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AtG - Developer Updates / Mid-April 2018 Update - Playtest Thoughts
« on: April 18, 2018, 09:20:27 AM »
Hey all,

This mid-month update will be dedicated to some of the general thoughts I've had while playtesting. It's more or less a copy of my own notes, and should give you an idea of what sorts of things I'm thinking about as both a player and a designer.

I've actually decided to just provide a link to a Google Doc this time around, as the text formatting options here are pretty lame and rather than spend an hour copying everything over and making it look nice it's a whole lot easier to just point you all at something that already works (something I may do again in the future for similar posts!).

Here is the link to the playtest thoughts doc.

We'll be back in a couple weeks with a continuation of my playtest log from last update.

'Til then!

- Jon

AtG - Developer Updates / Re: April 2018 Update - Playtest Report
« on: April 18, 2018, 09:19:33 AM »
Coming up very soon. Will be doing a big pass through the forums getting everything back in order. Thanks for sticking around!

- Jon

AtG - Developer Updates / April 2018 Update - Playtest Report
« on: April 04, 2018, 03:49:23 PM »
Hey all,

As I'm working on the diplomacy system the next few updates will follow along with my broader playtesting efforts, which I try to spend at least an hour on every day. Along the way I'll be detailing what's in the game, what needs work, and most important of all: what it's actually like to play AtG. The format will more or less follow my own internal notes that I use to log what happened while playing, what decisions I made and why, and then in a couple weeks I'll post another update with some analysis of how different aspects of the game are working and what might need attention based on my recent playtesting.

(Note: this playtest is for the March 5th Group Game that's now available in the latest Steam build, and it's quite a fun one so if you already have access to the game I might recommend holding off on reading this post until you've had a chance to play.)

This first "chapter" of the playtest report is a turn-by-turn account of the game. I end this post on turn 43, which might sound like a weird number but ended up being a natural stopping point given in-game events that I won't spoil just yet. We'll pick up the story of this game in May's update, so stay tuned!

March 5 Group Game Playtest - Turn Log

Our very, very dry starting location

Our initial lineup of clans.

Turn 1 … April 400 AD ... Nothing pushing me too far in any particular direction right off the bat, so going to start with an Explorer and plan on training Clan Adelmar (level 5 in Discovery) as a Surveyor. Clan Ulfert being both Adaptable (no extra training for switching Disciplines) and Eager (-1 turn to train) will definitely come in handy, and since my Explorer will definitely be retrained within a couple years I decide to make them my initial Explorer.

Turn 2 … New Clan Ahlert (Adventurous, meaning extra movement and vision but unable to Dig In for a defensive bonus or Encamp to avoid supply damage during the winter) is sowell-suited to being an Explorer I just can't resist - time to add another! This is probably a bad idea, but whatever. One of the things I like about AtG is that it sometimes will push you into trying new things, and this is a good example. First Explorer will head southeast and wheel clockwise back to the Settlement, the second will start northwest and do the same.

Turn 3 … New Clan Wilmot (Intimidating, meaning no other Clans on the tile may commit crimes, and Obedient, which means no extra training time for switching Disciplines but gains XP slower) will make a solid Gatherer, as we'll want to retrain them as something else before too long. Looks like the NW passage might be sealed off by bandits, but we'll find out shortly.

Bandit Central. We'll need to be polite and pay the neighbors a visit some day...

Turn 4 … Nope, not sealed off! Can just barely sneak through. That bandit camp will be a pain though. Just realized that Clan Habel, which is quite bad at a lot of other things (due to being Esteemed, and thus double training time in Agriculture, Livestock, and Metalworking Professions) would make a great Wood Collector, especially given that they're also Efficient (+50% Resource Production). Also going to start heading towards Archers, since it seems we have a couple of uppity bandit camps nearby that should be cleared out before too long. The 30 Wealth I got from the goody hut to the SE will be helpful in buying more Weapons.

Turn 5 … June 400 … I find two Tribes to my east. Kind of annoying given that it seems like a lot of good resources are over in this area, but by focusing on Archers early I should be able to maintain the advantage (though with the AI still a WIP I doubt there will be much real competition in this game). Going to have the Surveyor head south to the plants first, as this will allow me to start surveying immediately, then move onto the mineral to the east. My Gatherer can survey the plant north of my Settlement during the winter once its unable to continue foraging Berries.

Turn 6 … First Caravan has nothing particularly special, though the Stone on sale is kind of tempting (Caravans can have special deals, both surpluses on discount and shortages which offer extra cash if you're willing to sell) - will hold onto my money though, as this will allow me to buy more Weapons later. Only 3 Weapons for sale! Geeze. [Fixed this by increasing the amount for sale to 5. This is the nice thing about being the designer: if I run into something I find annoying in the game I can fix it in real time! I originally had this number really small so that players couldn't easily buy up an arsenal, but changes to the economy make this less of an issue in the current version of the game.]

Turn 7 … Decided to go for a Wood Bundler, as it provides a large multiplier on Timber foraged by Wood Collectors, and together will allow me to stockpile a bunch of Timber fairly early. Not sure what I'll do with it yet, but if nothing else I can sell them in order to afford other stuff I need early on.

Turn 8 … New Clan Ottokar is also Esteemed! Should make a pretty good Wood Bundler though (makes me wonder if noble clans should be alright with Crafting professions... hmmm). Couple of goody huts to the southwest are guarded at a chokepoint by bandits. Probably worth the risk though! I contemplate if it's worth having my Wood Collector hold off on Foraging until my Wood Bundler is online, but in the end I decide to simply go for it.

