At the Gates

Hey guys!

I know there are many fans of strategy here and Certis gave me his blessing, so I figured I'd go ahead and start a thread about my fresh new 4X game: At the Gates.

Anyone who listened to the February 6th GWJCC already knows the skinny, but if you haven't heard it, the basics are that this is an empire builder where you lead a barbarian kingdom during late antiquity as the Roman Empire is falling apart. ATG has many of the typical 4X tropes like exploration, diplomacy, resource management, etc. but it also spices up the formula in a couple big ways.

First, the map changes over time with the seasons, requiring you to plan ahead with both your military campaigns as well as your economy. The landscape gets cold and hostile, normally-impassable rivers freeze and become crossable, etc.

The other big bullet point is that the pace is different from most 4X games. Instead of starting off fun and interesting but losing steam in the midgame, ATG actually gets tougher the further in you get. Resource deposits deplete over time, forcing you to either grab new ones from your neighbors, or migrate your entire tribe to another part of the map.

There's a lot more cool stuff I'd love to share with you guys, but I'll try not to ramble on too long. If the game sounds interesting, you can head over to our Kickstarter page and read more details. I also just today posted a lengthy article comparing the features in Civ 5 to what I'm doing with ATG.

Let me know if you guys have any questions - happy to provide some answers!

- Jon

I pledged as soon as I saw the seasons changing. So glad to see something new being modeled in a game as I'm kind of burned out on the typical 4x or Civilization tropes.

I know you address this on the Kickstarter, but I'm sure there are a few of us who would be very interested in a Mac version. Please keep us up to date on that development.

Backed immediately upon hearing about the kickstarter last week. I understand the issues some people had with Civ V, but I've thoroughly enjoyed the game and am looking forward to seeing what you do on your own.

Aristophan wrote:

I know you address this on the Kickstarter, but I'm sure there are a few of us who would be very interested in a Mac version. Please keep us up to date on that development.

Might be tough if the game is written in C#, which is at least hinted at. It's been a few years since I played around with Mono, but it wasn't great at the time. A 2D game, though, should run fine in VMWare or other virtualization software.

Speaking of development - is that a Macbook Air in the picture on the kickstarter page, Jon? And if so, is that what you're doing development on?

Backed, looking forward to seeing more as it continues. Also props to Jonathan Christ for the idea of releasing their library to the public - definitely interested in seeing this.

Backed too, what with the GWJ/3MA bombardment that week (I enjoyed it, shh!).

Shame that there's such a big gap time and cost wise between the alpha/beta/regular tiers but I suppose it keeps the numbers manageable.

Backed.

Looking forward to following the development of this.

billt721 wrote:

Backed immediately upon hearing about the kickstarter last week. I understand the issues some people had with Civ V, but I've thoroughly enjoyed the game and am looking forward to seeing what you do on your own.

Aristophan wrote:

I know you address this on the Kickstarter, but I'm sure there are a few of us who would be very interested in a Mac version. Please keep us up to date on that development.

Might be tough if the game is written in C#, which is at least hinted at. It's been a few years since I played around with Mono, but it wasn't great at the time. A 2D game, though, should run fine in VMWare or other virtualization software.

Speaking of development - is that a Macbook Air in the picture on the kickstarter page, Jon? And if so, is that what you're doing development on?

Mono has come a long way. That's actually what Unity runs on top of.

You guys really should read Jon's post about Civ V (which he linked to in the OP) if you haven't. Good stuff.

Thanks for your support everyone!
.

billt721 wrote:
Aristophan wrote:

I know you address this on the Kickstarter, but I'm sure there are a few of us who would be very interested in a Mac version. Please keep us up to date on that development.

Might be tough if the game is written in C#, which is at least hinted at. It's been a few years since I played around with Mono, but it wasn't great at the time. A 2D game, though, should run fine in VMWare or other virtualization software.

Jonathan and I are in fact looking into Mono right now. It's a bit fiddly, but looks promising. He's really a Java guy at heart and we might convert ElfTools over to that eventually, but it's not something that's really feasible for ATG. There's really just significantly more support for game development with C#, and we'd have to do a lot more work on our end if we switched.
.

Speaking of development - is that a Macbook Air in the picture on the kickstarter page, Jon? And if so, is that what you're doing development on?

Haha, yes, you are correct. I'm simply dual-booting into Windows. OSX is good when I'm in true "laptop mode" and don't have a keyboard or mouse handy, but for serious development I work much better in Windows (plus you pretty much need it to build non-Mac games).

- Jon

I'm curious, how much historical research on the time period has been done and how much of that is being incorporated into the game?

Nevin73 wrote:

I'm curious, how much historical research on the time period has been done

Quite a bit. My degree was in history and this is a period I've been researching extensively the past couple years. During that time I've actually listened to the excellent (and super-long) History of Rome podcast a couple times.
.

and how much of that is being incorporated into the game?

The game uses history very much like the Civ series, in that it serves as theming and a backdrop, but doesn't beat you over the head with it.

However, I'd say the game is more historical than Civ, simply because the time period we're focusing on is much narrower. This means you have to draw on the history more when designing the mechanics, as there's less wiggle room to just make stuff up.

For example, the Romans start the game very strong, but weaken over time due to randomized civil wars, plagues, etc. The ability for the barbarian factions' settlements to migrate around the map is very much inspired by how history played out. Trying to make something like the journey of the Vandals make sense from a gameplay perspective is though though, I'll tell ya!

- Jon

Oh C#? *perks up* Need a developer?

