Monthly Archives: December 2019

I’ve really taken to trying to avoid social media use lately, which came to angry prominence once during the year and again recently during the UK election, so I’m likely going to blog more, and continue to tweet less. Anyway, here was my 2019!

Personal stuff!

We had a few short mini holidays this year, one of which was to Bruge (Belgium) which is a great place to go to because you can just get a train there (no flying! yay!), another to the southwest of the UK (which I drove to), and one long flight, which was to Canada. I always offset my flights, and try not to do it often, but it was justified as a combined holiday, and 50th birthday and biz trip to a games conference. Somehow, I have flown in 2 different helicopters this year. Thats just ‘indielife’ I guess.

By far the best thing I did was fly in a helicopter over the mountains near Banff. Truly amazing, and impossible to convey in mere pictures. It was an expensive treat but worth every single penny. Cannot recommend it enough.

Also somehow, in a drunken moment of panic, I booked a balloon trip (near where I live). This was a bit scary for me, as I dont like heights, but actually it was fine, a perfect day, and good fun. Something I always wanted to do.

I played the guitar more in the last year than I have in the previous ten years (at least). I got back into it a bit. I used to be pretty good, now I just cant physically keep my hands moving that fast, but its still something I find a nice distraction from constant work, and its a cool thing to be able to do now and then.

Charity Stuff.

Our second school in Cameroon opened, and I also re-did the war child thing at Christmas where we donate about $10k a year to children affected by war. Really proud to have done this for so long.

Eco stuff

I took part in an environmental demonstration locally (very low key), and also joined the extinction rebellion London protests, although did not get arrested, but did have a very heated ‘exchange of views’ with a fairly famous climate change denying media-whore who I will not dignify by printing his name. Really glad I attended. Current news makes it pretty clear that events are happening exactly as scientists told us they would. Future prospects depress me :(

Stock-market stuff

I still trade a lot on the stock market. I made some very optimistic trades as a day trader about a year ago, which forced me more and more and more into the red over the last year, resulting in a shockingly expensive margin call where I lost a bunch of money. I have now made every penny of it back, all on a single stock. This is an epic story worthy of its own HBO mini-series but is summed up in this simple chart :D

I am glad I stuck with it :D

Positech

Oh yes…I also run a games company. LoL. 2019 was a fairly stressful but definitely improving year. It was the year in which I made a shocking number of updates to my car-factory game Production Line, and also released not one but two pieces of DLC for it: Doors That Go Like This and the Design Variety Pack. Both have sold well, and broken even, but these things only really pay off over a few years.

As of this moment, the base game has sold a total of 114,000 copies on steam, plus a fair few pre-steam and on some other platforms. Its a $25 game, so thats not bad, plus I have a large back catalog of other games that continue to sell well on steam. We have sold 150,000 games roughly this year, a 24% drop of the previous year, which was boosted by being when Production Line was initially added to steam.

The stress of 2019 company wise has proven to be Democracy 4, which was originally slated to be shown to the public much earlier, but some stuff under-the-hood proved to be harder than expected, so although the current version of the game is now awesome and looks crisp and has some l33t new functionality, we are behind schedule, and probably going to go over-budget. However, I’m now working on it quite a lot, and have currently 1 SFX person and 2 artists working on content, and will very shortly be showing it off to people both on video, and in March at a show in London, which will be interesting.

Its hard to stay objective about Democracy 4. Lost of signs point to this being a successful game, and the ideal game for 2020, but I hate to be too cocky about how a game will do, and the release of any sequel is always plagued by people (normally the loud 0.1%) upset that you have dared make a sequel, or saying its just a re-skin, or whatever. I do dread having to deal with that sort of thing… but its part of selling to the public I guess :(

I expect 2020 will be just purely the year of Democracy 4. its a HUGE game (we rolled 4 expansion packs into the base game), and will likely be our biggest release ‘event’ so far, in terms of people wanting to play it. It will certainly be the most expensive game I’ve ever released. Fingers-crossed it works out, and I don’t look an idiot :D. I am optimistic though. Democracy 3 already looks old, clunky and tired compared to the new game.

