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?
This is a challenge designers face with every complex empire builder, but it’s particularly acute with AtG right now. One reason for this is that true diplomacy has yet to be implemented. Our intention is for the AI leaders to help steer the experience through their demands, requests and general opportunities offered.
The Romans especially have an important job in the early game, as they’re basically the ‘neighborhood bully’ you can either line up behind or defy. Their role changes over time as a variety of nasty events like plagues and civil wars afflict them (but not you!), presenting enterprising barbarian leaders with the occasional chance to flip the balance of power.
Our offensive along this front began a few weeks ago, but there’s still a long way to go. We’ve also made a number of other big changes, which I’ll go over in detail.
Another issue relating to early game pacing involved migration. In early versions your starting location was fairly cozy and self-sustaining, which meant there was very little reason to move – and when you did it was easier to just spin off small colonies than completely pack up. We’ve made a number of modifications to address this.
Starting locations are no longer quite so hospitable. You start with a sufficient stockpile to keep your head above water for a couple years, but you now need to start thinking about finding a new place to live right away. This provides a clear goal from turn 1 that the game was previously lacking.
There have also been some tweaks to the economic system. Resources like Metal and Wood are still vital for building Improvements and Units, but maintenance is now paid only in Wealth. Food now serves as a cap on the number and size of Cities that can be supported, and is no longer required by Units. This smooths out some of the unnecessarily complicated wrinkles in the economic system by clarifying the role of each resource without making any of them less important.
Borders are another recent addition, and one that really changes the feel of the game. (You can see our temporary placeholder art in the two screenshots I’ve attached to this update) Improvements now need to be inside your borders to produce anything, but the high food cost of Settlements discourages them from being spammed everywhere. There is now an interesting tension between having enough Settlements to collect resources, but not so many that you can’t feed everyone.
Borders also add some clarity to diplomacy. I wanted each kingdom’s area of control to feel ‘fuzzy’, as this is how it was historically during this time, but gameplay has to win out over realism. You have to know how close is too close, because negotiating with computer opponents is just plain frustrating it’s not clear what they want.
So what’s next?
No surprise, our #1 priority in the coming months is diplomacy. Not only is it important in defining the feel and pacing of the game, but getting it right will also take a significant amount of playtesting and iteration. Hand-in-hand are the still-WIP Romanization Perks, which are earned by working with or fighting against the Romans – and if there are no requests to complete for them then it’s going to be awful hard to acquire Perks! Once a first pass on these two features are in we’ll have a good idea as to the form the final version of the game will take.
Once interaction with other leaders is knocked out we’ll be shifting focus to smaller gameplay features that have been on the list for a while: steel upgrades for Units, the valuable Salt resource (which acts like both Food and Wealth), migratory animals, etc. Finally, we’ll wrap up the big stuff with important-but-peripheral features like faction abilities and victory conditions.
In the first few months of 2014 we’ll open the game up to beta testing and shift over to ‘tweak and polish’ mode – where we’ll remain for a loooong time. I’ve noted in both the original Kickstarter pitch and subsequent updates that the goal with AtG is not just to make a strategy game that not only breaks new ground but also one that is polished at release. This recipe calls for one key ingredient which has no substitute: time.
AtG could be released as originally planned in mid-2014 as a ‘good’ game. But would it be one of the best strategy games ever? Probably not. As such, I’ve made the decision to push back AtG’s release until 2015.
I know this is disappointing news, but at the end of the day what we all want is a great game, and our team is willing to stick with AtG as long as it takes to get there. This kind of flexibility is only possible because our funding comes from your generosity, and while painful in the short term it will no doubt pay off over the long term. I think I speak for everyone in saying that what we want is an amazing game, even if it means a longer wait.
Thanks again for your support and patience. As always, don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions!