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Home again: An update of development (and why the pause)

Hey everyone – been a while, right? So I’ll get to the good news right off the bat: I’ve been working on the game for a little while and have started on 3 key features: pops opinion feedback (in other words, why is my stability dropping on a planet?), the character/House AI, and the save/load system! Those are my 3 huge priorities before I call .6 complete. There will be some other tweaks, including more planets, an easier font typeface for some parts of the UI, the completion of the financial main screen, etc. but those are the big ones.

So that’s all well and good, you say, but where have you been? Good question. It started a few months ago with a 2-week trip out of the state for work, and I didn’t have a chance to do anything with the game at that time. When I got back, I had some issues that I had to take care of from a family standpoint – nothing major, but necessary. By then it was June and when I finally had some time to restart development, I realized that I wasn’t looking forward to it like I always had. In the past, I’d stay up until 2-3 AM working on something (I’m a night person) and not think twice about it. Now, I almost dreaded going to the computer. And I realized something at that point – I was burned out on the game.

You have to understand that I’ve been working on Imperia/AotSS more or less by myself (from a coding standpoint, anyway) for almost 4 years. In that time, I’ve had some artistic and game design support, most notably by Oliver, but for anything to actually be done in the game, I had to code and implement it. Even the smallest indie studios that release commercial-quality games typically have 4-8 people working full-time. The smallest I can think of that make games that people who would play AotSS would be Zero Sum Games (one person; StarDrive series) and Arcen Games (two people; AI War, The Last Federation, etc) but even they do it full-time as their main job. I am not in a position to make KatHawk Studios a full-time proposition (for now, anyway) so I’m caught in the position of assuming 100% development responsibility for a project that I can’t devote 8 hours a day to. So I’ve worked around the gaps in my life that don’t involve family, other social events/duties, and work. That leaves very little time for… me. And I think that finally caught up to me.

Since then, I’ve been refreshed and gotten the nice break that I needed, but of course I could have been more forthright about where I’ve been. One thing that I’ve always struggled with, even professionally, is taking relatively small issues and letting them spiral because I have an unreasonable fear of the results. In this case, all I would have had to do is post a blog saying that I was taking a month or two off and I’m sure most people who understand the development situation would understand. However, since I let it get to this huge thing in my mind, it became harder and harder to respond. So I take full responsibility for not explaining things sooner, and I’m sorry for that.

So that’s the first part. The second part is this: I have taken out some small loans to fund AotSS. This project was never about me making any substantial amount of money (I have not made a single dime on this project – all monies received have gone towards development, profit share, or loan repayment) and I don’t expect that to change. However, I do have to raise some money to keep development going (art, mostly) and continue to pay off the company debt. It’s not much, just a few thousand, but it’s not nothing either and I can’t use my personal income to pay it off instead (kids aren’t cheap, folks!!) So I have basically a few options left:

  1. Raise the price on AotSS
  2. Start a massive advertising/marketing campaign to increase sales
  3. Take out another loan
  4. Start a Kickstarter
  5. End the project and write off my losses

I don’t want to do #1; in fact, my plan is to keep the price at $7.99 even into .7 as a good will gesture. Naturally, this will not help my cashflow, but it’s the right thing to do.

#2 is a necessity, but I’m not a marketer and the person who really did that well (Oliver) is no longer an active part of the project due primarily to his own projects and life goals. And of course, actual advertising takes money which I am not flush with. So any sort of marketing would have to be guerrilla in nature.

(Huge shout outs at this point to eXplorminate and Space Game Junkie; y’all have been tremendous in your support!)

I really don’t want to do #3 since I already have 2 loans outstanding and unless I was going to do this full time (in which case I would bite the bullet and really do it right and take out like $150K to staff up and office out) I need to keep the debt load where it is.

I don’t want to give up 4+ years of work and let down numerous people and customers either, so I can’t face #5 as an option.

That leaves #4. I once swore that I would not do a Kickstarter – the idea of people paying for a project that they might never see gave me chills. However, as I study my options in my unique development situation, it may be the last resort. Many people have reached out to me over the years asking whether I would do one, and I always told them ‘no’. I am proud of the fact that AotSS is self-financed and funded, and I never asked for a penny for Imperia because I believed (and still do!) in the game and idea. But business considerations have made it to where I need to bring in some revenue to pay for art at a minimum. We don’t need a lot (relative to game development costs), but I estimate it will take about $5,000 to finish the game at a basic level.

So after much deliberation, I will do my best to do #2 and #4 to keep AotSS and KHS going. I don’t have any firm details about backing levels, but I can tell you that virtually all of the rewards will be game-based. I know for sure I will have unique characters for backers and for higher tiers, custom Houses, and things like planets and systems and provinces can also be named. Beyond that I have a few ideas but I’m still deciding on them. Once the project launches on Kickstarter I will let everyone know. Also, anyone who has already purchased will get a KS reward to be determined.

In addition, if anyone out there is interested in helping with the project on a part-time level, let’s talk. You can email me at steve@imperia5x.com and let me know what you would be willing to do, your skill set, etc. I primarily need some programming help (C#/Unity knowledge required) and a new artist who genuinely loves this project and what we’re trying to accomplish. Art would be paid per asset project; all other assistance is negotiable. (But obviously, if you’re looking to make $60K on this, keep looking. 🙂

Once again, I’m sorry about my communication and lack of progress. I’m human, and I don’t have a lot of support at this point WRT actually creating and coding the game. I’m not looking for sympathy, but I do want y’all to understand the situation. And believe me, I’m far from the only small indie to struggle. It’s an inherent risk in developing a game of this complexity. If I simply wanted to make money, I’d churn out puzzle games on mobile platforms. I have the expertise to do that. But it’s not my passion. This project is, small blips notwithstanding, and I will see it to the end.

