A few months ago I hinted at the possibility of some big changes – well, said “possibility” has turned into reality, which means some exciting new features to talk about. But before getting into the details I think it’s best to explain why we have “big changes” to talk about at all.
Iterative Design – Not Just a Buzzword!
I’m sure some of you are thinking “What do you mean ‘big changes’? Wasn’t the game supposed to be done by now? Has AtG succumbed to feature creep? Has Conifer run out of money? Do you guys have any idea what you’re doing?”
Given the state of Kickstarter these days I begrudge no one for having perfectly-justified concerns of this sort (hell, I’m in the same boat with quite a few still-unreleased projects I’ve been looking forward to!). Thankfully, I can state with zero reservations whatsoever that AtG is in great shape. There are no gaping holes in the gameplay that may or may not ever get filled, nor dark clouds portending a studio closure looming over the horizon. The game is fun, all features are at least roughed in and we still have plenty of money (mmm, ramen…).
Make no mistake, we’re going to overshoot the projected release date I came up with back in late 2012 by a pretty healthy margin, but I’ve never by shy about the fact that our one and only priority is delivering a great game – regardless of how long that takes. I know I sound like a broken record here, but that truly is Conifer’s “mission statement”. No one remembers when a game is late, but no one forgets when a game is bad!
Okay, okay, let’s all assume that AtG is in fact as amazing as I say – why are we making “big changes”? And how do we know the game actually is in good shape? The answer to both of these questions is simple: external feedback.
As one might expect from such a mature and supportive community, a number of amazing playtesters have stepped forward as huge contributors to AtG’s development. Not only have these individuals provided great insight and suggestions, but they’ve also provided honest assessments about the state of the game. I really do appreciate constructive criticism, and the AtG Test Group has certainly delivered on that front.
A few months ago and back before the “big changes” much of the feedback we were getting could be summed up as: “The game is good… but it feels like something is missing.” After journeying to a mountaintop and meditating in raging blizzards for a couple weeks I returned to my desk having come to the conclusion that they were right.
Posted by Jon Shafer on September 15, 2014
Alright, let’s talk about what this milestone means for the game itself!
Seasons & Map Generation
This was actually a bit of a detour from the original plan, but I had long known serious work was needed here, and the map is so crucial to everything else that I decided to bite the bullet.
The old system for creating and managing the seasons was extremely primitive – and it showed. Climate zones were assigned in thick bands based on latitude, with small modifications made near mountains. Randomness was leaned on heavily in an attempt to add some fuzziness. In the end, rather than getting large cold fronts advancing from the north you were instead treated to obvious and unrealistic stripes, with the occasional snow tile peppered here and there.
Climate and terrain is closely linked, so when I decided to redo the former I felt it best to step back and add map generation to the task. What we want are believable maps that contain regions with strong character, but the old logic could do little more than produce an even mix of terrain across the entire map. I decided to basically burn everything to the ground and start over.
Posted by Jon Shafer on June 4, 2014
I’m excited to announce that as of today At The Gates is now in Alpha II! Hooray!
So, uh… what the heck is “Alpha II”, anyway?
“Alpha II” is the new name for the milestone we had been calling “Beta” for the past 15 months. So why the switch?
When most people hear that a product is in “beta” their immediate expectation is that it’s, you know, almost done. AtG is coming together, but with over a year of development left it would be unfair to set the bar quite that high. Calling it “beta” has lead to some confusion among both players and partners over the past few weeks, so I decided to bite the bullet and give it a more appropriate name.
What this all means in the real world is that if you contributed or pre-ordered at the $50 level you can now download AtG from the Humble website!
If you haven’t used the Humble Dashboard before just head over to Humble’s Key Resender and enter the email address you had associated with your Kickstarter (or PayPal) account when you contributed. This is also where new versions of the game will be posted, so keep the address handy.
Alpha II also, at last, includes working Mac and Linux versions! These gave Jonathan and I a bit of a headache over the past couple months, but I’m already glad we spent the effort, and I’m sure our non-Windows fans will agree.
Posted by Jon Shafer on May 20, 2014
Episode #70 is live! And it’s with a heavy heart I share the news that it will be my last as co-host of The Game Design Round Table podcast.
I talk at length about the reasons behind my decision to retire during the episode, but it basically comes down to having the time and energy to ensure At the Gates is the best game it can possibly be.
