I’m writing some Democracy 4 code today, and looking at how we display the in-game political compass. This is a graph that shows you how your political position has changed over the course of the current game.

This was in Democracy 3, and definitely back in for D4. This time around I’m stretching it to fill an entire window, as there is no magical reason why both axes have to be the same. For those unfamiliar with the concept of the political compass, it maps a political party or individual or government on 2 axes. The first axes is left-> right (communism to capitalism, or sometimes described as socialism to capitalism) and the other is up-down which is conservative to liberal.

THESE TERMS CAUSE ABSOLUTE CONFUSION EVERYWHERE.

Allow me to expands on this: There are basically TWO axes of politics, not one. In many places, people get this confused and assume liberal == socialism and conservative == capitalism. This is WRONG. There may be countries, societies, communities, and parties that make very strong associations between these two, but other positions very much exist around the world. The biggest confusion is the way US commentators use ‘liberal’ when they mean socialist, mostly because the mcarthyesque history of the US has made socialist an insult in many peoples minds (especially middle aged and older).

For example, its perfectly possible to be a liberal capitalist. I know this because I consider myself to be in that quadrant myself. I am a supporter of a (regulated) free market, a believer in entrepreneurship, and generally a supporter of lower taxes and extremely free trade… NONE of which has anything to do with my positions on..(for example)… same-sex marriage, legalizing cannabis, free-speech, equal pay or religion. Its also perfectly possible to be entirely in the opposite quadrant where you are both conservative and socialist. In fact, a LOT of 1970s British politics was in that quadrant, with very socialist (extremely high marginal taxes, opposition to free trade, very high levels of nationalization) policies mixing freely with the racist, sexist, and deeply conservative attitudes to religion, drugs, same-sex relationships etc that we would now associate with the american right. I grew up in a very strongly pro-union labour-voting community. It was not a liberal paradise.

To put this another way, you can take a far left 1970s british socialist / communist and persuade them to embrace legalizing drugs, same-sex relationships, gender-equality and LGBT issues…and that moves them on one axis but not the other.

Anyway…

The game automatically analyzes every decision you make and plots your government position each turn on the political compass automatically, which is kinda cool to watch. For Democracy 4, I thought it might be interesting to have that compass pre-loaded with the agreed (ha!) positions of a number of historical figures. For example, maybe plot President Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Obama and from the UK Thatcher, Blair and David Cameron. Maybe Angela Merkel should be on there? Maybe Trudeau and Trump?

I think this would be cool because it would be funny to to find yourself thinking ‘hmmm I may have gone a bit right wing economically here? and then realize you just swept past Reagan :D.

Of course the HUGE problem here is going to be coming up with locations for these people that don’t get me stoned to death by angry steam forum people. Lets be clear…everyone will; hate me for making this game at all…its pretty much locked-in as being the most divisive game ever made already. I just don’t want to DELIBERATELY annoy people, so I’ll probably do some research, plot some of those figures, then ask for feedback during Early Access :D

Its very tough because to people in the US, Bernie sanders is hugely left wing, but in Europe, I’d say maybe not so much… And to left-wingers in the UK, David Cameron was horribly right wing, but by US standards he was probably a member of the Democratic party. And the problem is…the STRONGER your political views (regardless of axes), the more you get outraged and want to push everyone who disagrees with you to the far extremes of the other side.

I know communities online where people argue that UK labour party deputy-leader tom watson is a ‘dangerously right wing blairite traitor’, despite being frankly hugely left wing by US standards. I’ve seen political compasses that put Hilary Clinton just slightly to the left of Reagan…

Fun times ahead…

This is a round-up blog post covering lots of things:

Firstly some meta-stuff. I haven’t been super-frequent in updating this blog recently, and I also have been tweeting a lot less (in fact the wonder of analytics allows me to say my tweets are down 36% in the last month). I also un-followed a lot of accounts, I removed a lot of facebook friends, and I’ve quit some other online stuff. I’m trying to avoid the harsher, more serious, depressing net.

Frankly social media, and much of the internet in general is making me unhappy, and I’m reducing how involved I am with it. I have never been one of the ‘hip’ indies that knows everyone else, and I’m moving more towards being an ‘offline’ kind of person, for my own happiness.

