Prison Sentence Solution
Been a busy month (and a bit)!
We’ve recently added in the second and third ethical solution to the game. Players now have a choice how to deal with citizens who behave in unacceptable ways (whatever "unacceptable" means to you). You can now, starting with Update 6, execute people, lock them up for a long time (simulates life imprisonment), or lock them up for a short time (simulating a light sentence).
I like how uneasy this decision making process feels, how it takes city building to a different, weird place. One of the primary emotions I want to evoke in this game is unease and black humour.
If you imprison citizens (aside from how that makes you feel as a person), the main upside is you get your useful citizen back when the sentence is over, and you create jobs (in the form of wardens). The downside is that the building takes up a lot of real-estate, and prisoners need food and water. Build prisons without the means to keep the inmates alive and you’ll have people starving to death in their cells. And if you run out of workers, we made it so the prisoners escape. Being civilised has its drawbacks...
One of the harder challenges of designing Atomic Society is working out how to turn real-life aspects of society into gameplay. For example, we used to have an exile solution in the game, you’d kick the person out of your town. But in terms of gameplay, it was identical to execution – all that happens in reality is you lose a citizen. It's tough coming up with possibilities that are exciting and unique from a gameplay perspective. At the moment a short prison sentence vs a long sentence is merely a matter of taste and time, but we'll make the choice much more meaningful soon. I've got some ideas for that.
It’s also hard making sure the player even notices the new content! For example, I’ve been designing racism (...writing that feels odd). Part of that involves citizens arguing with each other. But how is the player going to know that it's a racist debate going on and they’re not just chatting about the weather? Challenges like that often crop up. I used to over-design things in the past, not realising we could code the entire DNA structure of a citizen if we really wanted, but it doesn't matter one jot if a player won't notice it. Gotta keep it simple. One thing that will definitely help with this is putting in text box that reports everything that’s going on. It's on the table for Update 7.
Execution Solution Expanded
On a related note, we expanded the death penalty solution this month. Every solution will now have a practical and social downside. After all, no justice system is perfect. Designing these downsides inevitably gets political as we can't code everything in the world and have to make value judgements. For the death penalty I decided that the risk of innocent people being executed for crimes they didn’t commit was the key criticism. Not the only one, but the one that could have the most emotional punch with players.
So we modelled that in Update 6. Now if you build a gallows, there is a chance that an innocent citizen will be arrested and hung. The game gives you a nice guilt-inducing message when this occurs but I’d like to add more to that, such as it telling you if they had a kids, etc. Relationships and breeding are on the cards for the next update so we can revisit it then as it’s about time these citizens started humping.
I wasn’t really happy that the player could just get away with building one type of morale boosting structure so this month we added in a new Culture Critic effect to the game. Basically, citizens now have different ideas on how to party, some prefer the tavern, others the chapel, etc, and if you don’t build an even amount you’re going to get unhappy patrons. It does seem a little amusing that survivors of a nuclear war give a damn about where they relax, but it does make more sense as your city grows and you have less life 'n' death problems to handle and can work on more leisurely hassles.
New UI Progress
The New UI is almost finished now. This was a long, arduous task but it’s paid off as we’re now. Here’s a few examples of what’s changed:
New storehouse and resource icons:
New object highlighting effect and improved options screen:
New justice solutions picking menu (though currently using placeholder icons):
Citizens are no longer vampires. They now age at a rate that feels realistic considering this is a world where a day lasts 30 seconds. When they get to a certain age they have an increasing chance to die. This is a bit severe at the moment, it means no one lives to be 90, but perhaps that’s realistic after a nuclear war. It definitely makes the game harder though, as you no longer have 300 year old grandmas around to help out. In fact Update 6 is a lot harder with the new faecal-based diseases so I’m having to do some last minute re-balancing to smooth that out before we release.
We adjusted how your playable town leader salvages as well this month. He or she now enters the ruin and stays in it until their bags are full, instead of you having to click to keep entering. This makes it less of a hassle, but it’s also a lot more passive. I’m not sure if I like it but it’s definitely less annoying. This is a system that needs to be re-visited at some point down the line. I've never been happy with it but I know it could be good.
