A Frostpunk diary of certain doom, finale: democracy is death

frostpunk-ending

Concluding my brutish and short first play of survival-management curio Frostpunk. When last you left us, we had survived disaster by the skin of our teeth, and even welcomed a giant robot into the fold. Now, as the nights draw in and the fires dim, can my proud people survive the rest of this calamitous winter?

Note: apologies for the delay in getting this to you. I’ve been ill for the best part of a week. Solidarity for my e’er-sickly townsfolk, perhaps: it’s hard enough to type coherent sentences about videogames when you’re coughing your lungs up and shivering sporadically, let alone shovel coal or hunt wabbits in -50 climes.

The robot, an enormous, arachnid assembly, turns out to be just the ticket. Able to perform the work of ten men, I leave it squatting monstrously over my coal-thumper, putting its eerie resemblance to the beast in the closing scenes of It (80s version) out of my head and instead relishing the resultant influx of spare hands.

frostpunk-automaton

Our shiny new pub – an essential for sanity, if ever there was one – is fully-staffed, yet another sick tent helps to stem the relentless tide of illness, and anywhere lacking a full contignent of workers is replenished. Full steam ahead, gang: we’ve beaten the apocalypse.

It is exactly then that our last form of salvation decides to enact dark karma. My troupe of scouts, who twice now have bailed us out by returning home with emergency supplies just as the maw of disaster prepared to swallow us whole, have clearly tired of being our exhausted bastion of hope. Instead, they send me a prophecy of doom: a sole survivor of another attempted wasteland community, who promptly dies in full view of my horrified people, but not before declaring that the same fate will soon come for them.

Just as I had finally established the foundations of an efficient community, that all-too human curveball arrives. It doesn’t matter how robust our settlement might appear: the whispering devil of despair is on everyone’s shoulder. We cannot survive. Not with him in charge. ‘Him’ being, of course, me. Hope plummets. Fatalism rules.

frostpunk-rebels

As the temperature drops once again, I have my first rebels to contend with. A dozen people refusing to work, and liable to sway more to their, frankly, suicidal cause unless I can make a very public show of reasons to be cheerful.

It is then that I make my fatal mistake. Desperate to be loved again, terrified by the idea of mass protests against my consistently well-intentioned rule, I overreach. With the nights colder than ever, my people beg me to make their thin shelters warm again. When this has happened previously, I’ve been cautious, promising only to improve the conditions of a few. But if I can crank up the thermostat in all our tents? Then they will love me once more.

If, however, I fail to meet this reckless promise, then my blue-fingered tribe’s last vestiges of hope will evaporate, and my tale will be at an end.

Diligently, I place Steam Hubs around the encampments, ensuring an even spread of gentle heat to see us through this dark hour. With my Arachnotron dutifully and tirelessly ferrying coal around the town, surely this is one storm we can weather.

Almost immediately after the last Steam Hub is erected, the main generator declares that it only has six hours of fuel left. The new drain dramatically exceeds our supply. I fall into a desperate juggling act of reassigning people (and robots) and turning heaters on or off, but it seems impossible.

At the back of my brain, I grow conscious that I have bungled my research into new technologies – racing ahead to access the second tier of inventions before I had established the meat and potatoes of making my generator crank out more heat and from greater distances. Nor had I prioritised researching coal mines as soon as I could. Nor had I planned my settlement in such a way that residences were sheltered by other buildings.

Somehow, I had convinced myself that heat was something I had more or less under control – even, that it was the most boring of my available options. The clue was always in the name, Alec. Food is relatively plentiful, disease is not a huge problem, but protection against the ever-deepening snow? Not a sausage.

frostpunk-hope

The deadline by which I had to meet my promise about warm homes comes and goes. The generator sputters on and off, our all-too-literal beacon of hope struggling to stay alive. The robot solemnly shovels just enough of the black stuff into it to prevent absolute doom, and meanwhile my engineers complete their research on turning wood into charcoal, thus providing us with a much-needed backup fuel source. A spark of hope…

The robot’s web of limbs suddenly cease their ceaseless dance. Of course. Arachnotron needed coal to work, to live. To save us. Perhaps Arachnatron’s needs doomed us. Panicked beyond measure, I order men and women to assume the bot’s abandoned duties, but there are so few left to call on – the Rebels have courted so many of my people by now. Those wretched punks, whispering sour nothings into every ear: they have doomed us all.

Hope shudders its last gasp. Hope dies. I was so close to fixing this – our wood stores would have been turned to charcoal, our scouts would have brought more emergency supplies, our… But no. This desperate back-and-forth could not continue. This venture was folly from the start. And now there will be blood.

frostpunk-failure

As my people send me out into the snow to atone for my sins with a slow and lonely death, my former concern for them turns to bitter hatred. That they would choose to kill me, and in this most cowardly fashion, rather than allow me to become simply another face in the maudlin crowd, speaks volumes about their character. They never deserved my help. They will die without my help, and that, they will deserve.

