by Chris Crawford
An educational simulation of environmental-economic issues.
This project's funding goal was not reached on August 29, 2012.
Use this space to cheer the creator along, ask questions, and talk to your fellow backers. Please remember to be respectful and considerate. Thanks!
Thanks, Robert. My problem is coming up with something that is a) useful and b) algorithmically generated. I came up with an idea for a spaghetti chart showing causal relationships, and I have made rapid progress with it. I already have a basic system in place that draws each factor as a rounded rectangle and connects it to all its causes and effects with curves that are proportional in width the magnitude of causation. However, I have to arrange the basic positions by hand, and this is slow, tedious work. I'm about a third of the way through it already. There will be a lot of hand-tuning to make it look right, but I'm getting there.
Thanks for responding, Chris. I am also very happy to see you haven't given up on the project!
I am sorry there weren't enough of us on kickstarter to properly fund this, but don't forget that People That Care About This Stuff are out here.
Regarding data visualization. Many good ideas can be found at http://www.reddit.com/r/dataisbeautiful/ .
A few examples, potentially relevant to BotP.
A wind map of the US:
World map scaled to population:
Visualization of German rail traffic:
US Healthcare Spending, 1960-2010:
I would like to paste this short essay I wrote about another educational game product I have backed, named 4see. It's long, but it describes my opinion of the validity of Balance of the Planet.
The lessons you imply by your project remind me of overcoming powerful malaise, particularly to prevent situations such as Chris Crawford's Erasmatron / Storytron epic - lots of heart, passion, and perserverence, but no concrete planning. That being said, I believe his old titles, such as Balance of Power, contain underappreciated ideas which hold the true power of "edutainment" titles. I don't know if this passage would be interesting to you, but I'm curious to see how your project will provide the possibility to uplift and prevent students from potentially succumbing to overly ambitious project stress. Here goes...
Typically, the player becomes more proficient at playing "edutainment" titles by being fed applicable knowledge to learn, then are tasked with demonstrating an increasing comprehension of said knowledge. Overall, such game design only succeeds in mimicking the current methods used in schools to teach students- a boring and predictable process of digestion and regurgitation.
In Balance of Power, you only recieve hints of the knowledge which can be used to determine a playthrough's outcome, through limitations upon possible actions- the player must do their own research to increase their comprehension of the subject matter. In contrast to digestion and regurgitation, wherein the progression of events is always the same or similar (if this, then that; 1+1=2), every game session could change the course of history by manipulating the circumstances of real-life events and factors. This was a revelation- here's an example using my experience.
When booting up Balance of Power for the first time, I chose to play as the USA, and was tasked as the US President to guide the USA through the Cold War era against the USSR. I decided that instead of following "true history" by orchestrating rampant resource grabs in ailing foreign nations (which I believed the USA did liberally during the Cold War), I would choose to provide aid and assistance to said nations; trying to create an "alternate history".
I decided my first order of business would be attempting to prevent the African genocides of the 1990's. (Note how play style of a "time period" game based on historical facts can change over the course of "real time"- the events I was trying to prevent had not yet happened when Mr. Crawford created this title!) However, I personally had (and still have) little knowledge of concrete details which would have been necessary to avert the coming tragedies. So, I picked a nation I knew nothing of, instating a foreign policy to provide aid; I chose Angola in southwestern Africa, one I had not been taught anything about in K-12 school.
To my intrigue, I was only given the choices of either aiding the "government military" (MPLA), or the "militant rebel faction" (UNITA). Neither of those choices seemed to provide direct productive benefits to the Angolan citizens... so I did a little research into USA involvement within Angola during the 1980's.
I was shocked... I learned that Angola was one of the prime hotbeds of conflict between the USA and USSR. The administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan from 1975-1989 had all ordered the US military to provide weapons and military aid to fuel and intensify a brutal civil war, hot off the heels of the Angolan war for independence from Portugal (1961-1975). The superpowers of the world had no intention of stopping the war... only profiting from it.
At that point, I quit the game session, excited that I had learned so much after simply clicking a button to administer a single foreign policy assignment (out of hundreds of possibilities!)... yet incensed from the fact that the USA had actively participated in such a soulless scheme.
I believe this is the true power of "edutainment". Simple actions for the player can provoke powerful consequences in the game world. Though that is a common experience in video games of all genres, it is not so common for any game to craft such an intricate web that alludes to real life events so closely; yet provides the possibility for a composed redirection of real life-inspired events along with an accompanying lesson plan with every play session. Consider this design proposed by Chris Crawford so long ago!
