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.