From just about the beginning we’ve been into the idea that Clockwork Empires should involve running giant assemblies of pipes and cog-laden axles across settlements to transmit energy and water and completely harmless high-pressure superheated steam between various machines and factories. The basis for this came early: if we’re to embrace the aesthetic we desire we need to fully embrace the visuals of mechanization, of machines and factories and the wonders of technology of this Age of Progress & so forth. If we hide the machines inside the factories then you won’t be able to see any of the Fun gears and pipes. So, the breakthrough: put the machines, the pipes, the gears on the outside of the factory.
For the sake of simplicity we’ve rolled pipes, axles, and anything else that falls into this category of things-that-connect-to-machines into a category we call “dynamics lines” (whereas “dynamics” are water, mechanical force, steam, voltaic energies, nourishing goo, etc).
This has not been without controversy in the Gaslamp Games Design Discussion And Knife Fighting Arena because this is both intrinsically insane and poses some really difficult problems with being able to clearly express what is actually going on in the game.
Yes, other games do this sort of thing, but look:
You can see, perhaps, how digging greedily and deeply into such systems is somewhat inaccessible to most players; It’s more the sort of thing you’d read about in a Let’s Play than do yourself. So yes, neat, but from a perspective of making a game for lots & lots of people to play, problematic. We’re an isometric game with a fixed camera perspective. If there are pipes all over the place, they’re going to get in the way of seeing what the heck is going on. For example, a long while ago I sat down with how the then-current pipe system was supposed to work and drew a sample settlement:
It’s a bit rough, but surely you see how this could end up being a bit of a mess. We had some more knife-fights then cooled off by working on trees for like a month, or something.
(The one bit I like that I’ll mention is the use of material cues for pipe type: iron pipes are water, copper pipes are steam, and axles use brass cogs to transfer force.)
We’ve had a lot of discussions about how exactly to run this. Obviously, for pipes, we don’t want to do any kind of pressure simulation, nor force for axles, though some limitation should be necessary. If all a player must do is hook up each structure to set X of dynamics lines, we might as well be making something like the Sim City 4 water pipe system (which was effectively a rather boring side-game that you’d have to play from time to time and otherwise ignore).
So we want the dynamics lines to be simple, but also to matter. For the dynamics lines system to matter, they need to involve the player being required to make choices, to make some trade-off of, say, material resources for convenience. Or material resources now invested into a greater productive capacity in the future, or … hmm.
Well, here’s another way not to do it:
The original conception here was to have multiple optional input and output points from machines. Over-complicated; Kill it. The cry of pain you hear is from Sean, our extremely patient environmental artist, mourning another casualty.
And there are plenty. Check out this stuff we cut:
Ouch. Didn’t look bad in-engine, either:
Art is pain.
The latest iteration, pictured below, is promising but I’m sure it’ll be changed further and thoroughly through the process of further iteration and refinement, to say nothing of the entire process of creating a UI system for placing and assessing the damn things.
In short, it’s game development: getting things horribly wrong over and over until they’re not.
… And making Sean redo all his hard work.
(He’s also sick today. Let’s all let him know that we’d like him to feel better in the comments.)