Here's a new update on the Twilight Struggle Digital Version from Randy at Playdek. Enjoy!
I'd like to give you a quick update
on how development of Twilight Struggle: Digital Edition is going.
Online multiplayer is pretty solid now. Gary & I have
asynchronous games going all the time. Although the game also runs as a
standalone application on both PC and Mac, we mainly play on our iPads
so we can continue to take our turns after work hours. We haven't found
any serious bugs for a couple of months, so our games almost always
reach a conclusion. As a result, games have gotten very competitive. Now
and then we must make a change to the game server that invalidates the
current games. When this happens, we are usually in the middle of an
intense game and always try to quickly finish it rather than abandon it.
The UI is gradually improving. Our artist, Ron, has
developed some visual prototypes and elements from these have been
plugged into the game's UI. We have a proper map now, with improved
country graphics to replace the programmer art that you saw in the last
update. The deluxe edition cards have been implemented. We have an
interface in place for designating how you play your cards that feels
intuitive. We are currently trying out a new game log that operates like
a news ticker - items (each one an action round) scrolling across the
bottom of the screen. So far it feels good and it doesn't take up too
much screen space. Making the best use of screen space is always the
biggest challenge in implementing a digital board game interface.
Our AI development is well underway now. An initial
framework is coming together that will allow the AI to think about the
possibility that its opponent holds certain game-changing cards (like,
say, Blockade or Decolonization). At the same time, it will also
consider what plays its opponent is likely to make using Ops. Of course,
AI development will be ongoing from now until the end of the project.
Like an artist's painting, an AI is never truly finished.
Our current goal is to get the UI polished enough so
that we can release an online-play-only PC build to our backers. We're
excited to get it into backers' hands as soon as we can.
I sent out a GMT mass customer e-mail update today and included a brief update on the physical rewards, so I wanted to make sure to post it here so everyone sees it. Here it is:
Mark Simonitch just let us know that ALL the physical fulfillment items (TS Collector's Edition + Various expansions) went to the printers yesterday (Jan. 8), so at this point we look to be in pretty good shape to ship in late March. We'll keep you updated as the printing/collating process moves forward.
Well, that's it - brief, but definitely progress, so we wanted you to know.
It's been a while since we've given you a proper update. So, in today’s update, we’ll do our best to give you a comprehensive look at where we stand with both the digital and physical rewards. I hope you'll see that although we've been quiet of late, there has been a LOT of work going on in the background.
First off, here’s an update on the digital side from Programmer Randy Stevenson at Playdek:
Digital Version Update
Where We Came From
When we started the Twilight Struggle: Digital Edition project, Playdek had just made the decision to adopt a new graphics engine to take our products to the next level both visually and functionally. Our core existing technology behind all our games was about to get a facelift. The challenge was to separate our existing UI code from the game rules, AI & network code in a way that allowed our programmers to continue iterating on familiar technology while opening up a new playground of creativity for our artists to work in. As a result, the presentation of our games would get a huge boost in quality.
So, we went to work! Laying the groundwork for the new architecture — our existing game engine coupled to a spiffy new graphics engine — took some time to accomplish, but we did it. Progress during this period of development was ‘under the hood’ and not particularly visual. It took some time, but it has finally reached a stable and functional state.
Meanwhile, Gary Weis (Playdek’s CTO) crafted the game rules code for Twilight Struggle. This is usually the first step we take because the other major components of the program (AI and UI, particularly) benefit most from a solid and faithful rules implementation. As board gamers ourselves, we appreciate the importance of getting the rules right, and it is no easy task. In the ‘real world’ there can be numerous rules conflicts that we don’t ever need to think about unless they actually come up during a game. Even then, we can always check for a ruling on The Geek, or just improvise a ruling that seems fair and continue with the game. Not so in the digital realm! Every course of action, no matter how improbable, needs to be handled correctly.
During rules development, we have a barebones Windows client that allows us to play through the game and exercise the rules engine so we can find and fix bugs. This is the game in its first playable form, completely untouched by any artist.
