SimCity 2000, Part II: Debt and drought

The mayor awoke in his dingy hotel room/apartment.  He cleaned up, put on a cheap suit and walked down the street to his rat- and roach-infested office in the commercial district three blocks away.  He went to his office and sat down in front of his giant secondhand oak desk covered in scratches and coffee cup rings.

He saw a sticky note stuck to the top of his desk.

Mayor – the city has $1 left in the treasury.  The residents are also threatening to riot if we don’t build a functioning water and sewage system.

One dollar left?

5

One dollar.

The mayor also just realized that he had not, in fact, installed any water pumps or water mains and that for three years, nobody in the city had had access to running water.  Presumably they all bought bottled water to cook and wash with, like he did.

However, since there was only one dollar left in the treasury, the mayor figured that he wouldn’t be able to build any water pumps or mains anyway.  So he sat down behind his desk, pulled a bottle of whiskey out of a desk drawer, and decided to wait a year and see how the building already planned would develop.  Maybe the new growth would bring in more taxpayers and the city would be able to start digging itself out of its hole.

5a

While our mayor gets drunk on cheap bourbon in his office, we learn that Boston has installed subways.  This is the game’s way of letting you know that new technologies are available, and that other cities have them, and that you don’t.  And that you can’t afford to build them because you only have one fucking dollar in the treasury.

5aa

This also happened.  Judge Stevens is definitely going to get in trouble for commenting on pending legislation.  Also, that sandwich sounds appetizing, doesn’t it.

5b

A year passes.  Despite the new growth in Hell, the city is still losing money and is now in the red.  There must be some way to cut costs, right?

5c

There is!  Impose a sales and income tax on residents and businesses in the ordinances section and cut police and fire department funding in half.  Crime will rise, but that’s a risk we’ll have to take.

5d

We don’t need more police stations.  The citizens can just buy guns and take the law into their own hands.  That’s the American way, god damn it.

So now we have $47 of cashflow per year.  That’s not great, but at this rate at least we’ll be out of the hole in three years, and hopefully more citizens will move to Hell and add to the population base.  Is there any other spending we can cut?  We don’t spend anything on health or education, so we can’t cut spending there.  What about transit, though?  Do they really need all eight of those dollars?

5e

Apparently they do.

Raising property tax is also an option, but we’ll hold off on that for now – higher tax rates mean lower growth rates.

6

One year later… the plan is working!  Now we have a hundred dollars of cashflow projected for next year.  Soon we’ll be rolling in it.

Another year passes, and-

6a

Next year’s projected cashflow is now… $-41.

Someone in the city’s accounting office is going to get fired, I swear to God.

The downturn in the city’s fortunes might have to do with the fact that the industrial and commercial sections of Hell now look like this:

6b

Maybe some drug deals are going down in those abandoned buildings, but that’s about all the business that’s being done.  (Actually, there are definitely more drug deals going on since we cut police funding by 50%.)

What we have to do now is place more residential zones to bring in more citizens and drive demand for commercial and industrial zones back up.  However, we can’t do that with negative 28 dollars in the treasury.  Money has to be raised.  Jacking up property taxes won’t help – it will only drive demand for residential zones down and reduce the population, leading to lower tax revenue.  Totally defunding police and fire services is also an option, but that will only give us a trickle of money coming in every year – and then we run the risk of fires and riots breaking out.

We truly have no choice now – we’ll have to take out another bond.

6c

The interest rate is only 4%.  This could be a lot worse.  Now, instead of interest payments on one loan, we’ll be make interest payments on two loans.  But the only alternative is stagnation.

6d

I swear that I didn’t plan this out – but it does seem appropriate that the amount we’ll owe at the end of the year on our loans is $666.

7

Now that we’ve issued our second bond and owe an assload of money every year, we have to act quickly.  Zone the shit out of this desert crater with heavy residential.  Build tenements with no running water and broken air conditioning units and no fire escapes.  We don’t care as long as people move in, start paying taxes, and get jobs at our currently empty, run-down factories.

You might have noticed the little blue things to the left of the police station.  Those are water pumps.  They cost $100 each and draw water to supply to the surrounding buildings.  They can also be attached to pipes that you can build to supply all parts of your city with water.  Our mayor finally decided to spend some money on running water – not necessarily because he’s concerned about the citizens but because he knows that running water means a higher population density and more tax revenue.  Remember – it’s all about the $$$.

