I suck so much at Political Animals Ryan even sent me a save game from half way through to ensure I didn’t humiliate myself, and you can see the results below:

Making a video of a game like PA is very difficult, because its one of those *very clever* games where you find yourself staring at the various options, thinking ‘hmmmm’ quite a lot. Now I know I’m not tom cruise and don’t have a TV coffee advert voice-over voice at the best of times, but I’m wary of uploading a whole video of me stroking my chin going ‘hmmm’ for an hour and a half, so I maybe took a few rash decisions in that video

Ultimately though…that’s the sign of a good strategy game. Games are all about emotion (at least the good ones are), and Political Animals feels a lot like Democracy 3 in the way you find yourself constantly thinking ‘hmmmm’ and suffering from the fear of making the wrong move. Thats basically the sign of decently balanced strategy, and chess is the ultimate example of it. The only question is does the agony of tough decisions come across in a video? possibly not, and its obviously much harder to make a hit indie game when your game is less ‘youtube friendly’ than the average indie title. As a result of that drive towards ‘streamable fun’ games, we get a lot of ‘wacky’ titles featuring goats, or people in showers, or silly farm machinery getting stuck, and whilst all of these are good fun, and the videos can be truly hilarious, I wonder if the experience of play really lives up to the experience of watching from afar. Ultimately you earn money from customers, not from people watching streams.

Look at it this way, would you sit and watch a three hour chess game on youtube? Me neither, but its clearly a brilliant game, and 100% absorbing as a player. Thankfully, Political Animals does not look like chess, in fact I love the way it looks, but in this day and age as a publisher you always have to be carefully balancing the ‘video and screenshot appeal’ of a game (which gets it noticed) against the ‘actually fun to play’ appeal of a title. I think PA gets it about right. Democracy 3 looks less fun than it is, and I suspect, if peoples opinions and purchase decisions are accurate, GSB2 looks more fun to watch than to play? It certainly makes for some very pretty videos.

In any case, its one of those things that an indie in 2016 has to worry about, which an indie in 2010 never cared about. This industry is always changing, with business models, prices, distribution channels, and ways to reach potential buyers in a constant state of flux. Its not for the feint-hearted.

Political Animals is coming out on November 2nd, On Humble Store, GoG and Steam, and direct from our website at www.politicalanimalsgame.com


One of the major design elements in Production Line is the idea of vertical integration. Put simply, vertical integration is taking all the various steps in the production chain for a product and taking them in house. Its like Steam making the games as well as selling them, and owning the data centers, and owning the networking infrastructure too, and owning a payment processing company etc.

The theory is that money is made by everyone in the production chain. In car-specific terms, the people who own rubber plantations make a profit. They sell the rubber to an exporter, who makes a profit. he delivers and sells the rubber to a tire factory which makes a profit, and they sell tires to the car maker, who is then paying for all of that. In theory, owning everything (including the plantation) helps you both capture all that profit, AND simplifies your logistics. your supplier isn’t going to go bankrupt or mess you around, or have problems anticipating your demands when you own them. In theory.

Henry Ford (he of the original production line idea) took this to extremes. He did indeed buy rubber plantations (although that was a disaster) and he expanded his factories to the extent that eventually just raw materials (wood, steeel, glass…) came in one end of the factory and finished cars rolled out ton the other end. This is a major undertaking, but also I suspect a pretty cool element to build into a tycoon game such as Production Line.

In the screenshot below (click to enlarge), I have my first steps at this. I haven’t gone as far as smelting steel yet, but the layout shows 3 main car production lines going from top left to bottom right, and at the bottom left of the screen is a collection of 4 different manufacturing slots. these slots are making car doors, car roofs, car seats and wheels. The very same over-head conveyor system which delivers components and raw materials to the production line slots is also used to ferry completed seats, wheels etc from those slots to wherever they are needed within the factory layout.


This is not different really to a game like factorio, where you have raw materials (copper, coal,oil) and they pass through some intermediate factory widget that converts them into something else, onwards and onwards. I doubt that production line will go anywhere near as far as factorio in terms of the *scale* of those production lines, but I do hope to spice things up in terms of financial analysis and efficiency analysis. I don’t know about you but when I look at my 60+ hour factorio maps I have acres of old equipment just spinning away doing nothing because I’ve oversaturated my copper or some-such. This should NOT be something that happens in PL. Factory space will be EXPENSIVE, and all slots will use power which will be EXPENSIVE. The aim is to ensure you have to keep an eye on efficiency all the time. Efficiency is the name of the game*

I haven’t decided how best to refer to the idea of making stuff inside the factory as opposed to buying it in as components. Maybe ‘Local Production’, Maybe ‘Internal Production’? In any case, I hope people will see it as the natural extension of their production line as they expand towards the middle of the game, and keeps the game interesting beyond the ‘I am making cool cars now and making a profit’ stage.

*it isn’t. The name of the game is Production Line.

So… I have been busy with both Steam Dev Days and then Political Animals, but still found time to crack on with Production Line. So far a lot of the stuff you have seen in the video and my earlier posts has been about the look of the game and the isometric factory, but I have started doing very early work on some of the business side of the game. For example, we now finally have an actual financial data dialog which pops up when you click on the current cash balance:


This is very early days, and some of those categories are not working yet. Currently the rent, wages, capital expenditure and raw materials / component stuff is in there and functioning. I thought it made sense to show data for 1, 7 and 30 days in the past to get different snapshots of how your company is doing, although maybe 7,30 and all time makes more sense? who knows… I suspect also a few line charts showing how those categories have changed over time would make sense too, eventually. I’ll likely get the income (broken down by model of car) working first, then add a simple overview, and then worry about finnessing the display of it all. Once the raw data is being collected, saved/loaded and displayed properly changing the display of the data is relatively easy.

