The final parts of 0.0.9 are now coming together. 0.0.9 is going to be “part 1” of the big, final update before Steam. I was originally going to save up all the latest content and just have one massive update before Steam, but it’s more practical for us if we break it up into 2 parts (plus it gives you something new to play with in the meantime).
That means after 0.0.9 is out (probably in May) there will be one more large patch and then the Steam release at some point will definitely come in the summer. We haven’t decided a specific month or date yet of course for Steam, but we need to start thinking about that soon as I’ll need to book time off work (my day job) for it and we need to make sure nobody on the team's going on holiday, etc!
Anyway, here’s some of the things we’ve been finishing up this past month.
This is one of 4 new buildings players can build in the next content patch. It's a surprising one as I didn’t actually have plans to add this building. It was an idea that came out of nowhere really. And then Adam coded it this month.
Basically, the Elder’s End is where your elderly citizens - the survivors who have been with you the longest - will go to die in peace. At the moment the old people in your town just drop dead in the street. If you build this structure though, they’ll be looked after by the workers and get buried in the catacomb/vault underneath it (that’s what the trapdoor is from last month’s blog), saving you the need to cremate them.
I felt this building was really important to complete the journey of the survivors who come to you town. Your town starts with chaos and misery, and then over time you improve it, and people live longer and longer, and then at the end there’s hope that the old people can die in peace. If the majority of your town are dying in an Elder’s End, you’ve clearly managed to bring civilisation back to the wasteland.
This idea came to me after we changed the score in the game from being Approval Rating to Survival Rating, or “Hope Rating” as it’s now known (name change #5). In other words, the new score in the game shows how hopeful people feel about surviving until old age and dying comfortably in this new Elder’s End building. The more survivors who make it to old age, the more hopeful people think about the future of your town.
It was important to us it wasn’t just a retirement home though, more like a place where survivors go to meet their demise when it’s time. That felt more appropriate for the setting. We added the vault door to bury them off the idea that the survivors want to rest in peace forever underground because they feel that’s a place of safety since the nuclear war!
On the UI for this new building, you can see how long they’ve been a citizen in your town, and there’s a quick shortcut button that takes you to their Biography, so you can read up who this person was (though you better read quickly as they tend not to hang around for long in this building!)
This building does consume food, water, and medicine and is relatively expensive to build though, so it won’t be a luxury you can afford at the start of the game, but if you want to give your survivors a happy ending, you'll need it.
The huge (work wise) Raiders feature is at the moment the main thing still keeping the version from coming out. It’s taken us about 3 months to put together and it’s probably 80% done at the moment, though it’s going to take weeks to balance and bug-test (remind me not to design a feature that I have to play through the whole game to unlock).
Raiding is not a feature you need to worry about for most of the game. It doesn’t even kick in until the final stages. We wanted it to be a dramatic shake-up of the game in the latter stages, when you kind of think you’ve got everything worked out. Skilled players will keep it mind though that the new Guard Tower and Weaponsmith building are there for a reason, and you should expand with them in mind.
I know some players are worried about this, as they fear having to do combat, etc. Let me just stress again that this is a game about decisions, not combat, and if you’re a total pacifist you will be able to totally avoid combat... but at a cost. There’s cost to every choice, aggressive or otherwise. You can also upgrade all your Guard Towers and keep the raiders out for good (in fact that’s what you’re supposed to do).
There’s still a lot left to fix and tweak and test with this though between now and release, but all the hard work is done now. I’m really nervous about this feature actually as I still haven’t been able to experience it properly as a player would due to bugs. We have debug tools of course that let me trigger the raiders whenever I want, but I can’t get the emotional sense of how a player is going to feel when raiders turn up after 2-3 hours of regular play. I’m sure it won’t make the game worse though!
Lots of Smaller Improvements This Month
While Nick has been coding the raider feature, Adam has been ticking off lots of smaller tasks now that the big stuff is done. In fact I’ve found it tricky finding enough little tasks to throw at him! I won’t go through everything added here or I’ll just be making this into patch notes, but here’s a few of the more significant alterations.
One of the bigger (in terms of player requests at least) is the new camera snapping option we’ve put in. At the moment if you give the Town Leader an order, the camera snaps to them so you can control them manually afterwards. I personally like this as I think it connects you to your leader, but there is a sizeable chunk of people who think this utterly sucks and so now we’ve now put in an option so you can now stop the camera snapping to the Leader and basically direct him or her around like a unit in an RTS game and the camera will never leave Overview Mode.
