Development Diaries

Why is "The Reagan Years" about the Reagan Years?

Some notes about how I decided to restrict (for the moment) the scope of my game to the point of view of USA in the 1980′s.

Historical data VS historical process

In his book about Balance of Power, Chris Crawford states that “data is not the main element in realism - process is. […] The actual amount of GNP of Ghana is less important, for the purposes of a game on geopolitics, than the manner in which GNP changes with time”. Crawford’s game is all about depicting the global mechanics of superpower competition in the cold war era. He mainly intends to make a point about the dangers of warmongering, taking a pacifist stance that he feels is needed in the context of the 80′s.

The opposition drawn by Crawford between data (historical facts at time T) and processes (dynamics applied to this data) is problematic when we come to terms with its practical applications in game design. Since he is not aware of the imminence of the USSR collapse, Crawford sets up a game running from 1985 (the then-present time) to 1997. He makes the statement that “the principles [of geopolitical interaction] have not changed fundamentally since the introduction of the nuclear-tipped ICBM”. This also leads him to claim that his game system could relevantly depict former periods of the cold war, for example the 60′s. According to him, to do this, only the data would need to be adapted, while the game’s processes would stay relevant.

Cautiously restricting my game’s historical scope

When I started developing Reagan Years, I intended to create a modern version of Balance of Power, introducing only minor changes in the game’s data and in the user interface. I immediately realized that the historical scope of the game would need to be redefined. It would be odd for a modern game to depict a USA-vs-USSR competition running till 1997. I therefore started to consider other relevant periods of the cold war. However, going through this preliminary process of selection has led me to question Crawford’s assumptions on the permanence of geopolitical principles through the entire 1945-1990 period.

Here are some of the questions I ask myself at this stage: isn’t Balance Of Power a reflection on the USA international policies during the 80′s, rather than a depiction of global dynamics for a near-50 years period ? Is it historically relevant to consider that USA and USSR geopolitical points of view were symetrically opposed, like those of two chess players? Had this game been designed in USSR during the 80′s, what kind of global dynamics would it have depicted? And if today’s mainstream depictions of this era are all about USSR-USA competition, is it because the accuracy of such a model, or merely because history is written by powerful dominant powers?

It will take a lot of research and thinking before I finally adopt a satisfying stance on these questions and find a way to reflect this stance in my game’s design. Meanwhile, it seems safer to restrict the scope on which the historical principles of my game apply. Therefore, I have decided that the game will only depict the years of Ronald Reagan presidency (1981-1989), and that it will only depict the point of view of the USA. This will apply until I have the safe feeling that my game’s dynamics can relevantly apply to other countries and eras.

A system aware of its own limitations (in-game events) - 29/12/2017

With a new job, the holiday season and moving out, plus other personal projects coming in the middle, I certainly did not find the time to finalize alpha 0.4.2, which is supposed to be the first playable Alpha of Reagan Years. However, it is also a nice occasion to take some time and reflect on my ambitions for this project and about the core gameplay concepts I want to implement.

All these things I can’t depict faithfully

I have written previously about how I decided to restrict the scope of my game in terms of historical period (the 80′s) and in terms of the player’s point of view (USA). The fact is, if it was to prove relevant, I could easily disregard these limitations in the future. If I saw fit, I could quickly design a 1960′s scenario, or make USSR playable.

But the system I am designing also comes with limitations that I foresee will be difficult to overpass. At the moment, I am especially concerned about the inclusion in my game of historical dynamics such as social struggle, class conflict, intricate internal politics, cultural war and the role of propaganda, political ideologies, trade and economics, international law and human rights, international organizations (such as the UN), non-governmental bodies (especially multinational corporations), and last but not least, the geopolitical agendas of the so-called minor powers (that is, every country beside USA and USSR).

Some of these elements might be reflected in the game system, however, I already know I will not be able to emulate them in a satisfactory way. This is due to a number of factors, among which : my lack of skills, the complexity of the matter, the need to maintain clarity, playability, and accuracy. Sometimes I may find the solutions, sometimes not.

“We win, they lose” : a simple point of view

Hopefully, I am not yet suffering from Borgeso-Perecian madness. I do not pursue the vain ambition of including the whole reality of the 1980′s in my game. I know I have to make choices, and I just need to make sure these choices are relevant to what I want to achieve.

In theory, I just need to be satisfied with the result. But my problem is I can’t be satisfied with the result because I strongly believe that a game system will anyway always be a very poor representation of the reality. I can’t summarize the history of mankind in the 1980′s in a playable game system. Maybe other people can, but they haven’t done it yet in a way I would accept to mimic.

