Category Archives: game design

Thats paraphrasing the great Ron Burgundy, in case its not clear… Anyway…

One of the main areas of game that is ‘missing’ from the current alpha build of my car-factory sim game ‘Production Line‘, is all of the high-end stuff that goes into real luxury cars. (By luxury I am meaning $100,000+) Right now it is very hard to actually make a car that you can sell for $100k without a huge markup, and although it can be argued that cars at that price range *do* have a huge markup, its not quite *that* crazy. Some of the things that spring to mind are probably high-performance engines (turbo etc, lots of cylinders, or multiple motors for electric cars), fancy bodywork such as gull-wing or falcon wing doors, and plush interiors. I’m currently thinking about the design of the ‘plush interiors’ stuff.

Although its probably declining in fashion, there is definitely a market in luxury cars for real-wood in the dashboard and other internal parts of the car, such as the area around the gear-stick (thats stick-shift for you Americans?). I am guessing that the price differential between a simple plastic dashboard like you find in most cars to a smooth polished and multi-layered varnished wooden dashboard is probably pretty massive. FWIW I used to varnish mahogany for a living. its harder than it looks, especially if you want that smooth-as-glass finish without a single blemish. Its all about removing all the dust. I digress…

A quick glance at the BMW configurator (UK) for the 740e saloon (about the right price range) shows me such options as ‘fineline wood high gloss’ for ‘included in price’ to ‘Eucalyptus smoke brown’ for an extra £995 ($1,373). Thats a nice handy nudge towards luxury pricing in my game! Wooden dashboards here we come.

Dashboards are just one thing, what about all that shiny chrome stuff you get in cars, surely that costs a bit too? Indeed it can. A pair of chrome wing-mirror covers for the Jaguar XJR (A stupidly slow and overpriced low-tech car for the money…but again…I am getting distracted) will cost you… £198 ($273). Even Aluminium gearshift paddles cost £389. its hilarious how peoples sense of perspective implodes the minute they buy a luxury car. Anyway, its amazing how many bits of a car you can cover in chrome, if you want to give it a ‘luxury’ feel, and I certainly don’t want to bore the player (and complicate the GUI) with a bazillion options, so I was thinking of just including a single ‘chrome fixtures’ upgrade for luxury cars in the game. I’m guessing $1,000 should cover it? I’m amused to discover both that Aston martin calls this stuff  ‘jewellery pack’ and that it doesn’t price it separately! haha. Its configurator is hilariously gratuitous.

The third option that I plan to add soon is that of interior lighting. The Ford ‘edge’ talks about ‘enhanced ambient lighting’. This is the stuff you dont notice until its gone, but it includes subtle lights in the foot-well by the pedals, the lights by the door handles on the inside, and those cool lights that gently fade in and out when activated rather than snapping on. Looking at the difference between models, I think some companies are charging up to $700 for a ‘premium ambient lighting package’.

So that gives us an extra $3,000 of new features to push up the price of our car. To summarize:

  • Premium ambient lighting package
  • Wooden Dashboard
  • Chrome fixtures

Thats the easy bit, where do we add these in the production line? Right now we have ‘fit dashboard’ which is part of the larger ‘fit accessories’ task. At the moment it takes 2.0 seconds of player time, but it has a number of additional options, such as ‘driver and passenger airbags, a heater, and touchscreen. This already can cause a bit of a bottleneck, so how about this as a solution:

  • Split the existing ‘fit dashboard into two tasks: ‘fit controls’ and ‘fit cabin options’. I can rename the original ‘fit dashboard to ‘fit interior’.
  • Set the wooden dashboard, chrome fixtures and premium lighting to be options under ‘fit cabin options’
  • Set the airbags, heater and touchscreen to be options under ‘fit controls’

The only problem with this would be that if I have the fit interior needing research to be split into two, that means you need to do this research AND expand the line slightly before fit heater & airbags and touchscreen become an option. What I *could* do here is to allow them to also be options under the parent, which should work AFAIK, but is something I have not done before. Would that be confusing? Hmmm.

So question one is does this work for everyone as a system to incorporate these new features in the production line. Wooden dashboard would require the new wood resource, chrome requires chrome, and ambient lighting would need sensors and light bulbs (also a new resource).

My second question on this is where these items should be researched. Wooden dashboards isn’t really a ‘technology’ so might it be something we can add to the design studio instead? That facility does become redundant once all the current body types are done. Or… is that going to lead to confusion? Also surely getting the right production processes to build a wooden dashboard surely *is* a sort of technology? Hmmm.

As always, thoughts and opinions are very welcome.




