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Topics - Jon Shafer

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AtG - Developer Updates / August 2018 Update - What's New?
« on: August 03, 2018, 03:21:04 PM »
Hey all,

In this update we'll be going over what additions have been made to the game the past few months. The todo list is shrinking rapidly and the light at the end of the tunnel very much in sight. The next project milestone in early September is "feature design lockdown", which basically means all of the game's gameplay features are in, and only need iteration, balance, and bugfixing before we're ready to roll. At this point I'll be looking for a lot of playtesting feedback again, so if you're in the alpha and looking to help out that's probably the best time to jump (back) in. There will likely be a couple more tweaks made after the next milestone, but nothing that'll take more than a few days to implement. The few months after this milestone will include further work on the AI and diplomacy, and then aside from smaller stuff like improving the tutorial and adding some screens (e.g. settings, clan management, game setup) we'll have pretty much reached the finish line.


What's New


Professions/Tech Tree

Although this isn't a new feature it's probably the most noticeable change to the game given that clan professions are one of the two fundamental elements of the game's economy (resources being the other).

To summarize what's new, the old design had a lot of issues where professions would often not seem very useful, e.g. if the tier-1 version of a blacksmith turns 1 iron into 1 tool each turn the tier-2 version might convert 6 into 6 and tier-3 10 into 20. The problem was that getting to the point where you could even produce the 6 iron per turn required by tier 2 was pretty hard to reach, and so most of your research options felt pretty unexciting. This issue was solved in a couple ways.

First, I did a pass on the whole tree, switching to an approach that looks more like 2-for-2 in the first tier and then 8-for-4 in the second, with the third being replaced by a system where it's now possible to research a couple different "upgrade techs" which allow you to spend resources (e.g tools or boards) to improve the output by ~50% each. The ability to upgrade is fairly cheap to acquire, but the upgrades themselves require a fair number of resources, ensuring there's always something you want to A) research and B) spend your resources on. It's hard to understate how much of an improvement this provides the game, as while playtesting I'm now constantly confronted with tough trade-offs where I have several <i>exciting</i> options to choose from, rather than several equally uninteresting ones. Much, much better.

Additionally, "global upgrades" have been added to the game. These are techs not linked to any particular profession, instead offering an expensive way to acquire a tribe-wide, permanent bonus of some kind (e.g. increased food production, or a morale boost to your entire army). This provides an additional incentive to improve your research rate, especially when the RNG throws a unique starting location at you and making more specialized strategies particularly lucrative or essential.



The new tech tree is a huge improvement over the old one.


Caravan Upgrades

A big update to the professions/tech tree is closely linked to a similar rethinking of several resources, along with the primary vehicle through which they can be acquired or transformed into other useful commodities: the caravan.

This was a system with potential that's been greatly enhanced by the ability to spend treasure in order to upgrade what's available. In the past there was simply a global pool filled with all different kinds of resources, most of which were completely irrelevant until the much further into the game. Furthermore, they were often only available in very limited quantities, narrowing down the number of strategic options available. Players now have the choice of how early and how heavily to improve the stock of what's available, and a particularly treasure/caravan-based strategy can now pay huge dividends. But it'll cost you, so make sure to plan ahead, as paying to upgrade the caravan will only help you the next time it comes around, which might be 6 months if winter is approaching.


Faction Asymmetry

The player's role and how they relate to AI players is now fully defined, with AtG placing you in a pre-populated world more akin to a Paradox game than Civ.

Shifting the game away from a more traditional "4X race" into something more in the roguelike direction is kind of an obvious move given that the game will never have multiplayer and the difficulty in building high-level competitive AI players. AtG was never the kind of game where you could expect the arc of the game to progress in the same way each playthrough, and the way opposing factions fit into the game now reflects this.

Instead of every other tribe starting with a single settlement and three clans you'll now find some on equal footing while others will be 5 or even 10 times your size and strength, making them potent diplomatic forces right from turn 1. If Attila is next door and much bigger you're going to have to pay attention to what he wants, otherwise you might find yourself flattened pretty quickly. The diplomacy system framework is now fully implemented, but the actual behaviors and specific kinds of deals are still being fleshed out, so for now your rivals are a looming presence but not yet an active one: this will change in the next big update in September. Part of the system is working, but it's effect on the game is quite inconsistent right now so I've disabled it until everything is online.


Victory Conditions

Along with the role of the human and AI players the victory conditions AtG offers are now nailed down, providing you with two strategic routes to victory: conquest or economics/diplomacy.

Simply capturing a Roman capital will win you the game, and given the strength of the Romans at the start this will usually be a pretty tall order. But because this is a a fairly asymmetric, "roguelike" game there will be some runs where the Romans start off a bit weaker and get hit with a lot of bad random events and annoy the wrong AI leaders, making for a ripe target. Every game of AtG will offer different opportunities, so being relatively flexible and willing to try new strategies will be important to success.

Should you start further away from the Romans or want to win the game by a different route the 'Magister Militum' victory is now also available. In essence, you have to send 5 of your clans to Rome along with some expensive equipment for training, and they'll rejoin you as mighty Roman Legions. These can be used directly against any foes you might have, but once you've acquired 5 of them the option to send them to Rome and basically take it over from the inside becomes available. Each of these actions has a 1-year timer on them though, giving your rivals the opportunity to slow you down, so keeping folks happy on the diplomatic front will also be important to pulling this off.

I really like the role each of these victory conditions fills, as neither one requires too heavy a commitment until later in the game and they overlap enough to remain viable until fairly late but not so much that they blend into one another. I also think 2 is a good number, as having too many victory conditions not only makes it a lot tougher to figure out what what you're aiming for but it doesn't make a lot of sense, as this was an era where might made right - a cultural victory ain't exactly thematic!



Keeping your clans happy is a big part of the game.


Clan Management

The 'mood' of each of your clans is now something important to stay on top of, and is often based on what professions you assign them.

There were  'happiness' and 'clan desire' systems in the game previously, but they've been fleshed-out and rebalanced to play a more meaningful role. The design goal is for the desires or feuds clans have to be fairly predictable, such that if a 'Curious' clan joins you making them farmers is almost guaranteed to make them upset - but make them scouts or in a profession that produces knowledge and you'll have nothing to worry about. The tapestry of different clans and traits you end up with works really well with this, as you're often tempted by sub-optimal options since, after all, you really, really need that extra warrior, even if the fickle new clan that just arrived comes with a morale penalty built-in.

The clan personality aspect of the game really adds a fun new dynamic, and is something I expect to continue fleshing out in the future, as it's fairly easy to add new traits, desires, feuds, etc.


New Art

A lot of new art has also gone into the game lately, specifically structures and units, which are now basically done. Here are a few examples of some of the new stuff:



Almost all game art is now complete.


Misc

The latest build also includes a number of smaller gameplay changes, such as removing the ability to survey unknown resource deposits from builders (this is now exclusive to foragers and the Surveyor profession), adding defenders to each neutral structure (making them <i>slightly</i> less juicy targets), and making it possible to 'ennoble' clans from the start (a good way to make clans happy, and required by some advanced professions). If you're curious as to everything that's new or changed checkout the changelog below. I'll be including changelogs with each future update, so stay tuned if you're interested in that sort of thing.


...


All of the changes described above are reflected in v24.0, which is now up on Steam and should be available on Humble next week after a Mac/Linux compatibility issue is fixed (the current build is broken on those platforms, but switching to the "internal" beta branch in Steam will allow the previous version of the game to be played in the meantime). I've included the full v24.0 changelog below, in case you're interested in all the nitty-gritty details.

That's it for now. We'll be back next month with more!

- Jon

 
Link to v24.0 Changelog

(This is a link rather than simply pasted into the post because copying any text into here strips it of all formatting and line breaks, and it's probably better to spend the 30 minutes it would take fixing it on the game itself!)

2
AtG - Developer Updates / June 2018 Update - Playtest Finale
« on: June 11, 2018, 11:39:22 AM »
Hey all,

First off, I wanted to let you know that starting in July the updates from here on out will mostly focus on the specific changes that have been in the past month, and every post will now include a full change log.

Furthermore, the game will enter design lockdown on July 15. A new build will be posted for alpha testers shortly after that date, and from that point on all of my time will be spent collecting and making use of playtest feedback, iterating on/polishing what's already in the game, and taking care of the final boring-but-necessary elements a game needs to ship (making sure the last bits of art make it in, programming an options screen, replacing placeholder text, graphics performance optimization, creating a final installer etc.).

The next update will be posted after we've hit the July 15 milestone, and from this point on I expect all future updates will go up mid-month-ish. Gonna keep this one short though so I can get back to programming.

