Back On Track
After a very rough start to the year, full of illness and delays, things have got a bit better lately since we released patch 18.104.22.168 last month. We still aren’t at 100% speed but we’re making slow and steady progress. A new patch is already well underway as this dev blog will show.
The crisis earlier in the year was terrible at the time. I even begun to wonder if we could finish the game. We couldn’t do anything except wait. However, in the long run, this proved to a great thing for me, personally. I finally overcame my fears of delays and the public... Because we were stuffed. Sometimes when you hit rock bottom its easier than trying to keep afloat. You realise nothing that bad actually happened. It is only a video game after all.
I’ve been able to relax and enjoy making the game without worrying about the business aspects since then. If it stresses me out, I don’t do it. A lot of our success is down to good fortune. I’m not going to risk my health and sanity over making a game (or money).
If we ever make a game afterwards, I hope I shall be a lot more chilled about it. This has meant withdrawing a bit, ignoring social media, and gaming news but peace of heart is priceless. Things work out.
I’m really happy how the team handled the delays. We’re doing this for the fun of it mostly (any minimum wage day job would pay better) and everybody stuck together and supported each other during the delays even though things looked uncertain occasionally. Some of us didn’t even know each other before starting this game (we’ve still never met the whole team in person) but there’s a team spirit and faith in the project that keeps us going. I don’t think there’s ever been a day of drama team-wise since we started.
It’s good to be making games and realising that all that nonsense people say about the business side of things really doesn’t matter, provided you’re not in it to get rich.
The next update to the game is going to bring a heap of new features. We haven’t been able to really deepen the city-building side of the game for a while but we can finally get around to it now. Here’s some of the things we are working on right now, which will be coming in the next patch.
Wind Turbine & Electricity
This is now already in the game and working (on our end). The new turbine building will be one of the most advanced things you can build. It will charge up batteries that can be used to supply power to your buildings. (The building model is still being worked on).
It’s up to you what building to give power to, one by one. Each building now has an upgrade. We’re in the process of adding in lots of them. Each upgrade costs a battery. Batteries might be hard to come by and charge (we’ll see when I balance it) so you’ll have to pick carefully. Generally the game will be a bit harder at the start until you upgrade.
Restoring power to your shanty town is a sign it is becoming more advanced, more like how life was before the war.
The upgrades for each building vary, but there are some player requested ones like bigger storehouse capacity, longer repair duration, and scavengers will get a boost that makes them less likely to die in the middle of nowhere.
This is related to the wind turbine. When you upgrade a building, a light will appear on it. This lets you know it’s got power but it also makes your town look really cool when it gets dark outside (using the day/night feature from last version). By the end of the game most of your town could be lit up, showing how you’ve restored civilization.
Adam has been really busy holding the fort lately through the sickness we’ve suffered and I’m really happy to say he’s added another new building this version.
You can now invite an independent trader to come and live in your town by building a certain structure. This will unlock the barter system. Essentially you trade what you have an excess of for whatever you need. No more having to destroy goods!
This is balanced at the moment so that it’s a last resort because the trader will rip you off, but if you can’t face another salvage trip, or you want medicine in a hurry, this is one way to get it.
(The UI is still a work in progress and will be prettier!)
Nick has been busy redoing the camera system in this version. Hopefully this is the last thing we need to fix up as we’d much rather make new content, but the camera was really cranky.
He has made it practically impossible to get stuck in scenery now and has smoothed it out so it feels a lot nicer even if your PC is chugging a lot with the game.
In addition to that, we have added in some player requests like edge-scrolling and sensitivity options.
Work in Progress Buildings
The above is stuff we’ve added in the last few weeks but there’s a lot more I’d like to put in this patch content-wise. Nani has been busy making models...
This picture above shows the in-development Water Boiling Facility, Courthouse and Refrigeration Unit buildings. All 3 should hopefully be coming to the next version. I’ll explain more about their use in the next blog. Certain buildings (like the fridge) will need electricity to even work. (We’re still working on the models.)
Other Plans For This Version
Depending how things go, we also have plans to introduce a basic research system so you can unlock buildings, which will add some extra planning to the game.
We also are going to slightly complicate the resources so that more advanced buildings need more advanced materials, which requires some processing. It won’t be anything that complex but just an extra element of strategy.
It’d be nice to also add in another social issue to deal with.
