Category Archives: democracy 4

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

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).

So I had a sudden mad rush of adrenaline this past weekend and decided I should code multi-party support into Democracy 4. This is something people have asked me for over a very long period, but I’ve always resisted it. I thought it would change the game into some horrible three-way negotiation and back-room dealing simulation rather than be focused on actual policies and theories which is what I am more interested in…

Actually I’ve always found it weird people WANT the game to be basically more like the corrupt, undemocratic bullshit that a lot of western multi-party politics has become. Surely in our heads what we want is a trial of ideas and philosophies where the best policies for the people win? nobody fantasizes about having to implement policies you hate because you need to haggle with some other party leader?

The sheer optimistic joy of coalition government

Anyway…eventually me and Jeff got chatting and decided that there WAS a way to include some elements of multi-party politics, without totally breaking the way the game works, and which could work within the existing framework of political capital and policy decisions. But first, I had to sort out the UI.

Democracy 3 has always had 2 parties, and because I never intended to change this, there were actual hard coded ‘pointers’ to the player and opposition parties everywhere in code. Essentially this just meant a lot of donkey-work going through code and changing this to an open ended list everywhere, and checking everything would save and load ok, and that we didn’t have any legacy stuff referring to ‘the opposition party’ in the code.

Then I needed to re-jig a lot of GUI code. There were basically three places where parties get referenced, the party screen (showing members/activists over time), the fundraising screen (this was part of the D3 electioneering DLC but now integrated into the game) and the election results screen.

As I write this, I’m done changing all the GUI apart from the post-election breakdown of each voter group and how they voted (it needs different colors for each opposition group too). So right now, the post-election screen in a 3-party game looks like this: (work in progress BTW)

shiny new user interface (work in progress)

I’m thinking (for now) that a 3 party limit makes most sense. To explain that, I need to delve into the two areas that are needed to make this work within the simulation: Joining parties, and coalitions.

In the current game (Democracy 3) party joining is simple. Players build up over time a sympathy to a party if they are super happy (player) or super unhappy (opposition) eventually joining that party. A weakening of sympathy for a party over time results in the player leaving. I decided to keep this system, but to position the new 2nd opposition party as a ‘centrist’ party between the player and the opposition. In other words, if a value of 100% happiness means joining the players party, and 0% means joining the opposition, 37.5% means joining the new centrist opposition. Why 37.5%? because we still see 50% happiness as being the point where you will vote for the player (if you vote…)

Let me explain the term centrist. I’m not referring to politically centrist at all. In fact the game makes no explicit assumption about the political position of either opposition party. Basically the ‘opposition’ are the party who absolutely oppose your party position on everything, and the ‘centrist’ party (the new 3rd party) are midway between you and the opposition. In theory, your party could be centrist, the opposition right wing, and the new opposition mildly left wing. The key point here is that the new opposition is *closer* to your position than the old opposition is.

random image of yang for no reason

So…I’ve done all the code for this and modeled correctly voters joining and leaving all 3 parties over time. So thats in the game and working (hurrah!). The next thing I need to do is to code in the effects of a coalition.

If your party gets >50% of the votes in an election (ignoring absent voters) then you win just as before. If you do NOT get that, but you ARE the largest party…then you go into a coalition in government with you sharing power with one of the other parties. At first sight, this makes no difference to how the game is played…

…but actually it reduces your political capital each turn dramatically. In other words…you really cant get much done. HOWEVER, you will be regularly offered deals by your coalition partner, where they basically say ‘implement/cancel/change THIS policy, and we will give you X political capital’. Obviously we will engineer code that will always make that an *interesting* decision for you to make. In other words, to reference my own countries recent coalition government, this is ‘give us a referendum on political reform and we will stop blocking your economic policy’. Obviously in real politics this happens all the time (in >2 party systems).

yet another group of happy politicians in a coalition! compromise feel so great!