We'll pick things up in July with a lot of details - for now though we'll wrap up the playtest report we started a couple months ago. Back soon!

…


March 5 Group Game Playtest - Turn Log Part 3/3



Where we left off.


61 … October ... The horsemen assault Clan Ingel, which barely holds on and is now down to 70% health. I decide to roll the dice and send Clan Einar into the fray in hopes of breaking the enemy's morale and crippling them, as the bandits' power is equal to Einar's (3.6) which won't be the case for long after their morale recovers. The result is… victory! Einar is bloodied but successful in their attack. Much as I'd like the hobbled-but-still-standing Ingel to follow up and eliminate the vile riders their morale is too low and they refuse, so I instead reform my small army in preparation to finish the job next turn. I tuck Clan Adelbert (Farmer) under the army, as my willingness to take chances with them has lowered dramatically. Speaking of bandits, a captive Miner appears on the far eastern frontier, posing quite an opportunity. With the western bandit threat mitigated I steer Clan Ewout (Archer) back around in hopes of snatching them. My Timber supply is starting to dwindle fast, and even my Woodworks will only slow the bleed. I want to get an Apprentice there and on the Gold Mine, so I switch my research to Woodsplitters so I can start making my own rather than relying 100% on caravans. With only 15 Timber left and -11 per turn I disable both of my Coal Makers to reduce this to -2, which I can afford since I have a pretty healthy supply of Coal. I send the Settlement far to the west, leaving 1 move in order to unpack. I start training Clan Ulfert (Coal Maker) back to a Lorekeeper in order to get my Woodsplitters finished faster.

62 … The army finishes off the bandit horsemen once and for all, though I'm sure they have more friends lurking in the fog. The bandit-controlled Miner has disappeared so I send Clan Ewout (Archer) into the fog to hunt them down, and find them only a tile away.

63 … The captured Miners (Clan Valborg) move a bit further away and towards a bandit camp, but remain within range of Ewout, who I sacrifice to supply damage to use in capturing Valborg. Losing 10% of HP is definitely worth a free trained clan! Unfortunately, Ewout is now in range of 2 bandits on a nearby camp that the Miners were probably heading towards, which is a bit risky. We'll see what happens. My Woodworks is now online, producing 6 Timber per turn, but not the 9 I was hoping for since Clan Habel is efficient (+50% resource production). Hmmm. At first I thought this might be a design issue, but it was in fact a bug, which I spent a bit of time fixing (using the fancy command console to remove and re-apply the Efficient trait). I resume Clan Roehl's Timber-to-Coal conversion, and begin training Clan Ahlert (unemployed but in Metalworking) in Crafting, as I think I'll make them into my Logger Apprentice in order to increase my Woodworks' output (particularly important since they're impatient and take 50% longer to train if the task is at least 3 turns long). While not eager to send my army back west, especially in its weakened state and now facing very-much-angry bandits, I'm the gambling sort and don't want to have my Farmer waiting around doing nothing. Let's figure out what all of those plants are!

64 … The bandits launch an all-out assault on Clan Ewout (Archer) and… wipe them out! The bandits suffer losses, but the combined effects of being outnumbered and weakened from supply loss is too much for Ewout to withstand, and my bold play at grabbing a free Miner instead costs me one of my clans. Ouch. Not only that, but my eastern flank is now wide open, my new Woodworks completely exposed to rampaging bandits. I opt to send Clan Warren (Hunter) back to the Settlement for immediate retraining as a Lancer, and also pull back my western expedition. Time to start playing things a bit more safe. I pack up my Settlement this turn in order to shift them 1 tile NE, allowing me to immediately start training my Lancer next turn (while keeping captured Clan Everard (Farmer) within my control in order to start constructing a Wheat Farm soon).

65 … December … New Clan Sorrel (Gregorious and Thorough, which basically means they really, really want to be in a social profession) joins the tribe. I spend a Parchment increasing Clan Warren (Hunter)'s level in Honor in order to get that Lancer out another turn sooner. The bandits haven't advanced, so I'm in some luck there. Strangely enough though some of their captives are now wandering into my lands, which I'll happily take advantage of when I can. Clan Waldemar (Trapper) has depleted the Sheep herd, so I send them up towards the Deer I had been hunting.



I have a lot of flexibility in training clans in new professions at this point in the game.


66 … I finally hit 20 Stone Blocks and Clan Everard (Farmer) is able to start constructing my Wheat Plantation. I start training my Lancer as well, which will be wrapped up in 2 turns.

67 … The bandit captives seem intent on a death march in the winter through my lands, and I'm hoping I'll be able to grab them with my returned army before they bite the dust. It'll be close.

68 … And I make it! I grab Clan Valborg (Miner) as well as newcomer Clan Herrick (Logger) both in the same turn with my two remaining Archers, and the Gothic family is suddenly a lot bigger. I manage to grab both clans within my own control as well, ensuring they won't take any further supply damage. The AI behind the units' behavior was incredibly wonky and something I'll need to look into, but in this game I'll simply consider myself fortunate and move on! Clan Warren is now a Lancer, and with a whopping 16 Power it's THREE times stronger than my existing army combined. So, yeah, it's definitely time to rumble. I decide to wipe out the threat to the east first, once spring returns. I opt to dig in my Lancer in a centralized location for now for defensive purposes, and I'll have it join my Archers to the east once it's time to begin campaigning again. I start training Clan Ottokar (Wood Bundler) as a Woodsplitter, finally giving them something productive to do again. Having captured both a Miner and a Logger I now need to find new roles for unemployed Clans Ahlert and Ivo, who had been tabbed for the job, but I can decide on this later. Another warrior would probably make sense, although none of the candidates are particularly well-suited and I'd really rather be training Spearman than Archers at this point - I queue them up next after researching Bakers. There aren't a ton of other great options, which starts to show the limitations of the game's current profession/tech lineup, and why it needs a refresh.

69 … Clan Ottokar is now online as a Woodsplitter, and it's now time for me to decide how to prioritize my apprentice assignment. More wealth honestly wouldn't help me all that much, as the current design of the caravan doesn't really allow me to spend much more than I'm already making (soon to be resolved - this is why I playtest so extensively!). Given that I can always buy more timber and food is extremely hard to come by I decide to go for buffing my Wheat Plantation first (I like how difficult this decision is). I start switching Clan Ahlert to Metalworking in preparation for training them as a Coal Maker, as I'll need more once my Baker comes online. I also decide to send my new Miner and Lancer up a bit to the NE to investigate a lone mineral deposit that's escaped investigation thus far. This isn't too risky, is it? Right?

70 … The increased supply cost of my Lancer has caught up to me a bit, as since it's not spring yet I can only acquire enough supply on tiles within my control at present - a fun wrinkle in the use of these units that isn't really the case in a lot of other strategy games. I withdraw them to the tile just north of my Woodworks, which is still well-positioned for their mission. My Archers creep SE through the dense forest, and once they team up with my Lancer in a few turns will be ready to wipe out the eastern bandits, hopefully once and for all. I train Clan Ahlert in Metalworking one more time in order to surmount the 'Impatient' trait training time penalty.



Mounted units like the Lancer are very powerful, but tricky to use because of their supply cost.


71 … March … As my small Archer army marches SE through the forest they uncover a grisly scene of 3 bandit units including a mounted rider having completely decimated one of my hapless neighbors. Having a camp only 2 tiles away from your starting tile is no fun at all! Clan Warren (Lancer) sweeps northwards ahead of Clan Valborg (Miner), and the coast in this direction at least seems clear. I finally start training Clan Ahlert as a Coal Maker, which will keep me at -1 per turn once I train Clan Wilmot (Farmer) as a Baker the following turn.

72 … Clan Valborg finally starts identifying the unknown mineral, and I send Clan Warren (Lancer) back towards the SE to link up with my Archers. I hate spreading my military so thin and leave both my western and northern flanks completely exposed, but I really want to eliminate the known threat and move on. With 10 turns of food left and -0.4 per I finally add an apprentice slot to my Wheat Plantation, add the apprentice and climb back up to a modest +0.3 per turn. The first caravan of the year has finally shown up, and it's a painful one, as coal is in short supply, and I'm only able to purchase 2 (!). I purchase various other commodities and drain my treasury back to 0.

73 … Clan Bader (Curious and Rowdy, so easy to train but prone to stir up trouble and commit crimes) joins the tribe and seems well-suited to becoming a Surveyor to help scout out the lands to the west once I finally wrap things up in this part of the map. My grand army finally combines and prepares to lay siege to the bandit HQ. The supply cost of my Lancer is such that positioning the army for the siege is a bit tricky, but thanks to a wheat field 1 tile N of the camp it's not too problematic, although it certainly could be in other scenarios.

