Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Making Metaphors : Using the Itinerary as a Metaphor for Party Animals

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.

The Moment

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.


There are two types of activities : regular and geographical.  Regular activities can be done anytime whilst Geographic activities can only take place based on your location.  For example in this screen you can see that the player is allowed to do the gamble activity, which lets the player spend campaign funds in an attempt to earn more via a slot machine (An obvious test of player morality).  Having geographical activities also makes it more interesting for the player to move around the map.

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.

Party Animals

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!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How to Win An Election: Geography

This is part of a series of posts on local elections. (see Part 1)

Not all districts are created equal. Before the official campaign starts, your team should have already charted the "lay of the land" through an initial survey. This includes basic information like voting population and its demographics and candidate specific details like voter awareness and trust.


The initial survey should reveal 3 types of territories: bailiwick, neutral, and hostile.

Bailiwick - if election day is tomorrow you will win this district by a landslide. Half the voters here share your last name, you own a factory that employs half the voters, you saved this district from a tsunami, etc.

Neutral - this district is a potential battleground. Specially if it has a high voting population. Neutralness could often be due to apathy, so voter education is also a must in this district.

Hostile - this is the enemy's bailiwick. Expect to be heckled if you conduct a sortie here. Your campaign posters are likely to be torn the next day. The most effective solution against a hostile territory is voter apathy: "if I can't have your vote then no one else should".

Historical data can also prove useful in predicting voting patterns. A district might have a high voting population but history might indicate that only a handful show up on election day. Such apathetic districts could be someone else's trump card if they manage to dispel voter apathy. Obama's election success has been attributed to the typically indifferent youth vote.

The geographical data should dictate your campaign strategy. Which districts to focus on or neglect, which places need voter education, which to discourage voter turnout etc.


The resulting landscape would resemble a theatre of war. Thus the game won't be unlike your typical war game of capturing and defending territories.

Personally this is what makes politics exciting, it's warfare minus the crudeness of death and killing. Well, most of the time anyway.

This is also one of the big challenges of making a game about political campaigns, how do you make a war game fun without guns and killing ?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Why I chose Hand Drawn Animations over Puppet Animations for Party Animals

Spriter vs Photoshop

I said I would experiment with the animation tool Spriter in a previous post to see if it would be a good fit for our game.  I did, and I decided that as great as Spriter is, it just doesn't make sense for us to use it in our game.  In my first few hours with Spriter it became clear to me that to create good animations with it would require a lot of skill and time.  Otherwise they'd look exactly like their namesakes : puppets.  Given the fact that I only really have a few animations I need to create for the game the efficiency gained from doing puppet animations vastly decreases.

The way that 2D toolkit creates animations in Unity also helped to make my decision.  2Dtoolkit takes complete frames of animation then creates a texture atlas out of them that you can draw from when creating specific animations.  This means that I wouldn't be able to manipulate the animations directly in Unity.  Given that the required output for me was going to be the same anyway (ie full frames of animation), it just made more sense to stick with a software and process that I knew instead of taking the time to learn a new one.  I would also have to use less software to get to the final product.  If I were to use Spriter I'd first have to create the assets in PS, arrange and animate them in Spriter, and finally export them to Unity.  Whereas now I'd do the first to steps in PS and export to Unity immediately after, bypassing Spriter entirely.

I also experimented a little bit with Photoshop's timeline animation courtesy of this video by Alex Grigg.  While I learned a lot and am amazed at what you can do with PS in terms of animation, I once again came to the conclusion that trying to do it that way was just using a far too complicated too for a simple task.  And so ironically after trying out all these different ways to animate our characters, I ended up going back to animating the only way I know how, which is frame by frame.

Here is the walk animation of our main character Mousey (yes, we still haven't given her a real name).  This was relatively easy to do since I used a walk cycle guide.  In the next few images I'll take you through the steps of how I made a hand drawn victory animation without a guide.


Step 1 is to rough out the basic animation.  I do this very small, since it's easier to capture  the essence of the movement with smaller strokes.  I've laid out the frames horizontally to show you how they look but typically I would draw each frame one on top of the other.

