The Home Stretch

 

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Hey all, a relatively short update this month, as I’ve been really busy with the game and I’m trying to stay as focused as possible!

 

What’s New

Much of my time since the last update has been spent on the game’s help system. AtG won’t actually feature a “tutorial” as most people would describe it, as I’ve found that they’re never fun and usually skipped by an extremely large percentage of players (who have caught on to this fact!).

Instead, popups will very occasionally appear describing basic concepts, and presenting a list of related concepts that players can continue reading about if they so choose. It’s very similar to the philosophy behind the game’s fancy new tooltips-in-tooltips feature: here’s something concise, but you 100% control the depth to which you can dig further in. A button in the upper-left corner will take you to the ‘Help Screen’ that contains a full list of the game’s help tips. Tips you’ve already seen will be dimmed out, both here and in the popups, so it’ll be easy to keep track of what you have and haven’t learned yet.

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October 2018 AtG Update – Diplomacy System: Finished!

Hey all,

The focus over the summer was implementing the final mechanical changes on the economic side of the game. Well, prior to that task I’d spent time laying down the basic infrastructure for the diplomacy system, but it was still a ways from being functional. I knew I was onto something, but it would take more time to hook all the different pieces together, especially since there was basically no actual game content yet (e.g. the various interactions that can take place). This month we’ll be picking that feature back one up last time and talking about the now fully implemented – though still in need of polish – diplomacy system.

And phew, has it been a big task. I’ve spoken about it a bit before on Twitter and elsewhere, but this has been easily the toughest game development challenge I’ve tackled in my career. First, on the design end, there’s the question of what “good diplomacy” even looks like. After all, even representing how things work in the real world might not be any fun. And we haven’t seen many good examples of strategy game diplomacy being universally praised, so there’s not even a particularly good frame of artificial reference to start from. Furthermore, the job gets even tougher when you then need to build a system which is both powerful and flexible enough to accommodate a design which will require a huge amount of real-time iteration. This is the kind of feature you need to be able to tinker with a lot, since the initial numbers you plug definitely won’t add up to a fun experience. You can get there, but you’re gonna have to do some grinding just to see how things are playing out, let alone identify what to adjust. There’s a reason why “great” diplomacy is basically unheard of – in a sense I like to think of it as the ‘final boss’ of game design.

 

The Basics

I’ll start with a quick review of the basics: there are few different kinds of diplomatic stats (Relationship Level, Influence, and global Reputation) which add up to a Leverage score that determines whether another Leader is willing to do something or not. RL is simply a measurement of how much the other leader likes you. Influence is a “currency” usually earned alongside RL in equal amounts that can be cashed in once in order to temporarily increase your Leverage. Reputation is the same concept as Influence, except it can be spent with any leader, and earning it requires some kind of great or bold act (such as, say, insulting Attila!).

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AtG Update: August 2018 – What’s New?

Hey all,

In this update we’ll be going over what additions have been made to the game the past few months. The todo list is shrinking rapidly and the light at the end of the tunnel very much in sight. The next project milestone in early September is “feature design lockdown”, which basically means all of the game’s gameplay features are in, and only need iteration, balance, and bugfixing before we’re ready to roll. At this point I’ll be looking for a lot of playtesting feedback again, so if you’re in the alpha and looking to help out that’s probably the best time to jump (back) in. There will likely be a couple more tweaks made after the next milestone, but nothing that’ll take more than a few days to implement. The few months after this milestone will include further work on the AI and diplomacy, and then aside from smaller stuff like improving the tutorial and adding some screens (e.g. settings, clan management, game setup) we’ll have pretty much reached the finish line.

 

What’s New

 

Professions/Tech Tree

Although this isn’t a new feature it’s probably the most noticeable change to the game given that clan professions are one of the two fundamental elements of the game’s economy (resources being the other).

To summarize what’s new, the old design had a lot of issues where professions would often not seem very useful, e.g. if the tier-1 version of a blacksmith turns 1 iron into 1 tool each turn the tier-2 version might convert 6 into 6 and tier-3 10 into 20. The problem was that getting to the point where you could even produce the 6 iron per turn required by tier 2 was pretty hard to reach, and so most of your research options felt pretty unexciting. This issue was solved in a couple ways.

