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
Hey all, just a short update on recent goings-on, plus a special a peek behind the curtain regarding how developers decide when to pull back said curtain. I know many of you are very eager to get your hands on the game, and we’ll be kicking the alpha off in a few weeks. So what have we been up to, and why the wait?
Posted by Jon Shafer on September 4, 2013
Hey all, fairly short update this time – news I’m sure many of you are rejoicing over!
The plan is to kick things off in late August or early September. I’ll be wrapping up a couple more big features next week, but before spending a lot of time on playtesting I want the AI to be capable of the basics: defending itself, claiming resource deposits, taking out hostile tribes, etc. We have a good idea of how it will do this, and now it’s time to actually put that in code. AtG is very much playable right now, but ultimately, until the AI is competing with you it’s impossible to get a good feel for what state a strategy game is in.
As you all know, in AtG it’s important to be thinking about the opportunities in front of you, be it migrating, claiming a valuable resource that just appeared, or taking advantage of a surprise diplomatic request. Resources in particular are a major factor which drives the game, and lately I’ve been working on how they’re distributed across the map, and the rate and manner in which new ones appear.
Posted by Jon Shafer on July 19, 2013
What are the ethical responsibilities of a game designer?
That is the question which has been rattling around in my mind ever since a recent discussion in a recent episode of TGDRT regarding the “ultra-violent” Hotline Miami. This article is my proposed answer to that very difficult inquiry.
But let’s first back up a bit – why are we even bothering to ask this question?
Few of us even think about it, but most of what makes us “us” is the sum of our subconscious wiring. Much of which is, in turn, shaped by our past experiences.
Consider a phrase or mannerism you’ve picked up from a close friend. Or the time someone dragged you along to try out a new type of strange food you now love. Or how a hobby you just didn’t “get” before has become one of your favorites after your significant other introduced you to it.
Everything we encounter reshapes us, even if only a tiny bit. Needless to say, games are no exception.
Posted by Jon Shafer on July 17, 2013
The AI is one of every strategy game’s most important features. The bread and butter of the genre is offering difficult decisions in a replayable environment where success requires constant adaptation. Good AI enhances all three of these elements – whereas a bad one can derail the entire experience.
In the context of game AI, “good” means more than just “smart.” The job of computer opponents is more than just standing in for humans – they’re a part of the world and a gameplay system just like economics, diplomacy and warfare. Attila the Hun isn’t just there to provide a roadblock to victory – he’s there to be Attila the Hun, the frightening warlord who races in with a massive horde of horse archers, burns everything in sight, and runs off before you can muster a response. Is such a strategy productive? Hopefully! But it’s in many ways that’s only a secondary concern.
That having been said, a good AI must also put up a competent fight. This is especially true with features like combat, when the AI’s decisions are front-and-center and mistakes cannot be tucked under the rug. Such competency requires AI players to craft plans and be capable of course correcting as necessary.
For all of this to come together, you too as AI developer must have a plan. To that end, I’ve spent much of the past couple months putting together an insanely detailed breakdown for every AI subsystem and the logic each will perform. Think of it as a “first draft,” where the second will be the translation to programming code. I’ve run through repeated thought experiments to test my design and I’ve scrapped more than one critical feature when it became clear that intention and results weren’t in harmony.
I won’t be posting that work today (or ever… it’s already well over 200 pages and still growing!). But I know many of you would like to see how I envision everything fitting together, so what I will be doing is sharing my basic outline for the components that will make up an AI player. As with all of game development I have no doubt the details will change a thousand times over, but I’m fairly confident this general structure will be maintained until the game is completed, and very possibly for several future titles.
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Posted by Jon Shafer on June 24, 2013