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Baby, I’ve been busy… where have you been, Steve!

Hey everyone!

If it seems like I’ve been away for a while, it’s because I have. My wife and I welcomed our first child to the family, Ethan Hawkins, last Tuesday 9/20, but not without complications – basically he had to spend almost a week in the NICU due to various complications from being born 3 weeks early. The great news is that the little guy is doing great and will be coming home today, which means that that’s a load off my mind!

So with that behind us, as much as I can, AotSS will be back in production. I have some time off from my main job and while obviously a lot of that time will be used to bond with mom and son, I will be working hard on .5 as we ready for a pre-alpha release later this year!

Thanks for everyone’s understanding and support!


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An intriguing prospect…

Hi all, Oliver here! Today we’re showing off our first mockups of the Intrigue view. In this mode, you encounter the seedy underbelly of your court – the plots, the schemes, the secrets and lies! And this isn’t just a spy-assignment minigame, oh no. The idea is to collect parts of secrets (for example, ‘Baron Nogood is plotting something with Count Crapula’ ‘Count Crapula is plotting an assassination against somebody‘ ‘Baron Nogood is plotting something against you’) and try to match them together into accusations that your Inquisitors can use to take out the culprits (such as ‘Baron Nogood and Count Crapula are plotting to assassinate you’). But how, I hear you ask, do you actually do this?

intrigue mockup clean.png

The way we have it working is very simple. On each planet, system, and star (on which more later) you have a list of Clues – incomplete pieces of information, displayed like sentences with character portraits in place of names and so on – and at the bottom of the screen, in the selection area, you have the cases you’re currently working on. Clues are supplied by your Inquisitors’ diligent monitoring work, gossip you hear or overhear at court, and characters you charm or coerce into revealing them. Each clue also has one or two leads – characters who are listed as potentially knowing other, connected clues. You just click-and-drag the clues you think belong together into the selection area to put together your accusation, and when you’re confident you’re right, you can click ‘ACCUSE’ and fire it off! You’ll choose which of your limited number of Inquisitors to send it with, and shortly (or immediately if they’re in the same place) you’ll hear the outcome…

Now the Imperial Inquisition is a unique and frightening institution. They will never convict an innocent man – this is the reason the Great Houses allowed the institution to continue – but the experience is nightmarish for the accused. If found innocent, they and their family will despise you not only for the insult, but for the accused’s having to endure the mind-bending horrors of the Inquisitorial process. So beware!

One thing you might still be wondering is: ‘Why have separate lists of clues on each system and planet? Surely it would be less of a pain in the ass to just have one big list?’ While we do indeed have one big list available in the summary screen (accessible from a button in the top left of the screen), the point of dividing up clues this way is to prioritise them. At the start of the game, when you’re mostly dealing with individual planets, the doings of individual characters on those planets will be of paramount interest. But as your empire grows, you’re going to be moving up through the levels of control, simply because you only have so many Action Points in the turn. By hooking the clues to game locations, putting clues to bigger and more important plots at higher levels, we can make the same process of moving up through the levels that you’re engaged in with regard to the other facets of gameplay work here, too.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy playing with the Intrigue system! Ave Imperator!


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.4 (Constantine) Releasing to Testers This Week!

Hey everyone!

First of all, it’s very exciting to see so many new people on the blog! Thanks to RPS for their very positive article!

We wanted to announce that we are releasing .4 this week (codename: Constantine) and we are moving right into .5 (codename: Theodosius). This means that most of the UI is now complete, the Projects and Action systems are in, the new game creation system is in, and the 3D graphics have been updated with most of the planets being replaced and all of the stars. We are very excited about working on .5, which will include the following:

  • Council System
  • Budget System
  • Emperor Screen/Diary
  • Unrest/Tension system
  • Constellations
  • Start of AI System Implemented
  • More Projects/Actions
  • Sound/Music

We are working hard on getting the AI implemented and the gameplay balanced as our testers will be working on this. Look for more screenshots and an updated video shortly on our YouTube channel!

Also, with the release of .4, we will be increasing the tempo of blog and forum updates, as well as working on our web site design. We will move to shortly once our new web site is live. This blog will be moved there as part of that redesign.

Most exciting, we are planning to release our Phase One of our early access build before the end of the year! We will add more information about pricing and dates shortly.

Stay tuned for more info!




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Revising the design for the military system

Hi all, Oliver here. Today I’m going to be talking a little bit about redesigning the military system, our carrot-shaped design strategy, and not being afraid to kill your darlings when you’re hammering out a design.

We’re right at the end of build .4 at the moment – we’ll probably have it out to the alpha testers this week – so we’re looking ahead to the next few builds. Coming up in .7 is the military system, which we’ve had the design for sitting around since we finished the GDD (Game Design Document), but which we’ve not really touched while we’ve been putting together the other elements of the simulation. When Ogi and I took a preliminary look at it, we realised it was too fiddly – there were a lot of cool ideas in there, but the amount of information conveyed and control required would be out of step with the rest of the game. For example: I’d written in a ‘tour of duty’ system, whereby you would be able to adjust the amount of time your troops spent on deployment versus home on leave, trading off their morale and loyalty against the immediate strength of your forces. It could have been an interesting system, and might have worked well in another game, but in AotSS it would just be too much detail – not something the Emperor would personally control – so that’s getting scrapped.

Similarly, we were going to have a slightly involved system whereby you would give your forces orders, but the orders would have a ‘lead time’ before they could be executed, with a fixed cost for giving any number of orders on a single turn. The point of this was to encourage the player to set up queues of orders that the AI could then spy on and use to intercept your forces. Again, this could have been a cool system in principle – but in a non-combat-focussed game like AotSS, it would probably be too complicated and unintuitive. Instead, we’re allowing you the player to spy on enemy war plans and find out where they’re planning to move and attack, but enemy spying will simply provide their forces with extra damage against yours and allow them to intercept you in deep space (which you can only do if you know where the target fleet is going to be). This keeps the fun bit – finding out the enemy’s plans and foiling them – without subjecting you the player to the weird constraints of the original design, making the game much more responsive and playable.

This all ties in to our overall development strategy. Although obviously when we wrote the GDD we didn’t realise that specifically these features were going to be streamlined, we knew that streamlining would be happening down the line: knowing how easy it is to get caught up in feature creep, we made a conscious decision to get all of ours in right then and there, and from that point onward only cut features, not add them. That’s a strategy we’ve largely stuck to, and it’s allowed us to stay focussed and on-task through our development process. Of course, it’s much less fun cutting things than adding them – part of the reason we’re making AotSS is that we like the idea of having a massively detailed universe simulation happening underneath your feet while you play, hence the Action Point restriction, the systems for delegating power, and so on – but it means we’ll make a better game on a shorter timescale than if we just let our maximalist instincts run wild. And who knows – maybe the features we cull this time around will make it into another game in the years to come.

Until then, Ave Imperator!