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My car factory game currently has two separate dialog boxes launched by these two icons on the top interface strip in the game world:

The one on the left is the ‘car showroom’ dialog and it looks like this:

…and the one on the right is the car design dialog and it looks like this:

I have some design issues with the way this works, in terms of it being a nice logical and intuitive user-interface. Firstly, those two icons are not really distinctive enough to show that one means ‘the car market as it currently is, plus your showroom’ while the other means ‘design of your cars’. Secondly its not immediately clear why they are separate dialog boxes at all. There is some justification for having 3 buttons and 3 windows (market, showroom and designs) or a single one with 3 tabs called ‘cars’, but very little justification for the current layout. In addition, the car designs window is currently different dimensions to the showroom, which feels weird when switching between the two, and to further complicate the issue, clicking a design in the showroom dialog launches the car design window to show that model…

My gut instinct is that this is just poor design, resulting not surprisingly from the design evolving during the games development. Initially the showroom was a single window, then it got the market added as a new tab, and the overall design of this stuff has not been revisited with fresh eyes since it got added.

The problem with just changing it, is that existing players of the game are going to initially wonder what happened. I can put a note in the change-list, and mention it in my next blog video, maybe even have a first-run popup, but there is always the possibility that some players may prefer it the way it was. Of course the game is still in Early Access, so really players should be expecting that the design would evolve, and I think the majority would welcome the change, but its still something I hesitate to do without canvassing some players opinions.

For existing (or for that matter new or potential…) players, what do you think about changing this?  Would a single window (and thus button) make more sense?


Making a game where you fully support a wide range of screen sizes is a real pain. Its a pain for any genre, but the biggest problem has to be the strategy / management genre, because of the need to display so much information. When there are a lot of stats, tables and charts, you cannot just leave GUI elements designed for the smallest supported resolution, because if you do,m you end up with tiny dialog boxes in the middle of huge screens, and a lot of really annoying and unnecessary scrolling.

The simplest option probably seems to have the size of the GUI just fixed and scale with the screen, and only allow larger monitors to make use of your 3D/2D/Iso world. This is simple to do, but it looks horrendous. As someone who sits all day in front of twin 2560 res monitors, I can testify that s GUI designed for 1280×720 res makes a game look like some sort of children’s toy when simply scaled to fit a big screen. Its not a problem with pixelation, even super smooth text looks silly when its ten times the size of your normal windows font. There is simply now way around the problem, you just have to make your design adapt to different screen resolutions.

The problem comes when you have a screen like this (the features window) in production line, seen here at 1280×768 res:

This kind of looks ok, maybe slightly cramped because the top of the dialog interferes very slightly with the top strip of the game, but otherwise, visually its ok. When we take a look at the same screen sized for 2560 res:

It looks ‘ok’ but the nice aspect ratio of the dialog has changed to be a bit less pleasing, and I’m wary of making that worse so don’t extend it height-wise any further. I could stretch it width-wise too, but then the table becomes disproportionately white-space and is perhaps harder to use. What I suspect would look better is to add a pure black ‘footer’ to the bottom of the dialog like I have on some other windows… If I look at another tab:

Its suddenly ugly as we now are showing a scroll bar we don’t need (I’ll remove that), and that pie chart should probably be top aligned rather than sat weirdly in the middle. The big question is what to do with the bottom. Even with a nice black footer-strip there is still a ton of glaring whitespace. I *could* resize the dialog depending on what tab you are on, but that is not normal and might be jarring. I could add some extra interface here, maybe showing line charts of a selected item over time, bu then suddenly I have this whole new GUI element thats only for people with big monitors…which would lead to complaints.

Ultimately this just all comes down to time, fiddling with number and ratios, maybe even fonts, to get a GUI that is usable, looks appealing and works over every supported screen resolution. I suspect that the majority of hardcore strategy & sim players tend to have big monitors, but then again these singleplayer management games are also very playable on a laptop, so you have to support both ends of the spectrum.

In any case, it feels good to be able to spend some time on this stuff. Frankly, although I think the core game is fun, and there is a decent amount of content at the moment (more will come though…), Production Line probably suffers a little bit from being a complex game without sufficiently smooth GUI or decent enough guides & tutorials to get new players into the game. There are some GUI elements that are frankly pointless, and some vital information (competitiveness of the market, for example) that is hidden away and not really called-out. Anyway… its getting better every day.

By the way, we are still donating 100% of our steam income from Democracy 3 to War Child this week, already raised about $5,000 for children affected by war, spread the word!


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So I have put it off long enough, due to fixing and improving existing things, but the ongoing clamour from the user-base to include these features into Production Line (which for new readers, is my PC car-factory tycoon game), means that I needed to give in and stasrt work on getting it into the game, which is what I’ve done for the last few days.

