It’s been a hectic 2 weeks since we began our Early Access journey. In that time collected and sorted through hundreds and hundreds of comments, released a necessary bug-fixing patch, and we’re hard at work on the first big content update for Atomic Society, which will address some of that feedback.
For those who are new to Atomic Society and don't know, every month I release a dev blog about what it’s like making your first ever indie game (this month I've written 2). These blogs also cover new stuff we’re working on. I’ve been doing this ever since the game was a few words in a notebook.
If you don’t care about the personal behind-the-scenes stuff and just want to find out about the new content coming to the game, skip about halfway down to the new content section.
October: The Craziest Month So Far
Last time I wrote a blog, we were a few days away from launching, and had no idea at all what the future held. Of course I hoped the game would find a a sustainable audience, but every indie dev wants that, and the odds of standing out in such a crowded marketplace are tiny, especially without a publisher. I literally had no idea if we would be noticed at all.
Well, to cut a long story short, the Early Access launch went better than anybody on the team could've dreamed about (albeit we had low expectations!). We know there’s a long way to go with this game, but thanks to all the players who took a chance on the game already, we’ll soon be able to dedicate more time and money to making Atomic Society than we’ve ever been able to do so before. We can now consider going part-time with our day jobs and afford all the essential things we need to finish the game.
The Build Up
Launching this game on Early Access was probably the most stressful moment of my entire life.
The stress really began a few days before. Putting the final touches to the launch trailer, then endless hours writing emails to press, while working late into the night doing the final testing took a heavy toll as I knew it would. The last improvement to the game (a fix by Nick that improved save game times over 90%) went into the game at 3am on launch day. After that we couldn’t physically do anything else. We just had to sit back and hope. If we’d missed something in that tired blur of work, our entire career might be sunk before it had started. At least that’s how it felt.
We had one sign of hope when Keralis made a positive video about the game before launch, and our wishlist numbers went up by about 4-5k (we were averaging about 100 new wishlists a week before then). Maybe things were going to be okay? It was really hard to tell what the word of mouth about the game would be.
After about 1 hour of sleep, the 3 of us gathered at my home for that clichéd indie dev team launch moment. It felt like we should be together. Unfortunately Adam (our second part-time coder) lives in the US, so he couldn’t join us but he was there in spirit. We ate pizza. We waited. We tried to make jokes. Nick coped with stress by falling asleep. Nani wanted to fight. I felt physically ill. With about 60 minutes to go, my heart rate was literally racing around 180bpm while I was just sitting down. We chose to launch at 4pm, which is when we felt America would be waking up - and because Nani had to work nights at her day job. After counting down the final seconds we hit the magic green button.
There is that weird period after launching. Everything goes silent and you’re just waiting for random internet people to either rant at you because it doesn’t work and/or they hate it… Or you find out it does work (for most people) and lots of people quite like what you’re doing. We were extremely relieved to be in the second camp and got to see our little game on the front page of Steam. Seeing a game you've made at home on a shoestring budget outsell Assassin's Creed even for a tiny moment in history was fun.
Extremely relieved probably doesn’t cut it. I’ve wanted to create games ever since I was a kid. It was the first proper career I ever went for as an adult. But things didn’t work out for me in the AAA business. I didn't want to make other people's games, and ended up drifting around in a dozen other blue collar jobs until I finally stumbled across the right opportunity and people to turn a game idea of mine into reality. It's been a rough road. However, seeing a childhood dream become reality this month with any degree of success feels like weight off my shoulders. I've finally proved to myself I can make an okay game (even in its present rough state) and maybe we’ll even be able to afford to keep doing this. It's really humbling. Life doesn't always work out this way.
It hasn't been easy or fast. Nobody recommends making a game like this as their first ever full software project. Experienced indie devs have warned us to stop on more than one occasion, but we wanted to make Atomic Society. So what else could we do?