Where We Are Now
Gary and I have been playing lunchtime games of Twilight Struggle using our game rules code for the past couple of months. Our goal has been to test out as many combinations of card play as we can, looking for bugs in the rules code. Sometimes the game would outright crash on us. Other times, we’d notice problems with certain cards not functioning correctly or bugs in the scoring sequence.
Gary also implemented Volko Ruhnke’s Late War Scenario (from page 12 of the Deluxe Edition rules), specifically so we could get better test coverage on the late war cards. Playing this scenario as the Soviets is brutal. The US must score 20+ points in order to win, and you are just trying to minimize the damage as much as possible. Preventing US dominance in any region when it is scored is often difficult for the Soviets in this scenario. By the time we returned to playing normal games, I’d lost all confidence in my ability to spread Soviet influence throughout the world. (Don’t worry, it’s back now. Ask Gary.)
We started out both playing on Gary’s Windows client. The interface is functional, but it can be unforgiving. Once, I entered the command to perform a coup only to realize I’d forgotten Cuban Missile Crisis was in play. Another time I performed a coup using ABM Treaty but I’d forgotten to play the card for its event — I’d used it for ops at DEFCON 2. Whoops! Too bad, there was no way to back out & no warnings given. Of course, our finished game client will do all the right things you’d want in situations like these. It’ll warn you when you’re about to cause Thermonuclear War. It’ll let you undo your actions during your turn, as long as you didn’t reveal any new information.
During all this play testing, I’d been working on the ‘real’ client, the program that will become our final shipping product. Right now, it is functional and runs on 3 platforms: MacOS, iOS and WindowsPC. I’ve been using it in my daily Cold War battles with Gary for the past 2 weeks. It doesn’t look much better than Gary’s Windows client, but it is the chassis upon which we will build our final UI. It currently allows asynchronous network play, hotseat play, and play against a rudimentary AI. Take a look:
I can tell already that playing Twilight Struggle this way will be a joy to fans of the game. I always used to lose track of what action round it was, but not anymore. The days of searching for a 5 influence marker, or improvising a second 8 marker (with a 5 next to a 3) are over! Now I can look in the discard pile without my opponent knowing instantly that I’ve got SALT Negotiations in my hand, and it’s easy to see what cards have been removed from the game. I can easily go back and review the sequence of events all the way to the beginning of the game. And finally, no more time spent setting up & putting away the game.
It is very important to point out the following: To date, not a single piece of art drawn by an actual artist has been put into the game. But that’s about to change…
Where We Are Going
As of today, we are finally ready for art staff to join us working on Twilight Struggle: Digital Edition. One of our artists, Ron Bourbeau, is already testing out some visual concepts. In a matter of weeks, the user interface should see massive improvements. We will soon be iterating the design of the user interface to make the product as slick as it can be. There are some things that probably won’t change too much, like placing & removing influence from a country by simply tapping/clicking on it. Other things will need to be explored a little more: What’s the best way to display log information? What’s the best process for indicating whether cards are played for Event or Ops? Opponent’s Event first, or Ops first? Ops used to Place Influence, perform a Coup or attempt Realignment? Right now the interface for these decisions is a series of functional but boring buttons. By the time we are done we will have settled on a process that is as simple and intuitive as we can make it.
Right now, I’m working toward our next major milestone: getting the UI functionality to a point where we can release a beta version to backers for online play. It will be good to get feedback from beta testers as we work to refine our interface. Getting test coverage on more card combinations and game states will also help us track down whatever bugs remain. Nothing beats playtesting to really whip your game into shape, so I am looking forward to getting the game into testers’ hands.
While UI work proceeds, Gary and I will also be working on improving the AI, which is still in the early stages of development. It has a long way to go before it can give us a challenge, but it will get there. Additionally, we still need to add the Chinese Civil War variant (does anybody use this?) and What If? Expansion to the rules code, as well as the ability to load more scenarios beyond the Basic and Late War scenarios. There’s still plenty of work to be done!
- Randy Stevenson, Programmer, Playdek
Physical Version Update
That’s exciting news from Playdek! I can’t wait to try it out! As I mentioned in an earlier post, I plan to be at the Playdek offices next Monday, Nov. 17, to take a look at the program and meet with various team members. NDA allowing, I’ll update you guys on that visit when I get home.
