Flash of Steel header image 2

Three Moves Ahead Episode 50 – Designing Government and Debating Detail

February 1st, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 24 Comments · Podcast, Three Moves Ahead


Having not seen each other in weeks, Tom and Bruce giggle like schoolgirls reunited after summer break before getting into their usual sparring. Troy just tries to keep people on topic – futilely. The putative topic: How do you design a game that makes the management of a government as interesting as the issues of war and peace? There’s a side trip into questions about abstraction and the problem of irrelevant detail.

Listen here.
RSS here.
Subscribe on iTunes.


24 Comments so far ↓

  • Nikolaj

    Thanks for an interesting show guys. I was wondering when someone would mention Tropico (what’s wrong with Tropico 2, though?).

    I like that you touch on how the economy works, in games where the player controls the economy. I’ve always thought it was funny how these games always seem to use a planned economy.

    Tropico is an excellent example of this. The capitalist faction will complain if you don’t have any factories, but they don’t seem to mind that those factories are state owned and controlled, along with every other building in the country, and that every single person on the island works for the government.

    I can only think of a few exceptions from this. Victoria, which you mention, is the best one, but I guess the Sim City games count as exceptions, too, since you use zones instead of building specific buildings (apart from police stations and so on).

    I guess it’s a matter of not leaving too much beyond the control of a player, but sometimes it’s just ridiculous (like in Tropico). I think Victoria shows that you can actually have a somewhat realistic economy without making the game boring, although I guess some people would disagree that Victoria isn’t boring.

    Of course, a planned economy isn’t unrealistic (meaning it’s historically correct – I don’t want to start a political discussion), which is why in Victoria you have a choice.

  • Troy

    Tropico 2 was pirates. Therefore not a real Tropico.

  • Kalle

    Pirates made Tropico better.

  • Christopher

    I remember, during the Clintonian round of health care reform in 1992, Maxis released “SimHealth”, which was a health care simulator, built from the basis of SimCity 2000. By all accounts, it favored or was biased towards public health care, and was a terrible game.

    Oddly, however, Will Wright is a conservative; he donated money to the John McCain campaign in 2008. I’ve seen Maoist reviews which criticized SimCity of it “capitalist biases”.

  • eznark

    The facetious discussion about health care in city builders got me thinking. Obviously, in every city builder pretty much ever you’re dealing with a dictatorial, state run, centrally planned insulated petri dish. If game makers were making actual simulations, instead of abstract interpretations of simulated simulation abstractions the end result in every city would be a Pyongyang look alike…at best, since there are no outside benefactors in Sim City. It’s one of the reasons I play about 3 hours of any city builder just to watch the building evolve a bit then put it away. There is nothing remotely interesting about the assumptions the games are based on in almost any case.

    What it boils down to is you plan the government while the AI controls the populace and commerce. What I want to see is a game where the government is the AI and you control private industry. SimChamberofCommerce. Like a city builder, it would require that you are essentially the God of enterprise but the adversary in this case is Government. (A much closer simulation to real life anyway). Does your city despise you and seemingly want to drive all business out of town? Play the Milwaukee map. Does your city require massive bribes and back room deals in order to plant a new tree out front? Play the Beijing or Chicago maps. Milwaukee raising taxes and forcing you to give paid time off to part time workers? Make overtures to San Antonio with some of your larger corporations. Madison refusing to allow a Wal Mart? Shut down Hemp Unlimited.

    It seems like a wonderful game idea to me, and one that I really hope someone attempts (or has attempted?) because it offers much more interesting choices and outcomes than a straight city builder.
    (c&p from my post at gaf)

  • WCG

    I wish we could get a transcription of these podcasts. I can’t seem to pay attention to audio. I’m oriented way too much to the written word, I guess.

    At any rate, they sound like fascinating discussions, but podcasts just don’t work for me. Is there any possibility you could add a link to a transcription sometime?

  • Punning Pundit

    @WCG: I listen at the gym, and that seems to eliminate all my inability to pay attention…

    As far as I know, healthcare isn’t even touched on in Dawn of Discovery…

  • Tom Chick

    Mr. Pundit, be sure to let me know how your population fares when a plague hits. :) I guarantee you’ll be scrambling to build a surgeon when that happens.

    By the way, Dawn of Discovery even has eyeglasses as part of the higher end goods demanded by nobles. State-sponsored optometry!

  • Tim James

    For the clip show, you need to include some quick edits of Bruce saying RESEARCH about 20 times.

  • Punning Pundit

    @Tom: DoD is one of those games I have played the heck out of, haven’t played enough of, and haven’t seen everything. Like plagues :). Also, I’d totally forgotten about the glasses! I wonder if the expansion will include dentistry and barber-shops?

  • Tom Chick

    To be fair, it doesn’t fold in sickness and plague until some of the later scenarios, or if you set up your own scenario with all the options enabled. It’s entirely possible to play Dawn of Discovery for tens of hours without seeing all it has to offer.

    I’m hoping there will be trepanning in the Venice expansion.

  • Otis

    Great podcast as always, even with the giggles. I think it would be very difficult to create a game solely about the economy. Except, as you mentioned, in the magical world of city builders. For me, economic management has to be tied to something else such as war or international competition or something to remain interesting and relevant.

    I’ve never played Victoria but I have a question. The way it was described social reforms are obviously good and the only reason not to implement them is political. Is there any other reason (economic etc) that would keep you from passing the 8 hour work day?