Another player request we’ve put in this month is a new button on the main UI panel that if pressed will open the employees menu of any structure that has locked worker slots. This probably won’t mean anything to people who haven’t played the game, but for those players who like to micro-manage their workplaces, this should enable you to quickly zoom through all buildings that have closed off worker slots.
We’ve added a tips box feature, next to the tutorial, where I’ve can put information on some key concepts that can trip up newer players and stuff that only appeared for 2 seconds on the loading screen. I’m a little worried about this as it might spoil some of the game challenge, but my belief is that if I know something as a designer, you should know it too, so now you can read them if you want. Experienced players won’t find anything new in there though.
We also added new buttons to let you randomly choose a name for your Leader because if you’re like me, naming your character can be one of the hardest decisions in a game! This also lets us get some extra use out of the names of our Special Edition as players will see them if they hit this random button.
Obviously nothing too exciting here but when put together with everything else in the version, it all adds up.
So many menus to make in this game...
Nani’s Art Improvements
Now she’s done most of the big tasks this version, it’s fun seeing Nani, our artist, keep herself busy. Some of the most creative work gets done at this time.
One biggish thing she’s done this month is improve the readability of the whole UI. We agreed with some complaints that text was hard to read and so we’ve lightened the whole UI and done what we can (so far) to make text easier to read. She’s also added some fun details, like sticky notes to the stats screen to double down on the appearance that the whole UI is a burnt clipboard.
Aside from that, eagle-eyed players will notice several little tweaks and additions to existing buildings. Our Theatre building now has props on the stage for example, the ruined church has a bell in its tower, and the animals in the Livestock Ranch actually look a lot more like animals now and are no longer making my eyes bleed! Little updates like that forced her to redo her textures though as until now every single building uses about 3-4 textures, for everything, which is rather limiting as you can imagine. It’s fun to be adding a bit of polish to things though at long last.
Behind the Scenes News
Not much happened of note behind the scenes this month. Still no publisher news now (the big publisher I mentioned before forgot to get back in touch with us), and given we’re months from release, I can’t see anything new on that scene happening at all. It is funny though how many marketing company emails you get as you approach release. We’re not particularly interested in that kind of stuff. Youtube and blogs have always served us well enough when it comes to spreading the news of this game, plus our Wishlist numbers are high enough, relatively speaking, that I think we’ll avoid destitution.
For the past month I made a somewhat bizarre change. I have stopped acting as if I care about videogames. I stopped playing games. I stopped reading/watching game news. I detoxed from the games industry.
The effort to stay on top of the latest game industry news, reading expert hot takes, what’s the latest hyped videogame out there… I constantly felt as if I was studying for an exam on “how to be a successful game developer” but the exam was constantly adding new questions. Twitter was the worst. So many people on Twitter seem anxious (including me).
So I decided to just close the door on all those internet voices, and for about a month I have more or less acted as if videogames (other than Atomic Society) just didn’t exist. I uninstalled everything, dragged Youtube off my bookmarks, stopping buying/renting games (that certainly helped my bank balance) and I went from a guy who would check gaming forums and websites 5-6 times a day to voluntarily living under a rock. Consequently, I’ve never been so out of the loop gaming-wise in my adult life. I have no idea what’s going on in the industry, what “rival” games there out there, or what the latest hot tips on marketing are. (I still respond quickly to our customers and answer anything that gets posted, but that’s about it.)
And unsurprisingly nothing terrible happened. AS kept selling, more or less the same rate. The team kept working. I didn’t suddenly lose my ability to design a game. What I gained was peace. I stopped caring about trying to “survive in the marketplace”, my mind was free of 10,000 random opinions, or contests over whether game X beats game Y. The games industry never slows down, it’s relentless.
To get this point I had to tell myself in advance “It’s okay if you never sell another copy of AS” but I got there. We've already sold enough for me to think "making a videogame" has been ticked off my list of random things to do with existence. And that was the final part of my peace. It's crazy how chilled you can be when you don’t care if people buy your product or like you.
Now, before some smartass comes along and asks me why I don’t give the game away for free if I don’t care about financial success, I still want all my teammates to get their fair share so they get by. They’ve put years of their life into this game now, so it would be nice if they get anything out of it. We don't get salaries from making AS.
However for me, I think I’m going to keep up this laid-back approach and stay unplugged a bit longer, maybe even to the end of the project. We'll see how it goes.
