Just before Christmas the team managed to tie up the outstanding elements of the city-building side of the game and get it playable. There are still some buildings that don’t do anything, but the core is in there now. Citizens are now able to intelligently boost all 5 of their needs, and we have 15 fully operational buildings, each with different roles. I love seeing crowds of citizens living independent lives and doing their own thing.
Mostly importantly, the game didn’t break. It wasn’t missing any functionality, citizens didn’t wander off and get stuck. For the first time we didn’t just test the game, we could play it.
It’s been a big gamble working solid on something for 10 months before you can even see try it out, but that’s the nature of building such a complex simulation.
And for the first time I actually got to watch someone else play Atomic Society, and they seemed to be drawn into the experience despite missing stuff and glitches. After almost 30 years of playing other people’s games, seeing someone else play yours is a good feeling.
Making of a Murderer
We have at long, long, (long) last started coding the coolest feature – our law and behaviour system. We have now started making the NPCs in our game seem more alive and human basically. The first element we’re adding is murder, because out all the issue, it’s most straightforward. There isn’t a lot of subtlety to shanking a guy.
The process we’re working makes a murderer pick a victim at random when he or she is triggered, lead them away from the crowd, and bump the person off. (We'll make motivations more complex later).
It isn’t guaranteed to work out though for the murderer, and can lead to the attacker and/or victim being injured instead. Also if a passer-by wanders over during the attack they might go and get the authorities or they might be too afraid to do so. Obviously if a guard wanders over, they will attempt to stop the crime and arrest the suspect.
Stabbing folks is just one of many behavioural aspects we have in store. Once that’s up and running, and is cool to witness, we’ll move onto the political side – which is letting players decide how to deal with the murderer.
When that’s done, we can start working on prostitution, as that’s also pretty straightforward. We could’ve started it with that first. But then I’d have to call this dev blog making of a prostitute.
Kickstarter Preparations Semi-Begin
Progress towards completing the prototype phase of the game feels like it's going so well it’s now getting scarily close to the time when I can start planning our Kickstarter, which may or may not be in February. I’m going to need all that time I can get to put together a compelling campaign. I’ve started writing the draft page for the game and putting together some ideas for the trailer. It’s stressing me out.
Obviously we need the behaviour system to be up and running first so folks can see that in action. I want people to see we’ve got something playable. Worst comes to the worst, we wait until March.
We’ve carefully budgeted the cash we need to safeguard the development of the game, but who knows if we’ll entice enough people to lay down their hard-earned earnings. Will the world respond to the game, or will we be a passing blip and then forgotten? I can spend the next several weeks panicking about that.
Character & Difficulty Selection Screen
Back in the game world, Atomic Society now starts with a character selection screen. It looks a little crude at the moment but at least it works. As mentioned before, your town leader is a third-person controllable NPC who can be used to do optional tasks such as salvaging and repairs. We wanted to add in some light RPG elements so you feel as if you’re living in the town you create as well as getting to explore it on foot.
At the moment you can choose your gender, clothes, name and age. We’ve also added in placeholders for the difficulty setting and tutorial options, though obviously we can’t balance difficulty or design the tutorial until the game is finished.
The game will probably have 3 core difficulty settings, and a custom one, where you can adjust individual aspects to make it as cheaty or impossible as you prefer. Making this menu was Adam’s (our freelancer programmer) 2nd or 3rd big task on the game and he has now been truly indoctrinated into Far Road Games because he now also hates UI tasks.
One common criticism I hear of certain other indie city-building games is that they don’t have enough depth. Players quickly work out what buildings to place and in what order and then it’s just a case of going through the motions.
Although I don’t want Atomic Society to get bogged down in micro-managing and accountancy, I have lately been designing second and third tier buildings, things players will require resource-chains to build. For example, you’ll be able to build a kitchen to upgrade the food you scavenge for or grow. But if you take that food to the kitchen, it will take time to cook and serve, and your starving citizens will get impatient. So there’s always be an element of tactics.
We’re not going to put in these buildings just yet, (though Mariana has made the models) as they’re way off yet, but at least we have a system in mind. It’s quite nice that the design docs no longer get drastic updates any more. Development is switching from inventing to refining already. Mariana especially appreciates this as she doesn’t have to remake every 5th building because I changed my mind.
A while back on our discussion forum we debated whether or not to include invasions and raiders, etc. This is a game about building and ethics after all, not warfare. In the end, I feel like it will be out of our league to do combat justice. We’re going to focus on the violence among your own population instead. That should be dramatic enough.
But I did want to make a token effort towards some kind of fortifications, simply because it’s fun to build them. So you will be able to put walls around your city, and guard towers to defend it. We haven’t decided why yet, but it will probably help your people feel more secure and happy.
Perhaps after launch, if the game does well, we can revisit this system and make defence and invasions more of a thing. I have some ideas in that direction but I doubt it will be in at launch.
Spawning/Start of Game
We have implemented a random aspect to the start of each game and spawning. Now when you play a new game, you get dropped into a random location on the map, and it’s up to you to lead your initial survivors to where you think is best. This will keep the game fresher as people replay it and it looks cool leading a tribe of survivors.
On top of that, we have now programmed in spawning at last. New migrants are attracted to your town as you improve the living conditions for everyone there, on a proportional basis. Finally, you can see your town grow and grow. And currently you see the frame-rate die when it gets to about 100 citizens (a job for later).
I realise now there are so many underappreciated little things that go into making a game. For example, we’ve made it so that a citizen will not spawn a new migrant if the camera is looking in the direction of the spawn point. I love little touches like that.
Saving & Loading
This isn’t exciting for you but it has been a huge challenge for us. We really needed to implement some kind of saving now. Atomic Society is so big and imagine the difficulty in trying to repeat a bug that requires you to spend 4 hours making an city before you can repeat it.
Unity is backwards when it comes to saving and loading. It doesn’t have any ready-made solutions. So lead programmer Nick had to do a ton of homework (on top of all his other jobs) to work how we can save the positions, conditions, and status of hundreds and hundreds of NPCs in a game where even the landscape itself changes as you play. It’s… Getting there.
Another topic of debate for the team has been whether or not to let the player speed up time. I originally did not want to make a game where this was necessary. It feels a bit lame to me that people need to fast-forward through content in this genre. However, I can’t escape the fact the city-building genre is lot about building and waiting. So it is now possible, like Sim City, etc, to speed up time. This has saved so much time in testing if nothing else. Perhaps when the game is out, I will be able to work more on the avatar system, and expand that, so that players can always have something fun to do with their playable character while waiting for things.
New Mail List
A few folks have asked me if we have a mailing list, so they can get news delivered to them. Now you can thanks to the miracle of me bothering to create such a thing. If you visit our website www.farroadgames.com you should see a simple sign-up form on the front page. This would be the first dev blog sent out that way but nobody has signed up for it yet.
Next Time... On Atomic Society
If we do actually get the game ready for Kickstarter, next month or so is going to be insane. I don’t know if I’ll have time for a dev blog. Making the video trailer alone will time consuming, and that’s just one aspect of trying to tell a jaded world that another indie might be worth paying attention to.
Expect to see the game pop on the dreaded Steam Greenlight at some point. Meanwhile the rest of the team will be working overtime to squeeze in all the features we need for that video, and hoping the game doesn’t blow up.
I’ll be in touch on Reddit and Twitter, etc and trying to solicit dollars. Thanks for reading.
The Road to Release
Every month we release a personal and honest look at the making of Atomic Society.