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

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…


26 thoughts on Announcing positech’s next game will be….

  1. Good to return to your ‘trademark’ game and make it even better, esp if D2 is still selling well.

  2. This is really great news! So much can be done with this game, Cliff. You just made my morning!

  3. May I suggest some ideas?

    – A parlamentary system: i love sausage making and more indirect controll
    – Media spin: news appen and goverment must react and spin it in favour.
    – Play the minority: it would be a nice twist

  4. it’s a fine balance between accurately modelling the chaos involved in getting your policies through, versus the player actually feeling like they are in some sort of control of events. Nobody wants to feel like they are just a victim of circumstance, however much politics may indeed often be described as ‘events dear boy…events’.
    I agree that some horse-trading might be a goof addition though. The idea of certain of your ministers veto-ing or supporting policies outside their department is one I am toying with. the original games just had blanket political capital, but i like the idea of conditional political capital (so minister X will award you more freedom if you carry out his pet policy etc).

  5. Bugger – Had hoped against all odd’s it might be Starship Tycoon remake

    Oh well maybe next time….

  6. Woo hoo! D2 is one of the more interesting games I’ve played, and another one makes me happy :)

    Thank you for taking a look at the modeling of private involvement in health care, etc. I don’t have a lot of trust in corporations but I also don’t have a lot of trust in governments either so having some more flexibility to reflect my own “but what if I ran it _this_ way?” hypotheses is definitely interesting to me :)

    That was one thing that struck me as very odd about Tropico (the original, at least, didn’t play much of the rest of the series) was that even if I went hardcore capitalist I was still directly in control of what businesses started, where, etc. If I didn’t make it happen, it didn’t happen. Basically a centrally-planned economy, just with somewhat less actual government spending.

    But if they’d tried to actually model private interests and a free market and so on… well, it gets back to what you said about not leaving the player feeling “I can’t control this” no matter how much the thing-being-modeled is honestly difficult to control in the real world.

    On the minister interference thing, I think that’s a good idea, and one simple model that comes to mind is:
    – each minister has a pet issue like you suggested
    – if you really cater to that pet issue, you get a substantial discount to political-capital costs in issues that fall in that minister’s area, and a mild discount to all other costs
    – and if you really stomp that pet issue into the ground, costs go up
    – but if you’re carefully neutral, the minister won’t really influence costs either way… unless the minister has some kind of “fanatic” personality trait and is obstructionistic unless you really toe the line.

    Anyway, great to hear about D3 :)

  7. Yes! Recently bought D2 again during the steam sale as I couldn’t find my original copy.
    Can we have some countries having more than two political parties, with different ideologies and levels of support. Couple that with votes being counted more randomly and it’ll make elections a bit more interesting!

  8. Be careful with global warming. It’s big only in the sense that it is fashionable. However, real physical climate change lags 40-100 years behind policy, putting climate itself out of scope for the game. Only the immediate economic effects from policies (all negative) will have time to show up in the game model.

    Maybe that partly explains why politicians with 4-year time horizons do little more than give lip-service.

    PS: I’m looking for a D3 suggestion and playtest forum where I’ll participate if I can find it. I’m also an out-of-work programmer who could get into modeling.

  9. You may want to study up on why every country now runs on debt and on financial shenanigans in general. At a basic level, every country is racing against every other country in a global ‘Human Race’. Debt brings forward wealth from the future like some kind of time travel device, enabling the purchase of more things than trading tangible assets would allow from other countries and the transfer of wealth to those that own assets (via inflation and usury). The trick is to never have to repay that debt. Here’s how governments are avoiding ever repaying that debt right now:

    1. Print money.
    2. Buy your own government bonds with that money.
    3. Pay yourself the interest on those government bonds.
    4. You owe your debts to yourself – no need to repay them!
    5. Massive inflation occurs due to not only printing money, but printing-printing money through paying yourself interest on your own debt.

    They do this, rather than only printing money outright, because it hides some of that money printing via paying themselves bond interest, while at the same time making foreign bond investment cheaper to sustain due to the reduction in bond interest rates that buying your own bonds causes. Low bond interest rates make the country look more stable and more attractive to investors.

    Next up, on Great Depression 2: The wage price spiral!