The whole area is pretty flat and dry.

Turn 9 … First Archer is done! Where to send them… First order of business is probably protecting our Surveyor to the south, as there are bandits not too far off.

Turn 10 … Starting to run out of Clans... Just discovered some Flax to the south, so going to pack up this turn and move S-SE in order to grab the Flax and a still-unidentified mineral. Would like to besiege the bandit camp with my Archer, but they outnumber me, so no dice (you need to outnumber the enemy army in order to besiege them, which is usually a really good idea since you can cut off their supply and destroy them without taking any damage). So, yeah, gotta get another Archer online ASAP! So much to do… Might be time to start thinking about bringing one or both of my Explorers home, since I need some more folks working. Speaking of which, my Explorer to the SW has successfully snuck around the Bandits and now has two Abandoned Ruins to feast upon next turn. Woohoo! In terms of research I think it's time to start going after that Flax soon, but winter will be setting in before too long, so it might make sense to wait until next year and have my next Clan become an Archer.

Turn 11 … September 400 … The first Ruins site contains… Bandits! Oh dear. Let's hope our intrepid Clan Ahlert (Explorer) can remain alert and make it out alive. It's going to be tricky now though, as our friend is now quite pinned into a tight little corner of the map, surrounded on all sides.

Not looking good for Clan Ahlert!

Turn 12 … Ahlert managed to avoid being attacked! Phew. Would have been really bad if we'd gotten stuck, as losing a clan this early would have really, really hurt. Now to grab the other Ruins and escape. And the second Ruins provides us with… 10 Weapons! Wow. Quite a haul, and definitely one we can make use of - too bad I already spent all of my Wealth buying the new Caravan's supply. Oh well, can definitely make use of them anyways (especially now that it's possible to spend Weapons to 'Fortify' Structures and increase their Control (Border) range). Our Wood Bundler is now online, providing us a massive +9 Timber per turn. Time to start having Clan Wilmot (Gatherer) survey for a bit, as we've just hit 24 turns of Food (and beyond that you suffer spoilage, so it's quite inefficient to keep driving that number up higher and higher). Training Clan Ewout as an Archer is going to take forever, but whatever. We need more Archers and we don't have a lot of options. Not gonna be doing a lot for the next few turns while we wait!

Turn 13 … Clan Adelmar (Surveyor) finds... GOLD! Wow. This game should be fun. And it might be time to start thinking about changing my plans. The Flax suddenly seems a lot less interesting now. Clan Ulfert (Explorer) has just about returned from the north, which will give us a solid new Clan to train. Maybe a 3rd Archer is in order?


Turn 14 … Going to bank some progress towards researching Woodcarvers while I wait for my current Archer to finish - once that's wrapped up we can move on to getting that Gold Mine online. The question is, do we want to make it out of Stone? (Timber-based Structures degrade after a year or two, while Stone-based Structures last forever, and are thus a huge upgrade - but extremely expensive to bring online.) This should be a tough question in the game, and at the moment I think it is, although it will take more balance testing to say for sure. It's incredibly hard getting enough Stone Blocks to get the thing online, but the fact that it's 10 Wealth per turn until the end of time… well, that's hard to pass up. Let's see how hard it actually is to pull off! Really should have bought that Stone on discount a while back… Our plan will be to buy normal Stone from the Caravan, then have a Stone Cutter turn it into Stone Blocks ourselves. I think having someone speed up our research would be quite handy though, so we'll take a detour towards Lorekeepers.

Turn 15 … Getting really cold and Clan Ahlert (Explorer) is Adventurous… meaning they can't Encamp. Oh yeah. Damn. Well, that complicates things. Time to get home ASAP! Wish I'd known that before. What a brutal-but-fun trait. [This is where some of the roguelike elements of the game really shine, IMO, although I know not everyone will feel the same way. Sometimes you just get bad traits or bad clans and that's the way it is. Figuring out how to make the best of them is part of the game though.]

Turn 16 … Lots of plants to the SW. Should be useful down the road.

Turn 17 … December 400 … Clan Adelmar (Surveyor) uncovers... Sheep. Seems I have the potential for quite the Cloth engine, between these little guys and the Flax I found earlier. That said, there's only so much you can do at once in this game, and with my attention focused on getting that Gold Mine online it'll probably be some time before Cloth enters the equation. Clan Ulfert (Explorer) is trapped in a Blizzard! Well, at least they can Encamp. Clan Ahlert (Explorer) has been quite lucky, and hugging the mild-weather coast has thus far avoided any additional supply damage. As I suspected early on training two Explorers probably wasn't the best idea, but finding the Ruins to the south paid off at least. A bandit has left the camp to the SW, so it seems it's about time for the bad boys to start stirring up trouble.

Turn 18 … Second Archer is finally online! Of course it's now late December, and no one is going anywhere to do anything particularly useful. A new Clan (Ingel) has also finally joined… and happens to also be Adventurous (no Digging In, no Encamping). Great. Given how harsh the winters here are I'm not going to be holding my breath in terms of everyone getting to go run off all the time like they seem to want to. Gonna be a while before another Clan shows up though (7 turns), so it's definitely time to start thinking about how to increase my Fame. Unfortunately Ingel doesn't look like they'll make a very good Archer, so I'm in a bit of a bind there. Making them Miners for the Gold probably makes the most sense, since they don't need as much time to train in active professions.

