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

Oh god the streesssssssssss.

The last few months have been pretty tough for me. I basically did too much at once, and missed a few things, and made some mistakes and I am not the sort of person who shrugs things off and goes ‘well shit happens’. I get angry with myself for screwing up, and I don’t forget it, which means I get more stressed and argghh… I end up a bit like this:


which is obviously *not good*.

Recently we found a bunch of bugs in the implementation of getting Democracy 3:Electioneering (DLC for democracy 3) to work seamlessly with Democracy 3 Africa (A different game) without people having to re-buy it, or move any files. This sounded like a good idea at the time, as a programmer, but when running a business you have to realize that OH MY GOD it is not that simple.

The problem is that D3 is not just ‘a game’. That would be simple. It’s Democracy 3 on steam, on GoG, on the humble store, the mac game store, direct from us and also on ipad (which does not support the new DLC). Plus…its in OSX and Linux. Oh and also the builds for the French, German and Polish language are ENTIRELY separate (and the DLC is not translated). This means we have D3(direct)D3 German(direct) D3 French(direct) D3 osx(direct) D3 linux (direct), D3 Gog, D3 Gog osx, D3 steam osx, D3 steam Linux, D3 steam. D3 steam French, D3 steam German, D3 steam polish. Humble osx, Humble win, Humble Linux. Oh and there is a browser version on humble (but nowhere else, and only in English).

Holy fucking shit.

Then we added Democracy 3 Africa, which is multiple languages but ALL IN ONE BUILD, and thats on humble, GoG and Steam. Its in Windows and OSX, but not linux. BTW Africa doesn’t have polish, but D3 does, but only on steam, and in retail, because yes…D3 is in retail, but only in Poland.



So holy fuck. And I have fucked up a few technical things which I THINK are all now sorted, despite giving cause to angry emails and twitter outbursts and general stress., Plus today is the HOTTEST day of the year in England. (don’t laugh, we have heat some days). Oh and I nearly cut my arm off in a gardening injury (yeah funny huh?) and damaged my neck doing sit ups (you can laugh here), and had to miss DEVELOP which was the first time I’d bought a full conference pass and booked a hotel . FUCK.

So ideally I’d have all this behind me now and be heading back to my favourite relaxing place (st lucia…)


Which I haven’t been to for three years because…being a treehugger, I rarely fly, and games conferences have kinda used up my personal angst budget for long distance trips for a while. But wait! there is good news ahead…

Firstly, barring tech support, Democracy 3:Africa is DONE and shipped, Big Pharma Marketing & Malpractice is DONE and shipped, Electioneering is DONE and shipped. The only planned releases by positech games in the next six months are two third party games, Shadowhand and Political Animals. Both are looking in really good shape, and I am not writing a single line of code for either of them. YAY.

Plus its very sunny out there, the garden looks AMAZING, and today I am going to visit friends for a day and wont do much work. YAY. Plus I *have* actually learned a lot of lessons from all this stress. The most obvious one being that the less builds you have of your game the better. To that end… A lot of this mess is being cleared up by the super-talented Jeff from stargazy (he coded Democracy 3 africa). Soon(ish) we will have a Democracy 3 build for all languages (in unicode no less), and that will kill off a chunk of these useless bastard builds that cause me so much admin hell.


Autobalancing Democracy 3 (part 2)

So it turns out that we already have about 2,000 games of Democracy 3 being played every day by actual players, rather than some hacked-together AI of mine, so I thought step 1 might be to grab data on how those games are being played to see if I could spot any obvious balance issues. I started collecting a few basic stats at the point of elections yesterday and already have a ton of data here:

I have a few pieces of data I was interested plus a snapshot at elections as to which of the best known situations are active during victories and during defeats. So for example 1% of people who won the election have gridlock, but 10% of losers do. Average GDP during an election is 51% but 55% if you win, and so on…

Actually extrapolating balance issues from this data will be a bit tricky though, as I likely need more data to back up my assertions, but right now, from the current data I am tempted to proclaim the following:

  1. The game is too easy (85% of elections are won. Granted some people get assassinated beforehand…but still..)
  2. Unemployment at victories is still 28%. Maybe unemployment is not having enough of a negative impact?
  3. 20% of people have eliminated poverty entirely (got it to 0%). That seems high. This should be harder.
  4. Gridlock is only a problem for 1% of victories. Maybe this should be harder/slower to fix?
  5. Teacher shortage never seems to be much of a problem, this should trigger more?
  6. Armed robbery is generally very rare, even when losing. This should maybe trigger more?
  7. Corporate exodus is actually higher during victory. This may actually make sense, as people are ‘buying’ the public support despite a huge debt?

Its going to be pretty difficult to get the exact data I want. For one thing, the game NEEDS situations that are *bad* but only crop up in later terms, and I don’t currently track which term we are in. Democracy 3 Africa has a very cool mechanic where people arent bothered about some issues until more pressing issues have been fixed. I suspect I may need to introduce an element of that here.

