihilating a winged beast, out and about in the world exploring, and living the life of Reily amidst a bustling feast. We were already treated to some glorious screenshots a few days ago, but these new ones are in-game and give […]

  • Destiny: 14 things you might have missed during House of Wolves intel drops

    Destiny: House of Wolves does a great deal more than just slap some new content on the existing game structure. House of Wolves changes Destiny in a lot of interesting and very welcome ways. Bungie showed off many of these changes in its livestream, and let both me and Arekkz come and have a look […]

  • Scratch that cyberpunk itch with Technobabylon on May 21 – new trailer

    Technobabylon more like Wrecked-yo-babbling with my smooth flow about how good Wadjet Eye games are. I don’t know y’all, it’s clock off time and everything feels like a reach. Wadjet Eye makes pretty good adventure games – award winning, in fact. The latest project to spring forth from the benevolent, sheltering hand of the label […]

  • Skullgirls 2nd Encore brings exclusive new features to PS4, Vita in northern summer

    Skullgirls, the little indie fighter that could, is getting another crack at it. Skullgirls 2nd Encore is the second re-release of the one-time troubled 2D versus fighter from lab Zero Games. Having survived the shut down of its developer and collapse of its publishing contrast, Skullgirls re-emerged as Skullgirls: Encore, adding in a ton of […]

  • Danganronpa series generates “impressive” sales for Vita exclusive

    Danganronpa is selling quite nicely, thank you, says NIS America. Danganronpa is a series of murder mystery visual novel puzzlers in a similar vein to games like 999. Two of these have been released for Vita in the west – Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair. Speaking to MCV, NIS America CEO and president Takuro […]

  • I have no idea what is going on in J-Stars Victory VS+ but I kind of like it

    In this J-Stars Victory VS+ trailer, we see – uhh. Well. We certainly see some things. Look y’all, I was a massive weaboo in high school, but that was back in the dark ages when we had to take out Manga Entertainment VHS tapes from dingy little specialist rental joints that were literally underground, and […]

  • Please just watch this terrific trailer for Toren

    Toren is the kind of game I dream about when I drift off to sleep at night. This indie puzzle adventure strikes a spark in my little soul in the same way as Ico and Tequila Works’ Rime do. Mysterious, almost ethereal fantasy setting – check. Chance to actually walk around in that setting – […]

  • Play classic MS-DOS games on your own tweets

    In today’s episode of “what will they think of next”, someone’s figured out how to post playable versions of classic games in tweets. For some time now, Twitter has allowed you to embed various forms of media in tweets, most noticeably YouTube videos, simply by pasting a URL into the compose field. Turns out this […]

  • VR: Unreal Engine to add HTC Vive support

    The biggest digital PC game distributor and the most popular game development engine have both backed VR. It’s going to happen. An upcoming Unreal Engine 4 update will expand the development suite’s support to the HTC Vive, Valve’s VR headset. In this glorious new future where work on one of the most important engines in […]

  • WWE 2K15 PC supports modding

    WWE 2K15 may be the series’ PC debut, but it’s already getting into the spirit of the platform. WWE 2K15 does indeed support mods on PC, 2K’s Marcus Stephenson has confirmed. @ElementGamesTV you can. Now buy. — Marcus Stephenson (@stephensonmc) April 28, 2015 As Destructoid points out, this opens the door to all sorts of […]

  • Overkill’s The Walking Dead coming to PC, PS4 and Xbox One in 2016

    Overkill’s The Walking Dead is one step closer to your grasping little paws. Overkill’s The Walking Dead will be published by 505 Games, Overkill parent Starbreeze has announced. 505 also published Payday 2, Overkill’s previous title, so the two companies have established a working relationship. In a press release, the publisher said the co-op title […]

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 pre-orders net Advanced Warfare DLC

    Buy Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 for later, enjoy bonus Advanced Warfare content now. Blacks Ops 3 is being supported by a rather cunning pre-order incentive even more likely to get you to lay your cash down sooner than you might otherwise. Gamespot reports a Black Ops 3 pre-order will receive a couple of […]

  • Steam Game Ban system lets developers determine who to block

    Steam users can now be blocked from individual games by their developers. Steam has always supported multiplayer bans for disruptive users, but a newly-implemented system allows developers to ban users from individual games using their own anti-cheat systems. Game Bans are enforced by Valve, but are enacted at the developer’s request and discretion. This change […]

  • Far Cry 4 devs matching Red Cross donations up to $100K to aid Nepal earthquake victims

    Far Cry 4 developer Ubisoft Montreal will match any pledges made to The Red Cross up to $100,000 to aid Nepal after the 7.8 earthquake struck the area in and around Kathmandu in Nepal. According to Ubisoft: “Having spent the last few years working on Far Cry 4, a game heavily inspired by Nepal and […]

  • Tales of Zestiria retail listing notes September release date, PS4 version

    Tales of Zestiria is coming west in northern autumn, and while it’s confirmed as a PlayStation 3 release, a Dutch retailer has it listed as coming to PS4 as well. Of course, listing it for PS4 could also be a typo, not that I would personally know about that sort of thing, really. However, according […]