It’s been a fun and exciting month! Here's a look at some of the things we've been adding to the game lately, plus some behind-the-scenes stuff, as work on the next pre-alpha update for the game.
In the next version of the game you won’t just have Murderers to worry about, you’ll also have Slavers prowling your town. Adam just finished coding it. Some survivors are happy to threaten others in your town to do their bidding. These Slavers capture the unemployed and build up a little posse behind them.
It’s funny when you see a nine year old with five adult slaves trailing behind her. It’s less amusing when you see an adult with multiple child slaves...
Slavers get their needs boosted due to having slaves helping them. Bad news for their Slaves though: they’ll die young and their own kids (when we implement breeding) are likely to become slaves as well. However, slavery also stops people being unemployed and in Update 7 unemployed people have an increased chance to commit their own social issues, so by enslaving them you’re “policing” your town.
You decide who to keep happy.
The bit I like most about this is that it brings a big decision-making aspect to the game, which I've wanted. Now you can't resolve all social issues at once. You’ll have to choose what matters most to you and then wait until you have enough "authority" to implement another solution. The more issues we add, the more you’ll have to plan ahead.
We have more issues we want to add to the next update. Stay tuned.
Update 7 will introduce another ethical solution yet to the game – encouraging a social issue. You will soon be able to encourage your citizens to commit a deed more in future. Want more Murderers or want more Slavers? Go for it! But the fallout (no pun intended) is on you.
Although this might sound like an option for players who want to create a dark or chaotic town, it will become enticing later on. For example, when we add in positive social issues, there might be some behaviours you want to encourage.
Nick is still hard at work coding this so it’s too early to share concrete details, but currently Encouraging will make issues happen more often and it will also cause more migrants to arrive who like what you’ve encouraged. For example, if you Encourage murder, you’re going to have waves or murderers who hear of your town being a sanctuary for their way of life and come flocking towards it. You'll start to resemble the things you approve of.
Propaganda Station Building
As existing players will know, condemning an issue requires a Prison or a Punishment Centre. Encouraging (and later, Tolerating) an issue will require its own building too – a Propaganda Station. You can’t convince a whole town to do your will without getting your message out.
The ultimate point of this is (aside from giving you a new building challenge) is to make it so a very permissive town looks different to a very authoritarian town. Different buildings for different styles. The design of the Propaganda Station is based around an old cellphone tower and it has noticeboards outside telling citizens what to do on it.
News Feed Feature
Update 7 will also, thanks to Nick, feature a new UI element in the bottom left of the screen (see above) that reports about the most recent events in your game. This really helps you learn about all the crazy deeds that are going in your town. I tried to avoid putting this feature in for a while as it seemed a bit of an old-fashioned feature, but in a game where you have 100s of people constantly doing different things, a news feed is essential. I think players are in for some shocks when they see what is really happening in their towns in Update 7.
In Update 7, all citizens have their own randomly generated Biography. This was one my favourite little tasks to add to the game. I like how adding just a few characteristics can give an otherwise bland person a personality. These characteristics don’t affect gameplay, they're just fun to read and make your citizens feel more like people. We've written lots of answers so there should be a lot of possibilities.
Making the Game Stay Fun Over Time
One thing I’ve been giving a lot thought about lately is how to make the challenge of the game scale over time.
At the moment Atomic Society is tense and tough until players figure out how to get going, and then it gets easier until you hit the population cap. It's still fun, growing a city, and the social issues add a lot of randomness, but I want to bring back that initial panic that players experience at the start of the game from time to time.
It’s way too early to discuss what we might do to improve this, but we have plans in mind. I’m raising it now as I’d love to hear any suggestions people have for ways to bring back the panic.
Mariana has been artwork crazy over the last month and has created 5 new models for buildings that will be coming to the game over subsequent versions (see screenshot below). These are the “second tier” of buildings for the game and they'll fill in the gaps in the build menu. But with new buildings will come new problems those buildings will fix so the game is going to get tougher.
Things you can build at the moment are core structures every town needs just to survive. Over time, we’ll be adding in the next tier of buildings – things you’ll want to make the town thrive. These buildings generally rely on first-tier buildings to function, so you’ll have to start thinking about supply-chains.
Of course not all of these buildings in the screenshot will make it into Update 7. It takes weeks to design, create, code, and test a single building. But a start has been made.
Our goal for for now is to get the Chemist building in the next update (for reasons that will become very apparent) and a Maintenance Shack. The Shack is inspired by Caesar/Pharaoh games. Build several of them so workers can maintain your structures and or your town might start falling down - killing people inside. This help keep the gameplay lively even when your town is self-sufficient.
Sound Effects & Video Options:
Update 7 will at long last have sound effects for several core interactions. Nick has now prepared a really awesome system for adding and tweaking them and I've been going through sound libraries to find just the right effect. Although this isn’t the most exciting feature, I think it’s going to add a lot more to the game than people realize. It makes everything that little more satisfying when there's an accompanying noise with it.
In addition to that, Nick has also expanded our video options a lot more so players on low-end hardware, or just those who want to tweak how the game looks will have a bit more customisation soon.
