I love Steam Next Fest season, because you can go from "Oh this is from those devs who did that thing? Huh. Hadn't heard of this," to "holy video game, Batman, this is the absolute business" in the space of a free demo. This is what I experienced with Flat Eye, a story-heavy management sim where you're in charge of a super-advanced gas station, where you harvest personal data from the port-a-loos, and feed the biological matter from those same toilets into your high-tech vending machine. Mmmmm. Flat Eye, the Next Fest demo for which you can download and play right now, is from Night Call devs Monkey Moon. I liked Night Call fine, but I really love the Flat Eye demo.
You work as a remote manager for Flat Eye Corporation, a Google-like megacorp, and control things from a top-down view. You tell a drone shopworker when to restock shelves, what to build where, and when to go to the toilet. There are some hints of the larger story (which plays out through interactions with regular customers, and deals with the impact of this kind of technology on our lives) but, until the end point that I won't spoil, the demo was mostly the management stuff. Katharine had an interesting interview with the devs recently where they mention that the managementy bits are inspired by absolute classics like Dungeon Keeper and Theme Hospital. But it's not as stressful as either of those.
It's sort of like looking at a magic eye picture. If you zoom out and unfocus a bit you can see where the stress points are: the shelves are empty, so you should restock them; the ratings are dipping because people are having to queue too long for the AI doctor terminal, so should probably whack in a second; and we probably need another thermal generator to power that new terminal...
Rather than scrambling to fix problems or stay a step ahead of disaster, it felt like I was expanding and building. Like being an experienced manager helicoptered in to a new outlet store, I am making satisfying progress towards my next promotion. In many ways, it doesn't feel unlike actual retail in real life, except in real life you have to do all the stuff yourself instead of ordering a semi-autonomous worker to do it for you. My favourite bit was looking at the energy grid and figuring out how to manage my resources. A new food machine needs a source of bio-matter, for example, so of course I hooked it up to the toilet.
The relaxed pace is exactly what I need at the minute, because I am riddled with Covid and cannot be asked to do anything with the complexities of, for example, making a sandwich. If I had to play a Paradox game right now I would shrivel and melt like a blowtorched marshmallow. It's not that managing the station in Flat Eye is boring, but more that it feels like doing a job you know how to do. It makes sense, as well, because if the management bit was too much it'd be harder to engage with the story, where you can even direct the tone your worker uses when talking to someone.
Alas, the demo ends after just the first day, so it's tough to say how complex either of the strands in Flat Eye will get. The danger with games that take on critique of technology and so forth is that they might do it in a way that makes you wince and/or cringe. I don't get that vibe from Flat Eye's Next Fest demo, and mostly I want to get back to running that gas station. I may have taken the wrong message away.