New Pre-Alpha Version Approaches, Patch Notes Arrive
We’re entering the final month of development on pre-alpha version 0.0.7. Still work to do before we let it out, but here are the tentative patch notes showing everything we’ve managed to squeeze in:
Read the prospective patch notes here.
The goal with this version was above all to expand the social side of the game so players can get more of a sense that shaping the morals and laws of society is a key part of Atomic Society.
Also, to add a little more complexity to the city-building. Last version was us just finishing the foundations of the game. Now we’re starting to fill in the gaps.
It might not be the best for our marketing, but we're happy adding a big new update to the game every 3 months (2 months work, 1 month crushing bugs). We want every new version feel like a mini expansion-pack for the game that make it worth your time to revisit. And being just 4 people with day jobs, 3 months gives us time to take risks, make mistakes, and be creative.
The above are tentative patch notes of course. 70% of the stuff in the notes is already done but who knows what might explode. We'll do our best to squeeze in the most content.
All being well, before next month's blog rolls around, our pre-alpha customers can try it out and see how it feels. I look forward to the feedback.
Vegetarians, Euthanasia, Drug Use and Transgenderism
Slavers joined the game last month.
Now Vegetarians and citizens who wish to be Euthanised are almost complete too.
Drug users and Transgendered survivors are also in the works for this version.
We took a scatter-gun approach to the issues in this version to demonstrate the variety of social problems in Atomic Society. Some issues will be pure post-apocalyptic fantasy. Others will be present-day issues. It all adds to the desired feeling of "you run the world" feeling we're going for. You can judge them all how you see think best and each issue visibly affects how people live.
Vegetarians refuse to eat meat or work at the livestock ranch. The good side to vegetarians is that you won’t need to build livestock ranches, (a slow and polluting building), to feed these people.
Euthanasia is going to be a factor in such a depressing future, and it's a current political hot-potato, so it also made sense to include. This issue is a little different to others, in that it isn’t the person who committed the action who gets impacted by your judgements (can't arrest someone who committed suicide), but the doctor who killed them who gets in trouble. The upside of euthanasia is putting very unhappy citizens out of their misery. The downside is obviously the death of someone who might have overcome their depression if you'd just waited.
Drug users are big fans of the new Chemist building (see below), and can have a great life, if they don't overdose and if you're willing to burn medicine on them.
Trans people will be a rarity in your towns but this issue had to go into the game. These people will be unhappy unless they transition. It's up to you whether to spend medical time and supplies letting them swap genders.
Obviously we're dealing with some meaty topics here, hence the good thing about being a little-known pre-alpha. We can sneak these issues out, get feedback, see what happens, and continue.
My political mantra remains: just make a good videogame.
Chemist & Industry
We definitely wanted to include a few more buildings this version as people were burning through pre-alpha content in about 2-5 hours depending on addiction levels.
So now, aside from the Information Station and new Encourage solution, and that new Decorative building I mentioned in the last blog, Nick has gone and coded the new Chemist structure.
The Chemist is the first of several “Industry” buildings coming to the game, in the sense it’s a building that needs other buildings to function. It takes herbs from your greenhouses and converts them into homemade medicine. Workers at your medical buildings will come and collect and use all the medicine they can get their hands on. If they don’t have medicine, now medical buildings are much less effective. This also makes salvaged medicine much more useful if you can find it in the wasteland.
It’s really satisfying seeing 3 entirely different buildings working together like clockwork according to Nick’s code. Seeing the simulation work feels good.
More industry buildings are in the works, so you'll soon have "factories" (e.g. buildings that convert something into something more valuable) to burn through all your salvaged resources.
A bit like the real apocalypse, the longer people stay alive, the fussier they'll get.
Maintenance Shack - Day Job Incarnate
The last building we want to squeeze into this version before it goes live is the Maintenance Shack (pictured above). This is a building that might be familiar to people who played the old Pharaoh/Caesar games. The workers here will patrol your town and repair buildings before they fall down.
As someone who works as a janitor when he's not making Atomic Society, I will soon be able to see my day job in my game. "Yay", I guess?
Collapsing buildings are not just a problem in that they cripple your town - a collapsing building has a chance to kill anybody trapped inside it when the walls tumble. Janitors can save lives.
I'll do what I can to find the perfect balance between this being a problem and it being an annoyance.
Dancing With Publishers
I have a prejudice against publishers.
To be blunt, I assume they're all vultures who want to swoop in and get a cut of our income.
Like I said, it's a prejudice.
But we're not earning any profit from the game, so we're wary about handing over what we do earn.
And the days are gone when a game dev needed a publisher to be released or noticed. Steam and Youtube/Twitch solved those problems.
What use are publishers these days? Especially in a world where I can pay far less for a good marketing company to do a one-off press push if I really wanted to?
This month we had a couple of offers from publishers that really stood out from the herd though. Atomic Society has had a dozen unsolicited offers from publishers over the years but I've turned them all away. I didn't feel we were in that league.
But these 2 seemed different.
So we had a chat with them. I was just curious to find out what it would be like talking to a publisher. It sounds like something a game dev should do! We were all nervous beforehand. This is our first game, we’re a new business… No one taught me how to talk to business people.