Turn 19 … Nothing much to report this turn. In the dead of winter. Don't even have anything to train in the Settlement (which isn't great from a game design perspective - will be addressed!). [Despite my earlier comments, I now realize that it might actually make sense to train Clan Ingel as another Archer - despite their inherent weaknesses in the role, they could at least stay within our borders during the winter. Might make sense to give the player the option to write notes upon saving and exiting, in order to remind themselves of what they might have wanted to do before.]

The dead of winter.

Turn 20 … Both Explorers finally return from their adventures, and Clan Ahlert is chosen to become our Lorekeeper (although not started yet in our reloaded version of the game where I went back and turned Clan Ingel into an Archer).

Turn 21 … Not sure what to train this turn. Clan Ulfert (the Adaptable Explorers) as a Stone Cutter once that's done in 4 turns? Might make sense.

Turn 22 … Finally time to begin the siege of the bandit camp! The weather in the area just turned, so we no longer need to worry about supply. [Picking the game back up on this turn after a long hiatus, and I'm now realizing I really should have left myself some notes before taking a break. Think I'll add a "Add notes before you quit?" prompt to help alleviate this.] We definitely need to start thinking about what our next source of food will be, as the Berries are only going to take us so far. The vast field of wheat to the south is quite appealing, but pretty far away. It might be time to spend some Weapons and Fortify my Settlement (increasing its Control range), as that would definitely help. I could also use this turn as an opportunity to move south towards my prize. I decide to Fortify first, spending 5 of my 8 Weapons on the task. I can then retrain Clan Wilmot (Gatherer) into a Farmer and start bringing in a ton of Food - our current stockpile (14 turns) should last long enough to get the Farm online. I shift Clan Ewout (Archer) west to protect Clan Wilmot as they finish surveying.

Turn 23 … March 401 … Time to pack up and move south. Not much else to do this turn. The siege continues.

Turn 24 … Warm again! Just as in real life it's nice to see the color return to the landscape. A wounded marauding bandit appears to the west (Slaves actually - interesting!), making my placement of Clan Ewout (Archer) quite fortuitous. Clan Adelmar (Surveyor) uncovers a Large Herd of Deer, which probably won't factor much into my plans. I'd really like to start surveying some more minerals in order to grab Stone or Coal, but nothing is too well-placed at the moment. A rock to the northwest is too close to a bandit camp for comfort, although Clan Adelmar could always help out on this front. Caravan has just arrived, and it's time to trade a ton of Timber for Stone (and some Parchment to help out with training as well). Going to switch Clan Ulfert (Explorer) over to Crafting in preparation for them starting their task as Stone Cutters next turn.

Turn 25 … Looks like a new bandit has spawned on the besieged camp. This would normally be incredibly annoying, but since I actually have 3 Archers it shouldn't hurt me much. Gonna have to send Clan Adelmar (Surveyor) to a herd of animals to the west rather than the mineral to the northwest, but so it goes. New Clan Askan starts with 3 levels in Crafting… how handy! Can now use Clan Ulfert for something else. Making them my Gold Miners seems like kind of a waste though, given how flexible they are. Maybe this is a job for Adelmar instead? Lines up nicely with finishing the Metalworking Tech next turn, giving them a head start.

Turn 26 … The new bandit attacks us! And the battle does not go well for them at all. Time to find new trees for Clan Habel (Wood Collector) to chop. The northeast is a bit unguarded, but will have to do for now.

Turn 27 … Our bandit camp is starting to feel the effects of the siege. Shouldn't be much longer before we can wipe them out. We definitely need to start thinking about how to increase our Fame, as the pace at which Clans are arriving is incredibly slow now. With our Vast Wheat Farm online coming soon a Feast Master is probably the right fit. Maybe something for our versatile Clan Ulfert to do? Bringing a second Stone Cutter online for a bit might not be a bad idea though, as waiting 20 turns for our 20 Stone to turn into 20 Stone Blocks seems brutal.

The siege.

Turn 28 … Clan Ingel (Archer) joins our combined army, which is just about ready to pounce. This will be just in time as well, as it's time to retrain Clan Wilmot (Gatherer) as a Farmer. Our Stone Block operation is now active as well - and once we get our Gold Mine online we should have a nice, steady stream of Stone Blocks for the foreseeable future.

Turn 29 … June 401 … Bandit Camp cleared out! Thanks to our successful siege we take zero casualties as well. Wondering if it might be time to start dismantling my Timber operation in order to repurpose the Clans its monopolizing.

Turn 30 … That final bandit makes a suicide charge at us. Still 2 more turns until the Wheat Farm is online… yikes. This winter might be close. Might need to retrain someone as a Hunter or something just to get by. Wiping out that Bandit Camp gave us 20 Wealth which we can use to buy a bunch of fun stuff. First off is some Tools for our second Stone Carver, and another 10 Stone for him to make use of. I send Clan Ingel (Archer) south to finish exploring our little corner of the map, and discover an unemployed Neutral Farmer (Clan Everard). Hello there, stranger! I think it might be time for us to start farming some Flax! The remaining Archers fan out to the northeast and northwest to fortify our secured area. I'd like to go after that Slave Camp to the northwest, but there's probably not enough time left in the year to take a shot at it - something to look into in 402. Before we end the turn I decide to try upgrading Clan Ulfert from level 1 to 3 in Crafting before starting to train them as Stone Cutters. It'll cost me 1 Parchment but save me a turn, which is probably worth it. I decide to start researching Watchmen instead of Woodcarvers, as I kind of feel like it'd be cool to expand. Might not be the smartest idea, but oh well!