Now for physical reward news from the GMT side of things. Here’s our status as of today:
$15 Off Coupon Code: We have everything ready to go to send out the Coupon Codes on Monday, November 17. We’re going to send these out using the same process we use for our monthly GMT customer email updates, so look for an email on the 17th from firstname.lastname@example.org. The e-mail will be a short note from us that will include your $15 off coupon code, that you’ll be able to use at checkout for any in-stock (not P500) order from the GMT website (www.gmtgames.com) between now and June 30, 2015. Note that these codes are one-time use codes, but they are NOT tied to an individual account on our website. So if you’d like to give them to a friend or as gifts as some of you mentioned during the campaign, that will work just fine. But each code can only be used once.
Game Expansions (2 x Promo Packs + “What If?”): Ananda and Jason turned in the final versions of all the expansions about a month ago. Our artists are currently finalizing graphics and layout in preparation for sending them off to the printers.
One thing we hadn’t thought about, which Mark Simonitch caught as we were doing the prep work on these, is that we’re going to need to do the cards for these expansions in two versions – one to match the 60K+ copies of the game that already exist, and one specific to match the Collector’s edition. So we’ll print enough “new versions” to match the # of Collector’s Editions we print, and send the new version to anyone who’s getting a CE.
Game Fulfillment (TS Deluxe Edition or 1989): We are going to ship these in March when we ship the Expansions and the Collector’s Edition. We looked at maybe shipping them sooner, but it creates a mess, tracking-wise, for our office folks, and it also wrecks the shipping budget to ship multiple times. So look for these in March with the rest of the goodies.
Collector’s Edition: We’re making progress on the Collector’s Edition, with an eye toward a March release. Tony tells me that all the files will be in to the printer by the end of November. Here’s a component-by-component listing of present status on the major new components, with more details where we have them:
Game Box. This will be the wooden, hinged box, that’s 4” deep, with ½” thick box sides, and elements of the TS logo stamped in the box top. Specs already in to the printer and ready to go along with the rest of our order at month end.
Game Cards. The card art is finished and they are ready to go to the printer. (See Sample Below.)
Map. You may remember that we decided to give you guys a double-sided mounted map for the CE. One side is the standard map from our Deluxe Edition, so of course the art for that is ready to go. The flip side features all new artwork from Chechu Nieto, the map artist for our COIN series games. Mark Simonitch tells me he’ll have the map from Chechu by this weekend. We may give you a sneak peek before we release – or maybe we’ll just surprise you, we’ll see!
Counters. All of the game’s influence markers are going to be die stamped wooden pieces. The rest of the informational markers will remain as cardboard counters. These, too, are already in to the printers in bid form – we just have to deliver the counter art for the markers around month end.
Miniatures and Dice. We’re still on track to deliver five metal miniatures and two 18mm custom-molded plastic TS-themed dice.
The Rules and Player Aids, Fabric Bag, and Certificate of Authenticity will all still be in the final CE product – just not a lot extra to say about those here.
Here’s that sample of the game cards I mentioned above. Hope you like them!
So, as you can see, we’re well along in the creation process, on both digital and physical products. We’ll update you guys again as we have more information.
Thanks for all your support!
We have a little update on how development is going with Playdek, however first we want to help clear up some confusion that is still occurring with our recent surveys.
One of the questions asks for your Playdek account with a method on creating one, however we understand that some of our backers may not have a Playdek account, may not have an iOS or Android device to create one, or simply don’t want to create an account at this time. In that case feel free to enter an email we can use to contact you when another method for creating a Playdek account is made available. You will need an account to access your digital rewards and to access the online features in the game, however if you would like to wait you are more than welcome to put off creating the account and submitting an email to contact you with.
If you continue to have any more issues with the survey, please feel free to let us know.
Now for some development news, we had the pleasure to ask Playdek’s Senior Programmer Randy Stevenson a few questions about development and his work on Twilight Struggle. So without further delay, here you are:
1. Who are you and what is your role at Playdek?
My name is Randy Stevenson. I've been a gamer all my life, and a software engineer for over twenty years. For the past three years, I've been a programmer at Playdek. I started out doing user interface work for Food Fight & Nightfall, and gradually worked my way up to doing rules and AI for Agricola and Lords of Waterdeep.
