Monday, February 15, 2016

How to Playtest Your Game

The game has finally reached a point where we're ready to show it to the world! Well not yet exactly, but we did show it to a few friends. As any self respecting game designer would know, play-testing a game is one of the more important parts of the game design process. In fact, if there are any doubts about a game mechanic, play-testing it is the way to go. In this article, I talk about how we conducted preliminary play tests for the game, and some of the interesting things we learned during the play-tests.

The Play-testers

First let me talk about the play-testers. Our very first play-testers are a few friends from the game industry who we lured with our charms, err, the promise of free food, and those unlucky enough to sit by our table during the recent Manila Game Jam held at the Ateneo De Manila University(ADMU). Seriously guys we really appreciate you taking the time to sit through the game and answer our questions. Speaking of questions, what play-test would be complete without a play-test questionnaire?

The Play-test Questionnaire

For our first play tests we decided to go for a more general questionnaire, since our primary goal in doing these play-tests is to gauge where the game is in terms of fun, and to see if any problems will arise. As we iterate on the game based on preliminary feedback,  we'll also iterate on the questions, refining them until we're ready to test the game with more people.
Our questionnaire consists of two parts: Pre-game, and Post-game:

Pre Game Questions
The first part of the questionnaire deals mainly with knowing who the play tester is. This is important because answers to the questions will mostly be opinions of the player towards the game. Knowing the play tester will help us later on when deciding how much weight to put on his suggestions/feedback later on. Here are some of our Pre-game questions:

1) Do you consider yourself as a strategy gamer?
2) Please list down at least three strategy games that you have played.
3) Rate your skill as a strategy gamer.(1 lowest,5 highest)
4) Rate your interest in a game about politics. (1 lowest, 5 highest)
5) Rate how clean a campaign you will run.(1 dirty, 5 clean)

Questions 1,2, and 3 allows us to know what the play testers game preferences are which may shed some light on some of his/her Post Game answers later on.  Question 5 is of interest because it tells us how the player plans to play the game ( good or evil) at the start, and later on we compare it to his actual play style.

Tester Plays the Game

After answering the Pre Game questions, the play tester is given a short introduction to the game, the goals of the player, and basic mechanics by yours truly. Afterwards, the player is let loose in the districts of Summer Island to test his political mettle against the opposing candidate. During the course of the game, the play-tester is allowed to comment and ask questions about the game, while we take notes.

Post Game Questions

When winner of the Summer Island elections have been revealed, it's now time for the play-tester to answer the Post Game questions. The Post Game questions deal mainly about the play-testers feelings towards the game. Some of the questions:

1)  How fun was the game? (1 lowest, 5 highest)
2) Which part of the game did you enjoy the most?
3) Which part of the game did you find the most difficult?
4) How difficult is the game? ( 1 lowest, 5 highest)
5) How corrupt were you in the game? ( 1 lowest, 5 highest)

Remember during the Pre Game questions we asked how clean a campaign the player could run? In the Post game questions we ask how corrupt the player's candidate was during the campaign. It was quite surprising and fun( insert evil laugh here) to see that most players ended up being more corrupt than they thought they would be.  But the best feedback was one tester that insisted they would be super corrupt but ended up only being moderately corrupt (wouldn't it be wonderful if more of ouir politicians were like that?)

Play-test Results

First a disclaimer before we present our results. Since we just play-tested with a very small pool of players, results from the play-test are not accurate at all, and should be used merely to present a different perspective on the game. Also, a majority of the play-testers are game industry professionals who have insight into the game development process which may or may not have coloured their reaction towards the game.

The play-testers had an average of 2.78 (skill as a strategy gamer), 3.33 (interest in politics), 2.89 (running a clean campaign), 3.22( corruption), 3.5( had fun), 3.44( game difficulty), 4.17( accurate to political theme).

Aside from the values above, we also received qualitative feedback from the play tests.

Things Players Did Not Enjoy

Too Many Stats to Track 

These were game feedback which had keywords like info, and stats  attached to words like Too much or Too many. These feedback seems to deal with the playing having a hard time processing game information hindering them from making decisions during the game.

AI Turn is too Fast

These were game feedback which mentioned keywords like AI, Fast and Quick. These feedback seems to deal with the player having a hard time knowing what the opponent is doing.

