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.

In a recent conversation with fellow indies about how I can make production line look better, someone effectively said ‘why are you not using mip maps’, and at first I laughed because, LOL, I use mip maps, and then I remembered that the geniuses at Microsoft decided that D3DXSaveSurfaceToFile should not generate mipmaps so actually…the game didn’t use them for many of its props (the stuff in texture atlases, basically).

So obviously I immediately thought what a dork, generated mip maps and…

it kinda looked way worse. Or did I? I have stared at the pixels so much now I am starting to see things. Here is the game as it currently looks (mip maps enabled in engine, but most of the car graphics and prop graphics not generated with any). (click to enlarge)

And here is it with mip maps enabled. (click to enlarge)

From a distance does it look any BETTER to you? I’m not sure I can really tell much of a difference until I zoom in. Here is evidence of how blocky the current one looks when zoomed in…

versus the mip-mapped one.

Which obviously looks better, but its not *that* simple, because the mip-mapping also creates some artifacts. here is a montage of the current, and lots of mip-mapped styles, with different settings from mip map creation filters, sharpening and softening etc. I just can get those door lines to vanish…

Which possibly means that I need to adjust how those cars are being drawn, or means I have not yet found the perfect set of render options for generating dds mip maps. There is also the possibility that the way I render out my car-component atlases (with a black background) is bleeding onto the mip maps at lower levels, and that this is where the problem is.

Of course all of this is absolutely *a matter of opinion* and thus really annoying, as I am a data-driven guy and like hard facts,. so stuff like this is where I fall down a bit. I don’t like pixellated graphics ( I despise the look of minecraft) but on the other hand I also REALLY hate over-blurred images, which make me think my eyesight is failing or I need new glasses. Its also very tempting to give in to the mistake of zooming in to a static image and declaring the best one to be the one where a zoomed in screenshot looks best, which is WRONG because obviously when zoomed right in, the mip maps are irrelevant anyway. here is the current (non mip mapped) car zoomed in.

Which leaves me in a bit of a quandary. Is it even worth continuing to fuss over this stuff…does anybody really notice/care? Or should that time be better spent on adding new features to the game?

Yup, no games content here, just a brain dump of why I am so bullish (positive) about the prospects for tesla (Stock ticker: TSLA). Written in July 2019, 2 days before Q2 earnings release.

I own a Tesla model S, 85D AP1, from late 2015. Its the most amazing car I have ever owned. Its actually the most amazing *thing* I have ever owned, in terms of being so-far-ahead-of-the-competition-its-laughable. I smile every time I drive it, and I am *not* a car geek. I don’t know valves from torque from spark plugs. Here is my car:

In case you are unaware, Tesla is a US-based manufacturer of electric cars. They are the ONLY large company that is 100% dedicated to making electric vehicles. They are publicly traded on the new York stock market, and the CEO is Elon Musk (of spacex / boring company /t witter-personality fame). One interesting fact: despite widespread criticism by various old-school car company CEOs, as of this writing, Elon is the *longest serving CEO* of a major car company who is still in their job. So yup, he has more experience than the current GM/Ford/Nissan/Renault etc CEOs.

There are two strands to my case that Tesla is vastly undervalued as a stock (currently about $250). The first strand is the products, the second is the company. Lets start with the products.

The Tesla roadster is a now legendary car that by modern standards is kinda *meh*, but at the time proved something dramatic: you could make an electric car that accelerated and moved like a sports car and was FUN. Until then, electric cars were a joke. Slow, stupidly short range, unsexy, useless. The roadster changed all that.

The sequel to the roadster was the model S (I have one!) and it absolutely transformed everything. if you want to know how much, lets start with the fact that it recently got motortrends ultimate car of the year award, marking it as the most significant car in the last 70 years. Not the most significant sedan, or US car, or electric car, just the most significant CAR. No easy feat.

The model S has jaw-dropping stats coming out of its frunk. Mine is the relatively slow one (85D) that can only do 155mph and 0-60mph is 3.75 seconds. What a slouch. The current P100D with ludicrous mode does it in 2.275 seconds. If you aren’t into cars, a good comparison would be a car that does it in a slower 2.8 seconds such as this:

Thats a Lamborghini Aventador LP 750-4 SuperVeloce that retails at $493,000, slower than a Tesla model S costing about $135,000. If you are wondering why lamborghini is still in business, don’t ask me, I’m as confused as you are. Oh BTW the Tesla comes with autopilot, over-the-air updates and is an ELECTRIC car versus the gas guzzling monstrosity in orange pictured above.

So yup, they are fast, and thats amazing for an electric car right? but probably only go to the shops and back? A model S can go 528km NEDC rated without charging. So yup, no problem. I can just about drive my old, shorter range model from my house to London and back without charging (although I top it up at a service station when I grab a coffee anyway as its super convenient and free (early buyer!).

So the car is super fast, and super long range, but are they safe? can an electric car possibly be safe? Yup. Actually lets look at the safest cars in the world in a list.

