The final parts of 0.0.9 are now coming together. 0.0.9 is going to be “part 1” of the big, final update before Steam. I was originally going to save up all the latest content and just have one massive update before Steam, but it’s more practical for us if we break it up into 2 parts (plus it gives you something new to play with in the meantime).
That means after 0.0.9 is out (probably in May) there will be one more large patch and then the Steam release at some point will definitely come in the summer. We haven’t decided a specific month or date yet of course for Steam, but we need to start thinking about that soon as I’ll need to book time off work (my day job) for it and we need to make sure nobody on the team's going on holiday, etc!
Anyway, here’s some of the things we’ve been finishing up this past month.
This is one of 4 new buildings players can build in the next content patch. It's a surprising one as I didn’t actually have plans to add this building. It was an idea that came out of nowhere really. And then Adam coded it this month.
Basically, the Elder’s End is where your elderly citizens - the survivors who have been with you the longest - will go to die in peace. At the moment the old people in your town just drop dead in the street. If you build this structure though, they’ll be looked after by the workers and get buried in the catacomb/vault underneath it (that’s what the trapdoor is from last month’s blog), saving you the need to cremate them.
I felt this building was really important to complete the journey of the survivors who come to you town. Your town starts with chaos and misery, and then over time you improve it, and people live longer and longer, and then at the end there’s hope that the old people can die in peace. If the majority of your town are dying in an Elder’s End, you’ve clearly managed to bring civilisation back to the wasteland.
This idea came to me after we changed the score in the game from being Approval Rating to Survival Rating, or “Hope Rating” as it’s now known (name change #5). In other words, the new score in the game shows how hopeful people feel about surviving until old age and dying comfortably in this new Elder’s End building. The more survivors who make it to old age, the more hopeful people think about the future of your town.
It was important to us it wasn’t just a retirement home though, more like a place where survivors go to meet their demise when it’s time. That felt more appropriate for the setting. We added the vault door to bury them off the idea that the survivors want to rest in peace forever underground because they feel that’s a place of safety since the nuclear war!
On the UI for this new building, you can see how long they’ve been a citizen in your town, and there’s a quick shortcut button that takes you to their Biography, so you can read up who this person was (though you better read quickly as they tend not to hang around for long in this building!)
This building does consume food, water, and medicine and is relatively expensive to build though, so it won’t be a luxury you can afford at the start of the game, but if you want to give your survivors a happy ending, you'll need it.
The huge (work wise) Raiders feature is at the moment the main thing still keeping the version from coming out. It’s taken us about 3 months to put together and it’s probably 80% done at the moment, though it’s going to take weeks to balance and bug-test (remind me not to design a feature that I have to play through the whole game to unlock).
Raiding is not a feature you need to worry about for most of the game. It doesn’t even kick in until the final stages. We wanted it to be a dramatic shake-up of the game in the latter stages, when you kind of think you’ve got everything worked out. Skilled players will keep it mind though that the new Guard Tower and Weaponsmith building are there for a reason, and you should expand with them in mind.
I know some players are worried about this, as they fear having to do combat, etc. Let me just stress again that this is a game about decisions, not combat, and if you’re a total pacifist you will be able to totally avoid combat... but at a cost. There’s cost to every choice, aggressive or otherwise. You can also upgrade all your Guard Towers and keep the raiders out for good (in fact that’s what you’re supposed to do).
There’s still a lot left to fix and tweak and test with this though between now and release, but all the hard work is done now. I’m really nervous about this feature actually as I still haven’t been able to experience it properly as a player would due to bugs. We have debug tools of course that let me trigger the raiders whenever I want, but I can’t get the emotional sense of how a player is going to feel when raiders turn up after 2-3 hours of regular play. I’m sure it won’t make the game worse though!
Lots of Smaller Improvements This Month
While Nick has been coding the raider feature, Adam has been ticking off lots of smaller tasks now that the big stuff is done. In fact I’ve found it tricky finding enough little tasks to throw at him! I won’t go through everything added here or I’ll just be making this into patch notes, but here’s a few of the more significant alterations.
One of the bigger (in terms of player requests at least) is the new camera snapping option we’ve put in. At the moment if you give the Town Leader an order, the camera snaps to them so you can control them manually afterwards. I personally like this as I think it connects you to your leader, but there is a sizeable chunk of people who think this utterly sucks and so now we’ve now put in an option so you can now stop the camera snapping to the Leader and basically direct him or her around like a unit in an RTS game and the camera will never leave Overview Mode.
