The Increasing Trouble of Frontier Ruffianage

In the Gaslamp Games office we have some phrases to describe game design pitfalls. For instance “bruising the fat” refers to trying to make an aspect of the simulation unnecessarily detailed (and let me disclaimer that by saying that we have all the love in the world for Dwarf Fortress – it’s just not a road down which it is reasonable for us to follow). “Playing Starcraft” is giving the player too much ability to micromanage an insignificant system in order to optimize their in-game power. When a combat enemy simply swarms at the player for no particular reason but to get defeated, that’s “goblins”.


Bandits in Clockwork Empires started off as “goblins”, then in a second major iteration received a concept of a home camp, individual morale, and the player got a choice between fighting and letting the bandits take what they want. Funny thing is, just about zero players were interested in letting the bandits take their stuff without a fight because that simply isn’t done in games. Players chose to fight even when their military was strained, and even if it was quite likely that the bandits would steal something easily replaced like logs or fungus (until, that is, bandits received a Robbery Upgrade that had them prioritize booze and other good things, as bandits should).

bandits2Right, so we were giving a choice that no one was particularly interested in choosing, effectively no choice at all. So there were a few ways to dig in to this: make longer-term consequences for interactions with bandits, make bandits react over a longer term to what the player chooses to do, and heck, just make the more interesting narratively. They should be characters in a world, not goblins.

Let’s start with characterization: Cults suddenly became a whole lot more evocative once they had names and the player was told what these names were. “Druids of the Black Obelisk” is terrifically suggestive about the unrepresented details and uncommunicated motivations of the cult in question, like there’s a whole layer of storytelling below the surface waiting for a player to connect the dots. Bandits could get the same treatment.

History provides us with a lot of lovely, colourful criminal gangs from the 19th century. Ned Kelly & co. are an obvious inspiration to CE, and it’s a simple matter to get a quick overview of how gangs of the period were named and turn that into something we could generate. As it happens, from the first improvement pass, bandits were already formed into group and bandits individually had names – but only first names, which is appropriate to their outlaw status. So it was fairly easy to build on this structure and name gangs after the first bandit added to a group – now a “gang” – with an added adjective + noun, thus:


There’s a very particular swag to 18th/19th century criminality.

bandits3And now we have a faction relation scale for bandits ranging from the negative to the positive, and where a player is on that scale will trigger appropriate events. So for example you can increase your relations with the bandit faction by choosing to bury their dead in your graveyard rather than dumping their bodies in the woods. Or simply defeat the bandits in battle – they will respect your military prowess. From there, you may trigger a truce, and from there, bandits might supply you with some goods they “found”. Accepting such a gift may have consequences if you have a colonist organized enough to catch the discrepancy in stockpile records…

There we start tying different systems and events together by way of player choices to form something more dynamic, with build-up and consequences! Expect much more of this sort of thing.

In vaguely related news, we’re pushing patch 37B to the experimental branch in Steam. The changelog follows:

Clockwork Empires rev 37B changelog
  • FIXED: various people getting items stuck in their hands
  • FIXED: characters getting stuck in Ghost Modules
  • FIXED: occasionally grabbing a social job if you had non-social work you could be doing
  • FIXED: some nonsense with the mailbox system
  • FIXED: broken nametags (& disappearing nametags on load)
  • FIXED: dead people will no longer send ministry investigators after you. (Or initiate any other events) (At least not events restricted to living people; let’s keep an open mind here.)
  • FIXED: Sulphur Tonic job broken (due to extra space character)
  • FIXED: non-deleting science crates (+ added fun icons to ticker reports for science crates)
  • balance: increased bandit timers
  • FIXED: laudanum (and other drinks?!) not showing up in commodities window
  • FIXED: isDay wasn’t set to true on first day
  • FIXED: military characters will no longer use specially skilled civilian outfits if overseer has skill
  • FIXED: characters assigned uniform via office job should stick to those uniforms correctly
  • FIXED: militia NCOs no longer revert to civilian form if they have skills
  • FIXED: bandits actually respect truce now!
  • FIXED: bandit drop/flee cycle
  • gabion construction changed to a civilian job
  • added a floating starvation warning icon to starving characters
  • temp. removed “Spinning Mule” machine (use the workbench!)
  • rebalanced idle/wander/gossip weighting
  • updated refining tutorial to reference Metalworks as place to refine ore
  • colonists will now be slightly happier eating food in chairs rather than while standing
Although kinda awesome, this  bug was fixed.

