September and October have been incredibly busy months for us as usual, but not in the ways I expected! Here you can read about the biggest, most recent updates for the game.
New Gameplay Footage
Decided it was time to share a bit more footage, so you can see how the game is slowly evolving. This is about 8-9 weeks further on that the last video and it looks a fair bit better. I've also discovered video editing is a pain in the arse!
Female Avatar & Children.
A few new characters entered our bleak and desolate game this month. First up, we implemented a female town leader option. At the start of the game you’ll be able to customise the appearance, gender and race of the town leader who you move around.
Secondly, we’ve had kids... Or rather, we put children into the game. Kids can be a mixture of orphans who managed to survive in the wasteland, or who were adopted by adult survivors. Adults will eventually reproduce and form their own families later on, of course.
It’s certainly added some extra tension to the game knowing that all the nasty elements in this game world also affect children.
If you read last month’s blog, you might recall (you won't) that I’d written off the idea of finding a new programmer. It didn’t seem like we’d ever find the right kind of person. Who in their right mind would want to slog out their guts for us with no guaranteed reward?
Anyway, I decided to advertise one last time and for some reason (perhaps because the game is looking more like a game these days?), I got a lot of responses. It took me a week or so to sort through them. Turns out HR is something indie devs need to worry about and that sucks.
However, the guy went for is called Adam, and he's from the States, so it's our first long-distance team member. He might be American but he shares our sense of humour. He's everything we want on paper, and I was unable to put him off and scare him away from working with us, so he is now helping to craft the apocalypse. He’s busy guy with a kid on the way, but fitting in great so far and it’s letting us take a bit of the pressure off Nick. Simply having another talented and motivated person around is motivating. I love the buzz of teamwork.
First-Draft of All Levels Completed
One of the few technical things I can actually do as a designer (!) is creating the environments using Unity’s ageing but intuitive terrain building system. Landscape is essential for setting the mood, especially when players spend several hours in the same area. Atomic Society will launch with 9 handcrafted and varied stages, ranging from the traditional post-apocalyptic desert, up to mountain ranges (admittedly why you’d build a city on a mountain is a good question, but I'll come up with something...)
This month I managed to finish that ninth and final stage. And of course, as soon as I did, I learnt a new technique that would've made every level look 10x times better. Learning sucks. I've now understood how to naturally erode a terrain and texture huge expanses, so I’ll probably spend the next month refining and improving all the levels.
For the first time, we started to receive a few emails from indie publishers, marketing, and freelancer type people. Nothing major, but it all felt rather weird to me - I’m usually the one pestering others! It felt more like we're part of a wider industry. I’m instinctively suspicious of anyone, but most of them seemed genuinely interested and it was just nice to be noticed. However, Atomic Society is far from being finished, so I haven’t gone ahead and signed up to anything yet.
Building Art Improvements
Last month I recklessly said all the building models had been done. Saying anything is “done” is a mistake. This month Mariana went back to being a busy architect again. 3 new structures have been added, all belonging to the "cosmetic" category. They’re bonus structures you can use to make your town more interesting visually. They will also convey certain bonuses to any citizen standing near them (e.g. stand next to the grim reaper riding an atom bomb as pictured above, and it might sober you out of doing something you'll regret, like stabbing your neighbour).
Apart from that, she has been a second pass on the buildings to make them better looking. We learn so much making this game that it’s literally painful to see the earliest things we made in the first weeks. She also started experimenting with animations. Seeing a building move just a bit makes such a huge difference to the feel of the game. Creating a windmill was a good animation to practise on. Here you can see the wind-powered turbine in action (and if you squint, you can make out some citizens milling around in the background.)
As stated in earlier blogs, I used to be a tester at Rare many years ago. I know about bug-hunting and that's come in very helpful lately. As Atomic Society becomes more and more complex, more and more bugs seem to keep cropping up. Keeping on top of them lately has basically given me my old job back (minus the salary!)
Nick did a major new version this week that brought lots of improvements, and also broke a lot of things. It's just the nature of game development. Still, it has been strangely satisfying finding a bug, assigning it, getting it fixed, and seeing the little imperfections disappear one by one. It reminded me of the old days but now on a project that means a lot to me personally.
* The UI keeps being revised and tweaked, of course. I didn’t realise how much of creating a game would revolve around UI. It’s so important and so fiddly/difficult to do, especially at any resolution ranging from 1280x720 upwards (which is surprisingly still commonly used on Steam). We’ve switched to using icons more and more. I know now why developers like icons now, they take up less space.
* The marketing grind... I’m keeping Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc updated, or trying to. I’m still struggling to share information (like this blog) when I'm anxious as hell, but it’s got to be done. This month we passed 300 followers on Twitter, and most of them are actually genuine people, not bots or motivational quote re-tweeters, so I guess that's something.
* Our soundtrack guy Dawid got a new piece of obscure synthesiser equipment that he’d been waiting 7 months for. He immediately made a song for us using it, and it sounds ace.
* Meanwhile, I’ve been scouring the web for public domain video footage and editing it like a total pro in Windows Movie Maker. Keeping a close eye on what you can and can't legally use is something I'm trying to watch like a hawk, it's scary.
*My rough and ready game design blog still continues to exist. Mostly my random observations on the last thing I played. Last time I wrote a piece gushing about Metal Gear Solid V, so if you don't like that game, you now have a right to be worried about me working on this game.
So that's it for another month. Thanks for reading and please do let us know if you're interested in the game or have questions/queries about it. Otherwise, I'll see you in November.
The Road to Release
Every month we release a personal and honest look at the making of Atomic Society.