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

Get to your cubicle and stay off the factory floor. (Production Line 1.27)

I released a patch for production line recently, then found a minor save game bug that I patched right away. There is a long list of stuff we improved and added and changed, so here is the full list:

[version 1.27]
1) [Design] Touchscreen is now an upgrade for fit dashboard instead of fit electronics.
2) [Bug] Fixed bug where the AI would be very reluctant to research air conditioning or polished paintwork.
3) [Bug] Placing facilities and slots is now correctly recorded as a capital expenditure in expenses charts.
4) [Bug] Bubble next to car sales icon now expands to show numbers greater than 999 correctly.
5) [Bug] Fixed visual bug where scrolling in the sales showroom resulted in invisible cars.
6) [Balance] Research costs of some later-game research items have been increased.
7) [GUI] Various improvements to the style scheduler window.
8) [Feature] Marketing campaigns can now be launched to boost brand awareness, and thus visits to the showrooms.
9) [Bug] Fixed crash bug if the game autosaves within a minute of a manual save, the next time the save dialog was launched.
10) [Bug] Fixed bug in slot-picker where expand icon buttons (+/-) would not unlock when research triggered if slot picker was open.
11) [Bug] Fixed bug where the market screen doesnt show the correct market segment of cars until you have viewed them in the car design screen.
12) [Bug] Fixed bug where cars would have a red error message on them if the next slot was a really long conveyor journey away.
13) [GUI] The style scheduler at the start of the production line now lets you edit existing quantities of entries.
14) [Feature] Wingmirrors can now be manufactured, and also have folding and heated upgrades.
15) [Balance] Costs of wingmirrors and alloy wheels has gone up. Making alloy wheels requires more steel.Keyless entry worth more, requires 2 chips.
16) [Balance] Resource prices are now affected by demand from AI competitors.
17) [Balance] Crossing up to a new price category now produces a ‘bump’ in value which prevents pricing anomalies.
18) [Tutorial] New pop-up explains what to do when you have researched a new body style.
19) [Balance] Increased price of last robot upgrade so its less of a no-brainer upgrade. Also slight increase in power-draw.
20) [Feature] Offices (marketing and research) can now only be placed in office areas zoned on the map. Non office items cannot be placed there.

There is some cool stuff in there, and I think that 8) is a big change (ooh look! actual marketing!) and 14 adds new stuff to research and play with, plus the combination of 16),17) and 19 is actually pretty vital (and much needed) to increase the extent to which the long term game is balanced. The game has definitely tended towards easy, with cash becoming a non-problem once you have put a good few hours in and done half or most of the tech upgrades. balancing a game is hard, and a constantly moving target as new features and bug fixes go in, so this is something I will have to constantly revisit.

However, probably the biggest obvious gameplay change in there is that last one, which frankly was a last-minute decision to add. (I have mused on the mechanic for a while, but made a last minute decision to actually include it now rather than later).

Basically the old game let you slap down a research office or marketing office anywhere on the map. The new game sets aside dedicated office space which cannot be moved or expanded. Nor can you build production stuff in there. It adds a new restriction on the game which may annoy existing players used to the free-form style of the previous version. So why did I do it?

  • Firstly, theĀ  corralling of offices like this prevents ‘research spamming’. Essentially you could ‘cheat’ in the game by slapping down 30 or 40 research centers right at the start using a loan, and then splat through all of the research in record time. You then had an advantage over the AI, and could quickly start producing cars with high tech, and never put down a single production slot without access to a bunch of upgrades. I disliked the ‘spirit’ of this approach, and it seemed unlikely to be practical in the real world. You wont get financiers to back a 10 billion dollar car company that employs nothing but researchers. I like the idea of encouraging research alongside the game, not as a prelude to it.
  • Secondly it introduces some new difficult and strategic decisions. The layout of the factory is now slightly more complex, and the positioning and size of research centers is more tricky. it also encourages upgrading to more efficient research offices (space-wise) which otherwise had little to recommend them. Plus when it comes to expansion, it means you have another factor to take into account when choosing potential lots to acquire.
  • Thirdly it feels more ‘real’. In a real factory researchers desks are not next to car-body stamping machines, for obvious reasons. This makes the layout look more like a real factory and less like a game, which has to be a good thing :D.

