A Little Something For The Pipe Fanciers Out There

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).

Very, very old concept art playing around with the idea of exposed pipes & axles.

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:

On the left, a computer build in Dwarf Fortress. On the right, some confusing factory or something built in Minecraft with the Tekkit mod pack, which is horribly enthralling. Please send help.

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:

What the heck is going on! Who am I but a cog in this horrible machine?

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.)

Stare into the cog. Become the cog. What do you feel? What do you desire? What is your ultimate Being? This is despair.

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:

Look at ’em go! Unfortunately for Sean, we completely changed our plan for how axles work.

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:

Piece of cake, right? (The full image – in our internal wiki – comes with an associated guide to identify all the parts.)

Ouch. Didn’t look bad in-engine, either:

The Mists of Ravenloft were particularly thick that day.

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.

This is how Invisible Geometers see the world.

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.

(Sorry Sean.)

(He’s also sick today. Let’s all let him know that we’d like him to feel better in the comments.)

Posted in Clockwork Empires | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

33 Responses to “A Little Something For The Pipe Fanciers Out There”

  1. Althea says:

    Sean, get back to work or the Daggles will be called in.

    Drodmar commands it.

    (P.S. CE will hurt my brain but I want it)

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  2. Fade Manley says:

    Get better soon, Sean! Just think of all the revamped pipe art that’s waiting for your loving touch.

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  3. AnvilMan says:

    If you want help with Tekkit, just go to the Feed the Beast wiki, look at every mod in all those modpacks, and try to think how awesome a server would be with all those different mods.
    Actually, I’ve often felt that some of those minecraft mods could influence CE: giant, overly complex machines automating everything possible while being able to use very, very strange magic to actually help with industrialization.

    Cool blog post btw.

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  4. Kaidelong says:

    User specifies and the pipes are inferred! Select a structure with a link tool, then another. Message box pops up asking what will be connected to what. Fancy pipes are built over time by workers pathing through the horrific network of pipes to their destination, perhaps, or lazily added to some pipe of pipes or underground. If a user user selects a building they can make all the other pipes into a misty transparency and see only the pipes relevant to that building, and with a Sim City esque query functionality perhaps only a subset of those pips (“all input pipes to the number four pipe” or somesuch). This will probably be boring to implement but it solves the problem of people not wanting to figure out how to connect together a Rube-Goldberg-Turing machine out of pipes and various constructs that serve no purpose other than to control pipes. Not that I haven’t done this, being that I’ve worked with far too many minecraft mods, like that one in the screenshot, but it will not fly in an accessible city builder, while contextual query windows and abstract information screens and overlays will.

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    • Kaidelong says:

      That said, you can still totally make dynamics lines accessible to crazy people who will want to put in some modder’s reimplementation buildcraft or redpower pipes and perhaps override whatever default system there is with the one that causes giant tangled headaches.

      Also, a couple of street urchins may well prove far more cost-effective than a furlong of pipes. Tropico 4’s teamster’s office comes to mind, not that things have to be so simple. Perhaps just give a factory owner budget to recruit citizens to move things until a pipe is built, or have them do it themselves and potentially compete with the player’s interest in keeping the dwarves busy on their own things.

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  5. Ouroboros says:

    So, the breakthrough: put the machines, the pipes, the gears on the outside of the factory.

    This worked for Renzo Piano’s Centre Georges Pompidou.

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    • Matthew says:

      Exactly what I was thinking. My favorite in Paris!

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    • Shtong says:

      Yup ! Plus he also painted the pipes in different colors depending on what’s in them. Shame they don’t have Completely Secure high-pressure very-hot steam there though :/

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  6. Bropocalypse says:

    I’ve had a hard time working on my comic due to a very similar minecraft mod situation.


    I’d advocate for including this in-depth tinkering, but as you said before, if a player CAN micromanage, they MUST.

    I suppose we should try to be content with letting Feed The Beast be Feed the Beast and let Clockwork Empires become the human resource “management” sim it will probably be.

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  7. Charles says:

    Feel better, Sean! It’s hard to handle mental anguish on top of physical illness.

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  8. Allison says:

    Dear Sean,

    The pipes were lovely.

    So were the gears.

    Sorry about you being sick. And having maniacal overlords who scrap your lovely work.

    I’m sure the game will be worth it in the end.

    Just keep telling yourself that.

    Good luck,


    (Who has, as a matter of fact, been naming this game as her most anticipated game since…oh…the day it was released) (So good job so far, and I’m rooting for you all)

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  9. Saharan says:

    “…iron pipes are water, copper pipes are steam…”

    What pipes are for the Nourishing Goo™?

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    • Stuthulhu says:

      My guess is lead. That way the Nourishing Goo can pick up extra fortifying minerals en route to the recipients.

      Lead! Builds strong bones and a grasping sense of poetic license in everyday speech!*

      *May not be safe for non-poets or those reluctant to hear the chorusing cries of the dark void between the stars.

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  10. ShadowTani says:

    Well, I guess if you guys have steam, power and other misc lines on the surface then I can imagine it’ll be better to keep the water pipes under the surface. But you can always make it so that certain features of it sticks up, such as valves that you can order someone to turn around whenever you want to cut off the water for certain areas of the line for example (because repairing or expanding water lines that have flowing water through them is completely harmless obviously).

