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Lead a barbarian kingdom to glory during the final days of the Roman Empire. An empire builder by Jon Shafer, designer of Civ 5.
Lead a barbarian kingdom to glory during the final days of the Roman Empire. An empire builder by Jon Shafer, designer of Civ 5.
3,009 backers pledged $106,283 to help bring this project to life.

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January 2018 Update

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Happy New Year everyone!

This will be a short post since I've taken the last week off for the holidays and the mid-December update covers the meat of what's been going on with the project lately.

At the bottom of this post is the full changelog for v23, which went up on Steam about a week ago. I'll be officially "back in the office" tomorrow, and from there I'll be focusing on getting a new build up on Humble, playtesting, and collecting feedback for the next few weeks. All of the midgame features I've discussed in previous updates are now in the game, so the immediate priority is making sure all of them are both functioning and fun.

To give you guys an idea of my thinking behind the midgame I've made the design brainstorming doc publicly available, so feel free to check it out. It's definitely rough and more "how should X and Y work" rather than strict game design, but it might still be a fun read.

The next big feature we'll be checking off the list is diplomacy, as it's the final piece of the puzzle for wrapping up the midgame. I'll have more details on the final design for this in the February update, but the basic idea is to make things fairly explicit (5 or so discrete relationship levels, every choice you make clearly explains what will happen if you make choice X or Y). I don't think simulating humans or focusing on trade have proven themselves to be particularly successful or compelling approaches in other 4X/grand strategy games, so we're going to try something else this time around.

That's about it for now. Now that I'm back from vacation tomorrow I'll be around here and on Twitter in case anyone has any questions. Starting in February I'll get back to posting more media (screenshots, video, etc.) again, so if you're more interested in seeing the game in action stay tuned for that.

Hope everyone has a great 2018!

- Jon

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v23 Change Log

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MAJOR FEATURES

- Can now 'Declare Kingdom', which causes the Settlement to become permanently immobilized and costs 25 Parchment, but provides +2 Control range and +10 Fame per turn.

- "Borders" are now back in the game, and all Structures (including Settlements) now have a default Border radius of 1. Borders are now called "Control" both in code and in-game text.

- All Structures must now be constructed within a player's Control.

- Structures can now be "Fortified" by spending an increasing quantity of Weapons, allows their Control Range to be increased to a maximum of 4 tiles.

- Apprentices can now only be assigned to a Structure after spending Boards in order to add "Apprentice Slots". The Resource cost of adding both an Apprentice Slot to a Structure and assigning a Clan as an Apprentice to a Structure increases by 50% each time (can be modified via XML).

- Removed all level 3 and 4 Structures. There will now only be two versions of each structure: a basic Timber-based version that depletes the Resources on a tile, and a Stone Block-based upgraded version that lasts forever (WIP: currently only prototyped with Wheat Farms).

- Finished updating design implementation for all Structures (one Timber-based version that exhausts its Resource Deposit, plus a more advanced Stone Blocks-based version which does not).

- Added basic conquest victory condition after capturing a Roman Capital.

- Tutorial fully updated.

- Added new 'Game Help' Screen. Can be opened by pressing '?' or by using the new button in the upper-left corner of the screen.

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MINOR FEATURES

- Brought back the Watchman Profession, which can construct Watch Towers outside of your Control.

- Added support for Resource-harvesting-but-non-depleting Stone Structures.

- The Woodworks Structure (Logging Camp Mk. II) now requires only Stone Blocks to construct and does not deplete Forests.

- Reduced number of Resource Deposits near starting locations, as it just felt like there were way too many.

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INTERFACE

- Added rudimentary victory screen.

- Improved layout of Clans screen.

- Added tagline to main menu (mainly to help unwitting Civ players who expect a different kind of game from what AtG intends to deliver).

- Added new Structure Tooltip section which describes the benefits and costs of adding Apprentices to a Structure.

- Increased Help Guide Tip popup text size and width.

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MISC

- "Fortifying" a Unit to give it a defensive bonus is now called "Digging In" (so as to not conflict with the new "Fortify" feature for Structures).

- New AIPlugin implementation in AI2. Can switch between the new one and the old one by modifying Plugins.xml.

- Pressing F7 will now quit the game from the Main Menu and World Screen (for debugging purposes).

- Can now modify the Control Range of a MapObject via the debug console.

- Expanding Control now makes full use of the localization and rich text formatting system. This will be utilized for all future changes to the Selection Panel (and elsewhere in the UI).

- Added color override support to RichString.Append_RawTextToFormat().

- When using the quickloading debug option while the quicksave is out-of-date the game will now show a popup informing you such, instead of simply aborting the game launch with no feedback.

- Added help info to the new "CONTROL" debug console command.

- Added new CompositeString constructor which takes a raw string. Not super-useful in the long-run, but helpful while the text system is in transition from an older raw text-based format to the fancy new system.