The weeks after the launch were comparatively easy, but still tense and emotional. There was one surreal night to celebrate, but work had to go on. We really wanted to get a bug-fixing patch released within a week to show we take problems with the game seriously, and fortunately Nick was able to solve the last remaining serious glitches in that space of time and we've released our first small update already.
While that was going on, we had to work out if great launch week would translate into a sustainable income. Obviously the vast majority of sales come within the first week or 2. Afterwards the sales curve goes down and down and you just sit there hoping it’ll going to level out somewhere sustainable that you can get by on. So far I think we're going to manage, but we're not taking anything for granted.
And lastly, in the weeks after I launch, I had to face some personal challenges. Being a shy, overly people-pleasing kind of guy, I had to cope with a much, much bigger audience on Steam and the obvious fact not everybody can like the game. Most people are great even if they have big problems with AS, they want to help the game better and they phrase it that way. And some people just want to personally insult me and the game. Bad reviews happen, and rightly or wrongly I read them. If I’m feeling particularly masochistic, I even read the refund comments. I know this happens to every game, and I didn't expect our review score to be as high as it is, but I've had to stop being so sensitive.
I’m actually finding it therapeutic in a shock-therapy sort of way. I’m still anxious every single time I check our Steam discussion forum, and wince when I open certain threads, but it's getting easier each day. Maybe I'll finally get some thicker skin at long last!
And on the plus side, the community around the game continues to be really level-headed around the political/social side of AS. I thought I might have to be moderating comments, but people from all walks of life seem to be enjoying it for what it is and living out the post-apocalyptic fantasy.
New Content Progress
There has been so much feedback on the game since we launched that it took me weeks just to process it all and turn it into concrete steps we can work on. I still have hours and hours of YouTube footage to go through and study, but we’ll get there. It’s been eye-opening finding out what so many different types of people want, and I’m glad we’re on Early Access so we can do something about it.
The next content update is going to be a mixture of things. Some of it will be tweaking and adjusting things that players have (quite rightly) suggested and requested. And the rest will be adding in more of the features we really want to add to flesh out the experience.
Here’s some of the things that we’ve been working right now. Rest assured this is not the full list of what’s coming in the next update by a long shot, it’s just the things we’re working on over the last week as we put it together. We tend to release big, chunky updates that hopefully make it worthwhile for existing players to restart the game.
Unlimited Population & Respawning Loot Ruin
I guess the "story" of Atomic Society is about creating a little township and society that could be the seed of a new nation. Each update we make should increase the time it takes to get that little township going and make it a more epic journey. However, we understand there's still a lot of content missing, and some players just want to keep building and growing their town forever, so this week Adam has been working on making migration to your town essentially infinite. In the next update you'll be able to keep growing and build a town of 1000s if that's what you want. There will still be a "story" goal to get about 350 people and build that small settlement (and we'll expand the things you need to do to get there), but after that you can keep growing. Be warned though the game is not optimised yet and it is going to take a beefy PC to build a huge town with all those people in it!
Letting players build mega-towns obviously means changing how loot works in the game too, because right now each map only has so much salvage on it. Therefore Adam is also busy tweaking the ruins so they respawn with loot. We're balancing it so you’ll still have to venture deeper into the wasteland as the game goes by, but eventually the ruins nearest you will get their loot back. We’re also adding in a few extra ruins in spaces where we think players need to travel too far to get them.
We have some early plans for alternate ways to get salvage coming in future updates as well, but respawning loot is the first step.
This has been on our to-do list for ages and Nick is finally working on this. It’s just a cosmetic feature obviously but it should add some atmosphere to the game in the next update. Don’t worry, it will be optional. We’re going to let you pause the sun if you don’t like playing at night, or you want to freeze the game with a cool sunset, etc. It should be fun seeing the sun and shadows move around your town though.
