Dev Blog 15: Corpses, plague, death, going viral, and save games working...
As I write this blog we’re finally on the home stretch of another update. 0.0.5 is the big one, the one that actually has saving and loading. At long it’s working! It's implemented and I’m so relieved to be able to write that.
Worryingly, full-time work on saving and loading has been happening since May. That’s a long time to keep optimistic and sane (it’s also a long time to have your single lead programmer tied up on a single task). I can only compare our process to building a house and then realizing you need to put in the piping and wiring after the walls are already up. And then realizing you have to work out how to make wires and pipes from scratch.
But it's done now. As we finish up 0.0.5 we still need to patch up the “walls” again but that's the easy part. To get it working we had to basically remove every single element of the game and now we’re putting it all back where it was. At least it doesn’t require reinventing it all.
Now we're almost at the end of this heavy task I’m so grateful we didn’t rush to Steam despite being Greenlit way back in February. We have the best of both worlds at the moment, we can take months to fix something, but the game is also open to the public to try if they want.
And here’s a look at what’s coming next in 0.0.5 alongside the finally-finished saving and loading, and a few tales that occurred along the way. If you just want the basic patch notes version, you can check that over here.
Plagues and Burning Bodies
One new addition coming soon in 0.0.5 is the plague system, which Adam implemented this month. It started when artist Nani crafted a new crematory building. Atomic Society is a brutal game in its unbalanced form and it’s not uncommon to see towns littered with corpses. Now you can hire workers at the crematory to clean up the bodies and burn them. (We went with a crematory over a graveyard as we’re trying to avoid anything that a medieval game would go for if possible, and because half the map would be a graveyard if every citizen had their own tombstone...)
With the crematory smoking away, we decided to go a bit further and put in a plague feature that makes disposing of corpses a gameplay necessity. Uncollected corpses now have a chance to infect nearby citizens, it’s not guaranteed, but it can happen. And the living have a chance to spread it about in an organic manner as they walk about. It was a little weird working out how a virus might behave in mechanical terms but I think we've got it. It surprises even me as I play. The plague in Atomic Society cannot be cured because the survivors don’t have the means, so you’ll have to contend with a potential epidemic if the virus chooses to go wild.
Or it might not. Every infected person has a chance to live. The plague might fade away naturally, or it might lay waste to your population. The basic tip is; you don’t want corpses with green gas above them lying around in your town.
This new disease mechanic is also something we will revisit and use in different ways later on, such as using a modified virus as a punishment for poor sanitation, which is something coming as we delve into human waste (in the game, not real life). Right now the key thing is balancing this plague stuff so it doesn’t feel too harsh.
A Virus of a Different Kind
A few days after posting last month’s dev blog, I posted some screenshots of Atomic Society on imgur. Imgur is a site that is generally hostile to anybody using it for marketing purposes but one night I’d had a beer (or three) and thought what the hell, I’d try again as the game is looking better these days.
The next day I couldn’t believe my eyes. The little pics I’d posted had done that mythical weird thing of modern life and gone viral. In 24 hours they’d had almost 150k views and 6000 likes from random folks, putting our game right up there on the front page. For comparison that’s more traffic and likes than our Greenlight page received in 2 weeks.
This naturally a gave a boost to our pre-alpha sales, which is always handy as we try to finish this game out of our own savings. Thank goodness 0.0.4 had been put out just beforehand so people could appreciate the latest progress. It also brought a lot of new players to the forum, which is always cool to see.
The best part of it all is knowing that people out there from a wide range of backgrounds are excited about what we’re making. Reassurance is almost as good as money in the anxious world of indie dev.
There are 2 features coming in 0.0.5 that are a direct response to player suggestions.
First up, it is now be possible to destroy goods from your storehouse with a simple click if you’re overstocked on a certain resource. This was something we’d overlooked until people started playing the game in ways we hadn't anticipated.