Turn 31 … Okay, time to decide: a second wheat farm, or a flax farm? We are running low on Food and can always convert the surplus into Fame and Alcohol. Probably a safer bet than starting to invest in Flax, which I can't really use yet anyways. Fine, we'll play it safe for now.

Turn 32 … Seems that was a good idea, as our food surplus after getting the vast wheat farm online is still only 1.2. Yikes. Okay, maybe we will need a Woodcarver to increase our Fame rather than a Feast Master… Archers are spreading out and securing the perimeter - everything looks safe for now.

Turn 33 … Up to 2.7 Food per turn with the second Wheat Farm online. Looking better now. Will need to invest more in our Food infrastructure in 402 though. Time to train Clan Adelmar as a Miner… oh wait, I forgot to buy an extra Tool from the Caravan. Great. [Jon proceeds to cheat to remove enough Timber from his stockpile to have afforded to buy 1 Tool.] This definitely reminds me why base Professions shouldn't need fancy Resources to train… [Will get into this more in the next update post.]

The Goths are expanding!

Turn 34 … Bandit launches a surprise attack on Clan Ewout (Archer) in the northeast. Was not expecting that, but the bad little boy is dispatched without trouble. Good thing I had my perimeter fence in place! New Clan joins: Eldric, who is Obedient but Impatient. A bit annoying, but should still be useful. Next Clan arrives in 10 turns, so we have a bit of a wait ahead of us. Woodcarver time? Will require 10 Tools though, so gonna need to pay the final Caravan of the year quite a visit. Might be easier to just retrain Clan Ulfert (Stone Cutter) into a Blacksmith and convert the little stockpile of Iron I already have. But I need another 6 turns of him in his current job. Hmmm. I can probably make things work if I sell off some other stuff, as I really want to buy up every piece of Stone I can.

Turn 35 … September 401 … Miner is ready, but the Stone Blocks are not. Hurry up and wait… Starting to wonder if it might make sense to declare a kingdom soon. With my massive amount of Wealth coming in I should be able to buy the Parchment I need, and the huge boost in Fame would definitely be welcome at this point. I could settle down out west near all the Unidentified Plants, and Fortify my Gold Mine in order to grab the nearby Flax and Sheep. Only challenge with that setup is that I would have no reliable source of Timber. Might be worth setting up a Watchtower in the dense forest to the east (once the AI is online this won't be so easy though, and would likely require a war - exciting!). Or it might just be better to move my Settlement over there and set up a Stone Block-based Woodworks the old-fashioned way.

Turn 36 … Last Caravan of the year. I sell Timber in order to buy enough Cloth to raise my popcap, and decide to trade in my raw Iron for Tools in order to get my Woodcarver online (I have JUST enough to afford this). I spend a Parchment to continue training up Clan Eldric in Crafting.

The known world.

Turn 37 … Not much to do this turn, for once! Nothing to train even. I decide to use this as an opportunity to pack up and move my Settlement east so that my Wood Collector can continue foraging for Timber throughout the winter - I could actually move all the way as far as I need to in order to get my stone-based Woodworks up in the ideal spot in the large forest, but that moves my Settlement out of range of the Gold Mine, so I'm unfortunately unable to kill multiple birds with one stone.

Turn 38 … I can, however, at least move up a bit to the NE to cover my Wood Collector this turn, when things have turned cold and removed his free supply. We finish researching Woodcarvers, but Clan Eldric will still take 5 turns to train because of his unfortunate set of traits, so I decide to level him up with Parchment one more time. For my next research project I go with Bread Makers, as increasing my Food production will allow me to do a number of other things (e.g. Feast Master, Ale Maker). I pull back my picket Archers so that they don't take supply damage.

Turn 39 … Moved some units around, but that's about it. Farms are now offline, but we have 19 turns of Food in the bank, so things are looking pretty good on that front for the next year. The real question is how to get the next batch of 20 Stone Blocks for my Woodworks. Waiting 20 turns for my soon-to-be-solo Stone Cutter is a bit… eh. We can probably just brute force it with the help of our Gold Mine, so I won't worry about it too much for now. I'm starting to think that turning Wood into Coal into Stone Blocks might not be a bad way to go. A bit roundabout, but doable, and would require only 3 Clans in total to bring in 2 Stone Blocks per turn. To get things online sooner I abort my Bread Maker research to start on Coal Maker, as I want to get Clan Ulfert (Stone Cutter) working ASAP.

Turn 40 … We start switching Clan Ulfert over to Metalworking. We will finally have 20 Stone Blocks and can start on our Gold Mine next turn!

The settled clans of our tribe.

Turn 41 … December 401 … As I start working on the Gold Mine I realize that I'll also be able to assign Apprentices to the Mine, allowing me to really supercharge my economy (Apprentices are Clans in the same Profession as the Clan which built the Structure, and basically increase output by an additional 100%. Only Stone Structures can be assigned Apprentices). The cost is simply another Miner and 10 Alcohol. Think I know what I need to buy next! So many different things to do in this game - one of the big reasons why I love playing it so much.

