The Road Ahead

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Well, we’ve finally reached the end of this amazing journey everyone! Honestly, knowing this is the end is a bittersweet feeling. I’m sad that such an amazing experience will soon be over, but I’m also incredibly excited to get back to full-time development on the game.

I’m truly humbled by your incredibly generous support. Had we just barely cleared our goal it would have been sufficient to finish the game as we’d originally outlined, but now at 250% of our target we’ve added many more great features to our plate, from extensive modding to new platforms to extra leaders.

But let’s keep things in perspective. This is an important moment for AtG, but in reality it’s just one important landmark on a long journey, and we’re not even at the halfway point yet. So where are we now? And who’s driving this bus anyways?

 

Returning to Reality

As I discussed in more detail in an earlier update, my life have been consumed by the Kickstarter campaign for the entirety of the past two months. It’s been a ton of fun, but I’m not gonna lie – at this point I’m pretty exhausted.

So for the next couple weeks I’m going to do my best to disconnect, unwind and return to a (more) normal schedule. I’m sure my friends and family will very much appreciate that!

finally managed to beat Derek Yu’s incredible Spelunky a few weeks ago on try #998, but I have my eye on winning the hard way. Before my schedule became crazy in early January I made it about 60 hours into Persona 4: Golden. There’s no doubt I’m going back to finish what I’m convinced is the best JRPG ever. After that, it’s time to get back to work!

 

 

Back to Business

The aspect of AtG’s development that I’m most excited to return to is, of course, design. I’ve received a number of great suggestions over the past month that I can’t wait to dig into.

One interesting one is having “movable” resource deposits, such as herds of livestock. Right now all resources come from fixed structures, which ignores that several tribes were herders that crossed the landscape with their animals. I like the idea of adding new viable strategies to the game, but it would be a big change that also has art implications, so I’ll have to do some brainstorming and see what might fit in with the existing mechanics.

Another feature I’ll be ruminating on is the victory system. As I noted in my article from earlier this week I’m not 100% sold on the current design of “gain 1000 glory and then capture a Roman capital,” and will be considering some alternatives.

One that seems promising is having two different “phases.” The first would be the buildup typical in 4X games, with the second being the dramatic conclusion as the barbarians attempt to take down Rome. I have no idea how you would transition from one to the other, but there might be some potential here.

The last big design topic on the agenda (for now, anyways) is nailing down the specific effects of pillaging. My original thinking was that torching an improvement would destroy it forever. I’ve started to question this approach, as it’s quite harsh – a single loose enemy could completely dismantle your economy in short order. The softest penalty for pillaging could be disabling the improvement for a few turns, but this doesn’t have nearly the same “punch.” Suffering this fate would be annoying, but not something you dread. Another alternative would be a middle-of-the-road approach where an improvement could be pillaged twice before being completely destroyed.

So I’ll have to sit down, figure out what impact I want pillaging to have on the game, then decide which mechanics best achieve that goal. And I’m sure we’ll iterate on it five or ten more times – such is the nature of design!

On the art side, our biggest task is nailing down a style. We like the clean, saturated 2D look, but are considering different twists on that basic concept. The watercolor  landscape and leader paintings are very attractive, and we might try to push the in-game art more in that direction.

Now that we’ve committed to extensive modding, Jonathan and I are going to have perform a major reorganization of the code to make this possible. Classes will have to be moved to new projects, and wrapper layers added to allow them to communicate with the rest of the game.

Once everything is in the right place, our next tech objective is to add serialization, which basically allows for games to be saved out and loaded. There are some iOS-specific concerns to take into account here, as players can shut their device off at any point, and I’m pretty sure folks wouldn’t be too happy if their 5-hour game disappeared forever!

 

 

The Long Haul

That covers what we have on our plate for the next couple months, but we also have a long list beyond that. I’ll cover the highlights right now.

The AI is still very basic. In fact, we don’t even have A* pathfinding in yet. After our immediate goals have been taken care of this is the corner of the game that Jonathan and I will be focusing on heavily. The more time you have to spend on the AI the better a strategy game will end up, so we’re hoping to really get that ball rolling in next month. Improving the AI and playtesting will occupy the vast majority of my time from here until the end of the project.

