Planetary Governor V0.14 now available!

I’ve done a lot of work on my current game, Planetary Governor. Aside from the full 3D globe, I’ve got things like economy, culture, and pollution being modeled.


Download this PC game from . ZIP file, 3.5 meg.

Thanks for your feedback!……………

Now I know why PC games died!

I’m currently installing Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War 2. I apparently still have several hours to go, and more hoops to jump through.

I bought the game at Target for $40. Brought it home, pulled off the (taped on) outer sleeve, tore the plastic wrap off the DVD case, opened it, and removed the disk, manual, and tech tree poster. The disk went into the drive.

Autorun brought up a dialog, which asked me…if I wanted to install (yes). Then it warned me explicitly that;
1) I’d need to install and join Steam,
2) I’d need to type in a unique code (25 letters and numbers)
3) I’d need to wait for patches,
4) I’d need to sign up with Games For Windows.

I’m on step 3, with 2 hours and 41 minutes left to go. I’m certain that they’ll make good on their threat to make me use Games For Windows, so I go to the microsoft website and find out that
1) I might be able to use my existing XBox Live account, and
2) I’ll still need to install the Games For Windows client.

So I download that and get it started, and a messagebox sez "You need a Hotfix for Windows XP for this. Install now?". I say okay, and apparently an error occurs. I say apparently, ’cause I didn’t see any error dialog. Instead, the Games For Windows client install dialog disappears, and a new tab shows up in my browser. When I examine the page the tab contains, it talks about an installer error, and that (if I were to see such an error) the fix is to manually download and install another installer from the provided link.

So I do, and when the Hotfix for Windows XP installer runs, it sez "back up your system, close all open programs, and prepare to reboot after install." Kinda misses the point of a "Hotfix", right? I cancel it and wait for the updates to finish.

Now that the update’s finally done, I get to play the game. Well, I think. Anyway I press the "Play Now" button on the installer dialog, and the whole dialog disappears.

And nothing happens. For 20 seconds (I counted). Then BOOM, I get to watch the opening cinema. Then it warns me that a Windows Live account would enhance my play experience, but I don’t need it. I whisper, "Good", and click through to start the campaign. At which point the game expressly tells me I MUST log in to Windows Live to continue.

So I do, but I struggle with remembering the exact email and password I used for my XBox account. That finally done, the dialog shows a loading bar for 30 more seconds. NOW, I can start a campaign game. I do so, but I can’t do more than check that the game seems to work. With all this, my free time is up and I have errands to run for the rest of the day. Sure would have been nice to get some actual PLAYING in. Grrr.

I press the "Quit Game" button. As a final insult, the game shows me a pretty full-screen image of spaceships, and locks up for another 20 seconds before giving me back control of my computer. I’m well past angry. I have to laugh, shrug, and finish this blog post.

There are reasons Flash is so popular, despite being a VERY sub-optimal experience. Those reasons are enumerated above. Most of us know now that many things (a confusing dialog, an apparent error, a demand for information, or even a button) are Exit Opportunities. Every barrier you place between the player and the game, no matter how small, is a reason for people to question whether they really want to play your game. Not only are these barriers additive, but each one is devastating to your potential player base.

I often answer questions from students about the state of the industry, and once or twice they ask about this crap. They even talk about 10 year old games that they still play and enjoy because they have the original media. They wonder if games they buy today will be playable 10 years from now, with all the server-centric patch and validation schemes the PC is awash in.

My answer is a defense of the developer, and her attempts to move beyond the dying brick-and-mortar scheme that chokes the life from her, while beginning to embrace 21st century business models like "Less Than Free". Players rarely understand how broken the Developer-Publisher-Retailer model is (and has always been).

I’m a big fan of online download, patch, validation, and community systems in general, and of Steam in particular. I’ve had excellent, easy experiences buying and downloading games from Steam. Steam and systems like it are very much the solution, not the problem.

It’s possible that I could have avoided much of the Exit Opportunities I’ve experienced installing this game, if I bought it straight from Steam. But this is part of my point. The people who buy a game from the rack at Target are exactly the kind of people most ill-equipped to persevere in the face of the storm of Exit Opportunities I just went through. It’s not just kids who face restrictions on what they can install on the family computer. MANY adults who want to play Warhammer would quail at the issues I’m having. Nobody wants to explain how they broke the single family computer everyone must do banking, taxes, and schoolwork on.

And in a certain way, this experience gives me joy. I’m capable of avoiding every problem and Exit Opportunity that Dawn of War 2 couldn’t. I can make and sell my indie games, free of all the market and corporate pressures that pushed Dawn of War 2 into the sorry shape it is.


The nature of my Jedi powers

I’ve been working on this Planetary Governor game for a couple of weeks now, and I think it’s teaching me more about myself.

As you probably know, I’m an expert at slapping together simple games, usually involving little spaceships going Pew! Pew! These games are collections of simple parts, each part is pretty easy to understand, and the relationships between the parts are even more simple. Bullet hurts spaceship. Not hard to understand. The complexity of the game comes from the interactions of lots of these parts over time.

Planetary Governor isn’t the first time I’ve…tried to make something deep and turn-based, but it’s still not something I USUALLY do, so it feels like I’m on shaky ground. And I think I’m starting to understand why.

Anakin could see a short way into the future, using the Force. Similarly, I can see game design a short way in front of my code. I write program code as easily as others write English, so I’ve never been incentivized to write a big design doc before beginning my code. And once I’m writing, testing, and adjusting code, I don’t really need to design far ahead, because my ideas are tested out in my code immediately, so I can cull the bad ideas and keep the good ones.

So in a way, it’s possible my coding ability is a crutch, keeping me from developing the ability to "look deep", like chess players do. I don’t really believe that, though. There’s a difference between being able to accurately imagine how parts work together, and being able to predict whether something is Fun.