Although kinda awesome, this bug was fixed.

Let us know how it goes!

(PS. sign up for the mailing list if you’d like to receive notifications via email plus silly bonus pictures of bugs!)

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

13 Responses to “The Increasing Trouble of Frontier Ruffianage”

  1. robert says:

    when is the linux client working?

    { reply }
    • The Linux build is now actually building and uploading; we have to check the permissions and a few other things before we can start releasing it to the general population for testing. Yay, libraries!

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  2. Kiojan says:

    Additional interactions with bandit gangs would be welcome. Bandits who give you supplies may later ask you to return the favor (refusing might break the truce) or offer to help fight off a fishperson raid. They might even start visiting your colony to trade goods for booze and food (particularly if a tavern/pub building is added later on). The ministry might put a bounty on a particular bandit/bandit gang; killing them may net you an additional supply drop and/or prestige!

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  3. Joey Headset says:

    I misread this headline as “Trouble of Frontier Roughage”. I was thinking FINALLY, CE is turning into the Kale Farming Simulator I we were all hoping for!

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  4. Akuma says:

    “colonists will now be slightly happier eating food in chairs rather than while standing”

    Damn you and your chair based oppression! The people will not stand for this!

    …Well, they will, because I didn’t build any chairs.

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  5. Sapphire Crook says:

    Wow, bandits that aren’t just cannon fodder!?
    Better reel in those horses, Gaslamp Games, you’re about to shake the oldest, dustiest pillar in existence of goons.
    *queue 99% of everyone ignoring this system and just pissing them off all the damn time anyway because BANDITS ARE FODDER FOR TRAINING*

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  6. David Entingh says:

    So, is there anyway that a cult would deal with the bandits? Night raids or something? I’m thinking along the lines of Hot Fuzz here. It’d be fun to cult-ivate (heh) a community like that of Sanford in the movie.

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  7. r_b_bergstrom says:

    “Players chose to fight even when their military was strained, and even if it was quite likely that the bandits would steal something easily replaced like logs or fungus”

    Might I ask just how were players to know which items the bandits would be likely to steal? The mechanism seemed rather opaque to me. Were items selected entirely at random, or via some weighted mechanism that would likely deprive you of a much needed resource? Would they take a set number of resources, or a percentage of each item, or clean you out? Could they take your guns, thereby preventing you from standing up to them next time? For that matter, figuring out in-game just how “strained” your military is wasn’t always easy. I suspect that at least part of why paying tribute was an unappealing choice for players was because the never had enough data to weigh it against the likely costs of a battle. If the bandits had said “give us 3 cabbages and 2 logs or we’ll shoot the place up” people would have been able to decide if that was a worthwhile trade, but last time I played the bandit event didn’t give that level of detail.

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    • Thomas says:

      I was one of the dreaded 99%, simply because the bandits always seemed to come right when everyone was starving and half dead, and I feared they’d take what precious little food I had left.
      Thankfully starvation is a bit easier to deal with now, but I still stand and fight because.. Screw bandits.
      Perhaps if they were more interested in “trade” (or even just asking nicley) I’d feel a little less hostile towards them.

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    • AdminDavid Baumgart says:

      Stolen items were originally entirely random, though are now weighted. Physical location is, honestly, the greatest determinant of what gets stolen and that’s highly chaotic.

      It is possible to make bandits target only particular categories of goods (which the weighting does help with), though targeting specific instances of goods and signalling that can be remarkably difficult (objects are generally locked by jobs; we can just not lock objects, but then you have a bandit targeting a thing that might disappear when someone consumes it for whatever reason, which … well, there’s a whole rabbit hole of conditions to account for.)

      Demanding X valid items from the player’s stocks was indeed the way I was thinking to approach this, but that’d require some new infrastructure. Demanding X items from (broad category of commodities that player is likely to have) is far easier and a likely first step.

      Long story short: everything is more complex than one would imagine, but we’re probably thinking along similar lines for improving how bandits work.

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  8. Benevolent Overlord says:

    I like how new building construction will automatically select stumps and such to be cleared as a part of the construction process. I wish the same could be done for stockpiles to simplify things.

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  9. Benevolent Overlord says:

    Are there any plans to make water a resource that can be foraged? Also, I’ve noticed that lower, middle and upper housing have the same supply requirement for doors and the little wooden steps. Would it be possible to add stone steps for middle class doors and brick steps for upper?

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