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

Production Line: Early financial GUI

So… I have been busy with both Steam Dev Days and then Political Animals, but still found time to crack on with Production Line. So far a lot of the stuff you have seen in the video and my earlier posts has been about the look of the game and the isometric factory, but I have started doing very early work on some of the business side of the game. For example, we now finally have an actual financial data dialog which pops up when you click on the current cash balance:


This is very early days, and some of those categories are not working yet. Currently the rent, wages, capital expenditure and raw materials / component stuff is in there and functioning. I thought it made sense to show data for 1, 7 and 30 days in the past to get different snapshots of how your company is doing, although maybe 7,30 and all time makes more sense? who knows… I suspect also a few line charts showing how those categories have changed over time would make sense too, eventually. I’ll likely get the income (broken down by model of car) working first, then add a simple overview, and then worry about finnessing the display of it all. Once the raw data is being collected, saved/loaded and displayed properly changing the display of the data is relatively easy.

My aim, in design terms is to have the player spend some time fussing about the layout of the factory, and the bottlenecks that will inevitably ensue, some time deciding which R&D project to undertake next, and some time looking at the numbers, graphs & charts associated with the business. I found it interesting how delicately the balance of component costs and production efficiency was micro-managed by Henry Ford for the model T. When you are making a LOT of cars, changing the size of a single component, or using a lighter material (just by 5%) for a specific component can save an absolute fortune. I want the player to have the option to really drill down into things and be able to spend money to optimize a tiny thing (such as the speed at which tyres are fitted) which only makes sense when you have 10+ tyre fitting stations, and thus a vast factory. My feeling is that a lot of ‘big’ strategy and biz sims lose focus towards the middle and end game, and it becomes a simple matter of just copy-pasting the same layout. With any luck I’ll be able to avoid that.

Anyway…something else I did recently was restrict the placement of resource import slots to specific ‘ghosted’ areas, to give the player less freeform control over layout. I want there to be a LOT of these, so it isn’t *too* restrictive, but a complete free-form approach is perhaps too dull :D.


Feedback vastly appreciated.


Political Animals Gameplay footage…

Sooo…we really are getting very close to November 2nd, which is release day for Political Animals. Oh yes. Scarily close. Not that there is a big unmovable target of an upcoming US election or anything like that…

Anyway, in preparation for this, I put together a little video of me playing through ten turns of the game. This is to give people a better idea of how it plays than you can get from any conventional preview or trailer. Ultimately nothing beats watching someone play the game right? Please excuse a minor bug I found with a window that won’t close, obviously we will fix that :D. I have to admit, I am no ‘youtube personality’, but I do have the time, the inclination and more importantly, a playable build of the game, so here goes…

My expectations for the success and popularity of this game are very varied. I love it, I love the look, and the gameplay and obviously the theme is SPOT ON for releasing right now. In the US, politics is incredibly topical, and the US always represents a big chunk of the market. On the other hand, we have translated it into French, German Italian and Spanish, so we are hoping for some international attention too. Political Strategy is a bit of a ‘niche’, and yet I *know* (as the developer of Democracy 3) that it can be quite a big one if you hit the right notes. Also, Political Animals is far less serious, and far more a conventional strategy game than Democracy 3, so I’m thinking it may well appeal to players of games like Tropico too.

As a publisher, this is some new ground for me. I’ve previously met and worked with developers in a closer way than with PA, mostly because of distance. I have only met 2 of the team (in total), and only met them twice. The developers are Squeaky Wheel, from the Philippines. If this game makes a profit, its proof that long-distance publishing arrangements can work, which would be excellent. I am also planning some twists on my normal launch marketing strategy, which I will blog about in more depth after the event, but one notable change is we are doing a simultaneous release on our website and on steam, so no pre-orders this time.

I’m nervous about the release of the game, because I’m always nervous. its a big bet, both in terms of actual money, and also in terms of reputation. To be honest, I’m more worried about releasing a bad game than I am about losing money. I intend to be very, very picky about the games I make and the games I release. I know some people release games much faster than me, investing less in each one, but I don’t think that is a style that suits me, or my ‘brand’. Anyway… 16 days to go…


Steam Dev Days 2016

So…that was steam dev days 2016. What was it like? what did I found out? what do I think now its over…?
Firstly it was excellent. When valve get game developers together, they provide breakfast, some free hardware to take home, a happy hour with free drinks, free coffee, snacks, loads of booths to try VR games, loads of opportunities to talk to people from valve, and it costs you $100.
All I will say is….your move GDC, because paying GDC prices for the GDC experience is…less tempting.

There were some good talks and some….niche talks, but to be honest the appeal of these shows isn’t often the talks, but the bumping into other developers and just chatting. I met a bunch of people I’ve worked with for years but never physically met, and thats cool, and the general chatting and swapping of tips means I came away with some interesting business ideas.

Overall, dev days feels a lot more like a big party where everyone is a game developer, rather than a ‘corporate networking opportunity’ where people are constantly ‘pitching’ stuff and trying to impress each other. This is a good thing.