Obviously that doesn’t affect tech support, PR, or blogging/tweeting about what I’m working on, so here we go…

NEW DLC! is coming to Production Line. I have not settled on a final name for it, but its likely ‘Design Variety Pack’ or something like that. Basically every car design in the game gets a duplicate, purely for cosmetic reasons. This is so you can have more variety in the game, and also so that you can more immediately tell which cars are the ‘expensive’ SUVs etc, without having to always resort to selecting a color for each design (Which I tend to do, but it feels a bit of a hack…).

Here is a tiny tiny short video clip of the new sedan.

And here is another tiny one showing we toggling between two designs of the same type.

All the code for this is now DONE, and I am thus just awaiting final artwork before I add this as a new piece of DLC. It has to be DLC because actually the art costs are PRETTY HIGH for this sort of thing, because it basically involves redoing a*all* of the car art for the game, as every new design variant may need a different position for each wheel variant, each seat, and so-on, and thats a LOT of art layers, modeled in 3D and rendered in 2 different directions.

In unrelated news, I’ve been working on some tweaks to the UI for the game, and the latest thing I added is this ability to toggle the showroom view to a ‘summary’ view that shows you how many of each car you have, rather than an endless stream of them. This is togglable with a button, but it auto-guesses which view to show you based on how full the showroom is when you first open that window:

I need to have that toggle in there to support both views because there is some functionality ‘lost’ in the summary view, as you then cannot select an individual car to see its views from customers, its applicable discounts, any defects or missing (uninstalled) features etc. Hopefully its all pretty intuitive and I don’t need any extra tutorial stuff for that? (I do worry about needing an extra tutorial window for that new toggle button for the DLC designs…not sure if its obvious or not…).

Anyway…thats Production Line stuff. I am also starting to help out full-time Democracy 4 programmer Jeff, who is doing great stuff on making the crispest, sharpest GUI for a positech game so far. (Its vector based, so smooth scaling and pixel-perfect UI is here!) I know Democracy 4 seems to be taking a long time, but it will be worth it, and we will have screenshots to show the world pretty soon :D

Hi, I’m an indie game dev. I have been since the early days when we had to sell our games at a market stall on punched cards. Actually no, that was a JOKE but still…

I remember before the invention of the compact disc. I remember the fall of the Berlin Wall & nelson mandela being freed. I recall Ronald Reagan being elected president. My first car had one wing mirror and a manual choke. I went to see Metallica’s ‘master of puppets’ tour. I grew up during the cold war and recall Brezhnev as leader of the USSR. I remember TV with only three channels to choose from.

To put it another way…I’m 49 years old. I’m a proper Gen Xer. Not gen Y, or gen Z, or millennial. Gen X, the cool generation. What little hair I have left is about half grey. I read dead-tree newspapers at the weekend and proper books. I saw the original theatrical release of ‘star wars’.

Because I live in a village whose average community gathering looks like a Dark Crystal cosplay convention, I’m known as ‘that young man’, whereas in fact, not only am I ‘middle aged’ but as far as the indie development community is concerned I am…almost dead.

When I think of indie game devs my age or older… I mostly strike out. I know Jeff Vogel certainly looks around my age, but honestly who else? maybe Jeff Minter? was it it about indie devs called Jeff? The other UK-based indies I know of are all younger. yes even the slightly grey-haired Cas from puppygames or Jake ‘I don’t dye my hair yet’ birkett of grey alien games, both younger than me. Even ‘elder statesman indies ‘introversion‘ are all younger than me.

Now I get it…someone has to be the old timer, and I guess its me, and frankly I don’t give a fuck. Middle age is frankly awesome. You can go out for a meal without caring if your clothes are fashionable or if your ass looks too big or if anybody fancies you. Car insurance is trivial, and I bought my house when they cost about as much as a mouse mat. Oh I forgot…you don’t remember mouse mats do you?

..anyway…

I don’t CARE that *I* am old, but I do care that the age-range of indie devs seems to be…roughly 16-21 years old. I exaggerate for hilarious comic effect, but here is a random group of people. See if you can guess which one is NOT an indie game dev.

Hahaha, we old people are so funny. However, maybe this isn’t funny at all. Maybe in all the excitement and righteous identity politics crusading of the last decade or two about making sure indie game dev is ‘inclusive’ we forgot one group of people. One really big group of people. One really obvious group of people… older people.

(BTW dont go all angry on my ass about that pic. I used those 3 people because I know them, not because they are somehow indicative of anything other than being devs I know).

