Games such as Sim City and Cities: Skylines focus on the aspect of creating your dream city from scratch. Fragment Production’s Urban Empire incorporates some of those city-building traits, but it places importance on the political side of things. As mayor, power is not always absolute, and you must lean on allies and foes alike in the political game to create a mayoral dynasty. At GDC, we were able to see a pre-alpha build of the game.
Start From The Bottom
The game starts in year 1820, and you take the role of a character who leads the newfound city as its mayor. This character comes from one of the game’s five families, and each one has its own set of beliefs. One family might have liberal tendencies, whereas another places high importance on technological advancements. The family's beliefs will set the tone for your political alignment in the city council as well as your relationship to other politicians.
At certain time periods, such as the World War II or the Industrial Revolution, a new family member takes control of the mayoral duties. The goal is to create a dynasty of leaders that spans two centuries, with the game’s end at the year 2020. Throughout that journey, you must navigate through the game’s political wars. If you manage to upset enough members of your city council, you will be ousted from your leadership role, and the game will be over.
The Political Game
Certain actions of the game, such as creating new provinces, proposing edicts or implementing new technology all need to be approved by your city council. At the beginning, the council is made up of three parties, each with a small number of delegates. Over time, new parties will arise, which creates more diversity in the government. To put your proposals to action (and to ultimately stay in power), you’ll need a majority of these parties on your side when voting begins.
One way to win over politicians is through the game’s various random scenarios. A certain faction might be upset with you, and you must decide whether to combat the problem head on or deal with it behind closed doors. Depending on your choice, you could convince party members to vote for your case or further alienate them from your allegiance. You could even choose to conspire to spy on rival parties throughout the voting process.
Your in-game aides will also present opportunities that could give you the upper hand at crucial moments. For example, an aide will tell you that they found information that could compromise the reputation of a rival politician. If you choose to reveal to the politician that you know about his or her secret, you might have control over their decisions for a short time. However, you could also choose not to reveal your hand until a crucial vote, which could change the vote in your favor. Timing is everything in politics, and a big secret could tip the balance of power between you and the opposition.
You Built This City
Aside from the political games, you will have to manage various aspects of building your city. You can start by creating a district. Within that area, you can also set the density of various zones, a mechanic similar to other city-building games. Linking a series of districts expands your city, and you’ll soon have to monitors various statistics.
Clicking on city hall will show the status of certain factors that will help your city grow, such as happiness, safety and health, and you’ll need to find ways to improve certain statistics to maintain the public’s favor. For example, researching a new technology for lighting will introduce gas-powered street lights. At night, these lamps shine brighter, which makes everyone feel safer. Combine that with the addition of police and medical units, and your citizens have nothing to fear. Of course, none of the technological improvements or new buildings go into effect unless you get the proposal passed through the city council first.
Urban Empire could prove to be a way to show how politics goes hand-in-hand with city planning. In the real world, you can’t easily allocate land for waste dumps or spend frivolous amounts of money on a new stadium. These decisions are voted on by politicians who represent the city’s residents.
There are times when a vote goes your way without too much opposition, but at some point, you’ll have to put pressure on those who might prevent you from building improvements or creating a new district. In order to stay in power, you’ll have to figure out multiple ways of winning the hearts of your political peers while keeping the opposition in line. In the end, it’s all in the pursuit of leaving a lasting legacy that future generations can carry on into the next era of your urban empire.