Monday, February 20, 2006

As I thought about the things I learned working on the SimBlob project, I realized that I hadn't explored a lot of the topics I originally wanted to explore. I spent my time playing with environmental simulation (water, weather, fires, dams, floods, vegetation, etc.) and never got to anything else. I decided to start over and focus on a few topics in a simple game. In my new project I'm going to explore economic simulation and transportation networks. I have a rough idea of where I'm going, but as I learn things, I expect that the design will change.

There are lots of transportation/economic/city games out there: Railroad Tycoon, Transport Tycoon, SimCity, Simutrans, Locomotion, Transport Giant, Traffic Giant, Industry Giant, LinCity, A-Train, Capitalism, The Settlers, Mobility, and probably many more. There are also many projects in development (some abandoned): Transport Empire, OpenCity, 3DTT, Widelands, Zugspiel, and of course, BlobCity.

My intent is not to clone one of those games, but instead to explore economic and transportation models by writing a game. Throughout history, transportation has affected the development of business and vice versa. The Phoenicians used ships to transport goods, and built a trading empire that lasted a thousand years. The Romans built roads and aqueducts. The Arab empire was based on trade between the east and the west, using caravans and ships. In the United States, railroads greatly altered the flow of goods and linked the west and east coasts. The Panama Canal and Suez Canal helped goods flow by ship. In the late 20th century, advances in transportation made possible the rise of FedEx and the flow of cheap goods from the Asia Pacific region. The use of standard shipping containers linked ship, rail, and truck transportation systems together. None of the games I've tried explore all of these ideas. Have you ever seen a crossdock or Less-than-Truckload shipping in a computer game? I've been fascinated with these topics and would like to explore them in a simulation game.

The basic idea of the game is that businesses trade with each other using an inefficient transportation network (such as people carrying boxes on foot), and the player can offer better forms of transportation. As transportation gets cheaper, the businesses make more money, so they expand. The number of businesses goes down, but the size of the businesses goes up. Increased volume and a change in business structure means the player has to adapt. The player has to choose among hand delivery, hand trucks, carriages, gasoline powered trucks, large trucks (semi-trailer trucks), rail, and ships. As volume goes up, the basic unit being transported gets larger as well, from individual products to boxes to pallets to containers. Upgrading too early is wasteful; upgrading too late is inefficient. Reliable transportation infrastructure can affect how businesses and cities develop. The player has to choose areas of the world to develop, structures to use for each type of good (central distribution, multiple hubs, point to point), sharing among multiple types of goods, temporary storage (warehouses), and modes of transport. As times change, the player has to monitor the efficiency, health, and profitability of the networks and choose which to upgrade, replace, or dismantle. I'm really not sure whether such a game would be fun for anyone but me. I tend to like logistics in games.

Given that game programming is just a hobby of mine (and I have plenty of other hobbies), I think the basic idea is too ambitious for me to attempt at first. Instead I'll design a simpler game and work on that. I've found in the past that if I take big steps, I'm more likely to fall, so I've learned to take small steps. I also don't want to spend forever on this game; I have plenty of other topics I want to explore. Once I've decided my next steps, I'll post them here.

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Anonymous wrote at June 04, 2006 8:49 PM

i was thinking of making a transportation game myself too, i have to thank you for your amazing blog and articles, there are insane amount useful ideas.

majman wrote at May 08, 2015 5:24 AM

+1 in support of this! Always learn something from your sketches - so obviously (and a bit selfishly) I'd be excited to watch and learn :)

sebastien rey coyrehourcq wrote at May 15, 2015 2:07 AM

Hi, if you're interested, as i already post on your trello, i have some link to netlogo models, and some people in my lab which work on this type of feedback loop for transportation.