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

Democracy 4 goes on sale…OMG

So yup, this was a long time coming and I feel worthy of a proper blog post about it. Actually, TBH there is not much else to do in the hours after hitting the big old release button. For those who just want the link, you can now grab the game here.

Now on to some thoughts about the process of making the game.

Democracy 3 is positechs most successful game by some margin. It came out a long time ago now, and we did four (yes FOUR) expansions to the game (Social Engineering, Extremism, Clones & Drones and Electioneering) and one semi-sequel (Democracy 3:Africa). There was then quite a lull before the release of Democracy 4 today, so what actually happened?

The coding in this game is HARD, and the design is super-hard. The number of interconnected things to balance, combined with the fairly whacky way in which its coded around a neural network means this is real headache inducing stuff to work on. Towards the end of Democracy 3 I was seriously burned out mentally from the stress of it. I am a workaholic, and work is fine for me, but the constant debugging-hell of the complexity of the beast was gruelling for such a long period and I needed to switch focus.

So I met Jeff Sheen, and he agreed to make Democracy 3 Africa, and meanwhile I got involved with game publishing in a bigger way, which led to Big Pharma, Political Animals and Shadowhand. I cant cope without coding, so I started coding a totally new game, the car factory simulation: Production Line.

That game took a while, and did very well, and spawned 2 expansions too, and all the time I was doing that, Jeff was improving the core engine of Democracy 3 and working on the new UI for Democracy 4. As a result we updated D3 with unicode support, which meant it could work with other languages much better.

So when I finally switched from Production Line to D4, we already had an engine that was doing vector graphics (yay! crisper UI) and unicode support (yay! Russian and Chinese translations without any problem!). The main work on Democracy 4 was related to mechanics-related stuff, like a redesign of how voters handle money, support for coalition government, and the addition of new ways to get political capital, plus news reports, situation warnings, a new UI to examine stats in the game, and the complete redesign of the main screen and the way icons are sized/positioned/rendered.

This was TRICKY.

And then we had the last few months of stuff which has been adding in all the up-to-date stuff like fake news, polarization, border walls, police body cameras, UBI, a private space program yada yada. Politics has changed since Democracy 3 and we really needed to represent that as much as we could.

Frankly, it has taken us too long, and we have become a bit obsessed with the UI design, and getting things to look crisp, and for the core simulation to be WAY more accurate and less buggy than D3. I would say 75% of the work on D4 is under-the-hood improvements the player cannot immediately point at. I *do* think it has been worth it. Also, this was my first ever project as an indie where I was working alongside another coder, which is something I have nmot done since my lionhead days, and never as ‘the boss’ so that was a whole new skillset and experience to worry about as well.

(And you can probably tell by all this that it means Democracy 4 is the most expensive game positech has made, in terms of dev cost, which adds an extra level of worry and stress all of its own)

And that brings us to today, which is exciting because its more the beginning of a journey than the end because D4 will be in alpha, and then in steams Early Access. We NEVER HAD THIS IN D3, which meant that some parts of D3 were flawed, and we didn’t have enough feedback early enough to fix them. With Early Access, this will be much, much better. The Democracy community is awesome, and I expect to have a really cool conversation with players about what needs to change, expand, be improved upon, or even removed. The wisdom of crowds is a real thing!

I should also point out that this is scary, and stressful, because OMG politics. We released Democracy 1,2,3 in relatively stable times. There was no fake news, no Donald Trump, no allegation of election hacking. No coronavirus, no black lives matter protests, politics was actually more polite (although we didn’t think so at the time).

Reporter's Question, Repeated, Sets Trump on Latest Media Attack ...

Most importantly… social media was barely a thing. Now, Social media is THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE. That means a more angry, divided and tribal playerbase is to be expected. Moderating forums will be…interesting. Handling abusive emails from players is something I really hate. Unless you are someone selling creative works online, you cannot imagine the impact of strangers randomly sending you abusive messages 24/7 has on people. Its bad.

But hopefully the good outweighs the bad. So far, commentary on the developer blogs has been awesome, and I’ve been very clear that we know our own biases are bound to be in the game somewhere, and are open to constructive criticism. With any luck, we can avoid the game starting all out civil war, with blood on the forums!

Thanks to everybody’s encouraging words as we have been working on the game so far. Its much appreciated :D. Onwards and upwards… I guess I should embed the widget here…