New Pre-Alpha Version Approaches, Patch Notes Arrive
We’re entering the final month of development on pre-alpha version 0.0.7. Still work to do before we let it out, but here are the tentative patch notes showing everything we’ve managed to squeeze in:
Read the prospective patch notes here.
The goal with this version was above all to expand the social side of the game so players can get more of a sense that shaping the morals and laws of society is a key part of Atomic Society.
Also, to add a little more complexity to the city-building. Last version was us just finishing the foundations of the game. Now we’re starting to fill in the gaps.
It might not be the best for our marketing, but we're happy adding a big new update to the game every 3 months (2 months work, 1 month crushing bugs). We want every new version feel like a mini expansion-pack for the game that make it worth your time to revisit. And being just 4 people with day jobs, 3 months gives us time to take risks, make mistakes, and be creative.
The above are tentative patch notes of course. 70% of the stuff in the notes is already done but who knows what might explode. We'll do our best to squeeze in the most content.
All being well, before next month's blog rolls around, our pre-alpha customers can try it out and see how it feels. I look forward to the feedback.
Vegetarians, Euthanasia, Drug Use and Transgenderism
Slavers joined the game last month.
Now Vegetarians and citizens who wish to be Euthanised are almost complete too.
Drug users and Transgendered survivors are also in the works for this version.
We took a scatter-gun approach to the issues in this version to demonstrate the variety of social problems in Atomic Society. Some issues will be pure post-apocalyptic fantasy. Others will be present-day issues. It all adds to the desired feeling of "you run the world" feeling we're going for. You can judge them all how you see think best and each issue visibly affects how people live.
Vegetarians refuse to eat meat or work at the livestock ranch. The good side to vegetarians is that you won’t need to build livestock ranches, (a slow and polluting building), to feed these people.
Euthanasia is going to be a factor in such a depressing future, and it's a current political hot-potato, so it also made sense to include. This issue is a little different to others, in that it isn’t the person who committed the action who gets impacted by your judgements (can't arrest someone who committed suicide), but the doctor who killed them who gets in trouble. The upside of euthanasia is putting very unhappy citizens out of their misery. The downside is obviously the death of someone who might have overcome their depression if you'd just waited.
Drug users are big fans of the new Chemist building (see below), and can have a great life, if they don't overdose and if you're willing to burn medicine on them.
Trans people will be a rarity in your towns but this issue had to go into the game. These people will be unhappy unless they transition. It's up to you whether to spend medical time and supplies letting them swap genders.
Obviously we're dealing with some meaty topics here, hence the good thing about being a little-known pre-alpha. We can sneak these issues out, get feedback, see what happens, and continue.
My political mantra remains: just make a good videogame.
Chemist & Industry
We definitely wanted to include a few more buildings this version as people were burning through pre-alpha content in about 2-5 hours depending on addiction levels.
So now, aside from the Information Station and new Encourage solution, and that new Decorative building I mentioned in the last blog, Nick has gone and coded the new Chemist structure.
The Chemist is the first of several “Industry” buildings coming to the game, in the sense it’s a building that needs other buildings to function. It takes herbs from your greenhouses and converts them into homemade medicine. Workers at your medical buildings will come and collect and use all the medicine they can get their hands on. If they don’t have medicine, now medical buildings are much less effective. This also makes salvaged medicine much more useful if you can find it in the wasteland.
It’s really satisfying seeing 3 entirely different buildings working together like clockwork according to Nick’s code. Seeing the simulation work feels good.
More industry buildings are in the works, so you'll soon have "factories" (e.g. buildings that convert something into something more valuable) to burn through all your salvaged resources.
A bit like the real apocalypse, the longer people stay alive, the fussier they'll get.
Maintenance Shack - Day Job Incarnate
The last building we want to squeeze into this version before it goes live is the Maintenance Shack (pictured above). This is a building that might be familiar to people who played the old Pharaoh/Caesar games. The workers here will patrol your town and repair buildings before they fall down.
As someone who works as a janitor when he's not making Atomic Society, I will soon be able to see my day job in my game. "Yay", I guess?
Collapsing buildings are not just a problem in that they cripple your town - a collapsing building has a chance to kill anybody trapped inside it when the walls tumble. Janitors can save lives.
I'll do what I can to find the perfect balance between this being a problem and it being an annoyance.
Dancing With Publishers
I have a prejudice against publishers.
To be blunt, I assume they're all vultures who want to swoop in and get a cut of our income.
Like I said, it's a prejudice.
But we're not earning any profit from the game, so we're wary about handing over what we do earn.
And the days are gone when a game dev needed a publisher to be released or noticed. Steam and Youtube/Twitch solved those problems.
What use are publishers these days? Especially in a world where I can pay far less for a good marketing company to do a one-off press push if I really wanted to?
This month we had a couple of offers from publishers that really stood out from the herd though. Atomic Society has had a dozen unsolicited offers from publishers over the years but I've turned them all away. I didn't feel we were in that league.
But these 2 seemed different.
So we had a chat with them. I was just curious to find out what it would be like talking to a publisher. It sounds like something a game dev should do! We were all nervous beforehand. This is our first game, we’re a new business… No one taught me how to talk to business people.
