In Conclusion…

Wear sunscreen, call your mother, etc.



This article originally appeared in Computer Games Magazine #150

As a young fan of Avalon Hill strategy board games, I relished reading the multi-page designer’s notes section at the back almost as much as playing the game itself. In the early days of PC games, many pulpwood trees gave their lives so that game designers could pontificate at the back of 180 page manuals. My interest in developing computer games was fostered in part by the detailed designer and historical notes in the hefty manual for Sid Meier’s original Railroad Tycoon. Years later, as we were finishing up our big game, Railroad Tycoon II, I enjoyed reading the designer diaries in PC Games magazine (note - ends in “s” not “r”) of a new startup called Lionhead, making an innovative game where you ruled an island called Black & White, which was due out a bit after Railroad Tycoon II.
So when PC Games folded shortly thereafter and the designer diaries disappeared, I approached Steve Bauman of Computer Games Magazine (nee Computer Games Strategy Plus, nee Strategy Plus), offering to write, well… this column. And so, I wrote about our development work on an innovative game where you rule an island, called Tropico. It was released in 2001, competing with Black & White, which had slipped it’s release date nearly two years and ended up coming out just before Tropico, much to my chagrin.
Now, after three and a half years of writing this column, it’s time for me to put down the pen in order to devote myself more fully to finishing Tropico 2: Pirate Cove and Railroad Tycoon 3, and to get future projects ramped up. This is my last column. Thanks for reading along the way. Perhaps the next developer to do an “insider” column can write about something other than island-ruling games.
But first, a few parting remarks.
For game players: Don’t worry, PC gaming won’t go away. Consoles may steal away certain genres (sports, racing), but the PCs ability to innovate in surprising ways (Diablo, RollerCoaster Tycoon, Battlefield 1942) will keep it as a strong gaming platform. Five years from now, there will be as many or more big PC games as there are today.
Buy yourself a new PC, but don’t spend much money. A basic PC that costs as little as $400 is fine; add a decent GeForce 4 4200 or ATI Radeon 9500 video card for $150, and perhaps $50 worth of add-in memory, and you have a great gaming PC that can play anything out there and performs within 20% of a machine costing 3 times as much.
Try your hand at making a map (for a strategy game) or a skin (for an action game). Most decent strategy and action games provide the tools and instructions, and a first stab takes only an hour or two. They’re fun to make, and you’ll gain a deeper appreciation of your favorite hobby.
Bone up on the modern classics. Find these in the jewel-case section or on Amazon: both Fallout games, Diablo II, Panzer General II, either of the last two Civilization games, and Total Annihilation.
For game developers: Innovate. A novel game with an appealing premise will sell well, even if the visuals aren’t stellar (Zoo Tycoon, The Sims), whereas pretty me-too games (Gore, Warrior Kings, O.R.B.) don’t even register in the public’s eye.
Support older hardware! It’s not hard to do. Use lower level of detail models. You can still optimize for and look great on the jazzy new stuff—it’s possible to do both. But there’s no excuse for a new game demanding a less than six-month-old system and video card to run smoothly.
Even if your publisher won’t pay for a big printed manual, you can and should include a good, beefy on-line manual, a solid tutorial, and hover-help for all interface items so that the player can figure out what to do.
For everyone: Commodore 64s are waaaay better than Atari 800s. Dogs are better than cats. “Tastes great,” not “Less filling.” Your mileage may vary.

This article originally appeared in Computer Games Magazine #150