Metaphors are a powerful tool that every piece of software can use to make something that is nebulous immediately understandable. Microsoft has used the desktop metaphor to such great success that the Metro-style sliding UI of Windows 8 is having a difficult time superseding it. Today I’ll talk about a visual metaphor that I hope will make Party Animals just as intuitive : The Itinerary.
We’ve been tweaking the game design for the past few weeks now, something that has been made more difficult because of my knee injury. We still hadn’t comfortably nailed down how to manage the player’s movements and make their choices matter. AP (Action Points) were brought up as the standard way of doing this in strategy games, and while I felt it was a little too videogamey (there are no real world instances where “action points” dictate your movements) I had nothing better to contribute so I agreed.
I’m going to go on a little tangent about how I came to the conclusion that the Itinerary metaphor would be the way we represented choice and movement in the game because I think it’s an important tool that every game developer or creative can find useful in their projects. There’s a noted correlation between letting your mind wander and coming up with great ideas. This passage from James Watt illustrates how letting his mind wander during a long walk led to the inspiration that birthed a vastly improved steam engine:
Watt spent much time and money in making experiments, but nothing he tried succeeded. "Nature has a weak side," he was fond of saying, "if we can only find it out." So he went on day after day, following now this and now that false hope.
"One Sunday afternoon early in 1765," writes Watt, "I had gone to take a walk in the Green of Glasgow. I was thinking upon the engine and about how to save the heat in the cylinder, when the idea came into my mind that steam was an elastic body and would run into a vacuum. If connection was made between the cylinder and a tank from which the air had been pumped, the steam would pass into the empty tank and might there be condensed without cooling the cylinder. I then saw that I must get rid of the condensed steam and of the water used in condensing it. It occurred to me this could be done by using pumps."
That mind-wandering walk along the Green of Glasgow unleashed the power of steam and let loose the industrial revolution. Centuries later it would also birth, for good or ill, the genre called Steampunk. Our ideas will likely never be as influential as Mr. Watts’, but there’s not reason we can’t mind-wander for our own projects.
It’s important to note that you’ll only come to ideas if you are already thinking of and absorbing material about the problem that you’re trying to solve. My own method is to just try to bury myself in stuff related to a topic and hope that something comes to me. In this case since we’re making a game about politics I tried to watch as many shows, play as many games, and read as many books as I can about politics. I naturally find politics interesting so this wasn’t a tall order for me. Shows like The Wire and Parks and Recreation are highly recommended, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time playing Tropico and Democracy 3.
Julius also likes shows about politics, and in one of our meetings he suggested I watch the TV show Veep to get ideas for the game. There was a scene in the second episode where the cast was discussing the schedule for the day because people kept cancelling meetings because they were sick. It’s not a key part of the storyline, and I didn’t think much of it until a couple of days later. I had my wife rewatch the first two episodes so that she could get caught up and we could watch together, and somewhere in between overhearing snippets of dialogue that day and waking up the next day I had my epiphany.
What’s On the Itinerary?
What’s on the itinerary? What’s on the docket? What’s my schedule looking like?
These are questions any high powered executive, lifehacker devotee, or presidential aspirant might ask. Time and money are the most valuable resources in a campaign. Time has to be managed even more carefully than money because while money can always be found (not on
trees, though) wasted time is lost forever. So it makes absolute sense to frame actions in the game around managing that most important of resources.
As I alluded to earlier another advantage of using this metaphor is that it’s immediately understandable. Everyone has had to schedule their day at one point or another. The datebook I pulled off Google images is also a visual metaphor that most people in their 20s and above would recognize. It’s definitely easier to explain to people that they need to “add activities to their itinerary” rather than “each activity costs x AP”. Anything that makes a strategy game easier to understand is a winner in my book.
I rather enjoy making maps, and part of the fun when I travel is poring over maps of an area and imagining what it might be like. I’d like to impart some of the fun of that sense of discovery by adding more structures on the map that we can use to increase the number of activities that the player can engage in. Additional structures that we can add to the map that might have activities would be : Radio station, TV station, Printing Press, Hospital, etc.
As you can see here each activity also take a specific amount of time. The challenge of the game (and any campaign) will be to judge which activities will give you the best value for money/time. In this case a Photo Op would be a pretty standard go to activity in the beginning of the game, since it would provides a small increase in popularity for a small amount of time/money. Meeting the Kapitan is riskier, since the results will depend on your conversation with them. Why does it take so much time? Because in people with power will make you wait as a sign of dominance over you.
The last activity is “Move”. In most games moving from one area to another is almost incidental. there is no cost to travel. In our game we wanted to make sure that movement comes with a price and should be a planned decision. Since it costs so much to move you must ask yourself what the advantages are to moving to another district versus staying in the same one. It’s also a subtle jab at the pitiful infrastructure in the Philippines, where it can literally take half a day to get to a neighbouring city or province.
Originally, we named our game “Party Animals” because it was a play on words. We wanted to make a political game with cute animals that ostensibly belonged to political parties. We introduced the Kapitans as a way of extending that metaphor, but it still felt a little hollow to me. Then over some email exchanges we floated the idea of collecting Animals and adding them to your party. These animals would join you based on metrics like your morality and your connections to Kapitans, and would have an effect on your campaign sorties.
I really liked the idea of collecting “Party Animals” and I realized that there was a terrific way to tie them into the itinerary metaphor. As I mentioned before, there are regular and geographic activities. But now if you recruit a Party Animal to your cause, it unlocks special activities tied to them. For example, an athlete Animal would let you run a sports clinic. An accountant Animal could run the “Audit” activity which would streamline your fundraising and improve funds collection for a few turns. The number of interesting and useful characters we could create is endless. Of course the terrifying thought is that means I would have to design and illustrate each of those characters, not to mention giving them backstories.
It can be very frustrating when parts of a game design don’t gel together properly. In this particular case I think that framing the game with this itinerary metaphor really helped to clarify things in my head and I’m hopeful that this helps shape the game moving forward!