So we listened and tried not to make idiots of ourselves. My main goal was to find someone who knows business. I basically want someone to say "leave it with me, I'll handle all your marketing, I'll make you a star" and to charm me out of rev-share. I want that stereotypical talented Hollywood producer of yore to sleaze his way into my good books.
Unfortunately, (or fortunately), that didn't happen this month. It all comes down to money. A publisher is probably going to want 10%+ of your income for their efforts as a minimum. That's a big chunk of change for something they "might" be able to do, and if your game flops, you're barely going to earn enough to pay expenses, so then you definitely don't want to be handing out 10% of your livelihood to somebody who has done a fraction of the work you have. At least that's the way I see it.
I might be a dumbass to think like that but neither publisher we spoke to was able to convince me I was misguided, so the meetings didn't go anywhere. The publishers were nice and talented folks, but we just can't afford to take that risk.
Or maybe we're just arseholes who can't work with others.
So now it's back to my random efforts to get publicity, and the luck we've had so far. The game has marketed itself. That might be enough, and if it isn't, I don't care. Game 1 for Far Road Games Ltd is all about learning how to make games. Atomic Society is our Master’s degree in indie dev.
And if the very worst happens, we’ll all have come out of it having made a good videogame – which is beyond a dream come true.
Gameplay Balance Incoming
Thanks to AS going viral last month, I had hundreds of hours of Youtube footage to study. Out of many things that stood out, one was that players were drowning in loot. This might actually be realistic - there's going to be a lot of scrap in a post-apocalyptic world - but it doesn't necessarily make good gameplay.
This wasn’t unexpected. Being a pre-alpha there aren’t enough buildings to soak up all the loot yet, but it does get a bit annoying having to build a storehouse every 5 minutes.
Players of the next pre-alpha build are going to have much tougher time getting salvaged and homemade resources. This slows the pace down of the game quite a bit, and means your Town Leader is required more often to help search the wasteland.
I’m a little worried about how hard and slow this makes the game. And then releasing that to the public. But every update is a gamble in game dev. People will soon let me know if I've got it wrong.
Skeletons Implemented/Story Writing
I flexed my creative muscles this month writing the story for the skeletons, which are a new feature in 0.0.7. I'm misguided enough to have a first-class degree in Creative Writing which unsurprisingly hasn't been a skill I’ve needed much since then (as I mentioned, I'm now a janitor).
But it was fun to dust off the old writer in me, and I’ve now added a short, 9-part story, that conveys a little bit of backstory to the game world and the nuclear war that must’ve happened and hidden it around the game.
I hid it because I didn’t want players to feel the story was necessary. I like games where you only stumble across a feature weeks after playing it.
Reading them all will also make a neat achievement one day.
Game (Almost) Earning a Basic Wage?
Above you can see Atomic Society's pre-alpha sales peaks thus far from release to June, alongside the 2 times the game went "viral" (without us doing anything).
I can't reveal the actual sales/income figures because money-earned is a Poker card in business, and you'd be dumb to hand it over. But we're still a long way from the day when we can consider giving up our day jobs nonetheless.
As you can see it's been pretty busy May/June thanks to Youtube madness. Could there be a future where making Atomic Society earns as much as a basic menial job? This recent period was the first time that idea moved from "dream" to "something that might happen."
It seems strange to actually dream for the stage where you can earn minimum wage, but that's indie dev. The market isn't getting less crowded. At least compared to the world of apps, or books (my forte), the indie scene is still a desert of content.
I remember when Atomic Society had sold less than 50 copies and it was utterly bewildering to us that strangers would buy something we'd made. We're a bunch of strangers who have never made a game before! I still remember when we sold 6 copies in a single month. 6 copies! (Thanks, you 6 by the way).
I have an unproven, and probably wrong, theory that the best paid jobs in life are actually the shittest if you actually dig down into them. There's a reason you need to pay people that much to do them. They might seem glamorous on the outside, but in terms of what they do to your soul, you need the money to keep you from committing suicide.
Making indie games is not one of those jobs. I'll take minimum wage for life if I can keep doing this. Making indie games is wonderful.
My dream is just AS sells enough that the 4 of us can make game 2 with a basic, low-paid salary and so on. All we need is that magic recipe: One unique idea that resonates with a lot of people (including those beyond our immediate circle), then to hit the market at the right place at the right time, and then to have the luck/skill to execute on the idea.
In other words: 3 things we can only slightly control.
I don't know if AS will tick any of those boxes. This is our first ever game. We were clueless idiots when we started it. If we do succeed, it's based on hard work and good instincts.
But at least this month alone... We ain't poor.
Interview About the Making of Atomic Society:
I did an interview with a little but cool indie game website where we discussed what makes Atomic Society unique and the chances of nuclear war:
Read that here.
And our Youtube playlist of videos about the game has also grown slightly this month again. If you’ve missed it, check it out here.
I'm a Youtube playlist, come look at my lovely videos.
Next Month Predictions...
One day I’m going to read through all these “next month” endings and laugh at everything I had planned. This time I'm going to guess by the time next month's blog comes around that version 0.0.7 will have just been released, by the skin of its teeth, and the whole team will be exhausted wrecks as usual after crunching.
And then who knows what will happen? Will the random Youtubers who made videos of it come back for more, or will it be a quiet period again? Will we go "viral" again and earn enough?
Let's find out next month, readers of the apocalypse.
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.
The Road to Release
Every month we release a personal and honest look at the making of Atomic Society.