74 … The nearly-crippled bandit rider makes a suicide charge, which I repel with zero casualties, leaving two half-strength infantry units remaining. I settle in for a siege to ensure my losses remain minimized. I again have the 10 Boards necessary to add an apprentice slot, and do so for my Woodworks, bringing me all the way up to +3 timber per turn from -6 (thanks to comboing with Clan Habel's awesome Efficient trait bonus). Clan Wilmot is now online as a Baker, bringing my food-per-turn up to 2.7, which is quite healthy. Feeling really good about my position right now - let's see if I can avoid any surprise visits that ruin things before I can finish training Clan Ivo as a Spearman.

75 … I spend a Parchment to level up Clan Ivo in Honor once more. That's about it for this turn - a rare break!

76 … Clan Valborg (Miner) discovers a stone deposit to the NE. Interesting. I'm not really set up to take advantage of it right now, but maybe down the road. I send Valborg towards my Gold Mine, which will double its already-formidable output once I can add Valborg to it. I finish researching Spearmen, but only have 12 of the 15 Weapons I need to train one, so I opt to finally pack up and head west. It's obviously dangerous to do so without escort, but I did a sweep through the area not too long ago and summers are usually safer than winters. Plus, moving while the weather is nice makes a lot of sense, as trudging through the snow is no fun at all.

77 … June … The siege in the East continues as my Settlement starts moving west. No enemies spotted yet.

78 … The bandit camp is only now starting to feel the sting of my siege (the price of fighting patiently in a hospitable part of the world). At the caravan weapons are on sale, allowing me to add 10 to my stockpile for only 20 wealth. Nice deal! My settlement arrives at its final destination, but lacks enough moves to unpack. I've also just hit 25 Parchment this turn thanks to Clan Waldemar (Trapper) turning plenty of deer into the handy resource, so I'll be able to, next turn, at last, found the Kingdom of the Goths!

79 … I switch Clan Waldemar over to foraging for cloth so that I can plan ahead for expanding my popcap, as with a huge fame bonus incoming I'll need this sooner rather than later. I add an apprentice slot to my Gold Mine and then slot Clan Valborg in, bringing me up to +20 wealth per turn. A nearly-dead bandit appears just to the north of my settlement, so before spending the turn founding my kingdom I start training Clan Ivo as a Spearman, which will take 2 turns. Fingers crossed.

80 … The bandit stays put, but another in the camp to the East launches a suicide charge of its own against my army, while the other runs to the southeast. I follow up by charging through the camp, freeing a captured farmer (Clan Edlef) and wiping out the final bandit. Phew. I send Edlef towards a large field of flax near my settlement.

81 … Clan Ivo is now trained as a Spearman and destroys the bandit hanging around in the West. In the East I split my army up, sending my Archers back towards home and my Lancer around the area to scout, as I haven't seen much of this area yet. To wrap up I push the declare kingdom button, which takes a turn to take effect, and…

82 … The Kingdom of the Goths has been founded!



The Kingdom of the Goths!

3
AtG - Developer Updates / May 2018 Update - Playtest Report 2
« on: May 21, 2018, 09:13:30 AM »
Hey all!

Back from a trip to Japan to relax a bit while the weather is improving. This update and the one which follows will continue the playtest report we began in the April 2018 update and conclude with me triumphantly founding my kingdom (spoiler alert!). From then on the updates will shift back over to describing recent progress on the game.


March 5 Group Game - Turn Log Part 2




Where we left off.


44 … Bayan of the Avars and Attila of the Huns both pop up asking me to stay away from their territory, and I promptly tell both to take a hike. [This behavior comes from the old diplomatic system and will be replaced in the new system.] Clan Askan is now producing Stone Blocks from Coal… well, sort of. They will once they have enough Coal, anyways. Right now they want to produce 2 Stone Blocks from 3 Coal every turn, but Clan Ulfert is only producing 2 Coal per turn, so I need to get another Coal Maker online. Will have to wait until the Woodworks is up and running though. Nothing to train this turn, but a new clan shows up next turn so it's a good opportunity to move my settlement to the east and get it into position for that Woodworks, so I pack up. I wake Clan Ingel (Archer) up from garrison duty to the SE and move them onto the berries, making sure my move is protected.

45 … Clan Waldemar joins me, and they're Reclusive and Leperous. The latter trait reduce the 'Mood' of all other clans on the tile by 1 (making them less productive and more likely to get upset), so shifting them out of the settlement and into some kind of active profession is probably for the best. [The personality and mood aspects of clans are something I plan on taking more advantage of in the future. Right now it's mostly a secondary feature with a lot of potential, as most of clan management at the moment is focused on economics.] I decide to move the settlement down one tile beneath the berries, as that allows me to add the unknown animal to my control as well. Maybe Waldemar can do something there… Hmmm. Not many other active Professions on the horizon, so let's give it a shot. I change my research efforts from Spearmen over to Livestock, and start training Waldemar in the Discipline in order to give them a head start. Making them into Trappers will allow me to start building up a stockpile of Parchment I can use to found my kingdom. I also shift Clan Ewout (Archer) down from their dug-in position in the woods to the north, as they're now outside my control and vulnerable to supply loss.

46 … I give Clan Waldemar 2 levels in Livestock, then start training Clan Warren in Honor in order to prepare them for becoming Spearmen down the road.




One clan's traits can affect the other clans on the tile.


47 … March … Warm again! Nothing to train this turn since I won't have Trappers researched until next turn. Definitely need to add some kind of alternate way of spending your settlement's turn, as it's no fun to have to completely skip it. We're now down to producing only 1.3 food per turn, so before next year we're going to have to start prioritizing my food production. There's a fair bit of wheat around, so investing in that direction probably makes sense, even after my current two farms are exhausted.

48 … First caravan of the year shows up, and I have 53 wealth to spend. Lo and behold, it has 10 warhorses for sale, at 5 wealth each. Think I might make Clan Warren into Lancers rather than Spearmen! Going to take a while to get them online though, so it might make sense to have Warren do something else in the meantime - could make them Hunters and collect some food or survey some animals. Probably for the best right now. As cool as Lancers are they're not really a major GAME priority right now given my lack of true enemies. I sell the two horses I captured from the bandit camp and buy 5 coal for 10 wealth in order to keep my Brickmaker busy. I also decide to send Clans Ingel and Einar (Archers) to besiege the bandit camp to the NW, and leave Clan Ewout in the east to defend my tribe.

49 … New Clan Roehl arrives - they are Nomadic and Wasteful, giving them levels in Livestock, an extra move, 3 free horses, and a 10% penalty to resource production. Hmmm. Well, they'll still be acceptable as Coal Makers, I suppose. In the meantime I decide to spend the turn training Clan Warren as Hunters.

50 … Clan Warren is sent to the Unknown Animal herd to the west first, as I'll switch them over to hunting the big herd of Deer during the winter when my Wheat Farms shut down. Clan Waldemar (Trappers) starts identifying the herd of animals already within my control (borders). Clans Ingel and Einar (Archers) begin the siege of the bandit camp to the NW, which I can hopefully finish before winter. I start training Clan Roehl as Coal Makers.

51 … I finish researching Loggers, which Clan Habel (Wood Collectors) will be retrained as once they finish their last forage tile. That's it for this turn. 2 turns until a new Clan arrives, 3 until the next Caravan.

52 … Starting to wonder what I might want to do with Clan Ottokar (Wood Bundlers), as they'll need a new Profession after Clan Habel switches jobs. Could use them to produce even more Stone Blocks, and really go heavy down that road [this sort of thing will be much easier in future versions of the game when there will be a lot more Clan upgrades available]. Let's try it out and see what happens!

53 … June … New Clan Adalbert has joined the tribe - they're Adventurous (ANOTHER one!) and Adaptable. Might make sense for them to build a level 2 Farm on one of the remaining Wheat tiles near me. I add a note to their clan card and move on.

54 … Caravan arrives and we're up to 62 Wealth, which I promptly use to buy up all of the available Weapons, bringing me up to 12 - enough for my Lancer with a bit left over to get a head start on expanding my control somewhere as well. I also purchase the 5 available Coal, a handful of Parchment and a handful of Cloth. [I'm starting to realize that with so much money my options at the caravan are fairly limited - it might make sense to allow the caravan to be "upgraded" by spending Wealth or such, just so there are more options available later in the game.] Clan Waldemar (Trappers) finds a second herd of Sheep, which I decide to turn into Cloth for now, as we're still a ways away from needing Parchment to establish my kingdom. I realize I need Tools in order to train my Farmer, so I open the caravan back up, sell off my 3 Horses and buy up 6 Tools. Woops. Well, that won't be as necessary in the future once the Professions are redesigned a bit and all tier 1 professions (like the Farmer) won't cost anything to train. Not something I can rely on in this playthrough though!