Therefore, all I decide to do is to create a game system that represents a rather simplistic point of view. That’s what Reagan Years is about : the point of view promoted by Ronald Reagan during his presidency. “Here’s my strategy on the Cold War : we win, they loose.” said Reagan (1977). Hey, that’s simple enough to be put in a game! Let’s do it.

Videogame history is rich with strategy titles taking a limited point of view. You have Civilization that is like a playable version of Fukyama’s End of history. You have Crisis in the Middle East where the only role expected from the player is to establish Israel’s regional supremacy. You have Age of Empires that depicts a fantasized, over-simplified middle-age that looks like a Errol Flynn’s flick.

All these games are problematic, not only because they adopt a simplified point of view, but also because they refuse to question it. Actually, they even refuse to acknowledge the existence of their own biases.

A good example of this posture is demonstrated in the promotion of the game Vietnam ‘65. This game’s description on Steam totally give in to the US’ army rethorics : “killing the enemy is only a secondary mission. Most of your efforts and resources are spent elsewhere trying to grab the Hearts & Minds of the local population”.

But that’s not all. The developer’s page also claim that “this is a game that captures the true essence of the Vietnam war”, quickly disregarding the possibility that you could look at this war with other glasses than those provided by the US commandment.

So, how am I to create a grand strategy game that question its own point of view? Let’s turn to Crusader Kings for inspiration.

How Crusader Kings breaks its own rules
I will certainly write other posts about the Crusader Kings series, since these games are a major inspiration of mine. So let’s not get into the details of these games now. Suffice to say the ambitions of the developers toward historical accuracy were exceptional as per the videogame’s industry standards (I admit these standards are low). But the most inspiring thing about CK design is not its tremendous complexity, or the amount of research done ahead of the development. The most inspiring thing is : the game aknowledge that its own so-called “complex” system is worth peanuts when faced with the reality it aims to depict.

This is very cleverly pointed out by Jason Pitruzello in his article Systemizing Culture in Medievalism. Pitruzello explains how unusually complex are the cultural mechanisms in this game, while still deploring their limitations.

Clearly, there are limits to the nuances of the game’s cultural mechanics. […] it might appear that Crusader Kings does not really provide a better medieval experience for its players because, although culture can transfer between rulers and the provinces they rule, culture remains unchanging and static. […] However, the game’s designers include one exception to their own rules that indicates that they understand the limits of their own work. In recognition that cultural change need not simply shift from one culture to another, the game comes with an "English melting pot” cultural change event. This cultural conversion event bypasses the mechanics I outlined above.“

Narratives VS the system

Had I not stumbled across this article, I would probably never have started to develop Reagan Years This piece of criticism greatly clarified some of the vague ideas I had on the paradoxes of so-called realistic game systems, but it also pointed out to an excellent example of how I could expect to surpass these paradoxes.

This is how I plan to practically apply all this theory to my game:

The game system will depict a limited point of view : the world’s geopolictics are binary. The main objective of the USA is its own supremacy and the defeat of USSR. Outside of their pro-USA or pro-USSR agenda, the behaviour of other countries is of little interest.

But this limited point of view, reflected in the game’s main rules, will also be challenged by the game’s narratives. At the moment, I mostly plan to use an event system to achieve this (events are also a beloved core feature of CK). The events will cover things that are not represented in the game’s main system. Events will be used both as narrative moments of the game (texts to read) and exceptions to the game’s rules (altering mechanics).

The event system will also allow other narratives to emerge in the game. For example, the game is extremely binary (USA vs USSR) in its nature, but events will pop up to present the point of view of other countries, of other groups, and to remind the player that while playing a Reagan’s game, he is playing “with blinkers on”.

The events will also be used to reposition the ordinary life of human beings at the center of an otherwise very abstract game system. For example, they will be used to narrate the consequences of the player’s strategic actions on the lives of simple citizens.

My game, drifting away (19/12/2017)

Over the course of the last three weeks, I have been working on a rough Alpha version of a grand strategy video game. The game is depicting the geopolitical tensions of the cold war.

Players impersonates the political leaders of USA and USSR. Their objective is to increase the global influence of their country, at the expense of the opponent, while avoiding a nuclear confrontation.

My initial objective was to create a modern version of Chris Craword’s Balance Of Power, a classic game released in 1985. Although I have only seldomly played it, I have been fascinated by that game for many years now. This fascination originates not only from the structure and content of the game itself, but also from the ideas presented by Crawford in the game’s manual and in a book detailing his design choices.

Unfortunately, Balance of Power is not playable on modern platforms. By creating a modern version of this game, I originally intented to adress the following questions : if this game was played today, what could it teach us? Would we find it relevant, fun, useful, accurate, sensible? Could the revival of a half-forgotten classic from the 80′s be a valuable contribution to our contemporary world?