Hopefully this strikes an interesting and acceptable compromise between having all the machinations of multi-party government, while still keeping the game playable and understandable to people who enjoy Democracy 3. I do intend to make this totally optional as a parameter when you start a new game, so you could (for example) play the USA as a true 3 party system, or Germany as a 2 party system, whatever appeals to you.

This is the first big ‘gameplay’ change that makes Democracy 4 different to democracy 3. So far its been tech changes (multi-language text rendering and vector graphics) and UI changes (OMG it looks so much nicer). We also have a lot of content changes planned (policies,events etc). More on that over time…

Democracy 4 GUI update

November 09, 2019 | Filed under: democracy 4 | game design

We are still working away on Democracy 4…although I have not blogged about it much. This is partly because Jeff is doing a lot of ‘under-the-hood’ debugging and GUI support stuff, so there has not been that much to show for it yet. Unlike many sequels we are doing this GUI first and Mechanics / Content second, so for a while, it will look like a beautifully re-skinned democracy 3, until we start adding all the new events and policies etc.

Anyway… I sometimes forget how much slicker and cleaner the new UI is because I stare at it a lot, but here is a side by side comparison of the electioneering ‘perceptions screen’ for both games:

(BTW we likely will not use those same Democracy 3 icons for those 3 things, they are placeholder).

Re-sized screenshots do not do the GUI justice really, because its vector based and super-super-crisp. I do think that having a proper UI style guide, and vector graphics is going to make the new version feel SO much nicer to use. The previous game is from 2013 and starting to look like it…

There will be a lot more updates to come once we start putting in the new events. We just ordered all of the event graphics (and there are 95 of them this time, for even more actual events) and I’m looking forward to blogging about the new stuff we are adding.

Oh and in case you didn’t realize from the above screenshot, ALL of the content from Social Engineering, Extremism, Clones & Drones and Electioneering will ship in Democracy 4 as standard.

Democracy 4 Update

October 03, 2019 | Filed under: business | democracy 4

YES! We are working hard on this, although its been mostly under-the-hood tech and background stuff so I haven’t been updating people much on progress because there has not been *that much* we wanted to show yet, but that is going to be changing a lot real soon…

So, for those in the dark about this, Democracy 4 is the upcoming sequel to Democracy 3 (what a shock!) which is positech’s best selling game so far. Its a politics strategy game where you play the role of President/Prime Minister of a real world country and have to keep the economy in decent shape while staying popular enough to be re-elected, AND presumably helping change the country for the better (in your opinion :D).

For people who have never played the original games, the user-interface is unusual because its basically just a complex connecting web of icons. here is a screenshot from the main screen in Democracy 3:

And here is the current (work-in-progress) equivalent for Democracy 4:

Obviously the general style, fonts and so-on have all changed, but also we have moved the voter groups from the middle to the left. This gives us some interesting options, because this is now a list that can be (at the players discretion perhaps) sorted by popularity, or by membership, or any other metric. Or sorted alphabetically even, none of which were options in the old UI.

its really hard to see in a static screenshot, but the big under-the-hood changes for D4 are that its unicode from the very start (hello Russian and Chinese!), and also most of the UI is being done with vector-art rendering, meaning everything is pixel perfect regardless of screen resolution or zooming/scaling. For a game that is mostly UI, this makes a BIG difference. basically no more blurry UI elements anywhere :D. Its also cross platform from the start.

So far we are still at the ‘getting the core engine working right’ stage along with the ‘commission loads of art’ stage, so although a lot has been done, there is not a LOT that we want to show you in terms of new events, policies or situations yet. However, that will be coming soon. We already have a bunch of new ministers and voters…

Once we are putting in new simulation content, I’ll start doing regular blogs (probably video ones too) that detail the progress made on the game. I’d love to be able to tell you an exact date for us to go early-alpha (likely direct sales), Early-Access beta and final release, but I just cant be sure about those dates just yet. Obviously I’m well aware that 2020 is a US election year and we want to be coming out before the election :D Stay tuned for more updates etc, you can follow me on twitter, or join our mailing list (see sidebar) if you don’t want to miss anything.