Author Topic: Release Date now Oct 21st, next beta wave later, subtractive design.  (Read 7607 times)

Offline x4000

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Wow lots of things!  I am really tired and only have so much time/energy to devote to this particular topic, but here goes:

The Release Date Has Been Pushed Back... Again
Wondering if we'll ever finish the game?  This is one of the reasons I'm not too keen on doing a kickstarter.  The answer of "it's done when it's done" is the best sort of answer you really want to hear for a game that will be any good, but it's not the sort of thing that people who have already paid you want to hear.  Neither is the fact that substantial revisions are incoming.

But I digress.  The new release date is the 21st of October, and I think we can actually hit this one based on how things are shaping up.  Is the new amount of time enough?  I don't know the answer.  I'd love to be the experienced designer/producer/project admin that just goes "oh yeah, that's totally enough, well done."  It bothers me immensely that I can't do that.  I know that I have a propensity for optimism that can be destructive, and correcting for that is an ongoing process that is one of my greatest challenges.  Not over-engineering game systems is a very-related challenge that I'm also tackling, and hopefully one helps the other.

Anyway, analysis of the current schedule and the things that need to be done in that timeframe seem possible, so I guess I'll leave it at that.

There Really Will Be Another Beta Wave!
Just not yet.  Basically in my mind the game went through an early "phase 1" beta that was very rough, and then entered a whole new "phase 2" beta with territories and a whole bunch of other stuff that really changed how the game plays and feels.  We are now coming up on a "phase 3" beta with the new events, revisions to the military, no more social progress, no more meals, revisions to scouting, and a whole host of other things.  Bringing in new testers right before all these changes hit seems like it would be super counterproductive.  So that's my target: getting to phase 3 within the next 2-3 weeks ideally, and then hitting new waves of testers hard.

YES I totally want more testers!  It bugs me a lot that I can't bring you guys in sooner, trust me.  I know some of you are really chomping at the bit, too, and I appreciate that.  But the game that you'll see in phase 3 is going to be a much sleeker, more refined version of what is there now.  What is there right NOW, as in today as of this writing, is actually kind of a mess anyway: the various systems are halfway between phase 2 and 3.  So that's something useful for us to have our existing testers prod at a tiny bit, but for the most part all testing is waiting for phase 3 to really resume in a hardcore fashion.

"Streamlined" Does Not Mean Dumbed Down
What I'm going for is complexity that doesn't trip you up.  In other words, the sort of complexity where an expert just flies through things and makes it look really easy.  But where you start out doing it and are feeling competent...ish... but aren't flying through things remotely.  And would be absolutely destroyed by an expert.

That's a big difference from a scenario where even the experts get tripped up on small nits routinely, or where new players are absolutely lost and feel like they have nothing to grasp at.  The difference between those two things is what I mean by streamlining.

In a lot of cases that is meaning subtractive design: there are certain game mechanics that I myself avoid because they are too fiddly or complex to be fun.  It's not that I'm averse to complexity, but I have enough other complexity in the game to focus on, and so things like the atmospheric composition are just things that I ignore.  And anyway, that's just moving numbers around, so it's not exactly an exciting thing to do.  It's not just tedious, it doesn't even have any sort of satisfying payoff!!  That's an example of a mechanic that has to either die or be majorly revised.  In that particular case, it dies for the player and is revised for the AI.

In other cases, such as with the military, it actually means making it so that there are fewer steps to things.  That does mean taking some of the individual legwork out of certain short-term decisions... but it places the emphasis back on long-term thinking and planning ahead, and then those short-term situations are the result of at least medium-term thinking.  That's a goal I've always had for the game, anyhow: not having a bunch of military micro.  Right now there is a bit much of that, and there is just something a bit "off" with it.  It's not a terminal case, so it's something that needs some notable revisions but not a wholesale reimagining from the ground up.

Part of the reason that I want new testers only once phase 3 is started is because you have to really see the whole picture to get a feel for what I'm trying to do here.  Yes in some cases mechanic X might become simpler or go away, but mechanic Y is added and overall there's a shift in where the focus of your attention is.  Your motivations for doing (to existing players) familiar actions change.  The strategies become more complex and varied, even as individual actions become simpler.

That's the goal, anyhow.  I've been absolutely ripping through design after design, just tearing things apart and rebuilding them and killing all my darlings.  I'm still not done yet with that on a design level, and Keith of course then has to actually code each thing after I get that bit of design down on the page, so the process is ongoing.  But I expect that phase 3 within 2-3 weeks.  That is my extremely focused goal.

Anyway -- thanks for your continued support!
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Offline Captain Jack

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Re: Release Date now Oct 21st, next beta wave later, subtractive design.
« Reply #1 on: August 18, 2015, 10:24:49 PM »
I can only imagine how this has to feel for you since there's both time and money on the line. Really curious to see what you have in mind for streamlining the military options. Best of luck.
« Last Edit: August 18, 2015, 10:27:41 PM by Watashiwa »

Offline x4000

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Re: Release Date now Oct 21st, next beta wave later, subtractive design.
« Reply #2 on: August 19, 2015, 10:03:06 AM »
I really appreciate it, very much so.
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Offline Tolc

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Re: Release Date now Oct 21st, next beta wave later, subtractive design.
« Reply #3 on: August 19, 2015, 02:59:40 PM »
I can only agree with Watashiwa...Hope you get to take a breather every now and then. Wish you all the best!

Offline x4000

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Re: Release Date now Oct 21st, next beta wave later, subtractive design.
« Reply #4 on: August 19, 2015, 03:19:15 PM »
Thank you very much!  And we are having a better work/life balance than in past projects, at least.  So that's a big plus.  Design-wise in particular, I don't do my best work when redlining it.  I always thought I did just fine, but looking back historically... no.
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Offline Traveller

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Re: Release Date now Oct 21st, next beta wave later, subtractive design.
« Reply #5 on: August 19, 2015, 05:17:19 PM »
I wish more devs (and managers...) did that kind of self-assessment.  Health, sanity and work-life balance are really the foundations of productivity.

Looking forward to how this all turns out, good luck!

Offline derhamster

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Re: Release Date now Oct 21st, next beta wave later, subtractive design.
« Reply #6 on: August 20, 2015, 10:57:22 AM »
I really hope the game will be a huge success for you. It's obvious that you put a lot of effort into it. I always wondered what "real" Arcen 4X game would look like. And I'm still curious and will buy the game. Don't care if I have to wait another month or two. On the other hand, delaying the game by another month must be quite expensive for you, money wise.

Offline x4000

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Re: Release Date now Oct 21st, next beta wave later, subtractive design.
« Reply #7 on: August 20, 2015, 11:01:35 AM »
I really appreciate it, both of you.

The self-assessment kind of cuts both ways.  It's good to do, but it can also lead to paralysis sometimes.  Sometimes I am doing too much assessment, other times too little.  One of the hardest things about my job is that there's nothing I can look to and go "ah yes, that's the established way to do that thing."  Each time we do a new game, we're doing something that doesn't follow the patterns of other games, and so I have to make up a lot of it fresh as I go.

In terms of the expense of the delay, yep, it definitely does stretch things.  We're okay, but I don't like running the bank account so low -- in particular after past events, I really value having a rainy day fun.  Heck, it's that sort of rainy day fund that has let us do all these delays in the first place.  Otherwise it would have been either layoffs or just rushing the game out anyway, or who knows.  Options go away fast, then.
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Offline Shrugging Khan

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Re: Release Date now Oct 21st, next beta wave later, subtractive design.
« Reply #8 on: August 20, 2015, 01:00:39 PM »
Spoilered: Negativity and subjectivity.
Avoidance is advised.
Spoiler for Hidden:
It seems to me this tendency towards subtractive design is not so much an actual design choice but an emergency measure to get the game into playable shape ASAP, by cutting off all the troublesome bits and limiting it to those parts that already mostly work (with the one addition of the new event system). Certainly simplified, and I honestly doubt that there isn't some dumbing down done here. At least I recall the original idea of SBR being various complex systems interacting, not just a stack of premade events being ticked off with a fairly limited city-building affair around it. The game seems to generally become more and more game-y (has anyone found a better term for this yet?) lately. There's plenty of people who like that, of course - smooth, simple gameplay is appreciated by many. But I'm reading less and less about the natural systems that originally sounded good about SBR (climate, geography, diplomacy), while seeing an increase in abstract systems that seem to be there just to make the game playable (territories, events, removal of various systems). Playability is somewhat important, yes, of course. And it's my particular preferences that make these changes seem so bad, while most players will welcome them. But still - it feels to me that this is increasingly a rush job with much of the original vision being dropped. Still better than an unfinished, unplayable game and Arcen with a tarnished reputation and more layoffs, absolutely. But gah! What a waste of potential!
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Offline x4000

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Re: Release Date now Oct 21st, next beta wave later, subtractive design.
« Reply #9 on: August 20, 2015, 02:08:24 PM »
I definitely can say that this isn't a rush job at all.  If anything it's the opposite.  Look at how long it has been since the last round of beta players: two months or so!  Goodness that is a huge gap for us.  It's because I've been taking an enormous amount of time and care with this.

