This has been a strange week to be developing a game about cleaning up a wrecked city full of angry people. Fallen City is our first (but not only) project, and it involves brooms, tea, anger, inspiration, and cats. It’s a commission by Channel 4 Education, who wanted us to create something which examined the value of living in a city. A British sort of city. That’s what we’ve done.
Fallen City is a place that has already been allowed to fall into ruin and dereliction. Its inhabitants are bored, frustrated, ultimately angry humanoid creatures, many of whom are so pissed off that they are in an near-comatose state. Others are boiling over with rage, and continue to destroy or block off parts of the city. The player’s job, then, is to find ways in which to dissolve this ennui and rage, to bring the city back to life from dereliction. Fallen City looks a bit like management games of old (perhaps a hint of Dungeon Keeper in there) but it’s actually a sort of puzzle game. Figuring which buildings to create from the ruins you renovate, based on the kinds of staff you have available, is the main challenge for the player. If you want sort out the problems in an entire district, then you’ll need to make the right decisions about what that area needs. Getting 100% out of a level means cleaning the whole thing up, and choosing the right skills to unlock all the abandoned streets and annexes.
There’s a little more to it than this, however, because we tried to reflect the implications of things like Broken Windows Theory, and also everyday experiences about how people feel when faced with urban environments. Our little creatures – Angries, we call them – are hyper sensitive to ruination, and will become extremely miserable if exposed to too much dereliction and abandonment. Push them too far and their energy – their attention span – will fail, and they’ll retreat to somewhere they feel comfortable. They might need a bit of cheering up – through music and street performance, for example – before they’re ready to help out. By default the Angries aren’t particularly interested in anything, and a few of them are swollen purple with rage at the world, the world that has promised them so much and then denied them it.
Yes, we’re playing with some odd metaphors for a videogame, and that stuff is even more stark this week, but I think what we’re prodding has a few different layers. This isn’t just social, it’s also about the material, functional nature of what cities are: Machines for living in, battlesuits for surviving the future. Infrastructure, we’re arguing, is too easily overlooked, but it shouldn’t be because it is bound together with making life liveable. The Angries need to bring their Idea Yards and the Curry Pumps back online if they are to remember why their city is such a valuable place, and how all the stuff it already has in place – its roads and pipes and cables – exist to look after them. We bring those unnoticed physical aspects of the city into focus, and allow the player to bring them back to life, and remember how and why they make life liveable for city-dwellers.
We’ve done an enormous amount of work to get to this stage – as is evidence by comparing the most recent images above with a shot from the prototype, below – and I’m regularly breathing sighs of relief as the other talented Big Robot members and contractors make huge strides towards completing the game each day. This week alone has been a torrent of bird flap noises, exploding cats, weird goblin noises, and even minor moments of emergence.
This is the first game I’ve made since I tried to put something together with a chum aged 14, so it’s been quite an experience.
And, yes, it’s all come into sharp focus this week. A week of terrible events in real British cities, and week where our own Fallen City hit a major milestone. It’s a proper game, now, and there’s a strangeness to it echoing events in the real world. The issues we’ve been mulling over in cartoon, digital form have come into stark clarity, and that makes me hope that the game seems appropriate and interesting when it appears for you to download (free on the internet). If nothing else, we’re now working on something shockingly relevant, and that alone has made me want to get it just right.
You’ll find out more about that when the game arrives early next year.