Let the Sun Shine In

Power Planets is a great example of theme matching dynamics and a rare example of a Facebook game worth your time. You control a one-dimensional planet with limited resources and attempt to build up a civilization hopefully without fouling up the environment. You do this by unlocking tech in a nicely sized tech-tree and placing buildings and power plants in tactical locations.

The reason Power Planets works so well where loads of civ building games have failed is simply because it has a theme that is strong, but isn’t heavy-handed. You are free to muck up the world in the pursuit of luchre and the game makes little moral objection to the choice with the exception of animation of coughing and dying residents. It doesn’t lead you down a path of eco-righteousness – it lets you decide what that is through the mechanics.

For instance, I wanted to research to get Universities because they provide a lot of points per hour. But to do so, I needed a good chunk of money. So I built some fume-spewing Upgraded Factories powered by cheap, abundant and dirty as sin coal power. Completely within the so-called “Magic Circle”, I justified this – yeah, it is dirty and all, but it’s for the greater good. I need the Universities.

Renewable resources are hopelessly underpowered until you get the research to unlock more futuristic technologies. But the only way to unlock those technologies is to have a lot of money and the only way to have a lot of money is to essentially build a lot of polluting buildings. The parallel lessons to real situations, while neccessarily simplistic, are striking.

But the clever twist in Power Planets that makes it unlike every other building sim out there is that you hand off your planet to someone else every two days and receive a stranger’s. How many times in polluting will you look at your coal reserves, see 40 hours of coal remaining and know that it is someone else’s problem, plunging ahead not worrying about the future?

One building you can create is a Monument that houses your Facebook picture. Future caretakers of that world cannot remove or move the monument and it takes up a valuable space on the planet. Putting it on a useful resource or in a valuable power plant’s range is the ultimate in narcissism, but the game makes no value judgment on its own.

In a genre full of contrived mechanics (Why can I only click my cow every six hours? “Well, because we want you to come back” doesn’t fit any theme but manipulation), Power Planets strives as simple, fun and full of meaning.

5 thoughts on “Let the Sun Shine In”

  1. Power Planets is indeed an awesome game!

    It should be noted however that Cow Clicker was actually developed as a satire of the genre. Perhaps it fails as a satire because so many people enjoy it, but I wouldn’t say it’s manipulative at all!

  2. This is a lot of fun, but I have yet to be handed a planet that has had any serious development to it. At most it has a couple of houses and a coal plant, and the worst one had been completely untouched through all four epochs leading up to mine.

  3. That does unfortunately happen quite often, but I have been handed some good worlds. In one, I was Captain Planet cleaning up the former owners mess (with all his money thx) and another I was way at the top of the tech tree.

    But yeah, they need to fix it such that the handoffs have better content.

  4. I disagree that the mechanics force you to sit there and wait. Its just as bad as cow clicker and every other stupid facebook game. The mechanics, if tuned for real play instead of “hurry up and wait” would be a lot more fun; I could play an hour a day and not have to string that hour over the two days I get on each world.

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