First, I did a pass on the whole tree, switching to an approach that looks more like 2-for-2 in the first tier and then 8-for-4 in the second, with the third being replaced by a system where it’s now possible to research a couple different “upgrade techs” which allow you to spend resources (e.g tools or boards) to improve the output by ~50% each. The ability to upgrade is fairly cheap to acquire, but the upgrades themselves require a fair number of resources, ensuring there’s always something you want to A) research and B) spend your resources on. It’s hard to understate how much of an improvement this provides the game, as while playtesting I’m now constantly confronted with tough trade-offs where I have several exciting options to choose from, rather than several equally uninteresting ones. Much, much better.

Additionally, “global upgrades” have been added to the game. These are techs not linked to any particular profession, instead offering an expensive way to acquire a tribe-wide, permanent bonus of some kind (e.g. increased food production, or a morale boost to your entire army). This provides an additional incentive to improve your research rate, especially when the RNG throws a unique starting location at you and making more specialized strategies particularly lucrative or essential.

 

NewTechTree

The new tech tree is a huge improvement over the old one.

 

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AtG Update: June 2018 – Playtest Finale

Hey all,

First off, I wanted to let you know that starting in July the updates from here on out will mostly focus on the specific changes that have been in the past month, and every post will now include a full change log.

Furthermore, the game will enter design lockdown on July 15. A new build will be posted for alpha testers shortly after that date, and from that point on all of my time will be spent collecting and making use of playtest feedback, iterating on/polishing what’s already in the game, and taking care of the final boring-but-necessary elements a game needs to ship (making sure the last bits of art make it in, programming an options screen, replacing placeholder text, graphics performance optimization, creating a final installer etc.).

The next update will be posted after we’ve hit the July 15 milestone, and from this point on I expect all future updates will go up mid-month-ish. Gonna keep this one short though so I can get back to programming.

We’ll pick things up in July with a lot of details – for now though we’ll wrap up the playtest report we started a couple months ago. Back soon!

March 5 Group Game Playtest – Turn Log Part 3/3

61 ... Area 3

Where we left off.

61 … October … The horsemen assault Clan Ingel, which barely holds on and is now down to 70% health. I decide to roll the dice and send Clan Einar into the fray in hopes of breaking the enemy’s morale and crippling them, as the bandits’ power is equal to Einar’s (3.6) which won’t be the case for long after their morale recovers. The result is… victory! Einar is bloodied but successful in their attack. Much as I’d like the hobbled-but-still-standing Ingel to follow up and eliminate the vile riders their morale is too low and they refuse, so I instead reform my small army in preparation to finish the job next turn. I tuck Clan Adelbert (Farmer) under the army, as my willingness to take chances with them has lowered dramatically. Speaking of bandits, a captive Miner appears on the far eastern frontier, posing quite an opportunity. With the western bandit threat mitigated I steer Clan Ewout (Archer) back around in hopes of snatching them. My Timber supply is starting to dwindle fast, and even my Woodworks will only slow the bleed. I want to get an Apprentice there and on the Gold Mine, so I switch my research to Woodsplitters so I can start making my own rather than relying 100% on caravans. With only 15 Timber left and -11 per turn I disable both of my Coal Makers to reduce this to -2, which I can afford since I have a pretty healthy supply of Coal. I send the Settlement far to the west, leaving 1 move in order to unpack. I start training Clan Ulfert (Coal Maker) back to a Lorekeeper in order to get my Woodsplitters finished faster.

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AtG Update: May 2018 – Playtest Report 2

Hey all!

Back from a trip to Japan to relax a bit while the weather is improving. This update and the one which follows will continue the playtest report we began in the April 2018 update and conclude with me triumphantly founding my kingdom (spoiler alert!). From then on the updates will shift back over to describing recent progress on the game.

 

March 5 Group Game – Turn Log Part 2

 

Where we left off.
Where we left off.

 

44 … Bayan of the Avars and Attila of the Huns both pop up asking me to stay away from their territory, and I promptly tell both to take a hike. [This behavior comes from the old diplomatic system and will be replaced in the new system.] Clan Askan is now producing Stone Blocks from Coal… well, sort of. They will once they have enough Coal, anyways. Right now they want to produce 2 Stone Blocks from 3 Coal every turn, but Clan Ulfert is only producing 2 Coal per turn, so I need to get another Coal Maker online. Will have to wait until the Woodworks is up and running though. Nothing to train this turn, but a new clan shows up next turn so it’s a good opportunity to move my settlement to the east and get it into position for that Woodworks, so I pack up. I wake Clan Ingel (Archer) up from garrison duty to the SE and move them onto the berries, making sure my move is protected.