Social Media & other Stuff

2019 is the year I clashed badly with social media, and the internet. Not in the usual sense, that if you have known me over the years you will know I have got involved in controversy a lot and drawn the attention of people a lot… This year, I actually managed to avoid that, at least in public.

Certain events during the year (nothing related to me) made me realize just how AWFUL social media is. The angry hate mob was out in full force, directing righteous furious anger at whatever individual or group was determined to be the hate-figure of the day. I’ve seen online hate mobs practically salivating over the potential to drive people to suicide, and its just horrible. Combine this with the mess that is modern politics and ‘fake news’ and people happily sharing stories that are not true, and I think 2019 is the year the internet broke, and became a torrent of abuse, not an amazing place filled with information.

I carried out a few steps to isolate myself from all this crap this year. I quit a newsgroup I’d been in for many years, quit a forum I’ve been on for over a decade, removed all my posts from one I’d been in for fifteen years, deleted 75% of my facebook friends, and left every single facebook group and page that wasn’t for one of my games. I vowed to tweet less, not discuss anything contentious online, and reminded myself I should freely block and mute anybody who is rude or abusive.

I just don’t need, or want any of this. Also its totally optional. A friend of mine has a VERY successful indie games biz and he tweets maybe once a month, and he does write-only, he never even reads twitter. He is a hero.

One of the reasons I intend to blog more and tweet less, is that this blog is mine. Its not even hosted by wordpress, its on a dedicated server. if you are abusive, you get blocked for life, no come-backs, no exceptions. ah… *bliss*.

Things I enjoyed

Succession. TV show loosely based on a fictional Murdoch family. Amazing. Watch it

Silicon Valley. TV show, final series was this year, fantastic, loved it.

The Goldfinch. Great movie. I didn’t expect to like it…not my kinda thing. but it was a very nice surprise.

Samsung stupidly wide monitor. Absolutely amazeballs. Couldn’t imagine gaming without it now.

Company of one. Business book, the joys of staying small.

So yeah…thats my 2019. Hope yours was cool :D

Stability == productivity

December 16, 2019 | Filed under: business

I have had to update and change a few things lately, and will be changing a few more things, and it leads me to use on the fact that I generally do NOT change things and how that is *a good thing*.

Due to changes to the pricing of cpanel, my server (yes for historical reasons I still have a dedicated physical server for all my sites) has to switch to a different physical box, and that means a lot of checking, and fiddling with hosts files, and rechecking, and panicking about php and so on…

Also recently my company bank changed their user interface and made a total and utter hash of it, that has caused me no end of admin hiccups and annoyances getting everything to work fluidly again…

…and me and Jeff (co-coder on Democracy 4) will shortly be switching to use git, as a mutually agreed source control system. This will cue no end of gnashing of my teeth and moaning that I don’t know how it works…until I get the hang of it.

In general I have found that from a productivity POV, change is BAD. It is REALLY bad, and you don’t realize how bad it is until you have gone multiple years without changing anything. Production Line is developed with my same trusty engine as years ago, in directx9, with visual C++ 2013, perforce for source control, visual assist, and nothing else changed for years other than my monitor, and my PC a few years ago. I use the same sound engine middle-ware as I use for most of my games, without change, and no other middle-ware at all.

…not quite THIS old…

With a certain level of code experience, and a rock-solid stable setup that *never changes*, making video games i actually kinda EASY. Its just typing. Literally just typing. I started typing for fun around age 8, so you would be amazed how stupidly fast i type now. My wife thinks I’m being sarcastic when she hears me typing but thats the real speed.

When I hear people talking about how an (unwanted) update to their middle-ware has broken their game, or how upgrading to a new O/S or maybe a new dev environment has lost them a day (or more), I just wince. Thats totally unnecessary pain. You do NOT need to port your code to the latest engine, or the latest operating system version, or the latest API. Unless you are working on the frostbite engine, this stuff should not bother you.

I don’t have a vulcan API path for my games, in the same way I don’t have a ‘mantle’ code path either. Why would I? Why would I even use directx 10, let alone 11 or 12. I make isometric strategy games or iconic top-down games. I don’t need ‘ambient occlusion’ or ‘subsurface scattering’. I’m not 100% sure what they are.

has that much really changed?

