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Systemic Improvement is a Snowball

Over the winter break from work I picked up a new game on Steam called Against the Storm. Against the Storm is a rogue-lite city-builder/management sim. Like many other city-builder or management sim games the goal of any specific “game” or “round” is to complete objectives and create a thriving settlement.

The interesting twist in this game is that every settlement takes place on a larger world map which itself exists within a persistent world. You explore the world creating settlements within a single “cycle”. When the cycle is over the world map resets and you start all over at the center of an unexplored map again. This is where the rogue-lite features come into play. When you complete settlements, and other meta-goals you can begin to unlock persistent improvements and perks that make your experience easier, and allow you to try to tackle harder difficulties or new challenges.

The systems in this game feel like an interesting and pertinent allegory for Design Systems. As you continue to work with product teams and make seemingly small improvements you “unlock perks” that make the same work easier for other teams, or allow your teams to begin looking at and tackling harder problems.

Much like in the game, each incremental improvement may not feel incredibly meaningful in a vacuum: 2% less fuel consumption, or a single button component may not feel or look like a huge deal; but when combined 5x over, or with other improvements it means that your settlements and teams do not need to stress over these things and can shift their focus to more meaningful investments and improvements.

The real world is a lot like a rogue-lite game in this sense. Everything you try something; even if it doesn’t pan out, you gain something. That might be experience and knowledge, or even a new pattern or component. All of these “persistent benefits” continue to grow on each other and eventually become a snowball rolling down a hill.

Just an interesting relationship I noticed while playing and thought it might help someone who may be too focused on the small improvements and missing the overall growing improvement that every little win provides.

If you’re interested in city-building or management sim style games I definitely think it’s worth a look and provides some interesting gameplay and challenge mechanics.

Adam Sedwick

I work on Design systems and Advocate for Accessibility on the web.



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