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.

[CLICK TO CONTINUE READING]

February 2014 Update: Art

In this post I'll be talking about our progress on the art side, and later this month another article will explore my adventures with the diplomacy system in, frankly, absurd detail.

In the interests of full disclosure, my original plan was to cover both topics in this update but I just today discovered that Kickstarter imposes a word limit on these things. Woops! Well, at least we now have something else to look forward to. In the meantime I'll be polishing up what I'd already started. But enough of that - let's talk art!


New borders: better than old borders! (Click to see full size image)

Borders

In my December 2013 update I unveiled the new borders system, including a sneak peak at the heinous placeholder art that was in at the time (something my illustrious art lead still hasn't forgiven me for, I should note...).

Thankfully, Kay and Jonathan have since given the borders a serious face-lift, which you can see in the screenshot above. I'm sure Kay will continue making tweaks right up until we ship, but it'd be a bit of an understatement to say the new look is an improvement. Jonathan even went the extra mile and made the border width, gradient, etc. completely XML-driven, so hey, why not keep fiddling with things as long as you can?

[CLICK TO CONTINUE READING]

Tags: 

December 2013 Update

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?

This is a challenge designers face with every complex empire builder, but it's particularly acute with AtG right now. One reason for this is that true diplomacy has yet to be implemented. Our intention is for the AI leaders to help steer the experience through their demands, requests and general opportunities offered.

The Romans especially have an important job in the early game, as they're basically the 'neighborhood bully' you can either line up behind or defy. Their role changes over time as a variety of nasty events like plagues and civil wars afflict them (but not you!), presenting enterprising barbarian leaders with the occasional chance to flip the balance of power.

Our offensive along this front began a few weeks ago, but there's still a long way to go. We've also made a number of other big changes, which I'll go over in detail.

[CONTINUED]

Alpha Testing... We Are Go!

The first playable alpha version of At the Gates is now available! For those of you who generously contributed $80 or more, a download link for the alpha version of AtG should be on your Humble Dashboard along with a complimentary Steam key.

If you haven't used the Humble Dashboard before, just head over here to Humble's Key Resender and enter the email address you have associated with your Kickstarter (or PayPal) account. This Dashboard is where new versions of the game will also be posted, so keep the address handy.

Didn't pledge at the $80 tier, but all this talk of steamy, hot, barbaric, 'frozen-and-crossable-rivers-in-the-winter' strategic action just too much to resist? Well, no problem! You can still join in on the fun by pre-ordering the At the Gates Early Access Bundle.

[CONTINUED]

The Strategy of Playtesting

Hey all, just a short update on recent goings-on, plus a special a peek behind the curtain regarding how developers decide when to pull back said curtain. I know many of you are very eager to get your hands on the game, and we'll be kicking the alpha off in a few weeks. So what have we been up to, and why the wait?


AI Status Report

I'm in the process of finishing up the first batch of key AI functionality. The basic framework for all AI systems (except for diplomacy) is now in. The AI knows how to explore, account for supply, train new units, defend itself, and survey/improve resource deposits. The last two items on my list are teaching the AI how to take out nearby hostile camps, and migrating once an area's resources start running out. At that point they'll be at least semi-competent at the early game, and - officially - able to play the game.

[CONTINUED]

July 2013 Update - Alpha Testing & Resource Appearance

Hey all, fairly short update this time - news I'm sure many of you are rejoicing over!

Alpha Testing

The plan is to kick things off in late August or early September. I'll be wrapping up a couple more big features next week, but before spending a lot of time on playtesting I want the AI to be capable of the basics: defending itself, claiming resource deposits, taking out hostile tribes, etc. We have a good idea of how it will do this, and now it's time to actually put that in code. AtG is very much playable right now, but ultimately, until the AI is competing with you it's impossible to get a good feel for what state a strategy game is in.

