We made it. After months of hard work, the next big update for the pre-alpha is now available as we journey towards a Steam release in early 2018. Rest assured not a day goes by without something being added to the game, and a lot of progress has been made lately. We've finally got most of the technical problems sorted so from here on we can focus on more and more new cool gameplay and social challenges. 2018 is going to be a crazy year...
Version 0.0.8 Is Out Now (At Last!)
For those trying out the game before it hits Steam check your Humble Store downloads to try the latest pre-alpha version out. This update brings a ton of quality-of-life improvements and 2 new huge maps, a giant new tower block structure, a new way to handle ethical problems, tons of graphical tweaks and improvements, upgraded AI navigation and construction and we’ve also solved a ton of long-standing bugs too (but also added some new ones!). I really like the improvements to salvaging we’ve made as well.
We’re hoping people enjoy the latest update as we recover during the Christmas holidays. But in the New Year we’ll be straight back to work on the next (and final) update before Steam, which will greatly broaden the number of things you have to do.
Steam Release News
As you can probably guess, due to version 0.0.8 taking so long due to all the technical hassles of completely re-doing the pathfinding system in (more on that later), we’ve had to delay the Steam release until the first quarter of 2018.
I'm sure the delay will cause financial problems for us, but it’ll lead to bigger and better game and that’s all ultimately all the matters. Atomic Society is a labour of love and always has been.
The good news is we’re on the home straight now at last and I don’t think there will be any more tedious delays. There’s no more big technical hurdles we have left to do at last, so the next update can be 100% gameplay, which is very exciting for me (as a designer). The last version before Steam will layer in several new challenges that expand the game’s potential, including events that happen outside your town.
Ultimately I want you to be satisfied with Atomic Society's first Early Access version for what it is, rather than what it could become. And we’re getting to that point.
Last Chance to Have Your Name in the Game!
As the next version is indeed the last pre-alpha version before Steam, that means it’s also your last chance to try the game out early and receive the pre-alpha Special Edition rewards.
We will be removing the chance to add your names into the game and be in the credits after we launch on Early Access. Doing so will make the rewards more special for those who players who supported us when the game was a scrappy young pre-alpha and we really needed help. It’s our way of thanking those who could help us when we needed it most.
So, if you’re interested in that, feel free to check out the Special Edition before it’s gone for good!
Version 0.0.8 Was a Mistake?!
So, now all that’s said, let’s cover the last 2 months of hard work since I last wrote a blog (I know I skipped a month, overtime sucks!)
To be brutally honest, making 0.0.8 has felt at times like a mistake. I’ve had genuinely dark days where I regretted making the most recent version. Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted with how the update turned out, but a month ago I was thinking this might could be biggest mistake we’ve made as indie devs since starting the whole project.
The original plan for 0.0.8 was to smoothen out the game, especially the pathfinding that helps the AI decide how to move. It’s a simple thing but it affects everything and could make the game a lot more fun to play if we fixed it. If you rewind to August’s blog, you’ll see me reckoning all the next update would be pretty straightforward. After all, it would just be bug fixing, how bad could it be?!
Turns out the old adage of "make a time estimation and then double it" is still true. I estimated 2 months and 0.0.8 took us 4 months, which is a huge length of time to keep pre-alpha players waiting. 4 months redoing something that already worked (albeit badly)? I was really beginning to wonder if I’d made a huge mistake starting this version in the first place.
It all came down to the usual trade-off: want something done fast or right?
Because we’re indie we always have to pick cheap no matter what. We can’t afford to hire staff. That leaves us before the start of every major task having to decide whether to do it quickly and poorly, or well but slowly. Everything has a downside.
We generally prefer to do whatever is best for the game, not us, and therefore locked ourselves into a huge task.
I really don’t know how Nick handled it all. He has literally just spent the last quarter of 2017 redoing the pathfinding system, alongside the construction system and the animation system. Those are major components. All that working in relative isolation (we don’t have an office) with only his own wits to find the answers he needed, and working for little more than expenses. To do that and keep focused and calm with the rest of us (through illnesses and hassles of daily life) is a testament to his character.
The rest us were stuck asking “is it ready?” or “how much longer do you think it will take?” as summer turned to autumn and then to winter. It was growing harder and harder to keep the faith that making 0.0.8 was a productive use of our time. But we couldn’t go back, and we couldn’t go faster, so I had to battle my own personal anxiety and try not to wonder how much these delays would cost us.
Then last month Nick finally finished the massive upgrades and was able to share his labours. And my very first impression about the new systems for placing buildings, citizen animations, and pathfinding was...
... That all the hard work made the game "slightly better".