I found something productive for the shunned Clan Waldemar to do.


55 … Need to start thinking more about my future food sources. This should be a lot easier under the new design, as right now one of my best options is to construct a level 2 Wheat Farm and add an Apprentice to it… but that currently requires 20 Boards and 10 Alcohol, which is a huge expense at this point in the game. A Bread Maker is another option, but only adds +5 Wheat per Farm, which is less than double, and with only one Wheat Farm compared with my current 2 just keeps me running in place, rather than serving as a long-term solution. I decide to make an ad-hoc tweak to increase the bonus to +8 and the cost from +1 Timber to +2 Timber to help keep the game moving, and make this my strategy. This will tax my Woodworks even more, and I also reduce the Apprentice cost by half. No actual in-game decisions to make this turn though! I have an opportunity to take a shot at the weakened Bandit Camp this turn, but decide to wait a bit longer to ensure I take zero casualties.

56 … And of course a new Bandit spawns, meaning I have to delay my assault a few more turns. Ah well. Nothing else to do this turn either.

57 … Clan Warren (Hunter) identifies more sheep to the west, and I send them towards the large herd of Deer to the NW of my settlement. I finish researching Lancers, and decide to start on Bakers, an upgraded version of the Bread Maker which requires 10 Stone Blocks and 2 Coal every turn but provides a massive +20 bonus to Wheat Farms. Next turn Clan Habel (Wood Collector) finishes their final Forest forage task, so I have a bit of a bridge turn to spend on something. I don't have a good need for my Lorekeeper any more (not great, but a problem that should be solved with the new Professions), so I decide to switch Clan Ahlert's Discipline over to Metalworking, as they can eventually help me make more Coal from Timber. Clan Adelbert (newly-trained Farmer) heads west to start surveying Plants, as there's not much need for a Farmer just yet (plus, they're Adventurous, so +1 movement!). My new Bandit friend has left his camp to head west (saw the writing on the wall?) so I swoop in for the kill, but hold off on pillaging the camp until my other friend is dealt with (this is when having the option to pillage or not after capturing a camp is really nice, as pillaging gives you a big defensive penalty).

58 … The bandit attacks, and inflicts a small amount of damage but is nearly wiped out in the process. I finish the job immediately afterwards, and my western flank is now fully secured! Clan Adalbert (Farmer) takes advantage of this and continues westward. My first (and large) Wheat Farm finally runs out, and my food consumption switches over into the red - not normally what you want to see in August! I begin switching Clan Habel over to become Loggers.

59 … September … Clan Ivo (Vigorous, +1 Move, and Reclusive, prefers active professions) joins the tribe. I don't know what to do with them yet, but probably something out on the map. I have a few clans to keep busy with though, so I don't need to figure out a role for them just yet. I spend the turn leveling them up in Metalworking though, as there's nothing more pressing right at this moment - having them become an Apprentice for the Gold Mine seems quite appealing. I'll now hit my popcap in 6 turns, so I go ahead and spend 10 Cloth to increase it, and switch Clan Waldemar (Trappers) over to foraging for Parchment. Clan Adalbert (Farmer) proceeds further west towards the collection of unknown plants around where I expect to found my kingdom.

60 … NOOOOOOO! Bandit Riders appear from the SW and steal Clan Adalbert (Farmer) from me. So much for having a secure frontier. I scramble all of my Archers and begin marching them towards the raiders, hoping I can save Adalbert before they suffer a terrible fate. Fortunately, the fast Clan Ingel is within range to swoop behind the horsemen and restore control of Adalbert, but they're outmatched. Clan Einar has finished pillaging the Bandit Camp to the NW, and moves a couple tiles away. I recall Clan Ewout from the far eastern frontier, but it's going to be a while before they're of any help. They might be needed to hold off the riders though should they continue eastward, rather than engage my other two Archers. I start packing up the Settlement in order to position it for building the new Wheat Farm after starting on the Woodworks next turn. Good timing! At the caravan I purchase a plethora of goods, including Alcohol, Coal, Boards, and Timber.




The delicate situation I end this report facing.



...



That's it for now. The conclusion to our story will come here in a couple weeks in the June update. 'Til then!

- Jon

4
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

5
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?




GOLD!


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

6
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

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

7
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.

 

Screenshots!


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.





Brrrrr...



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

- Jon

8
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 (contact@conifergames.com) 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

9
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

10
Hello again from the Conifer team!

At long last, we're finally back with a new edition of 'Jon rambles for too long about some esoteric game design topic (and along the way mentions AtG once or twice)'. Today's lucky recipient of this most distinguished spotlight is the game's user interface, or "UI". I know this topic might sound roughly as exciting as watching paint dry, but I really do encourage you to stick around because once you've seen things with your own eyes I think you'll understand why our bold claim of AtG's UI being "revolutionary" isn't just pre-release marketing hype.

It may also come as a relief that this update is actually a 3-for-1 deal where 'Jon waxing poetically about his eternal love for UI and the beautiful soul it hides from the big, bad world' is reinforced by two additional features.

The second member of our update trifecta is a fairly detailed bullet point outline of what's new and cool with AtG's UI, and provides the most bang for your buck if you only have a couple minutes to spare. I've attached it to the end of this article, so to check it out just scroll to the very bottom of this article and then back up until you see "UI Feature Outline" in big, bold text.

The real the star of our show though is this hands-on video preview of the UI (total of 66 minutes, split into 2 parts roughly a half hour long):









The old "seeing is believing" mantra sums up UI perfectly, and so much so that even a designer and UI fanboy like me can't do it justice simply by describing it. So even if you don't normally watch game videos I strongly encourage checking this one out. If you're in a hurry skip ahead to the 11-minute mark, as that's when we introduce AtG's secret weapon.

The rest of this article makes up the final member of our trifecta, and is a dive deep into a number of UI-related topics that include: why good UI has never been (and never will be) the kind of 'sexy' bullet point that helps sell magazines, why in spite of that developers should still care, what makes UI design so difficult, where the idea for AtG's Adaptive Tooltips came from, some of our UI design 'rules', and a look at the design process behind a few UI features we've put a lot of thought into so that players won't have to.




Discipline of Shadows


The first thing that came to mind when I started writing an update about UI was "Won't this sound boring to most people?" An encouraging start, I know! But given what we had to show off I remained confident in the idea, and the second thought I had was "Why?" It's a complicated question to be sure, but the simplest way to approach it is to put ourselves in the shoes of each of the two stakeholders: players/press, and developers/ownership.

From the player's perspective UI is something that might as well live in the ether, as it's forever out of sight and out of mind. Even truly terrible game UI is rarely identified and lambasted as such. Players who bear the brunt of it rarely play for more than a couple hours, whereas everyone who sticks around eventually grows accustomed to it, eventually reaching the point where they genuinely don't even see the flaws any more.

Ultimately, the mythical "perfect" UI from any player's perspective would be labeled such precisely because it's so intuitive that it becomes completely invisible. Our ability to learn, adapt, and tune things out is part of why we enjoy games at all and helps us in many other ways, but motivating us to pressure profit-driven companies into fixing endemic flaws in their consumer products certainly isn't one of them!

But what about the developers? Unfortunately, a large number simply don't find UI very much fun to work on. Most programmers want to spend their time building systems and solving interesting problems and not on tedious, never-ending polish and bugfixing (there's no better example of the ninety-ninety rule in game development). Most artists want to express themselves by creating something beautiful and admired, not something where recognition is inversely correlated with quality, and many of those who do actually enjoy working on UI still approach it like any other art task, striving for beauty and admiration.

But someone ends up stuck making the UI for every game, whether they like it or not, and as you'd expect the end result is usually something well-architected and beautiful, but not necessarily intuitive or feature-rich from the perspective of those actually playing the game.

Crafting a good UI requires putting yourself in the shoes of your players and actually experiencing your creation as they would. This requires a certain degree of skill and know-how, but far more important is simply the dedication it takes to spend months or even years playing your own game over and over again, then come back the next day and tackle whatever new tedious bit of polish you think might make the game 0.0001% better. With a smile, preferably.

To be sure, there are amazing graphic designers and user experience (UX) specialists out there… but the problem is these talented individuals already command far higher salaries outside of game development. And because the value provided by UI is intangible the same is true of its impact on sales, and without that data even supportive members of management will be fighting an uphill battle making the case for adding those big salaries to the books.

So in the end there's rarely pressure from below or above to make UI a priority, and so it remains trapped in stagnant purgatory.










What UI Don't Know Can Still Hurt You


Okay, so only a few people actually care about UI. What's the big deal?

