Tropico 4 Modern Times: nuts and bolts

, | Game diaries

Like all good city builders, the Tropico series devotes considerable resources to infrastructure and industry. In the real world, traffic, power plants, and pollution can be unsightly nightmares, but in a game setting they’re just interesting problems to be solved. I’m happy to say that this is one area in which the Modern Times expansion excels. While biofarms are so productive that they eliminate money woes from sandbox games and modern apartments are so unbalanced that they render every other form of housing obsolete, the new infrastructure and industrial buildings provide options and enhancements without destroying Tropico’s underlying challenges.

After the jump: riding on the metro

Traffic management has always been an issue in the Tropico series. Prior to Modern Times, mass transit was non-existent in the Caribbean, and my citizens had to either slowly stroll to their destinations or grab a car from a nearby garage. Naturally, as my cities expanded so did their need for transportation, which inevitably led to traffic jams that ranged in severity from annoying to crippling. Building road networks without 4-way intersections was a considerable help (the traffic algorithm handled them badly, perhaps deliberately so), but players who sought to maximize efficiency constructed strange city layouts with no intersections whatsoever, just unconnected road loops with garages by every significant clump of buildings. I could never bring myself to do this, however–I need a certain degree of verisimilitude from my city builders and can’t enjoy a city that’s too unrealistic.

First available in 1981, the metro station relegates these unnatural metropolises to history’s bulging dustbin. Pictured in the screenshot at the top of this article, metro stations have a very small footprint and require no workers to operate, just electricity. They come with two significant drawbacks designed to prevent players from simply spamming them all over the map: their cost increases by $4000 for each one constructed after the first and they increase crime in a small radius around them.

On the plus side, almost all of Tropico’s residents love metro stations, which provide instantaneous transport between any two locations and don’t require the excavation of subway tunnels. Just plop down the above-ground station and watch the pedestrians pour in. Teamsters and construction workers heading to job sites won’t use metro stations (they need their trucks to carry goods and equipment) and El Presidente takes his presumably armored and chauffeured limo everywhere, but everyone else will use them any time they’re convenient. You can see a couple dozen parishioners and priests walking from the station to the nearby Diamond Cathedral and back again in the screenshot, but only three vehicles. Mission accomplished!

Modern Times offers several other new infrastructure choices, none of which are game breaking and all of which are interesting. Solar power plants, pictured above, come online in 1975 and replace windmills. Compared to windmills, they take up considerably more space but have much lower upkeep costs per kilowatt. Unlike windmills, they also produce the same amount of power anywhere on the island regardless of elevation, which is a nice benefit. Water treatment plants, which replace garbage dumps in 1964, eliminate more pollution in a wider area and, perhaps unrealistically, aren’t as undesirable to live near. They also have multiple operating modes: the default mode, a purification mode that reduces the healthcare needs of nearby residents but costs twice as much, a recycling mode that boosts the respect of environmentalists but also costs double, and the hilarious Happy Powder mode, which drugs citizens into mindlessly loving El Presidente but also kills a few of them every year. A water treatment plant can be seen to the left of the solar installation in the screenshot above.

The new industrial buildings are less exciting but still useful. The electronics factory unlocks in 1980 and converts gold or bauxite into high tech exports. The car factory unlocks in 1987 (after electronics? why?) and consumes iron or bauxite. Neither is functionally any different from the factories in the base game; they just provide a different way to make money from resource extraction. The borehole mine has a nice twist to it, though. First available in 1973 and pictured above, borehole mines don’t cease production when the resource deposit they’re built upon runs out of raw material. Instead, they continue to produce resources at a reduced rate, a change that I really like. Islands based on agriculture and tourism never run out of inputs, but those based on heavy industry used to either collapse when the mines ran dry or had to import raw materials at great cost, slashing their profit margins so badly that they were much inferior to agricultural industries or tourism over the long haul.

Next time: a three hour tour
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Dave Markell’s probably been playing games longer than you’ve been alive. While his preferred genres are turn-based strategy and RPG’s, he’ll gladly demonstrate his incompetence at anything.