In the planning meeting last month I was tasked with “adding some creepy stuff”. Lovely, easy! Right?
As is ever the case in a game such as Clockwork Empires, with as many complex systems interacting with as many other complex systems as we have here, it turns out that much of simply “adding some creepy stuff” consists of tracking down the creepy things we’ve previously made then testing and updating them so they play nicely with all the other new things (creepy or otherwise) we’ve made. Plus there are the back-end refactoring passes that have made certain things obsolete, left other threads hanging, and the usual additions of better systems to replace old bits that were a little rougher and/or hacky. So there’s cleaning up to do which not only makes things work better, but makes things work better with other things. This explains how a subtask of my primary directive, “make sure all the eldritch transformations work”, turned into “review all cult-related actions and events” which turned into “overhaul every instance of madness in the game to work with both aforementioned items and with new madness visualization”. Then I found myself fulfilling the contingent requirement of “check every single job in the game and make sure it’s doing what it ought to be doing with what it should be doing it with, and split the 8000 line jobs definition file into smaller files”.
Adding some creepy stuff is not necessarily straightforward. Happily, that last paragraph describes what I did for the last major patch.
The result of this sound & fury is that a large number of very small errors were fixed, a decent number of slightly outdated things were brought to a more up to date state, and a respectable pile of tiny oversights have been sighted and re-aligned with what’s sensible, proper, and altogether Clockworkian. This too is all good (and made for a nice meaty changelog). To lend coherency to the narrative, let’s get back to my aforementioned goal: “adding some creepy stuff”.
(I will note here that the problem with talking about creepy stuff in this game is, of course, that revealing too much might spoil the Fun. As such, I’ll try to keep things general. Ish. And if you really want to be totally surprised, don’t read this. And I’ll probably change things around a bit anyway to troll players.)
So: the goal here is to ensure the functioning of strange things, and make sure they happen with enough regularity that they will be noticed by players – but not too much so that they become merely regular. And when creepy events take place, they ought to bring player attention to themselves when appropriate and hide themselves when not. This apparently self-contradicting imperative requires a bit of finesse and, failing that, experimentation. For example-
I had the experience a couple weeks ago of re-testing fishy transformations, particularly the reaction of non-fishy colonists to the horror of semi-transformed colonists. There I was, letting the simulation run with my test feature apparently not working. How frustrating! Okay, this sucks. So I pull up an overseer’s character info window and AHH! He’s a half-fishperson! I hadn’t even noticed! This was a really cool discovery moment for me but it may suggest that as a player who wasn’t necessarily looking for this I could probably use a little helpful nudging to see that it happened. There’s a spectrum of options here, some more work than others, from the bluntness of a forced event popup & zoom (“LOOK, PLAYER! We’re clever developers aren’t we! Now be forced to look at how clever we are.”) to giving no hint at all of the transformation (“Didn’t see promised fishpeople transformation in game, devs = noobs, 6/10”).
Ahem. So there are some extremes which may not be appropriate. Now the player is not an omniscient observer, so we won’t tell them right away when an Eldritch Transformation takes place – unless it’s about to start killing people, a problem which requires immediate attention to avoid frustration, which is indeed a possible case for a certain eldritch event (or two). This one is a touch more subtle so I thought we could put the notification in-fiction. Therefore: it’s only when a non-transformed colonist notices that someone looks fishy, and the colonist is willing to report on fellow colonists to the colonial administration, that you are informed of a problem.
… Which you may then try to address head-on, or perhaps summarily ignore, because this is how scandals happen and that’d be terrible embarrassing to everyone involved and there’s the Ministry to think of.
Let’s do another example of tying systems together-
Science is important to the Empire. It provides the Empire with more advanced tools and weapons with which to bring Civilization and Prosperity to all three known corners of the world! When presented with a specimen, living or otherwise, which is unknown to Science, how does a proper Naturalist of the Empire respond? Why, by taking it apart to get a feel for how it ticks! The “dissection” job enables naturalists to disassemble the bodies of Unnatural Horrors to see what lies within. Will they find useful resources? The fame & glory of scientific discovery? Monsters within monsters? Madness as they stare into the abyss of unthinkable knowledge and feel their very reason fray?
Let’s admit that there’s a distinct possibility of madness.
And here’s one I’ve been working on in the last couple days: exotic caviar.
In old builds, exotic caviar was pre-seeded on the map. You could harvest it and bad stuff might ensue. Which was kinda neat, but it didn’t quite reflect a dynamic event system in the way we intended, nor was it particularly clever. Who put the caviar there? Why, the terrain generator did! How do Fishpeople know you took it? Magic Lua scripts!
Right, so that’s all done with. Now they have to actually show up and, er, “plant” the eggs. They will guard it with a vague sense of duty, mostly. They will react if you attempt to mess with the eggs. This ties the old caviar-reaction system in with the new agent group and agent missions systems which were created between then and now. And in doing so, the whole structure of the event has become much more dynamic. Rather than caviar being an easy source of food that leads to a terrible Fishperson attack, it’s a little more open-ended depending on how effective you are at removing the evidence of your crimes.
(This is all, of course, subject to change. To keep you on your toes.)
This was rewarding to see come together. An old, unsophisticated feature is updated to use the new systems! Plus there are a bunch of other little things this connects to, and a bunch of other little actions that both Fishpeople and Cults can perform which, altogether, create a much more dynamic and interesting set of possible creepy consequences.
So won’t you have just a taste of this Exotic Caviar?