Things the Player Enjoyed

Being Corrupt

These were game feedback which mentioned the keywords dirty, bribery, and scandals. The feedback seems to show that the player enjoyed doing bad things in the game.

Dominating Districts

These were game feedback which mentioned the keywords domination, and winning.  These feedback seems to show that the player enjoyed seeing his territory expand visually in the game through the borders of districts he has captured.

Looking Forward To More Play-tests

If you're looking to do a similar process during your own play-tests here's a few things to keep in mind:

  • Quantitative data is not useful with a very small pool of play-testers because results won't be reliable. Try using open ended questions in your questionnaire.
  • Ask follow up questions. The play-tester rated fun as 4.5? Ask him what kept him from giving the game the full 5 points.
  • Always clarify if the play-tester's answer is vague. The play-tester might not mean what you think he means. (at the same team be careful not lead the tester to conclusions)
  • Observe which questions the player isn't asking. If there's a mechanic important enough to the game and the player is not asking questions about it, don't assume that the mechanic is clear to the player.

So there's our play-test experience. We're showing the game this coming February 20 at the IGDA  Manila Feedback February event. Please get a ticket from the Eventbrite page if you'd like to test the game!

Thanks for reading.  Here's a copy of our playtest feedback questions for your reference.  If you'd like to be updated on the latest Party Animals, please sign up for our mailing list!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Customizing Candidates in Party Animals

I'm a little sad that we broke our streak of consecutive monthly devblog updates last month, but it was quite the hectic month for us as we tried to get work done in between dodging family gatherings for Christmas (A perennial nightmare for Filipino introverts).  We did get quite a bit of work done though, which I'm excited to share with you all today.

Procedural Party Animals

In the process of making Party Animals it was always in the back of our heads to make some aspects of the game procedural in order to increase the replay value of the game.  The way the game is made makes full procedural impossible in the same way a roguelike might be, but there are definitely a few aspects that when randomized will change the way the game plays for you.

First off is the candidates.  We guessed that being able to select your choice of animal candidate would be one of the things that players will like about the game, so we're hoping to making quite a few custom candidates to accommodate everyone's favorite animals (I've had at least one request for a giraffe, which should be interesting).  The candidate's name is also customizable, as well as their traits.  We haven't filled in the candidate's histories yet, but each trait will have an accompanying description alongside it.  Previously our candidates had pretty set histories and traits, but we figured there was more to gain by allowing players to customize their own candidate.

Aside from choosing a candidate's history, you can also rename them, choose their home district and platform as well as selecting the staff you want to hire for your campaign.  We currently only have three staff types right now but that should increase to at at least six by the time we're done.

New Maps

Some of you might have noticed that we also have a selection where you can choose the map you want to play in. New maps can definitely change the way the game is played and at the same time add some visual variety to the game.  The maps will take much more effort than the candidates so we're rolling them out little by little and not announcing anything yet until we've finalized them.  Previously we discussed that the Summer Island map is based on Samar Island in the Philippines.  With the new maps we're hoping to interest players from around the world so they will be very loosely based on countries or continents from around the globe. That said, I'd like to introduce you to Autumn Island!  It's still very rough and has none of the new buildings, but it should be fairly obvious where we're drawing inspiration from.

Thanks for reading.  If you'd like to be updated on the latest Party Animals news including our closed Alpha, please sign up for our mailing list!

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Machinations of Politics Part 2

In my last blog post I mentioned that we will be using Machinations in designing the game mechanics for Party Animals. Just to summarize, everything in the game, from the districts, staffs,  and events can be considered as a resource, and that the game facilitates the interaction of these resources with each other. I also described a basic node: Resource Pools, and two different types of connections: Resource connections and State connections. If you would like to learn this in detail check out the book Mechanics: Advanced Game Design by Ernest W. Adams  and Joris Dormans

In this post I will be going over the core game-play of Party Animals using Machinations while introducing new nodes: converters and end conditions. Also, this is not a step by step tutorial on how to use Machinations, because the authors already did an excellent job right here. What this post hopes to achieve is to show you how to think about game design using Machinations by using Party Animals as an example. 

   One thing important to know,  Machinations is not only a tool for modelling game mechanics, but also a framework for describing  game design on different levels( high to low level). I'll start by showing the game from a high level point of view, then  describe mechanics in detail in succeeding blog posts. 

