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

Updated Democracy 4 to build 1.28. Lots of super cool balance tweaks.

Soooo… I just uploaded the latest build of Democracy 4 everywhere, after 2 days of non stop testing. Lucky I did that because I found a few little visual anomalies that I could fix straight away, like some missing text in one dialog, and some occasionally ‘leaky’ underlined buttons in other places. Anyway…apart from some (minor) bug fixes, this was mostly a big run through all the stats in the game balancing things. First here is the complete list of changes:

1) Removed duplicate impact on security from mandatory microchip implants (2 appearances on security screen)
2) Reduced Technology impact of driverless car laws by 50%.
3) Doubled the cost of Stem Cell policy.
4) Reduced Technology impact of Technology Colleges by 25%
5) Boosted Technology impact of Rare Earth Refinement by 100%.
6) Reduced Technology impact of Technology Grants by 25%.
7) Illegal immigration situation is now slightly harder to trigger, easier to solve.
8) The Private Space Program,Armed Religious Communities and Doctors Strike situations are now harder to trigger.
9) Egalitarian society situation no longer influenced by Education, but needs Gender Equality and low Generational Wealth Gap.
10) Reduced link between Rare Earth Refinement and Productivity.
11) Reduced impact of Alcohol Consumption on Productivity.
12) Reduced default level of Productivity.
13) Slowed most inputs to the Corporate Exodus situation by 50%.
14) Slightly easier now to trigger the Teachers Strike.
15) Plastics Tax and Packaging Tax are now also inputs to the Black Market situation.
16) Homelessness,Antibiotics-ResitantBacteria,Class War and Food Banks situations now trigger more easily.
17) Dilemmas rebalanced so some are more frequent, others less frequent.
18) Bug fix for theoretically fixed situations like EU monetary policy stopping or starting.
19) Media Monopoly situation now reduces Democracy.
20) Fixed bug where some values on the ‘disposable income’ screen were inaccurate, or garbled (esp for South Korea).
21) Car Emissions limit’s impact on motorists income is now scaled by inverse of EV transition.
22) Cost of body cameras now scaled to numbers of police,community police & armed police.
23) Fake news now increases chance/effect of Contagious disease situation and boosts racial tension.
24) Fixed links for minister icons on main screen to correctly show inputs and outputs from them and their sympathy groups.
25) Education now takes time (2 years) to feed through into a change in Productivity.
26) Air travel now slower to respond to GDP, but boosts pollution more.
27) Worker productivity impact on GDP now a gentler curve.
28) GDP impact on unemployment now a gentler curve.
29) GDP has a steeper impact on pollution, homelessness and car usage now.
30) Corruption and average minister effectiveness now shown at the bottom of finance screen. Corruption affects policy costs/income now.
31) Corruption and minister effectiveness now shown at bottom of finance history for each policy, mouseover shows cost impact of each.
32) Corruption slightly boosts tax evasion now.
33) Rebalanced many inputs from state services to state employee membership and unemployment to make them more accurate.
34) Voter turnout is now generally higher in all situations.

Quite a list this time… but that’s because a lot of it was small statistical nudges here and there. Actually this is one of the most time consuming things about developing a game like this. I don’t have any fancy new particle effects to show you, or any new horse-armor options or new fireball spells or laser upgrades. All I can offer you is “After careful consideration and spreadsheet analysis, Corruption is X% more likely when Press Freedom is below Y”. This is actually stupidly important because its getting all those numbers right that makes the game playable and fun and not a mess.

The only big noticeable changes that players will see rather than *experience* are that bureaucracy is now a thing (triggered by having a LOT of policies, or not so many if you are the weirdly bureaucracy-obsessed Italians), and I added some extra data at the bottom of the finance charts to show you that corruption also affects policy effectiveness along with ministerial effectiveness.

