We made it. After months of hard work, the next big update for the pre-alpha is now available as we journey towards a Steam release in early 2018. Rest assured not a day goes by without something being added to the game, and a lot of progress has been made lately. We've finally got most of the technical problems sorted so from here on we can focus on more and more new cool gameplay and social challenges. 2018 is going to be a crazy year...
Version 0.0.8 Is Out Now (At Last!)
For those trying out the game before it hits Steam check your Humble Store downloads to try the latest pre-alpha version out. This update brings a ton of quality-of-life improvements and 2 new huge maps, a giant new tower block structure, a new way to handle ethical problems, tons of graphical tweaks and improvements, upgraded AI navigation and construction and we’ve also solved a ton of long-standing bugs too (but also added some new ones!). I really like the improvements to salvaging we’ve made as well.
We’re hoping people enjoy the latest update as we recover during the Christmas holidays. But in the New Year we’ll be straight back to work on the next (and final) update before Steam, which will greatly broaden the number of things you have to do.
Steam Release News
As you can probably guess, due to version 0.0.8 taking so long due to all the technical hassles of completely re-doing the pathfinding system in (more on that later), we’ve had to delay the Steam release until the first quarter of 2018.
I'm sure the delay will cause financial problems for us, but it’ll lead to bigger and better game and that’s all ultimately all the matters. Atomic Society is a labour of love and always has been.
The good news is we’re on the home straight now at last and I don’t think there will be any more tedious delays. There’s no more big technical hurdles we have left to do at last, so the next update can be 100% gameplay, which is very exciting for me (as a designer). The last version before Steam will layer in several new challenges that expand the game’s potential, including events that happen outside your town.
Ultimately I want you to be satisfied with Atomic Society's first Early Access version for what it is, rather than what it could become. And we’re getting to that point.
Last Chance to Have Your Name in the Game!
As the next version is indeed the last pre-alpha version before Steam, that means it’s also your last chance to try the game out early and receive the pre-alpha Special Edition rewards.
We will be removing the chance to add your names into the game and be in the credits after we launch on Early Access. Doing so will make the rewards more special for those who players who supported us when the game was a scrappy young pre-alpha and we really needed help. It’s our way of thanking those who could help us when we needed it most.
So, if you’re interested in that, feel free to check out the Special Edition before it’s gone for good!
Version 0.0.8 Was a Mistake?!
So, now all that’s said, let’s cover the last 2 months of hard work since I last wrote a blog (I know I skipped a month, overtime sucks!)
To be brutally honest, making 0.0.8 has felt at times like a mistake. I’ve had genuinely dark days where I regretted making the most recent version. Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted with how the update turned out, but a month ago I was thinking this might could be biggest mistake we’ve made as indie devs since starting the whole project.
The original plan for 0.0.8 was to smoothen out the game, especially the pathfinding that helps the AI decide how to move. It’s a simple thing but it affects everything and could make the game a lot more fun to play if we fixed it. If you rewind to August’s blog, you’ll see me reckoning all the next update would be pretty straightforward. After all, it would just be bug fixing, how bad could it be?!
Turns out the old adage of "make a time estimation and then double it" is still true. I estimated 2 months and 0.0.8 took us 4 months, which is a huge length of time to keep pre-alpha players waiting. 4 months redoing something that already worked (albeit badly)? I was really beginning to wonder if I’d made a huge mistake starting this version in the first place.
It all came down to the usual trade-off: want something done fast or right?
Because we’re indie we always have to pick cheap no matter what. We can’t afford to hire staff. That leaves us before the start of every major task having to decide whether to do it quickly and poorly, or well but slowly. Everything has a downside.
We generally prefer to do whatever is best for the game, not us, and therefore locked ourselves into a huge task.
I really don’t know how Nick handled it all. He has literally just spent the last quarter of 2017 redoing the pathfinding system, alongside the construction system and the animation system. Those are major components. All that working in relative isolation (we don’t have an office) with only his own wits to find the answers he needed, and working for little more than expenses. To do that and keep focused and calm with the rest of us (through illnesses and hassles of daily life) is a testament to his character.
The rest us were stuck asking “is it ready?” or “how much longer do you think it will take?” as summer turned to autumn and then to winter. It was growing harder and harder to keep the faith that making 0.0.8 was a productive use of our time. But we couldn’t go back, and we couldn’t go faster, so I had to battle my own personal anxiety and try not to wonder how much these delays would cost us.
Then last month Nick finally finished the massive upgrades and was able to share his labours. And my very first impression about the new systems for placing buildings, citizen animations, and pathfinding was...
... That all the hard work made the game "slightly better".
"Slightly better" for 3 months work did not feel great. I immediately blamed myself. On the surface would the player, would anybody, actually notice the changes?
To be honest, I'm still not sure, but at the time the main problem at the time was bugs. After he'd redone everything the game was unplayable. Everything was riddled with bugs, which is completely natural, but the game was running at under 10fps, the town leader moved at 900mph (which was kind of fun) and engineers were teleporting everywhere. And that's just the start of the massive bug heap. It’s almost impossible to see how good a change is when bits keep breaking like that.
It looked like being out by Christmas was going to be impossible then, as Nick would also have to fix all these bugs, but I just told myself we can’t do anything about it, and even if it makes the game 2% better it’s going to be worth it. We might never get to make a 2nd game. I told myself let’s make Atomic Society the best we can and stop worrying about a future that might never happen.
And slowly it all came together as Nick waded through the bugs, especially in the last couple of weeks. We had to pace ourselves to avoid burnout, and trust that resting would solve more than crunching, but that's easier said than done. But it worked and slowly his redo of the core systems could shine without all the glitches. Suddenly everything tied together and I could truly appreciate the upgrade had been worth it. Sometime has changed in the game and it just feel a lot more dynamic and playable. And boy, did I enjoy ticking off 15+ pathfinding bugs in one go!