The Whole is the Sum of its Parts

Party Animals is a 'territory acquisition' game at its core. The main objective of the player in the game is to get more reputation than his opponent before the election, and he does this through various means like campaigning, bribing, and participating in game events.  Look at the diagram below:


More often than not, actions that give the player reputation also require that the player spend campaign resources. There are two important campaign resources in the game: gold and command points. I will not explain the specifics here but for the purpose of showing mechanics I reduced both resources into the resource Funds(see B in the diagram).  

Another thing of note is that the player can also spend funds on various actions like rallying(raise voter concern on district issues), and gifting patrons(improve patron relationship) which improves the efficiency of his campaign.  By efficiency I mean getting more reputation for the same(or less) amount of funds. 

Now let's take a look at the different elements shown in the diagram:

A.  Fund Production - The triangle with an asterisk(A) is a source node. The source node produces funds and the resource connection(arrow connecting  node A to node B) stores the funds into the players Fund pool(node B). 

B. Fund Pool - The circles in the diagram are called pools and they store resources, in this case funds.

C. 'Get Reputation' Converter - The sideways triangle is called a converter.  Converters take in resources as input and transform them into other resources. If you take a look at the diagram you can see that there are two resource connections leading to C , 1) [B to  C] , and 2) [D to C] . What this means is that in order to get Candidate Reputation(node E), the player needs to convert funds and District Reputation(node D). Without funds or available District Reputation then the player can't 'mine' reputation.

The converter converts District Reputation and Funds into Candidate Reputation

E. Candidate Reputation - Also a pool node, getting as much candidate reputation by converting district reputation and funds is the goal of the player in the game.

F,G. Campaign Investments - As stated above, the player can spend funds to improve the efficiency of his campaign so that he gets more reputation by expending less resources. Node F is a converter node which represents all actions in the game which can help the player gain reputation. 

As an example, a candidate can give gifts(spend gold) to a patron to get bonus reputation when campaigning in the patron's district.  

Nodes F and G represent actions in the game which improve the efficiency of the candidate's campaign

When the candidate 'invests in his campaign' by spending  funds, an investment resource is produced from node F and stored in node G. As shown in the diagram, node G is connected to resource connections [C to E] and [D to C] by state connections( dashes). This means that whenever an 'investment resource' is stored in node G, [C to E] and [D to C ]increases by 1 which in turn means that the player can mine an additional reputation resource.

H. End Game Condition - This node determines how the game ends. The state connection [D to H] shows that the game will end when District Concern( node D) is depleted (less than or equal to 0).  Note that this end condition is used only for the purpose of this article.

As stated at the beginning of the post, the diagram shows the game-play from a high level point of view, thus a lot of the game mechanics which will make the game more interesting are missing. But it does show the following:

1) The player has funds to spend.

2) The player spends funds to acquire reputation.

3) The player can invest in his campaign in order to maximize the use of his funds.
which is what the player will be doing throughout most of the game. Now it's only a matter of breaking  these three down or elaborating  on them to make the game more interesting.

Key Concepts to Understand

Some of the skills I think is important when designing games using Machinations are:

1) Abstraction

In the diagram, I've grouped together several game mechanics and reduced them to a single node. For example, the Campaign Investment node groups together mechanics in the game which the player can spend funds on to improve the amount of reputation he can 'mine'.  Learning how to 'see' similarities in mechanics and how they can be grouped will be useful when trying to model game mechanics in machinations.

2) Learn to think in terms of relationships

Game mechanics in machinations are represented by nodes,  resource and state connections. It's important to understand how mechanics in your games are related to each other. When designing games using machinations think about how the different mechanics in your game work together.

3) Learn to see and use abstract resources

In Mechanics: Advanced Game Design, the authors distinguished between concrete and abstract resources. Basically concrete resources are the ones you normally see in the game, and abstract resources are the ones that you don't but are there. Some example of abstract resources that I regularly use are strategic advantage and player skill. An example of advantage as a resource is information in a game with hidden information as a mechanic.  Certainly getting information that your opponents do not have increases your likelihood of winning the game.

In this article I've shown you how we use the machinations tool in modelling our game mechanics, as well as given a few tips which will help you learn the machinations tool. In the next blog post I'll be talking about abstracting and elaborating mechanics as well as show some of the Party Animals game mechanics I mentioned earlier.