So we listened and tried not to make idiots of ourselves. My main goal was to find someone who knows business. I basically want someone to say "leave it with me, I'll handle all your marketing, I'll make you a star" and to charm me out of rev-share. I want that stereotypical talented Hollywood producer of yore to sleaze his way into my good books.
Unfortunately, (or fortunately), that didn't happen this month. It all comes down to money. A publisher is probably going to want 10%+ of your income for their efforts as a minimum. That's a big chunk of change for something they "might" be able to do, and if your game flops, you're barely going to earn enough to pay expenses, so then you definitely don't want to be handing out 10% of your livelihood to somebody who has done a fraction of the work you have. At least that's the way I see it.
I might be a dumbass to think like that but neither publisher we spoke to was able to convince me I was misguided, so the meetings didn't go anywhere. The publishers were nice and talented folks, but we just can't afford to take that risk.
Or maybe we're just arseholes who can't work with others.
So now it's back to my random efforts to get publicity, and the luck we've had so far. The game has marketed itself. That might be enough, and if it isn't, I don't care. Game 1 for Far Road Games Ltd is all about learning how to make games. Atomic Society is our Master’s degree in indie dev.
And if the very worst happens, we’ll all have come out of it having made a good videogame – which is beyond a dream come true.
Gameplay Balance Incoming
Thanks to AS going viral last month, I had hundreds of hours of Youtube footage to study. Out of many things that stood out, one was that players were drowning in loot. This might actually be realistic - there's going to be a lot of scrap in a post-apocalyptic world - but it doesn't necessarily make good gameplay.
This wasn’t unexpected. Being a pre-alpha there aren’t enough buildings to soak up all the loot yet, but it does get a bit annoying having to build a storehouse every 5 minutes.
Players of the next pre-alpha build are going to have much tougher time getting salvaged and homemade resources. This slows the pace down of the game quite a bit, and means your Town Leader is required more often to help search the wasteland.
I’m a little worried about how hard and slow this makes the game. And then releasing that to the public. But every update is a gamble in game dev. People will soon let me know if I've got it wrong.
Skeletons Implemented/Story Writing
I flexed my creative muscles this month writing the story for the skeletons, which are a new feature in 0.0.7. I'm misguided enough to have a first-class degree in Creative Writing which unsurprisingly hasn't been a skill I’ve needed much since then (as I mentioned, I'm now a janitor).
But it was fun to dust off the old writer in me, and I’ve now added a short, 9-part story, that conveys a little bit of backstory to the game world and the nuclear war that must’ve happened and hidden it around the game.
I hid it because I didn’t want players to feel the story was necessary. I like games where you only stumble across a feature weeks after playing it.
Reading them all will also make a neat achievement one day.
Game (Almost) Earning a Basic Wage?
Above you can see Atomic Society's pre-alpha sales peaks thus far from release to June, alongside the 2 times the game went "viral" (without us doing anything).
I can't reveal the actual sales/income figures because money-earned is a Poker card in business, and you'd be dumb to hand it over. But we're still a long way from the day when we can consider giving up our day jobs nonetheless.
As you can see it's been pretty busy May/June thanks to Youtube madness. Could there be a future where making Atomic Society earns as much as a basic menial job? This recent period was the first time that idea moved from "dream" to "something that might happen."
It seems strange to actually dream for the stage where you can earn minimum wage, but that's indie dev. The market isn't getting less crowded. At least compared to the world of apps, or books (my forte), the indie scene is still a desert of content.
I remember when Atomic Society had sold less than 50 copies and it was utterly bewildering to us that strangers would buy something we'd made. We're a bunch of strangers who have never made a game before! I still remember when we sold 6 copies in a single month. 6 copies! (Thanks, you 6 by the way).
I have an unproven, and probably wrong, theory that the best paid jobs in life are actually the shittest if you actually dig down into them. There's a reason you need to pay people that much to do them. They might seem glamorous on the outside, but in terms of what they do to your soul, you need the money to keep you from committing suicide.
Making indie games is not one of those jobs. I'll take minimum wage for life if I can keep doing this. Making indie games is wonderful.
My dream is just AS sells enough that the 4 of us can make game 2 with a basic, low-paid salary and so on. All we need is that magic recipe: One unique idea that resonates with a lot of people (including those beyond our immediate circle), then to hit the market at the right place at the right time, and then to have the luck/skill to execute on the idea.
In other words: 3 things we can only slightly control.
I don't know if AS will tick any of those boxes. This is our first ever game. We were clueless idiots when we started it. If we do succeed, it's based on hard work and good instincts.
But at least this month alone... We ain't poor.
Interview About the Making of Atomic Society:
I did an interview with a little but cool indie game website where we discussed what makes Atomic Society unique and the chances of nuclear war:
Read that here.
And our Youtube playlist of videos about the game has also grown slightly this month again. If you’ve missed it, check it out here.
I'm a Youtube playlist, come look at my lovely videos.
Next Month Predictions...
One day I’m going to read through all these “next month” endings and laugh at everything I had planned. This time I'm going to guess by the time next month's blog comes around that version 0.0.7 will have just been released, by the skin of its teeth, and the whole team will be exhausted wrecks as usual after crunching.
And then who knows what will happen? Will the random Youtubers who made videos of it come back for more, or will it be a quiet period again? Will we go "viral" again and earn enough?
Let's find out next month, readers of the apocalypse.