"Slightly better" for 3 months work did not feel great. I immediately blamed myself. On the surface would the player, would anybody, actually notice the changes?
To be honest, I'm still not sure, but at the time the main problem at the time was bugs. After he'd redone everything the game was unplayable. Everything was riddled with bugs, which is completely natural, but the game was running at under 10fps, the town leader moved at 900mph (which was kind of fun) and engineers were teleporting everywhere. And that's just the start of the massive bug heap. It’s almost impossible to see how good a change is when bits keep breaking like that.
It looked like being out by Christmas was going to be impossible then, as Nick would also have to fix all these bugs, but I just told myself we can’t do anything about it, and even if it makes the game 2% better it’s going to be worth it. We might never get to make a 2nd game. I told myself let’s make Atomic Society the best we can and stop worrying about a future that might never happen.
And slowly it all came together as Nick waded through the bugs, especially in the last couple of weeks. We had to pace ourselves to avoid burnout, and trust that resting would solve more than crunching, but that's easier said than done. But it worked and slowly his redo of the core systems could shine without all the glitches. Suddenly everything tied together and I could truly appreciate the upgrade had been worth it. Sometime has changed in the game and it just feel a lot more dynamic and playable. And boy, did I enjoy ticking off 15+ pathfinding bugs in one go!
Was it quite worth 4 months and a potential loss in sales and buzz around the game?
My answer is: who cares?
As For The Rest of Us?
While all that hard work was going on over the last 2 months, Adam (aka Mr American Coder) was pumping out all the little additions to 0.0.8. In fact the majority of all the new content in 0.0.8 was put together by him (he manages to do so much on the game despite a wife and kids and a full-time job on the side). He even kept patient with me as we tried implementing some new features like changing how you employ workers, and then changing it all back when I realised the new way I'd invented sucked.
And Nani (despite her full-time job too) was able to revisit all the different character models and basically turn them into "next-generation" versions without having any impact on performance. It’s astounding how she has self-taught herself the artistic and technical skill of 3D modelling without any lessons. Every new model she makes looks better than the last and I can truly say I’m happy with how the characters look at last. They have a good balance between realism and style. For a zero-budget indie game I’m happy.
As for me, the delays gave me a lot of time to really prototype ideas for later versions, which will really pay off in 2018. My own design process evolves each week. Plus I’m happy because the design decisions I made in 0.0.8 have worked out. It’s always a risk designing because you don’t know if you made a good or bad decision until you get to the final bug-free, working version. Only then do you experience it as a player will. Fortunately I’m really happy with how the game is coming together and I think I’m going to be proud of it when we hit Steam, no matter what the public thinks.
Most importantly, I’m enjoying playing the game more than ever. In fact I’m having a blast! I rarely ever enjoy anything I create, as - like a lot of creators - I focus on the flaws and imperfections more than the qualities, but I’m having genuine moral dilemmas and exciting challenges as I play despite knowing how everything works. The feelings I want Atomic Society to stir up in you are being stirred up in me, so something’s working.
Winner For Most Embarrassing Mistake So Far…
Alongside all the recent hassles with pathfinding, I discovered a very embarrassing mistake has been in the game for over 4 months!
A month ago you would've seen me scratching my head trying to understand a few German Let’s Plays videos of the game (we watch all videos of the game to see how people are liking it, even the ones I can’t understand!) and I kept thinking “why do the graphics look so bad for them and not for me?”
At first I assumed they were just playing the game on the lowest graphical setting, but it kept happening. I checked some older videos people had made, and they looked fine.
Then it dawned on me...
The graphics settings in the last version were broken ONLY for new players. So if you bought the pre-alpha between August and December for the first time, you were stuck on lowest graphics even though the options screen said you were on highest! Every new player and streamer was getting to see the game look at its absolute worst while thinking it was as good as the game could look. Talk about a marketing fail.
I guess the good news is people seem to enjoy the game despite it looking hideous! And thankfully that’s fixed now, for new and old customers alike, so enjoy the free graphical upgrade!
(Shout out to a player called Vyllan who also helped us track this down just by posting screenshots of his town that made me realise something was seriously up.)
Mega-Business Mode Activated
For those who want the truly nitty-gritty of making indie games, this was the month we truly entered the dark side of development and hired an accountant. Turns out there’s a heck of a lot tax paperwork and bureaucracy that goes along with running a company and selling a product, even if you’re only earning enough to cover expenses.
In the UK, 20% of all the profit we earn on Atomic Society has to be paid in tax (and this after Humble take off sales tax and their share of each copy sold... And then the bank takes its share for transferring the money from dollars… I think by the end of it all we get slightly less than half the money you pay for your copy of Atomic Society). All that has to be recorded, and tax reports have to be worked out and filed. We’ve got to work out what is profit and what is a valid expense. And how to pay ourselves dividends. And keep it all in neat and tidy records so the taxman doesn't kick down the door holding a flamethrower.
