3 Years In the Making
This month marks 3 years since we began work on Atomic Society and I’m more excited about 2018 than any other so far. The basics of the game are where we want them, people are having fun already, and now we can look forward to 12 months of adding new interesting challenges into the mix so the game is longer and deeper. In 2018 I really want to expand the player's drama of making a town.
This week alone I was watched a random person playing the game and they were crying with laughter at some of the black comedy, and then gasping at how horrific it can be. That’s what I’m after (the emotions, not the streamer!) That makes all the stress and work worthwhile. I'm hoping that building a post-apocalyptic settlement in Atomic Society will eventually feel like an emotional journey as you start with nothing, and overcome challenges one by one, fighting for your community's survival.
In all, I'd guess we're probably 65% done with the game, but only 40% done content-wise (in other words most of the work so far has been on behind-the-scenes stuff). This blog will cover some of that new, upcoming content.
Version 0.0.8 Was a Nightmare
We've only just recovered from 4 months of working on pathfinding and bug-fixes that really drained us. 0.0.8 was necessary of course, and people liked it, but the Christmas holiday was not quite long enough time to let us recharge. Especially when January has been really difficult in some personal ways.
0.0.8 wasn’t 100% polished when we sent it out. It was playable, and a lot of people gave positive feedback on it, but there were still a ton of bugs. So over January, although we were sick of it, we had to go back to a version that we’d already spent 1/3rd of a year making to smooth out all the remaining problems. That was tiring.
But now it’s over at least, the game is smoother and more stable than ever. It was really great to fix some bugs that had been hiding for years in the code. Plus, on the whole, 0.0.8 has been popular.
There seems to be levels of people who play games. Until now, only the really committed fans who play random pre-alphas could persevere with the game, but we couldn’t really attract people beyond that. I think 0.0.8 has moved the game on to the point where people who expect a more polished experience can enjoy it too. Not perfectly polished by a long, long shot - but good enough to let us get back to making new gameplay.
We don't feel human again. We destroyed that part of us 3 years ago! But we're operating at peak efficiency again and we might even be able to chill out for a bit!
Patch 0.0.8.2 Released
A January spent fixing bugs means there’s now a new patch available (0.0.8.2). It’s mostly bug-fixes, so don’t get too excited, but if you are one of those wonderful maniacs who enjoys pre-alphas (and keeps us in business), you can check out the full patch notes here. To get the patch you’ll just need to download the game again. New pre-alpha customers will get the update if they decide to buy the game (*subliminal messaging*) before it hits Steam.
Release Date Scheming
I will tentatively (i.e. incorrectly) say that we’re still on track for a late Spring Steam release still. That’s a roughly a year behind where I guessed we would be when we started making the game, but it’s been a necessary delay. My only concern about the release is that I do need to keep a safe distance around a game called Frostpunk, as that game is (on paper) a bit like us and is going to wade in and demand all the press’s attention for a while with its big-budget power pants.
Then, when the dust settles, we’ll appear and see if anybody is still around to throw spare change at us! I'm optimistic as they seem to be going in a different direction with the idea, so there's probably going to be room for us both in the in the digital wasteland of Steam. We can hopefully be the "cult movie" alternative for all you post-apocalyptic society fans out there.
Work Begins On The Next Version
Things are going pretty smoothly with 0.0.9 so far, considering Adam and Nani have been handling it themselves while Nick completed the patch. He has now joined the content-squad and we can really crack on. Nick hasn’t been able to code a single piece of new gameplay for at least 6 months (making indie games is fun!), it’s all been systems and bugs. However, I can’t wait to work side-by-side with him on features again, like the early days.
There’s a lot of new features coming for me to cover in this version and most of it is still dangerously unfinished, so please be cautious. I might end up talking about features that change, or that aren’t as cool as they appear on paper, or we just run out of time to make in this particular version. As the game designer I’m childishly excited about this version and that’s going to hype-up how I write.
So let’s get started with the things that are slightly further along the production chain…
It says somewhere you can’t make a post-apocalyptic game without cannibals. It's illegal. So this month Adam started making them for us too!
People have requested this social issue a lot, and I now think the time is right. In a game where being swamped with dead bodies is a regular occurrence, having a few citizens who might like to dine on the dead is actually fun. They're more like street cleaners... They help keep your town plague-free by devouring the dead before they spread plague.
But everything in Atomic Society has to come with a downside (mostly), so it is the case that anybody who witnesses the cannibals eating a corpse might get just a little bit upset at seeing their neighbour turned into steak and become “Distressed”. In other words they take time off work for a few days. It's a productivity vs free food/corpse removal kind of choice if you look at these things in a completely psychopathic way like I have to as designer.
Town Leader Upgrades
This isn’t a standout feature of 0.0.9, but it is something that should make the basic act of salvaging more enjoyable for a lot of people. Oh, and Adam's almost finished it so I can actually talk about it.
It’s now the case that when you loot a ruin as the Town Leader, there’s a small chance to find a nice bonus item that will enhance the leader’s abilities. At the moment the rewards are backpacks (more inventory space), a toolkit that lets you repair faster, and a construction textbook that lets you help build stuff even faster. Out of these the large backpack is probably the best one as it will let you grab more goodies, which will be really handy in the end-game when useful ruins are spread-out. And it will just be a nice treat occasionally.
