One of our ideas has had quite an interesting evolution: Super PAC Bros! is a 2D arena-shooter simulating a political campaign that started as neither about politics, or 2D, despite having been inspired by one.

The idea started when my team’s programmer, Tyler, and I were discussing Duck Game, a recently-released 2D arena shooter where people played as ducks. We were won over by the game’s sense of humor, and Tyler expressed interest in making something similar. I started doing research on absurdism as a branch of philosophy, as opposed to a style of humor, and wanted to express that futility through a game. The resulting idea, Sisyphus, was fairly threadbare, and was more inspired by 3D arena shooters like Quake III and Unreal Tournament. The idea didn’t last long, but you can read the initial proposal here.

The trailer for Duck Game, which heavily inspired Super PAC Bros!

Tyler had an idea for a game mode called Capitalism, where characters would shoot money at each other. The more money they collected, though, the bigger their head would become, resulting in them becoming a bigger target and moving slower. Certainly the idea was funny, but it was, again, very bare, with no real documentation to support it.

Our producer, Nate, liked it though, and started looking at expressing economic theories through the game, renaming the game Capital Punishment (get it?). The idea developed more, with different weapons that shot different amounts of money, and alternate game modes like Inflation, where the cost of firing weapons continually increased. Still, the ideas weren’t made into a cohesive whole, with no documentation to back it up.

Honestly, though, it was my fault there wasn’t documentation sooner. I felt like the concept was running away from us quickly, and there wasn’t a centralized game play loop. I was also really nervous, because an idea like this was heavily dependent on systems design and balancing, and I wanted to focus more on levels. I went passively along with it, and didn’t focus on fixing the problem, like I should have. When we presented a basic prototype to the class, our professor called that out, and mentioned that the arena shooting concept was not enough on its own. He suggested adding a mode between matches that affected the amount of money players would have during the fighting. As such, it was time to get to work.

I went back to M.U.L.E. for inspiration (or at least, a freeware recreation of it), since it had been lauded for its simulation of economics. As I was playing it, I found the resource management part of the game appealing, being able to place M.U.L.E.s outfitted with different equipment across a geographic area in order to maximize output. I also really liked the auctioning system, where players would have to engage in brinksmanship in order to purchase land and resources. I had also watched Colbert’s interview with Donald Trump that morning, which probably contributed to the idea of politicians shooting money at each other instead of investors.

A video explanation of Planet M.U.L.E., a recreation of the Commodore 64 game M.U.L.E.

Warren Spector talking about M.U.L.E.

I decided that the actual rounds of combat would be “debates”, and that the whole series of debates would be a “campaign”. Before each round, players would have a chance to invest money in different states, helping them out in the polls; whoever was the most popular in the most states at the end of the game would win. Players would also be presented with game play challenges that, if met in the next debate, would reward them with money or points in a certain state. After each debate, a “news story” would occur, which would randomly reward or hinder players, much like the Community Chest cards in Monopoly.

Super PAC Bros! Campaign VDD

A UI mockup of the campaign screen for Super PAC Bros!

And after that, I had an idea that I was invested in. I’m still wary of having to do a lot of systems balancing, but I felt a lot more confident in the direction that it was going in. Pitching the change to the team went over well, and I proposed the name Super PAC Bros!, which kept in line with the theme and served as a pun on Super Smash Bros. We’re presenting this tone shift next class, and we’ll see what the professor thinks of it.

Super PAC Bros! Gameplay loop

The main gameplay loop of Super PAC Bros!

So, I learned two things: first, if I want to feel actively involved with making a game, I need to be actively involved with it. Second, I should just do my damn job.