As I hinted at above, UI is really just a subset of "User Experience", a field which encompassing not just games or even software but every single man-made object we interact with throughout our lives.

Installing new carpet that feels like walking on a cloud (and happens to be in your favorite color) has a very real effect on your quality of life, even if the bristly mustard-colored stuff you replaced it with never seemed so bad. A pair of headphones that fits so well you can't even tell they're on is a similarly huge upgrade over a pair that was always a bit too tight and got uncomfortable after a while, even though you might have owned the latter pair for years and never really gave it much thought. Hell, even replacing a noisy fan with a quieter one can improve one's environment and therefore mood.

Just because we don't think about something affecting us that doesn't mean it doesn't affect us. Games take this a step further because learning and acquiring information the road to mastery is, in many ways, the whole point. This is especially true of strategy games, where both the challenges and the satisfaction of overcoming them is often elevated.

But that road to mastery quickly stops being fun if you start getting the feeling you're lost without a map or anyone around who might be able to give you directions. Strategy games are fundamentally about making tough, meaningful decisions, and to feel confident in and responsible for them you need information. Without it you're just stabbing in the dark, and it becomes easy to blame the game for any misfortune which befalls you, and from there it doesn't take much to just give up and never play again.

And that outcome is bad for everyone whether you're the player himself, the dev who likely loses sales, a fan of the game who wants it to succeed, or even someone who's not but might have become one had more people been talking about it.

On the flip side, there are several very real, if subtle advantages to investing seriously in UI. Gamers who've had an interest in the genre but bounced off of other titles within it might give yours a shot if they hear it's easier to get into. UI is a lot like a AI: neither has an impact you can easily measure, but go the extra mile and people will notice. Many will become your biggest supporters and lifelong customers, but even those who don't are likely to speak fondly of your game any time it, a similar game, or even the genre as a whole comes up in conversation - and for not just a couple weeks or months but years to come.

"Making a better UI" also shouldn't be misinterpreted as "simplifying your game to make it easier", and in fact the opposite is true. Information is just information and there are no rules or limits on how it can be presented. Packaging it in the right - or simply, a better - way actually creates room for more depth and complexity. This can result in an amusing bit of irony where the biggest beneficiary of a more intuitive UI isn't the casual player who's still probably won't play for more than a few hours, but instead the hardest of the hardcore, and the one most likely to scoff at the idea of spending precious development resources on UI!










A Problem of Perspective


Remember that mythical "perfect UI" we talked about above that's invisible to the player? Well, when we say "the player" what we really mean is every player. And that's not only total newbies to the genre and top-10 ladder players, but people who simply will not read a block of text more than two sentences long, people who are colorblind, people who have screens so enormous the corners (AKA the best place to put UI) falls outside their field of vision... okay, I think you get the picture.

The biggest challenge by far though is balancing the interests of new players against those of experienced ones, especially when designing a strategy game. You can try to imagine yourself in the shoes of either group you'll never actually be able to see things as either one does. You're too close to the game to have a chance at noticing most of the issues that will trip up newbies, and although your perspective is much closer to that of the veterans the depressing truth is that the best players will only only be far better than you, but you're also too close to the game to see things from their perspective.

Experts don't have any preconceived notions about how things should work. If it's possible to open up the diplomacy screen and check in with every leader every turn and use a loophole in the trade AI to exploit them for a bit of cash, then, well, that's how your game plays! At that point it doesn't matter what your intention was. This example obviously a problem that extends beyond just UI design, but it still highlights the disadvantage you as the UI designer are at.

To be honest, this is one part of UI design where there really is no substitute for experience, skill, and intuition. But even that only makes it possible to create a good UI, not guaranteed. The most important ingredient is dedicated playtesting and iteration and the massive time investment that entails, and even then there will still always be one more thing you could add or tweak. You just eventually reach a point where it's time to put a bow on things and actually ship something people can play.

Alright, that's enough metaphysical navel-gazing, let's bring things back to the game this article is purportedly related to!




Meanwhile, Back at Conifer HQ


There's a lot of potential to do more than what's been done already - it's just a matter of actually doing it. Fortunately, I'm one of those people lucky enough to have been born with both a passion and at least some aptitude for UI design. I think we really raised the bar for strategy game UI with Civ 5, but not being some sort of all-powerful Game Development God working all by my lonesome on Mount Olympus there was never an opportunity to lock myself in a room for two months and focus exclusively on UI.

Well, fast forward a few years to when AtG is first starting up and things have changed a bit. While I'm still no deity of any mythical mountain, I'm now at least a minor spirit in charge of that one hill people sometimes use for sledding. But hey, at least it's my hill! Anyways, as supreme overlord of my little mound of dirt I decided this would be the game where I'd hunker down and see how far we could push the envelope.

Naturally, I dove into the deep end of this concrete pool head-first by tackling the most difficult - but also most impactful - challenge of all: making it so that learning the game was, you know, not nigh-impossible for a human adult of above-average intelligence.

At the same time though, I absolutely didn't want to achieve this by simply "dumbing things down" and making the game mechanics themselves simpler. You see, that's cheating. And I'm no cheater. So where do we go from here then? My starting point was the UI design tenet which shapes pretty much everything I've ever made: don't put more on the screen than you absolutely have to.

The problem is that every player has their own opinion as to what 'has' to be visible. And to complicate things further, that opinion will inevitably change as they become more experienced. What we needed was a UI that not only adapted to different types of players, but could also 'evolve' with them.










Laying the Groundwork


In some games not only can you mouse over UI elements to get a basic tooltip, but if you keep the cursor there a little bit longer the tooltip will 'transform' into a far more detailed one. I'd considered this approach for AtG, but I didn't like that there were some pretty big holes in it: not only does it force experienced players to endure that delay hundreds or even thousands of times, but neither is it really ideal for the new players who are apparently expected to get everything they need within that 3-second window.

But I could tell there was still some untapped potential in the concept, it was just a matter of rearranging the pieces in just the right way. And then it hit me: why not make the trigger condition position-based instead of time-based?

Virtually all computer programs use what I like to call "ghost" tooltips that can be seen but not interacted with, but there's no reason why that has to be the case. Let's say a tooltip remains fixed in place after appearing and then remains so as long as the cursor is over either it or its 'parent' control... suddenly each tooltip is just another UI control like any other. I knew this could be something big, something that could transform the ethereal into the corporeal. Over several months that tiny spark would not only catch fire but eventually mature into an unstoppable inferno: AtG's Adaptive Tooltips system.

From there it was just a matter of how we could best take advantage of the system. While cramming tooltip-laden panels and buttons into the tooltips of existing panels and buttons would come in handy, I felt that there was the potential for something truly revolutionary if we took things a step further and made it possible for individual words to have their own tooltips. Have no idea what "Apprentices" are, how they work, or if they're even worth worrying about? If words can have tooltips then it becomes trivially easy to find answers for not only those questions, but virtually any question.

Of course, that was easier said than done. Getting this feature online and fully functional took several weeks, mainly because much of the UI system had to be rewritten to not only allow for individual blocks of text to masquerade as UI controls, but to do so while still contained within other UI controls. If one of those parent UI controls is hidden, or moved, or told to allow clicks to pass 'through' to controls behind them, then so too must the text be.

We ran into several other technical hurdles along the way, none more aggravating than ironing out the endless parade of issues related to overlapping tooltip stacks. Sometimes a tooltip halfway down would think it was the one on top and everyone else above him would just vanish. Or you'd click on a button deep within a stack of tooltips, but some other part of the UI would think it was being clicked on. I probably spent the equivalent of two full weeks tracking everything down, and let me tell you, I was pretty sour by that point.

A couple weeks is just a drop in the bucket compared with the amount of time it takes to flesh out a truly polished UI. With the foundation for the Adaptive Tooltips system now in place it was time to zoom back out and focus on the design.










Inside Santa's Workshop


At this point it's probably best to switch gears and focus more on the sorts of high-level design principles that helped shape AtG's UI, rather than a blow-by-blow account of every decision we made. After all, life is too short, this article already too long, and we've only scratched the surface with the tooltip system, let alone the rest of the UI.

One of the most important traits for a UI designer to have is contextual awareness. How should everything fit together? How does it right now? What do players actually care about? What do they not care about? If I move this piece to there does it make the tower stronger or weaker?

No decision is made in vacuum, and losing the forest for the trees can have far-reaching consequences. Even a seemingly-benign choice like what background color to use can reverberate throughout your game.

A good real-world example of this in AtG was our choice to make the 'fog of war' tiles you haven't yet revealed look like parchment paper. What at first appeared to be a single decision would eventually balloon into dozens. A paper background means the screen usually dominated by a light, warm color. Anything we place over the top of the world that we want to stand out now needs to be dark. Well, if every background panel and popup in the game is going to be dark that means our text needs to be light.

