Wednesday, March 30, 2005

After yet more playtesting I have decided that Democracy needs more in the way of player goals, so I am adding an 'achievements screen' to show things like the highest popularity achieved so far, most terms in office etc. I will also (maybe friday) add targeted goals like achieveing zero unemployment for 4 years in a row etc etc.
That's probably going to be the last feature I add in. I have MANY more ideas but I don't want it to look cluttered.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Still working on democracy, and being upbeat about its potential even as Starship Tycoon enters a rare downslide in sales. I was hoping this would be another record month but sadly not.
Anyway, I just made a change to Democracy that it badly needed. Previously new policies took effect imediately, with only changes being delayed by the 'effect delay'.
So if you doubled the railway subsidies it would gradually take effect over 18 months, but if you suddenly implemented that policy, the initial default value(0.5) would be implemented immediately.
This was BAD.
So its now looking like its fixed, which is cool, and I've also fixed a huge list of other stuff such as:
Tons of spelling errors
Thicker lines for easier reading of the polling history graphs
Fixes for some policy effects that were backwards
Fixes for fullscreen and resume game toggles
Fixes for post-load failure to read finance history for the first quarter.
Plus other minor niggles.
I also added a new policy - Stem Cell research. Its a good one, because it's a trade off between religious people and a boost to GDP. I'm not looking forward to the angry emails from both sides of that debate though (Its impossible to keep everyone happy).

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Since my last post I've actually got some good beta feedback, so I am now tweaking and balancing. This is going to take a long time, but I'm fighting the urge to avoid balancing and put in new features.
It's a very difficult game to balance. We aren't talking about balancing a few different units against each other here. There are hundreds of different variables, all affecting each other over varying periods, with compound effects. I'm suffering heavily from the 'chaos theory' phenomena of complex sim game design.

For example:
If I increase the boost that gambling has on GDP, this might make gambling more attractive as a policy. But it also increases GDP. GDP affects the mood of capitalists. If capitalists are happier, it reduces the effective cost of policies that upset them, such as child benefit. This makes it easier to keep parents happy, which means I don't have to implement policies like maternity leave. Maternity leave can cause a wasteful workforce situation which reduces the GDP. This then makes capitalists upset which...... etc etc.

This is going to be astoundingly hard to balance AND make fun, and allow the game to feedback to the player the causes of his actions...
Its still great fun to play though :D And anyone who enjoys complex sims will love it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Its been a busy few days because Democracy is now in beta, plus I've been fixing a few thinsg and adding some polish, like icon mouseover effects and firework displays for re-election :D.
I have a few people beta testing the game, but to be honest have not got much feedback. People don't seem to realsie that beat testing is about giving feedback to the developer. I simply don't understand why people beta test otherwise. In future I will just pay proffesional testers to evaluate the game, as people seem to just treat it as a way to get an early demo. Very dissapointing.
Publisher interest in the game is extremely high, without me having to even go looking for any, ditto the press. it seems there is a genuine market for a game like this which is very encouraging. I'm hoping to polish and balance for maybe another week or so before release unless I end up signing an exclusive deal.

Friday, March 18, 2005

My fellow indie developers probably don't realise how torturous this can be, as many indie games onyl require the most simple of save game data. This was not the case with Starship tycoon and is SURE is not the case with democracy. Save game code is HELL, and that's not an amateur talking, I wrote the save game code for The Movies (Lionhead) which was seriously complex. Democracy uses a far better format and system (having learned from previous games) but its still tough. Essentialy, Democracy is a neural network with delayed responses between selected neurons, and this is NOT a trivial thing to save. Most of it works (there are no crashes and the data makes sense), but the problem is there is some problems with the delayed effects when loading in games. In some respects I need the delayed effects to 'catch up' but in some cases I need to preserve the mid-drift nature of a neural 'lever'.
As a result I won't be getting a beta copy done tonight. Maybe sunday...

Unless you live in the UK and especially if you live in London, this won't seem very funny:
Clicky here
(Requires Sound). (contains swearing)
But if you do, you may find it very very very funny.
I'm thinking of releasing a beta build of democracy tonight, even though it needs some more artwork, I'm keen to get user feedback on it sooner rather than later. Its really coming along nice, Its going to be very very good. Sales have slid back slightly on Starship Tycoon, all very hard to predict.

