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 next big update to the game is coming along nicely and we're progressing through the last few big things to do list before Steam Early Access (more on that later). The focus for this update has been sorting some big old bugs and generally making the game feel less like a pre-alpha and a more like an alpha. We also found some time to include some extra little features at the same time.
At time of writing, I estimate that 0.0.8 is about 60% complete. That puts us on target for this version to come out mid-October, somewhat quicker than usual. As always I’ll post the patch notes for it as soon as I have a draft of them.
Path-Finding System Greatly Improved
This was by far the biggest task for this version. The way AI navigated in Atomic Society needed a big overhaul. Workers tended to take strange routes, get confused, bug out and walk through walls, etc. Small things but they happened constantly. It made everything in the game feel just that little bit annoying.
However, Nick has been busy in his underground lair and managed to drastically improve the way the AI picks its routes. This makes the whole game feel better. Watching people live out their lives looks more natural and realistic.
For example, before this version every building was shaped like a box to the AI regardless of the actual detailed shape of the model. Now the AI can accurately detect the shape of the building can even walk in and around its grounds and side-step obstacles. They’re much more aware of what’s going on around them, including their fellow citizens. They also no longer ghost through each other but step around one another, etc.
The same improvements apply to controlling the Town Leader, which is now more logical and consistent. And as an added bonus, all these improvements have given the game a small frame-rate boost too due to efficient coding.
The 0.0.8 pathfinding system doesn’t drastically change the game, but it does make everything in it better to play, so it was definitely worth doing.
Another overdue problem with the game involved placing buildings. Often players would be unable to put a building exactly where they wanted for no obvious reason. There was a reason of course, a bug, and how the game handled the radius of objects.
Thanks to Nick's tinkering with pathfinding, we were also able to improve how the game scans the landscape. It should now have a much better idea of where obstacles are and the shape of the ground. We’ve also improved how the terrain deforms when you place a building so when this task is finished, you should be able to build towns more or less however you want to lay them out.
We’ve added a new feature this month that a lot of people have been asking for. In 0.0.8 you will be able to tell your scavengers to focus on one particular resource. No more getting angry at them as they fill their bags with scrap metal if you needed lumber.
To do this you just open your storehouse menu and tick the resource you want most of all. The scavengers then obey your orders and use common sense to work out where the nearest ruin containing that item is.
Aside from curing some player frustration, this also adds a little gameplay as you are now in control of your resources to a degree. You can send them off to get one thing while you gather another as the leader. Though I might need to do some re-balancing when this is finished, the game might be a bit too easy now you're not fighting the stupidity of your scavengers anymore!
Early Access Release
We’ve been thinking about bringing forward the Early Access launch. We were aiming for early 2018 but Atomic Society is already quite fun in its own limited and slightly buggy way, so why not make it easier for people to get the game?
I first thought about bringing the release forward while I was browsing Steam. I like diving into Early Access and seeing what weird and interesting games are out there that don't get the attention of the front page. Seeing all these games, it struck me how Atomic Society is already a lot more polished than a the majority of games out there and they seem to be doing okay, by my standard of "okay".
It doesn't matter we've still got a lot to add. For those who enjoy Early Access games (like me) it's fun supporting a game and seeing how it grows up, each patch can be fun to check out. And bad reviews don’t phase me anymore. I’ve seen games with negative reviews turn it around with a few good updates because Steam focuses on recent reviews. I'm not going to be scared away by a red thumb symbol.
The other reason we were holding off was to get the marketing right and have lots of content in the game before the mainstream press found us. But the mainstream press already found us 2 versions ago against our plans, and we survived that. Plus, I don't don’t care about lots of marketing these days. I’d be perfectly happy if things just carried on as they are now but with the added ease of Steam.
Anyway, long story short: Expect an announcement about our Early Access release in the not too distant future. We'll need to get 0.0.8 out first, and then do a mini-version to prepare the game for Steam, but after that we’ll be ready to start announcing dates. It will be this year (so in the next 3.5 months) unless something unexpected happens.
0.0.8 brings a new map for you to make towns on. This map is called Valley and is a forest biome. It’s a verdant woodland set on the steep sides of a valley around a huge lake. You can see right across the map from one side to the other, at least you can if you settle your town high up.
