Welcome to the fourth pre-launch weekly AtG update! Every Sunday afternoon a new article will go up, and each week will have its own theme. This past week our theme was asymmetry, and you can follow along with future (or past) daily updates on Twitter. You can also check out previous weekly updates on the AtG website.
One of the biggest differences between AtG and nearly all past 4X strategy games is that AtG has fully embraced an asymmetric single-player approach. Similar to the roguelike genre, every playthrough will vary in difficulty and feel thanks to being unpredictable in terms of the terrain, climate, resources, and clans you’ll strategizing around. This isn’t a game with a smooth, predictable arc from start to finish. You’ll have to adapt strategies, and some starts will just be a bit unfair. This isn’t the kind of game for everyone, but that’s part of what makes AtG unique. The goal wasn’t to build a game for everyone. The goal was to make something new.
That said, I’ve added some normalization to ensure the first few games are always pretty close to the middle of the road, just so new players have a chance to get their feet under them. After that the training wheels come off though and there’s no telling what you’ll face. I still get excited every time I start a new game, just to see what the procedural world builder has in store for me. This is a game with a truly immense amount of replayability, and I think it’s why even I as its designer still really enjoy playing it. Every game is different, and I’m still constantly trying out new strategies. That’s pretty incredible after working on this thing for almost 7 years now.
This was only possible though because I was willing to forgo including any sort of multiplayer mode. If your objective as the designer is to ensure a balanced experience for a symmetrical set of players who you all want to have an equal chance of winning then you’re really binding your hands. Don’t get me wrong, playing a strategy game in multiplayer can be incredibly fun (I have literally thousands of hours of Civ MP under my belt), but it changes how you’re able to design the game.
Sure, maybe in a theoretical world where there was no such thing as opportunity cost and you could work on something forever you could make two completely separate game modes that were optimized for each, but in the real world you have to make compromises. Give one player a gold deposit and start another in Greenland and you have a recipe for a game that feels really unfair in multiplayer. In single-player though? That’s part of the whole point of playing. It’s certainly possible to have asymmetric-but-balanced starts or factions, but that requires a huge amount of design and balancing work.
Add that to the large amount of work required just to get MP functioning, let alone how it warps how you develop the game (make sure you send everything via messages!) has meant that my decision on day one to forgo multiplayer was clearly the correct choice. Future games? Who knows. But for AtG being single-player-only was the right move.
Another element AtG borrows from roguelikes, Binding of Isaac specifically, is how the factions work. In BoI you start with only a single character and unlock more as you play. Your original character is pretty vanilla and provides players with the “base” gameplay experience, whereas all the others are basically interesting variants distinct in one or two important ways. This adds still more replayability to AtG’s already-robust foundation there. Purists will want to always play the Goths though, as the game was basically designed around and for them, whereas Attila starting with a powerful Horse Archer and being unable to own structures is very much not how the normal game plays.
The way you unlock new factions in AtG is either by conquering their capital or forming an alliance with them (the latter being quite difficult now, but will become less so after diplomacy is fleshed out in a future post-release update). This gives the factions an “achievements with actual meaning” feeling, something I also really like in BoI.
There are two ways to win in AtG: conquer the capital of either the Eastern or Western half of the Roman Empire, or replace the emperor peacefully by sending five clans to Rome fully-equipped as new Roman Legions, after which you can take over the army and declare yourself in charge. The former is obviously a military victory condition, the latter an economic one.
Similar to the rest of the game the difficulty of meeting each condition will vary quite a bit from playthrough to playthrough. If you start incredibly far away from the Empire off in some corner of the map your path to the economic victory condition will be far easier than marching an army through several hundred kilometers of winter snow.
It should also be noted that AtG isn’t a “race” like other 4X games. You’re not competing with any other factions in the game also trying to win, and many of your neighbors will start off stronger than you’ll ever become. AtG is more like a Paradox game where part of your job is the navigate between the big fish as you try to enact your strategies. They won’t always be the smartest on the battlefield, but even so if the Romans ask you for a favor you might want to pay close attention.
Next week I’ll be sharing some stories behind the curtain of how AtG has been made. It’s been a long road, and as you might expect there have been both a lot of both ups and downs. We’re not quite to the finish line yet, but it’s close enough now that I don’t mind looking back at the journey a little bit.
You can follow along throughout the week on Twitter, or check back here next week for a new article.