April 26, 2019
Limbic Entertainment revamps Tropico 6 with Unreal Engine 4
To see how Limbic Entertainment produced the most beautiful Tropico game to date, we interviewed Game Designer Marcus Cool. He explains how the studio researched the series’ history to maintain the franchise’s roots while injecting new elements and features. The game designer also discusses Tropico 6’s new archipelago map designs and elaborates how the multi-island structure expands what’s possible with the series. Thanks for your time. Considering the previous Tropico games were made by different developers, what’s it been like to step into shoes as big as El Presidente's?
Limbic Entertainment Game Designer Marcus Cool: It's always a challenge to create a new entry in a beloved franchise, but we embraced the challenge with Tropico 6. You must stay true to the series' DNA while also introducing a fresh spin to the formula. It’s a delicate balance, but we feel we walked it appropriately during Tropico 6’s development.
Being a new developer to the series, can you elaborate on the research that went into the development of Tropico 6?
Cool: The first step was to have the whole team dive into the previous games to get a feeling for what makes Tropico, Tropico. Being aware of their feel, pace, and overall look absolutely helped as we started to prototype certain aspects like agent simulation, pathfinding, and traffic management. We not only played all of the prior Tropicos themselves, but also played a lot of other sims and city builders to see what we could bring to Tropico 6 to set it apart from the pack.
How do you balance paying tribute to what fans expect from the series while also introducing new features and mechanics?
Cool: Tropico games have a certain number of features, style, content, quirks, etc. Those all shaped our understanding of what a Tropico game is at its core. At the outset of development, we evaluated each and its importance to the game’s DNA. This involves a ton of research on forums, Reddit, and game reviews. When we had this all, we identified things that should and shouldn't be in our Tropico game. We call those “design claims.” Once we had these, it was relatively simple to decide how exactly the individual new features should be implemented into the game.
Tropico 6 introduces a new raid mechanic that allows El Presidente to employ pirates to steal other countries’ famous landmarks. Can you elaborate on the design of this quirky concept?
Cool: This is a good example for what we talked about earlier. The idea was to have a new feature that centered on El Presidente stealing world wonders from around the globe and placing them on Tropico. We initially planned it to be about a dedicated map interface while only stealing blueprints, but with the tonality and humor of the series, we changed it to stealing the wonders [themselves]. If anyone could pull it off, it’s El Presidente!
We scrapped the world map as it took away the focus on the nation of Tropico. We kept the era system, so the raid feature was needed to progress through the eras. This created the opportunity to reintroduce Tropican pirates for the colonial era (a nod to Tropico 2), and the Spy Academy (a nod to Tropico 5) for the cold war era. For the other eras, we have commandos for world wars and hackers for modern times. We all love Penultimo, El Presidente's humble advisor, so he was a perfect fit to be spokesperson for the raiders. Once we defined the game’s DNA and formed the resulting design claims as our base, new features literally just fell into place naturally.
Limbic Entertainment previously stated that citizens will be "fully simulated," which could affect the productivity and stability of the population. Can you elaborate on this design and explain how you implemented it?
Cool: Individual citizens (or "agents," as we call them internally) make autonomous decisions based on their individual needs and their perception of Tropico. In other words, there is no supervising algorithm that analyzes the game state and manages the agents based on its calculations. The core of this system was one of the first features to get implemented in a rudimentary state, where each agent would just go through a simple cycle of fulfilling their needs in dedicated buildings. The system was incrementally extended by agents deciding what to do, where to do it, and how to get there.
Previous Tropico games were made using different engines. What made Unreal Engine 4 a good fit for Tropico 6?
Cool: Everyone on the team has had extensive experience working with Unreal from previous projects and felt confident continuing development with Unreal Engine. Unreal also has a strong feature set that is beneficial to Tropico 6 like multiplayer, materials/rendering features, and foliage system.
With vibrant colors, realistic water, and a plethora of visual variety, Tropico 6 features the best graphics in the series by far. How did you go about nailing the game's visuals?
Cool: We classified the visual style we wanted to go for as "Caribbean Romanticism." If you take a screenshot from any location in the game, we wanted it to be worthy of a great "Visit Tropico" postcard. Our tech artists really worked their magic during development to produce high-quality assets. In addition, our level designers created a vast variety of maps that perfectly blended a natural look with gameplay destinations and points of interest with eye-catching details.
In previous Tropico games, players generally had one big island to play around with, but Tropico 6 features archipelagos that contain several small islands that players can inhabit. Can you talk about the move to this design?
Cool: If you have an island in a realistic setting, naval transportation should be part of the game. There wasn’t any downside not being able to go to other islands in the previous games, we always wanted to! By traveling to new islands via archipelagos completely opened up new features, content, challenges, and story possibilities.
Did the studio leverage Blueprints in any capacity?
Cool: Yes, we built our missions’ flow based on logic driven via parameters set by level designers in Blueprints.
Does the studio have any favorite UE4 tools or features?
Cool: We like UE4’s packaging/cooking tools, along with the BuildGraph automation system, which gives us more flexibility, especially deploying to multiple platforms/stores.
Profiling tools from simple commands to capture profiling data visualization and analysis tools also came in handy!
Is there anything you would like to let Tropico fans know about the sixth installment of the series?
Cool: We want to thank all Tropico fans for their trust and passion for Tropico. We hope you have a blast playing the game!
Thanks again for your time. Where can players learn more about Tropico 6?
Cool: People can head to the Kalypso website to buy the game and sign up for the newsletter to get information on patches and future DLCs! Viva Tropico!