New Patch Notes
If you missed it here are the full patch notes for the new version covering everything that's coming. When we're on Steam, where it's much easier to update the game, I'd like to put out smaller updates a bit more regularly than we currently doing. At least that's the plan.
To celebrate his “baby” being fixed, Dawid sent us a new bonus song for the soundtrack this month. By baby I mean his vintage 1980’s synthesiser that is apparently extremely rare and difficult to repair these days. It took him ages to just find someone with the knowledge, and these babies aren't cheap. This is the same type of synth Vangelis used on the Blade Runner soundtrack. Dawid was heartbroken when it fried but it’s back together now and the fruits of it can be heard on a new track called Nuclear Nights and will be added to Update 6 and of course the special edition soundtrack.
The Month Ahead
We’re now at the stage where it’s the usual case of mopping up the last remaining bugs and tweaking the latest content. I hope that we kick Update 6 out the door in the next 2-3 weeks, assuming everything goes perfectly, (of course it will). Hard to think it’s almost been a year since we put the game on sale.
As for Update 7, we all have big plans for that. It's fun now we’re getting more into the juicy gameplay side of Atomic Society. The basics are all in and we're running out of stuff to redo but our Steam release feels far off still.
I'll see you in the next dev blog.
Welcome to the 17th monthly dev blog for Atomic Society. Another year done, another begins. 2017 should be one of the most hectic but rewarding years for us yet as Atomic Society gets ready for Early Access in the summer (and meanwhile the pre-alpha on our website is still going well). But there's a lot to do first.
Aftermath of Version 0.0.5
Before Christmas we released the 5th chunky update for the pre-alpha version, the one that finally brought saving and loading and various other stuff that I've talked about in previous blogs. After it was out I decided to bite the bullet and do a marketing splurge to announce it, which is always a fight against shyness. Showing off that trailer wherever I could think to post it without seeming rude. I’m not sure how I managed to do it all in hindsight as we were all so busy. But, like it or hate it, the marketing paid off (pun intended), enough cover a few small bills at least.
On the downside, we exhausted ourselves getting the version out and even a 2 week Christmas break wasn’t quite enough to recover fully. But a slow and steady January helped and progress is smooth and steady again.
Something positive gets added to the game every single day, big or small, and that's good enough.
2 Years in the Making
Looking back, it's still astonishing to me that it's 2 years since we started work on Atomic Society, even longer since the planning stages began. I’m not sure where all the months went. So much happened, from learning how to use Unity, to forming a company, to recruiting, to putting the pre-alpha on sale and updating it. And that's just half the lessons learnt! One step at a time.
Taking time estimates for anything in game dev and doubling them still proves to be a good rule. I thought we'd have the game in its present state after a year of development. Not that we’re slacking, I just was clueless about how time-consuming it all is. Would I have made a simpler game now, looking back? Probably not. If you're going to spend years of your life making a game, for practically no pay, with no idea of whether it will succeed, make something you love! AS deserves to be finished.
...But game 2 might be a tic-tac-toe simulator.
Far Road Games after releasing Update 5.
Work on Version 0.0.6 Has Begun
There’s a lot planned for Version 0.0.6, over 20 features of various shapes and sizes. Perhaps too much! I won’t share all of it here, as I don’t want to disappoint if features get delayed. Everything mentioned below has already been added. All in all, I'd say we're about 1/3 of the way done with the new version.
Latrines and Diarrhoea
Back in December, we designed and coded a neat little virus system with different infection rates, and origin points. This month we've expanded and altered it so we can have multiple, different diseases on the go. Atomic Society now features another killer - poor sanitation.
We've implemented a new building to cope with it though, latrines, (which Nani made and Adam coded) are now buildable. Each latrine provides “sanitation coverage” . The bigger the population, the more toilets you need. You'll have to use your imagination for what happens inside. We considered making citizens physically visit the loo but it just slowed the game down too much. For now, you just need to build them, if you don’t have enough, there is a chance citizens will get stomach bugs and diarrhoea, one of the biggest killers in the third-world. On top of corpse-related diseases it's a big problem.