New Buildings Coming
Things happening beyond the walls of your town is a big theme of 0.0.9. The maps are pretty big in Atomic Society and right now it's mostly empty space. I want to get the player at least thinking about things beyond their borders.
On that note, Nani has been a 3D-modelling machine this month. There could be - if we pull it off - at least 5 new things to build coming in 0.0.9. The 4 new models in the screenshot above are being worked on right now (some still need tweaks). It’s too early for me to start telling you how they work with any confidence, or why you’d want to build them, because we haven’t started coding them, but there’s definitely going to be brand new problems and threats to deal with as a player.
Being as vague as possible, the buildings above involve food waste, dirty water, the need to make weapons, and radiation. That will probably give you some idea of the new range of problems we’re trying to add in 0.0.9. Oh, and some of them are going to need electricity, so that’s another feature being worked on right now (start planning ahead how to harvest vehicle batteries!)
My goal is just when you think you’ve solved one thing in this game, another post-apocalyptic problem leaps out and catches you off-guard and we'll expand the game like that. Keeping people alive is the reason to play Atomic Society. It’s your primary job as a Town Leader. I want to make that as complex and interesting and dramatic as we know how to.
But don’t worry if you’ve never played the game before. I’m pretty happy with the opening few hours of the game at least, so I won’t be adding much more to that except polish. Right now I really want to expand the mid and end-game phase of town development.
And on that note, you will be able to make towns that are 29% larger in 0.0.9* (aka 350 people) so we have space for this extra gameplay. That itself should 1-2 hours of extra play.
*Subject to the frame-rate not plummeting through the floor.
Time to Get Defensive
It’s happening, finally. This is the gameplay task Nick is working on right now. That mysterious category on your build menu called “Defensive (Coming Soon)” should hopefully have something in it when 0.0.9 rolls around. Fear not, if you don't enjoy combat in this type of game (like me). No wannabe-RTS combat is involved. But you simply can’t make a post-apocalyptic game without some form of defence much like you can’t make even a peaceful nation without any military whatsoever. Think of it as security, not combat. You’re going to build things to scare threats away.
Combat, or the lack of it, has taken me a while as I want to get this feature right, and feel comfortable with it. Anybody who goes way back in these dev blogs will see me writing years ago stuff like “there won’t be any defensive stuff”, followed by me changing my mind and so on. It turns out it just needed the game to mature a bit before I could see the right way for us. Out of all the tasks I’ve designed for the game, it’s taken by far the most amount of words to get right and its going to take a long time to code it too.
Don’t expect big cinematic battles or anything. In fact, if you do get raided it’s probably going to be a text box and a sound effect. But the impact on your town will be the same. And I'd also like to add in ways to get rid of raiders, so there's a moral-choice element.
Making Building Placement Matter
I’m actually in two-minds whether I need to even put this feature into the game, as people seem to imagine building placement matters already! I have never yet seen a stream of the game where anybody builds a prison in the middle of town for example. Everybody naturally builds it on the outskirts and everybody tries to put their Town Hall somewhere noticeable.
0.0.9 is going to make you do that whether you have an imagination or not. Where you put certain “dirty” buildings (crematory, latrines) and certain “mood affecting” buildings (town hall, tavern) is soon going to matter. This should hopefully deepen the town-planning side of the game considerably.
Leaving It There
I better stop talking about 0.0.9 and get back to worrying and agonising over how slowly things take to make. I hope this gives you a hint that this version should be a big boost for the gameplay. This dev blog doesn't cover half of what we have planned. And if it doesn't make it into 0.0.9, rest assured it is coming later on.
Right now, the focus is definitely on the town-building side right now, but there's plenty more social/moral content coming too. It’s too much work to do all sides of the game every patch, so each update sees a certain side of the game boosted. Last time it was general bugs and polish. Now it’s town-building. Afterwards it’ll be expanding the social side of the game again. And we’ll keep going around like that until we’re millionaires or in an asylum.
New Youtube Streams
0.0.8 attracted a few new streamers, and some existing ones, to cover AS so I've finally updated the little list of streams I've found about the game. Check it out here. There's also some more French and Spanish and German ones on that list now, if it suits you.
A Little Note on Suggestions
Sometimes I think it's a good idea (without wanting it to be excuse-making) to lower people's expectations for Atomic Society. Please be aware we are just 4 part-time beginners doing this for love, working from our homes. Pre-alpha sales of AS could pay maybe 1 person’s minimum-wage salary, but we have to split that cash 4-ways and cover all development costs from the same fund so most of us have day jobs to stay afloat. That slows us down a lot.
My only reason for saying this is I want potential customers to know what they're getting into and to make people aware of our limitations when giving suggestions. Sometimes I get some really great suggestions, but they're suitable for a AAA studio. A single social issue in AS (like cannibalism) takes about 2 weeks to design, 3-4 weeks to produce, and 2 weeks to bug-fix with our current means. That’s why AS has the bare minimum of animation - we focus on making it fun as possible and move onto something else.
I hope you like low-budget entertainment as much as I do!
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.