Another player request we’ve put in this month is a new button on the main UI panel that if pressed will open the employees menu of any structure that has locked worker slots. This probably won’t mean anything to people who haven’t played the game, but for those players who like to micro-manage their workplaces, this should enable you to quickly zoom through all buildings that have closed off worker slots.
We’ve added a tips box feature, next to the tutorial, where I’ve can put information on some key concepts that can trip up newer players and stuff that only appeared for 2 seconds on the loading screen. I’m a little worried about this as it might spoil some of the game challenge, but my belief is that if I know something as a designer, you should know it too, so now you can read them if you want. Experienced players won’t find anything new in there though.
We also added new buttons to let you randomly choose a name for your Leader because if you’re like me, naming your character can be one of the hardest decisions in a game! This also lets us get some extra use out of the names of our Special Edition as players will see them if they hit this random button.
Obviously nothing too exciting here but when put together with everything else in the version, it all adds up.
So many menus to make in this game...
Nani’s Art Improvements
Now she’s done most of the big tasks this version, it’s fun seeing Nani, our artist, keep herself busy. Some of the most creative work gets done at this time.
One biggish thing she’s done this month is improve the readability of the whole UI. We agreed with some complaints that text was hard to read and so we’ve lightened the whole UI and done what we can (so far) to make text easier to read. She’s also added some fun details, like sticky notes to the stats screen to double down on the appearance that the whole UI is a burnt clipboard.
Aside from that, eagle-eyed players will notice several little tweaks and additions to existing buildings. Our Theatre building now has props on the stage for example, the ruined church has a bell in its tower, and the animals in the Livestock Ranch actually look a lot more like animals now and are no longer making my eyes bleed! Little updates like that forced her to redo her textures though as until now every single building uses about 3-4 textures, for everything, which is rather limiting as you can imagine. It’s fun to be adding a bit of polish to things though at long last.
Behind the Scenes News
Not much happened of note behind the scenes this month. Still no publisher news now (the big publisher I mentioned before forgot to get back in touch with us), and given we’re months from release, I can’t see anything new on that scene happening at all. It is funny though how many marketing company emails you get as you approach release. We’re not particularly interested in that kind of stuff. Youtube and blogs have always served us well enough when it comes to spreading the news of this game, plus our Wishlist numbers are high enough, relatively speaking, that I think we’ll avoid destitution.
For the past month I made a somewhat bizarre change. I have stopped acting as if I care about videogames. I stopped playing games. I stopped reading/watching game news. I detoxed from the games industry.
The effort to stay on top of the latest game industry news, reading expert hot takes, what’s the latest hyped videogame out there… I constantly felt as if I was studying for an exam on “how to be a successful game developer” but the exam was constantly adding new questions. Twitter was the worst. So many people on Twitter seem anxious (including me).
So I decided to just close the door on all those internet voices, and for about a month I have more or less acted as if videogames (other than Atomic Society) just didn’t exist. I uninstalled everything, dragged Youtube off my bookmarks, stopping buying/renting games (that certainly helped my bank balance) and I went from a guy who would check gaming forums and websites 5-6 times a day to voluntarily living under a rock. Consequently, I’ve never been so out of the loop gaming-wise in my adult life. I have no idea what’s going on in the industry, what “rival” games there out there, or what the latest hot tips on marketing are. (I still respond quickly to our customers and answer anything that gets posted, but that’s about it.)
And unsurprisingly nothing terrible happened. AS kept selling, more or less the same rate. The team kept working. I didn’t suddenly lose my ability to design a game. What I gained was peace. I stopped caring about trying to “survive in the marketplace”, my mind was free of 10,000 random opinions, or contests over whether game X beats game Y. The games industry never slows down, it’s relentless.
To get this point I had to tell myself in advance “It’s okay if you never sell another copy of AS” but I got there. We've already sold enough for me to think "making a videogame" has been ticked off my list of random things to do with existence. And that was the final part of my peace. It's crazy how chilled you can be when you don’t care if people buy your product or like you.
Now, before some smartass comes along and asks me why I don’t give the game away for free if I don’t care about financial success, I still want all my teammates to get their fair share so they get by. They’ve put years of their life into this game now, so it would be nice if they get anything out of it. We don't get salaries from making AS.
However for me, I think I’m going to keep up this laid-back approach and stay unplugged a bit longer, maybe even to the end of the project. We'll see how it goes.
I didn’t think I was going to have much to discuss this month, hence me being a bit late with this blog, but it seems when I start to write, more’s on my mind than I realised.
I will be posting upcoming, tentative patch notes for 0.0.9 soon and then by the next time you hear from me, it should be me announcing the new update is out there.
Thanks for reading and 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.