I didn’t think I was going to have much to discuss this month, hence me being a bit late with this blog, but it seems when I start to write, more’s on my mind than I realised.
I will be posting upcoming, tentative patch notes for 0.0.9 soon and then by the next time you hear from me, it should be me announcing the new update is out there.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next month.
It's been another busy month as we get ready for our summer 2018 Early Access release. Some big and vital elements of the game are just taking form.
Raiders Are Assembling
This might be the biggest feature coming to the next pre-alpha version, and perhaps one of the largest features we've ever added. Nick spent the whole of this month working on it. I'd say we're about 50% done with it at the moment.
Raiders are what I call a “milestone” feature. In other words they're a game-changing challenge that will occur at a certain point. If you lead wisely and overcome them, they'll be a "milestone" in your town's epic story. Atomic Society doesn’t have traditional levels, it’s one long experience, but I do want to throw memorable moments like this at players to spice up the town building. Raiders will be the first such moment we add.
(Spoiler Warning: If you don't want to know what raiders are going to do to your town when you play, skip this next section!)
So, in version 0.0.9 it will be the case that when your town has grown large enough to be noted by existing forces in the wasteland, you will be contacted an aggressive band of raiders who look greedily at your outpost of civilisation. They won’t attack you immediately. Instead, they will make 1 of 3 random demands of you. It's random what they'll pick.
Give them a percentage of all you have in your storehouse. Or give them a slice of your population to use as slaves (which will be ironic, if you legalised slavery!). Or change a law to please them.
You then decide whether to agree or resist. If you resist, then occasional destructive raids will start on your town on a periodic basis.
You won’t get to know exactly when they're going to attack, and there's no actual combat. Think of it more like a "disaster" in other city-building games. Admittedly, the first time Nick got raids up and working it destroyed his whole town in one go, but we won't make it quite that harsh at release! They'll keep raiding you until they think they've taught you a lesson. Then give you a chance to give into their demands again.
If you’re feeling tough, you can tell them to get lost. However, to resist you will need to start building defences. This is where the new Guard Tower structure we're making comes in (we've also added the ability to convert existing ruins into defences too, which is cool). These defensive buildings will protect nearby buildings when a raid occurs. You’re going to have to arrange your town around these protective structures and also find workers for them.
But it doesn’t stop there. Guard Towers are only good enough to partially reduce raid damage. Not block it entirely. To make them totally effective you’ll need to upgrade these new defensive buildings you've made. To upgrade them requires another new building that’s coming to 0.0.9 – the Weaponsmith... And a lot of scrap metal to make weapons! So you can see it's a pretty big feature that should add a fair bit of complexity to the latter stages of the game. I’ll talk more about it next month, when hopefully it's finished.
It'd be good to know if this approach to raiding sounds interesting to you. It’s been a struggle to design a system for raiding that fits as this is a town-building game, not a game about combat. The eureka moment for me came when I worked out to let players choose whether to resist the raiders or not. Atomic Society is about tough ethical choices after all.
For example, are you going to be willing to change your laws and values to avoid being attacked?
Release News Update
It wouldn't be a dev blog without the latest thoughts on our Early Access release! To be honest, I can't wait until the game is on Steam and I can stop living in a state of constant anticipation. As a team, we've been building up to this for over 3 years now and I'm sick of thinking about it!
As mentioned, we're still on track for this summer (May-July). We'll get the next big pre-alpha version done, spend a few weeks integrating it with Steam, then release, try and market it, and see what happens.
It will definitely be this summer. I couldn't cope with delaying it any longer. I know releasing on Steam will probably cause me as much stress as it solves, but at least the day we press "launch" will be one to remember. The dev blog after release should be interesting!
However, if you're already playing the game because you bought the pre-alpha, that does mean a 5-6 month gap between 0.0.8 and the next update. You'll appreciate why when I post the patch notes for this upcoming version, it's a big version with lots of new stuff to do, but how do our current players feel about such a long gap? Personally, I like games where they release fewer but much bigger updates because it makes playing the game all over again worthwhile, but what are your views? If I get enough feedback, we might try and release an interim pre-alpha version between now and summer, though I'd rather not.
Likewise, how often do the people who are waiting for this game to arrive on Steam feel about long waits between updates - but getting updates that will be really packed with new stuff? What do you prefer? Obviously I'm not counting bug fixing patches, we'll release them as soon as we can.
Survival Rating Added
Another new addition that happened this month is Survival Rating. Or that's what it's called right now as I'm writing this. It changes its name about once a week at the moment!
