Phil Steinmeyer, PopTop Software
For the past few editions of this book, PopTop Software's president and
lead programmer, Phil Steinmeyer, has shared savvy strategy design tips.
Steinmeyer has a number of games under his belt, including Railroad Tycoon
2 and the Tropico series.
When it comes to general game design, Steinmeyer says to focus on a small
niche somewhere within the gaming universe for your first project:
If you can, create something with a built-in audience that will find your
product with little marketing or distribution clout on your end, and with no
big-budget competition. Some excellent niches to start in are war games,
detailed 4X space games, games about semi-obscure sports or hobbies, gambling
games, and so forth.
Too many beginning game developers overshoot on their first game and never
get it done. First, games are rarely brilliantbetter to get something
completely done and published and shoot for the moon on your second game.
Where does Tropico fit in?
Tropico was my fifth major game; I had a much bigger budget and a
more experienced team than anybody would typically have starting out. My first
game (released in 1994) was a low-budget war game called Iron
Cross. I did all the programming, most of the art and sound, and it was
my first gamea true garage effort. There was a built-in audience (World
War II enthusiasts), and little big-budget competition. It didn't sell
nearly as many copies as my later games like Railroad Tycoon 2 and
Tropico, but it did all right given its budgetI made a decent
amount for my time invested, and more important, I got my start in the industry
and moved on to bigger and better things.
But is it possible to make a game easy to get into and understand while
trying something new at the same time?
It's hard to define itthis is sort of a "gut feeling"
thing. I think Tropico was pretty good with this. The concept was quite
novel (playing a Caribbean dictator, à la Fidel Castro). There had been
few if any games set in the Caribbean or Latin America before, and our humorous
Latin/Caribbean feel was very fresh, I think. At the same time, we grounded our
gameplay in previous successful titles, particularly the SimCity series,
although that was only a rough gameplay guide. But we thought the millions of
buyers of SimCity and RollerCoaster Tycoon would immediately be
able to "get" Tropico just by looking at the screenshots or
seeing a little snippet of gameplay.
For more from Steinmeyer, flip to Chapters 6 and 21.