  10. Hi Cliffski. I had placed a question in the comments at Rock Paper Shotgun and someone advised me to post it here. Here it is: you hold the position that your games should not receive price drops because they do not decrease in value as time goes by, unlike games that rely on graphics to sell. This is something that I can certainly agree with (I still play my DOS games, after all). My question is, how do you deal with the case of a game such as Democracy 3? Is the new version the “improved” one, which benefits from your experience with the previous games? Or are they sufficiently different that they all stay relevant? Please note that I haven’t played the two previous games.

  11. Great news! I really liked Democracy 2.

    My biggest wish for version 3 would be a font that’s easier to read and a bit more tweaking for the overall text-appearance (line heights, margins, etc.)

    These days I read many ebooks. This made me a bit picky about the way games (or websites) display larger amount of texts.


  12. :) Yoohoo! Glad to hear it, I got D2 from Steam and am loving it, though to be honest I don’t know enough to tell you what to add, but it is still a great lot of fun!
    Looking forward to seeing a glimpse as you get farther along in it.


  13. This is great news. I loved Democracy 2; there are so few good political simulators out there.

    The only big problem I felt the game had was that the opposition party never really did anything. Party affiliation in general was pretty strange and didn’t seem to have a lot of clear effects. It would be great if you had to worry more about what your political opponents were going to do (although maybe this is coming from my perspective as an American, where parties in opposition can throw their weight around more than in Britain).

    Also, if you’re going to be making ministers more important it would be nice to be able to choose those at the start of the game. That’s sort of how it works in real life, and I always felt more of a connection to the ministers I appointed myself than to the ones I started with.

  14. Very interesting idea regarding picking the ministers. I’m definitely of the view that they should be a bigger deal. For example ministerial scandals should actually get rid of some :D

  15. If it is still in development, could I make some suggestions? I would love to see some human effects of what changes occur. For instance if I play the game where I wrack up loads of govt debt and then make horrific cuts to pay this debt down- how is business affected by this, how are people affected by this? Possibly you could have something which shows the price of a can of coke, a bunch of bananas, a pint of milk, a decent second hand car, a house, average country wage, how many businesses are currently running etc. and then show the changes that occurs to these as a result of the changes we as players have made in government. Take the can of coke for instance- 50p in thriving economic times, then maybe £3 or more when i play my game in a way in which fucks the economy up.

    Maybe something where you pick like 20-30 big name businesses and as a news piece or a selection button you can see how well they are doing, if they are going into administration?

    The option to bail out businesses and offer them interest free loans, but then add this on to the government’s budget. For instance a business may ask for a loan of £500million quid and if the govt accepts then it appears on the budget or something with more leeway so that we can make more choices on what we pay money out to

    Something to do with fire fighters and local govt ( don;t think there is anything like that at present)

    More options with welfare and benefits. With the current game you can only choose the amount of money you would spend on child benefit. Perhaps a better way would be to do something like the uni fees where it has a bar of 6-8 options . Something like child benefit for all-child benefit for those with incomes above x-means tested-child benefit only for the few- (or select which income groups/types of people you would give certain benefits too)

    I would agree that opposition parties and ministers need more of a role within the game as well. If you’re doing well at running the country (reasonably popular, reasonably prgamatic and reasonably minded) you pretty much get a decent victory and clear majority at every election and can win about 5+ in a row which is highly unlikely. It should be harder to hang on in power and the opposition should have more interaction with you so that you can have a bit of a battle with them.

    Maybe some election strategies as well so you actually have to compete for your place for 2nd term? At a stretch too- maybe after you get kicked out you could play the opposition and see how the other party makes changes to what your party has done in government?

    A fantastic game btw, just a few ideas which I think would make democracy 3 a fantastic game.

  16. Hi Cliff,

    I am a latecomer to D2, but very interested (and entertained) in the educational potential. I also have a background in politics and economics and am certainly a policy wonk.

    After about a dozen playthroughs i started modding D2. Very interested in the idea of D3

    * the gameplay tension between “fix the problems” and “feed your base / grow your support” is interesting and adds an extra challenge – but support seems to swing around a lot more than it really does in real life. Most elections (i am Canadian) seem to revolve around the %10 of voters who actually do swing. The ideal that I might be down to 8% in support and still in power seems weird.
    > what i would like to see is a way to mute down those political dynamics to have a simpler game (for school age kids) where if they make good choices to solve the policy problems they get re-elected.