Nobody will buy your game because it uses the latest API, or because it uses some cool graphical feature (unless…frostbite). Nobody will buy your game because you developed it on the latest IDE, or using the newest coolest system. And your in-house productivity tools? did you change those too? did you start using slack? why?

I chat to Jeff using skype or *gasp* email. When I work on spreadsheets I use Microsoft office, the old school purchased version from 2010. Tell me what features are in the new cloud-based tools that you NEED to make better games… BTW my software subscription cost is trivial, just malwarebytes and….oh thats it.

So my top tip from an old grizzled but stupidly productive game dev… Find a dev environment that works *for you* and then look at changing it maybe once a decade. If you HAVE to. That goes for everything. Get a decent office chair and you will have it for a decade. Get a decent keyboard and you will have it for ages. Don’t change anything, don’t install anything, don’t even move anything, just TYPE :D

It must be hell being a ‘producer’ in the big budget triple-a games development system. The development of a video game proceeds at almost any conceivable rate other than linear. I’m sure for some games there is an immediate sprint of exciting new stuff…then a drought as bugs are fixed. In the case of Democracy 4, we have had a whole lot of under-the-hood re-coding with little to show for it visually, and now a sudden rush of cool stuff happening.

Of course a lot of this tracks from the point at which artwork and music and sfx start rolling in. I use contractors to develop music, sfx and art, so I don’t have the option of just hearing the odd new piece of music or peering over an artists shoulder to see how stuff is going. It can be hard to drill into people that “yup, you can send me new stuff EVERY DAY, its fine”. As a result, Democracy 4 seems to progress in sudden jumps and spurts when new stuff goes into the game.

When I talk to players of D3 about the new game, they are always focused on new options and content. What new policies will go in? what new events? what will they be able to do that they couldn’t do before. This is all vital stuff, and I’ve kept quiet and felt bad about discussing the games development for quite a while because we simply haven’t been working on that.

For ages, it feels like I’ve been tweaking the shape or size or color of buttons, the layout of dialogs, and jeff has been recoding the way everything gets rendered (especially text, allowing us to support Russian/Chinese when the game leaves early access rather than four years later…) This is all super-vital stuff, and i’m glad we have been giving it the attention that it definitely deserves, but its probably left an impression that D4 is a shiny re-skin rather than a proper sequel…which is not true.

I recently mentioned that we now have third party support (if people choose it), which is the first new feature. We have also discussed (and its on my personal todo list) adding support for nationalization and privatization to the game. This will make quite a difference, but we haven’t reeled off any of the new simulation data we will be adding to the game.

Today I added some new simulation values to the game: healthcare demand and Internet Speeds. These are both pretty cool. High tech means more healthcare options (operations & treatments) are possible, but also increase demand. Immigration and actual healthcare problems such as contagious diseases, alcoholism and obesity will also feed into demand. Balance this against private and public healthcare provision to work out if you have a hospital overcrowding crisis.

Internet speeds is a fun one because its a much-needed policy that allows us to make young people happy or unhappy depending on speed. I’ve also added an effect where it makes people more likely to be self employed, which is relevant to me, living in a tiny rural village where there are lots of people working from home. Internet speed is way more of an issue here politically than you would think.

Other stuff we added recently includes multinational tax avoidance (especially by tech firms, such as ones that rhyme with ‘moogle’ or ‘blapazon’), and a ‘diverted profits tax’ (also sometimes called a transfer-pricing tax) which helps to combat it. There are a LOT more to come, and yes, to avoid 99% of the replies…universal income will be one of them :D.

Because I have been a bit slack on blogging and am reducing my twitter usage, I should point out to anybody reading this that OH MY GOD, you can now get our awesome pharmaceutical cure-em-up ‘Big Pharma‘ on the Playstation, The XBox and on something called the Nintendo Switch. I think those are game ‘consoles’, which all sounds very young and hip to me. It sounds like a perfect Christmas gift to me. (but not for me thx, I’ve got a copy).