I’ve heard players’ request a nice, big flat-map to play on so we might add that in as well (we actually use one for testing so could just add it!)
We are still recovering a bit with doctors and medical problems to deal with but my goal would be to get this version out over the summer. I really don’t have a firm plan for it yet. When it’s ready, it’ll be out and I will try to keep people informed via blogs. There’s a lot of content like this coming to the game. Nothing amazingly game-changing but just more and more to do.
The best way to reach me is on our Discord server. I generally check it each day.
Thanks To Our Players
I just want to say an extra thanks to all the players and supporters of the game who left us a nice message or a word of support during the delay. The vast majority of people on Steam are actually very cool and really get what the game is about. That aspect didn’t change when we stopped being a pre-alpha. Players do have a role to play in helping get a game out and knowing the audience was behind us certainly sped up the recovery process. Thank you from everybody on the team!
I will see you in the next blog, whenever that might be.
Welcome to the first dev blog of 2019, which will look at what’s in next store for Atomic Society, and how things are going on behind-the-scenes as we make the slow journey through Early Access.
What's Up Next?
Right now we are hard at work on another little content patch for the game. It's going quite well and I guess it's about 2-3 weeks away from being released.
Update 4 will bring a couple of features we didn't have time to finish before the Christmas break, including an (optional) day/night cycle feature, which makes the game world feel more alive and realistic, and the much-requested employee priority panel - so you can decide for yourself what buildings get staffed ahead of the others - and a bunch of other tweaks and bug fixes that players have told us about (thanks to all our volunteer bug reporters!) It's another small step forward for the game.
After that we plan to dig in and start making some really big changes...
Picking Goals For 2019
One problem was working out what those big changes should be.
We're not short of ideas. We have at least 300 of them sitting in our database, waiting until we have time to work on them. And that's not including the suggestions players give us. We could just keep adding them and it would improve the game, but it wouldn't go far enough. It would pad out the game, but it wouldn't fix it. We need to go deeper...
I have spent the last 2 weeks just studying game design again. It's not a topic you can stop learning about. It's why this blog is late. I've actually had re-write this whole thing as I keep learning new things.
Sometimes my brain decides it's ready to level up and I have these learning phases. We've never made a game before, and what you're seeing or playing is the product of gut instinct. Occasionally, I have to retreat and do some homework. This usually involves taking great games and pulling them apart to see how they work, writing down what I've learnt, and then starting all over because the learning doesn't stop.
Fortunately, I think see what the problem is now and it is treatable...
It's the Economy, Stupid
I know Atomic Society isn't deep enough, and adding more stuff isn't going to fix it.
The problem lies within the 3 pillars of the game aka the gameplay loop. I've really neglected one aspect of it, which is the resource-gathering side (the others being keeping people alive, and keeping your town running efficiently). For example, we have about 10 buildings that involve keeping people alive and happy. We have... 1 resource building (scavenger's hut). Oops.
Realising things like this slaps you in the face, and you wonder how you never noticed it before, but that's what learning on the job is like. Sometimes you feel pretty dumb, but it's rewarding at the same time, gaining expertise.
So, for the time being (or until I make more discoveries) our plan is to get the next little patch I mentioned already out (hopefully this month), and then go away and make a considerably larger patch that will expand and improve the resource production/gathering branch of the game. It would also be a fine time to introduce the barter/trade system I've been thinking of.
Hopefully a patch solely devoted to the resource aspect of the game will make it a lot more fun. There's only one way to find out...
I've still got so much to learn and time is always against us. We'll do what we can to make this game a lot better by the end of 2019. It's a relief to me anybody likes what we've made so far. I just tend to see the flaws and get depressed. Onwards and upwards!
3 months Since Launch
It's been (almost) 3 months since I pressed the big green button and found out if there's anybody in the world who wants to buy our unfinished game. It then took us another month to get paid. That was a nice day. We did well for a bunch of first-timers and for the first time, we can actually pay ourselves on a regular basis. I still don't think anybody on the team has absorbed the fact we're getting paid to make games until the money runs out. We've been doing this as a glorified hobby for so long that it won't sink in. I keep expecting to find out it's all been a practical joke.
Earning some money forced us to do some basic chores, which slowed us down a bit in December. For example, Nick desperately needed new hardware, and Nani had to handle a lot of boring paperwork that goes with running a company while not being arrested.
