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Messages - Jon Shafer

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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

AtG - General Discussion / Re: unique clan traits
« on: February 07, 2015, 03:04:01 PM »
Many Traits have a strong influence on what Professions a Clan is best-suited for. Losing one of those right before you finish training someone would be incredibly frustrating, and a good example of what I like to call a "Reload Moment".

Dealing with setbacks is a key element of AtG (and many other enjoyable games), but not all setbacks are created equal. There's only one small difference between setbacks which make a game more fun and those which have the opposite effect: whether or not players are willing to take the blame for it. Setbacks you could have seen coming and planned around are strategically interesting, whereas Reload Moments are characterized by arbitrary and/or particular harsh penalties.

So anyways, what all of that adds up to is that I'm almost certain Clans won't ever lose Traits. That said, the same rules don't apply the other direction and Clans picking up new Traits sounds like a fun idea. It'd be weird if a Clan of sailors learned how to grow plants while at sea though, so that would mean adding a logic framework of some kind. It'd be tough finding room in the schedule for much of anything at this point, but in this case it's probably worth it! :)

- Jon

AtG - Developer Updates / Re: 2015 January 27 - Economics, in Ink
« on: February 07, 2015, 12:57:13 PM »
Trying to watch a long video can be difficult if you don't have the time to watch the video. Splitting a video into parts can potentially make it easier for a viewer to view them, as they can just completely watch a full video consisting of one of the parts and take a breather or go off to do something else if they don't have time to watch the next one.

Ah, I see, that makes sense.

When you're logged into a Google while using Chrome it automatically remembers where you left off with a video, even across devices - something that I've grown so used to that I completely forgot it doesn't work that way for everyone! I'll keep that in mind with future videos, and thanks again for the feedback.

- Jon

AtG - Developer Updates / Re: 2015 January 27 - Economics, in Ink
« on: February 05, 2015, 11:16:28 PM »
I haven't really had a chance to check the video yet but here is some really important feedback - Try not to create and upload one really long video.

I'd recommend as a general rule that if you plan on making multiple videos, try to keep them within 45 minutes. If necessary, break larger videos up into multiple parts.

Why do you say that? I've found that splitting things up tends to fragment the viewership and have actually tried to avoid it, so I'm very curious to hear your thoughts.

1. Marshes are wetlands, which means water. Would that discourage/obstruct units whose clans dislikes water?

Good point!

2. What will 'Ironman' settings possible hold in regards to this game? Thoughts in regards to Crusader Kings 2 for example.

No concrete plans yet other than the fact AtG will have an Ironman mode of some kind or another.

2b) How forgiving will the game be in terms of actions - can we change the orders we give around before hitting the End Turn button, or we going the Chess Piece Route where once you touch it, your committed to it?

For the most part things work like your latter example, and the primary reason for this is vision. Most of the time when you move something you reveal tiles in the process, and if it were possible to undo that move you'd suddenly have information you shouldn't otherwise know. And if that's the case many people would ruin the game experience by executing and then undoing every possible move in order to learn as much as possible.

3. Since Cloth is so important, why not make it similar to how Food works? Sort of how a dual consumable resource in that sort of aspect, you consume cloth like food - though maybe with less serious effects if there is a shortage (or maybe more serious effects for instances such as winter).

Good question, and one I've actually thought a lot about.

I settled on the current design for Cloth because I like that it's not just simple like Food but also different from Food. If two Resources work in the exact same way then at best you're talking about a missed opportunity and at worst a great deal of clutter that subtly and insidiously makes the game less fun.

In the end though it's just one of those game design 'feel' things that's impossible to articulate. There are certainly other interesting directions we could have gone with Cloth, but this is the one that I personally felt was 'right' for this game. AtG will be highly moddable though, and the beautiful thing about that is how it opens the door to all of those other versions of the game living inside other people's heads!

- Jon

AtG - General Discussion / Re: unique clan traits
« on: February 05, 2015, 11:03:33 PM »
Haha, well, right now all I have to say is that those are great ideas, and I'll be sure to refer back to this thread when fleshing out that aspect of the game. Thanks guys! :)

- Jon

AtG - General Discussion / Re: Ideas, Feedback and Random Thoughts
« on: February 05, 2015, 11:02:02 PM »
How, then, will look expanding our borders? Will there be special structures such as fortresses that will expand our influence?