Nick has just finished this feature in the past few days, and it will be included in the next update. It's one of those things we just ran out of time to put into the launch version. You’ll soon be able to assign anything to whatever you want. I’m hoping this will solve a few people’s issues with our own choice of controls.
Lots of UI Tweaks
Nani has been really busy this week tinkering with the UI. As people requested it, we have made the text size bigger throughout the game, making it more comfortable to read no matter what your monitor size, and various elements of the UI has been made more visually interesting and we’re rewording things that didn’t make sense. All these little changes add up. We know there's a lot of polish to add.
Every version we adjust and improve the balance of the game. So far medicine has been made stronger, as it didn’t last long enough, and some of the side-effects of picking certain laws (such as innocent execution) have been toned down. We have some new buildings in mind as well which will create new challenges.
As I mentioned there's a lot more planned for this update, and several more updates to come. We’ve been hearing a lot from players that they’d like to see the religion system in the game expanded, and they’d like the laws and social issues feature to be deepened as well. All I can say about this right now is we totally agree and we'll do what we can. We also hear you about the camera, and that you’d like more info on what your buildings are producing and doing and who’s working where, etc.
Expect this first major update to the game in December, in time for Christmas. I know that’s a 2 month wait since launch, but it takes 2 months to get in the big changes we really want to make and to give people a substantial leap forward in the game. I will be posting here in the meantime though so you can see how progress is continuing. If something happens and we can release it sooner, I'll obviously let people know.
Thanks again to those who decided to support development and offer their time to make a review, give feedback and constructive criticism. We have more enthusiasm and resources to make the game than we've ever had before, and we're going to keep pouring all the love and time we've got into expanding this game.
I'll be in touch, and if you want even more up to date news on development try our Discord or Twitter as I'm around there on a daily basis.
As I write this we’re just days away from Steam release. It’s a strange mood to be writing a dev blog in and there’s a lot to cover…
Final Release Date Confirmed - Monday 15th of October
After what seems like years of hard work (3 to be precise), we’re finally ready to share our little game with the audience on Steam. There’s no turning back now.
Atomic Society will be released on Steam Early Access on Monday the 15th of October.
After using such professional marketing techniques such as “what should we charge for it?” and “I don’t know, what would you pay for it?” we deduced it should cost $15, (or whatever Steam converts that to in your country). That’s the same price we’ve charged during the pre-alpha phase, and we feel comfortable with it for now. There won’t be a launch discount so feel free to buy it whenever you want to.
We've spent the last 3 long months adding in the last key features before Steam, and I like how it's turned out (after that horrible mid-version period where everything is broken and I want to cry). Every new version turns the game into something more people can enjoy, and let's us iron out some long-standing issues. The game is slowly becoming something you can sink your teeth into. I got to watch someone so hooked on it they stayed up until 3:30am playing it the other day, even with its Early Access glitches and missing features, so moments like that make all the hard work feel worthwhile.
We’ve delayed our Steam release about 8 times (literally) in order to add content and fix bugs, and at times that felt like insanity. It has especially felt like insanity since September 1st when we stopped all sales of our pre-alpha and therefore cut off our tiny income entirely in order to leave a clear gap. I don’t know if we might the right or wrong call on waiting so long, but I’m cool with making mistakes, and I’m happy with the current state of the game, so let's hope that pays us a few basic wages in our future!
Behold our shiny new gameplay trailer...
The last trailer I made for Atomic Society was about 18 months ago. The game has moved on a huge amount since then. I can barely watch the old one these days. I kept convincing myself to wait to remake it, because feature X was just around the corner, and making trailers is hard. Really hard. All the playing and recording hours and hours of footage to make a 90 second end result, and by the time you’ve got that 90 seconds, you so exhausted and blind to the whole thing you can’t even tell if it’s good or not. And it’s not exactly as if a town building game is visually grabbing or our graphics are anything stunning. However, enough whining, it's finished now.
