AtG AI Mini Update

Woohoooo, the first post-Kickstarter AtG update! This is going to be a fairly short one, but I wanted to let you guys know what I’ve been up to, lest you worry that I’ve run off to a Caribbean island or something. My intention is to post one major update every month, with smaller unplanned ones in-between going up here and over on our forums.

So for the past couple weeks I’ve been heavily focused on designing the basic structure of the AI. As I’ve noted in previous articles, the basic goals are effective behavior and minimal mistakes, achieved with simple, targeted systems.

I’ve been creating several “scenario sandboxes” in the AI brainstorming docs to establish what an AI response should be to various situations, along with the process for how decisions are made. [Shameless Plug] If you’d like access to these and other documents, you can use PayPal on our website to get up to the $125 tier! [/Shameless Plug]

Right now my brainstorming has led me to an AI design with four main systems:

(more…)

Fairness, Discovery & Spelunky

Spelunky is, without a doubt, my favorite game of the past several years. I was extremely excited when its brilliant designer, Derek Yu, agreed to come on our podcast a few weeks ago. (And perhaps even more so when I heard today that a portable PSVita version is in development!)

So what kind of game gets a designer so excited? Well, I’m glad you asked! The answer is one that is extremely, incredibly and completely… unfair. Wait, hold on? Haven’t I said that “unfairness” is a bad thing?

 

What is Spelunky?

Before we start digging into details, we should first explain what Spelunky is. The game is a roguelike platformer with random levels. You play as an Indiana Jones-esque adventurer exploring abandoned mines, jungles and temples. Along the way are a variety of traps, enemies, items and equipment that can either aid or thwart your quest. If you’re curious what all of that adds up to, check out this YouTube video.

I could go on at length about how great the randomly-generated levels are, but I’ve already covered that ground in other articles. Today, I’ll be talking about the other (not so) secret ingredient which helps make roguelikes addicting – their brutal unfairness.

If you lose all of your health in Spelunky, it’s game over. There’s no saving or reloading – death is truly the end. And it’s exceptionally easy to die, as many traps and enemies will kill you with the slightest touch. Pretty unfair, right?

(more…)

Social Classes – AtG’s Design Dead End

Today I’ll be sharing the story behind social classes, among AtG’s most important features – and also one that no longer exists.

Part of game design is walking down several dead ends. Although we’re still very early in the development of AtG, I already found myself staring at one such dark corner several months ago. In this article I’ll be describing the biggest mistake I made with AtG, and the killer feature it ended up transforming into.

(more…)

Replacing Rome

Temple_of_Jupiter

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.

(more…)

The Pen is Mightier Than the Axe

We’re entering the final stretch everyone! In just over 5 days the campaign will be ending, so please help spread the word and let’s see if we can get those last couple stretch goals! As a “thank you” we have a full slate of articles planned for next week, with a new one being posted every day!

 


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!

In our last update we talked about how AtG’s combat system works. But the favored seat warfare holds is somewhat misleading, as the game’s most important feature is none other than its foil: diplomacy. No matter how clever a tactician you are, if you’re outgunned 4-to-1 you’re simply not going to win. Well, unless you’re Napoleon, and even then you’re still just living on borrowed time!

Diplomacy has long been a sore spot for 4X games. AI leaders have been boring and crazy. They’ve ganged up on humans because they’re winning or simply because they’re human. Occasionally they can be reasoned with. But they’re never to be relied on. So what’s the problem, anyways? Why hasn’t this been figured out yet?

The issue is that with diplomacy the designer is trying to accomplish opposing goals: acting like a believable human while still playing the game competently. This schizophrenia, coupled with a lack of focus has long plagued our beloved genre’s least-successful feature.

So is there an answer? I’m confident there is, and that AtG will prove it.

(more…)

To Battle!


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!

While At the Gates is an empire builder at heart, there’s no denying that late antiquity was a time when you were far more likely to die by the sword than resting peacefully in your bed. Appropriately, combat has a large role to play, and getting it right has been a major design focus for me.

The analogy I like to use to describe warfare in AtG is a well-developed game of chess, where each side is waiting for the other to provide an opening, and once this occurs the match is resolved fairly quickly.

So how is this accomplished in our game? Supply.

(more…)

Design Doc Preview: Game Pacing

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.

(more…)

The Enemy in the Mirror

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!

One of the reasons we play games is that they allow us to achieve great things which, quite honestly, we’re probably not capable of in real life. While designing ATG I toyed with several ideas for how to provide that sense of accomplishment and progress. What I settled on is the “Romanization” system.

Romanization is actually a fairly recent addition to the game. For a while there was no progression mechanic at all, but I realized we needed more structure and rewards. One of my original ideas was to have two systems. The first was technology as traditionally represented in 4X games. The other was a system that incentivized working with the Romans, as typically there are plenty of reasons to fight your neighbors, but basically zero which suggest cooperating with them.

I eventually came to the conclusion that combining these two was the right way to go. Barbarians doing research doesn’t really make sense, and why add a second system that has essentially the same function? At first I was hesitant to merge the two (even for designers your natural inclination is more is better and different is bad), but after stepping back and performing a cold, objective analysis it became obvious this was the best approach.

(more…)

The Reason for the Seasons


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!

One of the most exciting features we’ve incorporated into At the Gates is seasonal map change. But what actually happens? How random are the effects? What design risks do seasons pose? And where did we get the idea for them to begin with? All of these questions – and more – shall soon be answered!

 

Why Seasons?

In my last article I talked about how important random maps are in the 4X genre. To summarize: 1) unpredictable environments force players to adapt their strategies, instead of going through the same motions in every game. 2) They add replayability, as there’s a sense of discovery each time you play.

However, most strategy games have steered clear of maps that change as you play. In part, this is the result of theme and scope, as a game which covers 6,000 years doesn’t really lend itself well to a map that changes from turn to turn. But while understandable, this is still a huge missed opportunity.

(more…)

Revisiting the Design of Civ 5

Upon first telling people about At the Gates I’m often asked, “How does it compare to Civ 5, the last game you designed?” Well, in this article I’ll be providing an in-depth response to that very question!

The short answer, though, is that there’s no guarantee if you loved Civ 5 that you’ll also love ATG, nor that if you hated one that you’ll also hate the other. My goal is to lay out the similarities and differences with complete clarity so that both existing and potential contributors know what they’re signing up for.

However, before really getting into the details (this is a long essay folks!) I’d like to step back and wax philosophical for a moment.

Civ 5 was a great success both critically and financially, and I’m especially proud of what the team accomplished. But there’s no ignoring the fact that Civ 5’s gameplay didn’t live up to everyone’s expectations.

I have no problem admitting that my design wasn’t perfect – we improve through constructive criticism and self-reflection, and that is another reason why I’m writing this. It wasn’t always easy, but I’ve answered many of the questions that at one time perplexed me. If my past work has given you reason to doubt my talents, I hope that this article might then help replace that with a new confidence.

Below, I’ll be sharing the design lessons I learned during and after Civ 5’s development, along with explaining how I’m actually applying said lessons in ATG.

Alright then, it’s about time we got this show on the road!

(more…)