Once we’ve fully committed to an art style the next order of business will be animations. A large part of the funds raised on Kickstarter will be used to pay art contractors, and unit animation is the bulk of that. Every unit needs a full walk cycle for 4 different directions, plus loops for fighting, dying and others that seem appropriate (e.g. Laborers building something). This is all going to take quite a while, so like the AI animation work is likely to conclude near the end of development.

We also want to animate the map, although the exact scope for what is possible here has yet to be determined. Our hope is to add waves to the ocean, blizzards in cold areas, smoke coming out of chimneys, etc.

Our list of miscellaneous engineering tasks to be knocked out is pretty crazy, so I won’t go into detail. Just think things like hotkey systems, minimaps, notification queuing and unit cycling logic.

The biggest challenge will be multiplatform support. With the help of MonoGame we were able to get Linux and Mac versions of the game running fairly quickly. (There is an issue we’re having with screen resolution in Ubuntu though, so if you are or know an expert with MonoGame or Linux, please direct the relevant parties this-a-way!)

 

 

The iOS version is a whole different kettle of fish compared with the secondary PC platforms. Unfortunately, Jonathan and I weren’t able to perform a full functionality test because the new version of MonoTouch is not only quite expensive but also requires a yearly license. But given the success we had with the Mac and Linux versions, we feel there shouldn’t be any serious technical hurdles. The smaller ones are likely to be confined to the interface and performance – phones and tablets don’t have quite the horsepower of modern PCs.

I’ve been a heavy iOS user from its birth and at heart I’m a user interface/experience junkie (it’s probably what I would do if I weren’t in games), so I’m confident we’ll be able to make a solid mobile version of AtG. But there are obvious limitations that come with smaller screens and a lack of keyboard/mouse. The fact that tooltips are basically impossible makes me weep.

I like the idea of incorporating gestures heavily, but given the precision required in a serious strategy game like AtG I’m unsure as to whether we’ll be able to go beyond the simple stuff. If anyone has any good examples or articles for me to read I’d love to take a look.

Oh, and what about game design? Well, if you’ve been following my articles you already know that this aspect of development really never ends! I’m sure I’ll be brainstorming right up until the last day of the project, always hunting for improvements floating out there in the ether. I’m sure most of the topics I’ll be contemplating in a few months will be news to the me of today!

So where do our generous backers – you guys – fit in?

As promised on our Kickstarter page, we’ll be starting alpha testing for AtG sometime around June of this year, and beta testing in January of 2014. If you want to get ahead of the game and haven’t done so already, head over to our forums and register an account. We’re eager to get the game in front of a real playtesting group!

For those of you not in one of the testing groups, there will be regular updates for AtG posted here every few weeks until the game is finished, so keep an eye on our Kickstarter page or right here on my personal website. A week or two before the release date we’ll be releasing a full demo.

And although the Kickstarter campaign may be over, you can still contribute to the tiers listed here us directly by using PayPal over on the official AtG website. I’ve you’ve already contributed at a lower level and decide you would like into the beta or alpha you can simply contribute the difference. We’d love to have your help!

Alright, I think that about does it for now. I have some sleep debt to make up!

Thanks again everyone. Don’t be strangers now.

Email: Jon.Shafer@ConiferGames.com

Twitter@JonShaferDesign

Forums.ConiferGames.com

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Leave a comment

4 Comments

  1. Jon, I think long press works well for tooltips on iOS, because we will need them less frequently as we become more and more familiar with the game. Best wishes.

    Reply
    • Yep, that’s a good idea and the approach we’ll likely try out first. There are quite a few available options in a game like AtG so it’ll be a challenge squeezing them all into a single touch screen though. We need a screen on the back that we can use to simulate right-clicking!

      – Jon

      Reply
  2. JBrawley

     /  March 27, 2013

    You could embed a question mark button on the corner of the screen (thumb positioning), that when held, treats a tap as a right click. Might be pressed for real estate on an iPhone but would work well on an iPad or a mini. Make using it the first tutorial tip given to the player.

    Reply
    • That’s a great idea, thanks for the suggestion! I like it even more than a long press, as it’s less prone to mistakes and it also reminds players of the existence of help text.

      Given the real estate requirements, there’s a good chance the iOS version of AtG will be iPad-only. Haven’t made a decision there yet, but there are a number of major hurdles that would have to be overcome to make an iPhone version work.

      – Jon

      Reply

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