One thing that probably bites me in the butt to some extent in terms of things seeming like they are changing super rapidly is that I don't tend to talk about things I'm not sure about.  A lot of what is happening now has been under consideration since early July.  But if I had said that then, then people freak out about the potential changes. 

I also considered many MANY other models in that same timeframe, so it's not like I would have picked this one in particular to tell you about had I been more chatty at the time.  And this model itself has evolved a whole lot over time, too.  For a long period, there were a lot of ideas evolving in parallel, and many of them were then getting constantly thrown out and redone, partly because of how they interact with other systems.

So in some senses, there is a flurry of new design now, in the short term -- becasuse all of the individual systems have evolved enough that I can actually put final-ish designs down for each one.  Until that point is reached, then for a game of this complexity it's really hard to balance stuff against other stuff because all the variables are changing all the time.  So finding 90% of my favorite approach to each system that didn't seem to clash with other systems has been my task since July.  And then more recently my task has been to then turn those into actual specs, and finish up those critical last 10%s on each aspect so that each thing properly integrates.


In terms of the events system, I don't think you really understand that yet, which is quite reasonable.  I think you'll find it very interesting, though, and that it gives a lot more to diplomacy than has been had in the past.  And in a much more interesting way.  The proof is in the pudding with that one, so mainly I'd just wait a few weeks and see what you think then.  But it's definitely not a simpler approach than the stuff we started with.  It's actually substantially more complex, BUT it is way simpler per unit of output we get from it.  So we're able to get a lot more output, which was part of the original goal.  These events actually play into things and create way more emergence than was ever possible before.

As far as the climate stuff, that was just a mechanic I didn't like.  Simple as that.  I've been keeping that for months and months, but I knew as far back as April that I didn't like it.  I was keeping it to basically have it as a tick mark on the back of the box, so to speak.  I'm not a fan of just doing things for that reason, though, and so finally after a long time hating that feature I had enough.  I've made the mistake in the past of trying to make games be all things to all people, and thus having them sometimes come out too watered down in each specific area.  This game engine just isn't oriented around geographical manipulation on the scale that would be interesting (aka the very granular grids of land that you get in SimCity 4 that you can raise and lower, etc), so that's just not something that works well here.  That's my opinion, anyhow.

As far as territories go, those were in the original design specs for Cretaceous, back before Bionic Dues, which was my first move toward citybuilding/4X.  And then they were in the early drafts of this game, too.  But I moved away from that for a variety of reasons, mainly not knowing how to visually represent them.  Once I finally figured out a way to bring those back, and saw the problems that the game had when it did NOT have them, I was really overjoyed to be able to bring back that original idea and get back to what I wanted in the first place as well as solve the problems with things like city borders, attack ranges, etc, all in one.

I can tell you unequivocably that the game is closer now to the original vision than it ever has been before.  And the next wave of changes brings it even closer there.  I wanted something that was like SimCity meets Risk meets Dwarf Fortress, certainly with a number of Civilization influences as well.  That's what is able to come about thanks to this in a lot of respects.

By the way: the quickest way to explain events is basically that they are a way of modeling social interactions/happenings.  It's able to feed off of the citybuilding stuff, and then it also feeds back into it as well as itself in various ways.  For instance now you have the concept of expatriates and prisoners being added to the game.  And if you run low on prisons, then various things happen, etc.  All of that stuff is events.  But rather than just having really static things, or really numerical-only things happen as a result of (for instance) prison capacity being too low, this lets us have unbridled creativity with whatever we want to model as a result of that.  Not only that, but it makes it so that your methods of dealing with the problem are a lot more interesting and complex than just "suffer or build more prisons."  What are your methods of dealing with it?  Well that depends partly on which "prison problem" events are arriving based on the context of what is going on.