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AtG Update: April 2018 – Playtest Report

Hey all,

As I’m working on the diplomacy system the next few updates will follow along with my broader playtesting efforts, which I try to spend at least an hour on every day. Along the way I’ll be detailing what’s in the game, what needs work, and most important of all: what it’s actually like to play AtG. The format will more or less follow my own internal notes that I use to log what happened while playing, what decisions I made and why, and then in a couple weeks I’ll post another update with some analysis of how different aspects of the game are working and what might need attention based on my recent playtesting.

(Note: this playtest is for the March 5th Group Game that’s now available in the latest Steam build, and it’s quite a fun one so if you already have access to the game I might recommend holding off on reading this post until you’ve had a chance to play.)

This first “chapter” of the playtest report is a turn-by-turn account of the game. I end this post on turn 43, which might sound like a weird number but ended up being a natural stopping point given in-game events that I won’t spoil just yet. We’ll pick up the story of this game in May’s update, so stay tuned!

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A Preview of AtG’s Revolutionary UI

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Hello again from the Conifer team!

At long last, we’re finally back with a new edition of ‘Jon rambles for too long about some esoteric game design topic (and along the way mentions AtG once or twice)’. Today’s lucky recipient of this most distinguished spotlight is the game’s user interface, or “UI”. I know this topic might sound roughly as exciting as watching paint dry, but I really do encourage you to stick around because once you’ve seen things with your own eyes I think you’ll understand why our bold claim of AtG’s UI being “revolutionary” isn’t just pre-release marketing hype.

It may also come as a relief that this update is actually a 3-for-1 deal where ‘Jon waxing poetically about his eternal love for UI and the beautiful soul it hides from the big, bad world’ is reinforced by two additional features.

The second member of our update trifecta is a fairly detailed bullet point outline of what’s new and cool with AtG’s UI, and provides the most bang for your buck if you only have a couple minutes to spare. I’ve attached it to the end of this article, so to check it out just scroll to the very bottom of this article and then back up until you see “UI Feature Outline” in big, bold text.

The real the star of our show though is this hands-on video preview of the UI (total of 66 minutes, split into 2 parts roughly a half hour long):

 

 

The old “seeing is believing” mantra sums up UI perfectly, and so much so that even a designer and UI fanboy like me can’t do it justice simply by describing it. So even if you don’t normally watch game videos I strongly encourage checking this one out. If you’re in a hurry skip ahead to the 11-minute mark, as that’s when we introduce AtG’s secret weapon.

The rest of this article makes up the final member of our trifecta, and is a dive deep into a number of UI-related topics that include: why good UI has never been (and never will be) the kind of ‘sexy’ bullet point that helps sell magazines, why in spite of that developers should still care, what makes UI design so difficult, where the idea for AtG’s Adaptive Tooltips came from, some of our UI design ‘rules’, and a look at the design process behind a few UI features we’ve put a lot of thought into so that players won’t have to.

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AtG Update + New Let’s Play Video

Hey all, I’ll try make this post short and sweet (by my standards, anyways!), as I just posted another massive “let’s play” video which does a better job of showing off what we’ve been up to than I can with words alone:

Weighing in at a whopping 3 hours this video is by far the longest yet, but don’t let that scare you off! I’ve broken it up into six 30-minute parts that should be much easier to work through in multiple viewings. Much of Part 1 covers the recent changes I’ll be talking about below, so if that’s all you’re interested in feel free to pass on the other five parts. If you prefer text to video though, well, read on!

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AtG Update: Economics, in Ink

A few of AtG’s new professions.

Hello again from the Conifer team!

We’ve been hunkered down working hard on At The Gates these past winter months, and I figured it was finally a good time to come back up for air.

If you’d like to stay completely up-to-date with all things AtG we’re still posting updates every few days on the Twitters, but I know there’s at least a couple of you out there who enjoy my 20-page treatises. And should you enjoy updates in the form of colors and shapes moving around we’ve also just posted a new ‘Let’s Play’ video (2 hours long!) covering much of the same ground I’ll be talking about below.

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Daily AtG Progress Updates

Because it’s usually a month or two between major updates (and when they do finally appear they tend to be… a little long) I’ve started providing daily progress updates via the official Conifer Games Twitter. In case Twitter isn’t your cup of tea I’ve added the feed to the AtG website and also post everything to our Facebook and Google+ pages.

The daily updates offer a new way to stay plugged into all things AtG, but we’ll still be posting beefier updates for those who prefer reading consolidated, high-level summaries. Speaking of which, one should be up in a couple weeks covering what we’ve been up to since posting the ‘Let’s Play’ video. ‘Til then!

– Jon