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
A few people have asked me why At the Gates doesn’t actually have “Rome” somewhere in the title. Wouldn’t that help inform people of what the game is about? I can see where this question comes from. However, its exclusion is very much not accidental.
The Empire may have defined this era – but their time is over. They still have an important job, but are ultimately a tool to achieve an end. Let’s dig into what that means in terms of gameplay.
Posted by Jon Shafer on March 5, 2013
First, a quick note. As part of the “Alive and Kicking” event I’ll be talking about At the Gates this coming Sunday, February 24th at 12pm EST. It should be a lot of fun, so stop on by if you’re free! Now then, back to our regularly-scheduled update!
If you haven’t done so already, I ask that you check out the At the Gates Kickstarter page. Our goal is to innovate and take strategy gaming to the next level, but this campaign will be our sole source of funding for development. And hint, hint: the more successful ATG is the more articles you’ll have to read in the future!
To those of you who have already contributed and helped us reach our funding goal, I offer my most sincere thanks!
A few folks have asked me about what my design docs look like, some out of curiosity and others because they’ve either considered contributing to the $125 tier or have already done so. I figured it would be both helpful and interesting to post a section of one of my brainstorming docs, and give you all a taste of how I develop ideas.
The document from which this excerpt is taken is dedicated to gameplay pacing and progression. As I always like to say, everything is liable to change, so don’t regard anything I say in this article to be set in stone. Hell, I’m sure some of it is already way out-of-date, even though I last updated it in late November!
This doc was extremely helpful though, as it helped crystallize some of my ideas for how the mid and late-game of ATG should play out. It also helped inspire the exchanging gifts “minigame” that occurs when you first meet another leader.
This article is a bit “tighter” than a lot of my brainstorming, since I’m outlining how I want things to work and stepping back to see if there might be opportunities or flaws I’d been missing with earlier brainstorming.
Posted by Jon Shafer on February 22, 2013
Both developers and players spend a serious amount of time and energy focusing on how we might get more out of games. More features. More content. More tough decisions. It’s easy to forget that sometimes… less is more.
Most titles where a single session lasts longer than a few minutes are best served by providing players at least a small measure of downtime. This “negative space” of game design is an important ingredient in proper pacing.
Good Pacing… Bad Design?
Games often incorporate features that might be considered a bit “boring” with the express purpose of giving players a breather. If a game is 20 hours long and every last second of it from naming your character to the final credits is over-the-top intense, most people would be too stressed out to get anywhere close to the end!
Posted by Jon Shafer on January 28, 2013
Asymmetry between players is one of the designer’s best – and most challenging – tools. Not only does it spice up the experience of playing the game, when implemented well it also greatly enhances replayability. Let’s look in detail at the impact it can have, along with why it’s sometimes so hard to incorporate.
What Does Asymmetry Add?
The more new experiences a game can provide players the more replayable it is. One of the best ways to expand that variety is with asymmetric factions. In the original Civilization all of the civs were identical, so outside of one’s imagination there was no reason to ever play anyone but the default. In Civilization 5 this is no longer the case, and the goal of the design team was to have factions that were unique enough to all be worth playing, but not so much so that these differences stole the show from the core mechanics.
Posted by Jon Shafer on January 9, 2013
One of the strategy genre’s most important dividing lines is the manner in which time passes – is it continuous, as in the real world? Or is it segmented into phases designed to restrict player activity? Many strategy fans favor one over the other and the “debates” between these groups often grow contentious. When a prominent series switches sides it often leads to proclamations of imminent doom, or at the very least a fair bit of teeth-gnashing.
While there’s certainly been a great deal of conversation pertaining to this topic, rare are truly comprehensive studies which seek to identify what differentiates turn-based games from their real-time cousins. Good designers need to be well-versed in the strengths and weaknesses of both.
Posted by Jon Shafer on January 3, 2013