If AtG instead had light panels and dark text it wouldn't make the game unplayable or anything, but it would make things just a little bit tougher for some people. Even if each incremental upgrade or downgrade only grows or shrinks your audience by a tiny amount those little slivers eventually add up.



Button Color


Something else I'd like to talk about that our choice of background color also had an effect on is our buttons. Another big "Jon Shafer UI Design Rule" is that anything you can click should share a clear and consistent style visually distinct from everything else in the game. We decided to make all buttons in AtG either solid gold or at the very least have a gold rim around them (e.g. the Profession buttons in the Study Screen).

So why gold in particular? There are actually several reasons. Even long before we came up with the current art style I liked the idea of making all of our buttons look like some kind of metal. Why metal? Between the bronze age and the invention of plastic most man-made items we manipulated with our hands were metal, be they weapons, tools, or toys, and as a result whenever we see a shaped metal object a tiny voice deep inside tells us it must be something we can use. This was definitely not the case for the stone buttons in our old UI, and given how, uh, non-interactive most rocks are I doubt that voice was whispering anything nice about them into our ear!

After the gold buttons had been in for a while we actually considered changing them to silver or iron because we was worried gold was too close to the parchment background, but in the end we kept it for a few reasons. For one, most of the time when you push a color closer to white or gray the more indistinct and unimportant it seems. If asked what white reminds us of "blank pages and empty walls" is more likely to be someone's answer than "interesting thing I want to use or learn about". With silver now off the board, iron isn't far behind, mainly because it just doesn't have nearly the appeal of gold, a metal that's universally desirable not only throughout time but across cultures.

I also came to realize that the gold buttons not standing out as much over the top of the paper fog may not actually be a bad thing. The only buttons which don't have some kind of dark panel behind them are part of the basic World Screen, which of course is what you're looking at 95% of the time. It won't take long for players to familiarize themselves with this screen and its contents, and the fact that the buttons don't 'pop' as much actually improves the overall feel of the game.

This is a good reminder of the fact that few rules in UI design are hard and fast, although I feel pretty strongly that the "consistent, distinct style for buttons" rule I talked about is one of them, and unfortunately many devs break with gleeful abandon. This is usually done in an attempt to make their UI more "beautiful", but in a tragic twist of irony for most new players the thing they notice the most about the UI is that it's nearly impossible to tell anything apart.



Don't Cross the Streams


Which brings me to our next 'rule': UI is UI and the world is the world, and trying too hard to blur that line usually only makes it harder to learn your game. It's great if a creature's posture changes with its mood, but you probably also want to stick a big icon over their head to make sure it's crystal clear. Because otherwise it probably won't be, and not only will many players be in the dark as to what individual creatures are up to but they may mistakenly conclude things are just random and downgrade their opinion of the game generally.

That's not to say your UI has to look gaudy and ugly. I think the on-map unit flags in AtG look quite nice on the map, despite packing quite a bit of info and being completely out of scale with other map elements. But we made it that size for a reason, and had we instead tried to push things too far by making them in-scale with everything else on the map we'd be spending time on something only the developers care about. On the whole players are very accepting, and most don't even notice or think twice about incongruities which keep developers up at night.










Leave Room to Breathe


Another similar rule is that smaller isn't always better. While you probably don't want half the screen to be covered in UI at all times in map/world-based game, today's monitors have enough pixels that you don't need to cram everything together so tightly that it looks like it came out the other side of a trash compactor. A UI needs room to breathe, and negative space is an essential tool for establishing a hierarchy of importance.

This rule also has an important corollary: Don't be afraid of text. Many games try to save space by replacing words with icons wherever possible, but this is a huge no-no in my book. A lot of the time these 'naked' icons appear inside tooltips, but unless the tooltips work like AtG's there's no way for you to actually figure out what it is. Once you have it memorized, sure, those extra few pixels are nice, but the price paid is completely disproportionate with the payoff.

But what if those few pixels here and there do add up into something veteran players legitimately care about? Well, then just make two versions! Yes, this requires work, but so does everything! If building a good UI that works well for all types of players is actually one of your priorities then these sorts of features start looking like really smart investments.



Consistency and Learning


Our final rule is a simple one: Be consistent. As new players are learning your game they're subconsciously building a mental map of how things fit together, what that icon over there means, which screen contains X and which contains Y, and so on.

By establishing everywhere in the game that red text indicates something negative or bad but then make one exception for the announcement which appears at the top of the screen when you win a battle you damage the player's faith in their mental map. They usually compensate by erasing something, leaving a gap that may never be filled in. The player would have actually been better off had you not attached ANY color to that announcement text. Preventing these sorts of traps is rarely difficult, and usually only requires establishing a clear style guide early on and being diligent about sticking to it.

An even better (or worse) example is sometimes found in more complex games with lots of screens. In providing multiple ways to navigate to the same screen or accomplish the same task might think you're doing players a favor, but much of the time these good intentions backfire. When learning one of these bad boys building that mental map takes much longer but is even more important, but if the player discovers that there are two or even three ways to get to the same screen that map starts to unravel quickly. They'll start looking for locations they remember being next to those they've erased next to one of the others, further undermining the map. The end result is often players simply giving up, or 'quarantining' much of the UI and never venturing outside of the few areas of their map they still have trust in.

But like most UI design rules this is a "soft" one that's more guideline than dogma. Including hotkeys could be thought of as providing multiple entry points, but they're not only accepted and often expected, but I can't even think of any drawbacks aside from the time it takes a developer to add them.

A less clear-cut example from AtG is our inclusion of two independent methods for training a clan in a profession: while in the Clans Screen clicking on one of the 'clan cards' will open a new screen showing all the professions it can be trained in. The Clans Screen also has a button at the bottom you can click which allows you to pick the profession first and then the clan. So why offer both? Because even though the end result is the same the actual process involved in getting there is not. Sometimes you know you need an explorer and it's just a matter of figuring out which clan is the best fit, and others you have an idle clan that needs something to do but you don't have anything in mind yet.

Will some players be confused by this? Without a doubt. But UI design is an art, and like all art you sometimes just have to go with your gut and accept that it won't - and can't - be for everyone.












***






Phew... Alright, I think that's probably a good stopping place for now,  I do truly enjoy working on and talking about UI, though if you've actually still reading this that's probably pretty obvious! If you haven't already I encourage you to check out the video we just posted showing the UI in action.

'Til next time!

- Jon






***





UI Feature Outline



Adaptive Tooltips - Links
  • The key feature of AtG's UI
  • Tooltips Within Tooltips - "like Wikipedia, except with tooltips"
  • Even words can have tooltips
  • Confused or interested? Dig deeper to learn more
  • Simpler on the surface, but more powerful under the hood
  • Makes it easy to see how things "fit together"


Adaptive Tooltips - Customization
  • Complex tooltips are broken up into expandable panels
  • Customize in 'real time', instead of from an options screen
  • Allows the UI to evolve with you as you learn
  • Game-Wide Memory, by type (e.g. Professions VS Structures)


Other UI Features
  • Hotkey Hint Display when mousing over button or pressing ALT
  • Can use WASD keys to move camera (along with traditional controls)
  • Upgraded versions of Civ 5's 'Notifications' and 'New Turn Banner'
  • 'Floating Text' appears when a resource is produced or spent on a map tile
  • Colored 'Sticky Notes' can be attached to Clans or map tiles
  • Cursor color changes subtly when mousing over something with a tooltip
  • In-game Patch Notes, its contents filtered using the date you last played
  • Localization Framework now makes (unofficial) translations possible


Other Customization Options
  • Screen Complexity Filter
  • Grid Intensity
  • Increase/Decrease usage of Icons in Text
  • Can Disable... Button Flash, Turn Banner, Tooltip Sound, Cursor Tint, Hotkey Hints


Look & Feel
  • More modern style that's less skeuomorphic
  • Light stone replaced by dark wood + watercolor
  • Rounded corners
  • Cleaner fonts for text


Layout
  • Less dense, more balanced
  • Grouped more logically, e.g. Notifications next to the End Turn Button
  • Buttons emerge from screen edge


New Fog of War
  • Old 'watercolor paper' looked anachronistic
  • Now looks like parchment
  • Better fit thematically
  • Less repetitive, more visually interesting


Better Color Usage
  • All buttons are gold, making it easy to see what is and is NOT clickable
  • Profession Button colors now match their Discipline
  • Icon panel color in Study & Training Screens hint at type/effect
  • Important words now colored by type, e.g. object names, concepts

12
AtG obviously isn't in Rock Paper Shotgun's list of the 50 best strategy games ever (just yet, anyways!), but it's still very cool to see it get a shout-out near the top.