Mysteries in the Wild
Update 7 will also introduce a small feature that will help tell a little story in the game... If players can find it. We're hiding it across the maps. This feature is just there to give the world a bit of backstory and flavour, and to give you something to hunt down if there is a lull in your town.
Decorative Buildings Useful + Post-Apocalyptic Shrubs:
This month we’ve made Decorative buildings (formerly known as cosmetic) useful beyond just looking pretty. Now every time a citizen now walks past one of the artworks there is a chance to be “refreshed” and gain a boost to their needs. You actually need to think now before you place a Decorative structure. There isn’t much point putting one in a region where nobody will walk past it.
We've also implemented another player suggestion and created a new Decorative building, a planted tree growing in a flower-bed ringed by salvaged car tyres. So you can bring a little greenery to your outposts soon.
New Map & Ruin:
Update 7 is bringing the new map "Wasteland" to the game. It's one of the biggest maps so far. A river down divides the land in two, aside from very narrow land-bridges. This is the final desert themed map we’ll be adding to the game. I do like a good desolate region for some reason. Only 2 more maps to go after this and we'll have implemented every area in the game at least in a basic form.
Mariana also created a new salvageable ruin for us that was also based on a player suggestion, so thank you. I'm not going to say what it is yet, you'll find it eventually.
Adam loves dirty jobs. Plague? He made that. Diarrhoea? He implemented that. Slavery? Yep. We try to give him non-grim jobs but he goes into a mad rage and so this month we had to pacify him by letting him add a starvation aspect to the prison. It was the only thing that would calm him down.
This was something we didn’t quite have time to add the game for Update 6, but in the next Update you will see prison workers going out and fetching food and drink for their inmates. And you’ll also see a pile of corpses if you run out of food and drink.
Lastly, a little behind-the-scenes stuff before I wrap up.
In April one tiny Youtuber made a video of the game just by chance (we’re not sending out any codes for the game). Then a second, slightly larger Youtuber made a video. And so on. And so on. Until we were receiving emails from people like the Yogscast with their 30 gazillion subscribers.
Here's a playlist of all I was able to find.
Thanks to this, and a lot of positive reactions to the videos, we have doubled our pre-alpha player size in less than a month. Aside from the fact this means (for the first time) we might actually be able to pay ourselves something over the summer, the most important thing is seeing people enjoy the game even in this early form. That helped motivation so much.
I finally got to see strangers actually having fun with the game and wanting more. The core is there. It just needs polishing and expanding. I spent hours watching every single video and reading all the comments (a scary job) and it's really given me a lot of confidence that we're on the right track even though there are bugs (we're not on Steam yet for a reason) and with a bigger player-size comes a lot more pressure/emails!
Because this question comes up every week from someone, I made this thread on our official forum giving our position on combat. In short, please don't buy Atomic Society expecting battles or combat or raiders.
June should see us squeeze in the remaining features for Update 7, and then July will probably be spent ironing out all the new bugs and re-balancing the game so it’s fun again. And then we'll release the new update. That’s usually how it works.
I hope you enjoyed this little peek and what we've been working on. There's a lot more to share about Update 7 coming soon.
It's only been a short time since we released the latest big update to Atomic Society, so this month's blog will focus on behind-the-scenes stuff. Next month we can start to show off the new content. However, there's still plenty to talk about...
Update 6 Launched
The 6th big update to our fledgling pre-alpha version is now available if you missed it. Existing customers will need to re-download the game. The latest patch notes are here. I hope everyone enjoys testing it as we keep shooting for that Early Access release.
Discord Server Now Available
If you fancy a relaxed and friendly place to hang out with the devs and any other people interested in Atomic Society, there is now a Discord server (aka a glorified chat room) for the game here. Feel free to pop by and say hello. We'll see if it gets used or not.
One Year of Being on Sale
April 20th marked 1 year since we started selling our pre-alpha to the public. It's been a hell of a year.
We hadn't intended to go public with the game until about now, but coming off a failed Kickstarter in early 2016 we were left with 3 choices: try Kickstarter again, give up development, or sell what we had and hope it would keep the lights on. Believing it was better to live by what we were able to produce than rely on Kickstarter hype, we of course put the game up for sale way earlier than intended.
That marked the moment Atomic Society moved from being a dream to a reality, where money was on the line and people could actually judge what we were doing.
Out of all the decisions we’ve made, selling early still ranks as one of the best. Player feedback has produced good ideas and helped us focus on problem areas with no downsides (aside from the time it takes to replying to messages). And of course the tiny bit of money AS brings in each month covers basic expenses, like replacement PC parts and bills that would otherwise put us in personal debt - or kill the project entirely.
A lot has been added to the game in the past year, more than I could list here. Big things like 3 new maps, execution and prison systems, improvements to citizen behaviour, new buildings and ruins, many more new UI elements, tweaks and gameplay improvements, more music, and most gruelling of all – the damn saving and loading system.
Saving and loading is the crucible for a lot of indie games in this genre I think. If a team can manage that, they’re probably going to make it.
