As we are finally releasing Imagine Earth on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S I started remembering what an adventurous development this game was for us. Martin and I have put seven years of intense work into our world simulator which is quite special in the way it combines city building and economic strategy, resource management and ecological survival on global planets.
The game combines many valued game mechanics in a unique way and all the time we wanted it to run on Xbox. So we optimized everything for gamepad controls when creating interfaces and storytelling. An early version already ran on the Xbox 360 devkit since the first prototype we made as students was a finalist in Microsoft’s Imagine Cup Finals ’08 in Paris where they had the category Game Design for the first time ever. While the game grew up we changed the game engine twice and overhauled interface and character design even more often.
I’m sure that we could only keep up this long dev journey thanks to public recognition like the Imagine Cup and of course the support of over 43,000 backers in early access. Over the years, the climate crisis has become more and more blatant and arrived as an issue in the middle of society. The growing awareness of the issue gave us the confidence to work on an urgent topic and incorporate the climate crisis into the gameplay as an authentic core mechanic.
Build Your Own Civilizations on Distant Planets
Over time, Imagine Earth has become an economic strategy game with an environmental planet simulation. The job of a space colony manager is to build up and supply colonies on a global scale. The aim is to develop efficient production and space trade to thrive and prosper but also doing research and development for new technologies to avoid catastrophes, rising sea levels and global climate collapse.
At start, it’s a peaceful infrastructure building game as the use of weapons is prohibited in its futuristic scenario. First players have to build city districts and supply them with food, energy, and goods. Finding the best placement of every building is a complex puzzle as they have many positive and negative influences on each other and there are various ground conditions and deposits on the fields. With the produced goods or harvested materials additional equipment can be crafted or more complex items for sale. To preserve quality of life for the colonists one needs to find a balance between growth and sustainability sooner or later.
A Race for Limitless Economic Growth in Space
Furthermore the game puts the player in the role of a global economic actor. The player has to compete economically against other corporations for supremacy over a globalized market. This includes share trading and hostile takeovers but you can even use terraforming and weather manipulation to crash your opponents stock prices. Form alliances or face all kinds of diplomatic struggles.
The factions might be forced to cooperate from a certain point of planetary development to preserve the environment as their common basis of life. The world congress is a democratic allegiance containing every faction on the planet. It adopts resolutions for taxes and subsidies, penalties, and supplies. Brought closer together by the threat of climate change the factions discuss emission levies and environmental funds or banning certain technologies like fossil fuels and hopefully find strategies and answers to preserve their homeworld.
The Fate of Whole Worlds Lies in Your Hands
As said, we started this project as students once and the way the prototype seemed to make the most threatening and pressing problem of our time playable in a simulation has kept us excited and busy for so many years now. The challenge of global climate change, which seems too abstract and inconceivable to the individual, should become tangible and treatable by giving the player the responsibility for the fate of a global ecosystem.
The science fiction scenario, which we wrapped around this topic over time, primarily serves the purpose of enabling a thought experiment with an open outcome and to eliminate ideological reservations and sensitivities, which would have blocked a terrestrial scenario. In terms of story-telling and dramaturgy, we were constantly faced with the challenge of balancing entertainment and seriousness so that Imagine Earth could shine as a game and still raise plausible questions without becoming moralistic or informative. Rather, it should be inviting, motivating, and arouse curiosity. The lightweight visual style is supposed to raise accessibility of gameplay. It also celebrates the triangle, that smallest, universal component of all 3D computer game worlds, as a stylistic design element.