    Finally for the clip show: As your first honorary panel member, Tom’s cat deserves an appearance

  • Otis

    Oh and when I said “economy” I also meant government.

  • Ebyan Alvarez-Buylla

    Every time the Tropico series comes up in the show, there’s the overriding sentiment that Tropico 2 “didn’t happen”. Although I agree that the banana republic theme was a clever choice for the first and third of the series, the second featured superior gameplay with its own quirky system of pirate government. Much like the exquisite Dawn of Discovery, Tropico 2 got the formula right (albeit a different formula, and a much harder one at that).

    I got quite a bit of value out of Tropico 2, while 1 and 3 couldn’t hold me for more than an hour. Even on the Tropico 3 episode, Tom admitted that he was surprised that it was hard for him to get into Tropico 3 since he remembered liking Tropico 1… until he remembered he didn’t really like Tropico 1.

    Rant aside, my question is, why don’t the merits of a unique theme like a “pirate cove” get a serious discussion, in lieu of the poorly developed banana republic counterpart falling flat on its face?

  • Ian Bowes (spelk)

    I think its hard to bring the dry world of government and politics into gaming and make it interesting. I think perhaps you need to be predisposed to that sort of game, where its more simulation of conditions than any emotive payoff.

    I prefer my strategy to base itself on conflict, and how to overcome situations using the tools at your disposal. With conflict I can invest an emotional connection to either side, if its just a matter of shuffling stats and keeping world balancing plates spinning, I’m not sure the ‘zing’ will be there for me.

    I can see the draw for God games/city builders, because you spin the plates, but, you choose the platform for the plates to spin. But without some offensive or defensive plan, or perhaps hold back the elements and unforseen ‘Hand of God’ moments – SimCity I’m looking at you! – then its all too sterile for my palate.

    I’m sure Democracy the game is brilliant, but there just isn’t the spark of interest there for me. It just seems to be stat juggling for the sake of it. I think I need to payoff of physical conflict and resolution of some sort.

    Now, onto more interesting matters, I am in love with the Mass Effect Universe, but I am a little disappointed they’ve dumbed down the RPG elements in ME2 and made it more a constricted/limited but balls-out shooter. Seems like the tactical options you have during combat are now limited. But easier to get into for your average Gears of War Joe. I always thought streamlining was a good thing, but not in this case IMHO.

  • Javier-de-Ass

    isn’t the new Settlers game developed by the Anno team?

  • Parsival

    Thanks for a great podcast guys :-)

    I have to take issue with Bruce’s contentions that infantry small arms were neither the focus of intense research (eg/ The FG.42 which was developed to meet Luftwaffe specifications for its paratroops), or that there was no targetted militia small arm research (eg/ German interest in reverse engineering captured sten-guns despite having perfectly serviceable submachine-gun designs of their own).

    Having said that I haven’t actually played HOI3 so his specific criticisms of the ingame representation of that research I cannot comment on.

  • Alan Au

    The populist spin on city-builders reminds me of an old conversation about how games inevitably end up reflecting the values of the people who make them.

  • Quinten

    I think Sim City is a very conservative game, reflective of the pull and tug between government and business. They aren’t uber left because all the mayor (that’s you) is doing is zoning, and building government buildings. The whole point is to make money, which requires private business. Tom probably doesn’t like it that the people don’t rise up and nationalize the industries. I am bothered that there isn’t a Dagny Taggart mod that let’s train companies build their own track and routes.

  • Thomas Kiley

    I was surprised that Democracy didn’t come up, it being THE government game. I only played the demo, but the problem I found was it was sufficiently realistic that you never felt like you had won, just made a compromise. Which is fine except the game was too discrete, despite its best attempts, there was a limited number of set options. This meant that your compromise rarely felt like you were appeasing differing views but rather compromising with the system.

    Also, without the out of government context, the decisions felt meaningless – something which a people focus may bring.

    I would like to see a social-government game – ideally with a human game manager so that you could be more creative with your laws rather than just choosing between two options.

  • Ebyan Alvarez-Buylla

    @Thomas Kiley – The overarching sentiment seems to be exactly your qualms with Democracy– that sliders and dialog boxes, outside of a larger context of a more fleshed out game, leave something to be desired.

    I would actually add to this statement and echo Bruce’s feelings on Hearts of Iron III: tweaking sliders to enact trivial, minimal results is simply not rewarding enough to keep me caring about a game.

  • Ginger Yellow

    “Tropico is an excellent example of this. The capitalist faction will complain if you don’t have any factories, but they don’t seem to mind that those factories are state owned and controlled, along with every other building in the country, and that every single person on the island works for the government.”

    In the new game, you can turn your hotels over to the private sector – you have no control over them but still collect taxes. It’s not much, admittedly.

    “What I want to see is a game where the government is the AI and you control private industry. SimChamberofCommerce. Like a city builder, it would require that you are essentially the God of enterprise but the adversary in this case is Government.”

    There are games that sort of do this: the Capitalism and Industry Giant series. Admittedly, the government isn’t really the enemy, but you control an enterprise rather than having a planned economy.

  • Michael A.

    The Government is the enemy? I thought Big Business is the Government. ;-)

  • Quinten

    I asked miss Rand, and she told me that Government is the enemy. That’s why I think there should be an action adventure game where you play a CEO and the final boss is Obama in a a Bolshevik mech. The games name is Red Alert 4: Capitalist meltdown.