I think instead that I’ve gotten really good at predicting the fun of a few screen objects interacting in real time, just through practice. And because I haven’t practiced making complex turn-based games much, I don’t trust my Fun-o-meter when working on those types of project.

That’s why peer feedback is so important to me, and why it drives me crazy when I can’t get as much timely feedback from my friends as I’d like. Having anyone tell you what they like about your game, that’s silver. Having a peer tell you what they like about your game, that’s gold. And having a peer give you feedback on what you’re TRYING to do, that’s platinum. All these readings of another person’s Fun-o-meter help me calibrate my own.

So when I can’t get any useful feedback WHILE I’m building my games, it’s like building a house while mistrusting my tape measure. I can stop building until calibration is achieved (which is painful when my Muse is pushing me to create), or continue building, worrying that foundational mistakes will force me to throw everything out when I eventually DO get calibration.

Sigh. Woe is me. The life of Thom Robertson is sooooo hard. πŸ™‚

Also, I’ve always admired the "Grognard designer", the kind of designer who can keep whole game systems and Combat Results Tables in his or her head. Such a person is Ken Burd, the real genius behind Master of Orion. When I worked with him in ’97-’98, he amazed me with his deep understanding of the complex game systems we were building, and how they were supposed to inter-relate.

Planetary Governor Version 0.13

Planetary Governor Version 0.13 is downloadable at

Version 0.13 isn’t functional as a game; it’s more work on the globe and on moving the teams around the globe. I’m having to really re-think the nature of the region/countries, and of the events/catastophes, because of the topological structure of the globe.

Also, here’s a link to the facebook fanpage I’ve made for Planetary Governor. I’ll post all updates there too.……

Truth in strange places

Bruce Everiss is a game developer and blogger who’s been waging a lonely and high-profile war against the Evony game and its shady roots. Take an afternoon and read all about it at

In the midst of this, I found a fascinating angle in this post:

In Vegas, people who come and…spend huge sums of money gambling are called "Whales", and they are feted with free food and lodging, and sometimes personal concierges! It’s clear that casinos feel it’s good business to identify, track, and reward whales.

From a chinese dev who worked on Evony (according to Bruce’s site), that game had a similar structure. "What amazed me was that most of the income comes from less than 2% and sometimes less than 1% of the players and that they are happy to pay thousands on playing the game. "

"The 98-99% majority of players are just a necessary evil to Evony. There for the high rollers to beat up… Banning a whole pile of them makes no difference to Evony’s income and makes administration a whole lot easier."

Wow. A far cry from the extremely egalitarian model of subscription based services like World of Warcraft. In fact, this is the root of western gamers’ aversion to micro-payments; the idea that the virtual world will split into classes of players (the unwashed masses vs. the moneyed elite).

Every multiplayer game developer knows that there’s truth here. Every live team understands that it’s important to identify which players are assets to the game world, and which are trouble, and to reward and punish accordingly. It’s all part of managing the community. You COULD build a game world and just accept whatever social structure congeals around it, but most dev teams want to have a HEALTHY, HAPPY player community (cause that keeps good people coming back, right?). That means managing your community.

Evony is doing the same thing, only its definition of a "good’ player is entirely about money, which (naturally) makes prospective new players bounce off, but boobie-filled web ads keep players coming in (apparently).

There’s a possibility that this vision of gameplay and community management could become dominant. In 15 years, it could be the case that almost all MMOGs treat the newbie as dross and cannon fodder, and expressly sell virtual social ranking for cold hard cash. But the long tail (I think) insures that everyone will still be able to find a game and community that fits their needs, so I’m not worried that the current western egalitarian model will ever completely die.

Planetary Governor, draft 1

This weekend I’ve been slamming out code for a game idea. Planetary Governor, well, the title sez it all. πŸ™‚ Here’s the current version, such as it is.

This version explores defining each area/nation by population and happiness, and what this prototype shows me (IMHO) is that those two values aren’t very meaningful. I’ve got some other ideas for the model I’m going to explore next (H/T Steele).

Let me know if you can’t get this to run, or have any feedback. If you want to be an alpha tester, e-mail me and I’ll add you to the list! Thanks!

teczhbezar@gmazzil.cozm (lose the zs)…

Flash/AS3 still sucks

For the last 7 days, I’ve been working on a roguelike in Flash/Actionscript3 (as well as all the other things I’m doing in my life). I did it as a 7-day challenge, and I failed to "complete" it, by almost any definition. You can see it here, if you want:

I did it mostly as a learning experience. I was using the Flixel library (which is AS3). And I DID learn a lot. And what I learned hasn’t changed my overwhelmingly negative attitude about flash/AS3.

WHY does every…visible thing on a screen have to equal a code object?? I know it’s standard for Flash because of Flash’s fundamental retained-mode structure, but Flixel sidesteps the issue, so it doesn’t have any excuse.

WHY does anyone build long chains of inheritance anymore? This is derived from That is derived from Box is derived from Circle is derived from Point is derived from etc etc etc. Now I have a mountain of internal variables and functions, and I don’t know where they are or what they do or how to use them safely!

Grrr! Plus, get off my lawn. πŸ™‚

Seriously, the only reason to use Flash is ’cause everyone can easily play your game (and that’s a very compelling reason). I’ve heard several voices this week telling me, "Flash yuck! Embrace HTML5!" Well, no, ’cause HTML5 isn’t universally adopted quite yet, AND JavaScript is lame and non-standard. Those same voices tell me to embrace JQuery, an abstraction layer that (hopefully) insulates the programmer from the different implementations. Still, must my code be embedded in HTML? Doesn’t sound very easy to organize or debug…

As I said to Mike, my tarpit is warm and safe……