Sunday, January 30, 2005

THIS ARTICLE Is something I have been whining about myself for a LONG time now. I'm glad I'm not alone in hating this.

Friday, January 28, 2005

As well as fixing some small bugs I had a few test runthroughs of democracy tonight, and hit a design snag.
There isn't enough character, enough change. As a back-end simulation, this game does what it says on the tin, but it lacks the sense of *reality* or *grounding* that's needed if gamers will connect with their role as president/PM.
What I really DON'T want to do is the really lame obvious thing and throw in "a bunch of govt advisors with quirky personalities" which is what standard tedious design practice would be.
But it does need something... something I can't quite get my finger on.
Because this is a low budget mini game, I have the option of finishing it, releasing it and updating it over time, with the feedback from early customers, but I'd rather avoid that.
My first thought is to do something cunning involving text parsing and the quarterly reports, but I think a more fundamental improvement might be required. I think after the first few turns the interface needs to be expanded upon. My number one concern is that the player will start to find the game repetitive after a short period, I can't let that happen.
I could restrict events and dilemmas, letting them only appear after a few months, and have similar features that appear over time. What I REALLY wan't to do is have a triggerable change where the whole game alters, maybe the chance to declare a state of emergency and put off the elections? maybe a chance to negotiate with foreign leaders? the risk of a leadership challenge from within your own party?
None of this sounds trivial to code :(

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

I got some nice coverage at for democracy, and finally got some more work done on it today, a quick bit of playtesting and some new dilemmas for the game these are:

Child labour laws
Subliminal Advertising
Debt collection law

Democracy contains 'dilemmas' which are basically a snap decision as president that sides with one group of voters or another. So when it comes to debt collection agencies, the Poor and Liberals might want you to crack down on them, but capitalists and maybe the self employed are in favour of leaving such agencies unchecked.
Dilemmas are in because they are the one part of the game that FORCES you to upset some people, you can't please everyone all the time etc. I know have a total of 25 dilemmas so far, I need many more although its hard because the dilemmas must affect voting groups that actually exist in the game. Upsetting geeks doesn't matter because there are no geeks as a distinct social group (for example).. Feel free to post suggested dilemmas.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Well as you can see I've been sprucing up my blog colours :D
Also been working on democracy, and trying out darwinia, the new game that I'm really underwhelmed by. I thought it would be great but its a user interface disaster!
Anyway, I'm building up my list of email addresses for the next Democracy press release. I'm hoping to have another round of testing in a week or two. The interface is now much more polished, and theres a way better tutorial. The one big thing that's not done is Save/Load which is going to be a real pain, butI have to just grit my teeth one weekend and force myself to get it done.

I need to chase the artist for the rest of the icons, and pick some music for it too. Might give some classical music a listen now.

For those new to this blog, Democracy is my fiendishly complex political strategy game I'm making in my *spare* time.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Cruise Ship Tycoon
I ranted to an activision dude about the demo download for this game and behold he gave me a free copy. I just gave it a whirl. This is a 'budget' title, and you can tell its been kinda rushed. Some basic stuff like making it easy to shut dialogs, tooltips and intuitive camera controls are all missing. Still it could be a LOT worse.
Its actually reasonably fun, and it does give me (as I thought it might) LOTS of ideas to improve Starship Tycoon.
In the meantime I've been doing a tutorial for Democracy. Its not 100% done and its far from perfect but already its very usable, I'm so happy with the *right* way to code this stuff now, if Only I knew this when I did ST...
I really need some quiet time alone to balance the actual data and gameplay of Democracy. I'm still working on the save/load stuff, but the list of tasks between now and releasing it is gradually getting shorter. The uncertainty of whether or not its a hit or a disaster at this stage is pretty gruelling.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

I have nothing against advertsing as such, but pointless logos and brand catch phrases kinda irk me. I bought a copy of Battle for Middle Earth for a friend, and tried it out. I didnt buy it because EA made it, I don't need to be told to challenge everything, I dont care that it's got THX sound, or that the film the game was based on was made by new line cinema. Nor do I give a toss that it runs best on a pentium 4.
This wasn't a demo/advert/trialware. This cost me money.
By all means market to your potential customers, but once you have their money STFU and let them enjoy the product. Amazing though it may seem, people don't buy games to look at your logos, they buy them to play them.
Starship Tycoon has no logo screens or startup movies, and Democracy never will either. I care about my customers, I'm not going to waste their time. That's insulting them. If you are thick enough to force me to watch videos, at least make them skippable, otherwise I need to visit gamecopyworld to get a fix for it. Is that what you want?

Sunday, January 16, 2005

I made a list today of remaining tasks on democracy. I currently have 3 workable ideas for my next game so its good to be getting to the last stretch of this one. Hopefully it will sell well enough to justify adding content post-ship though.
I've added a basic soundmanager to the game, just reused the Planetary Defence sound system. I'll probably be using classical music,but I haven't picked the track yet.
I also polished the new policy screen, and added a generic slider control for adjusting stuff like music volume.
I'm hoping to be at the beta stage within a few weeks, and hopefully on sale around March, after some considerable play balancing.
I'm finally getting bored with Call of Duty, luckily pirates! is getting cheaper (I won't buy it full price with no demo) and cossacks 2 is out soon, although the videos for it are absolutely dreadful. surely this isn't the new engine?

