Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Away for THREE weeks. OMG etc.

I never go away from positech towers for very long normally, but circumstances are such that I will be away for three weeks. That’s a very long time for me, and I will have to find a way to check email at least once to watch out for any “have a billion dollars if you reply today!” emails from wealthy and delusional publishers.

I am like a hungry animal wanting to work on games at the best of times, but I’ll probably be even worse by the time I make it back, at which point my calendar tells me all manner of things that have been brewing for ages start happening and it will be work,work,work and busy,busy,busy.


Unlike most geeks, I never take a laptop or ipad on holiday with me, and even my phones net capability is something I never use, it being frankly more hassle and annoyance than use anyway. I think it’s good to switch off now and then. Hopefully positech will still exist when I get back in three weeks time. That’s the beauty of internet companies, you don’t have to physically close a store or turn away business. I anticipate some angry emails from people who ask for download links re-sending who don’t get a reply for three weeks but I bet that’s a quicker response time than EA/Activision anyway :D

See you next month.

Democracy 3 : simulating the private sector

Sooo… One of the drawbacks of Democracy 2‘s model was that it only really accounted for public sector pensions, housing, schools and hospitals. This was unrealistic and I’m fixing it in Democracy 3. In D2, if the state didn’t provide schools, people were illiterate. You don’t need to be Ron Paul to be convinced that it isn’t as clear-cut as that. So how am I planning to fix that?

Democracy 3 has policies (things the player chooses to implement, or not, and adjust) and also ‘simulation values’, just like D2 did. A simulation value is basically a statistic, something that arises out of the simulation and which you have zero control of. Pollution levels are one example. Literacy (a catch-all for general educational level) is another. In Democracy 2, a player couldn’t change the literacy level, but they could implement various state policies that would indirectly affect it, like state schooling.

Democracy 3 has the literacy level stat, and also a private schools stat. By default, private schools are at a certain level (tied to GDP, and therefore the general level of wealth), and they have the same effect (roughly) on literacy as state schools do. However, they have effects public schools don’t, such as a reduction in lower and middle incomes. This is because those values represent ‘disposable’ incomes for those groups, and having to pay for private schools eats into that. The truly wealthy laugh off mere school fees, so it’s not an issue for them. Also, unlike state schools, the private schools don’t reduce inequality, or boost state employees and trade unions, and they keep capitalists, rather than socialists happy.

icons_privateschools icons_stateschools

Now let’s revisit state schools. they work exactly as they used to, except they have an effect on private schools. The more you spend on public schooling, the less private schools there are. In effect, the better the state schools are, the less people are prepared to empty their pockets for private education, which makes sense.

So hopefully, the net result of this is a system where either approach (laissez faire or state intervention) can get you decent schooling, but you have to pick how to handle it. The state schools have to be paid for, which will mean cuts elsewhere or higher taxes. The private schools are paid for by people direct, but they can cause problems of inequality (with knock-on impacts on crime etc), and the people will need more money left in their pockets to pay for it (lower taxes). To further enhance the whole area, I could introduce policies which gave tax-credits for private education, which would allow me to keep private schooling afloat during a recession. Maybe a system of state scholarships could reduce inequality and compensate for private schools as the only option? (technically this is tricky).

Obviously this is a VAST simplification of the real world, but I think it’s far closer to reality than the Democracy 2 system. My plan has pensions, housing and healthcare working the same way.


Announcing positech’s next game will be….


Yup, a sequel to democracy 2, my political strategy game. Let me talk briefly about why and how…

Firstly, democracy is a game I am very proud of. I think it’s my most original and innovative design, in terms of both mechanics and GUI. I don’t think any other game I’ve made has been so ‘out of the blue’ as Democracy. I also find it very interesting (although incredibly difficult) to work on. basically it’s a custom-build neural network with a cunning GUI on top of it. I’m also a bit of a political geek, with views that range all over the spectrum, so I enjoy the analysis and research involved in working on the game.

