Here’s a look at what we’ve been working on for the next big update. Sorry it’s been a little quiet around here since we released the last patch. We’ve just been quietly working away on the new version and not paying much attention to the outside world or social media, but everything is going pretty well (if slowly) on the team.
I’m always around on our Discord server if you want to ask me something about the game or development, or you can email us if you have any problems/questions.
New Buildings In the Works
At the moment we're working on more new buildings to add to your towns. Nani (artist) has made models for the new Courthouse and Canteen structures while Adam (coder) makes them work. The new Courthouse structure will let you deal with the negative side-effects of setting laws (like innocent people being educated) and the Canteen is a building that can improve the quality of the food and drink your settlement produces. It needs supplies of lumber to keep the stoves burning. The Canteen and Courthouse have been on the to-do list of potential buildings to add for years, so I’m glad to finally see them in the game.
We’re also working on a building to upgrade your morale structures. It was a little challenging trying to think of a single building that can upgrade a theatre, a tavern and a chapel, but in the end we've gone for a Brewhouse type building where homemade “wine” can be made and then delivered to these structures so they work more effectively (I’ll word the text so you can imagine it’s non-alcoholic if your town's religion doesn’t allow booze!)
I don’t think any of these buildings are particularly drop-dead exciting, but they do add a bit of extra depth and some end-game structures to think about. The goal is for everything to have a way to be upgraded.
New Social Issues
We're overdue to add some new social issues so we intend to add at least a couple more to the next update. Social issues are probably the most fun thing to design for me. It’s more interesting working out how a citizen should morally behave than how a well makes water, for example. We have 3 new social issues in the works at the moment: prostitution, capitalism and patriotism. I won’t go into too much depth about how these actually affect your town yet (as the coding hasn’t started), but citizens will eventually be engaging in those 3 activities and you can encourage or discourage them in the usual manner.
Steam achievements should be coming to the next update too. None of us have ever made a game before, so we had to do some homework on how these work first, but we've got them up and running now. It turns out to be pretty simple, when you know what you’re doing, it’s just a bit tedious inserting all the triggers for them. We have a long list of achievement ideas going right back to the start of the project. I hope we can at least get 5-10 in the next update. I’m not a big fan of achievements myself, but I think they’re good at helping players learn the features of the game, and encouraging them to play in a certain way.
We’re presently upgrading the intelligence of our citizens (yet again) so they stop taking bizarre routes. This seems to be a never-ending job in a game like this. It came up again when Nick (main coder) started trying to fix a single pathfinding bug and then discovered the cause of that bug would be having an effect on the whole game, so he’s now spending weeks redoing the navigation stuff. There’s always things to redo if you scratch the surface of this game. I dislike redoing stuff of course, but this should fix many quirks with citizens taking weird paths, so it’s got to be done, even though it will delay the version. Basically, until now, our landscapes have been automatically “scanned” for the AI, which defines which bits of the map are walkable and which aren’t. Unfortunately this automatic scanning led to less than perfect results, and was making citizens think they couldn’t go a certain way. To solve this, Nick now has to manually “paint” all the walkable areas onto all 9 maps, which is dull work, but it will ensure accurate data for the AI. I once again understand now why so many city-builder games use flat maps now…
Other Things We're Working On...
All of the stuff I've mentioned is keeping us pretty busy with the game at the moment (along with some extra bug fixes or bits of polish that are too dull to go into here), but there’s still more we'd like to add if we have time.
I'm probably being optimistic, but I hope this next update will more or less round-off the Early Access version of the game in terms of content, and then everything after that can just be polish and refinement. Who knows if it will work out that way, but that’s the plan. We have to think quite far ahead on this game as things take ages to make. This update alone might take us until Christmas to finish if I'm being realistic.
In order to make the game feel “content complete” I’d like to come up with some kind of ending to the story element of the game (the tale of you leaving a bunker to recreate society), even though the game is endless. I have some ideas about you building a radio tower to contact the bunker and tell them your mission is complete when you’ve finished the goals, but it doesn’t seem to be exciting so far. We’ll see.
A lot of people will probably be pleased to hear we are also (at long last) investigating adding paths to the game, e.g. seeing trails form where citizens walk most frequently that gives them some kind of speed boost. A few indie games have used this system lately and given how awkward and uneven our landscapes are, it’s the only way we can add paths to the game. We’re just playing around with it for now, looking for something that works and looks good.
Lastly, Nani is adding some more decorative buildings to the game (ornamental stuff) so if you have any ideas for an ornamental/decorative building you think would be fun to put around your town, let me know!
Behind the Scenes Views
I always like to include a bit in these dev blogs about the process of actually making a game, as this is our first ever game and we're making it up as we go along. It’s interesting to document that process (for some). These are just my personal views and don't necessarily reflect anybody else on the team.
It’s now been 1 year since we launched on Early Access, and we’re still here, still (slowly) making updates and things haven’t really changed a great deal in that time, although I’ve changed a bit as a person. I care a lot less about being a success, and “making it” and what we sell, and things like that.
Launching on Early Access last year was just so stressful for me that it probably broke something in me, and I think that’s good. I now feel too old (or frail) for that level of hype and intensity. Nowadays I’d rather just look after my mental well-being, even if means potentially losing popularity and money.
I’ve pretty much given up on things like the Steam forums, comments, and Twitter, etc. I just can’t face them anymore though I wish I could. I don’t know what the review rating is for our game. I don’t even check our sales (though others on the team do, so I can’t ignore it totally). I’m trying to live more in the present moment and see if you can live life just taking it one step at a time, avoiding stress. So far, it seems you can.
Sales seem to tick on by no matter what I do, or don't do. They were getting pretty low (as I was informed), but now they’re back up since the last update. I’m still working as a part-time janitor though. On bad days I’ve thought of chucking that job in, but I know the money from Steam will stop one day, so I keep it. It helps that we’ve all been broke for years, so any kind of extra income feels generous. But I would just like to let people know that ignoring the outside world while making an indie game is doable in my experience. For people who hate marketing, as long as your game is interesting enough to attract YouTubers occasionally, you’ll probably be okay, even if you live under a rock by choice. I just generally don’t think the internet is a very healthy place for humans to interact and though we have some really lovely fans of this game, and people who make great suggestions, I struggle to interact with them online.
Because I live under a rock with pretty much everything, it was a total surprise to me when someone told me a big developer (the people who make Tropico games I think) went and released an Early Access post-apocalyptic city-builder that probably overshadows ours in many ways. If I had heard this a year ago, I probably would’ve fainted with anxiety, but nowadays I really don’t mind, which is much nicer. I went through all this stress when Frostpunk was announced so I’m over it now. Our sales didn’t change when Frostpunk came out, and they’ve gone up slightly when this new game came out (possibly unrelated). They are what they are.
I can’t really speak for how the rest of our tiny team is feeling, as I’d just imprint my feelings onto them, but if I had to guess I’d perhaps say people feel like they're at the end of a marathon. We've all been making this game for about 4.5 years now now, and though it’s been a real blessing, fun and profitable, I think we’re ready to wrap this baby up and apply what we've learnt to something even better. But there’s definitely a lot more to add to Atomic Society we can move on with a clean conscience, so we keep working and will do so until we've made the best game we know how to/can afford to.
Ideally, by summer 2020, I’d like to be working on something new (while maintaining support for AS) but that’s just a possibility. If I want to live in the present moment, I can’t think that far ahead. We'll see how things pan out.
Thanks for reading and I'll keep you informed when this big new update is closer to completion.