I had a good time checking out Tropico 4 at E3 this year but after I got back from LA I had a few new questions popped into my head. Luckily I was able to have those questions answered by Bisser Dyankov, the Game Designer (and Political Liaison of El Presidente) at Haemimont Games. Just to warn you ahead of time this is one of the more interesting interviews I've ever done.
What makes a Tropico game a Tropico game? What do you think has been the key to the long term success of the franchise?
A true Tropico game is not possible without the enlightened leadership of El Presidente, as well as El Presidente himself is not possible without Tropico and its loyal population.
As El Presidente himself has written in "The Ultimate Ruler's Guide for Tropico", the uniqueness of the game lies in the combination of the city building element with a full-fledged political simulation and a politically incorrect humor. The last element is the key feature which allows the talent of El Presidente to shine above all else.
One additional fact that helps the on-going successful career of the old political tomcat is the support of his many fans. Without the active support of the fans and just a little help from the Tropico Secret Police, Tropico wouldn't be the same place as it is today.
Would you say that there’s an educational side to the game? If so what kinds of things do expect people to learn from the game?
Of course! El Presidente is a shining example to all and everyone to study from; and if he is not recognized as such in some backward countries, he must be! And in time he will be - when the revolution provides justice to the oppressed!
Now, as a minority opinion among its supporters, some of us believe that studying the teachings and practices of El Presidente can help citizens of the world recognize propaganda when they see it, and why politicians should not be trusted not even one tiny little bit - that is, politicians opposing El Presidente, of course!
(I cannot really elaborate more on his topic, because the last person to do so is now safely resting in the free accommodations provided by the dungeon and has an appointed dinner with the alligators there)
Could you talk about the Facebook/Twitter integration in Tropico 4? What kinds of data will people be able to share? Why the decision to add social networking to the game? Where there other ideas you came up with and scrapped?
With the help of the present-day social networking, Hugo Chavez is no longer alone out there on the Internet - El Presidente is going on-line as well!
Be prepared, as El Prez can use these channels to spread the most actual news on Tropico as they unfold in real time!
Players can share the news of unlocking achievements or completing missions, as well as occurrences of in-game events (like the Rebel attack, which, of course, never happened, as there are never any Rebels in Tropico), some stats of the islands, all from the perspective of El Presidente.
Have you ever wondered would El Presidente want to share the grandeur of a specific island or even his splendid image with the rest of the world? Now he can do so by uploading a screenshot to Facebook.
And what if Facebook/Twitter is not your cup of tea? Never fear - El Presidente is fully able to cut off all internet communication and shield his population from the growing tentacles of the on-line capitalism.
And of course, we never scrap any ideas. We keep then in deep-frozen state, near absolute minimum temperatures, to prevent them from exploding and becoming reality. The only person who has access codes to them is El Presidente, and we trust him completely that he will use them only for the betterment of all mankind.
What did you learn about console controls in Tropico 3 that you’re applying to Tropico 4?
During the development of Tropico 3 we learned that the controller has limited flying capabilities (which is not the case with the wireless controller) and we became proficient in using these very same flying capabilities to their full extent while developing Tropico 4.
The fun part aside, this has been one of the most-challenging aspects of the development of the interface, as city-building games are not common among the Xbox titles. Experience from Tropico 3 allowed for better and more streamlined interfaces in Tropico 4.
Was there ever any thought about building in Kinect support?
Yes. We all thought and talked it over and El Presidente anonymously decided it is not a good idea.
Could you talk about some of the new campaigns in the game and the new scenarios that players will get to experience?
Win fishing wagers with fellow dictators! Become "The Most Awesome Person in the World"! Grow the largest papaya! Steal the Olympics! Even move Tropico to avoid a nuclear missile strike! - these are all examples of the Herculean tasks El Presidente will accomplish in Tropico 4
The new campaign now tells a coherent story which overarches all the 20 missions. El Presidente is, of course, the central figure, yet several other characters - or adversaries - also take their part - like the secret KGB agent with codename "Sasha", the cunning and strangely familiar Yankee politician Nick Richards and the rebel legend Marco Moreno (The Flame of La Revolucion!). They all have their own agenda and are after their own goals.
How did you design your natural disasters? Where there any that were left on the cutting room floor?
We sent disaster testers to every major disaster that occurred during the development of the game. The testers who survived or sent meaningful last-minute memos gave us exceptional insight in the disaster itself and later into the unorganized fashion of the government responses.
The testers who accidentally gave their life while developing the disasters are dully acclaimed in the credits and rewarded posthumously by El Presidente himself.
I think we skipped the Locusts Plague and some of the more gruesome of the Ten Calamities, but we have pretty much everything else covered - Elections, Tornadoes, Oil Spills, Volcanoes, Free Elections, Drought, Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Tsunami, Fires, Mandatory Elections and so on...
One of the things we learned at E3 was the ability to micromanage as much or as little as you want to, could you talk about how you implemented that and how people will be able to play as little or as much as they’d like? What’s your preferred playing style?
The ability to engage fully in micromanagement or to skip micromanagement it at all is one of the most valuable aspects of the gameplay experience in Tropico. For example the player can click on specific citizens and check their personal needs and problems or never care to even click on a citizen at all.
A similar, yet different possibility is to play in sandbox mode for longer or shorter playtime. Tropico 4 is one of those games where the complexity is scaled as the playtime increases and micro-management solutions that are viable early in the game are neither as effective nor as applicable as your island grows in population, needs or expenses.
Nonetheless, certain problems late in game will require micromanagement solutions as well (like a building on fire or pleasing the leader of a specific action)
All this leads to different gameplay approaches. We believe that the choice between these different approaches is what makes Tropico a good game.
My personal style vary depending on the stage of the specific game as well as the path of the economy development I choose. I usually do more micromanagement earlier than later in the game, when usually the challenges are greater but the resources much more available.
I prefer large-scale solutions to problems which will affect entire population or factions - if I have the means to afford such solutions. However, I often find myself in a situation where I have to tend to the needs of a specific faction leader, to ensure his followers are happy with my rule. I can often arrange for exceptionally high salary of a faction leader or irresponsibly expensive home, as this is relatively cheap way to snatch an election victory. Sounds a little bit like real life, does it not?
What’s the biggest improvement in this version of the game? Are there small but important changes to the game that haven’t made the marketing material?
Council of Ministers. Private industries. International trade. Nuclear Power Plants. World-wide conspiracy against El Presidente. Stupid advisors. Clever advisors. Sexy advisors! Even a coherent story-line! What could an aspiring dictator possibly want more?
Given all the unrest and political upheaval in the middle east this year have you ever thought about doing something like a Middle East dictator sim or does that cross that tongue in cheek line too much?
Tropico - Middle East relations have never been so good. Our presidente receives gifts from prominent Middle East dignitaries practically on a monthly basis in return for small favors on our part. True, those gifts are mainly camels, but it's the thought that counts.
Even though the Middle East features prominently in the game and Tropico has nothing but respect for the aspiring dictators there, El Presidente is unique. We stay true to Him and will never abandon Him. All those possibilities for other dictator sims are propaganda from the enemy world leaders who would do everything to erode the support for El Presidente.
Please repeat my answer in full when you report to your local Secret Police Officer.
Is there anything we missed that you think is important?
Yes - check out the demo
, which is already out, and if you like the experience - buy the game
We'd like to thank Bisser for taking the time to answer our questions as well as Ted for helping to coordinate the interview.