- Jon

13
Hey all, I'll try make this post short and sweet (by my standards, anyways!), as I just posted another massive "let's play" video which does a better job of showing off what we've been up to than I can with words alone. Weighing in at a whopping 3 hours this video is by far the longest yet, but don't let that scare you off! I've broken it up into six 30-minute parts that should be much easier to work through in multiple viewings. Much of Part 1 covers the recent changes I'll be talking about below, so if that's all you're interested in feel free to pass on the other five parts. If you prefer text to video though, well, read on!


Diplomacy

Coming up with a good diplomatic system is an absolute beast of a task, but the first couple items on my agenda were actually pretty simple.

I started by modifying the map generation logic so that players are placed in groups instead of 100% randomly. If you want interesting diplomacy it's vital to actually, you know, have someone to talk to. In earlier versions of the game you'd often find yourself completely alone, and may not meet a single soul until you were several years in. Games like that can be fun on occasion, but they were so common that it would have been impossible for a diplomatic system of any kind to shine, regardless of its merits.

The second, sexier addition to diplomacy was allowing players to disguise their warriors as bandits. An issue I've noticed in 4X games is players (and I include myself in this) tend to be reticent to declare war. A public, official pledge of animosity isn't a concept we 21st century humans can really relate to. Instead, we tend to be a bit more subtle and guarded when dealing with our "enemies", and this change is meant to take advantage of that fact. Being able to disguise your clans allows you to wage a proxy war of sorts while still keeping everything on the up-and-up officially. It'll take some time to get this new mechanic right on the balance and AI sides but it's a really exciting new tool in the diplomatic toolbox that I'm hoping will help make AtG unique.

Beyond those first two bullet points the plan was to continue approaching the diplomatic system the same way as I had with other gameplay systems... but it quickly became clear this wasn't going to work. When you're adding something like foraging it's easy to come up with a few bullet points outlining how it differs from the pre-existing mechanics for how structures harvest resources, code up something quick and try it out later that day. But diplomacy? There's no other existing system you can even compare it to. How do you break something down that is defined more by the web of events and consequences built up over the course of an entire game than individual decision points?

After banging my head against the wall for a few weeks I stepped away for a couple, then came back with a new plan: iterative playtesting. Basically, I would play the game a ton, identify the biggest problems/omissions/opportunities that stood out along the way, then tackle just those specific items. Now, that's obviously the kind of thing a designer should be doing with every system, but it's especially important with (and may in fact be the only way to pull off) a feature characterized by intangible complexity like diplomacy. It's an arduous process (especially for someone who plays their turns as slow as me!), but I'm now certain it's the right one.

In terms of nuts and bolts, this approach has resulted in the addition of AI Leaders paying attention to your promises to stay way from their territory and calling you out if you renege. There are a number of other smaller changes as well, but nothing worth going on about at length (this is supposed to be concise, after all!). If diplomacy is an aspect of the game that really interests you though I'd strongly recommend watching the playtest video, as it does a good job demonstrating what we're going for.


Gameplay Changes

Most of the past couple months has been dedicated to playtesting and diplomacy, but I did find some time to squeeze in a couple other gameplay changes.

One involves how resource deposits are identified. The core issue was that only a lone profession was capable of performing this essential activity: the Surveyor. If you wanted to figure out what that rock next to your settlement was so that you could then actually use it the Surveyor was your one and only option, and as such, training one and sending him out to work often felt more like a chore than a fun strategic trade-off. So how do we fix that?

Some test group members had been lobbying to cut the profession entirely, but I'd always liked the niche it had in the game. The solution I settled on was to keep it around but make its ability a bit less... unique. All foragers and builders are now capable of identifying deposits, but the Surveyor is much faster at it and can now also move through rough terrain 'for free' like a Scout. The impact of this was clear in the very first game I played after making the change, as I was surrounded by a half-dozen minerals and excitedly targeted the Surveyor as my #1 priority. I've often talked in the past about how limiting a player can make a game better, but in this case the opposite was true!

One important addition on the gameplay side was a basic scoring system. You now earn points for each clan you control, structure you build or capture, bandit camp you burn, etc. From a mechanical perspective this doesn't change things much, but it does provide a metric for comparing games along with a way to provide players with indirect feedback.


Polish

I could go on for a while about this one, but I'll use actual bullet points to ensure I keep that promise I made about being concise!


In-Game Patch Notes
It's now possible to see a list of what's changed with the game from inside the game. What makes this especially cool is that it dynamically builds the list and shows what's most likely important to you. If you've played the previous version it'll show the complete list bugfixes and all, but if you haven't played in six months it'll only show major gameplay changes.

Group Games (AKA 'Daily Challenges')
This concept is somewhat inspired by Spelunky, a roguelike platformer I've played way, way too much of. Basically, it allows everyone in the world to play on the same map, which is swapped out every day/week/whatever. It's fun because it allows you to compare how you've done with your friends, and also a handy debug tool - when a Test Group member provides feedback or a bug report we now have a frame of reference.

World IDs
And this was something I borrowed from The Binding of Issac. Games with random maps build them using 'random number seeds', which are numeric values (usually) between 0 and ~2 billion. The basic idea is that if you start from the same seed you'll get the same map. In most games this value is remains in number form and forever hidden, but some (including the aforementioned TBoI) instead use six alphabetic characters, mapping them in code to numeric values. Ever wondered what "JON-ROX" looks like in the form of a map? Well, wonder no longer!&nbsp;
New UI Layout
We haven't yet started on the big, 'real' revamp of the UI, but I've been playing around with the placement of controls in preparation for it, and I'm pretty happy with where the 'world screen' is at now. No doubt things will change though, so don't get too attached to anything!

Research Queue
You can now right-click on 'techs' to add them to the queue. Nothing too sexy, but it does make the game easier to play. It's also especially helpful when resuming a game that you started on a previous day - queuing a few things up before you call it a night can serve as a perfect reminder as to what the hell you were actually thinking before!

Sticky Notes
And last but certainly not least is the feature I might be the most giddy about. You can now attach 'sticky notes' to the bottom of a clan's 'card'. These can be simple reminders, titles you've bestowed upon them, etc. There's a ton of potential here to help out both strategists and roleplayers, so I'm hoping it's something folks will get a lot of use out of.


I show off all of these changes and more in the video, so make sure to check that out if you want to dig deeper. Anyways, I think that's about it for right now. In the coming months we'll continue working on diplomacy, the AI, and shining things up real nice. 'Til next time!

- Jon

@JonShaferDesign | AtTheGatesGame.com | Follow Conifer on Twitter, Facebook, Google+

14
AtG - Developer Updates / 2015 January 27 - Economics, in Ink
« on: January 29, 2015, 01:38:43 PM »
Hello again from the Conifer team!

We've been hunkered down working hard on At The Gates these past winter months, and I figured it was finally a good time to come back up for air.

If you'd like to stay completely up-to-date with all things AtG we're still posting updates every few days on the Twitters, but I know there's at least a couple of you out there who enjoy my 20-page treatises. And should you enjoy updates in the form of colors and shapes moving around we've also just posted a new 'Let's Play' video (almost 2 hours long!) covering much of the same ground I'll be talking about below.

I always like to take people through the same process I've gone through while developing my games, and this post will be no different. If all you care about is what it all adds up to though skip ahead to [So What's New?] below.

My initial plan had been to shift over to diplomacy after posting the last video, but I decided to make a quick detour instead. We'd been playtesting the game quite a bit and were happy with how things were shaping up, but did feel that once you reached the midgame the game seemed to... run out of steam. Fleshing out the interaction with other leaders would certainly help, but we knew that by itself wouldn't be enough.



Pacing Problems

Trying to provide enough food to feed your clans is a fun challenge, but the game's population curve is logarithmic. There's no way around this, as becoming intimately familiar with and invested in 200 individual clans is... not really possible. But this also meant the threat of starvation evaporated almost completely as your economy improved. Once you'd reached the point where you could finally feed 20 clans tacking another 5 on top of that wasn't all that tough.



The old food consumption curve.


Another, similar issue was the relative value of the game's professions and resources. Producing a ton of Cloth is nice but once you have enough to train a Lorekeeper the only thing Cloth was really good for was being sold at a Caravan. While not ideal, that need not be objectively problematic as long as there are things you actually want to exchange it for, but alas, that wasn't really the case. Sure, more food is always welcome and you might need to compensate for a Timber or Weapons shortage every so often, but for the most part the utility of Wealth mirrored that of the overall challenge posed by the game.