Turn 42 … Someone new (Clan Warren) finally joins us! And wow, are they built for battle: Wild and Tough, giving them extra Power, Morale, and reducing the Damage they suffer in combat by half. Damn. Makes me want to knock some heads together. Might be time to bring back the Adventurous Clan Ingel (Archer) and retrain them in something where they don't need to be able to encamp… I decide to research Spearmen after finishing up Brick Makers, pushing back Bread Makers yet again. Just imagining Clan Warren as a Spearman makes me giddy. Making them Lancers would be even more fun, but there's definitely no way I'm amassing Warhorses at this stage of the game.

Turn 43 … PERMANENT GOLD MINE IS ONLINE! Now is when the fun really starts. Clan Ulfert is now making Coal, and it's time to switch Clan Askan over to turning that into Stone Blocks - I think this should be a nice, reliable way of producing my permanent Structures.

Gold Mine is now online!


And with that we'll wrap things up for now. In the May update we'll get into some of the fun things I do with that Gold Mine!

- Jon

AtG - Developer Updates / March 2018 Update - Diplomacy
« on: March 02, 2018, 10:11:38 AM »
Hey all, in this update we'll be taking a quick tour of the design for the new diplomacy system.

In last month's post I talked a lot about high-level design goals, but another important consideration is how things actually play out from the player's perspective, especially with an abstract system like diplomacy. What is the actual thing that you're doing? What is the player trying to achieve? You know, what's the point?

This being a game about Barbarians in the Dark Ages diplomacy in AtG is pretty blunt and straightforward. Your goal isn't building trade networks, spreading your religion, or anything particularly nuanced - the focus here is on war and relationships which lead to it (or not). Having someone declare war on you is the punishment for unsuccessfully navigating the turbulent waters of international politics, and remaining at peace (and thus able to follow through on whatever agenda you're pursuing) is the reward for success.

Success won't come easy though, as some leaders are naturally cranky while others might be in the midst of a feud and expect you to take sides. Who you support and who you snub is a big deal in AtG, because make someone mad enough and you can be pretty sure that they'll show up on your doorstep with lots of unhappy friends.

Furthermore, once you've made an investment in a relationship there should be a tangible reward for having done so. This is often where diplomacy systems in other strategy games fall short, as the fickle whims of the AI RNG can easily spoil a lot of hard work. If the decisions you make don't effectively keep you out of war then everything falls apart pretty quickly, so we also need to make sure relationships in AtG are fairly reliable.

With all of this in mind here are the elements we've included, and the very specific roles we have in mind for them.

Relationship Components


Leverage is simply the sum of the player's Relationship Level, Influence, and Reputation (see below) that is or would be spent in a single transaction in order to get an AI Leader to do something, such as declare war on another Leader. After a transaction is finalized, the Influence and Reputation used in achieving it is spent and forever gone, while the Relationship Level remains unchanged.

Relationship Level (RL)

The most basic metric into diplomatic relationship is your Relationship Level. RL determines how favorably or unfavorably disposed an AI Leader is towards the player. It shapes that Leader's behavior, e.g. willingness to make Demands or go to war. In terms of specifics, it is a fundamental component of how a Leader decides which "Approach" to use (see below) and RL is a factor in determining Leverage when negotiating a transaction. The RL scale ranges from -4 to +4 and normally starts at 0, but can be modified based on a Leader's Personality Traits (e.g. -2 RL if 'Belligerent'). Having 9 total levels provides both enough room to do interesting things but also not so many that keeping track of where you are on the scale becomes a chore - each level matters while still providing enough wiggle room to move up and down with varying granularity based on the situation (refusing a request for aid is bad, but declaring war is really bad).

Influence (Inf)

Influence is, in essence, diplomatic currency with a Leader. It can be spent alongside RL and Reputation in order to increase your Leverage with a Leader when negotiating a transaction of some kind (e.g. asking the Leader to Denounce someone else, or publicly Declare Friendship). Inf is usually earned and lost alongside RL - doing a small favor for a Leader might increase both your RL and Inf by 1. This gives players the option of achieving some kind of bigger diplomatic option once, after which the Inf is spent. The player's options will be more limited after that, but they will still remain friends with the other Leader. The Player can proactively earn Inf by Offering a Gift or Holding a Feast in a Leader's honor (see below).

Reputation (Rep)

The fourth and final Diplomatic metric is Reputation, which is similar to Inf except for being a global currency that can be spent with any Leader (in addition to or instead of Inf). Rep is fairly hard to earn, and usually comes from facing down some kind of difficult situation (e.g. agreeing to help a Leader in need, or refusing a demand from Attila knowing he will go to war as a result). The effect and usage of Rep can differ based on the Leader and their Personality Traits (e.g. an 'Isolationist' Leader might ignore Rep entirely, while it might have double the effect on a 'Gullible' Leader).

Diplomatic Actions

The game contains a list of core actions that can be taken by either the human player or AI Leaders. The full list is as follows:
  • Denounce
  • Offer Gift (Wealth)
  • Hold Feast (Food Gift)
  • Request Aid (Food)
  • Request Alliance
  • Request Denouncement
  • Request War
  • Demand Tribute
  • Demand Denouncement
  • Declare War
Each Action has different requirements, costs, and effects associated with them that I won't bother to list out in full here, as it's a lot of numbers and I mainly want to focus on mechanics. For the most part Actions can usually only be performed once, so it won't be possible to butter someone up by holding feasts in their honor every few months or anything like that (though you can of course declare war more than once).

The effects of an Action are pretty much fully predictable. If Attila Demands Tribute of you, then you know that by accepting your RL will increase and he'll leave you alone. Refuse and it will drop, making you a target but also earning Rep that you can spend with other Leaders (should you survive long enough to take advantage of it!).