The aim of this map was to make the most vertical landscape in the game so far, and to make a nice relaxing location! After months making deserts and frozen tundras it’s nice to be back in peaceful surroundings.
I think the unique, crater-like layout of this map will lead to some interesting town shapes.
New Gameplay Building: Luxury Tower
A ultimate type of shelter has been added to 0.0.8. This is a huge building, the biggest you can make so far. It’s essentially a lot of luxury homes welded together into a battered tower. “Luxury” is a state of mind in the post-apocalyptic world after all.
It’s designed to an end-game building, for those times when you have a lot of resources and you want to quickly provide housing for all the remaining homeless citizens without having to build a ton of houses, so its very expensive to build. It also looks cool.
New Attitude to Game Development
This is the personal section of this dev blog (skip ahead if that's not your thing). I’ve had a much needed attitude adjustment lately. In short: I've stopped worrying about how well the game sells and it’s amazing. I feel like a new man.
I used to worry every single day about how the game was being received, how it was selling, what I needed to do to make it more popular and liked. Long-time readers of these dev blogs might’ve noticed how stressed I sounded at times. My stress was getting worse the more copies we sold. I was always watching what "rival" games were up to, what indie devs were panicking about, worrying about what people were saying on our forum, worrying if nobody was speaking on the forum, worrying if nobody made Youtube videos of our game, being scared when people did make videos. And so on and so on.
At long last I got it into my skull that worrying about the future and trying to control it hasn’t made me even one tiny bit happier. So I’ve resided myself to accept whatever happens. If AS sells lots, all right. If 3 people buy it on Steam and then refund it, all right. Either is fine. And as soon as I truly accepted that my stress disappeared.
I guess I’m becoming… Optimistic?! Not about success, just optimistic that things will be fine however they pan out. I’ve stopped chasing the latest news, I’ve unplugged from Twitter, I let things happen as they happen. And because of this I’ve probably had my happiest few weeks of work on the game since the day we started.
New Convertible Ruin: Mansion
Nani has spent a lot of time adding a big new ruin to the game in 0.0.8. You will soon be able to convert (if you find it) an abandoned Victorian mansion into a post-apocalyptic home or storehouse. It should make a fine centrepiece of your society. It’s the biggest ruin in the game yet, and also the most detailed.
Making a convertible ruin is a lot of work. Like all ruins, Nani has to sketch out how the ruin should look, based on my concept. She then makes a fully intact version of the building in the art program we use called Blender. Players never get to see this version of the building, it looks as the building would in its prime, before the bombs fell. When we’re happy with how that looks, she smashes it up and adds decades of neglect!
This would be enough for ordinary ruins, but for ruins the player can convert, Nani then needs to work out how a bunch of post-apocalyptic engineers with limited supplies might try and restore it. And do all that with an extremely tight polygon count and range of textures. However it's all come together and our collection of ruins grows larger.
More Improvements in 0.0.8
That’s not all coming to 0.0.8. We’ve also been able to upgrade the game to the latest version of Unity which has a few minor benefits for players and will probably boost performance on older machines. The upgrade went smoothly for a change though Adam had a few problems on his 5 year old laptop with in-built graphics (only the finest hardware at Far Road Games).
Having watched people on Youtube get caught out by the new repair mechanic in the game, we’ve added in more useful information to explain why buildings are disappearing.
Adam has made it so players can now type in a number of loot to destroy, which is very handy if your storehouses are overflowing.
We've made several useful UI improvements again and fixed (*checks notes*) 7 important bugs at time of writing.
There’s more to come in 0.0.8 though. I’d like to try and squeeze in adding the ability for the Town Leader to help maintain buildings and possibly add little mounds of debris when a building collapses so you can salvage something back. We'll see how times goes.
A Look Ahead...
By the time next month's dev blog rolls around I predict that 0.0.8 will have just been released, or at least be very close to going out the door. We'll then talk about an Early Access release date and begin integrating the game with Steam. There are 1-2 features I want in the game before Steam, nothing too serious, just stuff like rebindable controls. It should be a fun (and stress-free) end to 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.