This feature (and the insane amount of design work it subsequently caused), started off when I began thinking “if our game had a high score, what would it be?” That opened up a whole can of worms, causing me to spend a lot of time nailing down the essential element of skill in our game. What separates a good post-apocalyptic town leader from a bad one? In the end, I figured it came down to survival. If you want to be a complete evil tyrant, or the kindest leader ever, you’re still going to need people who aren't dead.
This led me to scrap the old Approval Rating system we had and replace it with this new Survival Rating. The old system was pretty pointless and doesn't really fit with the setting, as this isn't a game about making people happy necessarily.
Basically, this new rating now tells you how dangerous life in your town is. It shows the odds of someone surviving to old age. A town with a 70% Survival Rating means there's a 70% chance the average person will make it and have a chance at dying the way nature intended (a rare thing in this game).
I felt this was the fairest measure of a player’s skill for now. The next step will be to connect it to actually completing the game. So you have to get good at survival to win. Over time we can add in scores per map, so you can see “oh, I managed to have a really good rating on this map” etc or something like that.
So much to do. I sometimes feel we're only getting started on this game after 3 years of building the basic foundations of it, but fortunately things will accelerate towards the end. This version is proof of that.
Also, Survival Rating is also going to be connected to another brand new building coming in 0.0.9 that I’ll talk about next month. The model has been made, but we need to bring it to life...
Who's going down that hatch?
In this month's behind-the-scenes news, it finally became time to replace some of our team's PC hardware after years of making this game on glorified hairdryers. Unfortunately, it came at a bad moment, with graphics card and RAM prices going nuts, but what can you do?
Luckily, our pre-alpha has sold just enough to provide new PCs that let us keep working, so it's a good job we decided to start selling early! But we weren't exactly keen to burn money on hardware as funds are still tight. However, my old PC was refusing to stay on for longer than a few hours, causing me to lose lots of work when it went down (fun when working on a game!) and Nani’s PC just couldn’t handle Unity. The latest pathfinding update to our game broke it. The game is a mass of code and systems nowadays and running the game in Unity's editor adds a huge performance overhead.
And she doesn't even have the weakest PC on the team! Adam likes to code on a laptop so old he literally had to create a way to disable all the game’s shaders just to make the game run (literally called “Adam Mode”)
Getting some new hardware meant we had to stop working for a few days and force Nick to stop coding so he could help us select the best PCs on our limited budget. And then he also had to build them so we could carry on working. We had a little a team get-together at our house/office and spent a day assembling new hardware, but at least we're more productive now than ever thanks to it. Plus, we were able to get an ATI card and an Nvidia card to help us debug any problems in the infinite hellscape of differing PC hardware.
It's weird finally getting to see your own game run at a framerate you've only ever seen in YouTube videos until now!
New Social Effect Feature Added
I talked about this new feature briefly last month but Adam has now made a lot of progress on it to the point where it's mostly done. Only 1 aspect left to tackle.
The first aspect of this new feature is called “Grim Surroundings”. Basically, you'll want to be careful in the next version where you put your Prisons and Punishment Centres. We've made it so seeing these brutal buildings is going to drain citizens morale faster than usual. You don’t want to build them in the middle of your town anymore.
The second feature we've put in is called “Influence”. Right now, that means that your Town Hall is going to have an influence on people next to it. It will slow down how often they decide to commit a social issue. So for example, a murderer is less likely to go and shank someone near the Town Hall.
On the flip side of that, the Tavern now actually encourages the rate people commit social issues. So you’re going to get a lot more acts of murder and vegetarianism (for example) around the Tavern. Maybe you want that. Or maybe you don’t. Just be careful where you put these buildings.
The last aspect to add, which is still work in progress due to some technical hassles, will affect where you place crematories and latrines. In short: people don’t want to be near these buildings, so build them far away from other stuff or they’re going to negatively affect them. My ultimate hope is this will add an extra level of strategy to where you place stuff.
More Publisher News!
Anybody who’s been reading these updates for a while will know the talks we've had with publishers over the years. We've had several offers but haven't really been convinced they're going to justify their share of our income yet. Some of the publishers have been great people who have done good work on other games, but I think we like working on our own a bit too much. We’re antisocial and like working on our own at our own pace, and I don’t particularly want a lot of marketing fuss! Having a popular game doesn't always = having a fun life.