My aim, in design terms is to have the player spend some time fussing about the layout of the factory, and the bottlenecks that will inevitably ensue, some time deciding which R&D project to undertake next, and some time looking at the numbers, graphs & charts associated with the business. I found it interesting how delicately the balance of component costs and production efficiency was micro-managed by Henry Ford for the model T. When you are making a LOT of cars, changing the size of a single component, or using a lighter material (just by 5%) for a specific component can save an absolute fortune. I want the player to have the option to really drill down into things and be able to spend money to optimize a tiny thing (such as the speed at which tyres are fitted) which only makes sense when you have 10+ tyre fitting stations, and thus a vast factory. My feeling is that a lot of ‘big’ strategy and biz sims lose focus towards the middle and end game, and it becomes a simple matter of just copy-pasting the same layout. With any luck I’ll be able to avoid that.

Anyway…something else I did recently was restrict the placement of resource import slots to specific ‘ghosted’ areas, to give the player less freeform control over layout. I want there to be a LOT of these, so it isn’t *too* restrictive, but a complete free-form approach is perhaps too dull :D.


Feedback vastly appreciated.


Sooo…we really are getting very close to November 2nd, which is release day for Political Animals. Oh yes. Scarily close. Not that there is a big unmovable target of an upcoming US election or anything like that…

Anyway, in preparation for this, I put together a little video of me playing through ten turns of the game. This is to give people a better idea of how it plays than you can get from any conventional preview or trailer. Ultimately nothing beats watching someone play the game right? Please excuse a minor bug I found with a window that won’t close, obviously we will fix that :D. I have to admit, I am no ‘youtube personality’, but I do have the time, the inclination and more importantly, a playable build of the game, so here goes…

My expectations for the success and popularity of this game are very varied. I love it, I love the look, and the gameplay and obviously the theme is SPOT ON for releasing right now. In the US, politics is incredibly topical, and the US always represents a big chunk of the market. On the other hand, we have translated it into French, German Italian and Spanish, so we are hoping for some international attention too. Political Strategy is a bit of a ‘niche’, and yet I *know* (as the developer of Democracy 3) that it can be quite a big one if you hit the right notes. Also, Political Animals is far less serious, and far more a conventional strategy game than Democracy 3, so I’m thinking it may well appeal to players of games like Tropico too.

As a publisher, this is some new ground for me. I’ve previously met and worked with developers in a closer way than with PA, mostly because of distance. I have only met 2 of the team (in total), and only met them twice. The developers are Squeaky Wheel, from the Philippines. If this game makes a profit, its proof that long-distance publishing arrangements can work, which would be excellent. I am also planning some twists on my normal launch marketing strategy, which I will blog about in more depth after the event, but one notable change is we are doing a simultaneous release on our website and on steam, so no pre-orders this time.

I’m nervous about the release of the game, because I’m always nervous. its a big bet, both in terms of actual money, and also in terms of reputation. To be honest, I’m more worried about releasing a bad game than I am about losing money. I intend to be very, very picky about the games I make and the games I release. I know some people release games much faster than me, investing less in each one, but I don’t think that is a style that suits me, or my ‘brand’. Anyway… 16 days to go…


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Steam Dev Days 2016

October 15, 2016 | Filed under: business

So…that was steam dev days 2016. What was it like? what did I found out? what do I think now its over…?
Firstly it was excellent. When valve get game developers together, they provide breakfast, some free hardware to take home, a happy hour with free drinks, free coffee, snacks, loads of booths to try VR games, loads of opportunities to talk to people from valve, and it costs you $100.
All I will say is….your move GDC, because paying GDC prices for the GDC experience is…less tempting.

There were some good talks and some….niche talks, but to be honest the appeal of these shows isn’t often the talks, but the bumping into other developers and just chatting. I met a bunch of people I’ve worked with for years but never physically met, and thats cool, and the general chatting and swapping of tips means I came away with some interesting business ideas.

Overall, dev days feels a lot more like a big party where everyone is a game developer, rather than a ‘corporate networking opportunity’ where people are constantly ‘pitching’ stuff and trying to impress each other. This is a good thing.

(Of course, what with it being legal there, I couldn’t resist the temptation of a fellow developer handing me some marijuana cookies, so maybe you should take everything I say with a pinch of salt. I did giggle quite a bit.)

Something that I reckon is missing from shows, not just SDD, is developer talks that are broad enough to be interesting to the whole audience. For example, in technical terms, a talk on “How to optimize your game” in general terms, would be great, or “How to balance a strategy game”, which broad lessons that appeal to 500 developers. I think talks tend towards the “How to improve subsurface scattering in a Unity FPS game on nvidia hardware” style, which is amazing if that happens to be exactly what you really need to know, but niche and tangential as fuck for the other 99% of attendees.

Its surprising that there is no crowd-sourcing of submitted talks for shows. I presume someone in charge reads applications and decides “Thats interesting to our audience” which is crazy as they have the email addresses of all the attendees, why not ask us?

Just an idea.

Right…how many complimentary m&ms can I guy eat in one sitting?