    *my first mod was to take the political cost of everything down across the board. I took everything down to about half. More choice! More Consequences!

    *a good number of policies/strategies are way overpowered – e.g. the “drinkers exploit” where removing the drinkng age grows your base by increasing the number of drinkers to most of the population. Community policing also seems to singlhandledly sove all your crime problems for peanuts.

    *my next mod was to chop back the probability of all the assasinations and terrorist attacks. These were totally swamping the “fix the problems” gameplay.

    *the economic model seems pretty rough and ready – if i understand correctly a fixed initial level, plus a sine wave “economic cycle” (that seems to have a period of only 3 years or so) plus the effects of the events, dilemmas and policies thrown at you in the game. It would be really nice to see an economic model kinda like what you get in economics 101: GDP = consumption + private investment + government expendatures.
    It would also be nice to see an actual balance of payments exports – imports = net foreign investment.

    Honestly i think making the economics more “real” isn’t going to improve gameplay a whole lot but it will be a boon to modders and wonks who want to drop actual statistics into a mission and then be able to play it through.

    I second the idea that the cabinet approach as is seems kinda half baked. No cabinet shuffle? Not being able to move ministers around, and not being able to see their attributes/inclinations when picking policies makes the functionality of having the cabinet almost moot.

    Overall the UI is a little difficult to comprehend, and the division of screen space into pie wedges filled with circles seems to make a lot of dead space. I would prefer a dashboard where each section had two levels of zoom. Wherever my focus is should take about half the screen, with the options to add or remove policies visible at the same time. Whatever is not in focus should be shrunk to “icons/meters only” the least amount of space that still shows threats or progress in some way.

  17. Could you also add adjustments to school values. Some people think that promoting national values at the schools is a good way to further integrate/assimilate minorities and reduce racial tension, like citizenship tests. One thing that annoyed me about democracy two was that you could not make the amount of Conservatives grow, no matter what. I think that if you promoted national values, that it should cause the amount of Conservatives and patriots/nationalists to rise and their groups would be happy, while Liberals and socialists would reduce slightly and would be slightly mad.

    I also think that when it comes to religious people that you should make a separation between Muslim group, Jewish group and Christian group since that would be more realistic. Reasons why these three is because they are the ones that get most political about their faith. Their faith often decides their political view (not Judaism so much) and it is often quite different at some points. I also think it is kind of exaggerated how mad the religious group gets when you choose to only promote evolution in school too. In America they perhaps would be that mad, but in Europe most Christians accept evolution. Perhaps only teaching evolution could make them that at first, but over time, they learn to accept it.

    Some think that Muslim faith schools should not be allowed because they think they go against national values and makes room for segregation. So there should be an option to ban Muslim faith schools as well as a ban for Christian and Jewish faith schools. If a ban on one religious group, liberals would be very mad and it would increase inequality, but decrease racial tension. There should also be option to promote Christian values in the schools (many parties support this so it’s only reasonable to make it in the game). This would make liberals mad and increase the number of Christian groups, perhaps also decrease the Muslim and Jewish groups and make Conservatives happy.
    There should also be a separation-between church and state. Making it a church separation from state wouldn’t decrease the amount of Christian people, but it would make them mad and the same with conservatives. Liberals would be happy as well as the Muslim and Jewish population. It would also slightly increase equality, but not by much.

    One thing I also think should be optional is to make more policies that would affect international relations and you could also make other countries agree more with your policies and choose to adopt them. For example, one option should be to support Israel or Palestine. There should be a bar showing which of them you support most. Support only Palestine, Emphasises most Palestine, support both, emphasises Israel, only supports Israel. If you support Israel for example, it would cause other countries to have a further dislike for you, but you would please the conservative, patriotic, Christian and Jewish population. It would displease socialists, Muslim population (I don’t think Liberals should be involved because they are split on the issue) and as said, international relations. Since your support for one side is so high, the Media will most likely follow and show your party’s view of the story. If you increase support for mass media and make it international, it would make other countries slowly more likely to support you and follow your policies.

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