Similarly, advanced professions were certainly nice, but rarely something you desperately needed - or even wanted. A profession like the Scribe is really expensive both in terms of research time and resources, but wasn't that much better than the Lorekeeper.

More importantly, learning new professions really wasn't that important once you had enough food. If there's nothing really pushing me any more what's the incentive to increase my Cloth production when I already have far more than I'd ever need, and have already sold much of that for far more Wealth than I'll ever need?



Fixing the Flaws

If you're cringing in expectation of me saying something like, "That was the moment I knew we needed big changes" ... you may safely un-cringe! The issues we encountered in the past were the result of the game lacking a solid mechanical 'skeleton' upon which we could add or change details. But this time around all of the bones were sitting right there in front of us and we simply needed to pull the femur out of our eye socket. Or something like that.

So our problem was a lack of pressure - in a game about migrating tribes facing the harshness of winter and hostile foes what economic force is most likely to motivate people? For some, simply being unable to do anything because you've run out of iron is enough to get them to act, but others are content to sit around as long as a game will let them. But starvation? Now that's something everyone wants to avoid at any cost!

I noted earlier that relative food costs would actually decrease as a game progressed. Well, the fix for that is obvious: flip it around. Ever-increasing costs are a tenet of nearly every game with an economy of any kind, and the trick would be coming up with something that not only made sense but also felt rewarding.

Changing the rate new clans joined you from logarithmic to exponential was never an option, so the only way for food costs to increase while clan accrual simultaneously decreases is to make the clans you already have eat more.



So What's New?

Families

When a clan first shows up it has a single family eating a single unit of food, but each year these numbers both go up by one. This results in a food consumption curve that looks something like this:



The new food consumption curve.


Now that's how you add some pressure! Better still, this small change transforms population growth into something you always strive for, which, in turn, greatly increases the value and sexiness of anything provides it. New clans are now a much cheaper source of labor than the larger clans which have been with you for a while. Those elder statesmen are still important though, as the experience they've built up over the years means they can learn advanced professions much faster than the newcomers.

Okay, so players will need a whole lot more food now. How the hell are they going to produce 80 food per turn on turn 100 when before they only needed 20? New toys which also get exponentially better over time!



A few of AtG's new professions.


Professions

If a Meat Cutter produces 10 food and a Butcher produces 100 you'll have a strong incentive to get a few of the latter online ASAP. Similarly, if learning how to train Butchers is 10x harder than Meat Cutters you now also have a strong incentive to upgrade your Lorekeepers to Scribes and Scholars before you, you know, starve to death!

Another change with professions was simply adding more of them that either produce food or are indirectly essential to doing so. Training a Hunter now allows you to harvest food from herds of Deer. A Hewer turns raw Timber into Boards, allowing you to build Farms which produce ~4x more food than a basic Farm.

The other paradigm shift with professions was interweaving them to a much greater extent. In the past you could significantly boost your food simply by beelining for the Tiller. Their research cost wasn't that high, Tillers were great all on their own, and aside from time they didn't cost a thing to train. Who needs Boards or Hewers or Butchers when a couple Tillers allow you to ignore every other profession and resource in the game?

Instead of Wine Vintners being superior to Winemakers in every way they might instead boost the output of the Winemakers you already have. If you want more Cloth you can buff your Weavers by training a Loomer or an Instructor. Rather than completely filling important niches with single powerful clans you'll now have a strong incentive (and often, a need) to invest in several.

But the interweaving of professions is more than just a speed bump. Not every profession is viable in every game, and resource scarcity is why.



A few of AtG's new resources.


Resources

Many months ago I cut the 'Tools' resource because I felt it added more more busywork and clutter than strategy. Well, it's back - along with several new friends.

The Tiller is now a late-game profession that requires 1 Steel Tool. Every turn. Training even one essentially means establishing an economic chain that includes Farmers, Steel Toolsmiths, Steelmakers, sources of Coal, sources of Iron, and either Smelters or Hewers to boost your production of those base ingredients to a quantity sufficient to keep your Steelmakers busy.

In some games building your strategy around Tillers will be the obvious way to go. In others doing so will be a challenge, but still possible. In a few it'll actually be straight-up impossible and you'll need to come up with a completely different approach to feeding your tribe. If you don't have any Coal then, well, that's that. You'll have other resources you can utilize to get ahead, but Tillers will likely be out of reach.

There are also new roles for most of the existing resources. Your tribe can support only a certain number of clans, and the only way to increase this is with Cloth. Parchment is still required by most Knowledge-producing professions, but now you can instead spend it switching a clan's discipline, making it easier to train in related professions.

Which brings me to an interesting new way to acquire resources...



Foraging

Okay, okay... I lied, and there is actually one new feature!

Foraging originally came into being as I was brainstorming ways to spice up the professions, and allows you to harvest resources without a structure. These were originally 'settled' professions where the clan would remain in your settlement, but I decided to try making them 'active' ones that could run around the map.

This added a completely new style of play - and one I really liked. I even tried bestowing upon these new foraging professions the ability to collect resources outside of your borders, giving them a clear unique advantage over professions which build structures out of wood. Not a tree in sight and the resources that are nearby just a bit too spread out to claim all at once? No problem! A Gatherer or Digger is just what the situation calls for.



Other Stuff

We've also been busy with a multitude of other things, a few of which I'll cover briefly.

Caravans can now have 'specials', where the price or availability of different resources are radically different from usual. This breathes some life into the caravan, as you can no longer know exactly what it's going to have. I played a game yesterday where I desperately needed 10 cloth in order to train a Beekeeper, and the first two caravans of the year had exactly zero. The game and I... had a few words, shall we say.




Armor is on sale! Probably still out of our price range though....



I decided to cut the 'Council' feature, as there are now so many things to do with your clans that it felt like an unwanted guest I had no interest in entertaining. Part of being a good designer is recognizing when something is adding more mental overhead than fun - and then doing what you know must be done.

Outside of gameplay mechanics, there are now icons. Everywhere. I'm a big fan of pairing icons and text to help build associations when players are first learning a game, and I finally bit the bullet and went through each of the ~4,000 text entries one by one to replace key terms with hooks into the new icons system. Needless to say, I'm glad to be done with that.

Something else I'm perhaps more giddy about than I should be is the new in-game notes system, which allows you to write reminders to yourself for later. AtG tends to be a difficult, demanding game where planning ahead is really helpful, and having an easy way to keep track of said plans is, IMO, pretty awesome.


****


I think that's about it for the really noteworthy stuff. So, yeah, we've made a ton of tweaks but no radical redesigns, and at this point I think we've just about nailed the game's economy.




So What's Next?

These are our four priorities entering the final phase of development:
  • Personality
  • Diplomacy
  • AI
  • Polish
AtG is now very sound mechanically thanks to the work we've done over the past few months, and in that arena I'd be confident pitting it against any game out there. But it's also still very raw and dry: When clans want something they express this with a prioritized list - in a tooltip. Our goal is to have 80+ unique clan traits, but we currently only have a quarter of that. The AI leaders generally keep to themselves... which is probably for the best, given how incompetent they are. The game may now appear to lean more in the direction of an economic sim than a clan-focused 4X game, but fleshing out the personalities of the clans will bring this back into equilibrium.

We can easily overcome all of these challenges as long as we spend the time it will take to do so. And now that the economy is finally "in ink" that's exactly what we'll be doing. I honestly couldn't tell you how long it will take. A theme you might have spotted lurking behind all four of those bullet points above is "feel". And there's no way to translate something like that into a production schedule worth the soon-obsolete pixels it's displayed on. My first stab at a clan dialogue system might be right on the money, or it might take ten tries. Most likely it will land somewhere in-between.

Game development is kind of like a poker game, where there are ups and downs and even the best players in the world never know how a hand will end. But just as in cards, one way you can stack the deck in your favor is by being patient, trusting in your knowledge of the odds, and playing the long game.

One way they differ though is that in cards how you play is completely up to the individual, while in game development your fate is in the hands of your investors. Our one and only investor with AtG is you, our backers, and soon that investment will pay off. As always, you have my sincere thanks for being so patient and supportive!

- Jon

15
AtG - Developer Updates / Progress Updates
« on: November 25, 2014, 10:18:16 AM »
Because it's usually a month or two between major updates (and when they do finally appear they tend to be... a little long) I've started providing daily progress updates via the official Conifer Games Twitter. In case Twitter isn't your cup of tea I've added the feed to the AtG website and also post everything to our Facebook and Google+ pages. Edit: The updates are now also posted to our official subreddit - along with this very thread!

The daily updates offer a new way to stay plugged into all things AtG, but we'll still be posting beefier updates for those who prefer reading consolidated, high-level summaries.

- Jon

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