Summer’s here at last and it's time to stop staring at our monitors from behind thick curtains and review the latest stuff that went into making Atomic Society. We'll also peek ahead to new content that’s coming in the weeks ahead.
One Comma Club
We got paid!
It's a miracle. Humble delivered and we earned our first ever little bit of money from making a video game.
Atomic Society has sold a... (wait for it)... 67 copies at time of writing. Which is admittedly way more than I hoped for at this super-early stage. That means we have sold 0.0001% what GTAV has sold to date. But in honesty, selling anything at this stage is more than enough to put a stupid grin on our faces, so a big thank you to everybody who bought the pre-alpha version. Earning money from making a game almost feels like a cheat-code for life.
The pressure of working in the public eye remains but doesn't really seem to be a problem. If anybody dislikes the game so far they’re keeping quiet about it. And personally, I feel more driven than ever. Getting the game out there has increased motivation levels to a ridiculous degree. I desperately want to give people who gave us money a better and better game. It's good to know we're got the inner fuel required to see this project to the end.
Dead Men Walking
The core focus of patch 0.0.3 (which came out 2 weeks ago) was getting the law and moral system working properly. We had placeholders for most of that stuff (as seen in our old concept trailer) but it’s taken us until now to finally get around to get it properly working. It's not the last big, brand new thing that needs to go into game but it's close. The rest will be expansion of existing stuff.
It's is now possible to build a Town Hall, choose to execute citizens, and town enforcers will actually go and hunt down killers, drag them to the gallows, and make sure they hang. This was mostly a task of logic, working out how everything tied together, then Nick coding it, then me testing it and trying to screw it up.
The big worry was would it be any fun? The law and moral system is our big selling point. But at least I now know it's going to generate some cool stories. The very first time I got to try it out (after Nick had coded it) someone was murdered in my town. The “cops” of the town went out to track the killer. I set the sentencing to the death penalty. But it turned out my town’s first criminal was a little girl, aged 9. She'd killed an adult. But I’d set the law that killers die for their crimes and that child hung for her crimes.
I know it's dark, but that incident gives me faith that I’m going to get some cool post-apocalyptic stories I want from this game, especially as we add in more laws and options.
(Though need to fix a bug now where victims hang from their bellies rather than their necks...)
Growing the Wasteland
We’ve added 3 new environments to the game in the last month. Version 0.0.3 brought our first green and pleasant map online, the imaginatively named “Forest”, alongside our first snowy map which even has some snowfall from time to time (that only partially destroys the frame-rate.)
I had to start re-working the forest map though this week to make it less grim and more colourful. I can tolerate a lot of bleak but that map was getting to me. The third map, which will be included in the next version, is Canyons. This will be a unique map somewhat as the canyon walls are so high you can’t actually get the camera above them. Players won’t be able to see what’s around the corner. Hopefully it will add to the claustrophobic atmosphere.
The appearance of all our maps has been boosted by a new depth of field effect, which will be coming in the next version. Image effects are so helpful to make a game look better when you’ve got zero budget. But they can be over-used (e.g. chromatic aberration). That said, adding depth of field has been a tremendous boost for our game. The defocus also acts as a cool “fog of war”.
Man Temporarily Overboard
We’ve had to cope lately without our second programmer, Adam, who took a well-earned break. We found Adam after advertising for part-time help on Reddit. He proved to be a cool dude and a good programmer and able to tolerate the weird British slang of our team. But he also has a new-born child, a wife, and a busy job. Situations like this is where the reality of making unpaid indie games starts to feel more and more like an insane vocation. The demands of working 20 hours a week on Atomic Society with everything else took their toll. Adam needed to take a few weeks off.
I know it sounds mean, but I was worried about this. When you’re madly driven and focused on your passion project, anything that slows that process down can irritate. But I know I have to silence that inner voice and let people take as much time as they need to recharge, especially on what is largely a volunteer project. Fortunately, the sane voice in my head won out, and we’re looking forward to Adam returning to us next week when he can regale us with stories of what the outside world looks like.
Start telling the world about an indie game, you’re going to get a lot spam. Atomic Society is barely a game but I still get several spam emails a week (and recently phone calls). Usually this is composers or marketing companies. I tend to delete the real parasites, but this month a chap named Keir approached us. He offered to help us out with publicising the game. I’ll admit I was suspicious but he lived in the local area, so I thought I could always check to see if he was a human if needed. Turns out he’s human.