Quintin_Stone wrote:

Oh C#? *perks up* Need a developer? :D

Maybe - will you accept payment in hugs and eternal fame?

- Jon

Jon Shafer wrote:
Quintin_Stone wrote:

Oh C#? *perks up* Need a developer? :D

Maybe - will you accept payment in hugs and eternal fame?

- Jon

It's Quintin, so...probably.

I'm in. Your answer about the historical depth and background sold me. Thanks for taking the time to interact with us.

No one else will hug me.

Nevin73 wrote:

It's Quintin, so...probably.

I'm in. Your answer about the historical depth and background sold me. Thanks for taking the time to interact with us.

Hahaha!

Thanks Nevin! The best part of developing games is telling people about them. Can't wait until people are actually able to play it as well!

- Jon

Quintin_Stone wrote:

No one else will hug me. :cry:

Jon won't either, they'll be virtual hugs.

garion333 wrote:

Jon won't either, they'll be virtual hugs.

No doubt. There are a lot to give out, too - might need Jonathan to code up a program to handle that for us!

- Jon

Backed as well. Very much looking forward to trying this out. Also, that Civ 5 postmortem is a fascinating read.

[Disclosure: I've met Jon and Kay at Troy Goodfellow's meet-ups here in Toronto. They are fun people to hang out with.]

I can't wait to see the results Jon. I'm a huge fan of Civ 5 and I look forward to 4X game problems that you are trying to solve in At The Gates. Specifically the end game problems. I'm totally backing it.

On a side note I notice that you went to CSU awhile back. I just graduated there awhile back too but I was going to UNC at the time. Small world! Nice to see a Colorado native go out and dominate in game design.

garion333 wrote:
Quintin_Stone wrote:

No one else will hug me. :cry:

Jon won't either, they'll be virtual hugs.

Well fine. I'll make my own game with REAL hugs. And blackjack. And hookers. On second thought, forget the game.

Thanks for taking the time to come here, Jon.

You had me at 4x, but your commentary on Civ 5 was appreciated for context. I only got a couple months with the vanilla game before Gods and Kings came out, but the issues you mentioned were pretty evident, and I've enjoyed the tweaking G&K provided (except for the whole hot and cold running pelt-wearing jerks thing).

I put hundreds of hours into civ 4 and civ 5. I thought your write up about the civ 5 development and how it's influencing ATG was great. I wish more developers did this. I don't know anything about coding or programming, but I do find the creation process and reasoning behind design choices fascinating. I loved how valve put the creators commentary in their games.

I'm surprised there isn't more of this in video games. There seems to be a market for behind the scenes and making of content in movies which is packaged on DVDs and blu rays. I wonder why it hasn't caught on as much in games. I would read essays like that for most games I played. I would prefer that over a special edition with a statue and a picture book.

I love the Roman era of history. I backed immediately. The game design essay was really interesting as well. Could you elaborate on how the combat will play out?

I'll have to back this on the weekend after I'm paid, it looks very interesting! I love games (and movies and books!) that look at famous events, periods or regions from an alternative perspective.

I remember another strategy game from probably around the early-to-mid 90s that had you control the Carthaginians, it was a great game (probably, I was young!) and it was interesting looking at that region and time period from a different and under-appreciated perspective. I wish I could remember more about it!

It was one reason I was pretty thrilled to play as Dido again in the Civ V expansion. Got my first Science victory with her too.

I apologize as I don't do kickstarters; as restitution I will buy day one.

I've never really played an empire building game. The only exception to this being Civilization Revolution. When I played this I made choices, pushed on button, and things happen. I never got a sense of what systems were working with each other and found the experience to be fairly la-de-da. It was fine. I decided I just might not get the genre like others do, and opted out on other selections since then. With that said, your pitch on GWJ was certainly interesting. The concept at least captured my interest.

This pulled at my heart strings (in a good way) when it was stated on Kickstarter:

In fact, the units themselves are almost a secondary concern. ATG is not a game where you follow the epic tale of a single warrior as he levels up and upgrades through the various technological eras. Instead, it's more like a late-game chess match, when nearly any move can settle the battle, and a pawn in the right situation can be just as powerful as a queen.

I've read up on various gaming articles and listened to a few podcasts about this game; putting extra effort in posting this on GWJ is awesome.. Check your kickstarter, it just went up a few bucks.

Thanks guys, you rock!
.

JohnKillo wrote:

Could you elaborate on how the combat will play out?

I'll be posting a much longer article dedicated to this in the next week or two, but I'll provide a quick summary just to give you a rough idea of how it works.

The focus with warfare in ATG is supply. Every tile has a supply rating which is based on the type of terrain and whether or not it’s within supply range of one of your settlements or supply camps. Timing when your invasions take place is critical, and success usually comes down to holding out or cutting off the enemy’s supply, rather than building a front line (ala Civ 5) or who has the biggest stack of units (ala other 4X games).

As I noted in my new article (hi checkm-8!), think of it as a well-developed game of chess where each side is waiting for the other to provide an opening, and once one is exploited resolution comes fairly quickly.

One of the big reasons why I went this direction is to really play up the new seasons system. The weather had a huge impact on the way wars were fought during this era, and I wanted to make sure combat took advantage of not just the mechanics in the game, but also had a nice tie-in to history.

- Jon

Really sounds like Unity of Command has influenced you a lot. Such a good, "lite" war game. I'm sure there are other games, but you've mentioned UoC before and since it'smy favorite war game of the past decade I'll keep referencing it so more people around here pick it up.