Last Minute Stress
The last tweak for Update 6 was actually added to the game a few minutes before it was uploaded. Not being on Steam, it isn't simple for us to just release a hotfix or micro-patch. Any update we release has to be the final. And being a perfectionist, I was tweaking the lighting on our new Iceberg map right up to limit. It's tense as games are essentially a house of cards, a single change can knock everything over.
After I'd successfully uploaded the new version, I was about to announce it when I realised we had a problem. One of the big new features in Update 6 wasn't triggering. I'd totally missed it. Innocent citizens were supposed to be killed for crimes they haven’t committed if you choose execution but it wasn't happening. The police force in our game is one of the most complex, and fragile systems in the game and this flaw had gone unseen.
The new version was already online at this moment. Thank God the programmers were still conscious and online (working long-distance that's not something you take for granted). However, Nick and Adam were able to fix the bug at once and then I had about 90 minutes to test it and balance it. Mariana was stuck in front of the computer, recording on a notepad how often the effect occurred. She crunched the numbers. I trusted my feelings, uploaded the now-fixed version again and collapsed in a heap.
Coming at the end of an exhausting final sprint to get the version ready, this wasn't easy on the emotions. The game is getting big now, and there's so much to check.
Testing Vs Making
To be fair, despite the pressure and exhaustion of the testing period, it does pay off. To date we have never needed to release a fix for a released version. When it's out, it's out and we can start working on new stuff. There are lots of moderate bugs in the game of course, we have a huge list, but nothing game-breaking for the vast majority of players. This could change though as more and more people try the game out and we face more and more obscure hardware configurations. We'll see.
Bug-fixing is essential. I used to be a tester at Rare, so it's drilled into my brain, but bugs damage a game's reputation more than anything else (over-promising in marketing aside). There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a player unable to enjoy the game - not because the gameplay is bad - but because a stupid issue got in the way.
The Youtubers Are Coming...
We receive quite a few emails a month from Youtubers who want free codes for the game. That's fine, but I have to keep telling them all we're not marketing the game yet in a big way (I'll save the limelight for Steam). Sometimes that doesn't put them off though. So this month, 2 little Youtubers decided to make videos of the game. They bought the game out of their own pocket so I can’t control what happens after that!
Video series by British Curmudgeon (Part 1) and Merric Gaming here.
I feel like a patient expecting bad news from his doctor when I watch strangers play our game. Are they going to understand it? Will it bug out? What unexpected thing will they try to do that I would never think of? But both the Youtubers seem to ultimately come away with positive things to say.
Early User Reviews
As the game slowly spreads to new players, I've been collecting positive comments that people post about the game in various places. They're a great motivator and I find it absolutely amazing some people enjoy playing a game we made. Making videogames is still magic to me, so that we're creating a thing people can enjoy is freaky. You can read the latest ones here.
Making and Selling an Indie Game With Anxiety
This might seem like a weird topic to talk about here, but it does affect the making of Atomic Society on a daily basis, so I thought I'd bring it up. Like plenty of others out there, I personally suffer from social anxiety. I'm speaking broadly here, but social interactions, online or otherwise - even with good friends - can cause me to literally pass out with panic. It's rarely ever that bad, but it's often unpleasant. My whole body feels as if something terrible is coming to kill it.
Like most long-term mental illnesses, you learn how to cope with it. Get good at it, and people will even think you are relaxed, when on the inside you're terrified. Making an indie startup has been a huge challenge with this condition. I had to find strangers to work with, work out contracts and make tough business decisions, have daily discussions, including giving negative feedback and disagreeing. I have to reach out and do "networking". I have to be constantly talking to customers on social media.
All of that scares the crap out of me, to point sometimes I just can't function. But I also gladly volunteer to do a lot of the social stuff because as game designer, I understand the vision of what we're doing better than anybody, and I have occasional quiet periods where there's little to do - unlike a programmer who is always overburdened with tasks.
Social anxiety does hold us back. There have been opportunities that I have turned down because I can't face talking to strangers and I market the game sparingly for fear of "bothering people". I also assume everything I write or do is going to be mocked.
Yet here we are, still making and promoting the game. We soldier on. Anxiety slows us down but it can't stop us. And though it might cause us to miss out on opportunities, it can't control if we make a good or bad game. And that's ultimately all that matters. Anxiety might win a few battles, but it can't win the war.
Forum News & Stories
Our forum was busy this month. A few chatty folks bought the game evidently. There should be plenty of new threads and feedback if you haven’t checked it out for a while, so take a peek if you're curious. In a strange coincidence two recent users happened to be writers and posted their post-apocalyptic fiction. It was quite surreal.
We also had a bit of random publicity because of the new update, which is always pleasant, with a small sites covering it and IndieDB tweeting about us, making us at the time the 2nd most popular game on their entire site! It's always surprising when stuff like that happens.
We're hard at work on Update 7 and the first few elements of it have been added, but there's a long way to go. We'll share the first fruits next month. If it all works out, Update 7 (or 8 at worst) could, in theory, be the final one before Early Access. But we'll see how stupidly misguided I was in saying that later in the year.
See you next month!
The Road to Release
Every month we release a personal and honest look at the making of Atomic Society.