ElectroCity is a flash game from Genesis Energy, New Zealand's leading generator and retailer of electricity. Stick with me here, it's a fun little game. It is intended "to spark an interest and lay an unbiased foundation for later learning" about the issues involved in power generation, cost, and environmental impact. Sounds fun already, doesn't it? Let's set our cynicism about Big Power aside and for now call it an "edugame." It is obviously a very simplistic look at those issues, intended to give a broad overview and invite further research on the part of the player. It's also not a bad little town sim game to boot.
When visiting the website you are first presented with the option to view a tutorial entitled "How To Play". The game is not very difficult to understand, especially if you are a fan of sim games in general, but there are many facets to the interface and the tutorial may prove helpful.
When starting a new game you are presented with a random (or at least semi-random) map. You begin with a centrally located Sleepy Town with a small population, close to the beach; a river, mountains, and forests; and with a small wind farm nearby supplying your power.
Basically every single turn you collect revenue from taxes (as long as your income exceeds your expenses, naturally) and decide whether to build new town features or upgrade existing ones. You may even destroy existing upgrades if they are proving too costly, or buy and sell resources on the open market.
The main focus of the game is obviously power generation and its use, and in this area you have many options. Each turn you can prospect in one tile for natural resources like coal and gas. If you locate a resource, you can then choose to harvest that resource, and eventually perhaps build a power plant to burn that resource for energy generation. You may also build town enhancements like campgrounds, theme parks, beaches, ports, and airstrips that will make your town more attractive and bring in more people. Of course the more people that settle there the more power you need to generate. Once you decide what to do you click "End Turn" and see if your actions had any effect.
Every action in the game carries consequences in several areas. Raising taxes brings in more money but lowers your residents' overall happiness. Harvesting coal or gas is expensive and causes pollution, but opting to go with all wind power is inefficient and unreliable from turn to turn. Gameplay requires a balance of all of those factors to be successful.
At the end of the 150th turn, the game ends and you are scored based on your performance in four management areas: Energy Management, Popularity, Population (size, I guess?), and Environment; plus an overall score and letter grade. You can save your town once finished to be included in the "Finished Towns" area of the website and are given email links to send to friends and family so you can "show off" your completed town.
Analysis: ElectroCity is an extremely simple sim game that, despite having 150 turns, plays rather quickly. You spend a lot of turns clicking "next turn" just to try and build up money, or while waiting for a power plant to finish building so you have more power for your city. Unless I'm crazy it has no sound, which was disappointing. Some atmospheric sounds would have gone a long way towards immersion in the environment.
The game is effective at demonstrating the basic balancing act required when considering power generation and its effect on the environment. The graphics are simple and effective as well, evoking the feel of something like SimCity 4, and are very inviting. There are a couple of strange features in the interface, like the zoom option which gives you a close-up view of your town but offers no real gameplay benefit, so it's simply eye candy. I was also frustrated for several turns when I would come up short on power despite thinking I had ample wind farms (yes, I went all wind), but what I discovered was that wind farms are inherently unreliable due to the wind's capricious nature.
It's nice that you can also save your town (via a code that you enter when you return), and I always appreciate not having to create a new login just to play a game. That goes a long way towards my feeling that this game is a genuine attempt at education rather than a thinly cloaked marketing application. It's probably that too, but it's nice to be an optimist every once in a while.
Cheers to Jesse for the link! =)