However, after less than a month of work on a basic game engine, I have already started to drift away from the perspective of a mere “modern port” of BoP.

This devlog will document this “drifting away”.

I guess I'll crosspost my new devlog here

Hey, in December I had some time and motivation so I started again to develop something. It's been in standby for about a month now. In order to keep my motivation and order my thoughts about this project (which is unusually ambitious compared to the small games I've done few years ago) I started to write my thoughts at ... it looks nice... But Tumblr is not so cool to engage conversations...and I like GT with all my I'll crosspost my devlog here for you guys to comment if you feel like it. Not sure where all of this is going so far. But that's how we like it, don't we.

clyde's picture

Midi files in Unity

You have to rename the midi file so it has .txt at the end.

quasiotter's picture


for 2018 onwards i want to comment on every game that i play here. that way not only do i keep track of what i play but also people like comments, right? i know i do.

i will also try to review all/most games on itch and steam. i usually write for steam in a way that will help me remember what i felt when i played the game. the itch reviews are basically a way of remembering what i play because itch puts everything i rate into a collection but i also give a little feedback.

i'm keeping track of the games i play in a gmail draft. i've been good at this so far but i know i'll fall off the wagon. there are some screenshots

before 2018 i never really kept track of what i played in what year which makes me sad because i do like the idea of separating games by year. it is a normal human thing to divide things up into remember bits and i'm not ashamed to admit that i'm human and also i do this. i almost never play things the year they are released except for and an occasional itch game. for some reason i like being behind the curve.

i was gonna try to do something like 'post a thing about a game every day in 2018' but i don't know what to do for that so i haven't done it yet so i failed lol but idk i will try to think of something

also i am playing the ultimate doom for the first time. i had the gba version only and now i'm playing gzdoom. i feel bad playing such a popular game instead of trashgames but i like it a lot and also i will play doom 2 and final doom and i'm very excited to play doom 2 wads which goes back to independent game people . on steam i play mostly indie games but i do play popular ones like unreal . does that make me a 'gamer' i hope not lol

danyburton's picture

tensile wires attached to head SANPANAP

t5he wires coming out of and attached to the head are a symptom of spiders and possibly vampires in my professional view.
the vampires have a few different things going on yet that I cannot classify and maybe all of them are just spiders or something else.

when I was about 5 I found a root on the ground which had stripes I think and it was a bit like a mosquito which also have stripes on the leg, and that is how the vampires / spiders would look I think, and I also think that some of them can float which might seem a bit weird but they are like big whale type things in the sky and they can just go up there and they send out tendrils which are invisible but you can feel them if you are sensitive.

however, the tendrils cannot reach through the trees of the jungle which is why john fogle can fight against the vampires from the middle of the special jungle pool

danyburton's picture

erotic computer


making new and good quality high quality game which I think will be nice enough and also another one which will go on your phone and your computer too and that one will be out real soon because it is for the secret santa and it may or may not be relevant but it will be good maybe also it reveals an important issue which is where doctors tamper with people's organs and possibly even take some out of their body and all kinds of shit. maybe they put some in too.
especially they do this to people who are sensitive which is why they invent new medicines too to stop people from being sensitive and turn them into retards like you see stumbling about in the street every single day.
█▄░░█ █▀▀█ ▀▀█▀▀░░█▀▀█ █▀▀█ █▀▀▄
█░█░█ █░░█ ░░█░░░░█▀▀▄ █▄▄█ █░░█
█░░▀█ █▄▄█ ░░█░░░░█▄▄█ █░░█ █▄▄▀
After this is done the league of Piss Trilogy begins in earnest.
I think that league of piss 2 will be my greatest game but league of piss 1 will be better than any game I have made so far but there will be better ones in the future probably. It will have:
bean creatures
more than one gender
pirated music
original music
good shit
great shit
bullet hell with good patterns. imo making bullet hell patterns is the most fun game dev thing there is just about because you can think about lame stereotypes that relate to the given character and then bulletify them and then you have some funny bullet patterns.
a big hammer
2! robots

thankyou and good night

clyde's picture

JSON files in Unity

I finally implemented a thing where a text file can be used as variables to load things in a game. I've wanted to do this for a while, but never had much reason to go through the tutorial. I'm putting the tutorial here so I can find it when I want to do this again in the future. I don't really know how to do it.

clyde's picture

replacing Ethan

I finally managed to put the standard third-person character controller into another human model. I want to put the youtube tutorials I used here so I can remember how to do it again later.

This is a start, but I messed up somehow

Finished it off with this.

Also, this slows them down:

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