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Forum Announcements & Questions / Re: Spam Posts
« Last post by Mondovanut on February 12, 2018, 03:57:59 AM »
How do we know it's a spam article? I want to know a lot.
Conifer and the Games Industry / Re: How Do You Become a Game Designer?
« Last post by Mondovanut on February 12, 2018, 03:57:21 AM »
I want to be a game designer. I want to know what I'm going to learn.
AtG - Developer Updates / February 2018 Update
« Last post by Jon Shafer on February 08, 2018, 12:02:53 PM »
Hey all,

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

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

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


What "is" Diplomacy?

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

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

So, yeah, a tough thing to model!

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

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

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

The AtG Diplomacy Design Pillars

So what are we doing in AtG then?

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


Distinct, Predictable Personalities

"Oh wait, I know this guy… Awww man."

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

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


Tough, But Clear Choices

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

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

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

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


A Few Basic, But Powerful Player Knobs

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

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

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


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



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

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

Optional tutorial follow-up explanations.

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

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

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

The game help screen.

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

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

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

Adding a note to a Clan Card.

Clan Card notes in action!

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

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

Tile notes revealing my grand plans for the forest.

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

Declaring a Kingdom! Well... eventually.

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

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


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

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

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

So where do we go from here?

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

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

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

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

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

- Jon
AtG - General Discussion / Re: Issues and suggestions V23 alpha
« Last post by clayffo on January 25, 2018, 10:02:49 AM »
I played a map today;  good resources, lots of mines, plants, and a few farms to cap.  I was able to create 2 V2 mines, including a  gold mine, an apiary plantation, stone block production via a coal mine, and cloth production via flax.  Unfortunately, at turn 85 the game had a complete melt down that ended in me having to re-install the game. 

However, my primary take away from that game was, again, food.  Despite my great wealth and resources, at turn 85 I had 4 food with -1 food per turn going into winter.  I had explored an area of approx. 40x40 squares in all directions from my starting position and there were no food options.  The map was surprising short on herds and fish; I could not find any and I ended up retraining my hunter as a watchman since he was not doing anything to help me.

really my only choice at that point would have been to hopefully buy any animals the caravan had and to use the meat cutter.  I had the cash to do so, but this would have been a stop gap measure that would not have solved my key problem.  Had a found a food resource even farther into the frontier, it would have taken until the next winter to move my operation and I may not have survived that trip.

doing a somewhat cursory search into Germanic peoples of the Roman era, it was pointed out that tribes like the Mongols and Suevi lived primary off of animal based products; meats and milks.  They primary sources of these were a combination of home grown herds and hunting for game.

With this said, I would have 2 possible suggestions.   
1.  Ranchers would have a second tier skill called animal husbandry.  This would allow the Rancher to continuously produce more of the captured herd.  The overseer of the herd skill could enhance to quantity of herd production from +1 / turn to +3 / turn, similar to the weapons skills
- additionally, create an upgrade to ranchers for milk production as both an asset and a food stopgap should you run out of food
2.  allow squares with forest to have a set quantity of "game."  The hunter could use the forage skill to hunt that game.  The huntsman and lord of the hunt skills would enhance the hunters +food / turn.

AtG - General Discussion / Re: Issues and suggestions V23 alpha
« Last post by clayffo on January 22, 2018, 11:51:38 AM »
so I've finally been able to get a few games above 150 turns .  Most of the time I have critical failures that permanently end the games much earlier.  based on these 3 games, I have noticed a couple significant problems.

