Category Archives: Clockwork Empires

How We Made Them Pay

A game of Clockwork Empires can be looked at as a game of increasing resource accumulation. This is extremely reductive but provides a useful perspective on certain design issues. So give every commodity a value, watch the sum of value in the player’s control increase as resources are extracted from labour and processed into higher-value goods. Population increases over time, increasing available labour. Food requirements impose a cost against population growth, though rate of added productivity is higher than food-labour cost.  Capital infrastructure (modules, buildings) imposes costs, but vastly increases productivity. Character skill gain over time increases speed of production. Altogether an idealized chart of total resources accumulated over time could look something like this:

resources_over_timeWhen a player advances to a point where their pile of accumulated resources are effectively limitless, then they’ve basically won the economic game, which makes it easy to explore the rest of the game without serious challenges (aka “fun”). This blog post is not about dealing with that end-game state however, it’s about delaying that end-game post-scarcity utopia in a way that is interesting. Building a colony in Clockwork Empires is very much about the challenges faced – and overcome – in the journey from a handful of colonists alone in the wilderness to bustling industrial powerhouse. If we let that journey finish too quickly, then the game experience is poorer for it. If we mess with the player’s journey by throwing random tornadoes at them to blow up all their stuff, that feels unfair and frustrating.

The question is, how do we slow accumulation rate or subtract from a player’s resources outside of food requirements and construction costs? … And have players enjoy it.

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Technical Director Vining Versus THE VOID

A bug that’s been in the game for awhile, and which some of you may have encountered (albeit very rarely) is the following peculiar circumstance: You start the game, you load up a new map… and suddenly, everything slowly starts to drift into the corner of the map. Finally, you end up with a giant frothing mass of dodos, and colonists, and monsters and who knows what else stuck in one corner of the map, apparently unable to move.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, you end up with the following scenario (screenshot thanks to a forum user):


So… what in the world causes this mess?

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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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Enraged Colonists? Here’s What To Do

As a principle of game design it is essential that the major mechanics systems of Clockwork Empires clearly interact and cause consequences with one another. Buildings should affect characters should affect events should affect characters should affect industry and so on in every direction through the web of systems.

The Quality of Life mechanics are a strong link to character mood from a handful of systems. The first iteration of Quality of Life was compelling, sure (and I wrote about it previously here), and it did perform that connective role. But it did not explicitly give the player a suggestion about what actions they should be taking. It is one thing to say that so-and-so is upset because of this and that. The point is how do I-the-player change it? (Further, how important are the things I can change?)

My vicar is a despairing, maddened half-fishperson. You generally want to avoid this sort of situation.

Here my vicar is a half-fishperson, maddened with despair due to poor conditions. And being half-fishperson, I suppose. You generally want to avoid this sort of situation.

To generalize once more: given a simulation game, it is not enough to have a cool simulation with pieces that affect other pieces. The game must tell the player what the heck is going on, why, and what they can do about it. And if there are many things they can do about it, what’s the difference between them? Or, at least, which is more important? (And why should the player care?)

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Clockwork Empires August Update: YES, INSPECTOR

The Occult Inspector asked if there was an update and we said-


This update will go live to every Clockwork Empires player via Steam!

We have also updated our Clockwork Empires: Development Progress report!

Don’t own the game? Clockwork Empires can be purchased on via Humble or from Steam.

Want to hear about all sorts of updates via email plus receive silly images from development? Sign up for the newsletter here.

Major player-facing additions this month:

  • added a new Mine system
  • improved Naturalist’s Office
  • improved Public House
  • added a Training Academy
  • lights!
  • many UI improvements
  • vast & sweeping Upkeep rebalancing
  • Game Over stats
  • The Larch

Begin the full Beta 54 changelog!

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Acceleration Structures

Clockwork Empires relies internally on a series of tags, as I think we’ve discussed on this blog far too many times. When you go to look for something like food, we check the game for every object with the “raw_food” tag, and then you go to eat it. Here is where the bad news happens: once you have a sufficiently long game, you can stockpile large quantities of food. Let us say that a player has 500 pieces of raw food. Let us also say you have 150 characters – so, to put it into perspective, the player has accumulated 3 days worth of food. (This isn’t even that large a number.) Every day, the 150 characters must go and eat 150 pieces of food out of the 500. The problem is – they want to eat the *closest* food. So now we have to check 500 pieces of food vs 150 players to see which piece is the closest, for a total of 150 * 500 = 75,000 distance queries. Well, that can be a bit slow, especially when our AI budget is very tight and we have a lot to do. However, we’re now seeing games where characters have huge amounts of food – 5,000 pieces of food, say – and the game slows to a crawl. Clearly, smarter programming is required.

A lovely sea-side desert colony sent in by a player as part of a bug report.

A lovely sea-side desert colony sent in by a player as part of a bug report.

Clockwork Empires stores all information about object positions in a spatial dictionary. The handling of tags is done by a “tag index” class, which is essentially a giant array of information consisting of the following attributes: “position, object, previous item with this tag, next item with this tag”. When a tag is set, we grab a tag index from a giant statically allocated pool of tag indices, so that we don’t have a memory allocation, and attach it to the linked list of tags. The problem is… there’s no way to easily find the “closest” tag to your point. What is needed is a spatial acceleration structure of some kind – a way of dividing the world into regions so that we can start in our region, check it for the closest whatever, and then move on.

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Too Greedily And Too Deep

Welcome back to Chris’s Gameplay Iteration Corner! As usual when I show up here, we’re talking about improvements to gameplay systems.

One of our major goals at the moment is fleshing out some of the less-interesting buildings in the game. Improvements to the pub are in-progress as of the latest build, the chapel and naturalist office have improvements planned, and a major overhaul has gone into the building we’ll be talking about today – the humble Mine!

Exceedingly humble.

Exceedingly humble.

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A Simple Pint At The Pub

This post was originally going to be about Occult Inspectors but if we gave anything away that’d ruin the fun, wouldn’t it. So why not come down to the pub for a pint? By which I mean, we’ve been doing some iteration of the Public House (and related buildings, and games systems) and, while the trajectory we’ve set upon ourselves here is not yet finished, some interesting bits of design have come up on the path thus far traveled. By which I mean I’ll ramble about random stuff vaguely related to implementing Pub features which may or may not change.

Let’s start with the UI for the Pub, because this has implications through the entire game:


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