Social Media Re-think

December 04, 2019 | Filed under: personal development

I’ve been on the internet since 14,400 baud modems. I’ve had this blog for a stupid length of time. I was on facebook and twitter *fairly* early. I remember IRC, I remember ICQ, I remember AOL. I remember the sounds modems made. I remember usenet newsgroups, and excite, lycos and alta vista.

The internet has never been as inhospitable as it is now. Its never been this toxic, this abusive, this unusable. Yes, I include usenet and IRC in that.

Three of the people responsible are Jack Dorsey (twitter) Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Evan Speigel (Snapchat). There are others. They are mostly identical copies of each other, showing laughably little diversity. The people behind all this are white, straight, male billionaires. Why do I mention this?

Because ironically, the white, male, straight billionaires have weaponized ‘identity politics’ and similar topics to make more and more and more money. They are well aware that the way our brains work funnel anger and fear directly to us before our reasoning system even kicks in (an evolutionary advantage, now turned against us). The BEST way to get people to keep communicating and ‘engaging’ is to use hatred and fear. Nothing else works so well.

Social media’s business model is based on ads, marketed to people who are ‘engaged’ and always on the site. What drives more ad impressions? hatred and fear, hatred and fear, hatred and fear.

Constructive debate doesn’t sell newspapers and it doesn’t sell ads either. Every time you get dragged into a heated online argument or hate mob, or get talked into retweeting some angry aggressive hashtag deriding people as communist scum, or fascist bastards, or white-supremacist racists, or what ever other extreme hyperbole we can dream up… you are being whipped into doing this to make 3 white male billionaires more money.

Identity politics and ‘woke’ politics is PERFECT for this. What could possibly cause more hatred, anger and fear than making sure everyone is pigeon-holed into smaller and smaller and smaller and more rigidly defined groups. That way more and more people are OUTSIDE your group. The best thing would be for you to cram hashtags into every post, to ‘trigger’ as many people as possible, and stick as many identity politics terms on your Facebook or twitter profile as possible, to annoy as many people as you can. Make sure you update your Facebook profile to signal the latest opinion on topic X. You CANNOT possibly be a fan of David Bowie without changing your profile pic when he died, otherwise how would other people KNOW you liked David Bowie! the horror! Quick! fill out your profile even more, do you like THIS album? did you watch THIS movie…

People are being railroaded and goaded into sticking their politics and their sexuality and their innermost thoughts right into the faces of EVERYONE they meet, so we can all form instant judgments and hate each other even more to keep those white male billionaires in yachts and private jets. Keep arguing kids! keep being angry! you don’t know what people are angry about TODAY? oh my god…here is WHATS TRENDING NOW. (almost certainly not really whats ‘trending’, but what creates the most ‘engagement’, meaning anger, meaning ad revenue…).

Fuck it, I’m done playing this game. This year I left a mailing list for games dev I’ve been in for year. I closed my account at a forum I’ve been on for decades. I deleted 20 years of posts on one private forum. yesterday I nuked 75% of my facebook ‘friends’. I don’t fucking care if you are angry at Donald trump or Jeremy Corbyn, or you support the first amendment, or the second amendment, or you are white or black, or gay/str8/cis/nonbinary whatever.

Frankly unless I want to have sex with you what the fuck do I care about your sexual preference? Unless we are picking a restaurant together what the fuck do I care about your diet? Can’t we just get along without sticking ourselves in these stupid-as-fuck boxes? I don’t know if my next door neighbor is gay or straight or bi, or whether they support legalizing drugs, or if they voted conservative. We get along fine, it hasn’t come up, why WOULD it come up?

I’m keeping my blog. I may blog more and tweet less. I own this blog, its on my server, I can moderate and delete comments by abusive people, and only people who know me/my games read it, which is fine. I see little value in having arguments with random maniacs on the internet. I’m also keeping twitter because I find it occasionally quite funny, but I plan to tweet way less.

I’m less angry in person than online. SO many times I meet people and they tell me I’m not what ‘they expected’. Social media enrages us all, weaponizes us all to spread lies, fake news and the more extreme opinions as possible. Its bullshit and we should all do our best to stop dancing to the tune of three white male str8 billionaires who don’t care how much damage they do.