Derby Day Game Design: The Newspaper

In Derby Day, the players start each day in their office where they decide what actions they will perform. They have access to four different UI elements:

  • The telephone
  • The day’s newspaper
  • Their computer
  • Their car keys

As we continue with these articles I will explain the goal behind and the actions associated with each one of these items. Today I’m going to discuss the very important newspaper.

Players’ goal with the newspaper will be to gather information about the current state in the world of the game. My goal with the newspaper is in the seemingly useless first page of the newspaper.

The first page of the newspaper contains stories about the outside world

As you can see, the first page of the newspaper contains information that is irrelevant for the player. With this I have three design purposes. The first is to help the player to feel like they are in the 90s with stories such as Kurt Cobain’s suicide, Apple’s financial troubles, the OJ Simpson trial, and the genocide in Rwanda. My second purpose is to bring the mood down with mostly negative stories. My third goal behind this page started when I first ready Hunter S. Thompson’s article (mentioned in my first article) in which he writes:

At the airport newsstand I picked up a Courier-Journal and scanned the front page headlines: “Nixon Sends GI’s into Cambodia to Hit Reds” … “B-52’s Raid, then 2,000 GI’s Advance 20 Miles” … “4,000 U.S. Troops Deployed Near Yale as Tension Grows Over Panther Protest.”

And then later when he’s talking to his new friend Jimbo:

I shook my head and said nothing; just stared at him for a moment, trying to look grim. “There’s going to be trouble,” I said. “My assignment is to take pictures of the riot.”
“What riot?”
I hesitated, twirling the ice in my drink. “At the track. On Derby Day. The Black Panthers.” I stared at him again. “Don’t you read the newspapers?”
The grin on his face had collapsed. “What the hell are you talkin about?”

People at the horse races don’t care about the outside world. They don’t talk about politics or world events. They use horse racing as a way of ignoring the real world. The rich can attend the Kentucky Derby and allow themselves to flaunt their riches without remorse. The poor can forget that they’re poor and believe that they’re just one race away from being among the rich.

A few years ago I was at Saratoga Springs (oldest horse track in the USA!) and I noticed an article hiding at the start of the program.

No horses were killed, injured, or fired

This is the only place in which the program acknowledged the outside world. It felt out of place. I asked my friend Fran’s dad (horse racing enthusiast and unofficial Saratoga historian) about it and he explained that it was there so that the program could be sold as a newspaper to benefit from tax breaks/exemptions.

This is exemplifies perfectly the world of horse racing. I needed to put the same thing in the game. Once players get experience with the game, they understand that this page is useless and they will skip it as fast as they can, just like experienced handicappers do when reading the Saratoga racing program.

In Derby Day, the newspaper also contains useful information. After the first page players will be able to see the odds of the next race so that they can plot against the high ranked horses and their owners/jockeys.

This UI could use a bit of love

The newspaper will also contain stories relevant to the game so that players can make more informed decisions and to balance their strategies. I still have to plan out how I will code this in a way that is helpful, but still vague enough that players have to weigh their options instead of always responding the same way to each article.

I’m also planning to add an obituaries page to announce the deaths of horses who have been poisoned, or jockeys who have overdosed on cocaine.