Until November, Nani took all this and did an amazing job of it considered accountancy isn't usually in the job description for a 3D artist, but it was getting riskier and riskier to carry on without some form of outside help.
So we had to take some time off working on the game to find an accountant we could trust. The image of 3 clueless scraggy game developers trying to think of smart questions to ask a boardroom of accountants in a formal office will stick with me, but it worked out and it’s very nice to have someone handling all that stuff now, (and not as expensive as you might think.)
Another Year of Game Development Comes to an End
So here we are. This time 12 months ago we had just released 0.0.5, the very first version of the game to have saving and loading. It’s been a hectic year, from our first ever sales spike when a random famous Youtuber decided out of nowhere to stream our game, to meetings with game publishers and making big decisions on whether or not to work with them (we chose to say no and remain independent), to a ridiculous amount of work in 3 giant versions. It was the year Atomic Society became a game for the first time. 2018 should be the year it becomes what it is meant to be.
There have been bleak moments. Things taking twice as long to do as we wanted takes a toll on the business and our mental health, and public attention (and how it ebbs and flows) has its downsides and stresses. And we're not quite as unique as we were 12 months ago. But that’s business.
But we still love working on the game, and working with each other, and the worst that can happen is we're poor. This Christmas we'll be meeting up at my place to celebrate 0.0.8 being released (and probably curse over 2-player Cuphead). We’re still a team that can work hard, get on each other’s nerves, and then volunteer to spend even more time together hanging out together. Which is more than money can buy.
And as for 2018? In January we start having fun making 0.0.9, and then Steam in early Spring, almost 2 years to the date after we were Greenlit (back when that was a thing on Steam!).
What will that experience be like? Will it make us (relatively) rich or will we flop? Will the wider world enjoy the game or get bored of it in a few hours. I try to ignore those thoughts and focus on Atomic Society becoming the game we all wanted to make slowly but surely.
I hope all of you who managed to read this far have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I'll be back in January.
Where is Version 0.0.8?!
In this, the 24th monthly dev blog since starting this project (yay to me writing for these reports for 2 years!) we'll look at the last steps to finishing version 0.0.8, which might turn out to the penultimate version before Steam.
Not surprisingly, 0.0.8 is taking longer than we hoped for! Redoing the pathfinding and construction systems from scratch is turning out to be another one of those “oh, didn’t expect this to be such a insanely complicated thing!” situation. Long-time readers of these blogs will know this happens occasionally making this game. It all works out in the end. On the plus side, I am reasonably confident that when you try the new version you won't ever want to go back to the old one.
Here's a look at what we’ve been tinkering with over the past 5 weeks…
Another New Map & Graphical Upgrades
0.0.8 will now come with not one but two new maps for players to create towns on. The extra time in development gave me the chance to go for it. That means that in 0.0.8 all the maps will be in the game to enjoy at last. No more “coming soon” icons!
The 9th and final map to join the game is called Summit and is set on the side of a moody, frozen mountain. This map has an ominous mood. The survivors must’ve been pretty desperate to call this home. At the moment I’ve made it very misty as the mountains look best hidden by fog.
Thanks to Nani, this map comes with its own brand new convertible ruined ski lodge and broken chair lifts you can use. The tourists don’t need it anymore so why don’t you take it over? Summit joins Valley as the new maps available in 0.0.8.
My current plan is to leave it at 9 maps for now and add more random elements to each of them so they're different and surprising each time you play them. I'd rather make the game with a handful of lovingly crafted maps you can master than to create endless generic random ones, especially as most people will probably only make a few towns. I think when we've got more features in the game we can start to add modifiers to each map, for example, reduced water production on desert maps, etc. I don't want to punish people though for picking the climate they like though.
0.0.8 will also come with some other improvements to all maps as well. New ruins have been added, bugs have been fixed, and all maps now have procedural sky boxes which really tap into Unity's advanced lighting system. On top of that we have also upgraded the water in the game, which looks far, far better and runs better too. These are some of the perks we can afford thanks to our pre-alpha customers funding us. On top of that, I finally have time to start tweaking and perfecting the maps instead of creating new ones. There are about 45+ different places you can spawn in Atomic Society overall, so balancing all of them as one designer takes some time! Perhaps your favourite spawn point will be more fun this version!