I’ve talked about my unique work patterns in the past, and how they can be a double-edged sword. Diving head-first into incredibly complex projects (like building a hardcore 4X with a team of yourself plus a few part-timers!) is what I live for, and I’m very fortunate that this passion allows me to have such an amazing career. The price I pay for this is that I’ve never been good at keeping more than a couple plates spinning at once. And it goes without saying that AtG is a really, really big plate.
Deep down I always knew this day would come, the question was just how long I could go before AtG was at a point where it would need my full attention. I love doing the show, playing and talking about games with Dirk and interacting with our awesome community. It makes my day every time I get an email thanking us because one of our silly discussions actually helped someone. But with AtG’s final big features coming online, the beta starting up soon and the project as a whole transitioning into its final phase we’ve finally reached that point.
It’s tough to leave something behind that you’ve invested yourself in for years, but I know the time is right. I’m really, genuinely excited about where At the Gates is going – especially now that the pieces are starting to fall into place. I won’t be talking about it on the podcast any more, but you can be sure I’ll have a lot more to share over the next year both here and elsewhere across the Internet. Stay tuned!
Posted by Jon Shafer on March 11, 2014
Late last year I talked about how I was gearing up for a head-first dive into diplomacy. I’m still in that pool, but happy to report I’ve finally made my way out of the deep end. Without a doubt, this has been the biggest challenge I’ve undertaken. Accordingly, the whole process has taken a bit longer than I had planned.
But let’s not skip ahead, and instead turn back to the beginning of our lengthy story.
Posted by Jon Shafer on March 6, 2014
Why, hello there! I know, I know… it’s been a little while since we’ve last spoken. Sorry about that!
Make no mistake, the At the Gates team has been busy with over these cold winter months, especially yours truly. In this post I’ll be talking about our progress on the art side, and later this month another article will explore my adventures with the diplomacy system in, frankly, absurd detail.
In the interests of full disclosure, my original plan was to cover both topics in this update but I just today discovered that Kickstarter imposes a word limit on these things. Woops! Well, at least we now have something else to look forward to. In the meantime I’ll be polishing up what I’d already started. But enough of that – let’s talk art!
New borders: better than old borders! (Click to see full size image)
Posted by Jon Shafer on February 20, 2014
Episode #66 is live!
Jon and Dirk cover many a topic in this episode, but the main discussion revolves around Jon’s plans for diplomacy in ‘At the Gates’, how they’ve changed, and why. Also covered are game structure in Starbound, the business of games and a brief update on Dirk’s projects.
I’ll be sharing my thoughts on diplomacy in AtG in much greatly detail shortly so not too much to say right now, but hopefully this podcast whets your guys’ appetites in the meantime!
Posted by Jon Shafer on February 10, 2014
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?
Posted by Jon Shafer on December 2, 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.
Posted by Jon Shafer on October 8, 2013
Episode #47 is live!
Our hosts discuss Dirk’s recent experience playtesting ‘At the Gates’, dive deep into what makes ‘Agricola’ great, and lament the loneliness of the skill curve in ‘Go’. They also touch upon the simple-but-effective worldbuilding in ‘The Last of Us’, and the enjoyable gameplay but still-questionable monetization of ‘World of Tanks’.
Dirk and I met up last weekend and covered a lot of ground. I gave him a demo of Spelunky on the Vita, we did a 2-hour playtest of At the Gates which went really well (some minor UI quirks aside), and then spent the rest of the day with Agricola.
Playtests are always a little scary because you never know what someone is going to think, and usually a player’s first experience with a game is the toughest, especially in the strategy genre. Even so, Dirk really enjoyed the unique aspects AtG brings to the table, and that was highly encouraging. We still have a long way to go, but it’s clear we’re on the right track.
Playing Agricola was also quite a bit of fun, and I’m now convinced that you have to play a tabletop game at least twice when first learning, as your first game is inevitably going to be filled with a few parts confusion and a few more revelation. If you then move onto something else immediately you never get a chance to apply that new mastery, and should you return to it sometime later you’ll likely be right back near the starting line again. Of course, this is probably a topic we’ll dedicate an episode to very soon, so I won’t dig into it too much now!
Posted by Jon Shafer on September 30, 2013