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Confessions of a Central Planner

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Sieben Posted: Tue, May 25 2010 1:11 PM

So, I started playing this oldschool city building game. You start from scratch. No civilization, building up to a (hopefully) thriving city. You, the central planner, are responsible for how much housing to build, which jobs to create, which industries to promote, etc etc.

People are modeled as socialist robots. Happily and blindly they follow my directions. Their needs are simple and known. Food, water, clothing, culture, fuel, beauty. In that order, every time. So I must provide these needs for them, and pay them. Although I'm not sure what the point is in money, since I own *everything*. I don't know what they're supposed to be buying...

The initial stages of the game are easy. You produce as much food as you can to grow your population. Later stages of the game become more difficult. I often find I am overproducing certian sectors, having invested too much. When this happens, i build extra storehouses. When my storehouses are full, I simply destroy what I do not need.

More disastrous is if I have invested too little to support a growing population, and a large portion of them might starve, or emigrate, leaving my factories half manned. These grand economic collapses could so easily be solved if my people were of free will. But there is no price of food to be bid up, nor entrepreneurs to expand my fisheries. So people starve.

Sometimes too many socialist robots move in and start raising unemployment. With no market to employ them, and having no personal reason to expand my economy, I simply destroy their houses. Bye bye. Don't feel like feeding you. I, the planner, see people as means, not ends.

I can see why china builds entire cities first before moving anyone in. It just looks so much better on the drawing board. Sometimes I'm just lazy though. I forget to put maintenence in new districts. A fire will start, kill everyone and destroy all the buildings. Whoops.

Despite the apparent gross mismanagement of my people, I usually prevail and establish a vibrant city. It overproduces most everything. The mish-mash of roads and industry are a mess. I could make it more efficient and get the most out of every water carrier or watchman, but I don't. I just build more of what I need, even if changing the road structure could better serve my city. Just... don't want to think about it...

Distribution and storage becomes progressively more difficult (sometimes all the grain is on one side of the city). This leads to starvation in some districts, which if you think about it, the problem of distribution kind of solves itself. I don't need grain over there anymore!

Often, other nations do not desire to trade for the goods I produce, so I just wage war on them to get free stuff. I do it even to my trade partners, because free is better than trading.

When other nations attack me, I have two options. I can use my leet troops on horseback with bronze armor to quickly dispatch the enemy. Or, I can assemble the rabble and lose men in a 20:1 ratio against their centurions. I always choose the latter since bronze and horses are much more scarce than common men. They quickly repopulate the empty housing, fully regenerating my empire.

Anyway, being a central planner kicks butt because you're king and can make all the decisions. It sucks though, because it would be so much easier to just let my empire run itself on most affairs. Its taught me that I would never want to live under myself as a central planner.

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lol this reminded of when I used to play Lords of the Realm 2 as a kid. It always started off easy enough 

"Your people are happy my lord!"

"Your people are unhappy my lord."

"Your people....are starving my lord."

 

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Nielsio replied on Wed, May 26 2010 12:33 AM

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I used to play that game. I also played the one based on Ancient Rome and the Sim City games. Though to go one step further, I rather enjoy playing the Civilization series of games. Of course in these games, pretty much one must go to war if one does not have resources, or to win the game. There is a crude trading policy but that is more for a human to manipulate the AI at times. In fact, one could argue that if one wants to conquer the rival Civs communism is the best form of government, though I suppose there is more truth in that then I thought at first glance.

"Man thinks not only for the sake of thinking, but also in order to act."-Ludwig von Mises

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chloe732 replied on Wed, May 26 2010 1:02 AM

Snowflake, this is good.   I really like the overall tone and the descriptions of the disasters that inflict the planner.  Those poor automatons get burned, starve, slaughtered in war, have their homes destroyed, etc., just like real socialist states!  I think if you expand on this, bring in more examples from sound economics, and edit it some, it could be submitted to be published in Mises Daily.  

"The market is a process." - Ludwig von Mises, as related by Israel Kirzner.   "Capital formation is a beautiful thing" - Chloe732.

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LeeO replied on Wed, May 26 2010 1:21 AM

Really enjoyed reading this. And the video.

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chloe732 replied on Wed, May 26 2010 1:23 AM

Nice job, Nielsio.  I see you posted this on your Channel.  I envision this becoming an excellent learning tool, with animation showing the automatons living the socialist dream (while they starve, burn, get slaughtered, etc).

