Campaign Puppets

Over the years I’ve played many computer games about US presidential elections, games like Doonesbury Election Game: Campaign ’96The Political Machine, and President Forever. They were entertaining but ultimately degenerated into a state-by-state resource grind. In 2012 I started development on an iOS game focused on the Republican primary elections but I wasn’t able to come up with a design that satisfied me.

On November 26th I watched my first Republican debate of the 2016 primary season and I was appalled at what I saw. I’ve heard about the tenor and tone of the prior debates but I didn’t believe it had reached this level until I saw it with my own eyes. The candidate interactions were anything but presidential, the moderator couldn’t stop the candidates from abusing the format (I don’t know why they don’t turn off their mikes when they go over their time limits), and the whole event made me sad about the direction our political process is heading (I fear the movie Idiocracy is strangely prophetic).

But the whole event did give me an idea for a US presidential election primary computer game for smartphones and tablets that might tap into today’s political zeitgeist, be somewhat entertaining, and let me expand on some ideas I first implemented in Teen Talk. The goal of the game is to win your party’s nomination in a series of debates. The topic is US politics. The gameplay should reflect the conditions of a real debate where one misstatement can bring you down in the polls.

The entire game is played on one screen (see my Entire Game on One Screen post for why I’m going with this design).

campaign-puppets-screen-1

On the right side are the candidates (A); on the left are the topics they’ll be questioned about (B). The topic list is scrollable since their will be more topics than can be displayed in the available area (same for the candidate list if necessary).

At the top are the panel of reporters who’ll be asking the candidates questions (C). The reporter’s questions and candidate answers appear in the conversation area (D) and scroll off the top of the screen as time goes by (you can scroll up to see previous dialog).

Candidate replies and interjections are created using the iconic inverse parser (E) at the bottom of the screen along with the candidate and topic icons.

campaign-puppets-screen-1-annotated

Reporter’s questions are asked in iconic statements. The mockup question below uses, from left to right, top to bottom, the following icons – Trump Iran Favor/Agree Strong Attack/Offense Smart Nuclear QuestionMark (these are not final, just a quick mockup).

In the player’s mind my hope is that it translates into something like the English equivalent of “Mr Trump on Iran you favor a strong offense but is that smart given Iran’s nuclear program?”

question-trump-1

The player replies using the inverse parser at the bottom of the screen as well as the candidate and topic icons. They could have the candidate say

trump-reply-1

or

trump-reply-2

or even

trump-reply-3

These are not the exact icons and statements that you’ll be able to create using the game’s rhetoric engine, just something I threw together using icons from The Noun Project. Also, the statements you can create might be a combination of icons, words, and interactive modifiers to indicate intensity and tone.

Some other gameplay elements that could be programmed in add a tag team wrestling flavor to the debate:

  • Your replies could be time dependent, you only have so much time to respond and any hesitation gives another candidate the opportunity to interrupt or sandbag you
  • Other candidates could interrupt you if your attacking them in their response (a candidate’s inclination to attack would be based on their individual personality traits).
  • Candidate ranking top-to-bottom could change to reflect public perception of who’s “winning” the current debate.
  • Changes in individual candidate traits could be displayed next to a candidate’s icon to give you realtime feedback on how your attacks against them are doing.
  • Candidate traits could be tied to realtime facial animation on candidate icons (examples here and here).

I’m going to give this some additional thought over the next couple of days, particularly while watching the next Republican debate on March 3rd.

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