In order to improve my programming skills I have started a new pet project.
I’m going for a quality like book reading. Where the order of the letters gives shape to a world constructed in your mind. The patterns you learn provide a new perspective of the world you live in. Perhaps making you see it a bit clearer.
This is what the latest version looks like:
” ” R C I ~ ~ ß ” ” ” ß ~ ~ ¶ * * ~ ~
The language of the game
The game communicates in symbols and plain text. Since graphics might distract from the meaning of the game and it makes it a lot easier for me to develop. In other words, it’s a text based simulation game. Where you read a one dimensional string of characters in order to understand how the world develops you manipulate.
It’s not so mystical once you know what the symbols mean.
” is grass
~ is water
* is rock
R is a medium size residential building
C is a medium size commercial building
I is a medium size industrial building
ß is a large residential building
¶ is a power plant
More symbols like that can reflect the state of the small city.
In order to make the game not too abstract, you’ll get feedback on the current status of the world with on you HUD (Heads Up Display) like this.
================== August 1950 ================
║ Cred:6 | Pop:12 » r8 c2 i2 | Pow:12/20! ║
It shows the number of credits, the population (» residential 8, commercial 2, industrial 2) and the power used/provided.
How to play
You play it like a text adventure, by writing a word or letter. At the moment these are the options:
b – Build
z – Zone
d – Demolish
h – Help
e – End turn
q – Quit the game
As for now, it’s a mildly interesting simple game. It’s easy to grow the city. But it does provide for the first part of the ambition: Where the order of the letters gives shape to a world constructed in your mind.
The game fundamentals
At the moment I can imagine it’s the most simplistic version of Sim City in the world. So how about that next part of my introduction: the patterns you learn provide a new perspective of the world you live in?
Remember the promise of the game Spore? You start by creating a one celled creature and develop it until you are a galactic warlord of sorts. The game consists of different stages, where each stage provides unique game play. It was an inspirational ambition. There are two qualities that I want to take with me for my pet project.
- It was an ode by Will Wright to the games he loved
- It was about building a history. Each stage built on the stage before it.
My pet project is also an ode to work I love, but not just games. It’s a mix of Sim City and the series The Wire (IMDB rating of 9.4).
The Wire as a blue print for how to communicate complexity
The Wire is about the city of Baltimore as a whole. By providing a mix of personal perspectives you slowly get a feeling of how the city operates (and often malfunctions). It has a neat structure in that every season highlights a different part of the city:
- Police & gangs
- The harbor
- The politics
- The school
- The press
The series comes down to, as Bodie says, “The game is rigged“. For every one perspective you can see most of the characters just try to make the best of their own situation. If possible they play fair and try to be nice to others, but if needed they’re harsh and defend their own.
After seeing the series you get a feeling, and actual understanding, of how complex the problems of a city can be. I believe it’s brilliant because it doesn’t really provide you with moral guidance, it just shows you the effects of how different institutions operate and how they relate to each other. It does so in quite the opposite of the abstract way I’m describing them right now. Just by telling the stories of the people living inside those institutions.
The moral guidance is not needed, because there is no real misunderstanding of morality. It’s easy to understand if someone is treated fair or unfairly if we truly understand their situation.
How to build the game on this blue print
Because in games like Sim City, time runs so much faster, it’s much easier to see patterns that in daily life are hard to notice. Since you can play these games over and over, it provides you with multiple perspectives on what in essence is quite a complex system.
So these are the ingredients for the game:
- Like Spore, it’s a game built out of different stages that are ‘stacked’ on each other.
- One of those stages is the ‘Sim City’ stage where you build a city.
- Other stages should help you understand the relation between politics, multinationals / banks, press, education.
- There probably needs to be at least one stage before the Sim City state in order to help understand how the interface of he game works and to start out from a simple and personal perspective.
The fundamental components to put the spotlight on
For me Sim City and The Wire helped me understand the world. Now I’m a bit older I have some grasp of how the world operates, I want to share this knowledge.
There are three major components that I think deserve our attention.
- Multinationals are more powerful than most countries.
- The operations of our financial institutions has become so complex that most people have no idea how to asses the risk they are taking by the choices they make.
- How capitalism works. A good understanding of its core, the transaction (buy & sell), is needed.
- There are conditions when a transaction is not conform the capitalistic rules. For instance, the upside of capitalism doesn’t work if one of the parties involved is not free to decline a transaction.
- A fundamental limitation of capitalism is that it only deals with the people doing the transaction. It has no opinion on the effects of the transaction on others. If you pay me money to get rid of your garbage and I throw it in the garden of my neighbor. Than that’s a transaction that added value to all parties involved in the transaction.
These components do not inherently make for an unjust world, but it requires us to understand how these components work and how they relate to each other to prevent such a world.
As you can see, there is some work left to do on this game :). It’s okay if it takes a couple of years. For now I’ll just chip away at it and learn how to write some python along the way.
Update: Article January 2016 on the added ambition to make this game a Slack app.