Robert, I'm certainly not opposed to the use of good graphics; my beef is with the style that emphasizes color and boldness of line over genuine content. I think that the air pollution image exemplifies my point. It really is a dull image, exactly the kind of thing that some -- only some -- gamers object to. Again, if you look at the successful Kickstarter projects, you'll see what I mean. The point of my essay is that an image should be used to communicate, not to entertain with bright colors. I think most people agree on what the term "eye candy" means -- and many gamers seem to demand eye candy.
I'm all for coming up with better imagery to communicate the ideas of Balance of the Planet, but it's really hard coming up with good schemes that present such complex material. While mulling over another fellow's complaints today, I came up with a new idea for how to present the material. It's quite ambitious and I have doubts that it can be implemented, but I'm working on a mockup right now. Even the mockup is hard to make!
Hi, Chris. I just read your Eye Candy entry on your site, and wanted to comment.
Most importantly, I want you to know I'm a big fan of your work, and I believe strongly in the importance of this project. This is one of the reasons it saddens me to see you express frustration at the strong desire for good visuals.
Visuals are not eye candy. They are a primary method of communication. Text is good, but the old saw of a picture being worth a thousand words exists for good reason. Don't think cartoons. Think scientific visualization.
Miriah Meyer gave a brief talk on how visualization actually enables scientific discovery that would not have been possible otherwise: http://www.youtube.com/watch…
David McCandless' talk on interactive data presentation is, perhaps, even more directly relevant to your work:
In particular, the balloon race graph starting around the 14m mark. Something that generates itself pulling from a dataset, but presented in a dynamic, graphical way that allows you to play around with the system to see what happens.
Just some food for thought.
Jonathan Blow has already tweeted about it. Several other game designers of note have also done so.
As for publicity:
I've been a big fan of Chris Crawford because of "The Art of Computer Game Design" and I'm sure a lot of indie game developers are too that would love to raise some attention if only they knew. Some of these guys have lots of Twitter followers and it might be worth getting in touch with @notch, @terrycavanagh, @BrianFargo, @jarmustard, @Jonathan_Blow and the likes.
Hey, Mr. Crawford! I recently wrote a short article about your project in an online-magazine. If you want to read about yourself in German, go: http://www.gamersglobal.de/news/56686/kickstarter-balance-of-the-planet
Viel Glück und gutes Gelingen!
Yasu, it's not likely that I'll be able to afford a Japanese translation. The game has a LOT of English text, so the costs of translation would be large. But if we go way over our $150K goal, I might be able to afford it.
Is there any little chance that this game will be translated to Japanese? I think this game could be a huge gift to young people here, yet sadly, most people here don't even know about original BotP nor able to understand it because of language barrier. I do understand that from business and marketing perspective, Japanese version is highly unlikely; I just really hope to be able to introduce this title to the students of Japan someday.
No idea if this will help but another dev just released a list of things that they did wrong and right during their unsuccessful kickstarter.
I think a Reddit AMA (ask me anything) could be a good way to get publicity.
Kirill, I don't think I want to have real-time play, because an educational product like this has to give the player time to read the backgrounds, think over the situation, and learn.
Rather than turns is it possible to have whatever processes the player selects run at a particular speed eg 1 year = 30 seconds? Then when things inevitably start going awry, the player can interrupt the game and fiddle with sliders?
Hm, I didn't even read the text actually. I see there's already more detail about that in the text than there is in the video. But do a lot of people read the full text on a Kickstarter project? Dunno. Hey you know what might be cool: Enable those buttons, and then when somebody clicks one give a nice explanation of the interesting things that are missing!
Obviously, Travis, I need to add some more material to the text explaining what those other levels mean. Let's write that down on the to-do list... arg, it just gets longer and longer!
Thanks for the feedback: it'll definitely help.
Cool, that's the project I thought I was backing. Wish I had more to give! The point I am interested in making, though, is that in spite of having briefly played your actual original game (albeit a few memory-fogging years ago) and watched your video, I was still kind of unclear on whether there'd be a big difference between the prototype you show here and the finished product--which left me with the feeling that you WERE asking for a lot of money for something not much different from a wiki. And if that could happen to me then maybe it could happen even more easily to somebody who came to this knowing nothing about you or the original game. And people who are left with that feeling are unlikely to pledge money, I would think?
