Category Archives: game design

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

My Excel skills have levelled up since I last wrote about balancing production line using player statistics. As a result I now have more informative charts to look at when analysing play sessions from build 1.32. My intentions with this balancing are to increase the long term playability and balance of the game. basically player retention is good after 1 day, good after 7 days, but starts to tail off before 28 days, implying that the game is good initially but loses its challenge after a while. it may also suggest a lack of content, which is surprising given what’s in the game, but will be naturally fixed over time as more is added (Pickup trucks, quality control, branding, breakdowns).

Looking at the following chart I can see that the amount of cash players have after 50,200,200,300…500 hours. I’m quite happy with this. clearly the amount climbs over time, but is not exorbitant for the median player. I’d like the player to have the odd million dollars in cash, but beyond 10 million makes things a bit easy. Hopefully some expensive upgrades for luxury cars in the late game will push that down slightly.

This second chart shows the intensity of AI competition, and is basically a measure of how well the player is doing, as perceived by the AI. I can see that I was absolutely right to do away with the 50-hour moratorium of AI competitors, as clearly some players race ahead and needed to have the AI rein them in. The clear problem here is that the competition value is trending rapidly up to 100%. I feel that this is a strong indicator that the maximum competitive level of the AI just is not competitive enough. In other words, the metrics by which the AI judges the player are not being bought under control by the methods available to the AI. This needs fixing.

This final graph shows the profitability (as percentage margin) of the players business over time. Its not unreasonable for this to be low, even at a loss during the start, as the player invests in equipment and ramps up production. Over time this is trending to slightly above zero, and my raw stats show an average value at 500 hours of 7.2%. This isn’t too bad, certainly believable in an industry like car production. I dont see that anything really needs to change is response to this graph.

So my conclusions from the currently available data is that the competition index metric is too meek, and that the player should face potentially more challenging AI at the top end, but at the bottom end, it should definitely continue to act as before, taking its foot off the metaphorical gas pedal of competition. The AI seems ok at not crushing the poor-performing player, but too weak to offer a decent challenge to the high-performing one.

Of course the important thing here is to work out what my ideal metrics are for improving the game. I’m assuming that people only continue to play games that they enjoy, and thus the hours played of the game should be a decent metric to show whether or not the game is getting more fun. Right now those stats look like this:

Which isn’t too shabby. I compared it with another one of my games and this isn’t too bad, especially considering the much shorter time its been out, and the fact that it is not content complete. Ideally you dont just make a game for those hardcore who put in 20+ hours but try to move everyone along that graph. I’d like to see the number of people playing 2 hours go up a lot more. I think if you don’t like a game you find out before then, so that’s a sign I’ve made something enjoyable. To that end, I need to ensure the game remains challenging in the long run, so tweaking these figures should hopefully nudge it in the right direction.

I feel I should do some actual marketing fluff here, so if you like the sound of the game and haven’t bought it, here is a link :D

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