1.  all 3 games have ended in famine.  Food does not effectively scale when you get clan totals of 22+.  the RNG nature of resources has lead to large sections of the map with no resources .  The upgrades for resource improvement are too expensive and by the time you have them, the resources are gone.  (i.e. no more herds nearby the forage once you get the "lord of the hunt." or the " meat cutter"
2.  Ranchers seem broken for a couple reasons.  1.  the rancher immediately sets up and gives me 10 of the resource (say cattle) then the rancher does jack squat until the foraging or meat cutting is complete.  The rancher should progressively add cattle to the tally (say +1 ea turn) for a while like a mine.  Secondly, if you have horses, you have to spend horses on non food / cloth upgrades, such as the trader.  2.  The upgrade for "overseer of the range" should not require a separate person from the rancher.  The rancher should receive an upgrade opportunity as the rancher doesn't do anything once the ranch is set up.
3.  Once you get past 100 turns, the team tends to get really spread out.  it hasn't been uncommon that I've had mines/loggers that were 20+ squares away from my main camp since the food resources required a lot of traveling to get to.  There should be a way to maintain closer ties with the team.  I feel that there should be a phase 1 version of "start a kingdom" that allows you to gain a larger control territory and automatically farm resources off the squares (like civ 5) without having to create special camps. 
4.  I have some  concerns that once the enemy clans get enabled, the game will be extremely hard to succeed at unless you get a great RNG roll.  I am not training any soldiers at all and I cannot stay alive.  I don't know how I could defend resources at this time and still gain resources if I had 2-3 soldiers.  I don't know how I could keep the soldiers health up, even when trained, since the cost of healing is way too expensive
5.  There should be a way to fire or re-roll a new clan. some of the clans that are forced on you are completely useless or just bad for the team.  I have had clans that were lazy, did not want to do any trade work and had a quadruple multiplier on fighting with other clans. 
6.  There should be a way to set up a recruiting center / training center to improve the quality of clans.  THis work camp would improve the speed of recruiting and allow you to change traits (similar to darkest dungeon)
7.  I think that each clan should be a bonus starting resource or trait that allows the player to get off to a good start.  For example, the huns,  being fighters by nature, would start off with horsemen who could immediately go out and raid other clans.
AtG - General Discussion / Re: Issues and suggestions V23 alpha
« Last post by Athelas on January 13, 2018, 04:11:31 PM »
Excellent points, most of these. Previous build was more stable to me. Diplo even worked kinda.
Fishing I had no problem training for.
Forum Announcements & Questions / Re: Spam Posts
« Last post by Athelas on January 13, 2018, 04:08:25 PM »
Would sm1 remove that spam?
AtG - General Discussion / Issues and suggestions V23 alpha
« Last post by clayffo on January 12, 2018, 11:46:25 AM »
So I finally received a key to play the alpha.  these are my thoughts after about 20 hours of play through .  I apologize if some of this is repeated elsewhere or on the private forums, which I do not have access to.  I'm not including things obvious to an alpha, such as the markers for unfinished graphics

Bugs / Crashes
- entering another clan's control space crashes game
- attempting to conduct diplomacy crashes game
- clicking pack/unpack too quickly on camp sometimes crashes game
- moving camp through wooded areas and quickly clicking "unpack" creates frame loss and crash sometimes
- I cannot engage in training someone for fishing.  with the training and 20 wood, it shows as blanked out.  I have tried having it within my control area while doing this
- Enemy clans do absolutely nothing.  they don't attack, mine resources, or move about the map. 
- attacking an enemy camp causes a crash
- having too many saved games (ive had up to 171) sometimes  causes a crash.  Game runs cleaner with fewer saves
- play Europe map crashes game