I bought a bunch of new sounds to spice up democracy, plus added some more icons. There are now sound effects for more of the events, plus sounds for the 'endings' when you aggravate the citizens and they shoot/imprison/throw youi out of government. I reckon I will release a new version, a beta, to testers and publishers on monday, after a weekend to playtest it and add a last bunch of graphics.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

some annoying hacker has scrambled my website forums AGAIN. I sue phoBB which is great but kinda easy to hack, I'm resinstalling it now, god knows how I restore the old posts....
I have some work to do on democracy, discovered some sound playback bugs today that need looking at.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

A great blog post can be found here about the GDC and how some people are acting as though "The downloadable games market has just started". Its insane. people who are so rubbish at business that they don't see changes happening, arrive late at the party and tell everyone the party has started. I've been selling online since 1998, so I'm puzzled as to how I managed that when 'nobody bought games online'.
Anyway, back in the world of the sane I haven't had any replies to my attempts to advertise starship tycoon on non-traditional sites. My emails (only 2 or 3 of them) were obviously not spam but carefully targeted requests to advertise so I'm suprised people couldn't be bothered to reply. Perhaps this is the school of ignoring your emails?
I am considering redoing the 'quarterly report' section of the democracy GUI to use more natural language. Also am considering allowing custom countries, although thats a lot more work. I might work on custom countries once its in beta.
Sales continue to be good

Thursday, March 10, 2005

I've got to the stage on democracy now where I can play the game and just tweak values rather than adding big new chunks of stuff. I've already changed a whole bunch of things to balance it for the btter, socialists and capitalists aren't so fickle now, and you don't automatically start off with happy socialists and angry capitalists :D
One change I made was to allow different default values for voter types. So smokers start off fairly happy, and your policies can only really upset them (but you might need them to raise revenue or to increase lifespan). whereas state employees default to unhappy and need cheering up by high government spending on schools and hospitals. I think this makes balancing the game a lot easier.
Sales of Starship Tycoon were exceptionally good today :D

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

I have some great ideas for my next game, which is frustrating because democracy isn't finished yet and there just aren't the hours in the day!
Anyway, I have made great strides today in getting more of the save/load bugs sorted out. It's still not quite ready for beta yet (I want feedback on a nearly finished game) and my icon artist is still ill...

It's quite amazing how much work is required to do the tutorial for a game. I'm quite happy with my first attempt at the Democracy tutorial now. It employs 3 basic systems. One is a spreadsheet that lays out what text should be displayed in each 'stage' of the tutorial, and where it goes onscreen. Another is the 'feature toggler' which turns on and off chunks of the game during the tutorial to prevent the player hitting a button and confusing the flow of the instructions, and the last system is the 'highlighter'. I thought about several ways to handle this, and ended up layering a semi-translucent black wash over the whole screen, then re-drawing the highlighted element (dialog, button etc) on top of it. This works superbly and I'm very happy. given an infinite budget I would have gone for a much more whizz bang animated effect, but for the style of the game this is pretty damned good.

Played Settlers V today (demo) -> very impressed.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Today I got some more work done on the tutorial for Democracy. Just a matter of highlighting certain areas of the GUI as the tutorial addresses them. I also changed to Germany as a tutorial because the flag background is a lot less cluttered.
I'm investigating new places to advertise, in an effort to increase site visitors. So I just sent off emails to two space centered websites to see if I can advertise starship tycoon on them. Could be good.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Another story today on slashdot about violence in videogames. It amazes me how so many computer games geeks get so massivly defensive about what they enjoy that they are totally blind to the arguments, even when they are backed up by scientific research.
For the record, I think violent video games like GTA3, Soldier of fortune and manhunt are very bad for kids, and if its impractical to prevent under 16s getting them, they should be banned. If I ran a videogame store I wouldn't stock these games, I'd certainly not work on one.
Video games have a wealth of cool worlds for us to explore. Games like Sim City, Creatures and Black and White are amazing worlds with so much to learn and enjoy. Yet some clueless twits always try and release a 'shock' game with more sex and violencein it.
I find this sad and pathetic, and insulting as a gamer.
I'm not turned on by dead or alive volleyball, and I'm not shocked by GTA3, just sad that so many gaming dollars have been wasted on these subject matters when there is so much more worthy titles on the shelves.
I play COD online lots, and enjoy it tons. But if I had a 9yr old kid no way would I let him play it. I think its wrong to teach kids that killing is fun at that age.
discuss :D

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

been away for a few days. I read THIS BOOK and its absolutely superb, truly fascinating, yet also very scary just how easily manipulated people are by the power of suggestion. Thats one of my pet topics, I love reading about NLP etc.
Today I've been bughunting on Starship Tycoon. replaced my old assert dialog with a new one that prepares an emailed bug report for the user to email me which should help. I also fixed a bug to do with the display of scrap values for ship modules, added a delay upon hiring to prevent gratuitous crew complaints, and added support for saved custom ship names. I Haven't uploaded the new version yet, its pending feedback from a user.
Also done a lot of tedious grunt work in terms of save/load support for Democracy. I also have a proper democracy installer now. All I need is the last icons, some serious playesting, the debugging (of course) and then a general 'check' that the gameplay is as good as it can be.

Sales from Starship Tycoon and Planetary Defence are great, nearly passed the $1,000/month point last month, just 5 bucks short.