In theory, there should be OVER-representation of middle aged people in indie game dev. Think it through: We have WAY more development experience than you youngsters have. We likely already have experience of triple-A dev and have learned from their mistakes. Finance-wise, we are no longer paying off college debt. We bought our houses CHEAP and are not saving for a deposit for a house. We are likely married, and thus may be able to balance out the riskiness of starting a business with a 2nd income from a spouse…

Go a bit older, to my age and things may be even EASIER. Our kids have left home, the house is paid off, so is the car… and we have even MORE experience, both as coders/artists and as people who have seem gaming trends come and go. We have access to cheaper debt if we want a bank loan to fund our company. Hell..we may even GET a bank loan, unlike anyone with zero credit history. We have seen friends try and fail at running a business and can learn from their mistakes. We know a LOT of people in the industry….so…Where are all the 40+ indie game developers?

Mark Morris from uk indie devs ‘introversion’

Now I can immediately see a list of counter-arguments. We may be wary of ‘risking’ a stable home life with kids and a spouse depending on us. We may even have a pretty good job in the mainstream industry, and be relying on that for job security. We may have realized that gamedev is too risky and not as fulfilling as we once thought and now be working in the *much better paid* finance or web development industry. We may be burned out by overwork and want a quieter career…

But my own experience just doesn’t back this up. I could NOT switch careers now, from indie game dev at age 49, NOT because I’m too old to get a new job (I’m pretty qualified and very experienced now), but because nobody can afford to pay me enough to quit my indie game gig. To earn what I earn now, I’d probably have to get a job managing 20-50 people (or more) and it would involve the hassle of commuting, attending endless meetings and probably never typing another line of code…

…in other words, my current job is perfect for a 49 year old coder. Its frankly VERY well paid, its work-from home, so I can go walk the dog (I don’t have a dog), pop out for lunch (I do actually do this) and basically work when I feel like it. I can live somewhere remote in the countryside, and take holidays when I feel like it. Its bliss. Show me the stressed out financial software contractor commuting to central London to do a job he likely despises who does NOT instantly want to swap places with me. At age 49, this is great.

And yet at every indie gathering I attend, I’m the oldest. Why? It might be chance, but I cant help but think it might be a sort of unconscious prejudice. Lets be honest, when we imagine indie devs, we imagine someone in their early twenties with blue hair on a skateboard, an apple macbook covered in stickers with edgy slogans on it, and a latte in one hand and avocado toast in the other. Indie game dev is a young persons world.

2019 GDC indie party

Go to a party at GDC and you will find loud music, lots of alcohol and people excitedly yelling at each other. Later, if we are lucky, skrillex may play. yay? at the end of the evening we will celebrate the thirty under thirty. I expect to see twenty under twenty soon. Maybe a special event for pre-teen devs next year?

Indie development is COOL its FRESH its YOUNG! Its people all living together in the same house! its all game-jamming till 4am on a train! its loud music! its an obsession with ‘retro! (because to so many devs the 1980s feels like ancient history, known about only from fascinating documentaries).

This is worrying. We should NOT be gatekeeping indie game development to any small narrowly-defined group of people. The biggest irony about the game dev ‘community’ (actually a very cliquey set of people following each other on twitter) is that they INSIST that they are very very inclusive (and will be offended by any suggestion they are not), but in fact its really a club primarily of relatively well off western middle class twenty somethings.

If you want REAL indie development inclusivity , show me the people in their forties and fifties at your indie event. Hell, show me people over thirty. There is nothing magical about indie game development that means only young people can do it. Computer games are not THAT new.

So…over the 3 games in the democracy series we have experimented with various ways to get artwork to represent the various ministers that you appoint in the game to run each section of the country. In Democracy 1 they looked like this:

In Democracy 2 like this:

In Democracy 3 like this:

That last game used some cleverness to kind of randomly generate ministers from a whole series of layers. It was a grand experiment which gave us loads of ministers to choose from but… I don’t think I was ever 100% happy with the results. This wasn’t exactly cutting edge procedural animation etch, but even so I think that on balance, I’d prefer to have a relatively *small* range of interesting, different hand-crafted images to choose from than try and go all procedural on the ass of this problem..

Obviously the only problem this creates is BUDGET, in that Democracy 4 will be happy to run on your 2560 (or higher) res PC, and thus we probably need quite detailed (large) images and thus we probably need to spend a lot of money on artwork for these… *gulp*.