2. How familiar were you with Twilight Struggle when this project was announced?
I first played Twilight Struggle with a good friend and gaming buddy about 3 years ago. After enough plays to fully understand the game's mechanics, it quickly became my all-time favorite board game. Since then, I have played close to 40 games, most of them using Vassal. I consider myself an intermediate player; I know all the cards and I try to be aware of where the most important ones are at all times. Even before the project was announced, I sought out playing tips, and read annotated games and strategy discussions just to learn more about the game and become a better player. I love the way Twilight Struggle presents a steady stream of meaningful decisions to be made, strategies and contingency plans to follow, and unexpected crises to deal with -- all within an interesting historical context. I think I prefer head-to-head competition over other styles of gameplay, too. For me, Twilight Struggle is the perfect mix of gaming elements.
3. What are you most excited about with this project?
Where do I start? I'm always excited to give great board games the digital treatment they deserve, but doing Twilight Struggle will be particularly rewarding. It is such a beautifully-designed game, it deserves a top-notch digital conversion. By the time we are ready to release, Twilight Struggle will have all the usual Playdek features, plus some new ones, including in-game chat and tournament play. I’m excited to see how well I can get the AI to perform. I’m excited to see what kind of user interface will emerge during development. I'm also excited to try out the new expansion content from the game's designers. Overall, I'm just thrilled to be a part of this effort to deliver a quality digital version of Twilight Struggle to fans, and to potentially expand the audience for this wonderful game.
4. What are you currently working on in regards to Twilight Struggle?
The first task for all our board game conversions is to create a strict implementation of the game rules, making sure to get every detail correct. We are currently finishing that up. We do have a playable version of the game, but it currently runs only on PC and uses what we in the industry affectionately call "programmer art." In other words: it ain't pretty but it gets the job done. We are still finding some bugs with the rules, though. Once we have achieved enough stability, we will bring in some artists and another programmer to build the game's interface and I'll turn my attention to my biggest challenge yet: creating the game's AI.
5. As a fan of the board game, are there any features within the digital version of Twilight Struggle that you are excited to see implemented?
The most exciting thing for me is that I'll be able to play Twilight Struggle more often, against new opponents, and at my own pace. Asynchronous play means I can play even when I don't have time to sit down and play a whole game in real time. I'm also excited to play in tournaments, learn new strategies from better players, and try out the new expansion.
6. What, if any, are some things you have learned while working on other Playdek titles that you can apply to Twilight Struggle?
Creating a decent AI that can handle a difficult hand of cards and stay in the game without committing DEFCON suicide is going to be a challenge. Thankfully, I have the experience of working on AI for Agricola and Lords of Waterdeep to help me. Without having those 2 titles under my belt, I'd have no idea where to start. As it is, though, I feel uniquely qualified for this particular job, and I am really looking forward to it.
I also know how important it is to craft a quality user interface that is intuitive, unobtrusive, and makes the game truly shine. I know how challenging that can be, and what kind of effort it takes -- more than many people realize! Being comfortable with our technology and our processes will give us more time to polish the UI and get it just right. Playdek takes great pride in creating faithful renditions of beloved board games, wrapped in a slick & easy-to-use interface.
7. What is something you would like to personally say to the Kickstarter backers?
Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am delighted and privileged to be involved in this project. Please rest assured that Twilight Struggle is in capable hands. I love Twilight Struggle and I won't let anything happen to it! You will get the game you know and love in a quality digital package.
Production is coming along nicely for Twilight Struggle and as time goes on we will be able to start sharing with you more details on the expansion and promo packs, screens of the game as it gets further into development, and even get the beta backers into the game to start playing against GMT and Playdek employees and other backers! A lot of fun things are coming this year for everyone!
Thank you all for reading and we will continue to keep you all updated!
Earlier today we sent out the backer surveys. You should see those soon if you haven't received them yet. Please fill out these surveys when you have a chance so that we can start working to collect all of your rewards.
We have also made it so that you will be able to edit your shipping address in case it changes. When we are ready to finally ship out your rewards we will give you advance notice so you can make sure your listed address is correct.
Thank you all for your patience, and we hope everyone has a great weekend!