AI Leader Behavior

The final piece of the puzzle is how the AI leaders actually decide what to do on their end, and this is ultimately defined by their "Approach" towards each other Leader. Different leaders will have preferences for different Approaches, but the effects of the approaches themselves is fairly consistent.

The early game doesn't involve much diplo - players are simply exploring the map and run into each other. Not much happens on the diplomatic front during the first 48 turns - from this point on things start to get interesting though.

Early interaction mainly takes 3 forms:
  • Bullies trying to put other Leaders in their place, primarily through making Demands (and then following up with war should they refuse to give in).
  • Friendly Leaders (especially those with the 'Social' or 'Needy' Personality Traits) making requests.
  • Leaders who dislike each other trying to undercut their rival with the Player's help.
These behaviors are defined by which one of several Approaches an AI Leader has chosen to adopt for each relationship:
  • Ignore
  • Bully - Active
  • Bully - Inactive
  • Adversary
  • Enemy
  • Appease
  • Support
  • Friend
Similar to the Diplomatic Actions above there are a lot of numbers associated with each of these that I won't bother with here. Which Approach an AI Leader chooses for a relationship very much depends on the RL, with Personality Traits and to a lesser extent randomness also being factors.

A Leader's Approach will often change based on game events, such as being denounced or given a gift. Valid Approaches, along with the percent chance of transitioning between them after different triggers (e.g. receiving a demand) are defined by the Leader's Traits. These Approaches don't predefine what a Leader does, but do define the pool of options and the likelihood of each being chosen after how long (e.g. if demand refused 50% chance of denouncing 3-6 turns later).

I thought a bit about whether or not a Leader's Approach should be visible to the Player, and after going back and forth for a bit I decided to go ahead and make it public and announce all changes via notification. Transparency is very important in a system like this, and having something which fundamentally drives an AI Leader's behavior hidden under the hood felt like a mistake, especially given how straightforward the rest of the system is (RL, Leverage, etc.).

Making Approach visible means announcing changes via a notification is necessary, as the last thing we want to do is encourage players to check the diplo screen with every Leader every turn! This was a flaw in some early Civ diplo systems that I very much don't intent to repeat in AtG. On the plus side, this will help highlight the system for newer players, as although nothing is changing mechanically it reminds you that diplomacy is, you know, a thing, and if other Leaders are starting to get upset at you that you need to get up off your butt and be proactive.

As one last aside, I considered adopting some kind of "storyline" system where different Leaders would follow somewhat pre-structured plans for their diplomatic endeavors, but ultimately deemed it to be too much work for this game - perhaps a project for a future game!

That's it for this month's update. Given that diplomacy is the last big system to go in from here on out we'll probably be focused more on details and less on high-level design concepts.

Thanks as always for reading, and we'll be back in April!

- Jon

AtG - Developer Updates / February 2018 Update
« on: February 08, 2018, 12:02:53 PM »
Hey all,

Been a while since I've posted an update about the game here, although the plan is to do so from now on. To check out the past few game updates you can head over to the AtG Kickstarter page.

In this update we'll be focusing on two things: the basic design thinking behind the diplomacy system, along with showing off some new elements of the game from a recent playtest of mine in screenshot-form.

The post started to get a bit long, so I've decided to save the specific details as to how diplomacy will work (e.g. Relationship Levels, Global Reputation, Leader Personality Traits and Interaction Types) for the next update. We'll start off though with a high-level look as to the challenge of diplomacy in a complex strategy game.


What "is" Diplomacy?

Diplomacy is one of the biggest challenges in the strategy space, in large part because it's trying to simulate something that's hard to wrap your head around even in the real world.

There are some basic tenets that people agree on when it comes to good military strategy: divide and conquer, pay attention to supply, hold the high ground, etc. But what does "good diplomacy" look like? Sometimes negotiating averts a major war, while other times it simply brings "peace in our time". What looks like prudent flexibility to one can be seen by another as an unforgivable betrayal.

So, yeah, a tough thing to model!

Of course there are elements we can try and incorporate such as personality, trading, making promises, punishing liars and traitors, etc. but it's much harder to simulate all of this than a simple resource-based economy (and even those are hard to get right). Is there room to make something really nuanced and revolutionary here? I think so, but probably not as just one feature among many in an already-complex game.

A few weeks ago I asked on Twitter what people thought made for a good diplomacy system, and I received a lot of good answers. There was certainly some common ground, but the biggest lesson I took was that there was no general consensus - I think mainly due to the challenge I spoke of above.

Another challenge is that diplomacy is meant to simulate the nuance of human interaction. We're not necessarily trying to represent systems here, but more, well, feelings. Alas, this isn't really something that game AI is up for at this point in time, in large part because it's AI, and there's nothing you can do as a developer to convince players otherwise. Regardless of individual moves, it simply feels different playing against a computer. That is starting to change with the kind of work Google's DeepMind has done with AlphaGo, but that is the crown jewel of a multi-million dollar research studio on a game whose rules have been fixed in place. So we've got a long way to go before the 4X genre will be revolutionized in this way.

The AtG Diplomacy Design Pillars

So what are we doing in AtG then?

The focus is to come up with an approach that does something interesting and new while most especially making sure to avoid pitfalls of past games, and with that goal we've settled on three fundamental pillars.


Distinct, Predictable Personalities

"Oh wait, I know this guy… Awww man."