Keir was looking to learn the ropes of marketing indie games and I was happy to have help with spreading the word about AS... Especially as Keir is volunteering his services for now.
I realize now our failed Kickstarter really burnt me out. I find marketing really sleazy and phony and doing that Kickstarter made me want to take a shower to cleanse the filth off. Doesn’t mean marketing is sleazy of course, just means I’m a bad fit for it. I find it hard to get energised to market the game, which I know is a weakness. Turns out Keir might be able to help me with that.
We’ll see how it goes. There’s not much point screaming from the rooftops that Atomic Society exists yet as people are just going to stumble across a game that is 30-40% complete at best. But hopefully I can put more of the burden of publicity on this guy, and then focus more on what I feel confident at, which is designing and directing the game.
Re-Record Not Fade Away
A city-building game without saving and loading is a broken demo. So we’ve made getting that working our core focus for the next patch. Aside from being what our customers need, I’m curious to see what effect it will have on the actual gameplay. AS is going to become a game about making one city over a long period of time, as opposed to constantly have to restart and building small villages.
Annoyingly, Unity has no built-in support for saving or loading whatsoever. You’d think it would, given that 99% of games require it, but this is one of the engine’s weird black spots. To make me more nervous, Nick describes implementing saving and loading as “the biggest task he has ever done” for the game. When Nick says stuff like that I start reaching for the vodka. There are so many variables that need to be saved and if one of them gets missed out the entire simulation will fall apart. Then will come the nightmare of trying to test it.
But despite the enormity of the task, he seems quietly confident we can get it up and running in the next few weeks and it will be the big new feature of version 0.0.4. It should be a lot reasonable to start promoting the game to others a bit more when they can actually save the cities they make.
When we started selling Atomic Society in late April, we intended to aim for 2 week updates. Turns out 2 weeks is probably just enough time for a team this small to create a big new feature, but it’s certainly not enough time to test it and polish it. So we’ve had to extend the gap between patches. I hate keeping our customers waiting but until we can afford more coding help yet they'll have to.
The pressure of working to constant, strict deadlines heated up a bit lately. The schedule of our lives is dictated by the next patch. No blood has been spilt in the team, but we’ve had to evolve how we work and communicate to deal with this new pressure. Deadlines make everything more stressed, and when you’re an unpaid team, you have to fine that thin line between stress and working quickly.
So far we're still friends.
More Stuff Planned for 0.0.4
Aside from saving and loading, the biggest feature for the next patch will be changes to the construction process. Until recently, it has been impossible to cancel a construction or blow up a building after making it and we’re working on solving that. Aside from being a much needed part of any city-builder, it also lets us postpone certain bugs until later. Building not working? Blow it up! Thi s should round out the city-building side of the game nicely.
We’re also speeding up the construction process. We used to have it that building supplies had to be literally picked up by a worker and slowly carried to the construction site. This is neat and realistic but it’s also boring after about 30 minutes play. We’ve scrapped that now and the supplies instantly arrive at the site. We try to be a realistic until being realistic is too much like real-life. I'll see how players feel about it.
Lastly, I’d like to add in some kind of stats screen that shows players how many homeless, unemployed citizens they’ve got. How can you run a good city without info on where you're going wrong? At the moment you can only see this info by individually clicking on citizens, which is a pain. We’ll see if we can fit this in when Adam returns.
So that’s almost enough chatter for one month. But it isn’t the end of content. Aside from the upcoming patch, it’s bizarrely almost been 4 months since our last public video of the game. So I need to remind myself how to record gameplay footage. Stay tuned to our Youtube channel.
And if you missed our full patch 0.0.3 patch notes, you can read them here. And I also hope you like the gorgeous new song Swedish half man, half leopard Dawid Dahl made for us in that version too. It’s been included in the soundtrack download for Special Edition customers. I can't link direct to that particular track, but you can see the man at work here on his other passion, kickass techno.
Thanks everybody for seeing what we’re up to. As always, I hope you enjoy the game as it evolves. If you need to talk to me personally I'm always on hand via our email address at firstname.lastname@example.org no matter what it is. To all who read this far, you are helping to make this game more than you know.
Farewell for now, but we’re never far away. Please contact us via our cheap-ass forum at any time and say hello. We're always watching it for new posts.
Chat to you soon!
The Road to Release
Every month we release a personal and honest look at the making of Atomic Society.