    And yes, get well soon Sean!

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  11. madcow says:

    I read these dev blogs every week but never comment love them!

    One sort of offhand comment you made had me needing to respond though 😉

    Copper piping for steam. No, no, no! Because copper is such a great heat conductor, it would dissipate all the heat and make the steam condense in the lines! Would be best to switch it off with another line (water’s iron maybe) or make it have an insulated look. Like delicious perfectly safe asbestos lines 😉

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    • AdminDavid Baumgart says:

      Well, yes. That is a good point.

      I suppose the situation in which one sees all sorts of beautiful copper copper piping – the aesthetic I’d like to draw from – is pretty much entirely in the look of traditional distilleries. Which is why they’re using copper pipes. To condense.

      Shall consider this. My desire for some sort of verisimilitude weighs strongly against the fact that copper is so damn pretty to look at.

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      • madcow says:

        Copper is pretty and I don’t suppose the clockwork empire is going to be th most efficient 😉

        You probably wouldn’t want to mix/match types on the same sort of piping, but it would make sense to have copper on the steam using bits – furnaces, kettles, etc while using perfectly safe asbestos (or whatever) in connecting them.

        And I know I’m being nit-picky in bringing it up to begin with, heh.

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      • kikito says:

        I assume that one of the (categories of?) dynamics will certainly be alcohol. For strictly scientific & academic purposes. Yes.

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  12. Ian says:

    “Over-complicated; Kill it” Over-complicated for who ? it seems you have all the art and it’s working in editor – do you think it’s Over-complicated for us ?

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    • AdminDavid Baumgart says:

      In that particular case, the number of special cases for different models and arrangement of attachment gearboxes was creating more complexity than necessary — something like 8 animated models with associated code and data structure to express what is supposed to go where in what situation when a more elegant system can use just one animated model for every case.

      (We certainly wouldn’t offload the task of choosing the correct gearbox to the player. It’d be tedious, like any game where the player has to make the exact same choice over and over because only one is correct.)

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  13. Alistaire says:

    So will it cast Blessings of the Cogs over your colony if you mess up and connect steam pipes to your water network? Of course the counsel would tell about the throat-clearing medication that was intended with this new water network.

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  14. D3F3N357R470R says:

    Thanks for wishing me well! The awful death-shivers seem to have subsided for now. Health bar is almost back to full.

    And really, thanks for cheering me up when I was feeling quite awful!

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  15. Zentay says:

    Something about the fog is bothering me. It doesn’t look quite right.

    Ground fog is tends to break up into small clouds, it isn’t as evely distributed as in the screenshot. A good picture can be seen here: http://flyingantiqueairplanes.blogspot.it/2009/10/ground-fog.html

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  16. mailersmate says:

    regarding the messy pipes situation – could you not have each type of pipe on a different z level so that the whole network neatly stacks when multiple types of pipe occupie the same space?

    This could allow you to minimise the space occupied by infrastructure while also preventing bad pipe combinations happening. Visually it would look good to have the major infrastructure routes piled high with pipes.

    Not sure how you would see buildings behind the stacks but maybe a toggle infrastructure visibility button would work?

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    • mailersmate says:

      double post!

      Not sure if you guys intend to allow for different piped resources to interact but the approach I just outlined could work with that just by having combination plants outputting at their own z level. (eg z level 1 water + z level 2 larva = z level 3 steam)

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    • AdminDavid Baumgart says:

      We don’t want the game the require toggled information modes. This is the equivalent to the Sim City 4 water pipe side-game or, say, the Paradox games various map modes which require players to toggle between distinct modes to view, say, political affiliation, weather, terrain type, and logistics level. In a turn-based game it’s highly inconvenient, in a real-time game it’s a huge mistake. This should all properly be expressed in the same space with smart visual design.

      Ahem, rant over. In short, we feel strongly that information should all be expressed in just one view without requiring information toggles /as much as possible/.

      (As for stacking pipes, this may lead to visual clutter & obstruction problems if you have huge stacks of pipes. Though we absolutely discussed this as a solution, I’ll have you know!)

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  17. Ernst Poppenschlaffen says:

    How widespread will these utility lines be? Are they entirely industrial or will we be connecting them to residences and the like as well?

    I’m curious as to whether every part of my colony will be smothered in pipes and axels.

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    • AdminDavid Baumgart says:

      We’re not sure yet.

      We have discussed the idea of dynamics lines (tangent: man, “utility lines” isn’t a bad word for it) connecting to residences to improve their quality, but going in that direction depends on if the current system for industrial lines leaves enough space for expansion of the feature. Basically: we have strategies in mind for expanding or contracting the extent of the dynamics line system based on gameplay testing.

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      • Bropocalypse says:

        Perhaps for distributing these lines to clusters of small buildings, some sort of distributor unit could be built that would dispense it to them in small quantities. Expressed visually, this could be shown as very small bent pipes and such sticking out along pathways at odd angles, etc.

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  18. lolol says:

    thanks for not putting an online DRM. can’t wait to pirate your game!

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  19. eobet says:

    Will you still have visible gears? I thought that was wonderfully unique aesthetic for a game like this, since, as you mention, Sim City already has pipes.

    Also, to consider, perhaps, that real power transfer inside of factories around the 1900s happened with belts.

    Try to google “belt driven factory” and you will find many wonderful pictues.

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