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.
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.
The Road to Release
Every month we release a personal and honest look at the making of Atomic Society.