Thanks for reading.  If you'd like to tell us about political candidates from your side of the word, you can email us at heypartyanimals@gmail.comTo be one of the first people to try our closed alpha, please sign up for our mailing list!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Meet the Candidates of Party Animals

Election fever is starting to hit our home country of the Philippines, so I thought the time was ripe for a quick devblog about the candidates of Party Animals.  Each candidate has a specific set of bonuses that will nudge players towards a specific play style and ties in to their personal history.  We only have three candidates for now, although we have more candidates down the line, and ideally we'll be able to let players customize the candidate of their choice.  With that said, let's meet the candidates!

Mousilita Ereñeta

Mousey is representative of everyone who is frustrated with the inefficiencies and bureaucracy.  She got a taste of this firsthand as a low level government bureaucrat who eventually got fed up with how the system works.  She believes in democratic system so she's decided that the best way to change things is to run for election!  Inspired by her grandfather that walked barepawed to public school and eventually served in government, Mousey's platform is based on Education and Healthcare for all.

For a very long time we pondered how to make Mousey, who is ostensibly the good or "clean" character, a viable candidate since the game was skewed towards players who engaged in "scandalous behaviour.  It was only later on when our game designer Tristan decided to add a Command Points system that we had a eureka moment.  Mousey's only possible advantage over her more well known and moneyed opponents would be to work harder and more efficiently than either of them.  Giving Mousey more Command Points would allow her to move staff farther away from her and allow her campaign team to have a wider impact than the other candidates, who would be forced to keep their  staff close by.  

Crocopio Imperial

Crocopio is the stand-in for the moneyed elite that populate local government.  As the son of elected officials, Croccy alsp stands for the political dynasties that are so prevalent in immature democracies. Filipinos may get a kick out of the fact that he's a crocodile, given that "Buwaya" (Filipino for crocodile) is a term commonly used to describe corrupt public officials.

Given his position of privilege, Croccy has access to vast sums of wealth and uses that liberally during the campaign.  He will get a bonus to funds that he can use to boost the effectivity of his rallies, bribes, and all sorts of other things.  Croccy's campaigns based on Law and Order because he's a huge fan of the TV show but also because he knows having the law on his side can only be a good thing.  He also supports Public Works because he likes to spend on lavish infrastructure projects that he truly believes will help the animals of Summer Island, and it doesn't hurt that he can put his name on them too!

Rooisito Espilorde

Young democracies are prone to popularity politics, and Ruey is representative of that.  Be they celebrities or sports animals, many animals have taken to politics in the twilight of their career to put their lifetime investment in the limelight to good use.  The well-meaning Luey promises to knock out crime and corruption in politics just as he did in the cockfighting arena, but there's very little substance to his campaign. 

Ruey is the last of the candidates that we've thought of (If I'm being honest, we only had the idea to make him a candidate last week) so his design is the weakest at this point.  His bonus will definitely have something to do with his popularity though, so either he gets a bonus when dealing with patrons, or maybe he starts off with some reputation throughout Summer Island.

Stereotypes, not Specifics

Party Animals, while loosely based on Philippine Politics, was always meant for an international audience, and so we're careful to make sure that these characters are stereotypes and not modeled after specific people.  While an international audience generally knows enough about US politics to want to play a game about it, the same does not hold true for the Philippines.  Stereotypes make it easier for anyone around the world and say "Oh hey, that's like (this person) from (my country)!" and we (desperately) hope that will make it attractive to game players around the world.  Lastly, while as individuals we will have to decide who we're voting for in the elections, we want to make the game about the experience of  a candidate on campaign and not about supporting any specific candidate.

Thanks for reading.  If you'd like to tell us about political candidates from your side of the word, you can email us at heypartyanimals@gmail.comTo be one of the first people to try our closed alpha, please sign up for our mailing list!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Stories and Tradeoffs in Political Party Animals

This is Ka Eldereta.  He is a tribal chieftain that represents the interests of the indigenous people of Summer Island.  His name is a play on words, as “Kalderetang Kambing” is a traditional Filipino stew made with tomatoes, liver paste, carrots, potatoes, and most importantly, goat’s meat.  Filipinos have an almost embarrassing affinity for wordplay and puns, and it’s something that we wholeheartedly embrace.  For example, we have an excel spreadsheet of animal names for Owls that includes “Owlfredo” and “Owlberto”.  If that made you chuckle, then you’re probably going to like our game.