Step 2 is to enlarge the original rough animation then trace over it so that I have a larger version that I can use as a guide for the final animation.  Drawing bigger will reveal flaws that were masked by the initial smaller animation, which I can fix here.  As with concept art, the general rule is to try to fix things while they're being sketched instead of closer to the final product.  You save yourself a lot of heartache that way.

Step 3 is to take a pre made mouse model and arrange it according to the rough animation.  I've separated each body part into layers so they're easier to work with, and I've drawn them in vector to make it more efficient to move around and reposition without any artifacting.  I'm showing you my layers here as a guide.

Step 4 is to animate! Here's my animation timeline.  As you can see it's relatively simple, just 5 frames.  I hold frame 2 for just a fraction longer than the rest of the frames (except frame 1, which is the at rest frame) to show that the mouse is gathering her energy to jump.  Frame 4 barely comes into frame and is only really there to smooth out the transition between frames 3 and 5.  Frame 6 is a reused frame 2 as a landing frame.  One of my issues with PS frame by frame animation is that the times you can hold the animations are so specific (0,0.1,0.2,0.5) so there's little leeway with timing the animations.  I think that 2D toolkit gives you better control with that, but I've still to experiment further.

And here is the final animation!

Final Thoughts

I didn't write this post to say that Spriter sucks and that frame by frame animation is better (I was very happy to support them by buying a Pro license, though they have demo that's free of charge).  I'm really not an animation expert, and the truth is that each project requires specific animation tools.  Ultimately if you already know how to do puppet animation then it's definitely much more efficient since no time would have to be taken to learn how to do it properly.  But for me, it's frame by frame for now.  As an aside here is an argument for hand drawn animation and one for puppet/modular animation, in case anyone out there is still debating which method to use.

If anyone out there knows that I'm making a huge mistake here and can point out to me why what I'm doing is wrong, please don't hesitate to comment!  If you think my frame by frame animation sucks and I could makes some changes to make it better I'd love to hear from you too.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Worldbuilding : A Description of Summer Island, its Districts, and Kapitans

The Geography of Summer Island

I wanted to expand on my previous blog post where I showed you guys the current state of Party Animals’ world map.  The map depicts Summer Island, a fictional tropical island nation.  The shape of Summer Island is actually loosely based on Samar Island in the Philippines, which is where Julius is from.  Fittingly, it was Julius’ idea to name it Summer Island.  It’s a play on words because the way Filipinos usually pronounce the word Summer is “Sah-mehr”, very similar to how you would say Samar.

On a side note, I want to mention how interesting it is how much geography matters to people.  The landmass of Summer Island is actually very loosely based on Samar Island.  I did that intentionally as sort of an Easter Egg for Julius, but as soon as he saw it he said “Hey, it’s Samar!” His cousin, a fellow Samarite (Samarian?Samarista?) also saw it right away.  Having lived in Metro Manila for all my time in the Philippines, I find it impossible to see the country as its’ individual parts, but I suppose it matters more when you actually live there.  I wonder how many people in the US have their home state’s geometry burned into their memories?

Summer Island is divided into 11 Districts, (we may call them something else in the future, like provinces or states) each of which has its own personality.  That personality is personified by the district Landmark and Kapitan.  The Kapitan is the leader of the district.  Sometimes they are the locally elected official, but in other cases they are simply the person who has the most influence over the people, making it important to sway them to your side.  I will talk about the Kapitans and how the player deals with them in another post, but I thought I would go over a few of the district Landmarks first, and where I drew inspiration for them.

The Kapitolyo

The Kapitolyo or Capitol, is the center of Political life on the island.  It’s the only occasion in the game where the Landmark represents the district but has no direct correlation to the district’s Kapitan.  You might find it odd that a US style Capitol is the center of power in a tropical island, but in the context of the Philippines it makes perfect sense.

From 1898 to 1946, the Philippines was a colony of the United States of America.  Leaving aside the obvious downsides of colonization, the US imported many ideals from their country to ours, including Basic Education, Basketball, and Neoclassical Architecture.  Daniel Burnham, who had a had a hand in the planning of the cities of Chicago and San Fransisco, also laid out a plan for Manila, the Philippine Capital.  His vision for the Philippine Capital was only partially realized, but it set the template for the provincial Capitols of the Philippines, including the Negros Occidental Capitol, seen above.