- Updated several Concept help text entries.

- Help Guide Tip popups now have the ability to link to other tips. These show up as buttons on the final popup.

- Added code which allows all the popups in a PopupSequence to have the same POPUP background height (previously this only worked for the popup MESSAGE background height, which doesn't really work once you start adding other stuff to the popup, e.g. follow-up buttons).

- Clicking on a Help Tip follow-up button now activates the linked tip. 

- Message Popups now accept RichStrings instead of raw strings.

- Added RichString constructor which accepts a StringBuilder (instead of just a raw string).

- Every Help Tip's PopupSequence object is now instantiated in HelpGuide, instead of each individual Tip.

- Help Screen now shows Tips in two columns so that they all fit on the screen.

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BUGS

- Fixed bug where missing pillaged Watch Tower texture would cause the game to crash when constructed.

- Fixed bug where the Resource cost check when allocating Apprentices would only be applied for a single Resource rather than the full list due to the check being static.

Mid-December 2017 Update

29 likes

Hey all,

From here on out most of the updates will focus on the details of what's been added to the game, though I'll also occasional discuss broader design concepts when appropriate.

To kick things off here is the still-WIP changelog for v23, which will be posted to Steam next Friday, the 22nd (and should be up on Humble shortly thereafter):

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v23 Change Log (WIP)

MAJOR FEATURES

  • Can now 'Declare Kingdom', which causes the Settlement to become permanently immobilized and costs 25 Parchment, but provides +2 Control range and +10 Fame per turn.
  • "Borders" are now back in the game, and all Structures (including Settlements) now have a default Border radius of 1. Borders are now called "Control" both in code and in-game text.
  • All Structures must now be constructed within a player's Control.
  • Structures can now be "Fortified" by spending an increasing quantity of Weapons, allows their Control Range to be increased to a maximum of 4 tiles.
  • Apprentices can now only be assigned to a Structure after spending Boards in order to add "Apprentice Slots". The Resource cost of adding both an Apprentice Slot to a Structure and assigning a Clan as an Apprentice to a Structure increases by 50% each time (can be modified via XML).
  • Removed all level 3 and 4 Structures. There will now only be two versions of each structure: a basic Timber-based version that depletes the Resources on a tile, and a Stone Block-based upgraded version that lasts forever (WIP: currently only prototyped with Wheat Farms).
  • Added basic conquest victory condition after capturing a Roman Capital.

MINOR FEATURES

  • Brought back the Watchman Profession, which can construct Watchtowers outside of your Control and start with a Control Range of 2.

  • Added support for Resource-harvesting-but-non-depleting Stone Structures.
  • The Woodworks Structure (Logging Camp Mk. II) now requires only Stone Blocks to construct and does not deplete Forests.
  • Started work on converting over all other Structures to the new design approach.

INTERFACE

  • Added rudimentary victory screen.
  • Improved layout of Clans screen.
  • Added tagline ("A Survival Strategy Game") to main menu (mainly to help unwitting Civ players who expect a very different kind of game from what AtG aims to deliver).

MISC

  • "Fortifying" a Unit to give it a defensive bonus is now called "Digging In" (so as to not conflict with the new "Fortify" feature for Structures).
  • New AIPlugin implementation in AI2. Can switch between the new one and the old one by modifying Plugins.xml.
  • Pressing F7 will now quit the game from the Main Menu and World Screen (for debugging purposes).
  • Can now modify the Control Range of a MapObject via the debug console.
  • Expanding Control now makes full use of the localization and rich text formatting system. This will be utilized for all future changes to the Selection Panel (and elsewhere in the UI).
  • Added color override support to RichString.Append_RawTextToFormat().
  • When using the quickloading debug option while the quicksave is out-of-date the game will now show a popup informing you such, instead of simply aborting the game launch with no feedback.
  • Added help info to the new "CONTROL" debug console command.
  • Added new CompositeString constructor which takes a raw string. Not super-useful in the long-run, but helpful while the text system is in transition from an older raw text-based format to the fancy new system.

BUGS

  • Fixed bug where missing pillaged Watchtower texture would cause the game to crash when constructed.
  • Fixed bug where the Resource cost check when allocating Apprentices would only be applied for a single Resource rather than the full list due to the check being static.

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What's New

As noted in the previous update the focus lately has been on the midgame, some of the changes for which I'll go into a bit more detail on.

The biggest change in this new build is the ability to "Declare a Kingdom", the main effect of which is to fix the player's Settlement in-place for the remainder of the game in exchange for a couple nice bonuses. The main goal is to provide additional structure to the game, splitting it into three discrete parts of an overall arc towards overcoming the Romans (in a future update I'll be talking about how the final third of the game will play out).

