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

Why I WISH presidential campaigns WERE like a video game.

I’m the guy who made Democracy 3, a political strategy game. Not surprisingly I’m a politics geek. Politically, I’m probably pretty centrist. More right wing economically, more left wing socially. very Green. Now I’ve got that out of the way, and the extremists have stopped reading…here we go.

I have never in my life watched a US presidential debate live. Last night, I stayed up till 4AM to watch Clinton vs Trump round two. I read a LOT about politics, including US politics. I understand the issues and the references. i know the history, I know the characters involved. I was NOT prepared.

I’m from the UK, a relatively small country. The US has a population of 324,000,000 people. Out of that staggering number, the only choices are a billionaire(he claims) reality TV show star and the wife of one of the previous presidents. How is this possible? how is the bar set so low, how bad is US politics that these are the choices?

The thing that really depressed me about the debate was actually not just the lies (there were lots) or the avoiding the question, or the accusations of rape (yes really) or the semi-fascist claims that if candidate A won they would imprison candidate B (not put them on trial, not let justice take its course, not allow a jury to decide…nope.. ‘they would be in jail’). The thing nobody seems to be talking about is policy. It was a policy free debate. Totally. it was like people campaigning to be the star of a TV show, all personality, all character, no damn clue how to run the country, or what should be done.

Describing a policy as ‘beautiful’ is a waste of words. Describing a tax plan as ‘amazing’ is a waste of words. Don’t panic…I have done the homework for you (very) briefly. Here are the noticeable 9to me) bits of the tax plans:

Clinton: (src: candidates website)

An extra 4% tax charged on people earning more than $5milllion per year.

Ensure that people earning over $1million a year pay at least 30% effective tax rate.

Trump: (src: candidates website)

People earning under $75k pay 12%.

$75k to $225 25%

225+ 33%.

Business tax cut from 35% to 15%.

Inheritance tax abolished.


You probably have more sympathy with one of those than the other. Thats fine. Thats how it is supposed to work. And issues like that (I just picked tax as an example) is how elections should be decided. Issues, Policies, these are what matter. Nobody is voting for their best friend. You aren’t going to hang out in a bar with the president, they get to make policy decisions. Given a choice, I’d rather hang out in a bar with GW Bush than Al Gore, Bush would be hilarious. Given a choice between which of the two picked environmental policies… then its a different matter.

As someone who literally makes a living from designing a complex simulation of how politics and economics work, I KNOW that its not a simple matter of tax plans. Tax plans affect government income which affects education, healthcare provision, defense and so on and so on. The trouble is…this NEVER comes up.

I would love to see a big spreadsheet or pie chart showing how Donald Trump thinks taxes should be raised and revenue spent. I would love to see the same for Clinton. This is not technically hard. You present both candidates with a simplified breakdown of the current US income and expenditure and ask them to list the top 50 changes they would make. Then those are presented (after being fact checked by economists) to people for them to make a dispassionate choice on. I want to see the TV debate version of this amazing chart:


No tax plan/policy is ‘beautiful’ or ‘amazing’. One persons ‘fair share’ is another persons company-wrecking punitive tax. One persons bloated government waste is another persons vital lifeline. The issues cannot be boiled down to petty mud slinging and TV charisma. The candidates have disagreements over what POLICY decisions should be taken. Forget the personal bullshit, lets have a 90 minute prime time TV program where the only thing that gets discussed is (fact-checked) firm policy proposals.

In my dreams.

Good luck America. You need it.

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.


Is it worth doing developer video blogs?

So first up, here is the latest exciting video of ME: I talk about stuff, including democracy 3 electioneering, and steam reviews, and modding and schools and injuries.

Maybe more bloggable, is why bother? A fellow dev with decent insight into these things asked me on twitter why I bother when I don’t enjoy it. The answers are that I do ‘kinda’ enjoy it, and also I don’t want to stick my head in the sand and be all easter island about it. I have had this blog for ten thousand years now, but times change. maybe video is the thing now. Remember when everyone used typepad (who?) or even LiveJournal (what?). yeah exactly. These days people use Medium, instead of WordPress, because… I have no idea. Soon a new blogging platform will exist every week. Is youtube even the thing now? does everyone use Vimeo, or twitch or is it all periscope these days? are some stats:

The combined views so far of the last 4 youtube developer blogs for electioneering that are on youtube only (discounting therefore any facebook views, which would be promoted) are:


Which is a) pathetic and b) more than 99% of lets plays (ahahahah…my little joke).

