In all of the building and city simulation video game genre, there is perhaps none that have ever approached it so cheekily as the Tropico series. These games put you in the role of a tropical dictator that rules his land with both generosity and an iron fist. Making it look like you’re a great guy to your citizens and the world belies the potential to interact in some shady practices like vote rigging, political assassination, and more. Few city sims approach management with the commentary and humor that Tropico has, so it’s a delight to know that Kalypso Media and Limbic Entertainment are hard at work on the latest entry in the series, Tropico 6.
Of course, there’s a lot of things that go into being El Presidente. There’s Tropicans to please, land to work, and monuments to your own greatness to build. It might be dizzying to undertake or abuse all of your responsibility. Fortunately, GameWatcher was able to sit down and speak with Limbic Entertainment Narrative and Level Designer Johannes Pfeirer during E3. Pfeifer kindly expanded upon raids, missions, island design, and more of what Limbic and Kalypso are doing to make Tropico 6 the deepest and most fun the series has ever been.
GameWatcher: Six games in, Tropico is quite a series with an impressive following. What was the plan in approaching Tropico 6? Did you aim to set it apart from what came before?
Johannes Pfeifer: I wouldn’t say we tried to set it apart so much as zero on the best parts of what makes Tropico great and build upon that. Previous installments were handled by Haemimont Games, which is a great team of people. That said, Kalypso Media approached us at Limbic about our take on the series and we happily took up the reins. It’s still all about being El Presidente, but we’ve gone out to push that to another level with raids, heists, and multi-island gameplay, all of which have not appeared in a Tropico game before. So it’s more about building upon what we enjoy in meaningful and fun ways with Tropico 6.
GameWatcher: Let’s talk about the multi-island gameplay. We’re not just dealing with our one spot this time, but several different landmasses, each with their own characteristic. What inspired the decision to make these different biomes for players to play with all at once?
Pfeifer: A big part of that decision came from the community feedback. The feedback on previous installments expressed a desire for not just a larger island, but multiple islands and the infrastructure challenges that come with that, like how you plan and manage transportation of your goods and people over these different islands. This multi-island set-up also allowed us a lot of creativity when it came to where to distribute resources, how to connect them, the size of building spaces, and other design questions that are very interesting when you’ve got more than one landmass to handle. It also allows us the freedom to design a lot of layouts, such as one big island and two smaller islands, or over ten small islands, each with their own challenges and missions, which I think goes a long way in increasing replayability.
GameWatcher: Speaking of missions, Tropico can be a touch overwhelming to someone who is just jumping in for the first time. Are these missions meant to guide the player along and give them an idea of what to do with what they’ve got?
Pfeifer: Kind of. Of course, we’ll have a tutorial set-up and initial missions that will guide new player into the system. There will be a tutorial map and we’ll introduce players to all the new features in that very first map. Afterwards, players are free to choose what missions they want to pursue or ignore. Currently, we have the idea to split missions into chunks or packages where a player can decide to go for missions with a certain theme. It won’t necessarily be subsequent and you won’t have to follow some escalating order, but you’ll have a bit of a choice as we introduce you to new and harder missions to undertake if you want.
GameWatcher: There’s a little bit of thematic set-up in the timeline as well that informs missions isn’t there?
Pfeifer: Absolutely. The missions vary based on what era the player plays. We have four eras, starting with colonial times around the early 1900s and going into more modern eras like that of World War II and the Cold War. Each era has a specific theme and gameplay focus and we built the missions around them. We’ve also created missions that span across all eras to give players the full Tropico experience with all of the challenges that come along the way. Other missions may be very specific to a given era such as communist or capitalist missions in the Cold War era.
GameWatcher: Not to mention that in any given era, you may have the United States, Russia, or Axis powers trying to tell El Presidente what to do.
Pfeifer: Yes, they will and sometimes they’ll have crazy demands they want you to fulfill that are just completely bogus, but that’s all in the fun. With Tropico we’ve tried to stay with a cheeky presentation of what being El Presidente is like in tackling demands and overcoming challenges.
GameWatcher: At it’s core, it’s still a city sim, so let’s talk about buildings. There’s a lot of variety in form and function in Tropico 6 buildings, dictated by the needs of El Presidente and the citizens. How did you go about deciding about what buildings made the cut for the game?
