Author Topic: 2015 January 27 - Economics, in Ink  (Read 10873 times)

Jon Shafer

  • Lord of the Forest
  • *
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
If you have any questions, please send me a private message here on the forums or an email at [Contact@ConiferGames.com]. Thanks for your support!

Re: 2015 January 27 - Economics, in Ink
« Reply #1 on: February 01, 2015, 05:06:36 PM »
The film is great! I'm waiting for more! The economic aspect looks quite interesting. And now for some remarks and questions.

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.

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?

4. Are there spies in the game?

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.

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

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.

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.

It's all for now. Let me just say that the game looks very special!  :)
« Last Edit: February 02, 2015, 12:36:16 AM by PiotrG »

Re: 2015 January 27 - Economics, in Ink
« Reply #2 on: February 04, 2015, 08:32:14 AM »
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.
Doing Let's Plays primarily featuring Roguelikes, Strategy, Adventure, First Person Shooter, and Indie.

Visit my YouTube Channel at DFuxa Plays on YouTube for pending At The Gates Let's Plays.

Re: 2015 January 27 - Economics, in Ink
« Reply #3 on: February 04, 2015, 08:10:55 PM »
Okay some questions, now that I've managed to watch the entirety of the video:

1. Marshes are wetlands, which means water. Would that discourage/obstruct units whose clans dislikes water?
2. What will 'Ironman' settings possible hold in regards to this game? Thoughts in regards to Crusader Kings 2 for example.
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?
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).

Doing Let's Plays primarily featuring Roguelikes, Strategy, Adventure, First Person Shooter, and Indie.

Visit my YouTube Channel at DFuxa Plays on YouTube for pending At The Gates Let's Plays.

Jon Shafer

  • Lord of the Forest
  • *
Re: 2015 January 27 - Economics, in Ink
« Reply #4 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!


Quote
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.


Quote
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.


Quote
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
If you have any questions, please send me a private message here on the forums or an email at [Contact@ConiferGames.com]. Thanks for your support!

Re: 2015 January 27 - Economics, in Ink
« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2015, 05:45:52 AM »

Quote
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.

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.
Doing Let's Plays primarily featuring Roguelikes, Strategy, Adventure, First Person Shooter, and Indie.

Visit my YouTube Channel at DFuxa Plays on YouTube for pending At The Gates Let's Plays.

Jon Shafer

  • Lord of the Forest
  • *
Re: 2015 January 27 - Economics, in Ink
« Reply #6 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
If you have any questions, please send me a private message here on the forums or an email at [Contact@ConiferGames.com]. Thanks for your support!

Re: 2015 January 27 - Economics, in Ink
« Reply #7 on: February 07, 2015, 07:42:30 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.

Jon Shafer

  • Lord of the Forest
  • *
Re: 2015 January 27 - Economics, in Ink
« Reply #8 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
If you have any questions, please send me a private message here on the forums or an email at [Contact@ConiferGames.com]. Thanks for your support!