7a

As the water system map shows, the newly powered water pumps are supplying… nothing at all.  This may be due to the fact that Hell is in the middle of a desert.

Also, we’ve spent over a quarter of our second bond proceeds and we’re still losing money every year.  The new residential zoning has spurred rebuilding in the industrial sector – but will it be enough to save the city’s finances?  Probably not.

7c

Meanwhile, the mayor is still drunk off his ass, sleeping on the floor behind his desk.  His staffers pretend not to notice as they answer angry letters and phone calls from citizens who are forced to bathe by rubbing their hair with soap and pouring bottles of water over their heads.

A review of VA-11 HALL-A (PC, Vita)

Time to mix drinks and change lives

Have you ever wanted to work as a bartender at a cyberpunk bar in the future?  Then you’re in luck.  VA-11 HALL-A, previewed here in its demo version, is a game that came out late last month for PC and Vita.*  It bills itself as “cyberpunk bartender action”, as you can see in the below screenshot.

v1

Not sure about the “action” bit, but the description is otherwise apt, because you play as Jill, a young bartender working at a small out-of-the-way bar called VA-11 HALL-A (pronounced Valhalla) in a slummy neighborhood of the futuristic dystopia Glitch City.  In this future, humans are enhanced with nanomachines and extremely human-looking robots called Lilim mix with the population.  The city’s population has to deal with constant shortages, and protests are dealt with violently by the authorities.  Jill, however, is only concerned with getting to work, paying rent, and keeping the lights on.  She shares her duties with her boss Dana and her co-worker Gillian (above, left and right respectively), each of whom have shady and mysterious pasts.

v6

Jill goes to work every night, tends bar, and has conversations with her customers and with Dana and Gillian.  Some customers only drop by once or twice, while others are regulars, but all of them ask for mixed drinks that Jill has to prepare using the setup on the right side of the screen.  Sometimes the customer will ask for a specific drink, but at other times they’ll just ask for something strong or sweet or bitter or girly and let you interpret the order as you see fit.  Fortunately, the player can refer to a drink guide that contains recipes, but a few orders are actually pretty hard to get right the first time around, and serving customers different drinks can change the conversation or get the customers drunker or less drunk depending upon how Karmotrine (basically the future version of alcohol) they consume.  Jill’s performance at work also affects her paycheck and her ability to pay the bills back at home, where she returns after work to rest with her cat Fore and to read the news, blogs, and messageboards on her cell phone.  Or her iPad, or whatever that thing she’s holding is.

In my playthrough, I fucked up and didn't have enough money in my account to pay the electric bill.

During my playthrough, I fucked up and didn’t have enough money in my account to pay the electric bill.

This drink-mixing mechanic makes VA-11 HALL-A feel a little bit like Papers, Please, the big indie hit from 2013 that put the player in the role of a border agent trying to make ends meet in an oppressive Soviet-style state.  VA-11 HALL-A, however, is a lot less of a traditional “game”, at least in the way a lot of people would define it, and a lot more of a visual novel.  The drink-making parts of the game aren’t timed, and the player can reset and start over if he screws up with no penalties.  The real focus of this game is on the relationships between its characters.  A lot of the people hanging out in Valhalla have personal issues that they’re working through, and some of the characters that show up are pretty memorable and interesting.  Characters that comes to mind right away are Sei, a member of the city’s security force who first visits the bar in her full uniform, complete with intimidating helmet, and Dorothy, a cheery android girl who works as a prostitute and has no qualms about it (or about talking about her work in detail.)  One of the most interesting characters in the story, though, is Jill, who as it turns out is running away from something in her past that catches up with her during the game.

Maybe it's better if you don't get the reference here.

A not-so-subtle reference to a certain famous novel.

VA-11 HALL-A is a good game that I’m happy I bought and played, but there are some caveats in this case, because this isn’t a game for everyone.  You might be thinking this game is inspired by Blade Runner, and you’d be right, since it’s in a dystopian cyberpunk setting full of human-like androids.  But VA-11 HALL-A is also soaked in references to anime/manga/Japanese game culture (is “culture” the right word for it?)  If I weren’t an embarrassing weeb nerd myself, I definitely wouldn’t have understood some of the hidden jokes in the game’s many conversations.  Someone who’s approaching this game without that kind of background will be missing out a bit in that regard.