The original, and D2 are good solid games, but they are long in the tooth now, and are starting to seriously show their age, despite D2 selling scarily well still, and also now on steam. If it was just a matter of the game being old in years, I’d happily leave it, as I have several other games I want to be making right now as well, but there are other good reasons to revisit the series such as…

  • The game is technically old. It runs at a fixed 1024×768 resolution. Clearly that sucks. There are also numerous other GUI areas that need more flexibility and polish.
  • The game’s modding support could be much improved, as could it’s tutorial
  • The game had no good system within its simulation to reflect the private sector with regards to social services such as health care, schools and pensions, and tended to require state provision in those areas. This is a shortfall which skews the game more than I would like into a specific political direction
  • The game has been left behind slightly by political events. Climate change is a bigger deal now, fears of gangsta rap less so… plus the whole ‘finance your government debt through money printing or the bond market’ and credit ratings could all be reflected in a modern version of the game.

I’m coding Democracy 3 95% from scratch, although the basic GUI layout be very very similar (although much polished). The game is up and running already (I’ve worked on it on and off for a while now), but there is nothing exciting to see yet.  Ship date is sometime this year, it’s done when it’s done etc. Stay tuned…


Gaming cost per hour

I was curious, and none of the sites tracking this sort of thing could easily provide me with the stats per game, so I looked up what I’d paid for a few steam games and how much effectively I’d paid ‘per hour’ to enjoy them. here are some I checked…

Battlefield Bad Company 2 & vietnam add on £0.15 / hour
Dishonored £2.30 / hour
Hearts of iron 3 £1.87 / hour.
Sim City 4 Deluxe £0.14 / hour
Defense grid £0.43 / hour
Skyrim £5.86 / hour
Tropico 4 £0.62 / hour
Wargame:European Escalation £30.00 / hour

#It;s very interesting doing this, as it immediately shows me how impulse purchases at full price with no demo, based on a video are always my nemesis. Wargame:EE was a nightmare for me, whereas Battlefield BC2 is a huge gain. In fact, that figure is way lower if you discount the vietnam DLC. In that case, it’s a clear example of the company getting more from me in DLC (at full price) than the base game, something the stats show I’m clearly very happy to do (they clearly earned it). Something else that becomes clear is that this doesn’t really match my enjoyment of the game that much. Hearts of iron 3 clocked up a fair few hours, but did I really enjoy it as much as dishonored? I’d say definitely not. Another way to look at this is to say that, for example I’m happy to in general pay £1 an hour for quality gaming entertainment. By that measure the costs should have been:

Battlefield Bad Company 2 & vietnam add on worth £107
Dishonored worth £13
Hearts of iron 3 worth £8
Sim City 4 Deluxe worth £17
Defense grid Worth £4
Skyrim worth £4
Tropico 4 worth £10
Wargame:European Escalation worth £1

of course this assumes I have as much fun with each game, which isn’t entirely true.  Even so, who would have thought I could justify spending 100 times as much on one game as I did on another, but that has to be the rational conclusion. Maybe those F2P whales are more rational than I assume?

Gratuitous Space Battles: The outcasts is released!

Yup, you noticed I’d gone quiet about the new Gratuitous Space Battles expansion? Well it’s always like that in the days leading up to a release, while a bunch of admin stuff gets done. But lo! The latest expansion pack for my scarily popular space strategy game is now on sale. Here is the official launch trailer (also in HD, view on youtube to see in all it’s glory):

The website for the new DLC can be found here:

With this new race, I went with the idea of a cybernetic race who had been shunned and thrown out for their practice of biological/mechanical integration. I was thinking about all kinds of stuff, partly the tales from Star Trek:DS9 of ‘the founders’ being exiled and chased from worlds by ‘solids’, also partly the many different versions of the backstory of Doctor Who’s cybermen, and also the race of ‘krikkit’ in the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy, who seem like ncie people deep down, they just can’t cope with the thought of other species. My vision for the outcasts is that they are nice people at heart, they just suffer from a major persecution complex over the whole ‘cybernetic’ thing, and are determined to wipe out every non cybernetic life-form so they don’t have to feel awkward any more.

Who knows how many intergalactic wars could be solved just by some therapy eh?

Anyway, the new race comes with a few new goodies for people to play with, I suspect people will really enjoy the multi-point tractor beam and the decoy projection module, and no doubt GSB’s extensive modding community will pull the expansion to pieces, see how it ticks and start producing weird hybrid alien ships and new modules over the next few weeks. I hope so anyway. I’m also very pleased with the visual design of the ships for this race.

here are the obligatory buy links.

buy buy

Please help if you can by tweeting or facebook posting, or forum-commenting on the new race. It’s all much appreciated. For those of the social-inclined there is a Gratuitous Space Battles facebook page here.