Compare that with for example, my last 4 blog posts (going by google analytics) which is only 1,715 views. However, that stats is total bollocks, because most people use the rss link and I have seemingly no username or password any more to find out how many. Arggghhh. The blog also occasionally explodes. For example in the last 30 days, blog hits have been 14,027, which isn’t *that* shabby. Over the last year, average blog views per day is 664, which is 15% *up* on the previous year. So thats not bad. And they have a long tail. I get currently about 300 hits a day (yup!) on a blog post from 2011 about fixing pc game crashes.

So there isn’t an overwhelming crushing argument to say its worth me investing time in youtube. A video blog takes me roughly 4x the time and effort of a normal blog. Why bother?

Firstly youtube is still growing, and doesn’t look like its going to stop. Alexa estimates its the #2 site after google. Secondly, the traditional media increasingly looks like it cannot compete. Everyone talks about how their kids spend all their time watching youtube. Watching has become the new reading. You don’t have to read an article, you watch the writer talk about it, far less hassle. The future seems to be mobile phones + video content,. and if I don’t have any strategy for mobile (and I don’t) I should at least put *some* effort into video.

Thirdly, I suspect video content is ‘worth’ more. Someone reading a review of my game will be fairly informed and aware of the game, but somebody WATCHING me or a reviewer actually playing it gets a MUCH better feel for what the game is like in actual usage. A picture paints a thousand words, and a video, with most games can paint a thousand pictures. Also, if the developer is actually *in* a video, it humanizes the developer a bit. I have no clue who designed or coded Star Wars Battlefront, but when I get used to seeing someone’s face and hearing them talk about the game, it seems a much more ‘real’ connection. I’m pretty sure thats a fairly common reaction, and is why I’ve started sticking my elderly unshaven mug in the videos :D. It also vaguely helps with public speaking confidence in some weird way, which I think might help long term when I promote some new stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not closing my blog, I love doing the blog, but I aim to produce a lot more video content than before. Now I’ve got (vaguely) into the groove of uploading stuff, its getting smoother and less hassle, and I think from a marketing POV, its sensible and worth doing. Tips on how to make better content are very welcome.




Democracy 3: Electioneering is out AT LAST!


Phew! after staying up till 3.30AM last night fidgeting with builds and ftp sites and doing emails and other madness… We reckon we have Democracy 3: Electioneering all done and on sale direct from us, with steam, GoG and the Humble store all following later today. Lets face facts, we are bound to have screwed up something, its just a matter of exactly where!

First things first, here is the rather fun launch trailer which I am especially happy with:

Now some more general thoughts. This is the 4th expansion for Democracy 3. It comes LONG after we stopped doing them, and it happened because the one area that modders could not really flesh out the game was the area of elections. The first 3 DLCs were concentrating on adding new policies and simulation data, but that can only go so far before you want to get in there and change the code. Thus, Democracy 3:Electioneering is not at all like the other DLC it adds new mechanics and graphics and a ton of new code to the game. This is why it took so long to design, code and test.

In practice what this means is that you MUST have the latest version of the base game for the DLC to work correctly, it simply wont function otherwise. Thats easy on steam, but if you bought through humble or GoG or from us, you may need to re-download and reinstall the base game to ensure you are up-to-date. I really need to have more robust auto-updating in future games (I’ve done it before, but not quite to my liking, I want a system more like steams). Also I should point out that no, its not automatically included in the collectors edition that comes with the original 3 DLC, this is a totally new thing, and its worth the price of a large coffee :D

Anyway…the PC & Windows versions of the DLC are done but the linux version may take a little bit longer. Jeff, my porting hero needs some sleep! You can buy the game using the link below, and please, if you like, it, post a positive steam review, or better still, tweet about it or facebook it or snapchatwhatsappspotifyinstawaze it or whatever the fuck people do this week :D

Animals, Corruption & Electioneering

Sooo! I have two things to tell the world today. First and foremost is that we (or rather…squeaky wheel) want to talk to YOU, yes YOU about politicians in your country. Political Animals, the Political strategy game by Squeaky Wheel that I am publishing, wants your input to make its ‘events’ in the game as varied, international and cosmopolitan as possible. I think the team pretty much have the whole range of Philippine politics nailed down, but do you have some funny/shocking/unbelievable stories about politicians in your own country? In that case the animals want to know:


Click here to suggest your political events for political animals.

I’m sure you will have a lot of ideas. Even just in the UK we have politicians who claim duck houses and moat cleaning on expenses, who get their wife to pretend they were not speeding, who get drunk and set fire to curtains, who nip out of prison for a spot of lunch, and so on… I’m sure readers in Italy will have a long list involving mr B :D.


In unrelated news…Democracy 3:Electioneering is out soon…this Friday in fact, so with that in mind I put together this snazzy guide on gameplay that walks you through everything new coming to the game, just in case you missed these four videos about the new DLC :D.