Transport Tycoon (1991)

A business simulator where you have to lead a transportation company through many game-years of development and competition against other companies, human or AI. Competition is for profits and status, as well as the market share of your industries.
You have to build transport links (trains, road vehicles, ships, airplanes) between factories and cities, each supplying a certain kind of cargo. Then you put vehicles on these links to periodically go through your orders, performing a primitive operation (like loading/unloading, transfering cargo) at stations.
Originally released in 1991 by Scottish developer Chris Sawyer, has undergone substantial improvements and growth in complexity. As of late can be used for online play, which is how I have personally drained many hours on this game.2

The lens of Economy

Economy is the main driving force of the game. You spend money to build your infrastructure, and earn it from the deliveries. The earnings you use to further develop by upgrading railroads or airports, buying new vehicles or improving your links.
Money might be too easy to get. Initially you can take out a loan, and when the business kicks off, there’s an ever increasing income. However, the game can escalate into a fierce, fast-paced building competition whereby running out of money could ruin the fun, so this is not really an issue.
A rather accurately implemented inflation and interest rates, as well as the ability to buy shares of other companies and bribe local councils give a very realistic, dynamic experience.

The Lens of Judgment

Players are judged by economic performance indicators, such as income, operating profits, units of cargo delivered, company value, etc. This results in a status (president/chairman/chief executive…); a higher status gives you a fancier house.
All players are given equal opportunity and starting conditions, and they can compare their success or failure to other companies. The game is completely transparent, i.e. you can see the financial situation and infrastructure of others, which is a good motivation to do better.

The Lens of Skill

I have played with both complete novices and die-hard veterans, and skill does have a big influence on the result of the particular player.
The game’s success was mainly driven by its railway building system, which gives an unparalleled degree of freedom. Mastery of the signalling systems determines the efficiency of your network and your revenues.


The picture shows a highly sophisticated railway system, built by someone from the forum community. These people are very tenacious about perfecting this craft, and articles such as are in good supply. There has even been a paradigm shift from “point-to-point forth and back deliveries” to circuit-like networks, which are more efficient but harder to convert to a different rail type.
Although learning curve is steep, fun starts already at the lower stages of the curve, so no one is cast out. The game also offers alternative channels for the players’ creativity – people enjoy building beautifully engineered railways (like above), or developing cities, or keeping up a theme like eco-friendly or a soulless corporation. All these different gameplay courses co-exist on the same game map, so players of different skill level can enjoy each other.

The Lens of Time

Transport Tycoon starts in year 1930 and goes until 2030, when following a victory announcement you can keep playing for as long as you like. A year in-game takes around 20min in real life.
During this course, several autonomous developments take place:4

  • New, better vehicles become available
  • Cities grow, their buildings become modernized
  • New types of rail (normal, monorail, maglev) and airports spring up – see picture
  • Your old vehicles wear out and are prone to breakdowns
  • New factories appear (like oil rigs), used up ones close down

All these mutations give a temporal dimension to the game, letting you anticipate progress and preventing boredom. In addition, the graphs from above record a history, so you can see your performance in retrospect.
I think the game’s time handling is integral to the experience. It takes you through the growth of a world whose architect is you yourself. By the end it feels like a lifetime has passed, and you have become familiar with all the cities, terrain and competitors. Saving the game after completion is like taking a photograph of this experience that you can later revisit and reminisce.

The Lens of Problem Solving

Transport Tycoon is played in an isometric world, and you have to lay your railways, roads, and sometimes carve water channels manually. Some tiles don’t allow certain variations of rail, so figuring out how to get from point A to B can be a headache and a creative exercise – “is it better to build rail over the mountain and let trains slow down, or build a very expensive tunnel?”. Landscaping, bridges and tunnels are your primary tools of navigating the world that you have to combine to achieve the best efficiency and cost.
One type of industry is banking, and banks are built in large cities in later stages of the game. The problem is that it’s awfully difficult to build a station close enough, as cities are very restrictive to demolitions. Solutions include pre-emptively building a station in larger towns at the start of the game, before they’ve grown into a city. In this case you have to solve the problem of predicting which cities will grow, and where a bank is likely to be built. Or bribe the council to allow demolition.
Then, there are primary (mining) and secondary (processing) industries. You have to manage the delivery chain to ensure ample input and output of resources, and that you’re not accidentally fueling a competitor’s factory.
Solving these problems is a great source of fun and competition.



Hearthstone is an upcoming F2P digital collectible card game from Blizzard   Enterntainment that revolves around turn-based online 1vs1 matches between two opponents. Players start the game with a substantial collection of ‘basic’ cards, but can gain rarer cards through purchasing packs of additional cards, or as reward for success in the Arena. Hearthstone is set withing the Warcraft universe.

Since I have played numerous physical card games back in the days, the game highly resonates with me. As it is done by Blizzard, despite the large amount of bugs, it is still very polished for a game still in beta phase. The game successfully imitates real cards (it has the right ‘feeling’), is very well balanced, and has a nice learning curve. As expected from the company that brought World of Warcraft, the graphics are slightly cartoony, but a pleasure to look at.


