Author Archives: Daniel

Clockwork Empires Launch Trailer – 1.0 goes live on Steam tomorrow!

We are super excited to release our 1.0 build of Clockwork Empires on Steam tomorrow. Here’s our brand new launch trailer to tide you over until then!

As always, a we owe a huge thanks to our Early Access players for being a part of this awesome ride. We could not have done it without all of you.

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The official 1.0 build of Clockwork Empires will be launched October 26th!


We first released the game for purchase in “Earliest Access” over 2 years ago, and we’re proud of just how far the game has come, in part thanks to our dedicated early-access players. Clockwork Empires has changed quite a bit but, the central concept has stayed the same: manage the growth of a colony of settlers on the steampunk frontier, as they learn to deal with the horrors of the unknown.

We’re putting a hold on the “Experimental” builds leading up to the launch date so we can surprise you with some more stuff when the time comes, but expect new events, more cults and monsters, along with all the other polish that you would expect as the doomsday clock ticks ominously forwards to midnight and version 1.0.

This will, of course, not be the last update for Clockwork Empires, but we have reached the point where we feel that the important elements are all here (or will be before The Time). We will of course continue to find and fix bugs as they appear, add content and adjust the balance of the game beyond version 1.0 – while the game won’t see support forever, just like our previous title Dungeons of Dredmor, the journey doesn’t end on release.

If you’re interested in the road that we traveled to get to this point, I would invite you to take a look at the Development Progress report that we have kept up-to-date every month since August 2014. (And if you’d like to check out the game in the weeks before release – or just wishlist it – the steam store page can be found Here.)

We want to thank everyone who has been a part of this journey with us: supporting us by buying Clockwork Empires, talking with us about your experiences, pointing us at new (and sometimes old) bugs, sending us saves and crash dumps, and giving us suggestions to improve it. I can, without any reservation, say that we could not have done this without you. We are grateful to be able to create games for you, and doing it with you has been an amazing experience.

Long live the Clockwork Empire!


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The Skill Reward Gap

As a player gains mastery of a game they will often seek greater challenges which provide rewards different from those they sought after when they were less masterful.

In the case of, say, a time trial racing game, you perfect every corner until you can’t get any better, and then you start looking for things like hidden shortcuts that are risky but allow for greater reward for greater skill. If the game sets a goal of the shortest time, players will bend and break every rule they can to get the shortest time possible and do speed runs.

Here we see Bandits speed-running into a squad of redcoats.

Here we see Bandits speed-running right into a squad of redcoats.

Most games obviously aren’t just timed runs, but in almost every game with a stat than can be tracked, a player can optimize for that stat. Moreover, in many games designers will intentionally put in these “hidden shortcuts”, where a very skilled player can reap a huge reward – or optimization. These systems are often hidden or left at the very end of games so that new players don’t become frustrated by thinking they should be able to perform these difficult feats too early in their process of mastery.

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Of Hidden Things

My quest for the last several months to improve the visibility of information that players care about through our UI has been a really interesting process. There’s a lot going on under the hood of Clockwork Empires, and we simply didn’t have the tools to show it to you before. But our UI has been getting steadily better at presenting data (and I’ve become less and less terrible at UI design) so I keep getting cool opportunities to show you what you actually want to see when you’re looking at various parts of the game.

At this point I think there’s only one system that we haven’t shown at all but is pretty central to the way the game functions, and we actually had to avoid taking advantage of it because if we couldn’t show it to you, it got confusing. But now we can! And this system is tags.


Every object in the game has a set of tags (attributes, if you will) that are generated when we first create an item, and can change over time as an object interacts with the world. Tags such as “timber” or “food” are straightforward examples.


The common log. Flammable, timber, what more could anyone ask for in a log? Perhaps for a message, but only if you’re ready to listen.

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Shift Work

The work shift system started out life not even really being considered a “system” per se but rather just a basic set of controls for when people would work. Characters would work during the day and sleep at night.

Pepper Barnacle, skilled at cookery as well as science; leader of the aptly named Daring Culinarians. His eponymous dish is feared, loathed, and loved in equal measure.

Pepper Barnacle, skilled at cookery as well as science; leader of the aptly named Daring Culinarians. His eponymous dish is feared, loathed, and loved in equal measure.

Then we thought of a great way to increase game system interconnectedness by attaching the shift system to character happiness: The happier a character is, the more they’ll work. At this point, though, we also thought it would be a great idea since we’re now giving the shifts first class UI status by actually setting aside UI space to show the work shifts to allow the player to control them. Turns out this was not a great idea.

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Alerts and When to Mystery

Whew, I haven’t written one of these in a while! I’ve been doing some weird back-end programming for a bit, but a few things that I’ve been working on is finally ready for an experiment, so let’s talk about them.

Alert framework

We’re rolling out a new, more robust alert framework.

"To the heliograph! Alert the Ministry that the cogs have whizzled too far this time!"

“To the heliograph! We must alert the Ministry that the cogs have whizzled too far this time!”

The old alerts were good for a few things, but not great for most. They began their life out of a need for a system for opt-in decision making, since we didn’t want to be pushing major choices to the middle of the main screen every time a player needed to make a choice (e.g. what to do about bandits), but the initial implementation of icons down the left side of the screen caused problems: icons alone aren’t enough to get across specific information, and there was still important information in the “ticker” (aka dialogue) box at the top of the screen because of this. Some news like “you got some planks” just didn’t make sense in a dismissable icon with the same weight as “pick your bandit foreign policy”.

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Catching The Chicken

There’s a tired joke one might hear in a restaurant when your meal is taking too long which goes something like “I guess they had to go catch the chicken before they could cook it.” This doesn’t actually happen in restaurants (probably), but it does happen in software development all the time.

Tiered organization of commands, you say?

Tiered organization of commands, you say?

When you want to do something new, you rely on having a significant chunk of code to build upon. But occasionally you have to go back and fill in things that you never realized you needed. Thankfully, unlike the restaurant joke, it’s not always such a great time sink. Having to go back and rework previous code can be done with the benefit of hindsight, and often lets you maybe make some low-effort changes that impart significant improvement to the software.

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The Importance of Being Happy

Happiness now matters. We’ve simplified the interaction loop that we were intending to place between character mood and work to give the player more direct control and feedback of how their work crews are doing. Whereas before Alpha 47C players could designate any given “hour” of the day as a work hour or an hour off, players now designate a single “start hour”, and the length of the shift the character will work is dependent on their level of happiness. Moving a work crew’s shift time causes the overseer to be less happy and more angry, and at a certain threshold of anger they will simply refuse to work, so overdoing micromanagement is discouraged.


Why does Jesse Snuffbox have such a negative attitude when Elsa Goldenrivet is all smiles and hard work? Now you know!

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