August 2018 Update - What's New?
In this update we'll be going over what additions have been made to the game the past few months. The todo list is shrinking rapidly and the light at the end of the tunnel very much in sight. The next project milestone in early September is "feature design lockdown", which basically means all of the game's gameplay features are in, and only need iteration, balance, and bugfixing before we're ready to roll. At this point I'll be looking for a lot of playtesting feedback again, so if you're in the alpha and looking to help out that's probably the best time to jump (back) in. There will likely be a couple more tweaks made after the next milestone, but nothing that'll take more than a few days to implement. The few months after this milestone will include further work on the AI and diplomacy, and then aside from smaller stuff like improving the tutorial and adding some screens (e.g. settings, clan management, game setup) we'll have pretty much reached the finish line.
Although this isn't a new feature it's probably the most noticeable change to the game given that clan professions are one of the two fundamental elements of the game's economy (resources being the other).
To summarize what's new, the old design had a lot of issues where professions would often not seem very useful, e.g. if the tier-1 version of a blacksmith turns 1 iron into 1 tool each turn the tier-2 version might convert 6 into 6 and tier-3 10 into 20. The problem was that getting to the point where you could even produce the 6 iron per turn required by tier 2 was pretty hard to reach, and so most of your research options felt pretty unexciting. This issue was solved in a couple ways.
First, I did a pass on the whole tree, switching to an approach that looks more like 2-for-2 in the first tier and then 8-for-4 in the second, with the third being replaced by a system where it's now possible to research a couple different "upgrade techs" which allow you to spend resources (e.g tools or boards) to improve the output by ~50% each. The ability to upgrade is fairly cheap to acquire, but the upgrades themselves require a fair number of resources, ensuring there's always something you want to A) research and B) spend your resources on. It's hard to understate how much of an improvement this provides the game, as while playtesting I'm now constantly confronted with tough trade-offs where I have several exciting options to choose from, rather than several equally uninteresting ones. Much, much better.
Additionally, "global upgrades" have been added to the game. These are techs not linked to any particular profession, instead offering an expensive way to acquire a tribe-wide, permanent bonus of some kind (e.g. increased food production, or a morale boost to your entire army). This provides an additional incentive to improve your research rate, especially when the RNG throws a unique starting location at you and making more specialized strategies particularly lucrative or essential.
A big update to the professions/tech tree is closely linked to a similar rethinking of several resources, along with the primary vehicle through which they can be acquired or transformed into other useful commodities: the caravan.
This was a system with potential that's been greatly enhanced by the ability to spend treasure in order to upgrade what's available. In the past there was simply a global pool filled with all different kinds of resources, most of which were completely irrelevant until the much further into the game. Furthermore, they were often only available in very limited quantities, narrowing down the number of strategic options available. Players now have the choice of how early and how heavily to improve the stock of what's available, and a particularly treasure/caravan-based strategy can now pay huge dividends. But it'll cost you, so make sure to plan ahead, as paying to upgrade the caravan will only help you the next time it comes around, which might be 6 months if winter is approaching.
The player's role and how they relate to AI players is now fully defined, with AtG placing you in a pre-populated world more akin to a Paradox game than Civ.
Shifting the game away from a more traditional "4X race" into something more in the roguelike direction is kind of an obvious move given that the game will never have multiplayer and the difficulty in building high-level competitive AI players. AtG was never the kind of game where you could expect the arc of the game to progress in the same way each playthrough, and the way opposing factions fit into the game now reflects this.
Instead of every other tribe starting with a single settlement and three clans you'll now find some on equal footing while others will be 5 or even 10 times your size and strength, making them potent diplomatic forces right from turn 1. If Attila is next door and much bigger you're going to have to pay attention to what he wants, otherwise you might find yourself flattened pretty quickly. The diplomacy system framework is now fully implemented, but the actual behaviors and specific kinds of deals are still being fleshed out, so for now your rivals are a looming presence but not yet an active one: this will change in the next big update in September. Part of the system is working, but it's effect on the game is quite inconsistent right now so I've disabled it until everything is online.
Along with the role of the human and AI players the victory conditions AtG offers are now nailed down, providing you with two strategic routes to victory: conquest or economics/diplomacy.
Simply capturing a Roman capital will win you the game, and given the strength of the Romans at the start this will usually be a pretty tall order. But because this is a a fairly asymmetric, "roguelike" game there will be some runs where the Romans start off a bit weaker and get hit with a lot of bad random events and annoy the wrong AI leaders, making for a ripe target. Every game of AtG will offer different opportunities, so being relatively flexible and willing to try new strategies will be important to success.
Should you start further away from the Romans or want to win the game by a different route the 'Magister Militum' victory is now also available. In essence, you have to send 5 of your clans to Rome along with some expensive equipment for training, and they'll rejoin you as mighty Roman Legions. These can be used directly against any foes you might have, but once you've acquired 5 of them the option to send them to Rome and basically take it over from the inside becomes available. Each of these actions has a 1-year timer on them though, giving your rivals the opportunity to slow you down, so keeping folks happy on the diplomatic front will also be important to pulling this off.
I really like the role each of these victory conditions fills, as neither one requires too heavy a commitment until later in the game and they overlap enough to remain viable until fairly late but not so much that they blend into one another. I also think 2 is a good number, as having too many victory conditions not only makes it a lot tougher to figure out what what you're aiming for but it doesn't make a lot of sense, as this was an era where might made right - a cultural victory ain't exactly thematic!
The 'mood' of each of your clans is now something important to stay on top of, and is often based on what professions you assign them.
There were 'happiness' and 'clan desire' systems in the game previously, but they've been fleshed-out and rebalanced to play a more meaningful role. The design goal is for the desires or feuds clans have to be fairly predictable, such that if a 'Curious' clan joins you making them farmers is almost guaranteed to make them upset - but make them scouts or in a profession that produces knowledge and you'll have nothing to worry about. The tapestry of different clans and traits you end up with works really well with this, as you're often tempted by sub-optimal options since, after all, you really, really need that extra warrior, even if the fickle new clan that just arrived comes with a morale penalty built-in.
The clan personality aspect of the game really adds a fun new dynamic, and is something I expect to continue fleshing out in the future, as it's fairly easy to add new traits, desires, feuds, etc.
A lot of new art has also gone into the game lately, specifically structures and units, which are now basically done. Here are a few examples of some of the new stuff:
The latest build also includes a number of smaller gameplay changes, such as removing the ability to survey unknown resource deposits from builders (this is now exclusive to foragers and the Surveyor profession), adding defenders to each neutral structure (making them slightly less juicy targets), and making it possible to 'ennoble' clans from the start (a good way to make clans happy, and required by some advanced professions). If you're curious as to everything that's new or changed checkout the changelog below. I'll be including changelogs with each future update, so stay tuned if you're interested in that sort of thing.
All of the changes described above are reflected in v24.0, which is now up on Steam and should be available on Humble next week after a Mac/Linux compatibility issue is fixed (the current build is broken on those platforms, but switching to the "internal" beta branch in Steam will allow the previous version of the game to be played in the meantime). I've included the full v24.0 changelog below, in case you're interested in all the nitty-gritty details.
That's it for now. We'll be back next month with more!
(This is a link rather than simply pasted into the post because copying any text into here strips it of all formatting and line breaks, and it's probably better to spend the 30 minutes it would take fixing it on the game itself!)