  • The success of one’s game relies heavily on one’s skill
  • Skill can be shown in
    • Creating playing decks out of cards in Constructed Mode
    • Creating playing decks out of cards in Arena Mode
      • Each arena run you are given a random choice of 3 cards iteratively until your pack of 30 cards is full, which shows your understanding of the game mechanics and trends
  • Playing the game
    • It is paramount to know how to react to opponent’s plays
    • Knowing when and how to play defensively/aggressively
    • Approximating the probabilities of you drawing ‘that special card’ you need
    • Controlling the game board – dictating your opponent’s counterplays
  • It does not happen often such that a higher-skilled player dominates the lower-skilled player as an internal ranking system of players has been implemented (see section Balance)


  • The most important aspect of chance comes in drawing cards from the deck of 30 cards
    • The correct or incorrect order for one’s success defines the outcomes of many games
  • Every time one buys a new card pack, he/she gets a random set of 5 cards out of 382
    • Different rarity class cards have different chances of appearing
    • Every card revealed can become a Golden vanity card with a small chance
  • Every time one finishes an Arena run, he is rewarded with a random amount of packages that may include in a predefined range a random amount of
    • Gold (in-game money), Dust (for crafting new cards), Card packs or a random card
  • Every day each player receives a new randomly selected quest with a gold reward
  • Chance is not as important to a player’s long-term success as skill
    • With extended knowledge of the game and intelligence, one can work around the lack of synergy between cards and the unluck of drawing the wrong cards


  • Can easily be compared with chess, which is considered one of the most elegant games
    • The game is between 2 people with relatively equal chance of winning
    • Uses mindgames and countering
  • Each match is a short-term goal for a player with the purpose of winning it
  • Each match contributes to long-term goals
    • Gaining experience both in-game and mentally
    • Levelling up the characters
    • Unlocking new cards
    • Ranking up in the global ladder and ranking system
  • The game is elegant in the freedom and simplicity it gives the player in the ways he/she can construct the deck and play it


  • Game has in-game matchmaking ranking system that matches players according to their approximated skill level based upon former success or the lack of it
  • Everyone has the ability to acquire the same cards through the same means, thus being completely fair
  • As some in-game classes are sometimes inherently stronger than others, the community counters these classes automatically by building decks that work against them, thus weakening and giving other class decks a higher chance of winning
    • So although Blizzard does nerf the cards that are so good that are used in almost every deck, no explicit balancing is needed on their behalf

The Nameless Quality

  • Has very natural design and feel to it
    • A lot of emphasis is put on such that the cards feel physical as in real life
    • Although possible to implement the game in 2D, the game takes advantage of 3D effects to make the feeling of the game more realistic
    • Many apparently static ‘beauty’ elements of the game are interactable as you wait for your turn
      • E.g. clicking on roof tiles of a decorative house to break them off
      • E.g. petting a lying-down gryffin from the Warcraft universe
  • From the Alexander’s Fifteen Properties of Living Structures has
    • Boundaries – strict enforced game rules and limited cards per class
    • Alternating Repetition – drawing a card from the deck
    • Deep Interlock and Ambiguity – The cards played might have different effects given their position on the board and based upon which cards it is on the board adjacent to
    • Gradients – as you get better in the game, you also get more skilled opponents
    • Echoes – there are 3 types of cards: minions, spells and weapons
    • The Void – the game board is initially empty and can be emptied, leaving a big space
    • Simplicity and Inner Calm – self-balancing game as time progresses
    • Not-Separateness – high emphasis is put on the synergy between cards and is paramount for success


NBA 2K 14

The video game I want to analyze here is NBA2K series produced by 2K. I have been playing the game starting from NBA 2K9 and the newest version currently is NBA2K14. The game is a sports game with many different modes. The most basic one is to control an NBA team fight against another one. I love the game because I love both playing basketball and watching NBA matches. I find it interesting and competitive especially playing with friends instead of combating with AI.

Main website:

Youtube demo video: (The demo is on PS4)


Figure. NBA 2K 14


l  Essential Experience

n  The game is able to accurately capture the essence of what a player or a manager or a coach gets from playing a real-life basketball/NBA league. For example, you can play as a player starting from rookie year to win numerous awards.

n  The game allows people who are not good at playing basketball enjoy the fun of basketball.

n  The game allows experienced basketball players or NBA fans to gain the sense of achievement by building great teams and winning the championships in the league.


Figure. 30 teams in NBA league

l  Fun

n  NBA 2K series are definitely full of fun. The games contain many different modes which fulfill different requirements and I love combating with my friends via the games.


Figure. Play 1 on 1 with best friend

n  Among all the modes, I love the Jordan Challenges and Create a Legend in 2K 11 best. I can not only experience the highlights in Air Jordan’s career but also play as Jordan starting from his rookie year and finally become a legend by our own effort.


Figure. Create a Legend

l  Skill

n  The game requires multiple skills to play well. Different modes even require different sets of skills. For example, Quick game requires the skill to control the whole team; MyCareer mode requires the skill to control only one basketball player; Association requires the management and trading skills, etc.

n  Players like us have to improve our skills to achieve the goals we want.


Figure. MyCareer mode


Figure. Control one player in one match


Figure. Manage the whole team


Figure. Control the whole team in one match


l  Fairness/Competitive

n  NBA 2K series are definitely skill-based and fair games. Players with more skills and experiences are more competitive compared to those who seldom play the game. There are strong teams and weak teams, but your skill will finally decide which are indeed strong.

n  You can adjust the “fairness” by selecting suitable difficulty levels. There are several levels for players of different background.


Figure. Different difficulty levels allow various players to have fun

l  Control

n  NBA 2K series are powerful “control” games. The game has training sessions that help players get familiar with and therefore master the controlling system. You can always complete complicated actions by using game controller or keyboard.


Figure. Training Camp

n  It is also the “realest” basketball game. A few years ago, NBA Live series was another famous NBA basketball game. However, it eventually failed to compete with NBA 2K because of its controlling system was too poor. It was too easy to score and I cannot feel the power of my controlling skills.