From Microphone to Ploughshare

TGDRT

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!

- Jon

A Winding Road – Diplomacy in At the Gates

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.

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February 2014 AtG Update: Art

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!

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New borders: better than old borders! (Click to see full size image)

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TGDRT #66: Diplomacy in At the Gates

TGDRT 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!

- Jon

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?

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At the Gates Alpha Testing… We Are Go!

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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TGDRT #47: AtG Playtest & More

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!

- Jon

TGDRT #46: Theme, Mechanics & Fun

Episode #46 is live!

Jon, Dirk and David finally get around to talking about theme, mechanics and how the intersection of the two relates to ‘fun’. What are each? What happens when you favor one over the other? Can you flat out OMIT one? And what are some examples in the games our panelists have actually worked?

An eternal struggle in the field of game design is the role of theme (sci-fi, fall of the Roman Empire, Lord of the Rings) and mechanics (worker placement, turn-based, equipment slots).

In my mind your goal isn’t so much to balance the two, but to incorporate the best of both. My rule of thumb is that theme should serve as the ultimate guide for what does or does not belong in a game, but theme always needs to take a back seat to good mechanics.  Everyone has their own unique approach though, and it was great seeing Dirk and David’s perspective on this.

- Jon

The Strategy of Playtesting

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?

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TGDRT #41: Paradox Games, Poker and AI

Episode #41 is live!

Jon and Dirk cover a wide variety of topics this week, notably: the problems with automation and user interface in Paradox titles like Hearts of Iron 3 and Europa Universalis 4, the psychological appeal and the (possibly too-important) role of money in poker, and the challenges of meshing tech and design in At the Gates’ AI.

Dirk and I were all over the board this week – in a good way. A lot of interesting discussion for you guys.

We’ve covered Paradox’s games in the past, but there’s always more good meat on that bone. They’ve built a large and passionate audience by melding hardcore strategy and sim, but there’s tension between those two extremes.

A good strategy game requires clarity and tough decisions, while a good sim is almost entirely about feel. Paradox has done a good job balancing the two, but their user interface has always been where things break down a bit.

We also talked at length about poker. It’s extremely simple, but that simplicity focuses attention on what is there, and results in a very psychologically interesting platform. I cover this at length in the episode, but my big complaint is that this is almost entirely driven by real-money wagering.  Playing with nothing on the line is a completely different experience, and not for the better.

- Jon

 

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