My main worry, a bit like a doctor is that I need to ensure I ‘do no harm’. Its better for me to leave Democracy unbalanced but hugely popular than tweak it and break it…so I#’m nervous of any big changes.

Democracy 3 and its situation mechanics. Broken in implementation?

In playing a lot of Democracy 3  lately (also playing a lot of democracy 3:Africa), I have started to wonder if the way a lot of the situations are set up is a little too ‘steep’ and could be balanced better, especially regarding some of the negative situations.

Take for example, technological backwater…
This kicks in at level 0.6, and ends at level 0.4 for its inputs. So if your hidden backwater value reaches 60% it starts, but you have to go below 40% to get rid of it. I think that mechanic is fine but…

The impact on GDP (for example) is
Which means that when this kicks in, you will get
-0.02-(0.12*0.6) which equates to -0.092, or a 9.2% drop in GDP. (actually not that simple, because its a 9.2% cut in 0-1 terms, which if GDP is, for example 0.5, that would be a 18.4% overnight drop in GDP).

Looking at it backwards, when you beat the tech backwater, assuming a GDP value of 0.5, that
impact on GDP just before it drops is
-0.02-(0.12*0.4) which would be -0.068, or 13.6% of current GDP.
Thats a sudden jump up and down of GDP in double digits, which seems huge, given that its a fairly arbitrary measure.

I’ve tried to illustrate the current setup with this crude graph. Bright red is the bit where the backwater kicks in and is in force. Dark red is the bit where its still in force once its triggered. The green lines show the sudden ‘jumps’ in impact on GDP when its triggered (rightmost) and when its fixed (leftmost).


What I’m trying to avoid is the situation where you GDP just flat-lines or is 100% all the time, rather than being more interestingly poised between the two and shifting more realistically. Which countries GDP ever jumped 13.6% in one quarter? I’d say few:

So…if you are still reading..well done :D. What I’m suggesting is that maybe the situations such as these need to be tweaked a bit so that the ‘entry’ and ‘exit’ top the situation is less drastic, and that, for example ‘reducing’ a situation like tech backwater becomes more relevant than the current situation where its a bit binary and a bit of a ‘its active or not’ mechanic. For one thing that -0.02 starting point could go and be replaced with an adjustment to the top end (so 0-(0.14*x)) or maybe it needs more of a curve and a different starting trigger. Or is it fine as it is?
Thoughts welcome!

Starting to wind down towards normality

Yikes. the last few weeks and months have been INSANE. I have been doing too much stuff, to the extend that I put back one project (a big one) to next YEAR, and put the thing I was coding on hold, just to take care of Shadowhand, Democracy 3:Africa and the Big Pharma:Marketing & Malpractice DLC. Plus I have another TOP SECRET thing that I’m publishing in the works (announcing that soon actually…).

But now things are not QUITE so totally insane. Democracy 3:Africa has shipped!. Its selling quite well, technically slightly better than I had projected. It has not broken even yet, but you shouldn’t really expect that within a month, or even 3 months really. If this was a new car or a wind farm, I’d expect to break even in a matter of years, not weeks, so I’m not going to worry about that for now.

We also shipped the Big Pharma:Marketing & Malpractice DLC, which is just totally AWESOME and you should give it a try. Thats also selling well, very well in fact, so that’s good news. As a result of shipping those two games, I am back to a normal, rather than insane, level of intense overwork.

So right now my focus is on a patch for Democracy 3:Africa (balance tweaks mostly), and the website for Shadowhand, which is nearly there. I hate over-complex CSS so I’m doing it myself to keep it simple, its nearly done and the code is really clean and simple, which means easy to edit. We aren’t making a song and dance about the website yet, but we will be promoting Shadowhand a lot more closer to its release in a few months time. Starting Monday, I’ll be returning to the thing I was working on before all this madness, which involves me coding again (yay!) and designing again (yay!) and I’ll be announcing what that is in a few weeks. I’m determined to really take my time with that project…


So in this slight lull in the insanity I have found time to do a few much needed things. I bought a new PC. I am on windows 10 now which I hate, but I bought stardocks app to return sanity to the start menu. Apparently Object Dock no longer works with Windows 10, so I’m hilariously using an app that runs the windows vista sidebar widgets on windows 10. How can Microsoft suck so much? In other news, I bought a cool gaming headset with built in mic, which will make skype & video blog recording easier, although so far the mic seems kinda noisy. I also bought Ashes of the Singularity, which is a fairly conventional RTS, but holy crap it looks nice, and I’m already a bit addicted. I bought a clamp/bracket for my exercise bike so I can play mindless casual games on my ipad whilst getting fit… and I bought ‘The Blu‘ for my Vive, which has the most STUNNING visuals you can imagine. If you have £2,500 spare (yeah I know…) BUY a new PC with a 980TI (nothing less), BUY a VIVE, and get it. It will blow your mind.


