So January! Hello! We’ve been working on Clockwork Empires for – I feel safe to say now – a fairly long time. There’s a lot of code in there, and you guys haven’t been able to play it yet. We all wish that weren’t the case, so I guess I should tell you what we’re doing about it.
Mid-December to the present was mostly a write-off due to familial obligations, plague, and stress relief in various forms, but some secret work was undertaken on the dreaded UI. It was sort of like that montage in the Lord of the Rings where Gandalf leaves in the middle of the battle to go read some dusty scrolls in Gondor, except that was David, and it was a copy of The Elements of User Experience. Suffice it to say that things are looking much better in that department. Our loose framework of “technically sufficient” programmer tools are starting to actually indicate what they’re for. It’s pretty cool, and a surprisingly laborious and meticulous job.
In terms of the 5 or 6 builds that we sent out into the wild in November (?), that was mostly a trial run to test various people’s hardware. The core fundamentals of what make a game “fun” weren’t really there, so you don’t have to feel to bad about not being subjected to our experiment. That core reward mechanism is something that we’ve also been working to hook up and get people iterating on over the last month or so. It consists of having a conflict, tools for the player to solve it in different ways, rewards for resolving conflicts, and characters unsuccessfully trying to lead normal lives while considering your strange demands.
The conflicts exist, but they’re not particularly nuanced at the moment. We have, however, built a wonderful system for putting in events which can cause all sorts of conflicts. Right now there are three events enabled: immigration, a Crate of Science, and attacking fishpeople. So, well, that’s pretty self-explanatory. You receive new settlers on some sort of arbitrary schedule. If you don’t feed them, they die; if you don’t house them, they go mad and kill each other; if you don’t arm them, they get demolished by fish people.
Occasionally Lord Palmerstoke will try to drop off a crate of science for you to guard; it will eventually be attacked by Ned Kelly bandits.
The tools to solve the conflicts exist, but we’re iterating on making them intuitive and varied.
The building creator is still closer to the “technically functional” end of the previously mentioned scale. You can build a really interesting and varied set of building footprints, they have lovely hip-style roofs and wallpaper and steps, and you can place the required modules such as furnaces, tables and doors. There are a couple of very minor issues with the rendering of these things (tiny gaps in the roof, some bugs with punching holes), but these aren’t unsolved problems, they’re just low on the list. The characters don’t care. The tools that allow a player to designate where decorative items like pictures of Uncle Bernard, or the wingback chair by the fireplace, or the fireplace, do “exist” but aren’t hooked up because – well, at the moment we don’t care if the characters have nice things. We will, don’t worry.
The tools for the harvesting and converting of commodities are also heavily in the “functional” camp. Players can designate a mining site or a farming zone, but a connection between a chosen site and the environment is not yet hooked up to an environmental sense of fertility or a geological model (soil fertility exists in-game at this time as it needed to be there for biome generation, but the geological models are still on napkins). Likewise the tools for designating forests for chopping exist, but there’s currently no effective regulation on what trees they chop, so if there’s a contiguous patch of forest that leads to the edge of the map, your lumberjacks turn into your vanguard. In some cases I’m sure that’s fine, but we don’t really encourage that.
The characters can collect the ores and raw timber and turn them into buildings and guns and a few other things, but the tools for doing so are being refined as we’re adding more content to them. It’s a slow process as each added item adds to the economy, which needs to be done carefully.
The characters do try to lead normal lives, but we’re having to spend a not-insignificant amount of time making their normal roughly the same as person’s normal (even a fictional person):
Some things that are interesting but neurotic happen so often they’re no longer interesting, like losing loved ones to starvation (desensitization is weird).
There’s also some really neat stuff going on that we’re not doing a very good job of making apparent yet, which is about as useless as possible, because it actually hurts the experience in many cases. For example, characters now decide how they’re feeling based on what they actually remember, which is not always what has actually happened to them. Psychologically, anyway: if they forget they have a broken leg, it’s still broken.
Character description windows can give you some idea of what they do remember, but the visual cues need work. If you’re not really aware of what’s going on, this just looks like an infuriating bug when alcohol use changes peoples’ emotional states by causing them to forget good or bad things. This system needs more content as well, so the number of things a character can feel based on memories they have feels less binary.
So I guess that brings me to what we’re doing now.
Networking: Micah is hard at work getting networking parallelism working, but at the moment the game will run for ten or twenty without having any issues on our local network. Our first target with the networking is to have multiple players controlling one settlement simultaneously. From there, we need to make it capable of handling dropped packets and all that real-world stuff, and then we’ll be moving on to players with their own settlements. Two-player simultaneous play is in our sights for February.
The plan for player-controlled tools is simply this: A player should be able to designate adornments for a house, then have the carpenter and her workers rouse themselves from sweeping floors and poring over ledgers to construct some chairs, have some common laborers haul them to the house and install them, and have the owner of the house then be able to sit in a chair, staring at a fireplace, brooding, like something out of a Dostoyevsky novel.
The plan for UI: A new player should be able to figure out how to do all of these things without us saying “well of course it’s the triangle with the eye in it followed by the two wavy lines and the stork”. Oh, and a mini-map.
The plan for combat: Bullets should not be magical white beams that look like a Tron-era data upload, and we should have ailments for people that can give us a reason to have all these jars of leeches.
The plan for the Economics system: is for the harvesting of the wood and the creation of the chair to take amounts of time that have the right feel for the pacing we’re after. No more three swings of a hammer to build a building, 3 chops of an axe to fell the largest of trees.
Oh, and hooking up dynamics lines, and attaching giant steam distributors to buildings to make all that go faster. Except maybe the axes. Hmmm…