Somehow.

-Steve

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New Facebook page is up! Check it out!

Hey all!

Still working on the design document – we’ll post some development diaries very soon (one is already up on www.imperia5x.com about combat) but wanted to let everyone know that our Facebook page is now up! Check it out if you dare here!

Pretty soon (TM) we’re going to move everything that’s spread out (forums, indieDB info, wiki, etc) onto one dedicated website under the KatHawk Studios banner, with Imperia being the first (and only) product! Since we’ll most likely be using WordPress for the web design, we won’t lose any of the blog info, so we’ll use it as part of an integrated social media whole. It’s still amazing to see that we get hundreds of visits daily despite the lack of updates on this blog, so we’re going to start updating this blog concurrently with our updates on the forum/official site so that however you get your info, you’ll be in the loop on what’s going down with Imperia!

-Steve

 

 

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We’re active and alive! New development post

Hey everyone! This is Steve, with the first episode of ‘Sundays with Steve’. Since I always have Sundays off, I will try to update at least once a week, and probably more. Here’s the first installment of what we have been working on!

This last month has been mainly me learning Unity and C#. The C# hasn’t been bad at all (you learn one .NET language, you learn ’em all more or less) and I have to say that after an initial ‘WTF’ feeling about how Unity’s workflow works, I have gotten not only used to it, but I have to say that I’m in love with it! Prototyping what I have been sending internally to Pavlos and Travis has been much easier, and making changes is really quick and easy. I can’t say enough times how I wish I’d started with Unity. It’s really a great, powerful, and flexible way to build games, and though I can’t say that it was designed expressly for a TBS game, it’s quite adaptable. I don’t regret my decision one bit at this point, and am so excited!

Anyway, while I’ve been thrashing with Unity, Pavlos has been working on a comprehensive reboot of the planet and star systems. We’re going to be changing the economic system slightly, and to do that we needed to make planets more ‘real’, as well as their star systems. This will impact not only the economy, but things like rare materials and even how war is fought in certain systems! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

So Pavlos has essentially rebooted the stellar generation system to be much more realistic. Stars are now generated with up to 17 different spectral classes, from OB to WR (Wolf-Rayet). There are now binary and trinary systems that can effect how planets are generated, and what kinds. The size, age, metallicity, and planetary material (p-material) that systems generated when they are ‘born’ determine what planets are created, and where. Specials also play a part. For example, a Red Giant (RG) is a huge, old star, that has burned long and hot and is about to coalesce into a dwarf star (or worse). Since it is so huge, it is possible that spots 1 and 2 closest to the star will have been swallowed up! Spot 3 might have an irradiated, barren, or lava planet, and the farther away from the star you get the more ice and jovian-type planets are likely. There are probability tables that are actually editable as text documents so that testers can tweak the values as we play with the generation system.

As cool as that is, the planet system is even more detailed! Planets now have 16 different types (Imperia XNA had 6) and they have the following values:

Size (0-100) – Determines habitability area. In Imperia Unity, it will be possible to have multiple civilizations of different empires living on the same planet! Each ‘point’ of size represents an area of the planet that is unoccupied, occupied, or in contention. This not only makes the concept of ‘total development level’ easier to understand, but it will allow for ground warfare to be visualized and you will be able to see and track what territory you take. Terraforming will increase the probability that any given point that is not available will be habitable and available.

Bio Rating (0-100) – Similar to Imperia XNA.

Industrial Modifier % – This is sort of a catch-all modifier that incorporates how easy or difficult it is to sustain industrial operations on a planet. A high modifier will give bonuses to production and mining, while a low modifier will adversely affect it.

Rings – If a planet has rings, they will be more likely to have valuable materials in them. Also good for tourism. Yes, tourism. :)

Moons – Affects the bio rating positively if there are moons (no tidal lock) and also is a source of additional materials.

Alpha Materials (0-100) – A new concept in Imperia Unity, Alpha Materials are the fundamental materials needed to build everything in the game. These are equivalent to the original materials in Imperia XNA.

Heavy Materials (0-100) – Used for weapons, armor, research projects, and some buildings, Heavy Materials are a different sort of material, and somewhat more rare.

Rare Materials (0-100) – Used mainly for starships and science buildings, and some special projects. Rare Materials are, well, very rare.

Energy (0-100) Energy is another new concept in Imperia Unity. Energy represents a synthetic index of all the energy sources that might be present on a planet, including photonic, fission, fusion, and clean fusion. It is generated by a base of the kind of planet, but is modified by industry, production, and special buildings. It won’t be something you micromanage, but it will be something that you will need to keep an eye on, particularly for planets that you want to dedicate to a war or heavy production footing – it will be possible to transfer energy between planets in a system, but not between systems!

Planets will also have different specials, in order to further differentiate them. Currently we have 25 different special traits, and are working on more. Terraforming or developing a planet can either generate a new trait or ‘wipe out’ an existing one.

Currently, we are on build .0007. While that seems tiny, we already have a working galaxy UI and a system view, and a fully-generated quadrant with all stars, planets, etc. You will see a lot more progress updates soon. Testers, be ready to start getting some builds as we continue to refine the stellar generation engine parameters. Our goal is to have the most realistic stellar universe in any 4X type game ever(except for perhaps Aurora). We hope that you guys will appreciate the time being taken to get the fundamentals right and tight, and we’re making some great progress! I hope to have some additional screenshots up soon once we have some clarity on the UI design. That will actually be the topic of our next ‘Sundays with Steve’… until then… Ad Astra!

-Steve