Pfeifer: There are various aspects. We’re working with the set-up of previous installments and for that we thought about the various needs of the Tropicans and how to satisfy them. We thought about variety in choosing to pursue how to accomplish wants and needs and what our limits would be in the game and outside of it in design and budget. We made determinations as to what that scope was and how much focus we wanted. It came out to around 150 buildings so far, some of which vary according to era and some of which can be unlocked by various means, such as spending money on blueprints for new and better buildings. It’s a bit of a new take with the research system and there’s more that will go into it than what I can say for now, but that’s something we’ll talk about at a later time in the year.
GameWatcher: One of the more interesting building additions to this game is going to be monuments and these buildings come from raids, which is another new system for Tropico. How does that system work?
Pfeifer: We thought it would be really fun and completely in line with the theme for El Presidente to have landmarks worthy enough to be on his island. We want these things to shine above most things the player could build and offer some great gameplay bonuses and effects. For that, we created raids. Every era has a specific raid building from which you can order some rather bold actions. For example, you can order espionage or sabotage of outside nations or you can manipulate the stock market. Of course, one of the biggest things is that you can go for a heist. Do you think the Statue of Liberty would look good in El Presidente’s countryside? Then you can send out agents to attempt to steal it, as well as currently seventeen other such unique buildings and landmarks.
GameWatcher: Is there a way in which a raid can fail? What happens if things don’t go as planned?
Pfeifer: A raid can’t outright fail, but it can take forever. Stealing the Statue of Liberty is no easy task. It will bring up a new challenge where various situations will come up during the heist and you’ll have to decide how to deal with them. This may mean spending a surplus of oil to gas up a cargo plane or spending money to bribe someone. If you can get the Statue, it’s great, but it can also be costly if you’re not careful. You can perform multiple raids at once, but it can drain your resources and ultimately, that can lead to bankruptcy and ruin you, so you need to be careful with how much you take on at one time when it comes to these raids
GameWatcher: Let’s move on to terraforming a bit. Can we do it in Tropico 6? How much freedom do we have in manipulating the land?
Pfeifer: There won’t be free terraforming per se. You can’t freely manipulate landmasses. We tried it at first because we thought it could be interesting, but we found we had to be careful about balancing where players can place their buildings and how to set up the infrastructure. There’s just too many drawbacks for what we’re trying to accomplish on the technical side. What we have instead is a fully dynamic foliage. When you work the land, such as cutting down trees, harvesting coconuts and the like, the trees actually fall. Moreover you can clear those trees out of an area to make room for new buildings. The rest of foliage adapts in a dynamic way to whatever you’re doing that affects it.
GameWatcher: Despite the fact that we can’t manipulate the land at will, there’s still going to be variety, yes? We’ve seen a four island set-up in demos, but are there going to be more starting maps?
Pfeifer: Yes, we’re creating various types of maps and challenging start locations for players to approach. You could have an island set-up with a lot of space, or not much space at all to build upon. Just as well, there are other factors such as how much fertile land you’ll have to plant crops with or how abundant certain resources will be for mining. It’s something that we’re playing with and testing constantly as we work out island set-ups that balance out with the gameplay, narrative, and missions. There’s a lot of room for casual fun and serious challenge and we’ve developed a lot of interesting takes to offer to players with our system.
GameWatcher: Will there be availability for players to create their own takes down the line as well? How well is Tropico 6 built for modding and custom map design?
Pfeifer: We’re currently looking into that and checking out options like Steam Workshop and custom editors. We haven’t fully decided on this yet, but we’re seeing what works best and I think later in the year we’ll be able to offer more information. It’s a frequent desire we’ve seen in community feedback, so we’re definitely putting some effort into seeing what we can offer to modders and custom creators.
Between bombastic heists, multiple islands, and a grand slew of buildings and the situations that call for them, Tropico 6 promises variety well beyond that of its predecessors. This comes with the gorgeous tropical visuals, sounds, and sneaky shenanigans that have been a staple of Tropico since the beginning. Being a benevolent dictator might not always be easy, but with Tropico 6, it’s looking set to be the most fun.
To learn more about Tropico 6, be sure to check out the game’s Steam page.
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