Hey all, it’s been a couple months so I figured it was time again to let you know where we’re at with AtG.
Alpha testing started up in October and has already paid huge dividends. We have of course found many bugs and made innumerable small improvements, but the biggest benefit has been highlighting the important, high-level questions marks we still need to address.
The biggest hole we’ve identified relates to structure and goals. Most of the planned big gameplay features are in, but what does it all add up to while you’re playing? Sure, you can explore the map, survey and harvest resources, migrate from one place to another – but why? What the heck are we trying to do here anyways?
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Posted by Jon Shafer on December 2, 2013
Episode #56 is live!
Jon and Dirk are paid a return visit by first-ever TGDRT guest Rob Daviau to talk about ‘SeaFall’, his new exploration legacy tabletop game, Rob’s company ‘IronWall Games’, and his hopes for further innovation in the genre he helped create.
Whether the red light is blinking or offline, conversations with Rob are always highly entertaining and this was no exception. This was the first time Rob really talked about SeaFall, and I have no doubt it’ll be just as unique and groundbreaking as Risk: Legacy. Hopefully Dirk and I can get him to sneak us one of those test kits in the mail…
The only discussion point that made me raise my eyebrows is that Rob seems to be specifically targeting consistent, long-term playgroups. It’s great when you have a few friends who can meet up regularly, but most of my tabletop gaming is characterized by people coming and going, around some weeks and gone others (a sin I’m guilty of as well!). The legacy elements in Rob’s Risk adaptation are important without being dominating, but it seems SeaFall taking this road quite a bit further.
Rob noted he isn’t leaving these folks completely out in the cold, but at the end of the day you have to decide what your focus is and lean one way or the other. Perhaps that’s the luxury of being in the ‘hobby’ space rather than mainstream. Don’t get me wrong, I have no qualms at all with the direction – hell, the more unique the game the better! It’s just an interesting decision that caught my attention and thought was worth commenting on further.
So how about you? What do your tabletop groups usually look like? Does Rob’s approach offer exactly what you’re looking for, or have your experiences been more like my own?
Posted by Jon Shafer on December 2, 2013
Episode #55 is live!
Jon, Dirk and David share design concepts they find interesting and hope to incorporate into future (or simply hypothetical) projects. The group also digs into why developers are sometimes reluctant to share and discuss design ideas.
We covered a lot of different topics in this episode, but my favorite was probably the discussion we had near the end about secrecy. I’m (obviously) a big fan of sharing ideas and talking about what you’re working on, but even I have to admit there are some boundaries necessary to maintain in order to protect oneself. Any time there’s money to be made you’ll find some shady people along for the ride – just the way of the world.
Posted by Jon Shafer on November 26, 2013
Episode #54 is live!
Jon and Dirk meet up to play several tabletop games and discuss what works and what doesn’t. Included in the discussion are Ploy, Race for the Galaxy, and Hansa Teutonica.
Dirk and I decided to mix things up a bit this week and do a ‘livecast’ of some of the games we played over the weekend. We dissect the design of the games pretty extensively, so it’s more than just an after action report!
Posted by Jon Shafer on November 19, 2013
Episode #53 is live!
Jon and Dirk are paid a visit by regular guest Soren Johnson, who stops by to talk about his brand-new studio ‘Mohawk Games’ and their first project, ‘Mars’, an economic RTS built out of the legacy of Dani Bunten’s venerable M.U.L.E. They discuss the challenges of and goals behind Soren setting up his own shop, and what he hopes the unique game will achieve. Soren also reveals the first game to ever make him cry. And trust us, it’s fitting.
It’s a good time whenever we have Soren on, but it was especially great having him on to celebrate and discuss his leap into indie development.
Soren and I have quite a bit in common, and it should come as no surprise that our plans and goals are fairly similar. Still, we don’t see eye-to-eye on everything and spent part of this episode having a lively debate about the merits of Kickstarter VS Steam Early Access. Give it a listen!