People are used to game demos that are a LOT like the finished game, and they are even more accustomed to TV commercials that shove every important fact in their face... but your video here only lightly touches on what is behind those disabled difficulty buttons, and does not really explain it. When people hear you say the alpha is "just an alpha" they can't design the rest of the game in their heads and get excited about it.... I think you might be hurting yourself by giving much more information about what's in the alpha than you do about what's not in it! I could be wrong though, I didn't run any focus groups. :)
Travis, you're right that IN THE BASIC GAME there are only 10 sliders to adjust. Of course, each of the tax sliders can take 100 different positions, and each of the subsidy sliders has a similar range, so the net number of input possibilities is 100,000,000,000,000,000,000. And in fact small changes in some of the sliders can indeed result in big changes in the output, so it really isn't simple-minded.
Moreover, that's only the basic game. In the highest level of the game, every single coefficient used in the simulation is user-adjustable -- including the "value of a human life" coefficient that you mention. There are, on average, about two coefficients per variable, so there are approximately 160 sliders to adjust in the highest level of the game. And I have accepted user advice that I increase the number of turns: my current plan is for three turns. That means that you get to adjust each of the ten basic sliders three times, making the total number of distinct inputs in the basic game equal to 10**60. That ought to keep people occupied.
So no, it's definitely NOT a wiki with ten sliders.
Again, you're right that the game is not complete. I'm pretty upfront about that. Most Kickstarter projects aren't anywhere near as far along as Balance of the Planet.
Is it true that in this "alpha" the only thing the player can do (aside from loads of reading) is adjust ten or so sliders and press one button? Is it true that in the full game (both the original version, and the prospective final version of this one) the player may adjust far more sliders than that?
It seems like you're asking $150,000 to put up a wiki with ten sliders and a button in it. It kind of doesn't seem to me that people will be motivated to pay that money, in a world full of wikis that cost $150,000 less than what you're asking. I mean I'd give more money myself if I weren't poor, but I'm just saying.
Wasn't there a slider in the original game that bluntly challenged the player to say how much less a third-worlder's life is worth than a first-worlder's life? I hope I'm not inventing that because that was amazing. If you want to sell this project, I think maybe you should be telling people THAT. Give them a dramatic idea of what they aren't yet seeing in the alpha--give them something to hold onto! As it is, people see five grayed-out difficulty-mode buttons and basically think nothing of them, which seems very bad, because the stuff that's gonna be behind those buttons is pretty important isn't it?
What about downloadable rewards? It would cost way less and a lot of people would probably like to legally own a copy of one of your older games packaged with DosBox or something. I mean, GOG.com pretty much makes most of their money from selling older games with DosBox and they do pretty well. They've even donated copies of games to kickstarters to help them out (like previous games in the Tex Murphy series to help the kickstarter for a new Tex Murphy game).
Or maybe a downloadable copy of one of your books that people could read on their iPad/Kindle.
Either could probably get a lot of people from the $5 tier to bump up their pledge and bring in some new people as well.
Marco, here's my problem: any physical reward has to be mailed to the backer. That entails organizing the manufacturing, addressing and stuffing all the envelopes, and mailing everything off. Even for a trivial reward, that would cost perhaps $3 or $4 of effort. I could drive the cost down using a fulfillment house, but they take only large jobs, and this job may simply be too small to justify that. So it would end up being me stuffing envelopes. So, a reward for, say, a $15 pledge gets to be quite a burden. I've been wracking my brains trying to come up with something better. I've actually figured out a few more rewards, but they're limited in nature and would have to be at a price even higher than $25.
Note that a pledge of $10 has twice the chance of generating a Name Recognition screen than a pledge of $5. That means that there's a benefit to pledging more.
If you have any suggestions for how I can do this productively, I'm all ears.
Please please please add more reward options. $5 to $25 is too steep, and I think more people would pledge if there were intermediate values. This game needs to be made :)
On the visual side, it could do with more imho. Not over the top stuff, but like in the way the individual still shots (don't think video is needed here, keep it simple) used in the games in-game 'encyclopedia' really make a difference in helping the information be more stimulating to digest, that kind of thing could also help with the main game.
It doesn't need animations even, just more visual feedback to help better process the info, more individual graphs for each componant section of the results maybe? more.....something?