New Animation System Progress
Despite this being one of the core tasks that is holding up 0.0.8, I can't say too much about the new animation system quite yet as it is still mid-construction. Nick is spending all his time on this, getting it perfect. What I have however seen looks vastly better than previous versions. We have upgraded all the citizens to a physics-based, organic animation system (IK), which lets them move with realistic weight and body-mass, and adjust their footing appropriately to the terrain. We tried to do this ages ago but had to roll back as it was beyond us. Well, we've levelled up as devs since then and now know how to pull it off (he says nervously, a few weeks away from release!)
Right now there are still a lot of bugs to solve though, but we're making progress. Making a city-building game with a third-person controllable character is double the work (don't do it fellow devs, though I wouldn't change it)! At time of writing we're battling problems with the Town Leader acting like she has lost her spine and Engineers teleporting halfway across the map whenever they finish building something. There's going to be a ton of perfecting to do with this but I'm hoping that when it's done, it's done...
New Construction and Pathfinding System Progress
As for the new construction system and pathfinding AI improvements (the other 2 core upgrades to 0.0.8) they're also a little hard to talk about, as they're also work in progresses. What I have seen however looks awesome. The pathfinding fixes are subtle but fix the most annoying bugs. And the new construction system alone is a dream. Scenery now deforms in real-time as you place a building, and it makes perfect sense where you can and can't place a building, there's new animations when you do build something too, and it feels 100x times better. Nick's labours are definitely paying off here. Building stuff is the core of Atomic Society and in 0.0.8 that core element will feel a lot more fun. I just want to put buildings down for kicks in 0.0.8, as you'll see when it's out.
Town Leader Repairing and Scrap Mounds
This month Adam has been really busy doing a ton of little upgrades that all add up to make the game feel a lot better. I've been chucking lots of tasks to him that I've wanted fixed for ages. The biggest one is that now the Town Leader can manually repair structures that are damaged and fix them manually. Useful when your repair shack workers are off fixing one thing while your storehouse is about to collapse!
In addition to that, whenever a building collapses, or if you manually demolish it, the ex-building now leaves a little mound of debris. Click on this and it tells you what the building used to be, and you can even salvage it as the Town Leader to get a few bonus resources back. You might even now choose to demolish structures to gain loot if you’re desperately short of something.
More 0.0.8 Goodness This Month…
Without wanting to reveal the whole patch notes for the version here, (which are coming a soon as I feel more certain about what’s in them), here’s some of the other slightly interesting things coming in this new version…
Changes to Town Leader mode
Adam has also been working on a tricky change that I wasn’t sure about. A few players disliked like how the camera in Atomic Society snapped to the Town Leader when you give him or her an order, and I can kind of see their point. We tried a few different approaches to solve this lately. For example, we temporarily changed it so that the camera never snapped to the leader at all. You simply ordered her about like a unit in an RTS game.
However, this change turned out to be a load of rubbish. It made the Town Leader feel like a tool, rather than a character. You were moving them about without any connection. It’s important that players get to see their town from a character’s height occasionally. However, because I’m probably in the minority here, we did find a happy compromise. It’s now that case (and all this can be toggled off in a new Interface section of the options) that the camera will break out of Town Leader mode whenever she enters a structure. This prevents you from accidentally interrupting her. On top of that, you can now deposit loot in the Storehouse in any mode, no camera snapping.
I will find out in the next Youtube videos whether I have made a terrible mistake here!
This and last month are still just a taste of what's coming in 0.0.8. It's not going to be a version that radically remakes the game or adds a new feature that changes everything, but it is shaping up to be a much-needed refinement of existing stuff. I don't expect any Youtube streams of this version because it's an evolution rather than a revolution, which is fine, as it gives us breathing space for the Steam release.
I’m not quite sure when 0.0.8 will be out, perhaps sometime in November. After then it’s straight onto work on the final (!) pre-alpha version, aka 0.0.9. I can’t believe we’re almost ready to stop calling Atomic Society a "pre-alpha" and to move onto the next stage in the life adventure that started way back in Feb 2015. The end of 2017, or early next, is going to be the biggest shake-up to our lives since we first went public. As little indie devs working from home in our spare time after work, everything changes soon. It might not be a life-changing shake-up, but my life has been already been improved enough meeting my teammates and making this game.
Creation is its own reward. The more I make this game, the more I love making it (that hasn't changed). We're getting over the hard stuff slowly but surely, and it's proving to be a lot more fun expanding what exists. If I were looking for a game to play, this is the one I'd be after.
0.0.9 will be a smaller and slightly faster version (so let’s say 2.99 months instead of 3.0) and then it’s out onto the big world of Steam. I’d like to launch before Christmas but I think it’s more sensible to say we’ll be ready in January now. I’d love it to be faster but what game developer doesn’t? Thanks to all our pre-alpha players and players who are waiting. I hope you enjoy what's in store in 0.0.8.
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.