The Fame bonus you receive for Declaring a Kingdom is the real prize, as it's rather significant and allows you to attract a large number of new Clans fairly cheaply right when their arrival really starts to slow down should you not have prioritized investing in it. The other of the two bonuses is directly designed to help mitigate the price of setting down: making it harder to reach new Resource Deposits. The additional Control Range (borders) gives you a relatively cheap way of dramatically expanding what you can reach, although you obviously have to plan ahead and make sure you actually get something out of it.

Speaking of which, the other big change in the game is bringing back "borders", or as we call it in AtG, Control. The previous system dropped borders from the game and required you to move your Settlement around to and fro in order to set up new Resource-harvesting Structures, after which they would remain online and you could move somewhere else. It was kind of a nifty system mechanically, but not super-intuitive and absolutely non-viable after making it possible to permanently glue your Settlement somewhere.

You now start with a small radius of Control surrounding your Settlement and each Structure you build, and this radius can be expanded by spending an ever-increasing amount of Weapons in order to "Fortify" them. I like this design not only because it allows the flexibility of growing one big giant blob or a bunch of smaller satellites, but it provides a distinctly economic role for a traditionally military-exclusive Resource. Instead of deciding between spending your Weapons on this type of soldier or that you can now pump them into something completely different. And of course Weapons themselves come from Iron, which itself can also be turned into Tools. So we now have multiple layers overlapping in a relatively straightforward way. This be how good strategy games get made!

There are, of course, some smaller changes we've made in this upcoming build as well, but pretty much everything is related to these two big features and the midgame generally. I won't go into any more detail here, as I have a tendency to go overboard as it is and we still have a game to finish up!

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What's Next

Next on the agenda is wrapping up the design changes to the game's Structures, a big update to the tutorial, followed by some playtesting, bugfixing, and polishing. The goal is to post a new version of the game reflective of the design changes discussed above and get feedback on what it is we need to focus on as we're wrapping up the game in 2018 (and if the pacing is completely off or the game is super-buggy that's definitely going to be an obstacle).

I have a pretty good idea of what's left (more diplomacy, AI stuff, victory conditions), but how we distribute time to each of these features will depend on what players find most compelling and deficient. If we find that diplomacy is something everyone really feels is weak then it makes sense to spend more time on that than, say, additional iteration on the tutorial or improving the balance of the game's Professions and Structures. As a creator you always need to have a strong core vision for what your project will eventually look like, but without getting feedback it's possible to go down completely wrong roads without even knowing it. Your vision needs to be both strong but flexible. A bit of a contradiction at times, but that's why art is, well, art!

When the next build goes up we'll be including a link to a survey where players will be able to provide feedback in a structured format that will be easy for us to process and digest. I'll let you guys know what the results from that are in January.

Anyways, that's it for now. We'll be back with another update soon. 'Til then!

- Jon

December 2017 Update

27 likes

Hey all,

This monthly project update will be dedicated to talking about the mid-game, as that's currently the largest challenge remaining.

One of the biggest challenges with AtG is figuring out exactly what the arc of the game is. All along we've known it's about "barbarians", moving around the map, depleting resources, the seasons, and so on. But as I alluded to in my last update the vision of having the entire experience be based on migration wasn't something that held up over the course of a multi-hundred-turn game. So it's been time to evaluate what that extra step is, as is often the case in developing a big, complex game. You start with an idea and need to iterate on it in order to reach full potential. Having good, solid, fun mechanics are a nice start, but that only holds up for so long. You need a cohesive "fantasy" to tie it all together, to provide a reason why you're playing in the first place.

So what's that cohesive fantasy in AtG?

First of all, this is a survival strategy game. It's not so much a game about a continuous upward arc throughout history, ala Civ, but about fighting against the world and the odds in order to make it. The fantasy is also tied into the subject matter: in this case, the fall of the Roman Empire, and the place of the Germanic Tribes within this new world order.

So how does that translate into a strategy game?

AtG will now comprise of three "acts". The first will be based on survival and migration, and embody the philosophy which has defined the game thus far. The second act will be settling down and establishing a kingdom, putting your stamp on the world. The third will be defending and reinforcing this new polity, protecting it from those who seek its destruction - the Romans in particular.

In detail, this means two big changes: declaring your kingdom and "Control".

Declaring your kingdom is an important dividing line between the early-game and the mid-game. It will now be an action you declare which causes your Settlement to be permanently fixed in place for the rest of the game. It will also cost a small amount of Resources, but also provide a large bonus to compensate. In a sense, it's an important punctuation mark on transitioning into an important new phase of the game.

