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

Website revamp(s) incoming

It never rains but it pours. Tons of stuff that I’ve been lining up for aggggeeesss is all about to happen at once. In the not too distant future, there will be a new look not only for Positech’s home page, but also this blog. I know both sites look a bit rubbish. They are one step away from someone’s geocities homepage. It’s a bit sad really…

For a self-confessed business and stats-junkie like me, this brings painful confessions, because there is no easy way for me to be able to say in six months that ‘getting my websites redesigned gave me a ROI of 14.23% due to the increased sales thanks to the pro-look of the site’. Nobody ever emails you to say they had considered buying Democracy 2, but only decided to do it once the background graphics of my blog looked more professional. There is no way to quantify this stuff except by gut feeling.

The best way I can look at it is to say ‘I make $X. I should spend $Y of that on making sure my company store front looks good, and is well promoted’. It seems to be working so far.

In actual gamedev-related news, work continues on Democracy 3. I have been working on a much better financial model for government debt. In the old game, it was rubbish because you just accrued more and more debt at a fixed interest rate, and it it went beyond a fixed debt-ceiling, you got thrown out of office immediately and the game ended. That was partly because back when Democracy 2 was made, the idea that any western government could even get close to defaulting on their debt, even enough to seriously affect the interest rate for their debt…was laughable.


Democracy 3 will be much cooler. There is an equation that relates the level of debt to GDP of a country to the ‘riskiness’ of it’s debt as perceived by the bond market. This gets assessed behind the scenes and the countries credit rating is calculated. If it drops, there is a short term ‘shock’ effect on the market, as well as a rise in interest rates. It’s all rather cool :D That means that the finance page for the game can now show you the global economy in a graph, along with the current debt interest rate and credit rating, and debt/GDP ratio. GDP in this case is kinda fudged (it’s a fixed range, which is multiplied by the GDP value from the game), but it all works pretty well, and is a huge improvement.


Democracy 3: Capital Gains Tax

I’m mulling the possibility of a capital-gains tax policy for Democracy 3. The key thing is to get the effects of such a policy right.

I’m thinking it makes broad sense to link the money raised by the tax to GDP. The better the economy, the more the tax will raise. I also wonder if it’s worth making this a relationship that skews upwards, so when the economy is really poor, CGT brings in nothing, but when it’s really booming, it should bring in a bunch, as clearly the equity market and asset values should be going up.

Regarding it’s effects, I reckon CGT would represent a drag on the economy to some extent. Why invest all my money in a country with a high CGT if it takes a chunk of my profits, rather than a country with no CGT? For the same reason, I assume it should also upset capitalists a bit, and the wealthy especially, who are the only actual voters who will lose out financially from it.

Socialists should love it, as it is a brake on inequality, and effectively a tax on the rich. I think the self-employed 9think small business owners) should dislike it because it potentially cripples the income they take from their business through dividend payments and eventual exit strategy stuff.

In gameplay terms, does this differ that much from corporation tax? possibly not by much, although CGT should possibly be more unpopular with the wealthy and more popular with the socialists, as it is a far more direct attack on what some people would call ‘unearned income’.

Anything I’ve missed? Apart from the existential hell of coming up with an icon that automatically makes people think ‘Capital gains tax’

On a related note, this makes interesting viewing (UK data):

CGT Doesn’t bring in much cash, in the grand scheme of things. Also makes you realize just how trivial the climate change levy is right now.

Democracy 3 : simulating the private sector

Sooo… One of the drawbacks of Democracy 2‘s model was that it only really accounted for public sector pensions, housing, schools and hospitals. This was unrealistic and I’m fixing it in Democracy 3. In D2, if the state didn’t provide schools, people were illiterate. You don’t need to be Ron Paul to be convinced that it isn’t as clear-cut as that. So how am I planning to fix that?

Democracy 3 has policies (things the player chooses to implement, or not, and adjust) and also ‘simulation values’, just like D2 did. A simulation value is basically a statistic, something that arises out of the simulation and which you have zero control of. Pollution levels are one example. Literacy (a catch-all for general educational level) is another. In Democracy 2, a player couldn’t change the literacy level, but they could implement various state policies that would indirectly affect it, like state schooling.

Democracy 3 has the literacy level stat, and also a private schools stat. By default, private schools are at a certain level (tied to GDP, and therefore the general level of wealth), and they have the same effect (roughly) on literacy as state schools do. However, they have effects public schools don’t, such as a reduction in lower and middle incomes. This is because those values represent ‘disposable’ incomes for those groups, and having to pay for private schools eats into that. The truly wealthy laugh off mere school fees, so it’s not an issue for them. Also, unlike state schools, the private schools don’t reduce inequality, or boost state employees and trade unions, and they keep capitalists, rather than socialists happy.

icons_privateschools icons_stateschools

Now let’s revisit state schools. they work exactly as they used to, except they have an effect on private schools. The more you spend on public schooling, the less private schools there are. In effect, the better the state schools are, the less people are prepared to empty their pockets for private education, which makes sense.

So hopefully, the net result of this is a system where either approach (laissez faire or state intervention) can get you decent schooling, but you have to pick how to handle it. The state schools have to be paid for, which will mean cuts elsewhere or higher taxes. The private schools are paid for by people direct, but they can cause problems of inequality (with knock-on impacts on crime etc), and the people will need more money left in their pockets to pay for it (lower taxes). To further enhance the whole area, I could introduce policies which gave tax-credits for private education, which would allow me to keep private schooling afloat during a recession. Maybe a system of state scholarships could reduce inequality and compensate for private schools as the only option? (technically this is tricky).

Obviously this is a VAST simplification of the real world, but I think it’s far closer to reality than the Democracy 2 system. My plan has pensions, housing and healthcare working the same way.


Announcing positech’s next game will be….


Yup, a sequel to democracy 2, my political strategy game. Let me talk briefly about why and how…

Firstly, democracy is a game I am very proud of. I think it’s my most original and innovative design, in terms of both mechanics and GUI. I don’t think any other game I’ve made has been so ‘out of the blue’ as Democracy. I also find it very interesting (although incredibly difficult) to work on. basically it’s a custom-build neural network with a cunning GUI on top of it. I’m also a bit of a political geek, with views that range all over the spectrum, so I enjoy the analysis and research involved in working on the game.

The original, and D2 are good solid games, but they are long in the tooth now, and are starting to seriously show their age, despite D2 selling scarily well still, and also now on steam. If it was just a matter of the game being old in years, I’d happily leave it, as I have several other games I want to be making right now as well, but there are other good reasons to revisit the series such as…

  • The game is technically old. It runs at a fixed 1024×768 resolution. Clearly that sucks. There are also numerous other GUI areas that need more flexibility and polish.
  • The game’s modding support could be much improved, as could it’s tutorial
  • The game had no good system within its simulation to reflect the private sector with regards to social services such as health care, schools and pensions, and tended to require state provision in those areas. This is a shortfall which skews the game more than I would like into a specific political direction
  • The game has been left behind slightly by political events. Climate change is a bigger deal now, fears of gangsta rap less so… plus the whole ‘finance your government debt through money printing or the bond market’ and credit ratings could all be reflected in a modern version of the game.

I’m coding Democracy 3 95% from scratch, although the basic GUI layout be very very similar (although much polished). The game is up and running already (I’ve worked on it on and off for a while now), but there is nothing exciting to see yet.  Ship date is sometime this year, it’s done when it’s done etc. Stay tuned…