I was reminded of Ka Eldereta a few days ago because of recent news in the Philippines having to do with indigenous peoples.  I debated for a long time whether or not to write this blog because it felt a little gross to be linking the game to a tragedy, as if we were trying to market the game based on the sufferings of indigenous people.  My internal compromise was that I would not mention the specific incident in this blogpost.  A google search on indigenous people in the Philippines should already give you a wealth of information on the indignities they’ve had to endure under majority rule.

Still, I felt it was it was very timely to talk about it because it reminded me of one of the reasons we wanted to make this game in the first place.  We wanted to tell stories.  Political Party Animals is primarily the story of the player as politician, and the compromises they are forced to make on the campaign trail.  But it’s also the story of citizens engaging with the politician to further their own interests.

Stories from the Campaign Trail

Some of those stories are hilariously mundane.  For example, the aforementioned Owlberto has as idiot of a son named Owlfredo, who needs an internship with a political campaign.  If you take him on you will have one of your staff replaced with notoriously inept Owlfredo, who will bungle up your campaign (in-game translation, -50% to the result of every action he takes).  But the tradeoff is that Owlberto will be your BFF, and as a patron he’ll give you a substantial bonus to your campaigns in his district.

But other stories will highlight the classic struggle between a weak minority and powerful business interests (or when seen from the other side, a respectable business dealing with radical activists).  For example, we see here Ka Eldereta and other activists protesting against mining activities.  If you champion their cause you will gain their trust (and more importantly, their votes!) but you will displease one of the Patrons in the Mining district, who will now make it very hard for you to campaign in the district.  How will you proceed?

Tell us your stories

These are the stories and tradeoffs that make politics an interesting and often infuriating business.  Despite what people might think there often isn’t one right or wrong way to go about things, just a series of tradeoffs that must be weighed against each other.  For now, the events in Party Animals will be based around political stories in the Philippines, but as we move forward in the game we’ll be soliciting stories from people around the world and finding a way to integrate them in the game so we can hopefully tell stories from around the world.

Thanks for reading.  If you'd like to tell us a political campaign story from your side of the word, you can email us at heypartyanimals@gmail.comTo be one of the first people to try our closed alpha, please sign up for our mailing list!

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Animation Pipeline for Political Party Animals

As we inch ever slowly to a closed Alpha, we’re slowly building up our social media presence.  If you haven’t already, please do follow us and spread the word on Twitter and Tumblr.  We’ve had a pretty good run of bi-weekly testing and for the first time last week the latest version of the game was played by people from outside the team.  The results were encouraging, since both our friends Kyle and Gwen had fun playing (see Gwen's victorious pose), but there were definitely numerous things that we still have to work on.

In the meantime, let me show you my process for the creation and animation of our characters. Previously, I wrote about my decision to stick to frame by frame animation, mostly because it’s what I know best.  Now I’ll go into a little bit more detail in the hopes that you guys might pick up a thing or two from it, or tell me why what I’m doing is terribly wrong.  Let’s get started!

Part 1 : Concept Sketches

With each concept sketch I take an animal, assign its occupation, then make some sketches based on those two factors.  So for example the Crow is meant to be an investigator or reporter that digs up or fabricates dirt on other candidates. I'll usually spend around 10 hours or so first looking at reference material then sketching out concepts  and then coloring them in. If I had the time I would love to spend more time really doing a lot of concepts of each character but as it is I'm squeezing these in after work, which means an hour or two whenever I can find the time.

Part 2: Vectorizing

After the conceptualization is done I pick out my favorite concept animal (this is harder than it looks, and sometimes I have to ask my wife to help me choose) and render it in vector.  This is important in terms of efficiency because once the animal is in rendered this way it becomes much easier to resize it and use it for multiple purposes. It's also important for me to organize it properly in different layer folders.

So let's say for example that I wanted to make a character portrait for the Investigator.  I could just take the body and head part, resize it, and voila! A portrait for the Crow Investigator! It's important for small teams to always keep in mind different ways that they can make work more efficient, which is something I learned having usually worked as the sole artist for many games!

Part 3: Animate!