The biggest problem with most diplomacy systems is that they're too random. While there are probably always well-intentioned rules under the hood which enables AI players to reevaluate their situation and change their minds when it makes sense to do so, in reality this usually ends up turning into, "AI declares war, then asks for peace 10 turns later, then declares war again 10 turns after that".

We'll specifically be avoiding this pitfall in AtG in a couple ways. First is through a focus on Personality Traits. If Attila with his 'Aggressive' Trait finds you nearby then you can be pretty sure war is coming soon (unless, of course, you bow before him and give into his mostly-symbolic demands that you know will soon be on their way). Sometimes war will be a good idea for Attila. Sometimes it won't be. But most important of all is the fact that he wants it. Not every Leader will be this extreme, of course, but it's important to know what you're getting.


Tough, But Clear Choices

"Ugh, I was trying to be friends with both of these guys…"

A common problem I see with diplomatic systems in other strategy games is a focus on minutiae, particularly on the trade front. Having a really complex trade system seems like a neat idea, but it usually ends up turning into a game of, "always trade X for Y, then try to exploit the AI out of all their money". In AtG trade will not be a focus - in fact, it won't even be present at all. Instead, the focus will be on the relationships between leaders.

One leader might demand that you choose between him and another leader. In line with the first design pillar though this should always be somewhat predictable - if you try and be friends with a leader with the 'Jealous' Trait you know that also trying to be friends with someone else will trigger him to challenge your loyalty.

Most of the time it's going to be impossible to make everyone happy and keep all of your stuff and your pride - but that's part of the fun of figuring out how to best adapt to and "solve" diplomacy.


A Few Basic, But Powerful Player Knobs

"I'm going to tell this guy to pound sand!"

The final pillar is based around the concept of player agency, and ties somewhat into pillar #2. Players should still be able to steer things diplomatically, even if a lot of the game will be responding and adapting to the other tribal leaders.

Sometimes you just want to vent frustration at someone, and in AtG a lot of the time you'll be able to get your way. A leader with the 'Meek' Trait might always give in to the first Demand For Tribute, making the strategy here more about optimizing what to ask for and when. Demanding something from 'Proud' Attila might be guaranteed to fail every time, and draw his wrath - but in return your Global Reputation might receive a large boost, allowing you to build a friendship with another leader.


In the next update I'll go into more specifics as to how diplomacy will work in AtG (the 7 Relationship Levels, how Global Reputation works, the list of possible Interaction Types, etc.), but for now we'll wrap things up here. But before we go we'll go over some new screenshots and show off some of the new recent additions to the game.



The first couple images here show off the new tutorial system.

It's mostly made up of basic popups triggered by particular events (e.g. if you're running out of food), but the cool part of the system is that most of it is optional. This supplements the fancy tooltips-in-tooltips system we started working on early in the project, and together should provide a much smoother on-ramp into the 4X experience than any previous title.

Optional tutorial follow-up explanations.

The system is also cool in that the tutorial messages themselves can be nested multiple levels deep.

Tutorial messages can now be embedded and link to one another like tooltips.

We've also made sure everything is accessible in one place, just in case you want to go back to something later, or maybe turn off the tutorial system entirely and explore the in-game help at your own pace.

The game help screen.

You can access this screen either by pressing the '?' button in the upper-left or by pressing the ? key. Not particularly fancy, but it gets the job done!

Speaking of ways to make the game easier to play, I may I've touched on the 'Notes' system in the past, but I can't help but show it off here now, as it was a really helpful feature in my latest playtest.

Right-clicking on any Clan Card brings up a screen which allows you to attach a colored note to the bottom.

Adding a note to a Clan Card.

Clan Card notes in action!

This feature is rather handy, as it makes it easy to keep track of who you want to do what, something that's pretty important in a game in large part about managing Clans! It's especially useful when you have to stop playing for the night and would otherwise have no clue what you were up to the next time you pick things back up.

It's also possible to write notes on the map itself in order to keep track of spatial information, e.g. where to construct that Logging Camp or cut a path through the forest in order to make it easier to get around.

Tile notes revealing my grand plans for the forest.

The last screenshot I'll include shows off the new 'Declare Kingdom' button you might have noticed in one of the previous screenshots. It doesn't show much in and of itself, but I promise the button does work! Just need a bit more Parchment...

Declaring a Kingdom! Well... eventually.

These screenshots are actually from a pretty interesting playtest that I've been writing up notes for. I'll probably compile them into a future update post giving a more in-depth look at how the game plays out.

This was a pretty tough and interesting game where I found myself in the far north without many Resource Deposits but plenty of Forests to harvest Timber from. It also brought up some interesting design questions (How accessible should Resources be? How much variance between starting locations should there be?), so it would be a fun game to explore in more depth.


That's it for now. Thanks again for reading, and we'll be back with another update soon!

- Jon

AtG - General Discussion / An Apology
« on: February 08, 2018, 11:51:00 AM »
I'd like to apologize to everybody here on the forums who's invested their time, energy, or love into At The Gates while I've been away for the past couple years. I burned out pretty hard trying to steer the development of a hugely complex strategy game, and I know now that I bit off more than I could chew. We got most of the way there, but I hit a wall and that was pretty much it. I needed time to step away, and instead of letting everyone know this I tried to fight on, and the harder I fought the harder it became to stick with it. So I apologize to all of you for both the fact that the game has obviously been very-much delayed and also for not being honest about the situation. I should have been better about communicating what was going on, and promise to do so in the future.

