Democracy 3 Q&A With Cliff Harris

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After playing the great Democracy 3 at this years Eurogamer Expo I reached out to developer Cliff Harris to get some insight in the Democracy series and what it’s like being an Indie developer at a big games expo.

Cliff Harris is the one man team behind Positech and responsible for, amongst others, the Democracy series (the main topic of this interview) and Gratuitous Space and Tank battles.

How are you finding Eurogamer? Is it difficult for Indie titles to go up against  games like Call of Duty and Titanfall?

This is only my second show, and definitely much bigger than the first, and it does really hit you just how much money those big publishers are throwing at publicity to get their names out there.

We have a small booth, some badges and fliers, and it still costs a fortune! It is a bit depressing to think how many millions of dollars get spent for all this, which is money that could go into making better games, but just doesn’t get spent on them. It still seems to be worth doing though, especially with a game like Democracy 3, because it’s so unusual, and people really notice the contrast between it and the typical show games once they see it.

How did the Democracy series come about? Is politics something you’re interested in in general?

Yes I’ve always been interested in politics and economics. I did my degree in economics at the London school of economics so I’m definitely a bit of a politics-economics geek.

I also think that it’s about time we had more games that were aimed at mature topics rather than just another space-aliens or wizards game. Statistically, the average gamer has a mortgage and a full time job, yet games publishers are still trying to sell games to those people based on what appeals to thirteen year old boys :D

How successful have you been in getting the game used as an educational tool?

The second game in the series has been used extensively in schools and universities all around the world. It’s an ideal game for politics and science students. The only reason it isn’t used even more widely is just the level of bureaucracy involved with selling products to the school system, which means that generally it’s sold to private schools and independent schools, because I just do not have the time to navigate the ten layers of form-filling to get software ‘approved’ by most state owned education boards etc… I should probably find more time to investigate that side of things…

An example of one of the many voter models

It seems like a really research heavy game, how did you decide what factors link together, and how much they impact on each other?

That is a huge part of the game. I have a massive chalk board in my office on one wall and I spent ages drawing diagrams on it to get all of the various connections and relationships to work out and make sense. The big problem is ensuring that you have enclosed systems that make sense as a group. There are some obvious candidates for extra variables I could add, but many of them only make sense if you add others, and then more, and then more, and there is always a danger of getting a game that is too large and sprawling and unwieldy if you go down that route.

Are your personal politics reflected in the game? Is it possible to be totally objective when designing the policy networks?

My politics have changed over the years quite extensively, so I can remember what it’s like to hold a wide range of political views, which definitely helps. Obviously I do have political views, but I respect the opposite position too, and if you took any issue in the game, I could definitely make a convincing sounding argument for both sides of it. That probably helps. One side of my politics that probably leaks into the game is that I’m pretty green and environmentally-obsessed, so there are quite a few eco policies in there :D

Do you think that developing Democracy has given you an insight into some of the though processes of politicians? That sort of cost benefit analysis, not just to people but to the person making the choice?

Definitely. It makes me less cynical and more accepting of compromise, and understanding the position politicians are in. People think its obvious what to do, or think they always know the motivations of politicians but I’m not sure its that simple. I always end up compromising and going against my beliefs when I play, for practical purposes, so I understand it more when I see politicians do that sort of thing.

Scandals and crises happen throughout and could force you to make a drastic policy shift

What real-world events did you decide to include in Democracy 3 and why?

There are quite a few, bird-flu, the credit crunch, bankers bonuses, software patents and internet censorship, government debt interest and credit ratings… these are all relatively new issues. I add things in when it becomes obvious that they are missing from the simulation. I don’t want to explicitly ‘date’ the game by putting in specific event, but more just reflect issues that are talked about now in general.

What does the future hold for Positech and for yourself? Are there any more gratuitous games on the horizon?

I am very, very keen to re-make gratuitous space battles, and make it much, much better and, dare I say, more gratuitous. I think that is very likely :D

And finally, how close to be release ready is Democracy 3?

It’s very close. I am just tweaking and balancing. I have one very, very rare freeze bug I need to fix, and the mac build needs to be submitted to the app store. I fully expect to release it in October.

Many thanks to Cliff Harris for taking some time out to answer my questions.
Check out the websites for Positech and Democracy 3. You can also find Cliff Harris on twitter @cliffski.

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Author: Charlie Palmer View all posts by