"The market is a process." - Ludwig von Mises, as related by Israel Kirzner.   "Capital formation is a beautiful thing" - Chloe732.

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Hard Rain replied on Wed, May 26 2010 5:39 AM

I play Rome: Total War with a tiny army and I pretty much let settlements run themselves. I do extract heavy taxes in the beginning, though, but this is so I can bribe invading armies, generals and eventually even enemy cities. Ah, the joys of capitalism! 

"I don't believe in ghosts, sermons, or stories about money" - Rooster Cogburn, True Grit.
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ricarpe replied on Wed, May 26 2010 7:59 AM

Awesome post, Snowflake!  I learned something important from it, too:

Its taught me that I would never want to live under myself as a central planner.

Neither would I!  :^P

"All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree." -James Madison

"If government were efficient, it would cease to exist."

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See, that's why I wish there were games that allowed for more of a free market.

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Conza88 replied on Wed, May 26 2010 9:14 AM

Capitalism II.

Ron Paul is for self-government when compared to the Constitution. He's an anarcho-capitalist. Proof.
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krazy kaju replied on Wed, May 26 2010 11:22 AM

Right, there are business simulation games, but there aren't any grand strategy games (that I know of) that allow for a relatively free market. Even in games where you can set certain market policies, you are ultimately responsible for resource accumulation (e.g. Hearts of Iron 2). From my experience, I would say that games need better economic simulations.

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abskebabs replied on Wed, May 26 2010 2:28 PM

I think the sad reality is that there are a great many among us who do view civiilization and its problems in this way. With the right "management" they can solve everything, which is why people often yearn for "strong men" dictators. I used to think this way, and still know plenty of people who do.

"When the King is far the people are happy."  Chinese proverb

For Alexander Zinoviev and the free market there is a shared delight:

"Where there are problems there is life."

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eliotn replied on Wed, May 26 2010 3:01 PM

"See, that's why I wish there were games that allowed for more of a free market."

That would be awesome!  As an alternative to micromanaging the economy, you could have a hands off approach, as your minons manage the economy.  I would like the player to have some involvement in the game, however.  But if the simulation is good enough, part of the game could be simply viewing the simulation.

I need to incorporate that element into the game I am developing, as an alternative to micromanagement.  I think it would be best to pseudo-simulate the economy by using a genetic algorithm/neural network AI:  Actors have plans, but they modify them a prosteriori based on how well they acheived their goals.

Schools are labour camps.

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eliot, a game that incorporates a free market could allow the player to sit back and focus on diplomatic and military issues.In terms of the economy, the users could also choose how much to tax, borrow, and spend now vs. later.

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fakename replied on Wed, May 26 2010 7:03 PM

"I think the sad reality is that there are a great many among us who do view civiilization and its problems in this way. With the right "management" they can solve everything, which is why people often yearn for "strong men" dictators. I used to think this way, and still know plenty of people who do."

Yeah, that is true, at the very least for me (although my political theory can hardly be said to have emerged from video games). At least in terms of economics, most strategy games at least, have a good knowledge of say's law -you never get rich in any strategy game I know of by using more of your resources than you produce. Right there, these games are theoretically purer than most of the economic profession!

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For more than a year now I am (very slowly) designing a game to provoke anarchistic thoughts.

The main ideas are:

  1. to make it possible for the player to abandon playing god
  2. to make it discoverable that intervening is harmful
  3. to make it fun not playing god

To solve the first, the player should interact with the game through a "mere mortal" avatar - not through an omnipotent god hand.

The laws of economics should take care of #2 - but the economy must be simulated faithfully (e.g., not bribing people with gold they have no obvious use for; having at least basic demand and supply interaction, having scarce resources; having hidden qualities). Oh yes, having a mortal avatar helps to discover the bad effects of policies (assassinations in extreme cases, but also occassional comments from the personal chef that he unfortunatelly could not find fancy food on the market for the players table if the food market is indeed in bad shape).

The main challenge is to cater for #3 - in multiplayer variant plain social interaction may itself be the fun part, but for a single-player I am not sure yet - maybe having funny microgames for different "honest" professions can do the trick.

The business plan would be to distribute this as free to play, using it as a fun educating tool (so probably a web game format to begin with).

Any comments/ideas?

Thanks in advance!