The Kapitan of this District is the Qwl, who represents the Intelligentsia of the island.  I’m not entirely sure yet whether the Owl will be a professor or perhaps a lawyer, but he needs to represent the desires of the elite of the island.  The elite are often quite insulated from society and cannot seem to grasp the idea of being poor, but they also have better educations and relatively wider scope of the issues on the island.

Rice Terraces

The Rice Terraces of the Philippines are a National Treasure as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Rice cultivating cultures have existed in the South East Asian region for centuries, and in mountainous regions many of these cultures devised this unique terracing method to plant and harvest rice.  This terracing is not unique to the Philippines however, as rice terraces also exist in China, Vietnam, Bali, and a number of other countries.  In the Philippines, the rice terraces of the Cordilleras are one of the few distinctive pre-colonial structures that remain to this day.

The Kapitan of this District is the Goat, who is a tribal elder that represents the desires of tribal minorities in the modern world.  The Tribal leader is fiercely protective of his culture and increasingly embittered as he sees the younger generation of his tribe migrating to the city center and abandoning the old ways.  While very serious about his duties, he does like smoking tobacco and other... dried leaves in his pipe.

Sabong (Cockfighting) Arena

Okay children, try to contain yourselves.  I didn’t mean THOSE cocks.  Although I’m sure there’s a little of that going on since Sabong or Cockfighting is a male dominated sport.  Cockfights are as old as time, and the first cockfights supposedly occurred 6000 years ago in ancient Persia and India, and continue on to this day in a variety of countries across Asia.  It used to be popular in Europe and even the USA until the practice was legally banned. In the Philippines, one cannot go 10 minutes outside the city limits without seeing the cage of a fighting cock (heck, there are even some in the highway overpass right outside our home).

I had a bit of a moral dilemma about whether or not to include a Sabong Arena, since I personally find the sport distasteful. Also, what sense would it make in an island populated by sentient animals that there would be non-sentient roosters fighting in a bloodsport?  Then I had a flash of inspiration.  The Philippines loves cockfights.  It also loves boxing.  Why not make the cocks boxers?  And so the Rooster Kapitan was born. It’s no secret Filipinos love our sports heroes.  Heck, it’s even rumored that boxer Manny Pacquiao has his eye on the presidency.  So it made total sense to have a prizefighting Rooster Kapitan heading one of the districts.  The Rooster Kapitan feels for the less fortunate, from whose ranks he came.  He dislikes politics, and if he could would reform government so that bills could be passed depending on 12 rounds in the ring.

*For 15 minutes of juvenile snickering, read this article on sabong.


The last Landmark I want to talk about is the Casino.  There actually isn’t a strong history of casinos in the Philippines that I know of, and until recently a government entity held the monopoly on casinos.  So I did some preliminary research on casinos in Cuba and Latin America, trying to see if I could capture the Tropico vibe.  Nothing really appealed to me so I kept digging around for Philippine architecture from the 50s, to see if there were any buildings with a modernist vibe that could stand in for a casino.  What I found was the Jai Alai building.

The Jai Alai building was a beautiful Streamline Moderne structure built in the 40s by architect Welton Becket.  In it, wealthy citizens could bet on the Jai Alai players of their choice while dining in the luxurious Sky Room.  The building somehow survived WWII and was refurbished by the US Army into a Red Cross Service Center.  Eventually it returned to its gambling roots but by the 80s it had fallen into disrepair and was known as gathering place for hoodlums and criminal overlords.  Sadly it was demolished in 2000 despite an outcry from heritage groups in the Philippines.

The seedy underworld reputation of the 80s Jai Alai building fits in perfectly with the Cat Kapitan, who is a thug that rose up from the streets to become a mafia kingpin. Loosely based on notorious local gangster Asiong Salonga, the Cat Kapitan is mostly interested in buying himself some legitimacy, and covering up his criminal roots.

Welp,  that’s about it for now.  I hope I didn’t bore you with all of that information, but hopefully it will intrigue you and make you want to find out more about the world of Party Animals!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

World Map Update

Hi all, just a quickie update here on our world map.  Compared to the previous versions of the map I've added some new landmarks and also experimented a little bit with some animations. That's all for now, more next week!

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