A Winding Road – Diplomacy in At the Gates

Late last year I talked about how I was gearing up for a head-first dive into diplomacy. I’m still in that pool, but happy to report I’ve finally made my way out of the deep end. Without a doubt, this has been the biggest challenge I’ve undertaken. Accordingly, the whole process has taken a bit longer than I had planned.

But let’s not skip ahead, and instead turn back to the beginning of our lengthy story.


TGDRT #66: Diplomacy in At the Gates

TGDRT Episode #66 is live!

Jon and Dirk cover many a topic in this episode, but the main discussion revolves around Jon’s plans for diplomacy in ‘At the Gates’, how they’ve changed, and why. Also covered are game structure in Starbound, the business of games and a brief update on Dirk’s projects.

I’ll be sharing my thoughts on diplomacy in AtG in much greatly detail shortly so not too much to say right now, but hopefully this podcast whets your guys’ appetites in the meantime!

– Jon

December 2013 AtG Update: Economics

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?


TGDRT #38: Polish, Penalties & Updates

Episode #38 is live!

Jon and Dirk discuss several games at length this week, namely: Monaco, the new Walking Dead chapter, Super Crate Box for the Ouya and Civ 5: Brave New World. Topics covered include how penalties can improve a game, the importance of polish, and why diplomacy in 4X games always seems to be bad.

This was a long one and we really went into a lot of detail on interesting design topics relating to the games we’ve been playing. The big takeaway from #38 is “polish your games, because if you don’t players will notice – and it will undermine everything you actually did well.”

It’s easy for developers to overlook what they believe to be small flaws, but players have a very different perspective. While the best games aren’t perfect, by either luck or intention their problems tend to be peripheral to the core experience. Unless you’re just naturally charmed, the only way to reach that point is through extensive playtesting.

– Jon

TGDRT #19: Diplomacy & Allan Calhamer

Episode #19 is live!

With the sad passing of Allan Calhamer, Dirk and Jon felt it appropriate to honor his memory and the legacy left behind by his finest work: Diplomacy. They are joined by Jim Burgess, a distinguished member of the Diplomacy community. The crew discusses what’s made it a gaming favorite for fifty years, a few ideas for improvements and what the future holds for the title.

While I’ve played several games similar to Diplomacy, I’ve never actually experienced the original for myself. I have to be honest, its reputation is part of that – I’m just not sure I could enjoy a game where you have to backstab other players in order to win. Maybe I’m just a softie!

– Jon

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.