June 2018 Update - 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 - 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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May 2018 Update - 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.

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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Mid-April 2018 Update - Playtest Thoughts

Hey all,

This mid-month update will be dedicated to some of the general thoughts I've had while playtesting. It's more or less a copy of my own notes, and should give you an idea of what sorts of things I'm thinking about as both a player and a designer.

I've actually decided to just provide a link to a Google Doc this time around, as the text formatting options here are pretty lame and rather than spend an hour copying everything over and making it look nice it's a whole lot easier to just point you all at something that already works (something I may do again in the future for similar posts!).

Here is the link to the playtest thoughts doc.

We'll be back in a couple weeks with a continuation of my playtest log from last update.

'Til then!

- Jon

April 2018 Update - 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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March 2018 Update - Diplomacy

Hey all, in this update we'll be taking a quick tour of the design for the new diplomacy system.

In last month's post I talked a lot about high-level design goals, but another important consideration is how things actually play out from the player's perspective, especially with an abstract system like diplomacy. What is the actual thing that you're doing? What is the player trying to achieve? You know, what's the point?

This being a game about Barbarians in the Dark Ages diplomacy in AtG is pretty blunt and straightforward. Your goal isn't building trade networks, spreading your religion, or anything particularly nuanced - the focus here is on war and relationships which lead to it (or not). Having someone declare war on you is the punishment for unsuccessfully navigating the turbulent waters of international politics, and remaining at peace (and thus able to follow through on whatever agenda you're pursuing) is the reward for success.

Success won't come easy though, as some leaders are naturally cranky while others might be in the midst of a feud and expect you to take sides. Who you support and who you snub is a big deal in AtG, because make someone mad enough and you can be pretty sure that they'll show up on your doorstep with lots of unhappy friends.

Furthermore, once you've made an investment in a relationship there should be a tangible reward for having done so. This is often where diplomacy systems in other strategy games fall short, as the fickle whims of the AI RNG can easily spoil a lot of hard work. If the decisions you make don't effectively keep you out of war then everything falls apart pretty quickly, so we also need to make sure relationships in AtG are fairly reliable.

With all of this in mind here are the elements we've included, and the very specific roles we have in mind for them.

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February 2018 Update

Hey all,

Been a while since I've posted an update about the game here, although the plan is to do so from now on. To check out the past few game updates you can head over to the AtG Kickstarter page.

In this update we'll be focusing on two things: the basic design thinking behind the diplomacy system, along with showing off some new elements of the game from a recent playtest of mine in screenshot-form.

The post started to get a bit long, so I've decided to save the specific details as to how diplomacy will work (e.g. Relationship Levels, Global Reputation, Leader Personality Traits and Interaction Types) for the next update. We'll start off though with a high-level look as to the challenge of diplomacy in a complex strategy game.


What "is" Diplomacy?

Diplomacy is one of the biggest challenges in the strategy space, in large part because it's trying to simulate something that's hard to wrap your head around even in the real world.

There are some basic tenets that people agree on when it comes to good military strategy: divide and conquer, pay attention to supply, hold the high ground, etc. But what does "good diplomacy" look like? Sometimes negotiating averts a major war, while other times it simply brings "peace in our time". What looks like prudent flexibility to one can be seen by another as an unforgivable betrayal.

So, yeah, a tough thing to model!

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August 2016 Update

Image: 
Alboin of the Lombards + Cerdic of the Saxons

Hey all,

First off, apologies for the lengthy absence - I was dealing with some health problems earlier in the year and just as I was getting back to work I broke my ribs and have been recovering from that over the past several weeks. Needless to say, it's been a tough year! As you might have guessed, this will push back the release of AtG a bit, but development on the game is still very much underway and now returning to full steam. I'm in the middle of updating the schedule and will let you all know what things look like here within the next few weeks.

Speaking of which, to better keep you guys in the loop we'll be hiring someone to handle the communications side of things so that the rest of the team (especially yours truly) can continue to focus on the nitty-gritty details involved with finishing up the game while still ensuring you guys aren't in the dark along the way. So hopefully no more lengthy periods of radio silence from here on out!

As for the game itself we're still knee-deep in AI work but one of the fun things I've started getting back into the swing of things with is unique factions and traits. For those of you in the alpha program I posted a new build last week (v22.1.6) that includes some basic functionality on this front, and a lot more will be coming soon. The goal is for a faction like the Huns to play very differently from a more basic one like the Goths (think completely nomadic, no structures, etc.). To commemorate this feature I'll give you guys a sneak peak at a couple of fun new leaders: Alboin of the Lombards, and Cerdic of the Saxons (both of whom also happen to have names whose modern versions swapped some letters around - hooray for pointless trivia!).

Alright, back to work. More soon!

- Jon

A Preview of AtG’s Revolutionary UI

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):



UI Preview  (1:06)

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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March 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:



Let's Play AtG #3

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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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.



Let's Play AtG - 2 (1:54)

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