Imbalances / areas to clean up
- higher skilled trades need more benefits - for example, a blacksmith makes 1 tool for 1 iron.  a toolsmith makes 4 tools for 4 iron.  The toolsmith should be more efficient, such as making 6 tools with 4 iron. 
- Caravans do not sell food.  why not?
- need more hot keys to move between screens without clicking so much
- early game oil is super hard to get.  I have not had a game yet where I even found the resource (played up to 171 turns).  This makes healing extremely difficult
- Regarding healing, I think it's unnecessarily hard to heal a character with the resource requirements.  There should be a doctor/healer trade that can handle the job
  automatically for all characters within the control area.
- Cloth and parchment are super hard to get too.  I have only been able to maintain these resources via caravan trades.
- Tinkerers are too expensive to operate.  1 tools per turn severely restricts me on maps with limited resources.  15 turns/training is a very high alternative
- Clan recruitment.  the first 14 go by real quick.  the next 6 ok, but that's if you can get your hands on 5 cloth.  After 20, it really becomes a chore to get people unless you have the resources to bring on a Bard.  Depending on the map, alcohol can be a real challenge.  I have not tried using a feast master as of yet
- I don't really understand the whole meat thing.  When I have a hunter working on a herd, all I see is food +/-.  There is no supply for "meat."  When I put a rancher on the same herd, I get a stock pile of animals (cows, pigs, etc) but they show as a resource, not "meat"  I get that there are butchers and some mechanics to make that whole thing work, but I never seem to have a stockpile of animals and a subsequent butcher available due to the constant lack of food available on the map.  by the time I have a "lord of the hunt," usually the herds that were nearby are used up just to survive.
- stone blocks has been another real point of contention.  Due to the very high cost of building (20 wood for farms, etc), it's real hard to have excess wood to make coal.  I have found that coal mines are rare and, if you find one, usually the cost of having it is outweighed by the loss of not having an iron mine.
- Traders should offer more benefits.  8 gold / 20 gold per turn is good, but there should be access to a greater market.  perhaps, via a trader, we could get more preferred pricing (buy/sell) than offered by the standard caravan
- wood access.  the cost of "woodworks" is too expensive. as explained earlier, it's hard to get stone blocks going and the cost of 20 has been too hard for me to achieve so far when you consider finding a stone quarry (rare), training up stone cutters, tools (need iron also) and then 20 turns to make the product.  It seems to be way more efficient to have a wood bundler and 2 wood collectors, rather than a logger (can generate 9.5 wood/turn during the spring/summer)
- boards again another real challenge.  the 20 wood to continually build all these work camps make it hard to stockpile for board production, and that's if you have free recruits to train up a woodspitter.  I have been into that 20+ clans situation when I get to woodsplitters and I usually do not have a free hand to do it
- wool the biggest issue I have with cloth is the lack of reasonable access.  Since early game you have to use any herds available for meat, if you find a herd of sheep (also rare) you cannot afford to take advantage of it. 
- to relieve the wool issue, I think that an early game unit should be a scavenger.  This would be a character that could generate a small, but sustainable amount of food from resources on forest, brush and stream squares.  this could include fruit and fish
 - along with that, when my character (say a gatherer or farmer) is upgraded to get +2 fruit, where does that fruit go?  it does not show up as a resource, however, there is an animation for +2 fruit.  I don't notice any increase in my + food either

here are some things I discovered through repetition and failure that really improved my quality of life in the game, but were not particularly obvious to me . 

- Workshops maintain their own area of control.  you can move the camp without losing those resources.  The point of confusion I had was that one of the first things I did in game one ws capture a farm.  the farm gave no resources and no control areas, however, I was able to abandon the farm and keep the farmer
- to add to above, make a hunter right away and  go find neutral farms/logging camps.  abandon the camps and you get free workers
- the base update of each skill allows for a 2 point immediate upgrade to a clan.  you have to hit the exclamation point and then pick a character
- keep clans with +morale in the camp.  make them in house trades like blacksmith.  This greatly reduces fighting if you have a couple of them
- you have to keep track of the tickerer.  It takes 1 tool per turn, so if you train him, you will have to upgrade your blacksmith or else you will show as 0 in your tools/turn
- buy 5 cloth at the first or second caravan.  sell whatever to get it if you don't upgrade from 14 to 20 clans, you will quickly hit your cap and lose growth
- cash is king.  Re-roll if you have to, but get a  gold mine or trader asap.  the only way to survive and get the impossible resources you need, like cloth, is to buy it
- Ranchers create horses, pigs, etc in your inventory, but once you hit 10 that's it.  you have to dispose of those animals prior to demo of the facility.  However, the ranch will not time out if you leave it be.  The problem is that ranches do not create resources past 10.  If you have something like horses that you'd like to save, well the price for those horses is a rancher that does nothing for you.  If you demo the ranch, you lose the horses.
- clans do not pick optimal paths of movement.  don't select more than 2 squares ahead of them or else they may end up going around a lake instead of through the woods

Forum Announcements & Questions / Re: Spam Posts
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I have read the content. It is very good content offline. It is a new knowledge that is useful.
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