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?

I’m the guy who made Democracy 3, a political strategy game. Not surprisingly I’m a politics geek. Politically, I’m probably pretty centrist. More right wing economically, more left wing socially. very Green. Now I’ve got that out of the way, and the extremists have stopped reading…here we go.

I have never in my life watched a US presidential debate live. Last night, I stayed up till 4AM to watch Clinton vs Trump round two. I read a LOT about politics, including US politics. I understand the issues and the references. i know the history, I know the characters involved. I was NOT prepared.

I’m from the UK, a relatively small country. The US has a population of 324,000,000 people. Out of that staggering number, the only choices are a billionaire(he claims) reality TV show star and the wife of one of the previous presidents. How is this possible? how is the bar set so low, how bad is US politics that these are the choices?

The thing that really depressed me about the debate was actually not just the lies (there were lots) or the avoiding the question, or the accusations of rape (yes really) or the semi-fascist claims that if candidate A won they would imprison candidate B (not put them on trial, not let justice take its course, not allow a jury to decide…nope.. ‘they would be in jail’). The thing nobody seems to be talking about is policy. It was a policy free debate. Totally. it was like people campaigning to be the star of a TV show, all personality, all character, no damn clue how to run the country, or what should be done.

Describing a policy as ‘beautiful’ is a waste of words. Describing a tax plan as ‘amazing’ is a waste of words. Don’t panic…I have done the homework for you (very) briefly. Here are the noticeable 9to me) bits of the tax plans:

Clinton: (src: candidates website)

An extra 4% tax charged on people earning more than $5milllion per year.

Ensure that people earning over $1million a year pay at least 30% effective tax rate.

Trump: (src: candidates website)

People earning under $75k pay 12%.

$75k to $225 25%

225+ 33%.

Business tax cut from 35% to 15%.

Inheritance tax abolished.


You probably have more sympathy with one of those than the other. Thats fine. Thats how it is supposed to work. And issues like that (I just picked tax as an example) is how elections should be decided. Issues, Policies, these are what matter. Nobody is voting for their best friend. You aren’t going to hang out in a bar with the president, they get to make policy decisions. Given a choice, I’d rather hang out in a bar with GW Bush than Al Gore, Bush would be hilarious. Given a choice between which of the two picked environmental policies… then its a different matter.

As someone who literally makes a living from designing a complex simulation of how politics and economics work, I KNOW that its not a simple matter of tax plans. Tax plans affect government income which affects education, healthcare provision, defense and so on and so on. The trouble is…this NEVER comes up.

I would love to see a big spreadsheet or pie chart showing how Donald Trump thinks taxes should be raised and revenue spent. I would love to see the same for Clinton. This is not technically hard. You present both candidates with a simplified breakdown of the current US income and expenditure and ask them to list the top 50 changes they would make. Then those are presented (after being fact checked by economists) to people for them to make a dispassionate choice on. I want to see the TV debate version of this amazing chart:


No tax plan/policy is ‘beautiful’ or ‘amazing’. One persons ‘fair share’ is another persons company-wrecking punitive tax. One persons bloated government waste is another persons vital lifeline. The issues cannot be boiled down to petty mud slinging and TV charisma. The candidates have disagreements over what POLICY decisions should be taken. Forget the personal bullshit, lets have a 90 minute prime time TV program where the only thing that gets discussed is (fact-checked) firm policy proposals.

In my dreams.

Good luck America. You need it.

With politics descending globally into farce, with politicians comparing themselves to Hitler, punching others in the head, supporting torture, wanting ‘companies who employ foreigners’ to be named and shamed….jeez… there is not much humour to be had in the world of politics.


I didn’t want to do a trailer for Political Animals…but the developers in the Philippines insisted that we build a beautiful trailer and make the UK publisher pay for it. And I couldn’t say no. So here it is…Enjoy!

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First Production Line video!

