Of Early Access, Autumn and A.I
The bracing air, the pollution-tinged fog and the crinchy-crunching of leaves underfoot tell but me one thing: Summer is over. That and the fact I am no longer sitting here in my pants sweating profusely (seriously, the heatwave in London this summer was intense).
Anyway, you didn’t come here for a dubious weather report. You want hard facts, and you want them some time ago. So here it is, an all new update on What’s Been Going On over here at Overcrowd Towers.
Following our success at EGX Rezzed, where (did I mention?), amongst other great previews we were named by Kotaku as one of 8 Standout Indie Games of the show, I have been taking the opportunity to do some maintenance on the code base.
I started coding Overcrowd on a part-time basis back in late 2013, in Gamemaker 1.4, when I had significantly more hair. However, since then Gamemaker 2 has been released, support for 1.4 has this year ceased, I went full time on the game and my hairline has migrated north.
To make sure the game is future-proofed against platform updates, this summer I moved the project over to GM2. After some initial hiccoughs I can report it is now up and running and working nicely. This is great news because it not only opens the door to putting the game out on other platforms in the future, but ensures continuing support on Windows/Steam.
Over summer I also I took some time to refactor some of the core “building” code – specifically the way the walls and floor tiles are handled – and to revisit the commuter A.I, which needed work to make it both more reliable and more efficient. All together this was a long and fairly frustrating process, because, while 100% necessary, it didn’t bring any major exciting new features. But now it’s done, and the game now handles far better for it. Onwards.
Following the commuter refactoring I was able to build further upon the commuter AI. There are now around a dozen or so special behaviours types, including commuter rage, pickpocket, heatstroke, flu, cardiac arrest, vandal and vomiting. The way movement is handled has also been improved so that commuters can push each other out of their way, which both looks funny and is marginally more efficient too.
I also more fully implemented and refined commuter buying behaviour. This is complex cascading system of needs that feeds back into the gameplay/need to expand the station. If a commuter wants to buy something but can’t, they will be sad, and your station loses some reputation. However if you have similar products their needs will be met to a degree. Products are divided in 4 main categories: food, drink, goods and services. The current system means I can gradually expand needs and shops as the game progresses.
On top of the 8 or so existing shops, I have now added a flower stall, a hot dog stand and vending machine, with many more planned now that the core system is near final.
Stats more like it
After this I added some detailed report systems. Everyone wants to see their station stats, right? The reports let you do just that. You can examine in detail how commuters feel about their station experience. Do they feel late, do they need more shops? Overcrowded? Angry? Diseased? Is there too much litter or perhaps too much vomit?
There are over 20 metrics you can see here in a really cool live updating bar chart. In another tab you can see finances: your income and outgoings on that day or over the station life time. Another lets you see power usage, complete with live bar charts showing power drain per machine while they are being used, including of course train tracks, which use the most.
You can also view the sales figures of all your shops and what sentiment they evoked in the customers, allowing you to vary the price points. You can set prices low to cheer people up, but you will lose money in the long run. If you are broke and need the cash, you can boost the prices, but be prepared to deal with the loss of rep.
There is also a stock system for shops, where you can set how much stock is ordered each day. This area of the game has room for further development, and I’m considering one day (way down the line) adding an open and dynamic stock market where you can buy low to sell high. I’ve even considered having warehouses for holding stock, but those type of things, if they ever happen, would probably be found in a post launch update.
I finally added the tool box. Machines can break down (or be outright vandalised), and staff are now able to fix them up. Other tools added were a defibrillator and a drip for cardiac arrest and heatstroke victims, respectively.
This completes the set of basic tools which operate across the 5 staff skill sets in the game: people, refuse, medic, security, technician. I’m now able to iterate on the tools, by which I mean, you will be able to procure and build better tools to use. Like faster say a faster litter picker, or louder megaphone.
I’ve also added 2 new types of trains, along with some more advanced power generators, and some other tech including PA systems, and updated the cooling code for fans and air conditioners.
Campaigns and sandbox
A lot of work has gone into campaign continuity. The campaign is entirely procedural, and you can enter a key at the start to generate it. The idea is that you can train your staff as play (they level up and learn skills by doing), and take them to your next station with you, along with the tech you have unlocked. This is now all working smoothly, although the actual “overworld” map does not yet change shape yet, and I plan on redoing that.
The other major area of work has been in events and scenarios. In campaign, maps can now have a range of scenarios in them. This might include classics such a rodent problems, heatwaves, flus, crime waves and the like. Now implemented, I’m working on balancing the frequency and impact they have on the game.
I’m also working on balancing the “sandbox” mode. There has been much discussion about sandbox mode recently, both for other recently launched management sims and over in the Overcrowd discord group. The general consensus being a) people want one! and b) it should be flexible, to allow for more creative and freeplay styles.
This will be something I will look to have in at launch, most likely with an option to specify how much money you star with and an option unlock all the tech from the outset, and an option to toggle scenarios/events (this may change but that’s my current thinking).
Early access and launch
Oh, did someone mention launch? Yes, I do intend to actually ship this game one day! Because of the work on refactoring, moving to Gamemaker 2 and the like, it looks certain that Overcrowd will now be released in 2019 rather than 2018 as I had once hoped. I can only apologise for that. I’m sorry! And I thank you for still waiting around for this game (if you do that is, I won’t presume!).
I do feel I owe it to you to give a more reliable date of when to expect Overcrowd, and so I will tentatively say that I’ll be doing my best for a Spring 2019 launch, with more details and perhaps maybe next year a super duper official Announcement Date Trailer to follow. I’m a bit torn – should I do an announcement date trailer or a later launch trailer – let me know if you have a view below.
On top of that, you may now notice, the game is now officially tagged as Early Access on Steam. At points this year I thought there would be a chance I could do a full launch. However, it’s increasingly clear is a game that really does suit Early Access. I want to hear from you, to learn from you, to sculpt the game to both fit your expectations, but also to bring my own unique take on the management sim/pausable RTS/basebuilder/crowd management/spatial puzzler genre.
I feel there’s been a bit of trend to rush games into a full release to avoid the “stigma” of Early Access, but in my view Early Access, if done right, can still work just fine, especially when the dev is committed to making it work. And, dear reader, I am oh so committed!
The future is unwritten
There’s a few other exciting things on the horizon for Overcrowd, and I can’t wait to tell you more about them. Until then, consider dropping by the discord if you have any questions, I’m there to chat or pop a question in the Steam forum.
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