Now this is the meaty part, the animation!  We have a list of animations that each character has, for example we need animations for move, bribe, etc.  for this one I will show you the move animation for the Invesigator.  The first step is for me to sketch out a very small animation.  I sketch it small so that I don't overthink the details and just try to get a good sense of movement going.  I wanted him to be all sneaky like to fit his ability to fabricate scandals.

Once that's done I take the original vectorized image and then start making frames based on the smaller animation.  If I have time I will go ahead and sketch out larger frame by frame animations as well, but I usually make do with using the small animation as a reference.  This is where having separated the different body parts before is really key, as I can I much more easily pick out the body parts I want to animate and move them around rather than having to look through a whole mess of vector layers.

In about 2-4 hours I will have something like this!  I actually had quite a bit of trouble with this and had to refine the previous quick animation some more before I had an animation I was happy with.

This is an image showing the frame by frame animation within photoshop, so you have a better idea of how many frames I use.

Part 4 : Shrinkage

Once again this is where doing everything in vector pays off, as I can easily shrink the different frames of animations, flatten them, give them an outline an then save them one by one as pngs for use in the game.  We use 2dtoolkit for our animations, which I'm starting to realize may not be the best for a game with multiple animations.  The file organization for 2dtoolkit seems pretty primitive, and you can easily be overwhelmed with the sheer amount of individual images.  Right now we aleady use 213 sprites, and we're probably at 1/10 of the amount of animations we're planning to do.

And finally here is the Investigator in action in the game!  His special ability is to fabricate a scandal, which if it's revealed in the district will do massive damage to your opponents reputation.

Thanks for reading.  If you have any suggestions about how I can streamline my process without overhauling it entirely I would definitely love to hear from you!  To be one of the first people to try our closed alpha, please sign up for our mailing list!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Patronage Politics and New Mechanics in Political Party Animals

Ryan's note: Hi all, I asked Marnielle to write this month's devlog, and he talks about the mechanics that we're slowly adding to the game.

The development of Party Animals has been hanging around for over a year already (or years) but the truth is that the game’s mechanics are not yet zoned in. We’re still looking for the fun part. We’re at the stage when we are adding new mechanics and testing them out as soon as we can then decide whether to keep them, change, or discard. If we’re not having fun with it, our target players most probably won’t. While we unanimously agree that what we have is fun enough, something is still missing. This post will be enumerating what we’ve done so far. As a bonus, if you stay a while, you’ll get a tip on how I start my coding momentum.

Command Points

Pay CP first before you can use your Staff

As context, Party Animals is a game about winning an election. The main mechanic unit of the game are the Staff which the player can move around in different districts and make them execute actions. The game is basically an attrition with an opponent through Staff actions.

We introduced the concept of Command Points (CP) to control the movement of Staff such that players are forced to strategize on which district to move next as usage of such units now have cost. CP cost is simply defined as the shortest district distance of a Staff from its Candidate (a Candidate is just another Staff with special abilities). If a Staff is in the same district as its Candidate, then CP cost for the Staff is zero. CP resource is assigned to each candidate at the start of the turn. It is increased when certain campaigning days are reached. In real life, we’d like to think of this as the cost of planning with your Staff that is in another city or province.

During playtesting, Command Points had a direct effect on Staff movement. During early game, players only move their Staff along one adjacent district distance from their Candidate.

Tristan's note: The implementation of command points is inspired by war games, one of which is Onslaught : D-Day to the Rhine by SPI.

New Meaning of Reputation

Reputation is one of the most important metric in our game. It directly tells whether or not people will vote for a candidate in a certain district. It used to be a percentage of the population in the district that is willing to vote for you. It’s a value between 0 – 100. Not anymore. It’s now the actual count of people that will vote for a candidate. This implies that districts with more population is now harder to own (get at least 50% of voters).

Due to this change, we introduced the concept of Reputation Decay. A percentage of a candidate’s reputation in a district is deducted if the Candidate has no Staff stationed in that district. The message is that voters are fickle. They won’t vote for someone unless they constantly stick around, or the candidates give them money. :)

Ryan's note:  The inspiration for reputation decay came from a book called Accidental Guerrilla, in which author David Kilcullen proposes that the best way to weaken extremism is to provide a strong alternative to it.  Civilians in conflict areas inherently always fear for their safety, and gravitate towards the group that will offer them security and consistency, whether they be extremists or government.  It dawned on me that voters in countries where there is a weak government act in the same way.  Since their lives (or livelihood) don't feel secure, they will gravitate towards the candidate who feels strongest, or who sticks around longest and makes them feel that he or she has their best interests at heart.