October 05, 2016 | Filed under: production line

I didn’t give away too much about how Production Line (my car-factory sim) was going to look or feel when I announced it recently, but here today is the first video of the game being ‘played’ with my cynical face yabbering about it in the corner, like the kids expect these days. Without further ado, here is the legendary video:

My original plan was to get video out there, and talking about the game earlier than this, but even so, this is MUCH earlier in the development of a game than ever before for me to show the state of something. The R&D screen is clearly total placeholder, and 90% of the business side/marketing/tycoon style stuff isn’t even started yet. What we basically have is an isometric engine with car production lines being laid out and managed. That part of the game is obviously key, but what I will be building in the coming months will be ‘biz’ side stuff, such as marketing, pricing, AI competitors and so-on, and feedback there will be vital.

Also, at this point there is a lot of room for feedback on the GUI for the actual factory-floor view. This is very minimalist right now. Essentially I am after feedback on everything by everyone. No specific questions for this first video, other than a ‘how does this look to you’ kind of thing. All comments are read :D

When you really look at things in terms of what people bought… I’ve made 3 games. Kudos (Trust did well at the time), Democracy (ker-ching!) and Gratuitous Space Battles. I’ve also made spin-offs, sequels and side ventures such as Gratuitous Tank Battles, made some DLC, and published 2 released games (Redshirt and Big Pharma). But in terms of positech-owned IP, I’ve made 3 games of note. Hopefully this is number 4. its definitely the plan…


I never used to care about cars. Then I bought a nice hybrid one (Lexus) then I bought a stupidly flash electric one (Tesla). I started to realize cars had become interesting to geeks, not just petrol-heads. I then read a book by Henry Ford about the Model T, and how it was made, and his philosophy for business. I found it absolutely fascinating, not least because it is basically being copied to the letter by Elon Musk. The way production line efficiency transformed the way cars were made was fascinating. It also involved something that until recently was hugely out of fashion – vertical integration (essentially owning your own supply chain). When reading the book, I realized there was an opportunity for a new take on ‘production line’ games. Essentially, they are all about building more, building bigger. What I wanted to do was build more-or-less the same, but build it better, build it more efficiently, make the same product cheaper, make the production line better (which means breaking down the tasks and making it longer).


I took the idea pretty seriously. I even visited Detroit, specifically to get a tour of a modern car plant, and also visit the Henry Ford museum. Originally, my games was set in Fords era. At one point it was a side scroller, at another it was black-and-white and top down. Eventually it became color, and isometric, then got changed to the modern day. And I’ve been secretly working on it for ages.


For me, the big changes here are that its an isometric game (never done one of those before, but already coded my own engine, seems ok so far), and that I’m planning on really open-development. Its not in alpha yet, let alone beta. Big parts of the game are not finished. Coder art is everywhere. None of the sounds are final. There is no music. Its buggy. There is only one type of car, and half the research-tree stuff isn’t done. No text is final. Its really early. Its not shipping in 2016, and likely not in Q1 or Q2 of 2017.


However…I’d like to get people playing it early, in a direct-with-the-developer prison-architect style early access way. I’ll blog about it more soon, and do videos. I’ll probably bore you to tears with the details. I have come full circle on the idea of early-access and would like to see how it works for me. I recently got addicted to factorio (Long after starting work on the game) and I admit I am attracted to making the game support BIG factories. (I’m a bit obsessed with the idea of Teslas gigafactory). I also like a lot of options, and huge research trees, so you should expect me to be putting that sort of stuff in, if people agree that they would like that in the game. We shall see…

Right now, I’m at the ‘I’m making a game about this topic. Do you like the idea’? stage. I’d love to know what you think. Does the topic suck? what would you like to see in the game? Would you grab an early-access copy? Comment below!. And if you are press, you will find that the website for the game has a presskit link. Plus we set up a facebook page already, so please go join that :D. Oh and yes, those are screenshots of the current build :D