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Whenever you get more than one indie game developer together they will talk about how one of the reasons indie games are better than mainstream retail games is that they have more innovation.
It kinda makes sense, after all there is precious little innovation in mainstream gaming. The same gameplay mechanics and stereotypes appear again and again. The same IP is endlessly exploited, FPS games still have switches, locked doors, crates, ventilation ducts and health powerups.
But the innovation argument doesn't just imply a lack of innovation in retail, it implies some innovation among indie games.
And its not true.
To be honest there are SOME innovative indie games. Gish is one and Dr Blobs Organism is another. Bridge builder is a third. But for every game like this there are a dozen ganes that don't innovate at all.
I'm not criticising the games themselves, but heres a few examples (no offence intended)

Ricochet : Breakout clone
Hamsterball : Super monkey ball with hamsters
Derelict: Gauntlet in space
Lux: Risk
Pax Galaxia : Risk in space
Starship Tycoon : Transport tycoon in space

See I'm guilty too. I'm not adopting a holier-than-thou stance here, we are all failing in our aim to bring innovation to games. If we (with our low budget and zero consequence of failure, zero need for publisher approval) can't innovate, how can we ever expect retail developers to do so?
Am I being too harsh here? I'm not saying these games are bad, the are great, My fave online game is call of duty, which is a clone of medal of honour which is a clone of RTCW, Quake, Doom etc.
I just wish there was more innovation in the indie scene. REAL innovation... risky stuff!

Thursday, January 13, 2005

I've started work on the nust and bolts of democracies tutorial system. Its coming along nicely and isn't as tedious to code as I suspected it might be.
I added code tonight which puts in some real-world unemployment data into the game, so that when you play Japan, its unemployment start level will be more representative of the real level. Japan would appear to have some pretty serious debt problems...
Recently I have noticed a whole slew of indie developers releasing scrolling shooters. I had considered doing one after Democracy but there seems to be a glut. I have another idea (a really original one) but it requires a 3D engine and lots of resources.
Maybe the next game will be my first attempt at using a real 3D engine (I'll buy a cheap one, I certainly wouldn't waste time and effort coding one.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

I think I have developed a new pet hate. Its shareware game nag screens with two options:

BUY NOW! $19.95

because when I see it I just want a third option:


I hate being treated like a jerk as a customer, and 'maybe later' does exactly that. It tends to only show up on the crappiest games too, and comes accross as being pleading and a bit desperate. I hope I never stoop to such stuff.
well democracy is all on a few news sites today thanks to a press release and screenshots I sent out, and I also took delivery of my Starship Tycoon Mug and T shirt, which is of course very cool. Sales have also been good, so generally things are going well!
I went through a site called the CIA factbook yesterday and added 8 new levels for democracy. I need to fine tune the policies, but the GDP, population and debt levels are now correct for 8 different countries.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

I started adding a 'quarterly report' dialog to democracy. This is basically a summary of the major things that have changed since the last turn and I think its going to be helpful. I have a few people trying the alpha build, and the major thing I've heard (apart from it being complex at the start - tutorial not done yet) is that the game needs to give the player more feedback. So I'm working on that.
I also installed that new microsoft spyware detector. Its running now and It's already detected stuff my other programs missed which is both good and scary at the same time.
I'm still playing tons of Call Of Duty, even considered joining a clan.
Eeek its found 5 spyware programs. Thats worrying...

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Thanks to a helpful user I was able to post a fix to build 2.31 of starship tycoon. This only affects the full version and resolves a crash bug on saving if you have fired any crewmembers. Its good to get that fix done.
I also added a faq to the starship tycoon site with a bit more information on it. I'm hoping to bulk out the website even more soon.
One change I did make recently is to take advantage of a lot of very old legacy links to starlines_free.exe. This was the old demo for StarLines, and it was still getting lots of hits. Because ST basically IS starlines only better, I put a demo of ST there and named it with the same filename, so basically people following a really old link to an old game will still get the very best demo. Hopefully it won't confuse people, and might well boost my sales, as ST has a much better conversion rate than StarLines.
I'm still working away on democracy, added a few new events and dilemmas last night.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Been working hard on democracy. I did a little 'playtest' imagining myself as really conservative and right wing and lost almost immediately, so I had to tweak a lot of stuff to balance it right. Also its currently WAY too easy to get a really effective economy, so I'm balancing that too.
A new feature that got put in today was the global economy. At the moment it only affects GDP, and its basically a 6 year(ish) cycle represented by a sine wave that modifies your own GDP.
This was put in because some times you can do everything right but international circumstances just drag your economy down anyway, which gives you the extra gameplay of handling your slip into mini-recession.
I've added numerous new 'links' between neurons. I'm still on the fence on the possibility of adding hidden neurons to make the simulation more accurate. Part of me thinks this will help, part thinks it will make it impossible to balance.
The problem is, when you start thinking politics and economics, nearly everything effects nearly everything. That makes for some great existential psychology, but nightmare game design.
No wonder nobody has ever tried to make a game like this before.