Interview: Imagine Earth’s laid-back take on colony building

City builder games have changed a lot since I was a kid. The classic Sim City games of my youth were a lot of fun, and relatively easy to manage. Flash forward a couple of decades, and cities have given way to colonies, while simple upgrades have given way to complex research menus and resource gathering. For those like me who enjoy the concept but can’t keep up with the more involved 4X games out there, Imagine Earth stands as a middle ground: complex enough to be challenging, but simple enough to follow. I had an opportunity to speak with Jens Isensee, the game’s designer and half of the two-person development team at Serious Bros., and ask about the game’s creation and goals.

TVGB: How long have you been working together on games? Did you meet professionally first, or did you already know each other?

Jens Isensee: Hi I’m Jens, designer of the project. Once upon a time I studied fine arts when I met Martin for a game design contest and we came up with the prototype for a climate crisis world simulator, nothing less than 15 years ago. As students we happily continued our idealistic side project never expecting it to keep us busy and excited for such a long time. When we went into Early Access the project started self-funding for around seven years and we both needed that time to make our planets as wholesome and the simulation as authentic, as well as the strategic elements challenging.

TVGB: Did you play Sim City and games like that growing up? Which were your favorites?

JI: Yeah, I liked Sim City and some of the builders and sims like Theme Park or Colonization very often it got too complex for me so I got out of it. All over I was more into RTS games like Dune and Command & Conquer. Today I value narrative games that offer adventurous gameplay. All these concepts and styles came into the making of Imagine Earth. Our game shines how it melts well-known and beloved game ideas in a unique experience, if you ask me 😉

TVGB: What brought you to this particular genre?

JI: As said, we started this project for a Microsoft game design contest about dealing with the climate crisis, and a global civilization builder in combination with an economic strategy sim is best suited to talk about this. A whole planet simulator with environmental simulation, melting polar caps and rising sea levels. Imagine Earth starts as a relaxed and harmonic city builder that unfolds cooperative diplomacy and trade strategy as well as resource management and crafting elements but it can also turn into an environmental survival thriller based on your development decisions.

TVGB: What are the biggest challenges developing a game with such a small team? Did any issues come up that you weren’t expecting?

JI: There was a time when creating our world was pure fun, putting new and interesting features into it that add up great with the rest of what’s already there. Staying motivated to finish a complete planet simulation with all odds and ends was more of a challenge. The toughest of all was keeping the game serious about the climate crisis and absolutely same (sic) amount of attention to the mechanics and systems of the game being fun to play.

TVGB: Why did you decide to take a more laid-back approach to the city builder genre? As someone who tends to avoid games that get too complicated, this is really what drove my interest in Imagine Earth.

JI: We wanted Imagine Earth to be something for everyone to enjoy and also to be on consoles. That’s why we ended up having the most intuitive and casual city builder we could imagine. That still enables you to build, run and supply global colonies on distant planets.

TVGB: I know that games like this tend to be PC-focused, so I was glad to see that you put a lot of effort into console controls. Are you primarily console gamers, or did something else drive this decision?

JI: When we entered the finals in that first game design competition, they awarded us with dev kits for Xbox 360 and had the game running on it with the radial menus and a navigation with console controls in mind. That might have been around 2008 after all these years it reappeared on Xbox One & Series X|S in 2021 until we closed the circle this May. Quite a journey I’d say.

TVGB: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about Imagine Earth?

JI: With the sci-fi theme in Imagine Earth we tried turning the transformational challenges that lay in front of humanity into a motivating management and strategy experience. It puts the possibilities and dangers of our era into the heart of its game mechanics and story and wraps it in the excitement and freedom of exploring and shaping distant worlds. Please give it a go and let us know what you think in our discord.

Thanks to Jens and the team at Serious Bros. for their time. Imagine Earth is now available on Steam, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4/5, and Xbox systems.

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