Control is, in essence, borders. To prevent players from simply building and capturing Structures anywhere on the map there needs to be some kind of rule dictating what you can own, where. Previously you could only construct things adjacent to your Settlement, but they would remain online after you moved away. This was strategically interesting, but somewhat confusing, and doesn't really work super-well with the new concept of having a glued-in-place Settlement. Control now extends from every Structure you own, giving your kingdom the ability to grow over time, and building certain special Structures will now allow you to plant your flag anywhere on the map, as long as you have the proper Clans and Resources to allow for it.

Together these two changes will reshape what the mid-game looks and plays like. Can't show them off in-game just yet, as they're currently in-progress. On the 15th though I'll be back with another post which articulates what all of this means in detail. 'Til then!

- Jon

Project & Personal Update

74 likes

Hey all,

You may have heard, you may not have, but recently I've parted ways from Paradox. In the end it really was creative and cultural differences - I can't go into details and will simply leave it at that. I still love Paradox and its games, but things sadly just didn't work out. I'll still always be rooting for all my friends over there, and wish them the best of luck.

So what's next?

I'll be focusing on At The Gates again. I can honestly say it'll be nice to go back to working on it full-time now that I've had some space and can return with fresh eyes and enthusiasm.

So what's happened with AtG?

I got burned out, to be honest, and ultimately wasn't really sure how to wrap things up in a way I could be proud of. I'm a perfectionist, and at times that trait definitely works against me. It sounds obvious of course, but when you're years deep in a project, have a task list a mile long, and run your own company with one full-time employee it's easy to lose sight of the fact that actually finishing something is more important than making sure it's perfect. Needless to say, it's been a hard lesson. I'll probably always lean a bit too far in that direction, but at least now I'm aware of that and can fight against it.

I made a few attempts at getting back into things but it became truly overwhelming at a certain point, so I stepped away. I'm not proud of that, and I apologise to all of the people I've let down. Making a full-scale 4X game mostly by yourself is an insane undertaking, and not one I would recommend. I thought I could pull it off within the time frame of a normal game's development cycle, but that was an incorrect assumption.

I had hoped my time at Paradox would serve as a source of inspiration, and fortunately I was definitely right about that. I learned a lot even in the short amount of time I was there, and have a clear plan on the design front for how I want to finish up AtG now. I've also recruited new help on the production and AI programming side to assist in shipping this bad boy, so it won't all be on my shoulders any more.

So what's the plan then?

The main places where AtG still needs attention are the mid-game (somewhat) and the late-game (a lot). The first few hours are very solid (aside from bugs and an outdated tutorial), so the goal now is a complete experience from start to finish.

To achieve that we're going to modify the arc of the game from what was originally pitched. I kept banging my head against the same wall over and over again, but the time away has allowed me to explore a new approach I'm confident will be superior. Instead of just migrating around the map for ten hours as resources run out all around you, roughly a third of the way in you'll start to settle down before building a secure kingdom and eventually confronting the Romans directly.

While this might sound ambitious the mechanics actually won't need to change much. 90% of what's in the game now can stay exactly the same, though we will be incorporating permanent structures in order to foster this new approach. I've also brought borders back in a related change (the main challenge right now is how exactly to transition between transient and permanent ownership of map structures), but we have yet to fully playtest the change - I'll keep you guys updated on the results.

Speaking of which, from here on out I'll be posting a project status update on the 1st of every month. I've been bad about this in the past, I know. I basically stepped away from social media last year, but I'll be active again here and on Twitter so if you have any questions (or justified rants) I'll be around to answer them. As for when the game will be done, I can't say for certain until I've built a task list based on our new, final objectives and had a couple other folks double-check things, but the target is mid-2018. Estimates from the last year or so have been based on part-time work, which is incredibly hard to get right with a big project like this, so I'm optimistic that things will turn out better this time. Could the game slip again? Of course, but I'll make sure to let you know if it does along with what progress we're actually making along the way.

Thanks to all the backers and fans who've hung around over the years. I promise there truly is a good game here, we just need to finish it. It's been a long road, both for the game and me myself. But now it's time to finish what we started. Thanks for sticking with us!

- Jon

Tasklist Update

29 likes

Hey all,

Last time was mostly a design update, this time we're tackling the production side of things. 

Here's a few screenshots showing the full, updated tasklist:

 

 

 

I'm not sure how visible that really be in Kickstarter/email, so here's a link to the original online Google Spreadsheet (https://goo.gl/DEtK0L). The basic idea is four two-month milestones, each with less work than that assigned just to allow for a bit of buffer time.

I'd also like to let you guys know that I'm going to be teaming up with some other folks to start working on some really cool projects. Can't talk about just what that entails yet, but you'll find out very soon, and I'm sure nearly all of you will have heard of them. I'll be splitting time between AtG and this new endeavor, but in the meantime, I'll also be posting an update for AtG every few weeks to keep everyone filled in as to what's new.

Alrighty, that's it for today, I'll be back soon to talk about the game's full roster of factions and leaders, and specifically how they'll be unique from one another.

- Jon