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Messages - Jon Shafer

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AtG - Developer Updates / June 8 Progress Update
« on: June 08, 2015, 04:46:10 PM »
June 8 Progress Update

Spent the past few days making tweaks to improve the pacing of the early game (e.g. increasing the number of deposits near starting locations and reducing the research cost of Tier 2 professions).

AtG - Developer Updates / Re: Progress Updates
« on: June 04, 2015, 10:40:38 AM »
Nice. Well done. I like it when games are playable in numerous languages.

Totally agree. There's obviously a ton of strategy fans outside the US/UK/Canada/AusZealand and even though many of them speak English in addition to their native tongue having the game available in both is not just nice but also helps show that you respect and value their support. We have a pretty small budget so I can't make any promises regarding official non-English versions of AtG, but at the very least it will be possible for modders to pick up that torch and run with it.

I imagine your work must sometimes be difficult. Having to sit at a computer for hours on end staring at UIs and code takes some serious patience and self control.

Thanks for your kind words sir! It's definitely a tough gig, but the fact that I'm, you know, making the kind of games I love while also pushing the envelope makes it all worth it and then some. I can't lie though, I think I was just lucky enough to be born with a "UI gene" of some kind. Most devs really do dread this kind of work but I've always loved it. I'll tell you what though, having high standards on the UI front makes it tough to play other games though! Hehe.

- Jon

P.S. Apologies for the lack of updates recently. I've spent much of the past month dealing with some important non-work stuff and on top of that I was out of the office for a week. Now back in the saddle though, so expect a lot of news regarding what we're up to and a hefty update and video showing off all of the cool new UI stuff we just wrapped up!

AtG - Developer Updates / May 18 Progress Update
« on: May 18, 2015, 05:21:31 PM »
May 18 Progress Update

New UI is (finally) almost fully armed and operational! Updating all of the game's enormous amount of text to work under the new format took a while.

AtG - Developer Updates / May 8 Progress Update
« on: May 08, 2015, 06:17:45 PM »
May 8 Progress Update

Bunch more UI goodies, including on-map tooltips and a localization system that opens the door to the possibility of making non-English versions of AtG.

AtG - Developer Updates / April 28 Progress Update
« on: April 28, 2015, 04:13:49 PM »
April 28 Progress Update

Been super busy the past week fleshing out UI features like intra-string tag-based formatting, procedural tooltips, localization support, etc. While most of the new stuff is, well, boring and technical there are a few exceptions: one especially cool addition is a hotkey guide that is displayed while holding down the [Alt] key.

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

AtG - Developer Updates / April 23 Progress Update (WARNING: JARGON)
« on: April 23, 2015, 05:32:51 PM »
April 23 Progress Update


Created a 'SmartEnum' that allows implicit casting and makes it possible to encapsulate type-unique logic (unlike the built-in C# type). In the off chance you haven't, you know, spent the last twenty years of your life programming computers that basically means coding the game should now be much easier!

AtG - Developer Updates / April 21 Progress Update
« on: April 21, 2015, 11:26:10 AM »
Editor's Note: Going to start posting these directly to this thread as well! Without further ado...


April 21 Progress Update

Finished logic for 'smart' tooltips that can have collapsible panels and even nested tooltips of their own.

It wasn't before, but it is now!

- Jon

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!


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.


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! 
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 | | Follow Conifer on Twitter, Facebook, Google+

AtG - General Discussion / Re: Private forum.
« on: February 20, 2015, 07:40:09 PM »
Hello there. I just recently bought the early access of the game and wanted to join in the discussion of the game. But it looks like a lot of people are talking about a private forum for mechanical related stuff. I haven't recieved any email detailing this, so I was wondering if it's ok to come with mechanical suggestions here, or if there's some sort of process I can go through to get access to the "secret lair"? :P

For now I do ask that we keep playtest feedback and discussion inside the private forums (I've explained why both here on the forums and elsewhere, in case anyone reading this is wondering what our rationale is).

As for getting access to the private area, if you mouse over the (Re) Play Group Game button in the main menu it'll tell you what to do. There were also instructions provided elsewhere in the game, but it was part of the "Welcome to AtG!" popups, and I know it's easy for one's eyes to glaze over after the first few thousand words I throw at you. ;)

- Jon

AtG - Developer Updates / Re: 2015 January 27 - Economics, in Ink
« on: February 08, 2015, 12:51:22 PM »
I am most curious how the competing tribes AI will turn out.

To me it does not seem to be the most important, that the AI is 100% consistent in it's long term goals, as rulers and priorities changed quite a lot. Especially during the Age Of Migration leaders' decisions oftentimes seemed to be driven by motivations that all but made sense if we look at them nowadays. This was simply because it was an age of illiteracy and superstition and few kings stayed in charge for long.

Nevertheless I think it will be crucial to the game that AI factions are challenging to the player and that they are somehow believable in their actions. So as a player I'd expect my neighbors to follow some kind of state policy - regardless of it being reasonable or not.

Yep, and my #1 goal with the Leader AI is instilling them with personality. Sure, they also need to be competent when developing their kingdoms and on the battlefield, but this isn't chess. There's a reason why Alpha Centauri is commonly-regarded as the strategy game with the best diplomacy, and it ain't because of its IQ! ;)

- Jon

AtG - Developer Updates / Re: 2013 June 24 - AI Design Breakdown
« on: February 08, 2015, 12:48:12 PM »
Wow, this is a lot of work.

No joke! ;) It'll be worth it though. We're one of the few lucky developers who have the 'luxury' of being able to take our time, and I intend to take full advantage of that.

- Jon

AtG - General Discussion / Re: Any Luxury Resources?
« on: February 08, 2015, 12:46:05 PM »
You know, for whatever reason adding amber to the game has never occurred to me. As you point out though it'd make a lot of sense and I'm sure we could build some cool gameplay around it, so I'll see if I can find a place for it. :) Thanks for the suggestion!

- Jon

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