If a publisher ever does win my heart, they’ll probably be someone who convinces me they really can make my life genuinely easier. Less stress. No one has yet managed to do that. If there's any publishers out there who want to make my life easier in exchange for money, let me know!
However, to prove I’m a hypocrite, this month a pretty big, well-known publisher contacted us out of the blue and wanted to talk and I got all excited like a starstruck indie dev again. Funnily enough, I’d actually pitched to this particular publisher years ago (the only one I've ever approached) and was turned down by the time! But I think they've forgotten about that, or the game has moved on so much, as they’re approaching us now. We’ve got a meeting with them in a couple of weeks. I don’t think it will lead to anything on this particular game, but on our next game… Who knows? Offers like this are educational even if they don't go anywhere. I'm avoiding saying who it is yet in case it gets me in trouble but stay tuned.
Another Essential New Feature Added This Month:
Forget raiders, forget everything else. The most important feature for 0.0.9 is already up and running...
We have now made it so you can now choose your Town Leader's hairstyle!
Adam dusted off his crappy laptop to program this feature as well. So above all the big moral choices in the game, you can now decide: want a beard or no beard? Want long hair or short hair? It's challenging stuff.
There's more coming though, lots of little upgrades. Sometimes I reckon the bottom section of a game's patch notes can make more impact than the top part.
Game Design Evolution 3.0.
We might be slightly odd as a team of 4 in that we have a game designer (me) who can’t code. However, being the dreaded “ideas guy” isn’t always an easy life. Game design is a race when you have a tiny but hardworking team constantly producing stuff. When they’re done with their present tasks, I have to be immediately ready with the next job for them, all written up nicely with detailed steps that make sense to someone who doesn’t actually live in my brain. And it better be a good use of their time.
It’s a stressful job (not that the others team have their stresses). I have to make all kinds of decisions on what people - who are basically unpaid volunteers at this stage - should spend time doing, based on mere instinct and theories. Then I have to hope after 4 weeks (for the really big features) that what I told them to do makes the game any better! Sometimes I have the extra fun job of saying “sorry, that idea isn’t’ working out. Can you redo XYZ?” and add lots of smileys to the comment.
As a guy who suffers from anxiety, I’ve occasionally tried to combat all this pressure by finding a formula that makes game design a bit more predictable. This month I spent an insane amount of time studying games, trying to find their common elements, and even worked out a list of 108 elements a game needs to be good! It busted my brain and took a huge amount of time. And guess what?
Formulas produce formulaic answers. No matter how much design time I spend theory-crafting, it doesn’t help. Every game is different. If there is a universal formula that Tetris, Chess, Doom, and Hitman all share I haven’t yet found it. Looking for it almost drove me insane.
I guess I'll have to keep stabbing in the dark and relying on instinct a while longer.
Not a good idea to stand this close to one of the new radioactive ruins, but somehow so alluring...
Radiation and Religion
To end this month's blog, I’ll talk about 2 upcoming features I’m hoping we can squeeze into the next update as well (told you it was going to be a big one). These are still in the early stages of development but they're on the conveyor belt of stuff that is coming at least.
First up is radiation. Nani has made the art for this but the coding is yet to start. My goal is that radioactive ruins will add a random element to every map. You won't know where they'll spawn each time you play. Naturally these unique ruins will be radioactive and impossible to build near, so you’ll have to plan your town around them. There will be a way to remove them, but at a cost. I'll hopefully discuss more about this feature next month when we're a little deeper into it.
Religion is another "milestone" feature, like raiders, that currently in the design phase. It's definitely something I definitely want to add. Choosing a religion/ideology is a massive element of every society. But I’ve found this one of the hardest elements to design. There might be a reason why so few games make religion a core part of their gameplay! In fact I can only think of the Civ games where religion is big part of gameplay and I personally find their use of it a bit superficial (though Civ 6 was better). Reducing belief to numbers, and all games revolve around numbers, is tricky stuff. We're prototyping various approaches at the moment.
What would you like to see from religion in a post-apocalyptic settlement game?
Time to Get Back to Work!
That about ends it for this month. As you can see from the length of this blog not a day goes by without something being added to the game. And the truly hectic time is yet to start.
Launching on Steam is going to be insanely busy. I don’t really know how I’m going to fit it in around my day job.
However, our passion and love for the game remains. We think we're making something unique and worth all the effort and late nights. The game should be something fun and unique on Steam, and that keeps us going. We just need to take breaks occasionally!
I'll see you next month.
The Road to Release
Every month we release a personal and honest look at the making of Atomic Society.