The other issue is that the world is a DIVERSE PLACE, and we expect to sell the game all over the world so…its an impossible problem, and people will yell at us and call us sexist/racist and other terms regardless what we do so with that in mind…

HERE (below: click to enlarge) is a bunch of 30 reference images. They are all REAL world politicians. Some are nice, some are not nice. Some are famous, some really obscure, but I think they look different enough for you to recognize each one when used in a game. They will NOT be exactly like this in the game, these are just ‘reference art’ for painting the actual in-game images.

So what I’m asking is…does this look OK to you? Don’t forget that the world of modern politics is not a utopia. There are not 50% women, or accurate representation of each ethnicity. If you are governing mexico with these cabinet ministers it may look strange, it will also look strange to govern African states with this cross-section, obviously. I know that. If the game looks like being a big hit, I’d love to vastly increase the artwork range to include more diversity. Decent character art is NOT cheap! Be aware that the majority of players will be American or from Western Europe.

I just want initial feedback. Do these look like a bunch of politicians to YOU?

BTW I don’t care if you don’t know WHO they all are, or if you HATE those people…that goes without saying :D I just want feedback on the general ‘tone’. (I’m braced for being a target for absolute hatred from every angle as we develop this game. politics has never been so ANGRY)

Not writing about the ooblets thing here, but to address very briefly the core issue: lets talk about why games are epic exclusives, why people shouldn’t be angry and why epic are probably doing the best thing they can do here.

Before going any further I want to make some core assumptions. if you disagree with these stop reading now, because we have no common ground!

  1. Game developers are generally trying to make good, fun games, and stay in business, nothing else.
  2. Its good for gamers if the games marketplace is competitive, as this keeps the prices low, and the services high.

I don’t think either are controversial. if you are literally twelve years old, you may dispute 2), but…do some reading. Monopolies, whether they are near or absolute are a bad thing. Not because the people involved are bad, but just because competition keeps people hungry, keeps people innovative, keeps people working. There was theoretically competition in the marketplace to make cleaner-fuel cars for decades, until one company showed up to provide *real* competition, and then whoah, suddenly the customer has a vast array of cheaper-than-ever and better-than-ever electric cars! Disruptors entering a market make things better for ALL consumers, even if they still stick with the same supplier…

To put this another way, even if you love steam (I do!) and only buy your games from steam (95% steam, 5% origin here), and never, ever, ever will ever buy a game elsewhere…then competition (from epic etc) is STILL good for you, because it forces steam to stay competitive.

Anyway…

So Epic clearly have fucktons of money and want to spend it on creating a true, viable competitor to steam. This is VERY hard. Its almost as hard as competing with amazon prime or netflix. The only upside is that valve are a private company, so they can’t tap the equity markets for cash to run at a loss for a decade to destroy your business… but I digress… competing with steam is HARD, they have been around so long, with such a huge catalog. How will anybody EVER compete?

Well anyone as old as me remembers how valve did it. They were competing with retail, and NONE OF US wanted to use steam. The rage was incredible, I remember HL2s release. people HATED steam with a vengeance and yet…we all installed it because OMG HL2 AMAZEBALLS.

Epic are ‘doing a steam’ to steam, and they are doing it for two reasons, both of which I think are sensible. Firstly, they are doing it because they KNOW THIS WORKS, as they all saw valve do it a while ago. They have also seen many other stores launch…and fail badly without using the ‘exclusive games’ strategy. They know that this *can* work, and they know other strategies *tend to fail*.

The second reason is… this is the best possible way they can promote their store… in the eyes of gamers. yes I really typed that, yes I really mean it. Lets look at the three things epic are doing to drive interest in their store:

  1. Free games literally given away to gamers for nothing but signing up to a free account. Not shovelware, really DECENT games.
  2. A much better cut to developers that means they get to keep more of the money from the games they sell
  3. Advances (guarantees?) on royalties for being exclusive to the platform for a set period.

So.. 1) is epic directly giving money (effectively) to gamers, and 2) and 3) is epic giving money to game developers (quite directly!). How is this bad? And the big point I want to make is…what is the alternative way for them to make the store succeed…

ADVERTISING

Gamers have a choice. They can either say “Yay we love lack of competition! we have no idea how free markets work” or “We LOVE banner ads, video ads, super-bowl ads, poster-ads, in-stream ads. GIVE US MORE ADVERTS” or they can say “If you *have* to spend a lot of money on building a new games store, it would be good if you gave us, and the game devs loads of free stuff”.

I am amazed they do not rally behind 3). It seems the best possible choice they could make to keep gamers AND game devs happy. Literally the ONLY people who should be raging about their strategy are the account managers at the big advertising agencies.

Boo Hoo.