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


I like the concept of scale. its why I’m obsessed with the ramp up of teslas gigafactory and car production, and why I am making a game about factories in the first place. I find factorio very impressive. I also find real world scale very impressive. Like REALLY huge wind turbines.

And REALLY huge solar farms.

So yeah… I like to address scale in my work (games!) too :D. I think that optimization and scale go hand in hand. its no good allowing players to create colossal factories if the option is only theoretical, given hugely slow code. So embracing scale FORCES you to write more optimized (i’d say ‘better’) code. I also think that in my tiny, tiny way, if I can get the CPU usage of my games down by just 10%, then thats a lot (high tens of thousands of players) of games running on PCs using less power. Thats good for the environment!

Anyway, on the subject of scale I just swapped my twin 27″ monitors for a single 49″ beast that weighs less and uses noticeably less power (yay progress!) and also way less cabling. I’m not sure I have the height just right yet, and it seems to tell some programs its a mere 3840 res and not 5120 res (which both my game, and many apps agree that it is).

First things first…. LOL huge monitors are awesome. I find myself daydreaming what it would be like to stick 11 year old me, used to playing pong on the CRT TV and stick him in front of a 49″ monitor with twin speakers & subwoofer belting out battlefield V. Its truly amazing. My 980ti cant quite handle a proper FOV in ultra resolution, so I may have to scale it down a little bit but hey…. its super fun.

This has led me to try out various games at that resolution including of course… Production Line! and it looks remarkably fun in 5120×1440 res (which it happily supports… (click to enlarge). BTW runs fine at 60fps with this map…

of course the target market for this is pretty small so far, but I definitely remember a time when the absolute maximum conceivable size for a monitor was about 1920, which is why loads of developers like me used to create 2048×1024 render targets, because obviously we wouldn’t need bigger (LOL), and TBH when I coded gratuitous space battles with 4096×2048 render targets for those show-offs with their fancy-ass 2560 res monitors, that again felt like a limit that *could never be crossed*, and yet here I am, in 2019 with a monitor that my own game from 10 years back (GSB1) now cannot quite cope with at 5120 res…

Scale in terms of coding to support silly monitor resolutions is one thing, but I also think its worth considering scale in other terms, such as users, bandwidth and so on. I doubt I will EVER make a game as successful as flappy bird, angry birds, fortnite or minecraft, but you have to wonder how many times devs got close to that and then kinda fell over (and failed to achieve their full potential) because they couldn’t cope with the scale.

Right now, positech has several obvious bottlenecks preventing us from coping if we suddenly had a mega hit (anything bigger than Democracy 3 probably). For one… I’m the only person doing customer support (yikes!), which means if you email support AT positech dot co dot uk and tell me the game doesn’t run on your linux toaster, its ME, the lead coder, lead designer, and lead biz-dev dude, who gets distracted by your email. Not ideal.

Another bottleneck is programming. Production Line is Windows only. I hate cross-platform stuff, but if the game suddenly sold 5x or 10x its current level, I’d be mad not to do an OSX port, and maybe IOS version (likely never linux…sorry but its way way too small). This would mean hiring someone to do a port, and the problem with that is it TAKES TIME right when you want to hit the zeitgeist with your hit game.

Because the costs of maintaining the infrastructure, both physical, and in terms of manpower, necessary for a mega-hit are so high, it makes zero sense for someone like me to really have it in place without a hit, although TBH I’m better prepared than most. My blog, website and reporting back-end is on a dedicated server, not some tiny VPS thing, and I have CPU time and bandwidth to burn.

The big problem (if I had a big hit and saw a need to scale) is that I’d need people FAST, and thats either hard, or expensive. If you live in downtown san fran, finding people is trivial, but their salaries are hysterical (due to property costs), so its swings and roundabouts.

I guess the sensible thing is to make sure you know WHO to talk to, in terms of outsourcing companies, and have made the contacts and pressed the flesh with them, without immediate plans, but with an eye to the future.

I guess I’m also saying that for companies that help with porting, or customer service etc, it makes sense to be polite and chatty and helpful to *as many indie devs as possible*, so that you are on speed-dial for them when their 16th game goes to #1 in the steam charts.

Maybe Democracy 4?

11 thoughts on SCALE IT UP. SCALE! SCALE! SCALE!

  1. Maybe you can help with the Proton profile of your games for linux…should work pretty good for a game like Production Line and no port is needed?

    1. is that the valve thing? I have no idea whats involved. PL uses directx 9.0c, so should run fine under any kind of emulation.

  2. I was thinking about this the other day and thought that if a solo dev had a mega-hit would they even be required to scale up? Like when Notch had Minecraft take off and proceeded to create a big company with lots of people and a flash office, then burned out and left because that wasn’t what he was all about at the end of the day. I wonder if after a hit game could you stay a simple solo dev, just with loads of cash rolling in?

    1. Possibly, but it definitely limits your growth. The best example of capitalising correctly was angry birds. Before you know it, they had plushes, a movie, physical playgrouns, yada yada.
      Sure you can just enjoy the few million dollars on existing platforms without anything but a creaking inbox, but to really ride it to the top, you would need sales people, community people, and people to port the game to each platform etc.
      All optional obviously :D

      1. This convo makes me think of the movie Easy to Learn, Hard to Master: The Fate of Atari, when Manny Gerard said the sign of a really good manager is not riding it to the top, as any manager can do that. He said a really good manager can manage a big company successfully when the bottom falls out of the market. I was never a fan of Atari games, but I found the business side interesting, which is what the film is about.

  3. By the way, in order to run “democracy 4”, how many machine specifications do you need on a PC?
    Since my computer stopped working as soon as I updated “democracy 3” to the Unicode version, I am very interested in the machine specs required for “democracy 4”.

    1. Whats your spec? TBH Democracy 3 should run on almost anything, even the unicode version. The new code for democracy 4 SI the unicode version, so I want it to work for everyone.

  4. “scale FORCES you to write more optimized”
    When I think of scale, I think of over engineering, the opposite of optimization, but I’m usually wrong! :P

  5. Out of curiosity, when dealing with a single monitor with such monster resolutions, do you use a custom window manager? I can’t really see having Visual Studio being the full width of that (awesome looking) monster being usable, but even if you use the build in Windows shortcuts for shifting windows from one side of the screen to the next I feel they’d simply to too big?

    I currently usual dual monitors, which means I can half/width windows and be happy but I have been considering getting a single wide monitor so your thoughts would be welcome!

    Richard Moss

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