Fate of the World

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Fate of the World
PC
Developed by Red Redemption
Released in 2011

Global warming is a major topic in today’s politics, especially when another big shot politician denies it actually exists. To start off this month where we focus on meaningful indie games, I wanted to take a look at an educational game seeking to bring climate change to our attention. To be more specific: it’s a game about showing how hard it is to get out of this mess we created.

Yup. It’s on fire, alright.

Taking place in the near future, Fate of the World shows us a future where the rising temperature of the earth has reached a turning point. The ice caps are close to melting, water levels are on the rise, and entire countries are at risk of being washed away. To address these problems a new agency is erected to effectively safe the world. Sadly, you’ll have to do so with a pitiful handful of cash and not a single resource to start with.

At the start of any of the game’s campaigns you have 12 regions to manage and some starting money, but before you can do anything you need to get boots on the ground and hire people to actually be in those regions to enact policies for you, as well as any of four different offices needed to unlock policies for welfare, energy, technology, or environmental protection. You can hire a number of people for each region, each one unlocking another action per turn, but it’s a balancing act. Regions that feel neglected or where you used too many unpopular policies will eventually ban your agency and do their own thing.

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The actual gameplay involves cards, interestingly enough. Each employee in a region can be used to play a card each turn, with the agencies you have in a region and current circumstances unlocking more for you to use. These cards represent actions like financing social programs, having countries adopt new technologies, or working to change the outlook on different sources for energy. Using these cards costs money, with some of the ongoing cards like social programs continuing to run (and thus cost money) until you cancel them.

The game draws real world data from a lot of sources and features a wide array of statistics that your actions influence. The tutorial campaign, for example, has you work to get the Human Development Index of Africa to a certain level, and once you start the game proper there are animal species to save, various disasters to prevent, and countries that all have different preferences for different energy sources. With writing handled by David Bishop and information provided by real scientists it’s certainly an impressive bundle that I nevertheless found impenetrable from a gameplay perspective.

FotW cards.jpg

I wasn’t so silly as to start the game banning all oil and coal everywhere, I can see how that would make things collapse fast. No, my failures were slow, steady, and certain, which is even worse. My main gripe is that the cards are very opaque and don’t go into much depth about what any action will really do. When you fund an ongoing program to change something, like say, pushing Europe to be more green, it doesn’t really tell you the impact of that. How quickly will the shift be? Will it immediately reduce the use of oil or gas or do I need a separate policy for that? All you can do is repeatedly check the graphs and try to figure things out that way, but since some of the variables are affected by multiple factors, even that may prove difficult.

What the heck are 3rd generation biofuels and why in the world would I want to ban them? A lot of the technologies and terms used in the game I was really unfamiliar with and here too the game falls short of actually involving the player. I came to this game hoping to learn about climate change, yet it seems the game went with the assumption its audience already knows a lot about it. There is an in-game encyclopedia available, that is nice, but it has no search function and has you scroll through its many entries alphabetically to find what you need.

Gameplay score: 3/10

Density of data

Fate of the World is a mostly menu-driven game played to the backdrop of a spinning globe. Taking the huge pile of data the game works with and presenting it to the player in an elegant way must have been a challenge, so I am pleased to say that Red Redemption has mostly succeeded in this endeavor. The console in the top-left of the screen has dots representing each region. Clicking on these displays its name across the top-middle of the screen with a meter that displays your popularity in that zone and it fills the bottom of the screen with slots for your employees. Clicking on the “cards” button will then show all the cards in the middle of the screen, or you can request that region’s statistics by clicking on the “graphs” button in the top right. The latter of these you can also do from the globe view to get general statistics for the entire world.

FotW Europe

The cards all have colors corresponding to their category, which are tied to the offices you have to open up to unlock them. The rainbow colored cards represent projects which aren’t specifically tied to an office. The cards also show their cost, duration, and a little picture. They look okay, but the pictures are recycled a lot across various cards and don’t really have much interesting to show to begin with. Cards might be a nice solution for Yu-Gi-Oh! or Magic, but climate change is sadly not that easy to display in an exciting way.

There are a lot of little menus here and there, with some being easier to use than others. The encyclopedia I already mentioned, but a pet peeve of mine was that you can’t have the graphs and cards open at the same time. Sometimes I would ponder what card to use and look at some numbers to inform my decision, but this would put the cards away, so I would have to open those again and look for the card I was considering. Filters make this a bit easier, fortunately.

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The game’s store page boasts an all-star cast of designers, featuring David Bishop as its writer, Richard Jacques of Mass Effect fame in the music department, and Matthew Miles Griffiths as the main designer. While Richard’s music is pretty neat, the menu driven nature of the game allows him to just continuously play the main theme. Sure, it’s a nice track that doesn’t get annoying despite playing constantly, but you don’t really pay much attention to it either. David’s writing gets no room to shine, as outside of the intro most of the written text is informational and dry. None of it is bad, it’s just that it isn’t making the most of the talent they brought on board.

Presentation score: 7/10

An environmentalist’s job is never over

The game features a number of different campaigns that have varying goals to deal with. This may mean reaching a minimum year in the simulation without dropping below a certain level of oil production or with every country already optimistic about green energy. These offer different challenges or make the game a bit easier, but I feel a few more tutorial campaigns would have gone a long way.

The tutorial in Africa only prepares you for controlling one statistic (HDI) in two regions and in the actual game HDI isn’t really that much of a concern anyway. Some extra campaigns to introduce players to mechanics like different energy sources and how to make regions adopt these would help a lot, instead players are immediately asked to take on campaigns with very specific demands they never explained how to fulfill.

Extras score: 6/10

Verdict

The intentions this game set out with are very noble indeed and it has the scientific date to be educational. It’s the format where matters become troublesome, as the game makes little effort to educate players and doesn’t provide the information needed to make informed decisions. With a lot of trial & error, or if you already know a lot about the subject beforehand, it’s certainly possible to get through the steep learning curve. Even then, you will probably find that the game past that curve isn’t that great either.

53/100

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