The design basically comes down to defining each car as being one of three types, based on what people generally refer to as the ‘power-train’. A car is either ICE (internal combustion engine (diesel/petrol), Electric or Hybrid. This is simple enough, and I can work this out from a cars design simply by seeing if certain mutually-exclusive features have been added, for example ‘hybrid power-train’. Any car that is not explicitly hybrid or electric is assumed to be ICE. (This system also allows support for me to at some later stage maybe implement diesel/petrol as two distinctly different technologies.

The slight complexity comes from the fact that for the first time in the design of the simulation, this has to be applied to each CAR, not each design. This is because you can (and players do) change the features of a car design while cars are actively being produced. Its no good changing car type A from ICE to electric when 33 cars of that design have already skipped battery installs and have fuel tanks and radiators…

So thats the first obstacle I had to get over. the second one is to add new power-train-specific support to each production slot. For example, the ‘fit fuel tank’ slot will now fix a battery instead if the car at that slot happens to be a hybrid or electric car (and each of those their own battery size). There also is now support for entirely skipping a slot if the task its performing is irrelevant, which in the case of radiators and pure-electric cars is indeed the case (also exhausts).

So those are the big code changes that have been needed, along with support (with backwards compatibility) for saving and loading the power-train type of each car currently in the game. The other steps are relatively simple, in that they involve setting up new research, new unlockable upgrades and the applicable car features for Hybrid power-train, Electric power-train, and Large Battery support. (Electric cars will initially default to small batteries, with large ones being a researchable option). I also needed to add new resources for electric motors, and 3 different battery types, plus a composite resource for a hybrid power-train. That gives me ‘basic’ support for a choice between ICE, Hybrid and Electric . From then on, in future updates, I can introduce slots to manufacture those components, such as make battery, make electric motor etc, and maybe some researchable techs for higher power-density batteries etc. Thats all in the future.

For now it just feels good to know I’ll have this new tech in the game in a few days time.

In the meantime I am off to Indiecade Paris where I will be giving my down-to-earth honest talk called ‘how not to go bankrupt’.

Oh and by the way, if you are a steam customer, or a direct-bought customer with a steam key (which comes with every order), you might be interested to know that we now have cool Steam Trading cards available for the game.

Oh…and last thing, the steam Halloween sale is on, with a ton of cool positech bargains. Production Line is NOT discounted, nor will it be in any other sales this year, but you can buy it from the link below for $17.99 :D

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Balancing games is really HARD. I’ve posted before twice about using stats to fine tune Production Line, mostly because I ma better with hard numbers than I am with reading forum comments, reddit comments, facebook comments, emails, reviews on steam and everything else the community has to say in order to draw conclusions. people generally dont comment on a game, so the 1% that do can give you a very skewed view of what is going on, and I want to ensure I am working to effectively improve the game for everyone. With that in mind lets look at some stats.

Here is a graph showing the progression within games from 50-500 game hours, expressed as the median value.

It looks like I kinda screwed up with build 1.32 and it was too generous(easy) in the long run, with the median player having buckets too much cash. I prefer the way things are now, although TBVH cash accumulates too much at the end anyway. This may be the effect of outliers running cheats though? If I look at the distribution for the current version I get this:

Which has a log scale and shows that we definitely have some people cheating at the top end, but a fair few people who have more than $100mill in hour 500. A cluster seems to be around the 1-10 mill level which is fine. overall, I dont see any major balancing issue here. Now looking at profit margins:

I really dont want the player to have significantly negative profit margins over the course of the game. Its fine in the short run, as loans can allow it, but not indefinitely. It looks like the last two builds did a decent job of preveting catastrophic meltdowns over the 100-400 hour mark, but I could still do with tweaking the marketplace to stop that negative margin being so low. it looks like the system is good at preventing excessive profits, but can resulty in unsustainable losses, so I’m going to need to tweak that a bit.

This chart is showing how strongly the AI competitors compete with the player. it looks like I made no noticeable impact on this in the last build. The AI basically runs on maximum from when you reach the 200 hour mark. This is probably related to it over-punishing the player and causing that negative profit margin. It looks like I just need the AI to back off a bit quicker once it starts having an impact on the players profit margins.

All fun stuff for me to think about today, and then tomorrow I’ll just be doing final testing before releasing build 1.34 to the wild. Talking of which…

I am increasing the price of Production Line tomorrow from its current $15.99 to $17.99. I thought this was a good time to do it, as I’ll be adding the new exciting Pickup Truck to the game:

As well as lots of new animations, and we are getting closer to the eventual point where it gets described as ‘beta’ and then eventually ‘released’. The games price has been the same all through Early Access so far so I thought it was about time. if you want to save yourself $2 you can grab it from the link below. (or steam/Gog). If you are enjoying the game, positive reviews are always nice to have :D