Posted by Jon Shafer on November 11, 2013
Episode #52 is live!
Jon and Dirk are joined by David for the special 1-year anniversary show. They point the magnifying glass back at themselves in this episode and share their design processes, challenges they’ve overcome, the tools they use and how to build a good team. They wrap things up by talking about ways the show has given back and made them better game designers and developers.
Happy first birthday to The Game Design Round Table!
We decided to mix things up a little bit in this episode, and it was a great discussion. We didn’t discuss any specific games this time, and instead focused just on what it’s like to be a designer, at least from our perspective.
Posted by Jon Shafer on November 4, 2013
Episode #51 is live!
Jon and Dirk are joined by Brian Reynolds, designer of ‘Civilization 2’, ‘Alpha Centauri’, ‘Rise of Nations’ and more. They discuss Brian’s career as a designer, his approach, what makes ‘Alpha Centauri’ stand up so many years later, and Brian’s future projects.
Definitely one of my favorite episodes. Brian has been in this business as long as just about anyone, and his career spans an incredible number of genres and interesting projects. Given the unique place Alpha Centauri continues to hold in gaming history I really enjoyed the opportunity to grill Brian a bit on the choices that went into it. I hope you guys enjoy this one as much as me!
Posted by Jon Shafer on October 28, 2013
Episode #49 is live!
Jon, Dirk and David delve into the most effective ways of teaching both tabletop and digital games. What role do out-of-game video tutorials have to play? Can quick, throw-away demo games work? When is it okay NOT to teach features? And what is the perfect (possibly unattainable) approach for digital games?
Everyone is different and that means there will never be a silver bullet for ensuring players enjoy a game or can even figure out how to play it. But in this episode we covered a lot of good ground and noted some techniques that I really think can work.
One of those is an approach I’m taking in At the Gates: contextual help. The basic idea is that you have an AI running behind the scenes that knows when to provide advice. This is better than a tutorial because it’s well, actually fun. You’re playing the game as its meant to be played, rather than learning how to move the camera around.
The challenge is that this is a whole lot of work, and most developers don’t have either the time or the desire to invest what it takes. Dirk made a really good point during this episode, noting that bad instructions are usually worse than no instructions. A scary thought to be sure, but it helps reinforce the fact that this isn’t something you can just throw together at the last second.
Posted by Jon Shafer on October 14, 2013
Episode #48 is live!
Jon and Dirk are joined by Julian Gollop, designer of ‘X-COM: UFO Defense’ (aka ‘UFO: Enemy Unknown’) and a game development veteran with 30 years of experience. They discuss Julian’s distinguished career, how the design discipline is special and what made X-COM stand above so many games over the decades.
I was genuinely shocked that Julian had never made a podcast appearance before, but I certainly won’t complain about TGDRT being his first!
Julian is one of the very few people who has been in this business for over three decades. He’s certainly most well-known as the creator of X-COM, but that game is only a small slice of a very impressive career. Julian is an smart an insightful guy, and it really comes through in this interview. We can’t wait to have him back on again in the future!
Posted by Jon Shafer on October 9, 2013
The first playable alpha version of At the Gates is now available! For those of you who generously contributed $80 or more, a download link for the alpha version of AtG should be on your Humble Dashboard along with a complimentary Steam key.
If you haven’t used the Humble Dashboard before, just head over here to Humble’s Key Resender and enter the email address you have associated with your Kickstarter (or PayPal) account. This Dashboard is where new versions of the game will also be posted, so keep the address handy.
Didn’t pledge at the $80 tier, but all this talk of steamy, hot, barbaric, ‘frozen-and-crossable-rivers-in-the-winter’ strategic action just too much to resist? Well, no problem! You can still join in on the fun by pre-ordering the At the Gates Early Access Bundle.
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Posted by Jon Shafer on October 8, 2013