In other words, this just got incredibly, vastly more emergent.  Way more than ever before.  We already have a city services level of emergence, but now there's a social layer as well that's being added on.

And the relationship you have with the planet is becoming similarly more complex: rather than just the "number goes up or down" relationship of planet rage and appeasement, you get something that has more character and complexity.  And which has a numeric underpinning, sure, but still way more involved and interesting.

All this part is actually drifting from the original vision in that it's way more complex of a system than I ever thought I'd be able to have.  Or that I'd be able to manage.  I did for a while consider a sort of halfway solution with the "storylines," where your criticisms would have been a lot more valid.  But as it stands things are actually better than ever here.

Cheers.  ;D
« Last Edit: August 20, 2015, 02:13:04 PM by x4000 »
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Offline Misery

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Re: Release Date now Oct 21st, next beta wave later, subtractive design.
« Reply #10 on: August 21, 2015, 02:23:20 AM »
Huh, I'm not sure what to think of this delay.

On one hand, I like the sounds of all of the changes you've come up with, even if it does seem to require that you tear the whole thing apart and then piece it back together.  Particularly as previous iterations just werent holding my attention... not too important in an overall sense here, but still.

But, that amount of time....  Isnt it a bit risky?  I find it kinda worrying, myself.  I mean, there had been problems with length of time taken with a couple of the other games if I recall correctly, but this is surely the longest one yet.  Granted, TLF seemed to do pretty darn good, and the expansion.... I have no idea, but still, a bit worrying indeed.

Or I'm just paranoid, that is often the case.

Offline x4000

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Re: Release Date now Oct 21st, next beta wave later, subtractive design.
« Reply #11 on: August 21, 2015, 07:18:27 AM »
Valley 1 actually took longer than this, not that that was a poster child for success. ;) In the case here, the biggest risk is making a huge investment (done) and then having a game that doesn't hold up. This particular delay doesn't push us over any financial cliffs, but we can't really afford another one.
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Offline Misery

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Re: Release Date now Oct 21st, next beta wave later, subtractive design.
« Reply #12 on: August 21, 2015, 08:23:41 AM »
Valley 1 actually took longer than this, not that that was a poster child for success. ;) In the case here, the biggest risk is making a huge investment (done) and then having a game that doesn't hold up. This particular delay doesn't push us over any financial cliffs, but we can't really afford another one.

Wow, did it really?   Huh.  didn't know that.  Though, now that I think about it... I do remember those early videos where it was an overhead game instead of a platformer.... yeah, I can see how that'd end up taking such an amount of time.  I dont think I showed up here till near the end of that, if I recall correctly.

For what it's worth *I* thought that game came out pretty darn well.  I always think more people should give it a try. 

Well, I know one thing at least:  You guys certainly have the dedication to pull this off pretty darned well.


I'll ask though, any ETA on some of these major changes? I coulda sworn this was mentioned elsewhere but heck if I can remember where.

Offline x4000

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Re: Release Date now Oct 21st, next beta wave later, subtractive design.
« Reply #13 on: August 21, 2015, 11:18:13 AM »
I appreciate the kind words. :)

In terms of an ETA here, some of that is still vague.  But the bulk of the new combat model will be in next week, and is all defined here if you are interested in it: https://docs.google.com/document/d/14XQ61PpOfTHiusfdy0D6Vjq2OjNN04GkKddpYV7ZrJE

For the events stuff, that's going to be an ongoing thing with more stuff coming in.  Within 2 weeks we should have a super hefty amount of it done.  Ideally another big bulk of that next week.
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Offline nas1m

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Re: Release Date now Oct 21st, next beta wave later, subtractive design.
« Reply #14 on: August 21, 2015, 11:41:26 AM »
I appreciate the kind words. :)

In terms of an ETA here, some of that is still vague.  But the bulk of the new combat model will be in next week, and is all defined here if you are interested in it: https://docs.google.com/document/d/14XQ61PpOfTHiusfdy0D6Vjq2OjNN04GkKddpYV7ZrJE

For the events stuff, that's going to be an ongoing thing with more stuff coming in.  Within 2 weeks we should have a super hefty amount of it done.  Ideally another big bulk of that next week.
Speaking of events: Can you give a quick outline which ones are already present in .906? Just asking because I am past turn 50 and yet have to see one...

PS: Incoming stuff sounds very good in my book. Looking forward to it!
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