In theory Democracy 4 gets easier to balance over time, because we are slowly homing in on the ‘perfect’ game balance, by pruning obvious dumb edge cases as they are reported or spotted by me, and also I get more and more data from players on what happens too often, what happens too rarely. For example each update should have you experiencing a larger and larger percentage of the dilemmas and events in the game. They may *feel* random, but they are actually being triggered by various in-game parameters. Balancing those so that they show up at appropriate times, but you also get to experience most of them is really tricky…

As always, don’t forget to voter on priorities from the games main menu screen, and like I always say, leaving a positive steam review is a really big help, as is telling your friends about the game if you are enjoying it. Its also really great to get helpful feedback. The best possible feedback is stuff like “When playing country Y as a conservative, it feels too easy to keep voter group X happy by doing Z, even though it doesn’t upset anybody else” or whatever…

Improving accuracy of state employee & unemployment effects in Democracy 4

One of the problems with making a vidoe game with one person doing the development, where you try to model the entire world in inter-connecting detail…is that its impossible, so you end up doing a lot og guessing and thinking ‘yeah that looks ok to me’. Then eventually you find the free time (ha! its the weekend, who am I kidding?) to go back and check that the wild ass guesses you made were just wrong, and not OMG emebarrasingly badly wrong. Its a low bar, but i’m determiend to hit it.

My game Democracy 4 has a lot of policies that affect two important variables in the game – The membership of the ‘State Employees’ group, and the level of unemployment. For hopefully obvious reasons, these numbers are important in a government/ politics sim. They have to make some vague sense. Until now, the numbers in the game have kind of been guesswork, and result in equations like this:


That means that the effect of that policy will vary between a 2 percent and 7 percent boost to the number of voters who identify as state employees, depending how the policy slider is set. In other words, this policy assumes that at max capacity, this policy represents a seven percent higher chance of any voter joining that voting group, although in practice its much more complex than this, due to internal algebra that I wont bore everyone with…

The problem for me is that although I do not mind that seven percent figure being possibly inaccurate, I DO want the games model of this stuff to be internally consistent. To put this another way, if in the real world, a state health service employs 10x the people of a state postal service, the game should attempt to get that ratio correct, at the very least. With this in mind I have done some research, using the USA as my base case for the policies most impacting state employees:

These figures are NOT 100% accurate. This is mostly because the US does not have a state health service in the same way the UK does, so I had to take NHS figures and then adjust for population. I also had trouble getting energy figures, so I extrapolated from the top 10 companies employees and adjusted on a per-household basis. The point is that although the figures (like all figures) are a bit wrong (probably) they are massively less wrong than my guesses!

So now to make the game values make sense, I need to work out how to adjust those values in the second and third columns, which are my current effects (at max slider) on state employees and unemployment. Given that I do not want top massively unbalance the game, I thought it was prudent to keep the total combined effects of all of these policies the same (93% and 126% respectively) and just adjust the figures internally to fix the relative impact,

The way I’ve done this is to use the employment percentage (the actual percentage as a portion of total employment of all these policies) and multiply that by the total current in-game effect (93 or 126) to give me the new adjusted effects. That looks like this:

In some cases its not too big a change but in others its hilariously different. Currently the game is giving a HUGE (18%!) boost to state employees from armed police when it reality it should be about 3%. On the other hand state schools were set to have a 10% boost to employees, and should be having a 29% boost instead! So many teachers! Its also evident that in the grand scheme of things, prisons and a state broadcaster employ virtually nobody. (I scaled up the BBC employment figures to USA size to get that data too).

I have just done the data so far, but later today I’ll go through all the policies and adjust the values in each equation. I guess the takeaway from all this as a player is that if you really want to cut unemployment when you spend money on public services, you want to splurge cash on the health service and schools/universities. Everything else is trivial.

Keen-eyed economists might note that the REAL employment impact would be different. For example, the direct employment from the US military may be 1.3 million, but defense contractors etc will employ many more, and the knock-on effects from the contractors CEOs buying new ferraris is even higher. I agree, but that is best dealt with through a GDP boost I think.