Raise Funds

Now players can use the people they've convinced to give them money

We finally implemented this Staff action. It’s been in the game design papers ever since the beginning. We designed it such that the more Reputation a candidate has in a district, the more money it can raise. That’s how it is in real life. People are willing to give you money if they like you.


Patronage politics at its best!

I had a direct hand in introducing this mechanic and I’m happy with it. Before this change, each district has a Kapitan which Candidates can have a relationship with (in a friendly way). The only effect it had was during elections. If you’re closer to the Kapitan, then people will vote for you in that district.

As a strategy gamer, I feel that the game doesn’t have much avenue in acquiring ‘things’ that generates resources, which I really like in such games. Mechanics like building an expansion in Starcraft to exploit new resources, building that Bank to generate gold in Civilization, etc. I suggested what if there are patrons or sponsors that players can court. They could be an influential family in the district, a business man, celebrity, or another politician. You gain some effects if you can get them to support you like giving you funds per turn, or slowing Reputation Decay.

Our game designer, Tristan, came up with Patrons. Kapitans were discarded. There are now 3 Patrons in each district. Each Patron has a distinct effect depending on a player’s relationship with such. One Patron had an effect when Raising Funds, another one for CP cost (reduced or increased), and last one had an effect when doing Sortie (increases or decreases the amount of reputation gained). A player can decide to make a good relationship with one or more of these Patrons using the Gift action.


Red means “scandalous”

Everybody loves scandals… as long as you’re not implicated. Our political climate is rife with it, even during elections. I’ve heard in an interview with a local election campaign consultant that there’s this one politician who didn’t win but spent so much. He was running for Senator. When he was asked to compute his expenses divided by the votes he got, he spent around Php5000 per voter. The election campaign consultant then said “Imagine if he bought votes instead. That’s only Php500 per voter. He would have gotten ten times more votes.” Vote buying is a big scandal, but if you’re the one running the election, it could be very tempting.

Given such fact, the concept of Scandals is a vital mechanic in Party Animals. Of course the representation is rather simplified. Scandals in our game is just a number of scandalous acts that a candidate has done in a district. Actions like Bribe and Smear Campaign increases the Scandal Count. Other neutral actions like Campaign, Sortie, Gift can become scandalous (increases the Scandal Count) if a bigger amount of money was used to carry out such actions. If you didn’t know, COMELEC has a prescribed amount of election money to be spent. It differs per location and position. You can get sued if you’re found spending more.

At the start of the next turn, each “unchecked” Scandal are then “checked” if it is revealed or not. We are running a formula to this. If it gets revealed, the game imposes harsh penalties for the candidate on that district. The penalties are in the form of reduction of Patron relationship, Reputation and increased CP cost on the district. The higher the Scandal Count, the higher the probability of it getting revealed.

As simple as it looks, implementing Scandals gave us a lot of headache. There were a lot of design issues that we’ve encountered; there were some cases that we needed to consider. As of writing, I’m still working on the final touches of the mechanic.

The Tip

As promised, the tip I’m sharing is about how do I start my coding momentum. It may not work for everybody but it certainly worked for me. Programmers are peculiar creatures. They need to be in a certain state so that they can work productively. But reaching that state is hard because programmers must be working to reach it. It’s kind of like an “almost” chicken-egg problem. Reach that state to get work done but work to reach that state.

As I ponder upon this, I thought about working out. People hate it. It’s tiring. The time used for it could have been used for something else. To make things worse, the main benefit of working out is kind of an abstract bullshit: health. Then I thought of myself. I go to a martial arts gym but how could I do it? I know I need to do it but what really gets me to go there and tire myself? The answer is really quite simple. “I packed up my gym stuff.” Packing up gym stuff is easy. It doesn’t take a lot of will. But it starts there. Next, I go out and commute to the gym. While I’m at a bus, it’s already hard for me turn back and change my mind.

Back to programming work, I can ask the same analogous question, “What’s the least and simplest thing that I can do to start coding?” My answer is “write one line of code”. It works for me like sorcery. It might be different for you, so go find yours.

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