Gameplay wise I'm happy with this new structure, even though it wasn't in the plan (players wanted it). The way we've done it makes it a new challenge, and the way it scales with the population size keeps it interesting.
It's use this toilet or die in Atomic Society...
New Cosmetic Buildings
We've also put in (or rather returned them after they bugged out) 3 new “cosmetic” buildings for players to make. They’re "cosmetic" in the sense that they don’t affect gameplay (although there are ideas on the table). At the moment they're just for players who want to make their own settlement more unique/more atmospheric.
Currently we've added a post-apocalyptic statue, public artwork, and a burning torch that casts a little light on gloomy maps. We’ll add in more of these over time as they’re relatively easy to make so if you’ve got any wishes for props let me know!
With the new latrine, that brings the total number of unique, buildable structures into the pre-alpha version up to 22 and there might be more coming soon.
"Cheer up" your town by building as many of these as you like...
Nick’s total reconstruction of the game last year paved the way for difficulty settings this month. In Update 6 you’ll be able to start picking how challenging you want the game to be. Some people want a real survival experience where hundreds of lives can be lost if you run out of food. Others want a more chilled building experience where messing up isn’t so fatal. At the moment our 3 difficulty settings affect how much loot you start with, and how weak your survivors and new migrants are. We'll add more flexibility as the game gets settled.
It's not a new version without a new map. Update 6 brings the second snowy map to the game, "Iceberg". It’s a circular map with 2 levels so you’ll end up building ring shaped cities if you last long enough. The plot it is that the mainland was just too violent and/or radioactive so survivors commandeered a ship to the ruins of an island fishing village. Desperate migrants presumably follow in boats. I’m getting happy with the look of this map, though getting snow to look like snow is tricky!
One side of the new Iceberg map...
This huge task is taking up most of Nick’s time so far in 0.0.6. We've had to remake it from scratch. The look of it was fine, but it was the system behind it that sucked. The old way was essentially to make a custom menu item for everything, which was time consuming, and if you wanted to change the way a button looked, you’d have to go and replace it on every single UI element. It wasn't flexible, slick, and it caused a lot of glitches.
Nick's big rebuild means Update 6 will have a snappier, faster and hopefully bug-free UI. E.g. clicking on things and nothing happening, stuff like that, will be gone. There are also some cool animations you’ll see. It's just generally better to use.
Fingers crossed this is the last big “make it all over from scratch” thing we’ll have to do after the huge rebuild required for saving and loading. There are elements of the game that need a lot of TLC but nothing that needs to be smashed up and started again. I think.
How the game looks to us half the time...
Other Tweaks for Update 6 So Far...
These changes were mostly based on a lot of playtesting and were easy enough to do:
And of course there are plenty of bug fixes, nothing too exciting, you can find out about them in the patch notes when they arrive.
The next 2 imminent things on the list are making citizens age up properly, evolving from kids to adults, and finishing off the execution solution so that the society-wide problems it creates are working.
There's more to come after that but I better shut up for now!
Steam Store Going Well
In late December's blog I mentioned that we'd created a Steam Store page in readiness for Early Access this summer. I should’ve done it ages ago, but maybe it was best to wait until the game was looking more like a game.
Anyway, in case you missed it, you can now track us and follow easily all the updates and dev blogs and stuff that gets posted over there. You can also wishlist us and make us happy.
It is fun seeing wishlist numbers climb each week despite us not doing any marketing. Whether any of them lead to sales we shall have to see!
As I said, we're about 1/3 of the way through the version, so maybe 1-2 more dev blogs before it’s out?
In next month’s blog things will have progressed enough I can share more info on what's in store. There are much bigger features planned for this version but it all depends on how the UI rebuild goes.
The more things change the more they stay the same. Here's to another year of hard work and successful updates.
The Road to Release
Every month we release a personal and honest look at the making of Atomic Society.