Stop Disasters, a flash game created by playerthree, is one of those games you could easily dismiss before even launching it. However, the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction group has not drenched their game in messages and important life lessons that we all should follow (lest tragedy befall us all). Instead we get a game which is easy to pick up, figure out and get in to, but hard enough to challenge and reward not only planning but learning about successful planning.
In any of the five scenarios you are given (more to come), you are dropped into a portion of the world susceptible to the kind of Natural Disaster about to strike the unknowing inhabitants. Fortunately, using your God-like pre-eminence, you know there will be a disaster occurring soon and it's up to you to use logic, strategy and a little bit of trial and error (Rome wasn't destroyed and rebuilt in a day, you know) to save the town as best you can.
Given a budget for your town, you are to use education and any number of local initiatives to stop or minimise damage caused by the disaster. For example, in the flood scenario, install drainage, cover the wells and plant trees and mangroves. In the bush fire scenario, clear dry foliage from near housing, plant trees with higher natural water levels and instruct citizens to move their flammables away from their houses, etc..
In whatever scenario you choose, there are sure to be events which you do not anticipate or that you feel you could do better in. Returning to the scene again (each with three difficulties and each increasing the size of your town) will ensure the ability to better yourself and your own knowledge of how to prevent or protect yourself should you find yourself in one of these situations.
Analysis: There are a few drawbacks in this game, however, such as the controls. Most of the time they work well, but its the actual looking around and movements on the map which is quite cumbersome with the corner only directional controls. Though with a bit of practice, they do turn out to be usable.
The main focus of the game is, and I quote, "If we teach them [children] from the early age about the risks posed by natural hazards, children will have a better chance to save their lives during disasters". That alone makes it worth at least a cursory play. I found myself learning and re-adapting what I learned in the game to better my own high score and in the mean time saving lives and property. I can imagine children (of a certain age) doing the same, as well.
I also found the scrolling interface awkward to use, especially when surveying the scene after a disaster. In those cases, some objects which appear along the edge of the scene appear to go up in smoke. The bugs weren't limited to scrolling issues, however. Building a wood hut in a certain spot in one of the scenarios gave me an unlimited budget, yet I still lost, in the end.
In some ways, the game is successful in informing the player about preparing for natural disasters. It highlights the effectiveness of some simple measures, such as educating citizens, preparing evacuation drills, or maintaining natural protections such as wetlands and coral reefs. These simple steps invariably lead to more success than more costly solutions, both in the game, and the real world.
Unfortunately, unlike the real world, the game doesn't offer much feedback on the effectiveness of your choices. After the disaster, you are only given a snapshot overview of the results (and a buggy one, at that.) There is no way to find out how one area or building fared, or how much impact the individual defenses you built had.
Even the catastrophe, as it unfolds, seems to lack in cataclysm. If you arrange for an evacuation drill, and invoke it in time, the figures on the screen continue to stand in the same place. (It would be nice if they moved around at all.) This can be a dull minute, especially if you've already spent your allotted budget. Once the disaster hits, there is minimal sound. The small amount of drama that does play out is difficult to track, due to the scrolling issue.
Overall, it's a respectable effort to combine education with casual game play, but it could stand a little more attention to detail, in order to achieve this goal. When it comes to sharing knowledge which can save lives, we'd like it to be a memorable experience.
Cheers to Wouter and Zengief for sending this one in!