A Year of Corn

I didnt keep track of when exactly I started working on Corn, my game, and when I looked at the files today the earliest date I could find was July of last year, which I know isn't right. For a while last year I was developing the game on my computer at home and in the library, where I would go when there were too many distractions, and I stored the game on a flash drive and would copy the game from that drive to a folder on my computer to keep working on it. I did find a screenshot from late February of 2013 though, which does have a valid timestamp. So the 19th of February, or this last Wednesday, marks the probable one year anniversary of development of Corn: The Game of Classical Political Economy. I will celebrate by doing what I do on Saturdays: drink at the computer and code a bit.

I've been taking screenshots of the game at regular intervals, which, since I've switched LOVE 2d versions, is now the only convenient way for me to see how far I've actually come since I started. The code has been on GitHub since July but if I were to download a snapshot from then I would have to install an old version of Lua and LOVE 2d in order to get it to run and I cant be bothered. So I've been flipping through screens of the game to remind myself of what I've been doing.

I started from an extremely low level, literally copying a tutorial for a scrolling map (I haven't improved on that code). Since that inauspicous start I've done a few major things.

  • Created a UI.
  • Implemented units and Dijkstra pathfinding
  • Created my world, a bunch of towns and mines and forests and ocean.
  • Put together most of the major parts of an economy, from the production side.

The list isnt too long and even though the differences between now and then are drastic, I did hope I would be further along. Specifically, there are some fundamental parts of the game I would liked to have finished by the one-year mark. They are still basically unfinished, some of them are not even properly designed or theoried-out yet.

  • A dynamic map system (as in, not a jpg that stores no information except the type of a terrain tile)
  • A full economy, with a yearly market, physical distribution, the concept of money and input-output relationships.
  • Multiple systems of production and multiple nations on the same map

These are kind of the biggest parts of Corn, even though the AI and the interface and the years-away multiplayer component (which is probably going to require a simpler game focused purely on MP first) are what will determine if these elements have any meaning. I wanted there to be an actual game to play after a year and there really isn't yet. I released a verison of the game in late October, when there was even less to do in the game than there is now, and I planned to release more frequently, as a device to commit me to higher levels of productivity, but I don't really see the point in continuing to do that at this point. People have been extremely supportive of the game and seem very interested, which is a huge help, but they're not interested in vanity builds.

Obviously one reason for the delay is the fact that I work, and that I'm finishing a degree finally, and that takes up a good chunk of my time. Another reason is distractions- I spent several months in early 2013 without internet because I was convinced that it was the only way to make me get to work. The results were pretty good but I have to have internet so the experiment didn't last that long. But the real and most intractable reason why I'm struggling with Corn is the design.

Originally I was working with an academic paper in one window and the code in the other, or with a book open in front of me. Now I do the proper humanities major thing, and churn through books and papers, produce notes out of them, and then design from the notes. My understanding of the history of the 19th century, political economy, and economics generally, has improved slightly less drastically than the game has. The idea of using money and a yearly market, key parts of that second unfinished bullet point above, have only just emerged. I have a number of concrete ideas for the interface. And the other side of the game- the workers side, the colonial side, has come more sharply into focus even though I still think it's going to be weird. The capitalist will probably have all the fun and the player unfortunate enough to be leading a colonial country or a workers movement can only look forward to getting crushed (but that relies on multiplayer, years in the future).

Ultimately though this project has already outlived anything else I've ever worked on by several months. And I recently broke a long stretch of not doing anything with a short productive period. It's exciting to work on and the support of other people (an artist has started working on some proper graphics) is doubly exciting, and there's no timeline or schedule beyond the one I set for myself. Some people at work know I'm about to graduate and they've asked me what my plans are- management, another job, grad school- and I've kind of shrugged my shoulders, but I do have a plan, and it is: work, read and grow Corn.

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