Patrick Curry’s Thoughts on Game Design

« Game Idea #6: Freelance Foto | Game Idea #8: Work of Art »

February 12th, 2006

Game Idea #7: Oval Office

Here’s game idea number seven. I thought I’d try something a little different this time…

High Concept:

Oval Office is a Presidential-Sim. You play as the President of the United States, widely considered to be the most powerful person in the world. How you use these powers will be entirely up to you as you take on the day-to-day challenges of a real-life President. How will history remember you?



Why it needs to be made:

Most sim/strategy games have the player in the role of an omnipotent dictator whose subjects follow his every whim. In StarCraft you never have to pick up the phone and convince a senator that attacking the “Zerg” is a good idea. In Oval Office it’s people skills that will help you push your agenda, not frantic mouse-clicks.


Oval Office is a different kind of sim/strategy game. You don’t “control” hundreds of little soldiers and make them do your bidding. Instead you just control yourself… but you’re the President, so people tend to listen to what you have to say. The primary interface of the game is talking to people. If you want to get a budget increase approved, you call or meet with a senator. If you want to improve trade relations with another country, you meet with their ambassador or head of state. And if you want to send troops to aide a foreign country, you meet with your military advisors to talk it over.

Every action in the game has different costs associated with it. There’s the real-money cost, which comes out of the budget, there’s the political capital cost, which equates to favors with those in Washington D.C., there’s approval-rating cost, which determines what the public with think of it, there’s the diplomatic cost, which determines what the global community will think of it, and finally there’s manpower cost. You have to weigh the costs of each action against its benefits, and make your decision of what to do. Signing a certain bill might get you some more political capital, but at the cost of money. Giving a powerful State of the Union Address might raise your approval-rating here at home, but cost you some diplomatic points abroad.

Over the course of your term you will have to deal with a series of randomly-generated crises. There could be an economic crisis, and you have to decide how to best deal with it. Or a member of your cabinet could be under investigation for corruption. While these crises will keep you from pushing your own agenda, how you deal with them will have the potential for huge gains, or huge losses.

Why it will be fun:

Who hasn’t dreamed of being President before? While it has to be one of the most stressful jobs in the world, it also has to be one of the most rewarding. My aim with Oval Office would be to limit the amount of stress put upon the player while maximizing the rewards. And hey, if you learn something, that’s cool too.

Final thoughts:

Of all of the game ideas I’ve written so far, Oval Office has to be the least obvious of how to implement. I think it’s in part because I’ve never played a game like this before, so there would have to be a lot of experimentation with the interface and flow to get it to work just right.

Thanks to Matt and Ryan for being the sounding boards on this one.

Update from 2021: we're working on a game that reminds me of this concept -- Political Arena

2 Responses to “Game Idea #7: Oval Office”

  1. Patrick Moran commented:
    posted February 14th, 2006 at 12:21 am

    Positech made a game very similar to this called Democracy. You can check it out at It is a well done text simluation and won Game Tunnel’s sim game of the year award. Despites it’s accuracy and fun as a simulation, the visual feedback and style could use a lot of attention. It would be great to see the effects of your actions carry out on a map of your nation.

  2. Tynan Sylvester commented:
    posted January 31st, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    The difficult part of this is that it depends on coherently simulating interpersonal relationships. The issue, of course, is that nobody has figured out how to get computers to understand interpersonal cause-and-effect relationships in a satisfactory way.

    It seems really simple on the surface, but only because our brains are wired to spend a lot of brain real estate on thinking through social situations. From a complexity standpoint, we’re all ’savants’ in the social arena. We just don’t notice it because everyone without a mental disability shares this talent.

    I’m interested in this because I tackled a similar problem before. I’ve actually worked out a design for a possible game based on social/political challenges, but I eventually had to give up try to work out a system for having computers understand if/then possibilities and managing perceptions and reputations. Closest attempt I’ve seen at actually doing this is Storytron, which remains too clunky to be marketable at the moment:

    I encourage you to try to work this design out more specifically. Writing my design for my game forced me through a lot of mental hoops; it was a good learning experience. And no, my design isn’t about presidential politics, but it is vaguely isomorphic to them (politics in the White House really aren’t that fundamentally different from politics in the frat house).

    Cool site, by the way. I’ve enjoyed reading some of your ideas.

« Game Idea #6: Freelance Foto | Game Idea #8: Work of Art »

« Back to 52 Game Ideas

All original content and game designs © Copyright Patrick Curry, 1999-2013. All rights reserved.


Possible Impossible Oxygen