December 2013 AtG Update: Economics

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?

This is a challenge designers face with every complex empire builder, but it’s particularly acute with AtG right now. One reason for this is that true diplomacy has yet to be implemented. Our intention is for the AI leaders to help steer the experience through their demands, requests and general opportunities offered.

The Romans especially have an important job in the early game, as they’re basically the ‘neighborhood bully’ you can either line up behind or defy. Their role changes over time as a variety of nasty events like plagues and civil wars afflict them (but not you!), presenting enterprising barbarian leaders with the occasional chance to flip the balance of power.

Our offensive along this front began a few weeks ago, but there’s still a long way to go. We’ve also made a number of other big changes, which I’ll go over in detail.

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Recent Changes

Another issue relating to early game pacing involved migration. In early versions your starting location was fairly cozy and self-sustaining, which meant there was very little reason to move – and when you did it was easier to just spin off small colonies than completely pack up. We’ve made a number of modifications to address this.

Starting locations are no longer quite so hospitable. You start with a sufficient stockpile to keep your head above water for a couple years, but you now need to start thinking about finding a new place to live right away. This provides a clear goal from turn 1 that the game was previously lacking.

There have also been some tweaks to the economic system. Resources like Metal and Wood are still vital for building Improvements and Units, but maintenance is now paid only in Wealth. Food now serves as a cap on the number and size of Cities that can be supported, and is no longer required by Units. This smooths out some of the unnecessarily complicated wrinkles in the economic system by clarifying the role of each resource without making any of them less important.

Borders are another recent addition, and one that really changes the feel of the game. (You can see our temporary placeholder art in the two screenshots I’ve attached to this update) Improvements now need to be inside your borders to produce anything, but the high food cost of Settlements discourages them from being spammed everywhere. There is now an interesting tension between having enough Settlements to collect resources, but not so many that you can’t feed everyone.

Borders also add some clarity to diplomacy. I wanted each kingdom’s area of control to feel ‘fuzzy’, as this is how it was historically during this time, but gameplay has to win out over realism. You have to know how close is too close, because negotiating with computer opponents is just plain frustrating it’s not clear what they want.

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Roadmap

So what’s next?

No surprise, our #1 priority in the coming months is diplomacy. Not only is it important in defining the feel and pacing of the game, but getting it right will also take a significant amount of playtesting and iteration. Hand-in-hand are the still-WIP Romanization Perks, which are earned by working with or fighting against the Romans – and if there are no requests to complete for them then it’s going to be awful hard to acquire Perks! Once a first pass on these two features are in we’ll have a good idea as to the form the final version of the game will take.

Once interaction with other leaders is knocked out we’ll be shifting focus to smaller gameplay features that have been on the list for a while: steel upgrades for Units, the valuable Salt resource (which acts like both Food and Wealth), migratory animals, etc. Finally, we’ll wrap up the big stuff with important-but-peripheral features like faction abilities and victory conditions.

In the first few months of 2014 we’ll open the game up to beta testing and shift over to ‘tweak and polish’ mode – where we’ll remain for a loooong time. I’ve noted in both the original Kickstarter pitch and subsequent updates that the goal with AtG is not just to make a strategy game that not only breaks new ground but also one that is polished at release. This recipe calls for one key ingredient which has no substitute: time.

AtG could be released as originally planned in mid-2014 as a ‘good’ game. But would it be one of the best strategy games ever? Probably not. As such, I’ve made the decision to push back AtG’s release until 2015.

I know this is disappointing news, but at the end of the day what we all want is a great game, and our team is willing to stick with AtG as long as it takes to get there. This kind of flexibility is only possible because our funding comes from your generosity, and while painful in the short term it will no doubt pay off over the long term. I think I speak for everyone in saying that what we want is an amazing game, even if it means a longer wait.

Thanks again for your support and patience. As always, don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions!

- Jon

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6 Comments

  1. why barbs kept moving westwards is a pressure from other barb tribes coming from the east. if a tribe didn’t move it risked to be wiped in endless wars for territory with its neighbors. so they were moving to the west crossing the border of the Roman empire, to start a war with Rome or become ‘federates’. Also their economy suited well this process. Germanic tribes practiced slash-and-burn agriculture and cattle breeding, staying at one place for only a year or a couple of years and then moving the whole settlement to a new site. And the Huns were nomads, very mobile.

    This could be a game mechanic – new tribes come from the east forcing the player to move westwards. Also building a farm at a new place resulting in increased yields for a first year.

    p.s. I like the graphics, very pleasant artistic style and colors

    Reply
    • crop rotation could be one of the romanization perks

      Reply
    • Good suggestions, thanks Peter!

      There will definitely be pressure from other barbarians trying to move into your lands. I don’t want this to dominate the game though, as we want the experience to still feel like running a kingdom rather than being constantly on the run from powerful enemies.

      And crop rotation is definitely a perk I was thinking of including! Not sure what it would do yet, but it’ll improve Farms in some way.

      – Jon

      Reply
      • moving to the west may be only the first stage of the game. then you get to the roman lands and establish a kingdom there. why to move – pressure from other tribes, slash-and-burn agriculture, possibilities of interaction with romans – loot, rewards for service, christianization. also usefulness of romans may decrease with time as their empire decays.

        about slash-and-burn (default) agriculture, farms if built on a forest tile may give much food for the next year but quite poor yields later, plus there may be a chanse of soil erosion (turning grassland into plains?) leading to a further yield reduction. With crop rotation farms may give a little better yield and have no erosion chanse.

        Reply
        • as on the first screenshot, grassland tiles with no marsh may be rare, and marsh be difficult to remove, so it would be more efficient to move to a new place rather than removing marsh after all of the few nearby grassland tiles had degraded. and crop rotation may improve soil turning plains into grassland so once you get this perk from romans it becomes a good idea to settle somewhere and start to build your kingdom.

  1. February 2014 AtG Update: Art | Jon Shafer on Design

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