Yep! They still won't grow by much, but AtG is the kind of game where every single tile matters.

Will I be able to build roads?  :)

The barbarian players are unable to build roads (or bridges), which means the ones added to the map before a game starts are all you'll ever have access to.

Is when it comes to religion, there will be a special unit of the priests? And whether you will change the religion ?, to be baptized?

The religion system is very simple. Pretty much all you can do is pick which one you follow, and that helps shape the diplomatic landscape. Switching away from another AI Leader's religion will make him pretty upset, so you'll have to think carefully before adopting a new faith!

- Jon

AtG - General Discussion / Re: Ideas, Feedback and Random Thoughts
« on: February 05, 2015, 10:56:00 PM »
there will be minimap on the game?

We've discussed it but honestly I couldn't say just yet. Minimaps are essential in other 4X games if only to navigate around the map, but in AtG you only ever have one city so there's not the same need for one.

also it might be good to be the month and year on the screen because like Jon my turn takes an hour  :P  and sometimes i forgot  them.

Veeeeery funny. ;)

- Jon

AtG - General Discussion / Re: Ideas, Feedback and Random Thoughts
« on: February 02, 2015, 07:43:40 PM »

1. At the end of the film there is a meeting with Franc scouts. You can see their detailed statstics, which I think is not right. Yes, we should have some information about them since we have met them and our people are able to describe them: "They looked very bad, they were hungry and exhausted. They said they had been attacked by bandits" or " All of them looked good, had some supplies and were very self-confident". Such descriptions could be accompanied with rough statistics. We all know that idenification was often misleading or wrong. I think that you could take it into account to make the fun more fun  :D

2. When it comes to diplomacy, emissaries should be included. What I mean is: we send an emissary with gifts to another king and then we can talk business. Border meetings could be limited to information of the "we want to cross your territory" or "move back" type.

Thanks for the suggestions Piotr!

3. Do the main leaders (kings, emperors) change? To be exact, do they die or are killed in wars and are they replaced by other characters? And do they have their own character features such as:
- charisma
- fame
- administration skills
- religiousness
- aggresision
- age, health, etc?

The barbarian leaders do not, but the Roman leaders do via an events system. A civil war might break out and a new leader rises, weakening the Romans and changing your relationship with them.

4. Are there spies in the game?

I'm afraid there aren't. They could certainly make the game more fun, but there's only so much time to implement features!

5. And now for plundering. Wouldn;t it be better if plunder was not automatically given to the "treasury", but instead the unit had to deliver it to our land? While being burdened with the plunder, the unit would have fewer movement points. In those times it was often the case that Romans destroyed barbarian groups who were laden with plunder when going back to their territories.

I've thought about this, but I think it's one of those things which sounds like more fun than it would turn out to be. If plunder is a tangible thing you have to carry back home you'll often be forcing players to make back-and-forth trips across the same terrain. You make one decision up front ("I'm going to take this plunder home"), and then are forced to perform a large amount of micromanagement to execute it. In game design speak we call this "low-density strategy".

6. Are we an entire tribe (eg. Goths) or just a part of it? I'm talking about the scale of the game.

The intention is abstractly representing an entire tribe. AtG is a 4X game though, so we've definitely taken some liberties with things though.

7 Do we have one camp throughout the game, or can we have more of them with time? As time passes and technology moves forward, will our camps transform into villages which won't have to be abandoned by us thanks to efficient agriculture?It seems natural and right.

Just one. It used to be possible to have more, but the Clans system is so complex and deep that needing to keep track of things across multiple cities would add more micromanagement than strategy.

8. Caravans - who are they? Where are they from? The caravans could deliver or have some information -  I thnk you could consider .it. For example info about wars, kings, cataclisms or even gossip.

Great ideas! Right now the Caravan is pretty much all gameplay mechanics and no flavor, but you're absolutely right that it would be a good place to inject some personality.

It's all for now. Let me just say that the game looks very special!  :)

Thanks Piotr! Can't wait until the game is done and we can share it with everyone.

- Jon

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