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fakename replied on Fri, May 28 2010 11:16 AM

For #3, there should be some way to transfer the gains made "playing God" into the "not-playing God" mode. Perhaps you can siphon off rents and revenues made from trade into the Imperial Budget or something but you could also take money you gain from taxes and tribute and use that for your personal life. In this way too, a causal connection can be made between your policies and your personal income.

I think that the name for the game should capitalize (if only there were no copyrights) on the caesar or sims product because this game idea is not substantially so different as to warrant a whole new series name.

I hope what I said was not too innane.

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I had to revive this excellent thread.

You see people, there is a game that rewards you for being a pacifist and a non-interventionist and even a fiscal conservative.

And it's an unlikely contender of Medieval II: Total War!

Okay, just joking, but it's true. Medieval II expects you to be very careful and decent in treating friend or foe alike, as well as your own people. Unlike Rome, there isn't that free pass in being a casual mass murderer.

Suppose you are Wales. If there are English troops squeezing out your trade and making hostilities around you, and you are forced to use military force against them, then you must still be careful. If you do a large violent assault on a hostile rebel settlement, it would be a massacre for your troops coming and then for those inside, who'll be furious about all the killings afterwards. If you simply put a siege on the city, and waited until those hostile ran out of food, they will surrender peacefully afterwards. In rare occasions, they will do a counter-attack, which could easily leave them killed from arrows, and they will start fleeing faster than they will continue fighting to death. It is better that you not anger the civilians who are inside and simply break the soldiers from fear instead of killing them in battle. Once you have control of a settlement, it's still better not to conduct an ethnic genocide a la Rome: Total War, because that may increase social unrest even more, but only reduce the number of those who are angry.

I saw this example when my French forces forcefully took Antioch from Selijuk Turks. I felt that my Catholic troops would be threatened by the native Muslim masses of the city, and I should kill all of them on occupying the city so that they won't riot regularly and make life difficult. Interestingly, that city was the hardest to pacify in the long run, and ten years later a massive, well armed civil revolt threw out the French forces and killed the young prince ruling it.

Similarly, even if you are justified in going to war against a hostile enemy, you will lose much of your reputation if you are a ruler regularly engaging troops abroad in war. It will cut your charisma until you don't have strong authority, corruption goes high, and civil order goes down. Better that you moderate your warmongering as well.

When you win a battle, you imprison the enemy army. I  was playing the Mayans and I captured the Spanish forces who had led a huge attack on my cities. Seeing how powerful Spanish guns were, I didn't want to see them attack me again. I had the option of ransoming the prisoners, releasing them for free, or sacrificing them to the Sun God. Sacrificing them made the Spaniards so angry that they doubled their efforts. Similar things were observed when my Crusader Knights were harsh to Egyptians. Instead, if you released them, the enemy will repay the favour by also releasing your troops and by trying to bring the war to an end, as I observed when I was the Spanish fighting the Mayans. 

Keeping your troops abroad will seriously burn down your treasury. Unintentionally, this game forces you into making decisions on the margin, where you should only spend from current surpluses (if there are any), and not from the treasury, because having your troops abroad pushes up your upkeep so high that it will keep reducing from your treasury while they are fighting. Fighting wars means that you don't spend money on anything else. And if you do spend on anything else, you'll run bankrupt faster and will remain almost perpetually in debt. You can only resume spending and investing on your own private estate to increase revenues once the warring is over and the upkeep doesn't strain your surpluses. Even in peacetimes, uncertainty forces you to hoard and be thrift, and spend only from what you earn, knowing that some war in the future can burn down the treasury again.

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wolfman replied on Fri, Oct 15 2010 12:36 PM

Rome TW is a military oriented game.

I guess yours is more administrative.

Could be interesting. I will try to rent it and see how it is.

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It would be nice to see a MMORP that was based on free market capitalism.  The player's role would be as an entreprenuer - the only "planner" role that has any real merit.  You could set up regions in the game where you may have government and some that are ancap.  The simulation would have to be designed so that it isn't centered on war or the central planner, as most of these types of games are.  Those are really just strategies, not core mechanics.  The core mechanic should be based on human action.

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ricarpe replied on Fri, Oct 15 2010 1:28 PM

Eve Online

This is about the closest I think you'll find to a free market economy game.

"All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree." -James Madison

"If government were efficient, it would cease to exist."

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I was reminded of this by the new Human Capital thread...figured this deserved a bump.

 

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