Not satisfied simply to have won second place in our 5th game design competition (CGDC #5), game designer Lars A. Doucet has been busy reworking, researching, and refining his entry, Super Energy Apocalypse. We are proud to announce that the full-fledged game has now been released!
The core mechanic in Super Energy Apocalypse Recycled remains intact: build a base and keep it defended against a nightly zombie onslaught. The economy of building revolves not around money, but energy, of which there are many different sources, from coal to wind to nuclear. Each building you erect produces a certain amount of waste, which must be taken care of before it pollutes your base, because pollution to these zombies is like spinach to Popeye, and they grow mean and nasty real quick.
Since the game basically takes you through all the steps you need to know, I won't go into detail about how to play, but I will highlight some of the many, many improvements made since we last reviewed the Super Energy Apocalypse. First of all, it is now virtually bug-free (at least, I haven't found any). Secondly, the energy costs have been updated to reflect real-world data (more on that later). Finally, there are a heap of new features, including three difficulty modes, variable terrain height, a flame turret to really toast those zombies, new types of enemies, variable weather for wind and solar energy, recycling centers which turn garbage into material and energy, a reworked storyline and some major polishing of the artwork and interface. And last but not least, a sweet theme song as a reward for beating the game!
Analysis: If you've played the original, you'll recognize the dusty New Texas landscape and tentacular zombies, but you'll also be able to appreciate just how much work was put into this new version. In fact, there is quite a fascinating story behind it: Even before CGDC5, the idea behind the game had sprung from conversations about global warming, about which Lars admits he was a skeptic. After taking second in the competition, he realized he might just be onto something big, but a lot of work needed to be done.
"The game was buggy as all getout, and the research numbers were essentially made up on the spot. I'd paid my petroleum engineer roommate $50 to scour the internet for some numbers for me, … and the time I gave him to research (less than a week) simply wasn't enough to get anything like a realistic simulation."
A professor of his, after seeing the original game, hooked Lars up with HARC an energy-focused non-profit organization, which offered him "what will probably go down in history as one of the best Flash Game sponsorships EVER." It turns out, they'd been trying to develop educational games for years with little success, and Super Energy Apocalypse was exactly what they were looking for, so they hired him to finish the game!
Armed with a sponsorship, he spent the summer gathering data:
"I pored over EPA databases, through Toxic Release Inventory reports, and googled my brains out trying to get a hold of information on power plants, mining operations, everything. I called up trucking companies asking them what the average mileage and curb weight of a municipal garbage truck was."
You see, Super Energy Apocalypse was never intended to be a fully balanced game. Lars wanted actual costs, actual outputs, actual pollution to dictate a player's choices. If that means nuclear energy is too costly to use, then so be it. The result is a game in which its problems and solutions mirror those in the real world – except maybe for the pollution-eating zombies. It took a lot of work, but the end result is one of the most enjoyable and fun educational games ever created. One of the main problems with most "educational" games, is that they feel more like a pop quiz with a game tacked on to keep the kiddies interested. Super Energy Apocalypse Recycled deftly avoids this downfall by incorporating the real world directly into the core mechanics of the game, steering it towards a "learn-by-doing" experience.
But what Lars himself learned by making the game?
"As the semester came to a close, I looked back on all I had learned through this dinky little project that had consumed the better part of my life. I found that, ironically, … I actually believe in Global Warming now. There's the nuanced understanding that there are so many environmental issues at stake, that even if Global Warming were to go away we still would be in a heap of trouble.… Energy Apocalypse taught me to see all environmental issues as a complete system, not just one part."
Not only that, but Lars discovered that there is a market for games like this, and more importantly that he could turn his "Flash game hobby" into a viable career. So, budding game designers take heart! The casual game field is full of opportunities and still growing, and more opportunities like Lars had are bound to occur.