(Of course, what with it being legal there, I couldn’t resist the temptation of a fellow developer handing me some marijuana cookies, so maybe you should take everything I say with a pinch of salt. I did giggle quite a bit.)

Something that I reckon is missing from shows, not just SDD, is developer talks that are broad enough to be interesting to the whole audience. For example, in technical terms, a talk on “How to optimize your game” in general terms, would be great, or “How to balance a strategy game”, which broad lessons that appeal to 500 developers. I think talks tend towards the “How to improve subsurface scattering in a Unity FPS game on nvidia hardware” style, which is amazing if that happens to be exactly what you really need to know, but niche and tangential as fuck for the other 99% of attendees.

Its surprising that there is no crowd-sourcing of submitted talks for shows. I presume someone in charge reads applications and decides “Thats interesting to our audience” which is crazy as they have the email addresses of all the attendees, why not ask us?

Just an idea.

Right…how many complimentary m&ms can I guy eat in one sitting?

Why I WISH presidential campaigns WERE like a video game.

I’m the guy who made Democracy 3, a political strategy game. Not surprisingly I’m a politics geek. Politically, I’m probably pretty centrist. More right wing economically, more left wing socially. very Green. Now I’ve got that out of the way, and the extremists have stopped reading…here we go.

I have never in my life watched a US presidential debate live. Last night, I stayed up till 4AM to watch Clinton vs Trump round two. I read a LOT about politics, including US politics. I understand the issues and the references. i know the history, I know the characters involved. I was NOT prepared.

I’m from the UK, a relatively small country. The US has a population of 324,000,000 people. Out of that staggering number, the only choices are a billionaire(he claims) reality TV show star and the wife of one of the previous presidents. How is this possible? how is the bar set so low, how bad is US politics that these are the choices?

The thing that really depressed me about the debate was actually not just the lies (there were lots) or the avoiding the question, or the accusations of rape (yes really) or the semi-fascist claims that if candidate A won they would imprison candidate B (not put them on trial, not let justice take its course, not allow a jury to decide…nope.. ‘they would be in jail’). The thing nobody seems to be talking about is policy. It was a policy free debate. Totally. it was like people campaigning to be the star of a TV show, all personality, all character, no damn clue how to run the country, or what should be done.

Describing a policy as ‘beautiful’ is a waste of words. Describing a tax plan as ‘amazing’ is a waste of words. Don’t panic…I have done the homework for you (very) briefly. Here are the noticeable 9to me) bits of the tax plans:

Clinton: (src: candidates website)

An extra 4% tax charged on people earning more than $5milllion per year.

Ensure that people earning over $1million a year pay at least 30% effective tax rate.

Trump: (src: candidates website)

People earning under $75k pay 12%.

$75k to $225 25%

225+ 33%.

Business tax cut from 35% to 15%.

Inheritance tax abolished.


You probably have more sympathy with one of those than the other. Thats fine. Thats how it is supposed to work. And issues like that (I just picked tax as an example) is how elections should be decided. Issues, Policies, these are what matter. Nobody is voting for their best friend. You aren’t going to hang out in a bar with the president, they get to make policy decisions. Given a choice, I’d rather hang out in a bar with GW Bush than Al Gore, Bush would be hilarious. Given a choice between which of the two picked environmental policies… then its a different matter.

As someone who literally makes a living from designing a complex simulation of how politics and economics work, I KNOW that its not a simple matter of tax plans. Tax plans affect government income which affects education, healthcare provision, defense and so on and so on. The trouble is…this NEVER comes up.

I would love to see a big spreadsheet or pie chart showing how Donald Trump thinks taxes should be raised and revenue spent. I would love to see the same for Clinton. This is not technically hard. You present both candidates with a simplified breakdown of the current US income and expenditure and ask them to list the top 50 changes they would make. Then those are presented (after being fact checked by economists) to people for them to make a dispassionate choice on. I want to see the TV debate version of this amazing chart:


No tax plan/policy is ‘beautiful’ or ‘amazing’. One persons ‘fair share’ is another persons company-wrecking punitive tax. One persons bloated government waste is another persons vital lifeline. The issues cannot be boiled down to petty mud slinging and TV charisma. The candidates have disagreements over what POLICY decisions should be taken. Forget the personal bullshit, lets have a 90 minute prime time TV program where the only thing that gets discussed is (fact-checked) firm policy proposals.

In my dreams.

Good luck America. You need it.

Political Animals Trailer! Take your mind off the real thing!

With politics descending globally into farce, with politicians comparing themselves to Hitler, punching others in the head, supporting torture, wanting ‘companies who employ foreigners’ to be named and shamed….jeez… there is not much humour to be had in the world of politics.


I didn’t want to do a trailer for Political Animals…but the developers in the Philippines insisted that we build a beautiful trailer and make the UK publisher pay for it. And I couldn’t say no. So here it is…Enjoy!