Its always going to be difficult making a gameplay change during early access. So far I haven’t got any angry shouts at me, and we have over 20,000 players, so that looks like its a good sign. I *do* need to include a LOT more tutorial hints as to what is going on, as its not explained at all, but I think in the long run, the effect this change will have will be seen as positive for the experience of the game. I guess only time, and checking of forums, reddit, twitter and facebook posts (and blog comments) will really tell. I expected more outcry YTBH, so it seems things are going well (or people upgrading slowly :D).

In unrelated news my construction hat for my EGX booth is now here, along with Production Line stickers :D

One thought on

  1. I’m not sure the best place to put my dubious two cents, but I was watching a video where you clearly outlined that the hard part of customer choosiness is communicating it to the player, and I had a few thoughts. I’m not sure I completely understand the interaction between add-ons and price categories (I seem to have sold some vehicles by just jacking up the price of a basic car to get it into midrange, but that seems to have stopped working…?) so it’s possible that some of my analysis is confused or incorrect, but I think much of it stands. (As with anything, though, my conclusions may be wrong, and I’m sure you’ll think of solutions that didn’t occur to me.)

    First, the tooltips as they stand aren’t very useful. I have a stack of budget sedans, and I want to know if I should make a) a more expensive sedan, b) a compact, or c) an SUV. The tooltip tells me that most of my customers don’t like the sedan because it is too cheap, and a minority want a different body type. This is not useful feedback.

    First, if you want to know what type and price your customers want, the other tab on the showroom window, the category grid, does a much better job providing that information. Second, the tooltips are misleading. (I think 68% of my customers want a more expensive model, and then 22% of those who want a budget car don’t want a sedan… But a customer who wants a luxury SUV and is shown a budget sedan belongs in BOTH categories, not just in the “more expensive” category, since the current setup wrongly implies they would buy a more expensive sedan.) Third, it is missing the most important bit. I had a model in a recent game which just would not sell. I’ve got 200 in my showroom, it’s a disaster. The tooltips tell me that 68% think it’s the wrong price category, and 22% don’t like the type… But 10% of visitors are apparently here for a midrange SUV, which adds up to hundreds of visitors… yet I have sold zero. No information on why.

    I would suggest that, from the player’s perspective, there are four categories of buyers:
    1. Buyers who want something you don’t sell. (Wants an SUV, you only have sedans. Wants a heater, you don’t have them.)
    2. Buyers who find what they’re looking for, but don’t buy it. (It’s not good value for money, or it has a bunch of features they don’t want to pay for, or your competitor has one with a more flamboyant spoiler).
    3. Buyers who want something you’re sold out of. This is a little tricky to represent, but think about a car dealership. You walk in, you know (from my print advertising campaign) that I make a car that fits my needs. There isn’t one on the floor, and it’s a four-month wait for the next. You walk out and look elsewhere. Feedback on what models are in high demand would be very helpful (especially considering the long delay between adjusting your production settings and new cars actually hitting the showroom.)
    4. Buyers who give you money and take a car. (Yay!)

    It seems to me that the category/price grid is the best place for information on the first sort of buyer. You might consider adding some kind of information about what the most-requested missing features are, perhaps in a tooltip. (You can currently see what your competitors put on their cars over in the tech tree and the model designer, but 1. it’s not here with the sales data, and 2. it’s not clear to the player whether “what is on your competitors’ cars” and “what features buyers want” are identical or just related.)

    The tooltip over a showroom car seems like the right place to learn about the second sort of buyer. “This is a compact and I want an SUV” is not a very useful tooltip, since it does nothing to explain why THIS SUV is still sitting in the showroom after a week, while many of your other SUVs have sold. Ditch the “wrong price/category” feedback and make the tooltip something like “buyers looking for a budget sedan thought: 30% needs a heater/50% needs a sunroof/20% poor value for money”

    Buyers #3 and 4 should be identifiable from either the income tab in the budget window, or in the showroom category grid tab (or maybe a third showroom tab). #4 already is: I can tell what cars are selling. (Some sort of actual timeline might be handy here, since I think the graph is in dollars instead of unit sales, so if there have been changes in price/features for a model it can be a bit hard to tell exactly what’s up.) An “average time on the shelf” metric would help identify which models are the highest priorities to increase production.

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