I've just spent two days kicking a power station. It wasn't a bad experience, really. Power stations can take quite a lot of kicking, it transpires: they're a worthy opponent and an interesting adversary.
The power station in question's located towards the upper west side of Wildfire Worlds' shoebox version of London, and I chose it as a target for a number of reasons. First off, starting out by trying to take down one of the game's larger monuments seemed foolhardy, and perhaps slightly lacking in class, while tackling something purely for the shock value - a school, say - made me feel kind of weird and sleazy. Then there's the fact that the power station would hopefully cause infrastructure damage I could subsequently capitalise on: it would affect street lamps and traffic lights, creating pools of murky urban darkness where my mindless insurrection could fester. Finally, there's always The Power Station, isn't there? The "super group" formed by Robert Palmer and members of Chic and Duran Duran. As invitations to indulgent violence go, that's a pretty tempting proposition by itself.
Also, and I'm probably revealing too many of my tactics here, the power station's right by a tube exit. Tube exits aren't just cosmetic additions to Wildfire's tabletop cities. Pedestrians spill out of them en masse at regular points throughout the day and night, and a good source of pedestrians means you can always count on recruiting an activist or two. Activists - stay with this - are how you impact the world of Wildfire in any meaningful sort of manner: they're tiny little green guys who will flock to your cursor if you hold down the left mouse button, or spread throughout the city if you leave them to their own devices. They will fight the cops, they'll try and create other activists whenever they see crowds and - most importantly - they're just itching to kick power stations for hours on end. This is the future, basically, and that George Orwell quote almost had it nailed.
Activists will kick power stations if you can keep them alive, anyway. The biggest surprise when finally getting my hands on a playable build of Dot Product's wonderfully anti-social propagation engine isn't that the whole thing genuinely feels like a strange sort of game rather than a purely open-ended simulation toy - it's how challenging the team has made that game at the moment.
That's probably a very good idea: if you could riddle the city with activists in seconds, you'd be left with little to do but sit back and watch things burn. You'd be a social scientist at best, and while there's still ample social science available in the alpha code, it generally takes a backseat to your more pressing concerns as a gang leader.
So while you currently have a pool of 500 activists you can drop into the world, you can only place one down at any time. After that's done, you then have to wait for that guy and any new activists he recruits to die before you can try again. Luckily, you can control the activist once he's on the ground, and when you do, you'll find that life as an activist really isn't that easy. Within seconds of causing havoc the cops will be kiting along behind you as you race around, and cars - new Minis, inevitably - will be eager to squash you whenever you try to cross the road. Getting a proper mob together is really tough, and you'll need a mob in order to do any real damage to buildings: three or four of you should be enough to swarm a townhouse and send cracks skittering up the walls, but one or two people by themselves are just going to set it wobbling like jelly.
Micro-management is entertaining, but what I really like to do is spawn a guy, gather a few recruits, and then lose them all in the city. They'll disappear down into the tube, and after a few seconds, I'll start to hunt around for them, roving the camera slowly over this cardboard wonderland, searching for their distinctive toxic green forms or - more often - coming up against smoking remnants of their blunt aggression. Once, I went off to get a Lemsip and returned to find a massive city-wide traffic jam caused by a couple of double decker buses that had perched themselves, indelicately, in the window of a Starbucks stand-in. Another time, I was shifting the cursor about, lost in a mindless reverie, and then suddenly found myself knee-deep in the claret-coloured ink splatters that indicate somebody's either been doing a lot of killing or a lot of dying.
It's very interesting, this game: it gives you the tools to commit violence on a terrible scale, but then, abstraction aside, it won't really let you shy away from the virtual consequences. It allows you to be creatively horrible, but then ensures you won't forget how horrible your creativity has been. A few hours back, I'd found a truly brilliant tactic for gathering recruits, for example: I'd corner groups of pedestrians in a little cul-de-sac and then refuse to let them leave, steadily winning them all over to my cause by force. When I then wobbled off with a gang in tow in order to get back to that power station I was eager to kick to pieces, I realised the cul-de-sac was actually a quiet corner of a school playground. It's enough to put you right off your Lemsip, frankly.
The current build forms the basis of the Wildfire Worlds paid alpha, which has just kicked off over on the game's website. $15 is the price of entry for the time being. Does that buy you very much? It's hard to say, really: this is definitely minimum-viable-product territory, but I've been messing around with the product in question for hours, and I'm not bored yet.
From here, the whole thing will hopefully build outwards in whatever way the developers - and the community - can agree on: level packs, behavioural sliders to tweak, bespoke scenarios with win and lose states? None of it's carved in stone.
What is carved in stone, I'm starting to suspect, is that power station, which refuses to give in to even my most substantial onslaughts. Oh well. Back - as I hope I never to hear anyone say in real life - to the school playground for some more recruits. Who's with me?