Resource Distribution

As you all know, in AtG it's important to be thinking about the opportunities in front of you, be it migrating, claiming a valuable resource that just appeared, or taking advantage of a surprise diplomatic request. Resources in particular are a major factor which drives the game, and lately I've been working on how they're distributed across the map, and the rate and manner in which new ones appear.

[CONTINUED]

AI Design Breakdown

The AI is one of every strategy game's most important features. The bread and butter of the genre is offering difficult decisions in a replayable environment where success requires constant adaptation. Good AI enhances all three of these elements - whereas a bad one can derail the entire experience.

In the context of game AI, "good" means more than just "smart." The job of computer opponents is more than just standing in for humans - they're a part of the world and a gameplay system just like economics, diplomacy and warfare. Attila the Hun isn't just there to provide a roadblock to victory - he's there to be Attila the Hun, the frightening warlord who races in with a massive horde of horse archers, burns everything in sight, and runs off before you can muster a response. Is such a strategy productive? Hopefully! But it's in many ways that's only a secondary concern.

That having been said, a good AI must also put up a competent fight. This is especially true with features like combat, when the AI's decisions are front-and-center and mistakes cannot be tucked under the rug. Such competency requires AI players to craft plans and be capable of course correcting as necessary.

For all of this to come together, you too as AI developer must have a plan. To that end, I've spent much of the past couple months putting together an insanely detailed breakdown for every AI subsystem and the logic each will perform. Think of it as a "first draft," where the second will be the translation to programming code. I've run through repeated thought experiments to test my design and I've scrapped more than one critical feature when it became clear that intention and results weren't in harmony.

I won't be posting that work today (or ever... it's already well over 200 pages and still growing!). But I know many of you would like to see how I envision everything fitting together, so what I will be doing is sharing my basic outline for the components that will make up an AI player. As with all of game development I have no doubt the details will change a thousand times over, but I'm fairly confident this general structure will be maintained until the game is completed, and very possibly for several future titles.

- Jon

[CONTINUED]

June 2013 Update + Download Instructions

Hey all, time again to provide a quick update regarding recent news and progress. Most of our updates have skewed heavily on the design and theory side, so this time we'll be delving into the more artistic ends of the project.

Early next week I'll also be posting our massive outline for the general design principles behind every AI subsystem. I was originally planning on including that with this post, but the length was starting to get a little crazy so I decided to hold off and split things up.

Unit Animations

The team has started on the rough animation work for the units. These will eventually be painted over, but I figured you guys would enjoy a little sneak peak.

The schedule and budget call for around 180 unique unit animations which run the gamut from running to fighting to dying. We're starting with the run cycles.


[CONTINUED]

Official At the Gates Wiki

Conifer Games is pleased to announce a partnership with Curse, who will be managing the official At the Gates wiki. They really went out of their way to produce a great-looking hub for information about the game, and we encourage everyone to check it out and help contribute content!

- Jon

Preorders & Game Distribution

In the next week or so we’ll be switching from collecting contributions through PayPal over to a formal pre-order system powered by the Humble Bundle Store. Once this happens you’ll only be able to purchase the game by itself for $30, or the game plus strategy guide and designer notes for $35 so anyone that hasn’t yet contributed but wants the $5 early-bird discount should do so soon!

Speaking of which...

At the Gates will be delivered to those who have already contributed through Kickstarter and PayPal with the help of those great folks over at Humble Bundle. A good example is Grim Dawn, another project that was funded through Kickstarter. The awesome folks over at Humble build a database and handle all of the logistics of hosting the game, offering a location for people to download it, and a way to easily send purchasers the info they need.

When the game is ready, everyone will be sent a URL to a custom page that includes links to the download, the Steam key and any other associated goodies you’ll receive as part of your contribution/purchase (e.g. the strategy guide and designer notes). You can also create an account with Humble Bundle to manage all of your games purchased through their store, instead of having to keep that original email in a safe place until the end of time.

Needless to say, this is much better than me sending out a few thousand keys by email manually!

- Jon

Pages

Subscribe to Jon Shafer's At The Gates RSS