Then lets check that yup…your car is way more likely to catch fire if its NOT a Tesla. Oh and youtube will show you a ton of crazy videos of how teslas autopilot software helps it to swerve (safely) out of the way of erratic drivers. Feel free to google for all the images of super harsh high-speed collisions that tesla drivers *walked* away from unhurt.

Thats the model S, the pricey one. they also have an even pricier SUV with unique ‘falcon-wing’ doors, called the model X, and they also have the smaller, and amazing looking model 3, which is about HALF the price of the model S. All are equally insane in terms of value for money, speed, acceleration, safety and range.

Normally, that would be the end of an impressive list of why the company has great cars…but there is so much more (and I don’t want to bore you). The cars have built-in video games (yes really), they have the largest touchscreens in any production car. They have an awesome mobile app you can use to pre-heat or chill your car. You can ‘summon’ your car out of the garage (opening doors as it goes) from your phone and you can control a whole ton of the cars systems using pretty reliable voice recognition.

Yup, as a product, the tesla cars are pretty much unbeatable. So thats one thing on our checklist, the company makes phenomenal products. But what about the company? can it sell any of these things? does anybody want them? will they ever sell them at a profit?

Tesla has had a lot of unprofitable years. A lot. It has basically plowed every penny it earns back into expansion, and not been afraid to raise money to fuel yet more expansion, yet a myth that circulates about the company selling cars at a loss is just flat out false. At the time of writing, Tesla automotive gross margin is 20.2%. Thats a PROFIT on every car by the way, not a loss. The reason the company has made an overall loss in many quarters is due to incredible, incredible expansion. Want to see how rapid:

As it grows, tesla is leaving every other car manufacturer in the world trying to make EVs in the dust. its almost embarrassing now. Take a look at this video: (skip to 1 minute 19 for the model 3s appearance)

Also note that this video is not up to date yet, the next few months show no signs of slowing down.

So yup…they are making a product that is selling well, and its apparently great, but does that mean they can keep up? what about the big established companies that actually know how to make cars…wont they crush tesla?

Well…they are not showing any signs of doing so. The Nissan leaf (version 2) has problems with charging twice in one day. The Audi etron has had battery-issues, and bragged about 20,000 pre-orders (versus 400,000+ for the model 3). The jaguar ipace has brake problems. Lexus is so hopeless they keep referring to their hybrids as ‘self-charging hybrids’ to trick people into thinking their gas guzzlers are EVs… The other companies… busy twiddling their thumbs and making vague promises, but certainly NOT producing EVs in large numbers, not even BAD EVs in large numbers. The market is being absolutely eaten by tesla, at least in the west.

So massive market share, profitable cars, critically acclaimed and no realistic competition… all good reasons to back a stock, but we haven’t even got started.

Teslas advertising budget is ZERO. Absolutely ZERO. And yet they are selling cars as quickly as they make them, so much so that they are opening a new factory (built in record time) in China (The first EVER fully-foreign-owned car venture to get permission for a Chinese factory) to satisfy demand in Asia. There is a long, sustained and incredibly well-funded campaign of FUD, lies and bullshit deliberately designed to kill off the company, and despite that, despite being a relative newcomer to the market, the company has grabbed market share at an unprecedented rate, PURELY by word of mouth. This last part is vital. I run a small business, I would KILL to have a product so good I could sell it without a single penny in advertising.

Want more? Well lets remember that this is a company that not only spends NOTHING on advertising, it actually sells its cars direct, cutting out any profit for ‘dealerships’. In some states in the US it is ILLEGAL to do this (land of the free huh?) and even so, people *cross the state line* to buy a Tesla, and then take it home. I’m not even kidding.

By the way, Tesla are the only EV company that has built its own global charging network. You don’t need to use one of those outdated, awful, slow, expensive generic chargers, you can use the tesla superchargers, charging at insane speeds, which the car will automatically route you to (and pre-condition your battery en-route to maximize charging efficiency). BTW the log-in and config process for the charger is…. you just stick the cable in the car and walk off. The system knows who you are, no passwords, no logins, no scanning…its seamless. Think there are only a few of these? think again…

And yet… despite the amazing products, super fast, super safe, super long range, super-selling, decent profit margins..we haven’t even touched on the long term prospects for the company. They have the best autopilot system in use today, and have a steam of serious experts working on full-self-driving. The market is skeptical about this (me too), but the changes of it amounting to NOTHING are minimal, and there is zero chance, given their billions of miles logged with semi-autonomous vehicles already, that *anyone* can beat Tesla to the ultimate self-driving car goal.

Waymo is stupidly valued at at least $30 BILLION, despite only offering self driving in a tiny part of a tiny town in a small state in a single country. This is INSANE.

So yup, lets round off this blog post with all the other stuff that is also going to propel this company at an astonishing rate…

They are working on electric trucks that look set to out-compete every conventional gasoline truck in the world (no small market). They are working on an electric pickup truck to compete very favorably in performance terms with the ford F-150. They are working on a super-car that makes the model S look practically sedate. They are working on solar roof tiles that look incredible, and ALL of these products have already been shown to the public.

Oh…and a new cheaper SUV/Sedan crossover (model Y) that is predicted to sell better than the 3/S/X combined.

