As large swaths of the world’s population go into quarantine, self-imposed or mandatory, and international meetings and negotiations grind to a halt in the short term, many deep-sea mining stakeholders are finding themselves with an abundance of free time. Or, even worse, an abundance of free time and a phalanx of bored kids. At the DSM Observer, we take pride in trying to capture all aspects of both the industry and of how society at large thinks about the industry. Over the last few weeks, we’ve been scouring video game repositories searching for games that feature deep-sea mining as a game mechanic (rather than as a setting or plot point). The list is not long, but the games that are on there are very good.
And they are all generally family friendly, though Subnautica may be a bit scary for younger players.
There are few games that capture the feeling of being deep under the ocean, isolated and vulnerable, more completely than Subnautica. A survival-base-building-horror game in which you find yourself stranded on an alien world of endless ocean, Subnautica challenges the player to find safety, collect resources, and then venture deeper and deeper into the abyss in search of answers and a way home.
As the player explores the increasingly deep and hazardous ocean biomes, they must gather resources necessary to build new tools and equipment, allowing them to progress further into the abyss. By far, the most story-driven game on this list, players will slowly learn about the world they’ve been stranded on. Unfortunately, as a mining simulator, it doesn’t quite capture the feel of extraction in the deep sea. It’s only in the late game that players gain access to a massive underwater mining robot that they can use to explore and extract deep resources.
No Man’s Sky
As a vast, space-based exploration game set in a near infinite, procedurally generated universe, No Man’s Sky might seem like a strange pick. The game predominantly takes place either in your spaceship or exploring the surface of a planet, documenting new species as you work your way towards the center of the galaxy searching for answers. But beneath the surface is a complex trade and resource management system. As players discover new worlds, they must mine them for resources to repair and upgrade their ship, build bases, and expand an ever-growing fleet of vehicles.
Since the free Abyss update, many of the most valuable and difficult resources are found beneath massive planetary seas. You won’t find a complex, reality-accurate depiction of the industry (all mining is conducted by pointing a laser pistol at rocks), but within the game’s deep-diving quest line, you can command submarines, discover entirely new species (the entire universe of the game is both procedural and massive, so with few exceptions, whenever you discover something, you’re the first person to find it), mine seafloor massive sulphides for rare and precious minerals, and flee from giant anglerfish and the occasional abyssal horror.
Unlike Subnautica, No Man’s Sky is a relatively laid back experience, with gameplay focused on exploration at your own pace, few real threats, and a seemingly infinite number of worlds and oceans to explore.
Anno 2070 with Deep Ocean expansion
Of the handful of games that feature deep-sea mining as a gameplay mechanic, only Anno 2070 truly captures the concepts behind the industry. A city-building, resource management simulation set in the near future (think SimCity, but with incredibly complex and delicate supply chains), Anno 2070 forces players to build a society either committed to extreme environmental principles or driven by resource extraction and rapid growth.
But there’s a twist.
As the game progresses, and your civilization becomes bigger and increasingly more complex, players have to create a balance between exploitation and preservation, while meeting the ever more demanding needs of a technologically advanced society. Compromises have to be struck as demands for certain resources, luxuries, and essential needs can’t be met by adhering to strict ideologies.
In the Deep Ocean expansion, deep-sea mining becomes a core component of the late game, as players have to develop seamounts and abyssal plains, mining polymetallic nodules from the seafloor and harnessing hydrothermal vents for energy, while discovering novel pharmaceuticals from nearby biodiversity hotspots. It’s nowhere near a perfect representation of the industry, but while it takes liberties with the specific technologies, it elegantly demonstrates just how complicated future resource needs will be.
Anno 2070 is the rare game that truly captures the complexities of development, exploration, protection, and expansion in an increasingly complex, interconnected, and technologically demanding society. As an added bonus, since the game is nearly 10 years old, it should run just fine on most modern PCs.
Featured Image: Exploring the Abyss in No Man’s Sky.