Even moreso, though, VA-11 HALL-A is an adult game.  There’s nothing remotely pornographic or lewd or anything in the game graphically speaking, but a lot of the conversations revolve around fuckin’.  Especially when Dorothy is around.  And Dorothy’s status as what amounts to a sexbot with a personality, combined with her appearance and the reference in her name, may make some players uncomfortable (like this reviewer for PC Gamer, who was clearly creeped out by the whole thing, though to be fair the game does address all this.)  So if that rubs you the wrong way, you might want to give VA-11 HALL-A a miss.

This is a real line in the game, not making it up

It makes sense in context, I promise

But if VA-11 HALL-A is about anything, it’s about the nature of love and friendship.  That might make this game sound cheesy or cliché, but it really handles the subject well and does so in an interesting setting and with interesting characters.  So even though VA-11 HALL-A felt like it ended way too quickly (one playthrough only took about 10 hours, which is standard length for some genres but short for a VN) I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys VNs or who thinks all the stuff I described above might be interesting.  The soundtrack is also really good and goes a long way towards creating the game’s cyberpunkish but also strangely cozy atmosphere.  And considering the fact that the developer, Sukeban Games, consists of two guys living in Venezuela, one of the most politically unstable countries in the world at the moment, VA-11 HALL-A is actually pretty goddamn impressive.  Let’s hope they make it through the crisis and go on to top their achievements with an even better game.

==

*I was going to start this review with a lot of bitching about how at least I have this game to play while waiting for Zero Time Dilemma, which I was supposed to have last fucking week but someone fucked up and Amazon promised they’d ship the game in an email but they haven’t done anything for the past five days.  But then I thought that sounded too bitter/angry.  Then I wrote about it in this footnote instead.

†This review is kind of interesting to me because it’s a take on the game from a totally different perspective from mine – aside from the whole sex issue, the reviewer just seems to not like visual novels considering her comments about how the game is “boring”, and VA-11 HALL-A is basically a visual novel.

Valhalla I am coming

That famous line from Led Zeppelin’s famous “Immigrant Song” (their best-known, but not only, song they wrote about Vikings) is what I thought when I saw the title of the soon to be released VA-11 Hall-A, a visual novel by the studio Sukeban Games.  Valhalla, which is what I’m calling the game from now on because I don’t feel like copy-pasting VA-11 Hall-A more than once, is a VN set in a cyberpunk dystopian future city where there are nanomachines and probably robots and cyborgs that was certainly inspired by Blade Runner.  In this world, you play as Jill, a bartender working at a hole in the wall sort of place officially called VA-11 and unofficially called Valhalla who has to mix drinks and deal with the characters who come in out of the cold for booze and a conversation.  The gameplay, aside from being mostly or almost entirely a VN, includes a drink-mixing mechanic that’s vaguely reminiscent of a way less complicated form of the border agent work in Papers Please – you have the choice of mixing drinks properly for your customers or of giving them bullshit drinks, and your choice in this matter seems to affect the dialogue.

Your only customer in the demo, which gives you a brief taste of the full game.

Your only customer in the demo, which gives you a brief taste of the full game.

Valhalla is being released on June 21, but I played the admittedly very short demo that gave me at least a taste of the sort of gameplay I should expect.  And I’m honestly intrigued.  Not only do I like good visual novels, but this particular VN involves the consumption of alcohol, which I also like.  Moreover, Sukeban is an unabashedly weeaboo studio (no, it’s not Japanese, but Venezuelan, strangely enough) so that’s another natural connection for me to make.  The weeaboo thing can cut both ways – I’m hoping the final product will not be too self-indulgent or memetastic.  But the brief demo suggested that this probably won’t be the case.  Unlike some other western VN projects that crop up and get public attention, Valhalla – at least so far – doesn’t feel like a cheap knock-together of mediocre art and writing.  And the Venezuelan team that put together this demo/game seems to have an excellent grasp on English – either they’re fluent speakers or they hired native English-speakers to edit their work.

In any case, I’m interested in this game.  I need something to play while I study for the bar exam and wait for Zero Time Dilemma to come out.  Expect (well, maybe expect) a review of the full version of Valhalla in the near future.