Did I also mention Tesla energy, the company that built the largest battery on the planet? or maybe I forgot to mention maxwell technologies, the battery-tech company (that tesla just acquired) that gives tesla yet another incredible technological advantage over everybody else making car batteries.

Maybe I should note that the next generation of car buyers are overwhelmingly positive about tesla. They are the iphone generation, they understand touchscreens and plugging in devices to recharge them. They dont get excited about the smell of petrol engines or dream about doing oil changes. The tech generation wants products designed for them, not for their parents, and the only company in the auto space that even vaguely understands this is tesla. What other car company CEO has 27 million twitter followers? The prudish politicians, and ancient, bitter and angry old car company CEOs who criticize musk for smoking a legal drug have no idea that his target market aren’t shocked, they like the guy, and they love the cars. Nobody does this at a gig with a ford mondeo:

Frankly, looking at the share price of Tesla right now is hilarious. Its the biggest bargain on the stock market by a colossal margin. I’m looking forward to more and more people realizing that.

I like the concept of scale. its why I’m obsessed with the ramp up of teslas gigafactory and car production, and why I am making a game about factories in the first place. I find factorio very impressive. I also find real world scale very impressive. Like REALLY huge wind turbines.

And REALLY huge solar farms.

So yeah… I like to address scale in my work (games!) too :D. I think that optimization and scale go hand in hand. its no good allowing players to create colossal factories if the option is only theoretical, given hugely slow code. So embracing scale FORCES you to write more optimized (i’d say ‘better’) code. I also think that in my tiny, tiny way, if I can get the CPU usage of my games down by just 10%, then thats a lot (high tens of thousands of players) of games running on PCs using less power. Thats good for the environment!

Anyway, on the subject of scale I just swapped my twin 27″ monitors for a single 49″ beast that weighs less and uses noticeably less power (yay progress!) and also way less cabling. I’m not sure I have the height just right yet, and it seems to tell some programs its a mere 3840 res and not 5120 res (which both my game, and many apps agree that it is).

First things first…. LOL huge monitors are awesome. I find myself daydreaming what it would be like to stick 11 year old me, used to playing pong on the CRT TV and stick him in front of a 49″ monitor with twin speakers & subwoofer belting out battlefield V. Its truly amazing. My 980ti cant quite handle a proper FOV in ultra resolution, so I may have to scale it down a little bit but hey…. its super fun.

This has led me to try out various games at that resolution including of course… Production Line! and it looks remarkably fun in 5120×1440 res (which it happily supports… (click to enlarge). BTW runs fine at 60fps with this map…

of course the target market for this is pretty small so far, but I definitely remember a time when the absolute maximum conceivable size for a monitor was about 1920, which is why loads of developers like me used to create 2048×1024 render targets, because obviously we wouldn’t need bigger (LOL), and TBH when I coded gratuitous space battles with 4096×2048 render targets for those show-offs with their fancy-ass 2560 res monitors, that again felt like a limit that *could never be crossed*, and yet here I am, in 2019 with a monitor that my own game from 10 years back (GSB1) now cannot quite cope with at 5120 res…

Scale in terms of coding to support silly monitor resolutions is one thing, but I also think its worth considering scale in other terms, such as users, bandwidth and so on. I doubt I will EVER make a game as successful as flappy bird, angry birds, fortnite or minecraft, but you have to wonder how many times devs got close to that and then kinda fell over (and failed to achieve their full potential) because they couldn’t cope with the scale.

Right now, positech has several obvious bottlenecks preventing us from coping if we suddenly had a mega hit (anything bigger than Democracy 3 probably). For one… I’m the only person doing customer support (yikes!), which means if you email support AT positech dot co dot uk and tell me the game doesn’t run on your linux toaster, its ME, the lead coder, lead designer, and lead biz-dev dude, who gets distracted by your email. Not ideal.

Another bottleneck is programming. Production Line is Windows only. I hate cross-platform stuff, but if the game suddenly sold 5x or 10x its current level, I’d be mad not to do an OSX port, and maybe IOS version (likely never linux…sorry but its way way too small). This would mean hiring someone to do a port, and the problem with that is it TAKES TIME right when you want to hit the zeitgeist with your hit game.

Because the costs of maintaining the infrastructure, both physical, and in terms of manpower, necessary for a mega-hit are so high, it makes zero sense for someone like me to really have it in place without a hit, although TBH I’m better prepared than most. My blog, website and reporting back-end is on a dedicated server, not some tiny VPS thing, and I have CPU time and bandwidth to burn.

The big problem (if I had a big hit and saw a need to scale) is that I’d need people FAST, and thats either hard, or expensive. If you live in downtown san fran, finding people is trivial, but their salaries are hysterical (due to property costs), so its swings and roundabouts.

I guess the sensible thing is to make sure you know WHO to talk to, in terms of outsourcing companies, and have made the contacts and pressed the flesh with them, without immediate plans, but with an eye to the future.

I guess I’m also saying that for companies that help with porting, or customer service etc, it makes sense to be polite and chatty and helpful to *as many indie devs as possible*, so that you are on speed-dial for them when their 16th game goes to #1 in the steam charts.

Maybe Democracy 4?