Despite that, at its core AtG truly is a great strategy game, and I'm committed to putting in the time and work needed to make sure that it achieves that potential. I didn't launch this project or Conifer in order to achieve riches or glory or fame - it was in order to make something awesome, something that all of you could join in and experience as well.

So where do we go from here?

Anyone who has contributed at least $25 to the Kickstarter campaign can send me an email ( and request a key in order to play the game right now. If you want to play the best version of AtG I would recommend holding off, but all backers deserve access at this point and will receive it if they so choose.

Additionally, I'll be providing a project update on the 1st of every month from now until we ship the game. The plan is to wrap things up by the end of August, but we may go a bit beyond that as necessary in order to finish up diplomacy and make sure that the final experience is polished enough for a full release.

This game will definitely be released in 2018 though. Diplomacy is the final major feature to go into the game, and after that we'll be focused on polish. The hat I'm wearing now is mainly that of producer, rather than that of designer - and the producer's job is to make sure the game gets done. We already have a solid foundation to work from, and it's already a great deal of fun to play. It just needs to be finished now.

If anyone has any questions or concerns I'll be happy to answer them. I'll be here and active on the forums from now on, so let me know if there's anything you need. I'll be going through my PMs over the next few days as well, and if you haven't heard anything in a few days poke me again and I'll get back to you.

Thank you to all who have contributed to and cared about AtG over the years. I know it's not always been an easy process, but we're getting close to the finish line.

- Jon

AtG - Developer Updates / August 2016 Update
« on: August 25, 2016, 05:50:42 PM »
Hey all,

First off, apologies for the lengthy absence - I was dealing with some health problems earlier in the year and just as I was getting back to work I broke my ribs and have been recovering from that over the past several weeks. Needless to say, it's been a tough year! As you might have guessed, this will push back the release of AtG a bit, but development on the game is still very much underway and now returning to full steam. I'm in the middle of updating the schedule and will let you all know what things look like here within the next few weeks.

Speaking of which, to better keep you guys in the loop we'll be hiring someone to handle the communications side of things so that the rest of the team (especially yours truly) can continue to focus on the nitty-gritty details involved with finishing up the game while still ensuring you guys aren't in the dark along the way. So hopefully no more lengthy periods of radio silence from here on out!

As for the game itself we're still knee-deep in AI work but one of the fun things I've started getting back into the swing of things with is unique factions and traits. For those of you in the alpha program I posted a new build last week (v22.1.6) that includes some basic functionality on this front, and a lot more will be coming soon. The goal is for a faction like the Huns to play very differently from a more basic one like the Goths (think completely nomadic, no structures, etc.). To commemorate this feature I'll give you guys a sneak peak at a couple of fun new leaders: Alboin of the Lombards, and Cerdic of the Saxons (both of whom also happen to have names whose modern versions swapped some letters around - hooray for pointless trivia!):

Alright, back to work. More soon!

- Jon

AtG - General Discussion / Re: This game isn't coming out.
« on: May 13, 2016, 02:15:01 PM »
Thanks Rick, it's good to be back!

- Jon

AtG - General Discussion / Update
« on: May 13, 2016, 07:03:38 AM »
Hey all, apologies for the lengthy radio silence. I've been dealing with some health issues the past few months and had to take some time off. I'm back in the saddle as of today though, so no need to worry about whether the game will be finished or not - you should start seeing updates to the game again next week!

- Jon

AtG - General Discussion / Re: Update?
« on: February 24, 2016, 09:45:44 AM »
Sorry for keeping you waiting guys - another big update will be coming in March!

- Jon

November 24 Update …

The long-awaited project roadmap update has been posted - and includes a release date!

- Jon

November 4 Update …

We've been busy getting a complete, finalized project schedule nailed down over the past couple weeks, and should have it ready to go to the presses soon. As such, the next big project update which will detail exactly that should be posted next week, so stay tuned!

- Jon

October 27 Update …

Finished writing a script which automates the process of building and deployment of new game versions - what used to be 19 tedious and error-prone steps now only requires a single click!

AtG - Developer Updates / Re: Progress Updates
« on: October 24, 2015, 01:44:05 PM »
I was recently a featured guest for the Game Designer's Vault, a site dedicated to the discipline and game development generally. My bio page there includes a brief career recap along with recommendations for design-related blogs and podcasts I've found informative. If you're a current/aspiring game designer or simply interested in the craft I definitely recommend stopping by the site and checking out all the other great content it has to offer.

- Jon

AtG - Developer Updates / October 20 Update
« on: October 20, 2015, 12:44:46 PM »
October 20 Update:

Weekly Challenge #1 (titled "Fame & Fecundity") has begun! In this inaugural game whoever owns the most clans on turn 100 will be declared the winner. Everyone who enters a challenge can earn forum 'badges', and each winner receives a cool reward, and the top prize this time around is an autographed box copy! Additional details for this challenge specifically along with the whole concept generally can be found in a new subforum for the private alpha test group.

While challenges are only available to members of the private alpha right now our goal is to build them into a major post-release feature. Monthly challenges have long been popular within the Civ community, but a lack of in-game support has always limited their audience. Another feature that should help AtG stand out on this front is built-in support for goals and rules differing from challenge to challenge. This was originally envisioned as only a design tool, but it turned out to be a plus for players as well because it pushes you to try out new strategies that you might otherwise have never given a shot.

(Oh, and I should probably also mention that sound effects finally work on Mac and Linux as of the latest build! Found a nasty threading bug in a third party audio library… #$@%!)

- Jon

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