Designing Nations

Lately I have been talking a fair bit about a side project I am involved in called Org, an asynchronous tablet/web logistical game where each player controls an organization in a 25th century solar system, accumulating and exercising power in a wide array of manners including both cultural domination, political lobbying, privateering against established national polities, and commercial enterprise.

One of the latest exercises I have been working on seems simple on the outset – the devision of flags for the national polities of the 25th century solar system.

As you peel back the layers of the process, however, some very interesting design considerations begin to show through, in the process making for a worthwhile discussion.

We could simply just build off of what looks good, but let’s be honest – a lot of flags in the real world aren’t exactly works of art. But then, they aren’t supposed to; flags are intended to be symbolic representatives of the national polities they represent. The stripes of the United States flag represent something very specific – the original thirteen colonies. The colors of many of Africa’s flags were chosen deliberately because they refer back to colors symbolizing dreams of African unity. The symbol on India’s flag, the Ashoka Chakra, a 24-spoke wheel, is rife with spiritual import.

So, instead, we decided to build flags kind of the way they are built in real life – from the ground up, with an eye to the symbolism. We also do a couple of cheaty design things intended to make your lives easier.

What we mean by “making your lives easier” is recognizing that with over thirty distinct polities, it’s hard to keep track of which is which, even if most players will only be dealing with the polities immediately around them. One thing we have done is to put in recognizable – or at least familiar – symbols to remind the player what the polity is.

For example, the Democratic Republic of Triton (shown to left) has Neptune’s giant fish hook – a triton – on it, as a sneaky reminder that the polity is in Neptune’s orbit.

Similarly, the two Mars polities both favor red (albeit different shades of red) and both use the very familiar symbol for Mars. The Oceanic League’s flag features stylized waves. The Iapetus Coalition has a shielded “I” at the center of its banner. The Collaborated Union of the Hildas Triangle has a stylized triple-triangle at its heart. All of these things are, of course, done in the real world, though we decided to be a little more aggressive about using that as a mechanic.

The second thing we did was to try not to replicate color choices within an orbit more than necessary (obviously, black and white get a free pass on this), so there is less chance of confusion when you are trying to remember if it’s the Republic of Titan’s blue-and-gold that you were running raids on or the Amalgamated Calpultin of Dione’s red-and-black.

Another consideration was to leverage both the future histories of the (mostly) off-Earth polities along with their namesakes’ mythologies, where such were notable. The constellation of the Little Dipper and the bear of the Commonwealth of Callisto refer to the mythology of the original Callisto, a Greek nymph who was transformed into a bear and set among the stars.

The Amalgamated Calupultin of Dione feature the Aztec glyph for a burning town and the number “8” in Nahuatl to represent the original eight settlements on Dione, as well as the moon’s original Mesoamerican colonizers.

The flags of Earth are slyer, making references to the original states that the 25th century polities emerged out of; the Eastern Federation has elements of the old imperial flag of Russia along with the Yin-Yang symbol, tying the constituent elements of 21st century Russia and China into the modern 25th century state of the Eastern Federation.

Union has elements of the old European Union flag (though it is not the European Union itself – that disintegrated in the latter half of the 21st century). State bears elements of the old United States, though the modern State encompasses a much broader domain governed from the capitol of Havana on the island of Cuba. The Southern Bloc is a mixture of colors and symbology of the African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian states that came together in the 22nd century as a response to persistent abuse at the hands of metanational corporations from Union and State.

Ultimately, the point is that the flags are not merely background lore elements, but actual UI (user interface) elements serving a specific function of making the player’s navigation of the game easier and more intuitive. They do, as well, all feature in the tasks by the org of the player, and represent a consistent faux-future historical and cultural basis for those tasks to play out upon.

They’re also, of course, cool. I mean, come on, when else in your career do you get to design the flag of a group of xenophobic religious isolationists as of the forlorn asteroid colony of the Exalted Sanctuary of the Triforce Supremacy in the Belt?

Interested in checking out the flags made so far in this exercise? Check them out here on the Jubal site for Org.

Interested in the game Org itself? You can find that here.

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