Version 0.0.7 Released!
It turned out the game needed six weeks of intensive tweaking and bug-fixing to finish the new update! But we did it and I'm pleased to say 0.0.7 is now available for those who enjoy seeing the game grow up step by step.
For those who haven’t seen what’s new yet, here’s a quick glance at some of the changes:
- 5 new social issues added: Settlements can now be home to drug users, slavers (and slaves), and people who are transgender, vegetarian or suicidal. Set laws for these issues as you see fit.
- You can now Encourage any social issue you want and attract more migrants who want to do it.
- 4 new major buildings added: An Info Station to educate citizens on what you want encouraged. A Chemist that requires herbs grown at your Greenhouse and converts them into medicine. A Giant Storehouse that takes up a lot of space but can solve your storage woes. And a Repair Shack which is very important as buildings can now collapse and kill those inside!
- In addition to the above, a new decorative building (planted tree) and a new ruined missile silo have made their way into the game.
- The sprawling desert map Dunes has been added.
- New story elements have been added, hidden skeletons with journals now lurk in each map, and now all citizens have a randomly generated biography.
- Tons of UI improvements, such as a scrolling news feed to show you what’s going on, a clearer stats screen, and a new windowed mode.
- Lots of gameplay tweaks: Decorative buildings give random buffs, unemployed people getting into trouble more often, criminals sentenced to short prison sentences coming out wanting revenge, etc.
- And of course lots of technical improvements as well, such as letting you use the menus when the game is paused, sound effects, new music, and more.
It’s a pretty big patch so you can read the full patch notes for it here if you like.
Version 0.0.7 certainly doesn't make the game feel like a finished product yet, so don't expect that. It is, however, the next big step on the journey.
Under (Release) Pressure
Now that version is out - and a quick hotfix patch we quickly released to stop all citizens spawning as female - I’m able to unwind a little.
I get so stressed in the run-up to release. Being a perfectionist and releasing a pre-alpha makes for a bad brain combo. I must have proof-read the tutorial 50 times for example and still managed to miss a serious typo!
It reminds me of when I used to do a bit of acting, that pre-show tension, when you're waiting for the curtain to go up before a paying audience. You're as prepared as you can be, but you have to get it right because people have expectations. It's even worse when you know that Youtubers could be streaming your update to thousands!
Adding to the tension, we still had a serious crash in the game with less than 24 hours to go until I'd definitively told people the version would be out. It was a crash that occurred when saving, destroying people's towns. Over many hours we pinpointed the problem to cops arresting themselves for being slavers and doctors euthanizing themselves! Fortunately, coder Nick, powered by pure caffeine, came to the rescue and was able to sort it out in the nick (get it?!) of time.
And then, feeling immensely excited and stressed, I released the new build and... It was all quite anticlimactic. You're so hyped and you've worked so hard, but most of the world doesn't even know the game exists yet. It can take days or weeks even for the news to spread. But that's a different marketing problem...
Smaller and Faster Updates From Now On
Because of this stress, and because most of the big core tasks in Atomic Society are more or less done (just about 700 medium-sized tasks left to do), we should be able to release more frequent updates from now on. This will be good for players, who get fixes and new things to tinker with more regularly, and good for us as they'll be less to test and fix each time.
So rather than 10 features per version over 3 months, I’m hoping for about 3-4 features every 6 weeks roughly. I wasn’t keen on this approach initially, as I thought smaller versions would be less exciting, and more hassle, but I might be changing my views.
We’ll see how it goes with the upcoming version 0.0.8 and whether it proves beneficial for the game and getting noticed.
Design Philosophy Ver. 240
Smaller versions will also fit neatly with the latest patch to my game design philosophy.
Basically, I’m now forcing myself not to plan ahead. I have dev scars now, I know how much work new features are. I can't make others work on something that isn't 100% what the game needs.
And you only know what the game needs when a new version is finished and you can actually play it without bugs or missing bits for the first time. Then you find out something I was certain the game needed a month ago might not be required anymore.
So from now on, rather than adding 10 new things to a version and hoping they’ll still be what the game needs in 3 months, I’m designing just 2-3 at a time, then we'll release and review. Only then do I decide what to add next.
This is a scary method for me. I like to plan and know where we’re headed. Now I don’t know where we're going beyond the imminent future. Now the game is dictating to me what it needs.
Where will it end up? How will I know when Atomic Society is “finished”? It reminds me of the old quote that “a poem is never finished, it is only abandoned”. Perhaps even the best games, that have years of work poured into them, are forced out into the world. One day you just have to move on.
For now, I think my satisfaction levels with AS, and the pressing need of not going broke, will be our judge, not any plans I invent. Right now I'm probably 28% satisfied with Atomic Society. I would like to get that figure to 40% before we even hit Steam.
If it’s taken us 2.5 years to get to 28% satisfaction, there's still a (far) road ahead...
Plotting Version 0.0.8
What I am sure about, and player comments seem to be confirming, is that the next version must be getting things we've already added to work more reliably.
Therefore, 0.0.8 is primarily going to be a bug-fixing version. Not the most exciting thing to announce, but it should make a huge difference as all those little glitches add up and I'm tired of seeing players frustrated by the same few things.
The core focus will therefore be path-finding, the routes and paths the AI takes. It needs a big overhaul that we've been putting off for ages. The second focus will be squashing some long-standing bugs, like not being able to build where you want to. And thirdly, we’ll do something about scavengers, as people want more control over what loot is coming in.
We've known about these problems forever, but only now does it feel we've got some breathing space to address them. As soon as that’s all done, we’ll release and then I'll play the game and work out where we go next...
The End of Summer Madness
The spark of interest the game received back in May, when a dozen random Youtubers examined it out of the blue, took about 3 months to die down and even now sales are a better than they used to be. The game has been publicly available for about 15 months, and 70% of all copies sold were in the last 3 months!
You can imagine what hope that gave us. Hope holds us together as a (mostly) unpaid team, as is the case no doubt for a lot of indie devs. Hope gets us through long days in our day jobs and long nights on AS. This summer helped a lot.
The problem with even a little sniff of success can be addictive. It's tempting to start to working for sales figures, not for yourself. It's never enough. Sales increased by 10%. That's becomes the new baseline to feel "good". Keep feeding the numbers. It's the same with social media. If I wanted to work for the bottom line, there are much better jobs to get than making games, so I'm trying my best to ignore it all.
Some new Youtube videos on version 0.0.7 by different people have appeared already, you can find the first parts of their series here, here, and here.
Patch notes for the 0.0.7b hotfix we've just released.
My post on how salvaging has changed in 0.0.7.
Future Prediction Time
I know I said I need to stop planning ahead, but it's okay to make mistakes in a dev blog!
At the end of the last blog I guessed that by the time I wrote this one, we’d all be exhausted after working overtime on version 0.0.7, and waiting to see if the version engaged the public. Aside from the fact we were delayed by 3 weeks getting the version out, that’s proven to be perfectly accurate.
So, by the time September’s blog is out, I won’t be insane enough to guess version 0.0.8 will be ready... But I’d like it to be about 70% finished, which would be nice. I'm looking forward to being able to polish stuff rather than invent new stuff for a change.
Anyway, thanks to all the readers of these blogs. They seem to get a pretty good reception.
Hope you enjoy version 0.0.7 and I’ll see you in the next edition…