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Tropico 6 will give more life to the population — and more problems for El Presidente

‘Fully simulated’ Tropicans will have many more needs to meet.

Limbic Entertainment/Kalypso Media
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Would-be dictators looking forward to a new reign of benevolence — or malevolence — in Tropico 6 are going to find themselves in charge of a restive population that’s a lot more complicated in its feelings, its productivity, and even has a memory.

“Fully simulated Tropicans,” is what Tropico 6 will promise, said Johannes Pfeiffer, a senior content designer with Limbic Entertainment, which last year took over the series from Haemimont Games, which built Tropicos 3, 4 and 5. Past versions of the game always implied that everyone in the population had a life, a goal, an opinion of the leader, but the streamlined way in which the game handled this made the population a lot easier to control. In Tropico 6, Pfeiffer said, every citizen of the player’s banana republic has a life, goals and expectations in it, and is more responsive to the things making her or him happy or unhappy.

“Where we looked at the strong points of the game, one was the feeling of having the Tropicans as a part of your empire, and how they enjoy or don’t enjoy living in your banana republic.” Pfeiffer told me. “We wanted to make it comprehensible to the player what they are up to, how they feel, how they work and what theyre up to there.

“It may be a trickier approach, but a lot of our community was asking for this, and we wanted to follow through,” Pfeiffer said.

Past Tropico games were not so detailed with the citizenry, Pfeiffer explained. Probably the best example of “emulated’ Tropicans versus “simulated” Tropicans could be seen in their workplace productivity. In Tropico 5, buildings continued to produce at a rate commensurate with their manpower whether the workers were in the building or not. Tropico 6, said Pfeifer, will take into account the time employees are not at work, and productivity will reflect that.

Keep an eye on the traffic

This means armchair autocrats will have to concern themselves with both commute times into work and neighborhood amenities afterward, much like the city-building cousins that inspired the first game. I played Tropico 5 for almost 100 hours in the sandbox mode, developing a very manicured island utopia with rigid residential, business and entertainment districts, and didn’t worry much about how far dock workers had to go to get to their job so long as that building was at capacity. From the sounds of it, not only will I need housing near the waterfront, I’ll need some good old fashioned dockside bars for when the afternoon whistle blows.

“The Tropicans will now have a memory of what’s available to them, and what’s within reach,” Pfeifer said. “It not only helps with visually shaping the city and making it more interesting, it also benefits the Tropican individually, in a comprehensible outcome.”

This all plays into what I have long considered Tropico’s big power proposition: You can be rich, or you can be powerful, but you probably won’t be both. The more developed, wealthy and economically diverse Tropico becomes, the more involved the constituency is, often in the form of direct challenges to El Presidente’s authority. You can go into Tropico with a very simple vision for success, and the better you are at it, the more your subjects will try to change your priorities. Keeping the military happy while not getting them/us into any disastrous adventures was a constant problem for my dictator.

On the other hand, consolidating power and cracking down usually led to broad unhappiness, which meant lower productivity and a greater need to rely on expensive, outside resources (importing goods or bringing in educated workers) which were expensive and often unsustainable alternatives.

Crackdowns, imprisonments, banishments, discreditings and even assassinations, which were always chortle-inducing options for troublesome citizens, are going to spider-web through the victim’s family for generations, Pfeiffer said. In past Tropicos, such activities would usually manifest as the hostility of a political faction that El Presidente didn’t care for in the first place. That said, El Presidente will for the first time be able to establish a kind of penal colony, like Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (“or Australia!” smirked Pfeiffer) in which the country imports prisoners from other nations and manages them for an appropriately cynical fee.

Domestically, it may be tempting to imprison the unemployed and put them to work in that new prison-labor system. Just realize that no one in that person’s family is ever going to support your regime. Do it to enough in the population and you could have a serious coup threat on your hands. In Tropico 5, quashing rebellions, even with an armed and deadly intervention, were less of a problem to El Presidente than a superpower invasion or an unhappy military tossing him out.

“The overall idea is we want t provide different opportunities for how you can address the game,” Pfeiffer said. “It’s wy we don’t go for one linear narrative where you go through all of the ages.”

Tropico 6 will still have a campaign mode spread across different island settings, somewhat similar to Tropico 5, in which the player has to complete a shorter-term goal specific to one of four distinct eras. The longer-playing proposition will be in the sandbox mode, with just as many win parameters and customizable options as the previous games. It may take the player into some areas they haven’t considered before, such as spending nothing for public safety and relying on deals with shady crime lords to keep the population in line.

What it won’t have anymore is the dynasty system. The player’s will is now exressed through a single, immortal El Presidente. Pfeiffer said players of Tropico 5 either didn’t fully understand the options available to them as they raised future generations of leaders, or just didn’t care to manage that lineage. While placing total control in the hands of someone who can live for a century or more may puncture a sense of immersion or reality, Pfeiffer said the decision was justifiable in how it, again, makes El Presidente and their cult of personality a stronger focus.

Pfeiffer is aware that some of the preview videos of the game have shown something that is refined and a little more visually interesting than past Tropicos but doesn’t seem to play much differently, especially in the way it still straddles different historical eras. He promised that Tropico 6 was indeed a new game — rebuilt from scratch in Unreal Engine 4. Limbic Entertainment started over, he said, because it had built other strategy games within Unreal and found the toolsets it used to be useful for something like Tropico.

Tropico 6 does not yet have a specific release window, other than some time later this year, on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One. There are plans for a beta but it’s unclear so far if this will be a public or private test.

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