Was it quite worth 4 months and a potential loss in sales and buzz around the game?
My answer is: who cares?
As For The Rest of Us?
While all that hard work was going on over the last 2 months, Adam (aka Mr American Coder) was pumping out all the little additions to 0.0.8. In fact the majority of all the new content in 0.0.8 was put together by him (he manages to do so much on the game despite a wife and kids and a full-time job on the side). He even kept patient with me as we tried implementing some new features like changing how you employ workers, and then changing it all back when I realised the new way I'd invented sucked.
And Nani (despite her full-time job too) was able to revisit all the different character models and basically turn them into "next-generation" versions without having any impact on performance. It’s astounding how she has self-taught herself the artistic and technical skill of 3D modelling without any lessons. Every new model she makes looks better than the last and I can truly say I’m happy with how the characters look at last. They have a good balance between realism and style. For a zero-budget indie game I’m happy.
As for me, the delays gave me a lot of time to really prototype ideas for later versions, which will really pay off in 2018. My own design process evolves each week. Plus I’m happy because the design decisions I made in 0.0.8 have worked out. It’s always a risk designing because you don’t know if you made a good or bad decision until you get to the final bug-free, working version. Only then do you experience it as a player will. Fortunately I’m really happy with how the game is coming together and I think I’m going to be proud of it when we hit Steam, no matter what the public thinks.
Most importantly, I’m enjoying playing the game more than ever. In fact I’m having a blast! I rarely ever enjoy anything I create, as - like a lot of creators - I focus on the flaws and imperfections more than the qualities, but I’m having genuine moral dilemmas and exciting challenges as I play despite knowing how everything works. The feelings I want Atomic Society to stir up in you are being stirred up in me, so something’s working.
Winner For Most Embarrassing Mistake So Far…
Alongside all the recent hassles with pathfinding, I discovered a very embarrassing mistake has been in the game for over 4 months!
A month ago you would've seen me scratching my head trying to understand a few German Let’s Plays videos of the game (we watch all videos of the game to see how people are liking it, even the ones I can’t understand!) and I kept thinking “why do the graphics look so bad for them and not for me?”
At first I assumed they were just playing the game on the lowest graphical setting, but it kept happening. I checked some older videos people had made, and they looked fine.
Then it dawned on me...
The graphics settings in the last version were broken ONLY for new players. So if you bought the pre-alpha between August and December for the first time, you were stuck on lowest graphics even though the options screen said you were on highest! Every new player and streamer was getting to see the game look at its absolute worst while thinking it was as good as the game could look. Talk about a marketing fail.
I guess the good news is people seem to enjoy the game despite it looking hideous! And thankfully that’s fixed now, for new and old customers alike, so enjoy the free graphical upgrade!
(Shout out to a player called Vyllan who also helped us track this down just by posting screenshots of his town that made me realise something was seriously up.)
Mega-Business Mode Activated
For those who want the truly nitty-gritty of making indie games, this was the month we truly entered the dark side of development and hired an accountant. Turns out there’s a heck of a lot tax paperwork and bureaucracy that goes along with running a company and selling a product, even if you’re only earning enough to cover expenses.
In the UK, 20% of all the profit we earn on Atomic Society has to be paid in tax (and this after Humble take off sales tax and their share of each copy sold... And then the bank takes its share for transferring the money from dollars… I think by the end of it all we get slightly less than half the money you pay for your copy of Atomic Society). All that has to be recorded, and tax reports have to be worked out and filed. We’ve got to work out what is profit and what is a valid expense. And how to pay ourselves dividends. And keep it all in neat and tidy records so the taxman doesn't kick down the door holding a flamethrower.
Until November, Nani took all this and did an amazing job of it considered accountancy isn't usually in the job description for a 3D artist, but it was getting riskier and riskier to carry on without some form of outside help.
So we had to take some time off working on the game to find an accountant we could trust. The image of 3 clueless scraggy game developers trying to think of smart questions to ask a boardroom of accountants in a formal office will stick with me, but it worked out and it’s very nice to have someone handling all that stuff now, (and not as expensive as you might think.)
Another Year of Game Development Comes to an End
So here we are. This time 12 months ago we had just released 0.0.5, the very first version of the game to have saving and loading. It’s been a hectic year, from our first ever sales spike when a random famous Youtuber decided out of nowhere to stream our game, to meetings with game publishers and making big decisions on whether or not to work with them (we chose to say no and remain independent), to a ridiculous amount of work in 3 giant versions. It was the year Atomic Society became a game for the first time. 2018 should be the year it becomes what it is meant to be.
There have been bleak moments. Things taking twice as long to do as we wanted takes a toll on the business and our mental health, and public attention (and how it ebbs and flows) has its downsides and stresses. And we're not quite as unique as we were 12 months ago. But that’s business.
But we still love working on the game, and working with each other, and the worst that can happen is we're poor. This Christmas we'll be meeting up at my place to celebrate 0.0.8 being released (and probably curse over 2-player Cuphead). We’re still a team that can work hard, get on each other’s nerves, and then volunteer to spend even more time together hanging out together. Which is more than money can buy.
And as for 2018? In January we start having fun making 0.0.9, and then Steam in early Spring, almost 2 years to the date after we were Greenlit (back when that was a thing on Steam!).
What will that experience be like? Will it make us (relatively) rich or will we flop? Will the wider world enjoy the game or get bored of it in a few hours. I try to ignore those thoughts and focus on Atomic Society becoming the game we all wanted to make slowly but surely.
I hope all of you who managed to read this far have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I'll be back in January.