There’s a shorter version on our Steam page. Wanted to keep it even briefer on there so people browsing their discovery queue get straight to the action, and I know from making past trailers most people give it 30 seconds tops before their mind is made up.
Steam Keys for Pre-Alpha Backers Now Available!
Pre-alpha players can add the game to their Steam library today.
I’m so glad this is done. There was always a gnawing fear at the back of my head that Valve might not give me all the Steam keys I needed to give to our pre-alpha players, and that would have put me in deep trouble. Just one of the fun aspects of being totally reliant on an anonymous corporation for your potential income.
But Valve (who have so far been great with us) fortunately had no problem with it, and I was able to dish out pre-alpha keys to everybody. If you bought the pre-alpha when we were selling it on our website, you can go and grab your key right now and add it to your Steam library already (even if you’re reading this before we officially launch). It won’t let you play it before launch, but it will be there in your library looking all pretty and starting with A so it’s near the top of your list.
Find out how to claim your Steam key here if you already bought the pre-alpha.
We’re finally out of the pre-alpha phase! It still hasn’t sunk in. Right now, at time of writing this, I simply do not believe that within a few days our game is going to be on Steam. I know anybody can get on Steam these days but I still have a vague nostalgia for old Steam from the days when I bought Half Life 2 in a shop and the assistant had to explain to me what an online activation was. We were even Greenlit (remember that?) I think they should bring back Greenlight. It got us our initial burst of attention from players and seeing your game climb the rankings of popularity was actually very useful info. Plus it saved us paying $100.
I've never sent out a press key to someone before.
In fact, that’s a mini-lie, I did actually send out 1 key to the Yogscast when they asked (because it’s the Yogscast and my mum probably knows who they are). But I took so long wondering whether or not it was morally right to send them a key that they got bored and bought the pre-alpha anyway. So I guess that worked out.
Now we’re finally hitting Early Access, I’m suddenly all about those streamers or Youtubers or whatever folks call them. I have emails going back to 2015 from random Youtubers that I am now facing the daunting task of actually replying to. I did reply quickly at the time, telling them “we’ll be in touch when we have more to show”. And that took… 3 years. So if you’re a streamer who contacted us over the last 3 years, rest assured I’m currently in the slow process of dusting off my emails (assuming your channel even exists anymore) so you might hear from us soon if we have codes to spare. Unfortunately we can’t send them to everybody who contacted us, but we'll do what we can.
Funnily enough the first ever streamer type person to contact in July 2015 was none other than Karak of Angry Centaur Gaming back before we was a big internet man. He was the first person to see the potential in our game even when it looked like a budget N64 title and for that he is awesome in my eyes. At the time, he said in this email that he had a channel with 50k subscribers to impress me. He now has 500k subscribers. Time moves on. Moves on so much he doesn’t even seem to cover obscure indie games anymore, so he won’t be interested in us. Progress!
What About the Game?!
I know this dev blog has focused mostly on business and marketing stuff so far because that’s where my brain is right now. I haven’t been this amped/scared/stressed since our wildly popular Kickstarter (look at those beautiful 175 backers – heroes all of them!). That’s after a rough month where all I’ve been thinking when it comes to the game is “why is this piece of crap so buggy?!” (it’s not anymore, thank you coders) or “This UI looks like arse!” (it’s not anymore, thank you artist).
However, there is actually a bit of game stuff to talk about. There has been some progress that wasn’t even in the most recent patch notes.
Terrain System Improved
This sounds like a boring change, but it’s possibly the most game-changing one out of everything in the latest update. We have finally solved a long-standing issue in the game that people couldn’t build structures close enough together. Check out old screenshots and you’ll see in some of them all the towns look a bit spread out. The days of spreading out are over!
We actually knew what the problem with this was for years (map resolution), but never got around to fixing it because building X isn’t close enough to building Y never seemed to be a small-fry problem. But I didn’t want to launch on Steam and face more people complaining about stuff we already know about, so fear of social pressure encouraged change. It should now be the case that you can build much, much more compact towns. This doesn’t sound like much, but in a game that revolves around placing buildings, anything that buffs the core game mechanic feels great. I’m extremely happy we could get this done in time.
