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.