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

Consequences in Democracy 4

As discussed in an earlier blog post, I think what democracy 4 needed was a way to bring home the true consequences of actions to the player. This has always been an area that was missing from the democracy 3 design. You can give the police machine-guns, you can legalize heroin, you can put in place all the apparatus of a police state, or a religious theocracy, and the only real consequences you see are some numbers going up and down.

Of course, the democracy games are known for being interesting complex simulations, not for whizz bang visuals or for feeling like ‘yuo are really there’. Thats a deliberate design decision, in that I would rather spend the time (and money) making a complex like graphics-lite sim than making a shallow, simple game with some 3D people doing limited things. Its a foolish indie developer indeed who thinks they can ever compete with triple-A studios in terms of graphics.

However, I think I can have some of that feeling of emotional resonance, just by using text, if the text is worded right, and if it fits within the style of the rest of the game. As a result, I’m introducing this new ‘media reports’ feature into the game. Here is an example:

These are new things that crop up on the next turn screen now and then. They are not called ‘events’ internally, so I’m avoiding that term here. An event is something like a change in your credit score or a factory closure, which has actual measurable consequences wwithin the simulation. They can be great news or disasters and can shift the simulation in a way you have to respond to. Here is an ‘event’:

By contrast, the media reports have no consequences whatsoever. They are simply putting into words the impact of decisions you have made (or in some cases not made, such as policies not implemented). The idea behind them is that they make you stop and think about the choices you have made, and have to accept thoughts like ‘Yeah, shes going to die because of my policy, but I guess thats acceptable’.

In the real world, this sort of stuff does happen. The media is generally rubbish at doing analysis and taking a broad view and educating the citizens on what is going on in an accurate way. I would be astonished if one in a hundred UK citizens have any idea what our GDP is, or even what our current unemployment rate is, or be sure if they knew if crime, and violent crime had gone up or down in the last 5 years, ditto pollution, or productivity.

Basically the media knows most people will not choose to take in data that way, so they pick ‘human interest’ stories that they think reflect broader trends. This is the classic case of the war reporter zooming in on a child’s teddy bear in some rubble. it tells us nothing about a war, apart from reminding us that children are affected too, but that can have a huge political impact.

So anyway, I now have a system for adding this to Democracy 4. Its basically a folder full of text files that contain data that describes the circumstances under which it triggers, and some text templates I can populate with citizens names (so they will be suitably local). Example:

Name = labourlaws
Text = "A special report tonight on the closing down of one of our oldest manufacturing 
between her tears, CEO [FEMALEFULLNAME] tells us how heartbreaking it is for the family 
firm to close down.
'Its just impossible to run a business in this country with
the state of our [POLICYNAME]?' She told us. 'The unions are
running us into the ground. We cannot compete any more'."
Policy = "LabourLaws"

This is a media report that triggers if labour laws is a policy currently implemented, and if its set somewhere between 65 and 100%. It also requires GDP to be below 60%. This is so that we don’t have a media event about a business closing when the economy is going super-well.

All thats required to add these is just some time and imagination, and some spell checking :D. Its just text, and there is no problem adding hundreds of them. The only reason the game is unlikely to actually ship with hundreds is that it means HUGE translation costs, because a proper professional translation is maybe $0.10 per word. So that media report is $6.70 to translate. This probably seems reasonable, but if we have 100 of these, it means $670 to translate them…

…into one language.

If we do the bare minimum for a strategy game (English, French, Italian, German, Spanish). Thats over $2,500. We definitely want to add Chinese, Russian, Portuguese to the game, and this pushes it close to $5,000 just for this feature. Its probably a tenth of the games text at most, and I anticipate a proper paid translation of the game to my target languages is going to cost $50-60,000 at this rate.

maybe I shouldn’t care about this, after all its a mostly text-based game, isn’t that an acceptable chunk of the games budget? Also I do know that a lot of indies (even big name successful ones) rely on fan-translations. I am tempted to consider this, because the professional costs are just crazy, and I’m not sure the quality is any different. My only concern is liability. I need to know the translation is correct, not some random angry political rant snuck into my game by someone else…. hmmm…

Oh BTW yes, we will eventually support this being trivially moddable too, so people can add their own :D.

12 thoughts on Consequences in Democracy 4

  1. You could also get a few dozen professionally translated, don’t publish them, then ask for fan assistance and see who matches it most closely. That plus getting to know the contributor can give you a feel for if they’d be a good fit. Heck, taking the idea a bit further you could democratize the translation using some sort of reputation system. I feel like there might even be Software out there to make this dream a reality. Think SO of translations? ?

    1. Exactly what Matthew linked below. The internet is a marvelous and terrible place. ?

  2. Unknown Worlds develops and maintains this community powered localisation tool for use on Subnautica:

    It relies on multiple contributions and checks from other community members to make sure no bad faith actors can hijack your localisation. And you can always choose not to incorporate a translation that has insufficient feedback!

  3. There could be 7 of these on quarterly report – move that to top

    Each of one for each sector: Transport, Foreign Policy, Welfare, Economy, Tax, Public Services, Land and Order.
    They would be automatically grouped by category of conditions, they can have multiple categories.
    Or they could be grouped by first listed condition – depending in what sector this condition is.

    1. I’m currently experimenting with frequency of these, and whether to trigger any at all depending what else is coming up, so currently if you have a lot of stuff like events, dilemmas and situations starting/ending, these media events get pushed down the priorities and down appear that turn.

  4. I see that the name of the particular policy is capitalised – have you thought about an automated system that highlights the policy name in the text? It’s a little hard to see at the moment.

    Will there be a way to bring up past “reports” after you’ve dismissed them?

    1. I like this idea. When viewing past reports, perhaps there could be some indication of if the conditions causing them still apply.

  5. One translation tool I’ve come across is:

    I’ve not actually used it myself, but it’s developed by the company behind “Startup Company” and according to one of their most recent posts they seem to be making it one of their priorities. Might be worth a look.

    I like the idea of the news headlines. I think it’s a feature that might actually have a big impact on how people play the game.

  6. Some years ago – we translated a short 2 minutes videos in 20 languages in a matter of 3 hours, by tapping into a fan base.

    Basically we built a Google Spreadsheet and placed everything in one column, then each language translation in its own column.

    In the first round each translator had one task – translate the text – then you got to go for checking the translation of someone else if you could. People who master 2-3 languages were not rare in our fan base.

    Something a bit like this

    Now, for having used Fiverr a lot in the past, you can find lots of translators “on the cheap” who use a pivot language like English to make most of the work already. What you want I believe is a proper “journalist sounding text” and that’s going to take a little more of a fan rather than a simple translator.

    There is also a difference between translation and proofreading, which is cheaper – so you could pay only pro proofreaders once all the work by the fans is done.
    French is certainly not a hard translation to get – but I would probably put 5h in this if it’s simple to do (like the one I shown in the Google Sheet) and I can have my name in the game at the end.

    by the way: I worked 10+ years in international politics for the EU – so if you want some “political sounding” message for international politics – I’m glad to share some situation :)

    1. Thanks for the suggestions. I agree that we could probably do some crowd sourcing of translations. I always feel a bit cheeky and cheap asking fans to do anything, because I believe in paying people for good work, but on the other hand the actual *quality* of fan translations can be much better because they are strongly aware of the context of all of the text. I’ll think about it once we are in alpha and have some players (in english) :D

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