Right, I have gardens to strim and website CSS to wrestle with.

I didn’t really know racism until I made a game about Africa

So…I’m a white guy from England. You can see a picture of me on the right there. I grew up in London in the 1970s and early 1980s. Racism was a thing, for sure. We had TV programmes that i remember watching such as ‘the black and white minstrel show‘. That was on prime time TV. We also had ‘love thy neighbour‘ a ‘hilarious comedy’ about what happens when a non-white neighbor moves in next door. To quote from wikipedia:

He is even more annoyed when Bill gets a job at the same factory as he has, and refers to him as a “nig-nog”, “Sambo”, “choc-ice” or “King Kong”. He also has a tendency to call Chinese, Pakistanis or Indians names like “Fu Manchu“, “Gunga Din” and “Ali Baba“.


Thats the world I grew up in.

Luckily, that world isn’t here any more. I think Britain has come a long long way in this regard. I remember the guy who everyone knew as ‘the black newsreader’ because that was such a big deal. Recently BBC Radio 4 got a Jamaican continuity announcer and hardly anyone even noticed. If you watch ‘Life on mars’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’, you see the world I grew up in, and its striking how different it seems to the world today regarding both sexism and racism.

So I thought here we all were in a wonderful modern non racist society and I could make a game about African Politics and the worst thing that could happen would be people not being interested.

But no! In fact the worst thing that can happen is spending a lot of time deleting, blocking, banning and reporting racist abuse on twitter, facebook and the steam forums (to name just 3). I’m not exactly a cosseted middle class liberal who has never seen online (or real world) harassment. I used to be a boat-builder and bridge builder. I was just surprised at home many people could, in the year 2016, go out of their way to tell me that the solution to all Africas problems would be ‘rule of the white man’ or that ‘they are all savages and rapists anyway’ and so on, and so on. I guess so far, so normal stupid internet abuse, albeit with a particularly offensive nature. The other thing that shocked me, and was arguable more interesting was the skewed world view…

It seemed to me (mostly from the time of day when such comments appeared) that a lot of North Americans have a complete warped idea of what Africa is like. The assumption from a large swathe of the comments I’ve seen is that no African states have Democracy, that there are no functioning economies there, that basically the whole continent is kept afloat by foreign aid, and that at least half the continent is constantly at war, or raping or beheading their neighbors. The most popular comment was ‘Democracy, Africa, pick one! LOL’.

Now of course, I’m not the one to point out that the USA is currently pitting a guy who inherited millions of dollars and is best known as a reality TV star against the wife of a previous president in a two-party race which they call ‘Democracy’ and possibly is in too glass a house to throw stones. I do have some understanding of why people have this point of view, and here it is.

This is Russia:


This is Iran:


This is Japan:

japanExcept obviously thats all bollocks isn’t it? This is the media ‘image’ that we get fed, and used as the ‘shorthand’ for those countries. I have not visited any of them, and in my mind, Japan really is full of Samurai soldiers guarding cherry blossom while geisha girls sing karaoke. Thats laughable, about as laughable as assuming because I’m English, I live here:


Ok, TBH I do live there, but that isn’t the point. To turn it on its head and show the American ‘shorthand’ its probably this:


Which again, we can all laugh about. The thing to remember is that ALL of these are simplifications, exaggerations and caricatures. And that means SO IS THIS:

aidBut in some parts of the world we forget that.

The population of Africa is 1.1 Billion people. It contains 54 sovereign states. I can’t even name them all, and we just made a game about 10 of them. The idea that all 54 states can be summed up in the same image, or the same way is laughable. If I said people in Chicago probably all wear sombreros and eat quesadillas, you’d say ‘hold on thats Mexico’, but thats about as daft as lumping South Africa in with Egypt, or Mauritius.

Its similarly dumb to discount African democracy. take a look at the ratio of Female to male politicians for one thing. You will find Senegal, South Africa and Rwanda all rank above both the UK and the USA. To look closer at South Africa, it has higher voter turnout that both the UK and USA. In terms of economics South Africa has a lower budget deficit that the USA, the USA’s total debt is 65% higher as a proportion as GDP than South Africa. Total crime rate in the USA is 4 times higher than South Africa. SA has 34% more cellphones per 1,000 people than the USA…etc etc. Obviously I’m cherry picking, but the idea that everyone in Africa sits in a tent waiting for an aid package to arrive is bullshit, and yet it persists.

So TL;DR: USA, your media gives you a very, very skewed opinion of the one billion people living in Africa. Do some research. Do not accept stereotypes as facts, just as you don’t expect us to see you all as obese, flag waving, hummer driving, gun-toting cliches. I would write more on this topic, but Carson informs me that tea is served in the drawing room, and I do enjoy those cucumber sandwiches.