Bring on the Apocalypse: Deep City 2030 Devs on Keeping it Weird (and Fun) in Environmental Sims

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For the first time, the majority of the world’s population lives in a city, a trend the World Health Organization says it expects to grow, with six of every 10 people living in a city by 2030. How urban centers manage their resources and waste will determine the future of our world, which is what city management simulator Deep City 2030 aims to foretell by giving players the reigns in an environmental apocalypse.

Deep City 2030, in development for iOS by Kolody Inc., sends the player to a dystopian (and at times absurd) future and tasks them with sorting out the mess, from very real-world threats, such as diminishing resources, overcrowding, and megastorms, to fictional but equally destructive terrors like giant cats with killer laser beams.

We recently caught up with Chris Lowry from the development team for Deep City 2030, which we last saw at the 2013 Games For Change (G4C) Festival, as he and his team launch an Indiegogo campaign to create a playable demo and prepare for the game’s fall 2015 launch.

What’s happened with Deep City 2030 since its appearance at the 2013 G4C’s Demo Spotlight? What’s new and what challenges still remain?

We were encouraged and inspired by our experience at G4C in 2013. The positive feedback about the edgy humor, and the questions about how we would be able to integrate documentary content, all that helped us a lot as we continued to develop the gameplay concept with our team.

The validation of the Demo Spotlight, being invited and appreciated in New York, was really helpful in our efforts to get new partners on board including first our partnership with the green city nonprofit Evergreen Cityworks. G4C gave us street cred to win some pro bono support from the innovation acceleration agency here it Toronto, MaRS.

Best of all, we met G4C President Asi Burak at the Festival, and he joined our advisory board for Deep City 2030 along with the chief planner of the City of Toronto, Jennifer Keesmaat, and the CEO of family entertainment company DHX Media, Steven DeNure.

What’s the inspiration for Deep City 2030?

What we have tried to do in Deep City 2030 is to combine gameplay mechanics that work well to keep the player fully engaged and entertained. It’s a hybrid of an open-world strategy game like Civilization, it’s a kind of city-building game like Sim City in reverse, it’s multiplayer with simple effective mechanisms for both competition and cooperation like Clash of Clans, and it offers the latitude to pursue power and be effective by aggressive or tricky means, to see the consequences of your choices in terms of the morale of the population or the reactions of other players, like Fable or the classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The design reflects a good understanding of what works and what’s entertaining in a range of games, including triple A.

How does Deep City 2030 differ from previous environmental management sims?

In a word, it’s more fun. We start from the premise that it needs to be entertaining first, and we would subscribe to the motto of Austin Texas – “keep it weird”. In Deep City 2030 energy is the only currency, but that is where the similarity to any environmental management sim ends. It’s impossible to make a smart game about the future that is not about environmental management, but it doesn’t have to be bitter medicine. In Deep City 2030 you can mess with the apocalypse!

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Your recent trailer shows a bit of the game in action. Can you describe the flow of gameplay and the actions and decisions players are expected to make?

The player is put in control of a failing city, plagued by pollution, ignorance, and unpoliced streets. Your city has six distinguishable features that are direct representations of City Attributes: Education, Agriculture, Infrastructure and Public Services, Industry, Health, and Power Grid. Players will be able to control and evolve cities across a number of different key touch points (i.e., industry, energy, etc.), unlock special abilities, and harness energy for actions to the benefit or detriment of others. Additionally, players will be able to join player groups called Protectorates that provide additional access to social mechanics and even the in-game United Nations.

As with the real world, there are a lot of methods to get ahead. Cooperative or solo play, righteous or ruthless – all methods will have viable, game-balanced options for success. Energy is the only currency: it powers ambitions such as upgrades and campaigns, is used to expand your sphere of influence to take control of cities, and appeases the Overload in the form of a payment. Achievements will be linked to gameplay, rewarding users with points, badges, unique content, and ideally premium and relevant video narrative material at key events. The achievement system will encourage users to explore all paths of gameplay available (solo, multiplayer, “good” or “evil” play styles, acquisition plateaus, etc.).

Morale is the only metric of conquest. When a city’s morale is run into the ground, they’ll welcome your leadership and protection. Citizens who are happy are resilient to disruptions, negative campaigns, and contribute to the health of your city and domain.

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Part of the Deep City 2030 team: (from left to right) Greg Greene of Planet Greene, Chris Lowry of Ecotone, Colin Turnbull, and Tara Luxmore of Kolody.

How did you come to partner with Ecotone Productions, Planet Greene Productions (makers of the documentary “The End of Suburbia”) and Evergreen CityWorks? What percentage of game proceeds will go to Evergreen CityWorks’ programs?

Mark Kolody, Greg Greene, and I put our heads together to come up with a game idea that would be wickedly entertaining and that could make a contribution to our understanding of how cities need to evolve in the future. We’re all storytellers, and at the same time we are all fascinated by the idea of resilient cities and their sci-fi shadow, failed cities.

Greg made a popular documentary film some years ago about the end of cheap energy. Ecotone is my company, and I bring 30 years of production and sustainability expertise to the project. Evergreen CityWorks brings deep expertise on resilient cities to our partnership. They will help us source and manage financing for the project, and when the game is successful, 50% of revenue will go to Evergreen CityWorks programs.

You mention on your website that making Deep City 2030 will cost $500k. Can you break that down for us?

The budget includes all the creative and production talent and costs for the development (15%), story research and writing (15%), to design and build the game (60%), and to do the beta testing and launch (10%).

What kind of support have you received so far, financially or otherwise? What’s helped the most before launching your Indiegogo campaign?

Everyone involved has been putting sweat equity into it for a couple of years. We have received some seed funds from members and friends of the team to cover the hard costs of producing demos and to build the crowdfunding campaign, as well as market research help from MaRS, so pro bono legal support, and a lot of valuable support from our nonprofit partner, Evergreen CityWorks. It has been crucial to be able to accept donations for project development through Evergreen, and this will continue to be important after the Indiegogo campaign is complete. Accepting donations through a nonprofit charitable partner allows us to offer a Canadian charitable tax receipt to donors who prefer that route. So far we have received two donations from angels in this way for a total of $25,000 which Evergreen’s has contributed to development costs as a co-producer.

Deep City 2030 has some, um, interesting characters. Could you explain why disco Jesus, Lazer Cat, and a harp-playing cow appear? How do you create these or decide what to include?

These characters emerge from the fevered brains of our design team. The world is full of people who can build games, but original ideas and design are the pixie dust that makes a good game. LaserCat and Disco Jesus are just the beginning. There are lots more surprises to come when we really get down to building the game over the coming year.

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