Secondly, we’ve changed the employment mechanism so now you don’t need to keep hiring workers if somebody dies, reducing the amount of tedious micromanagement. This is one area where I had to eat humble pie and realize player’s suggestions were better than what I had in mind.
Also in 0.0.5, we can now thank our special edition players (and ourselves) for their extra investment in the game's development as we have also stuck in a credits screen with everybody's name. Please send me your name if you’ve bought that version and want to see your name in glowing pixels as well!
I know some might say polishing things this early is a unnecessary, but it's been my experience the small things count when it comes to games. Improving a minor but very commonly used element over bringing in a big new feature adds an equal amount enjoyment, and it doesn't take long to do.
Some of the other quality of life improvements include making it possible to click on a corpse and see what killed it, tidying up the UI so it’s no longer as messy when a building is crowded, making it much more obvious where you can and can’t build and re-working the camera so it automatically adjusts speed based on altitude. It moves very fast high up in the air and slowly when you’re zoomed in on a citizen. This was something we had implemented a while ago and only recently realized was broken! There's a lot more coming that you'll probably only notice if you go back to an older version of the game and feel the difference.
Bugmageddon & Mod Preparation
While Nick was off making saving and loading a reality, the list of bugs in the game grew. Bugs come when you add new content, and Nick was focused on saving and loading so the pile was mounting up despite Nani and Adam tackling a few. (Though on the whole, I am pleased with the standard of our builds when they go out to the public compared to other Early Access games. It’s one advantage of having a semi-dedicated tester (aka me) on the team to break things.)
What I didn’t realize was that Nick was secretly fixing almost every bug I found on his own isolated version of the game where he was completing saving and loading. He's been off in the coding wilderness for so long it's been a challenge keeping everybody on the same page. We had to improve our team communication with daily reports and switching toSlack to deal with this but it's so good to have him back with us properly .
The end result of this is there’s a lot of fixes coming in the next version. For example, our cops are now not so dumb, you can make your town a police state if you want to by building multiple town halls, and some of you may see big performance increases, at least on mid-range PCs as cranking up the game speed no longer impacts framerate at all.
And while Nick was off tearing apart and rebuilding the game, he was also able to revisit some of the underlying database work and make it much simpler to load in different sets of values, which should make modding the game possible in the future.
To be honest, I'm not a modder. I like my game they way it was first born and I'll stick with that, aside from patches. But mods, like combat, are among the most requested features from players and I’d be a fool to overlook them. Speaking of combat, since mentioning it in last month’s blog, I’ve planned a system for it that I think will please both warmongers and peaceniks (but we won’t start on it for a while yet).
It wouldn’t be a new version of Atomic Society without another map being added to the game. This month "Floodplains" was finished, a map set on a series of verdant causeways in a flooded woodland. The backstory is that nuclear detonations triggered an earthquake (which is something that can happen, I checked!) and submerged this area. It’s a challenging map where space is extremely limited and this adds strategy as you really won’t be able to build what you want wherever you want. Putting a building in the wrong spot can really damage your town’s productivity on this map. Because there was no way for the migrants who flock to your village to logically get there as it’s cut off by water, we had to add in in a new rusty trawler ruin to explain how they arrived.
So there we go, nothing that major this month as it's been a case of finishing off things and there hasn't been any massive dramas, which is fine by me!
Coming up, I’d like to get 0.0.5 released in the next few weeks and then publicise it with new trailers/videos. What will Nick do when he doesn’t have to spend every waking hour working on saving and loading? What will we do when we’re not nagging him all the time to finish it?!
In reality, we’ll be too busy to celebrate. We've got to redo the UI to solve a lot of crummy bugs, put in sound effects, and add more social behaviours and punishments. That and possibly add toilets to the game.
Early Access draws nearer. I'm not sure if we'll reach it this year but it's possible. But all game deadlines without a big hammer looming are fictional so who knows.
See you in November.
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