Of Beginnings & Landing Craft

There’s a very particular feeling that you get at the beginning of a good game. It’s taking the first step into a unexplored world, secrets hidden by fog-of-war, operating on rules you have not yet learned, filled with dangers you’ll only know how to overcome after they’ve beaten you the first time around.

“Strike the Earth!”

It’s very important to get the beginning of a good story right, and with our goal in Clockwork Empires being to have the player create stories through the gameplay, well. It’s an obvious point of importance (to say nothing of game design in general requiring a strong ‘hook’ – it’s just good design). Getting this right is going to be iterative by necessity so I’m not going to indulge in discussing our pile of speculation on approaching the problem just yet. It’s wrapped in some dreadfully unfinished UI anyway. So, rather, I want to talk about a personal approach to a very particular detail that I’m trying to slip into the game.

(Shh; Don’t let the other guys know about this. Daniel might insist on putting lutefisk into the bloody game again, and don’t get me started on Nicholas’ creepy poet obsession.)

“Moving out!”

To me, personally, getting the beginning right is a bit about capturing what I felt back when I was playing games as a kid with no knowledge of how they were made. Certainly my memory is flavored by a heavy helping of nostalgia but the experience was, I think, something very much more than the sum of its parts because the processes behind the game were completely magical to me. Before I knew how scripting worked, how computer graphics were made, how to program a UI, I could reasonably expect anything to happen after that first step into the game-world.

Though we may not manage quite that, the simulation-centered gameplay of Clockwork Empires is going to be a damn good attempt at enabling players to feel something like that when they make landfall at behest of the Queen onto an unknown and Perfectly Safe shore.

(Especially with the Fun we’ve been cooking up in the art room during the last couple weeks. Examples of key phrases: “stretchy tentacle rigs”, “like a malevolent blob of phlegm”, “head should come off about half the time”, “the glow needs to be more unnatural”, “figured out how to make it fold into itself”, and so on. )

As for my own little indulgence, it’s this:

(From a standpoint of technique I’ll only say that it bugs the hell out of me that I did the correct perspective on the paddlewheel while somehow botching the giant drive-cog by doing the exact wrong thing. So, it’s wonky; let’s all agree that the matter is settled and that there was a gross error in Mr. Ambrose Dorian Chainsly’s — not to be confused with the Lower Bilgestreams Chainsleys with their indecorous ‘e’ — patented process as detailed in “A New And Curious Method Of Arrangement Pertaining To Gearspring’s Cog Manufacturing Autodynamo”. We shall send a strongly worded to Mr. Chainsly immediately, but for now you’ll have to make due with these landing craft, self-annihilating ┬ádrive-wheel vibrations be damned!)

It’s surprising what you can find stewing in your head for eighteen years.

(Also: not a half-bad punchline to the old “An Overseer, a Selenian Polyp, and The Cog Pope walk into a pub … “)

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13 Responses to “Of Beginnings & Landing Craft”

  1. Commkeen says:

    Do you ever worry that devblogs like this potentially take away from that mysterious “beginning” feeling in a game where it seems like anything’s possible?

    I’m thinking about starting a devblog for a roguelike I’m working on, but I’m worried that if I reveal too much about the game’s mechanics and design, it’ll take away that feeling for people who play the game for the first time.

    Is this something you’ve had to balance in your own devblogs? How do you decide where to draw the line?

    (Also, I’m really psyched for Clockwork Empires. The short stories you guys have been posting have totally sold me!)

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    • Bropocalypse says:

      I doubt it will be the case that they will show us every otherwise surprising detail that will go into the game. There’s still plenty of room for Hidden Fun Stuff.

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    • AdminDavid Baumgart says:


      On the one hand, potential players who follow the blog are kinda opting-in to a certain level of “spoilers” — and of course the whole development of the game is a fascinating process itself even if it destroys some of the magic. On the other hand, there are things we are intentionally not discussing or being terrifically vague about.

      And of course the game isn’t done, so most of what the player actually sees is effectively up in the air anyway. People always want to know specific details about what will be in the game but it isn’t even a question we can really answer ’til we’ve implemented & iterated features a *lot*. Take the Steam-powered Armour for example: I know what I want it to look like, how I want it to feel, but the exact gameplay relevant details are completely unknown and sure to require a good deal of polish to get “right”.

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  2. Julian says:

    I think Obsession is a rather auspicious name for a poet. Pity he’s a creep.

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  3. Ruigi says:

    You know what would be funny? A UI that starts “creeping out” when certain conditions are met, like when the entire colony is under the influence of a horrifying mesmeric artifact.

    Like a mouse pointer that starts quivering, or a “colonists” button that intermittently changes to “meat”. Or when the “slaughter” command suddenly starts defaulting to your colonists rather than your livestock.

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    • Wootah says:

      Ruigi,I couldn’t agree with you more. Dynamic UI sounds so amazing. When you play SC2, the UI layout just kind of is there. It isn’t until you play the challenges that you see the Protoss and Zerg UI’s do you really start to notice the terran one as well. I was in total awe as the Zerg UI ‘slithered’ out onto the screen and the protoss one warped in.

      It is asking a lot of the art team, but man it could be a cool addition.

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    • Kamisma says:

      That would, indeed, be pure genius.

      And evil.

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    • AdminDavid Baumgart says:

      The Royal Ministry of Investigation into so-called Inter-planar Incursions (RMIII)) will have you know that the UI is Perfectly Normal and any perceived deviance is likely due to Unnatural Perceptions caused by consumption of illicit Patent Medicines which are not affixed with the seal of his grace the Lord High Barber And Physician.

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  4. kikito says:

    Love the landing pallet thingie.

    What will happen if a biome with no water, like a desert? Will it just appear there in the ground, with no explanation? That would be kind of hilarious, actually.

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  5. Midnight Tea says:

    Man, I don’t comment on this game’s development nearly often enough because whenever I think “Steampunk Dwarf Fortress” my brain seizes up. Too much awesome to handle. Suffice to say, I can’t wait and I support you!

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  6. Seriously Mike says:

    My guess? They’ll hop down from a Zeppelin.

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