And yet my mind is now full of ways I could have done this better. I know how I would approach this deathly scenario, from the very first moment, had I another chance. Am I allowed another chance? Would I even take it if I could?

Time to die.

7 Comments

  1. Panther_Modern says:

    I found the inevitable need to become a theocratic or totalitarian society extremely heavy handed and trite, both mechanically and themeatically. War of Mine did a great job of depicting how desperation inevitably turns people into monsters when you realize without the game telling you that your ‘scavenging’ is essentially looting and condemning others to death. Frostpunk tries for the same thing but falls comically short.

    • Excors says:

      It’s not really inevitable – I played through once on normal and once on hard (with a few restarts after messing up the critical first several days), and never had to use the more extreme laws. My people were warm and reasonably happy and hopeful, and nobody died, and I welcomed all refugees, and the game didn’t force me into any hard decisions at all, which seemed a bit of a shame.

      As long as you set up a stable resource income at the beginning (which can be tricky), then build lots of workshops and race down the tech tree, it seems to become too straightforward. Maybe it needs some kind of negative feedback loops to prevent you from getting comfortable.

    • grrrz says:

      It’s not inevitable. you’re absolutely given a choice. For me one of the key to get involved with the game is actually care about the consequences of the policies you choose on the people you’re “taking care” of, and keep the things you don’t find tolerable as a last resort measure. you don’t HAVE the game to tell you that child labour is crual, or that enforcing a militia is a sure path to authoritarism. You should figure that out. I like how the game casually and gradually hands you tools that are more and more invasive on people’s life, and you can actually “win” the game with those tools, but you’re left with the effects of what you did on the people. And even the little ending cinematic is a kind o gratification tool to give you some kind of quantifiable “score”, but it doesn’t tell the whole story at all. basically you know what you did. Also the political subjects it covers are quite broad. Working conditions, education, healthcare, handicap and the integration of handicaped people in the working force, repression, some things are quite subtely treated.

    • MrEvilGuy says:

      I completed agree that this game is way too heavy handed on the theocratic or totalitarian choice, great comments.

      The game is too easy, so it undermines itself by pretending that players will have to use extreme laws to survive.

      My main issue was that it didn’t attempt to indicate how you can run a society outside of totalitarianism or theocracy, despite letting you in a certain way. It seems the developers couldn’t even comprehend what a communistic society would look like, despite having a contemporary example: see Rojava. Obviously creativity is needed to figure out how to adapt communal sorts of direct democracy to a video game, but they didn’t even have the creativity to try.

      I also had major issue with their extremely narrow depiction of faith. They basically force you to adopt a moderate-heavy tyrannical form of Christianity. No Buddhism, no Lutheranism, etc. Again, they didn’t even bother adapting a relevant contemporary socialist example: liberation theology in South America.

      I see no reason other than intellectual and creative inadequacies for why the developers were unable to adapt other modes of governance or self-governance into their game.

      Also, game is too easy.

      B-

      • MrEvilGuy says:

        Now for an example of how the game is intrusive in its ignorance.

        I needed to store roughly 3300 food for the storm. I built like 15 cookhouses, and suddenly I got a message saying a cook had been stealing food from the cookhouse.

        The game indicated I could either banish the cook from the city or do nothing (I didn’t have faith keepers option), so I did nothing, because if workers feel like they need food, let them have food. I believed we’d have enough regardless.

        To my surprise, all of my 15 cookhouses then started operating at 50% because the cooks were all “stealing food.” First, they weren’t stealing food. It’s a communal society! Let them have their food. And obviously it’s not just the cooks taking the food, I imagine everyone in need is going for extra food. I solve the issue by building even more cookhouses, no issue there. It was fine. But the intrusiveness of the game, this idea that they’re stealing food, and I’m just not doing anything about it–this is the developers not thinking through the obvious alternatives to tyranny and theocracy: communal decision-making.

        So developers, let me do the imaginative work for you and stop trying to police my imagination with your simplicity. Or better, incorporate more creative alternatives to the content of the game in an expansion or DLC or something.

      • Whyareall says:

        Why on earth do you think people in Victorian England would have the slightest idea what Buddhism or Lutheranism even is? Or “liberation theology”, an example from almost 150 years after the game’s setting

  2. Marsoid says:

    Guys, and will just 4 scenario?
    A new house, ARKS, refugees and something else will come out, and then this game is over? Or do the developers plan to continue implementing the scenarios?

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