Save Times Drastically Improved
Right now we are mere days away from release and Nick casually mentioned that he’s managed to improve saving times by over 90%. This is huge for us as saving and loading has always been a weak spot in our game and could take ages in the pre-alpha if you had a big town. In all honesty, adding saving and loading to the game was the closest we came to burn-out as a team, our darkest hour. For one reason or another, everything that could go wrong on that task did and it delayed everything by 5 whole months. It’s never been 100% since then, but Nick kept going and I think players are going to be a lot happier with it now.
Considering he only told me this was in game a few hours ago, I can’t say for certain it will be in there for day 1 of Early Access, as I shall now try to ruin his hard work by finding bugs with it, but it’s coming soon.
Mini Patch Notes 2.0
Here’s some of the things we added just in the last few weeks (including those I've already mentioned)…
Religion and Goals Working Mostly Well!
After stressful weeks of fixing bugs, last minute tweaks and general hoping that designs I made months ago would actually turn out okay in reality: Religion and Goals, Breeding and Sex Issues are now all finished and actually making me happy. The new Goals feature adds some much needed direction to the experience and also makes the game last much longer as you’re forced (assuming you follow the goals) to get into areas of the game you might have ignored before. Breeding is actually not that dramatic – in reality it's just more kids to die in your town – but it needed happening. Sexual issues are working well, as they make compelling moral decisions. And the religion feature is adding that extra layer to the game that I really hoped it would. There’s definitely more we can add to it in future updates, but just giving players that extra way to think about their society is nice.
At least I think so... I'm sure the Steam reviews will tell their own story in a few days!
Verge of Release And Feeling… Calm?
That was the original title of this paragraph when I started drafting this blog weeks ago. If you’d spoken to me 2-3 weeks ago, when the version felt like it was never going to get finished, I was feeling oddly chilled. “It’ll get done when it’s done”, and “we’ve been through worse”, etc. Now we’re days away from launch I am in that state of mind anybody’s who been to a job interview or driving test might be able to relate to. I’m confident, but I’m also bricking it. I’m insanely happy to have even made it this far, but also conscious if the game flops on Steam, my hopes of being a full-time game developer are going back on ice for a few years, or possibly permanently. Everybody on the team needs this game to sell, sometimes badly. And nobody has any idea what is going to sell. We have no idea what our financial future is.
The slightly comforting news is if 10% of the people who wishlisted us actually buy the game, we'll be doing okay. But will they? I have no idea how wishlist numbers are going to convert into sales.
I will reveal all in next month’s blog…
What About After Launch?
Atomic Society is not done, not by a long way. We waited 3 years so the base experience you'll get on Early Access is fun and worth the money, but there’s so much more we want to do with this game. We just love the setting and possibilities of it so much that I could work on it for years to come. But that depends on many things.
Rest assured even if the game sells 5 copies on Steam, we’re committed to this for at least another year of updates. We’d rather be a good looking unpopular corpse of a game than cut and run. People call me grim for saying this, but it’s still the truth that only the death of a team member could stop us from finishing this game. I have a feeling by the time it’s all over, we’ll have spent 5 years making Atomic Society in total. And 5 years to make a videogame you’re proud of, when you love games so much, is a worthy transaction of mortality in my view.
In next month’s blog then you’ll get to read my reflections on the Steam launch and what a terrible disaster/greatest moment of my working life that was, I’ll start discussing what changes are coming in the next big update. I’ll also probably confirm everybody on the team is still alive.
Stay tuned and from everybody on the team, we really hope you enjoy playing the game when it hits Early Access on Monday the 15th.
Here goes nothing...
The Road to Release
Every month we release a personal and honest look at the making of Atomic Society.