The concept is sound, but to be more fully digestible by the widest range of players (and the aim of making it free for all to ensure a wide circulation is awesome) it could do with some presentation improvements. For example if a kid in school was to run this as part of their environmental education (and why not?), i think they most likely wouldn't get it (and i don't mean the theory stuff, just the information in the result). A university graduate would. And they only reason would be down to the presentation and the ability of the player to work it out.
Or to put it another way, i don't quite follow all the data results either, i'm definately in the camp of the school kid rather than the graduate. I've only run a few games though, so maybe i need to run more and really study the data?
It probably doesn't need a lot of work to make it more accesable for a wider audience, just some good simple presentation organisation. Does that sound reasonable, or not really what the aim of this game is about?
Brian, the video is a great way of making a sound point: the direct experience is always more intense and compelling than a numerical representation of it. However, in this case, I think I can build a pretty good defense of the numerical approach I use.
For example, how do I immerse the player in the slow bleaching of coral by increased amounts of carbonic acid coming from CO2 in the atmosphere? Do I show a video lasting 30 years showing a coral reef slowly dying? That would be a rather dull video, don't you agree?
Or how do I show the process by which some people suffer from lung disease due to air pollution? With video sequences of lungs slowly clogging up with dead cells or irritated membranes? Wouldn't I have to show all the healthy lungs as well?
And what about malnutrition, the biggest killer of them all? Do I show a child getting thinner over months and months, then developing kwashiorkor and a distended belly?
Numbers are useful because they allow us to see things that are not immediately within our normal sensory capacity. What better way to show economic growth than with a percentage? How can I most clearly summarize the advance of climate change than to show the average global temperature rising?
You've noticed, I'm sure, that each topic in the simulation is accompanied by a image illustrating that concept. Those could be better: more intense, perhaps, or maybe even video instead of stills. But ultimately, how do they really help the understanding of the issues?
Yes, I'm definitely into the abstruse and that's awfully cold and distant for most people. But there really is an important point here. The dancing dolphins are pretty, but they don't teach you a damn thing. The truth of this world is in the numbers. That's part of what I'm trying to teach with this game.
I really hope this gets Kickstarted, and I may kick up my pledge amount if this thing really gets some traction and needs just that little bit more. Have been a big fan of Chris' ideas for close to a decade.
I know I'm probably going to get totally flamed or called a troll, and I post this only to be constructive, but playing the demo game reminded me of an old Macintosh ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch…
Being quite familiar with Chris' thoughts towards graphical representations, I'm guessing that visually the demo is relatively close to what we can expect from the finished piece- but was still wondering if Chris might be considering additional visual cues to help make the data relevant to the player? I've always been impressed by Chris' devotion to the idea of making games about people, not things, but the game currently seems to treat people as simple numbers. I guess what I'm getting at is how exactly do you see the finished version possibly being different from what is playable currently (aside of course from general algorithm polishing work)?
Anyway - I really hope this one gets backed and I trust in Chris Crawford's vision. Best wishes!
The Dragon speech is worth watching, too... And it even talks about this game's original version!
There was so much in that Dragon speech that is relevant today that I was astounded. 1992! Way ahead of it's time.
The NPC with 2 buttons was especially relevant, if I had to pick something.
Wallet opened, fingers crossed. :-)
Good luck, Chris!
You should check out the game and the guys behind the game of 'Fate of the World'. They share the same concerns around the issues facing us that Balance of the Planet is going to simulate. Also good luck on this project, a good kickstarter is probably the way we should have been making games along time ago!
Good luck getting the funding, I think it's a great idea for a project.
Gee, I didn't think of NPR... I'll look into it. Thanks.
Of course I remember Eastern Front on my father's Atari 800 !! Your story is legendary. Someone needs to get this on NPR stat.
Thanks for all the inspiration Chris. Best of luck to you with this amazing project!
Theres a speech by Mr.Crawford that I try to watch once a month...you can see it at YouTube by searching for "creativity in game design". While much of the intro deals with early 80's gaming, the suggestions given for pushing the limits of your personal creative abilities are universally applicable.
One of the best lectures out there. Go watch it RIGHT NOW!!!! ;)
Can't wait to give BotP a go after work! Good luck Mr.Crawford...your push for Grand-Leap Creativity in an industry bogged down by Incremental Creativity (or pure stagnation at this point) should be shared by every game player and designer.