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

Some Democracy 3 simulation changes

Sooo… it REALLY helps to talk over your game design with other people, especially as a lone indie. I sit here shivering in the small dark basement I program in sipping tea in my luxurious gilded office, and realize that I am alone in a bubble of game design where other peoples input goes unheard. So after a brief chat about the design with someone else, I’ve realized I need to make two changes to the simulation stuff:


Firstly, there is the topic of dilemmas. Dilemmas are a good mechanic because they are issues you cannot kick down the road. For example, there is an application to build a toxic waste dump. Do you say yay or nay? Saying yay obviously annoys environmentalists, but for how long? Right now… the answer is FOREVER.  I now think this is wrong. I think it should decay over a long timescale, and also that dilemma should possibly be re-usable. if the player *wants* to play an endless game of D3, surely they shouldn’t ‘run out’ of dilemmas? This is a change that needs making.

Secondly, the current system has a negative effect on your popularity after an assassination attempt. This was because I wanted it to reflect how bad and unpopular your government was, implying that people who were on-the-fence about you, would see someone trying to kill you and go ‘oh Obama must be a fruitcake, look at those guys shooting at him’. I now think this is just WRONG. Surely the opposite is true? I might not like the UK prime minister, but would I like him less if someone tried to shoot him? Especially if I was a ‘floating voter’. I suspect the spirit of ‘rallying round the government’ would kick in, and maybe have a positive effect on your support.

That also has the positive effect that it is a nice self-balancing game mechanism, rather than the current spiral of failure. I’m pretty certain I’ll replace the impact with a slight, short-term popularity jump.

Three pronged game development strategy

We hear a lot about how the PC market is on the way down, Dell are making less money, Microsoft keep making stupid decisions (someone sack ballmer and put in someone with a clue as to what they are doing please). and meanwhile everyone’s favorite tax-dodger apple is making more money than any sane human can imagine. Desktop PC’s are out, and tablets are in. Mobile is king. Just look at any number of crazy charts etc…

I suspect that although desktop PC gaming may not be as healthy as it once was, it is still pretty healthy, and I suspect laptop PC gaming is probably stronger than ever before. Laptops always used to be an executive, wealthy-persons PC, with the majority of us putting up with big beige boxes whilst the high fliers had a Sony Vaio. These days, laptops are cheap as chips, and have more than enough horsepower for gaming.

Personally, I still do 95% of my gaming on my desktop. This is to be expected for a developer, because I have 9as I keep reminding people) a darned comfy office chair and a nice office. I’m perfectly happy gaming in my office. However, the reality for people not working like me is that PC use might increasingly be on a sofa, in the garden, on a kitchen table with a laptop, wherever.

I’m hoping to steer positech in a bunch of different directions over the next few years. here uis my grand strategy marvel/laugh at its genius.


Democracy 3 is aimed at you. I will try to minimize it’s file access and CPU usage to ensure it doesn’t drain your battery, and I pledge to playtest it on laptops at least as much as desktops. D3 is a thinking game, one you might prefer to play lying on a sofa with a laptop.


Redshirt is aimed at you (it will also be on mac/pc). We plan to get this game out on ipad as it really does look the part in ipad format. Plus it’s relatively low system resource usage means it actual fits in ipad RAM :D.


Gratuitous Space Battles 2 will be aimed at you, if/when it gets made. In fact it will be seriously ninja-aimed at you, trying to squeeze every ounce of processor capability that I can.  Possibly supporting big picture mode for TV’s and I hope to experiment with multi monitors too. bwahahahaha.

This is my plan. Annoyingly, there is still only one of me. I must rectify that somehow.

Scheduling a game release

This is a tough call. When I was a newcomer to indie game development, making smaller budget games with fewer sales, I used to think we had a huge advantage over the AAA guys. A triple A game (in almost *all* circumstances) HAS to ship in a specific month. They do this because the ad-buy has been scheduled, the contracts for PR people have been written, the availability of release slots for portals and platform holders is agreed, the finances are in place to pay everyone assuming that is the ship date, and so on… So what happens if the game is not fun two months before release?


Tough Tough Tough. Maybe everyone could work evenings and weekends (like they hadn’t secretly allowed for that anyway?) and maybe everyone can put in some extra effort…but it’s a really BIG DEAL in financial and PR terms if you push back the ship date.

As an indie, this is not the case, so we can be a bit smug and say ‘it’s done when it’s done’.

Except increasingly… this gets hard to do. The problem isn’t so much financial – luckily I could work another year on the current game and not be short of money to buy food, but one of scheduling. If you want the PR people, the guy making a trailer, and so on to be available towards the end of a project (when everything is nailed down and won’t change) you need to book them early. More relevantly to me, I only want to appear at trade shows showing off a close to release game, not an early alpha. If redshirt and Democracy3 were June 2014 releases, I doubt I’d show them at rezzed or anywhere else yet. Not because it’s ‘too early’, but because doing shows is EXPENSIVE and you want to pick your battles. Promoting a game you can buy next month or NOW makes more sense to me.

I’m fussy enough to be able to throw my arms in the air and say “We must wait another year dammit!” on my games, although luckily both are coming along nicely, but it’s something as an indie you have to keep an eye on. You don’t just need to make sure you have cashflow to pay the bills until the ship date, you need to have a release date in mind for lots of reasons.

Communicating complexity

I have a dilemma regarding a feature in Democracy 3. I LOVE the way part of it is simulated, but like most simulations of true complexity, the results often seem like you just rolled a dice.There are basically 3 stages to a voters support in D3. They can like you enough to vote for you. they can like you enough to join your party, and they can become activists. If they like you enough to vote for you, this isn’t a done deal. They may be happy…but not ecstatic. In short, they are apathetic. They might vote, but then again…it might rain. Turnout for them is variable.

Party members will always vote, and always vote for you (obviously). But that is where their influences begins and ends.

Activists are the engines of turnout. they will persuade other people to vote, by campaigning and canvassing. They don’t change minds, but they do encourage higher turnout. As we all know, in a close election, turnout can make all the difference. This is a good gameplay mechanic, in my opinion because it acts as a drag and fight against another mechanic in the game…

Every voter in D3 is in multiple groups. You cannot therefore win by saying “I’ll be the party of the poor, screw the rest!’, because the poor are also retired, also ethnic minorities, also young, also motorists… and all those opinions come together to form their voting decision. In other words, every voter is a complex decision-machine. As a result, you have to ensure you have broad appeal. Having a niche party with extreme views is not going to win an election, you simply won’t get the votes. So the lesson is… have broad centrist appeal…


The activist mechanic drags you slightly the other way. having broad appeal is great, but nobody knocks on doors and puts up posters for a middle-of-the-road all-things-to-all-men candidate. You need a vision, a tribe, a group of people who are inspired for you, support you fanatically and will campaign for you.

This all works great…but explaining it is hell. My last playthrough had me lose the election. I had a lot more party activists than the other guy. They gave me an election day turnout boost of 18%! whereas the other party had a boost of just 5%. But… My turnout was actually lower than their turnout. Why? Because a lot of my potential voters just were not excitable enough to go vote for me. I’d REALLY upset the oppositions supporters, so they were motivated (despite their weak activist base) to go vote, and my bunch were not. As a result, an election that looked 50/50 in the polls went to the opposition.

Activists take time to be recruited, and the groundswell of anger at me had created a big voting block on their side, but not many activists (yet).  The result was a slight surprise, although i found it cool, because I understood the mechanics. However, I need to do a lot of work to make sure the player understands WHY they won or lost. Complex systems need very careful GUI’s and tutorials and help.