Still, we managed to put out a patch before Christmas, and I can't even remember what was in it now it feels so long ago (the patch notes are here ).
Then we took a break for Christmas, which was nice, because we could actually afford to survive Christmas this year. And now we're back at work again, like nothing's changed.
I don't feel a professional game developer, even though I guess I am now. I literally have my dream job, but everything is the same. I still kept my day job as a janitor because surviving off Steam sales is scary. The money train could stop at any time. We do have enough money to finish the game now though. Work-wise things are just going to be the same as they were, but with less fear and stress. I'm very grateful, it just all feels like a dream still, and ultimately the only thing that matters to me is making a game I'm proud of.
First Steam Sale
Speaking of money, we decided to try our first Steam sale over Christmas. We weren't sure about doing it. It felt a bit soon, but we had to find out if they're as good as people say. I can confirm they are. Our sales went up a lot and I discovered a ton of people buy games on Christmas Day, which is funny because that's exactly what I do as a treat to myself. We will probably do little discounts during the big sale events from now on if people are waiting. I don't want to go and do big discounts now until the game is finished. We still have a long way to go.
Other Plans for 2019
I've already mentioned the core focus of improving the resource side of the game. There needs to be a resource production flow before you can build and expand your town.
After that it's hard to say because the game will be different in 3-4 months and I'll have to review our plans then.
Some things are guaranteed. There will always be be bug-fixes coming. We could spend months just fixing bugs.
We also definitely need to translate the game, or at least enable people to translate it for us (depending on what we can afford). We have started preparing for this at least. We have to move every single piece of text into the game online so it can be edited easily and then downloaded back into the game, which is boring work but almost done now.
My concern is that we're still in Early Access and the text in the game is changing all the time. So a translation will be out of date all the time. We'll figure something out. I'm sorry it can't be sooner but we will get there one day.
Apart from that, as I mentioned we have 300+ ideas to review. That sounds like a lot, but 90% of them are probably awful. In terms of big changes I've started thinking about a campaign mode to go along with the sandbox mode we have currently. I'd like there to be a little mini-story on each map with some moral dilemmas. That won't be for a while though, if at all.
Looking Back At Crazy 2018
Beginning a new year is also a time to look back at the last one.
First up, I just want to thank everybody who decided to buy our game. I'll probably never get to meet anybody who's actually bought our game but I don't take it for granted. Every sale is a surprise.
I have no regrets about last year, thank God. We had to get on Steam because we were going mad just thinking about it. If releasing a game is like giving birth, we'd been pregnant for over 2 years. It needed to come out.
I think we did quite well with our Steam launch considering marketing is evil voodoo. We don't have any marketing budget or knowledge, but YouTube took care of everything. There were enough big, positive YouTube videos of the game and that is, apparently, all you need.
Being on Steam has not been much fun for someone like me with really thin skin and a hobby for worrying about things that don't matter. I knew it was going to be tough. I don't really have a solution for it except ignore it all, and if you feel brave, visit the forums. Maybe that's the best outcome. Would I be happier if more people like the game? I don't think so. I'd be smugger. Make games because you love making games.
I am glad we didn't go with a publisher. Aside from the money involved, I don't think having a huge spotlight shining on an unfinished game is necessarily a good thing. We made the right choices, for us at least.
I'm okay with the time everything is taking because I know how hard it's been for the team at times. We are a bunch of oddballs and there is a reason Atomic Society is a game about persevering against the odds to create something that ends up looking like a shanty town. It will probably be a 5 year project by the time we're done (2 more than I planned) but making games is hard and running a company is quite hard too, especially when it started as a random post by me on Reddit asking if anybody knew how to code.
The thing I'm looking forward to now is finishing the game, which I'm hoping we can do by around this time next year, at least in terms of content. Polishing and bug-fixing will take longer no doubt. I have no plans beyond that except perhaps to apply the heaps and heaps of knowledge we've gained making this game to a new project. We'll have to see how it goes.
The nice thing is I love making games, more than ever. I love games more than ever. I always have this fear that I'll get bored of something and move on, but I never get bored of this. Even after all these years.
I'll do my best to make a new blog next month. The next update will come first.
Thanks for reading.
The Road to Release
Every month we release a personal and honest look at the making of Atomic Society.