|Update: Genetic Fitness|
June 29, 2019
The survival of your offspring, and yourself, now matters.
Before, each life was lived in isolation from the rest of your play history, with no thread tying the lives that you lived together. This lack of over-arching meaning had a long list of consequences, contributing to long-standing problems like suicide, griefing, and general listlessness. Furthermore, it tended to undercut some potentially interesting family survival stories. Why would you go to great lengths to save one of your children if your child didn't really matter to you in the long run? But such "great lengths" make for great, dramatic stories.
The Precious Life update helped with this somewhat, because lives were no longer lived in complete isolation from each other---they were all part of a pool of limited lives that you were spending. While this helped to make each individual life you played a bit more tense and precious, it didn't do anything to increase the tension of family survival.
A great deal of discussion has focused on how much players in the game tend to care about the last viable female child born in the village. She is really treated like royalty, and there's no role-playing necessary. All the hard work of the living players depends on her survival. Without her, everything they built will be lost for future generations.
That's great, and it's also kinda magic, because it emerges naturally from other unrelated game mechanics. There aren't "last surviving girl survival points" that are motivating you to care about her. On the other hand, you don't care for her in a way that has anything to do with her specifically. She could be anyone's daughter. As long as some girl survives, that's all you need. Which is also not analogous to why you would care for a daughter in real life (be she the last surviving female or not). Thus, "our work won't be lost" is just as orthogonal a reason to care as points or any other unrelated reason. It's nice that it's an emergent reason in this case, though.
Why do we care so much about the survival of our family in real life? It's apparently due to some pretty abstract underlying genetic reasons, and our actual behavior often matches the underlying genetics to a spooky degree. We would, for example, save a sibling over a cousin, and a sister over a brother, and age would also be factored in (a younger sibling would be saved over an older one), with the results pretty closely approximating genetic relatedness and reproductive potential. But in real life, we just feel the feelings. We don't do this genetic math when we make these decisions.
And in the case of this game, those biological feelings will never come into play. This in-game daughter is not your real daughter, and she never will be. A longer game might allow for more bonding between players, but it would never be actual kinship bonding.
Games are not real.
Thus, as long as we motivate appropriate player behavior---behavior that is congruent with the thematics of the game, I don't think it matters too much how we motivate that behavior. Emergent motivations are nice, but when they aren't possible, abstract motivations are fine.
Genes are abstract and exert a weird influence on behavior in real life.
Genes can thus be represented abstractly and allowed to exert a weird influence in the game. They can be points. Why not?
And thus, why do you care about the survival of your daughter in the game, even if she's not the last girl in the village? Because of the genetic points that she represents.
And there's still some interesting emergence lurking. If you want a high genetic score, the survival of your offspring needs to get pushed to the limit. And what is the best strategy to achieve that? What will be the most successful parent and grandparent strategy in the game? I have no idea! When push comes to shove, the very best players will figure this out. And it's a good and thematically appropriate thing to figure out. They've never had a reason to figure it out, until now. Furthermore, for players who care about their genetic scores, there is never an unimportant moment. Even if they are born to a doomed village, standing there and waiting to die won't be a viable strategy. They will need to ensure their own and their offspring's survival at all costs, even in a doomed village.
That's the underlying design philosophy, but how does it work?
Everyone starts with a genetic score of 0. Every time you or your offspring live a life that is longer than your current genetic score, you score goes up. Every time you or your offspring live a shorter life, your score goes down.
Your score represents what we generally expect in terms of longevity for you and your offspring. If someone dies young, that means our expectation was too high, and vice versa if someone dies older than we expected.
This is somewhat similar to Elo ratings that are used in competitive games like Chess, albeit applied to each player in isolation. The actual formula is very simple, given an offspring or self that lived Y years: newScore = oldScore + (Y - oldScore) / 10
For women, offspring are any direct descendants that were born during your lifetime (generally children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren).
For men, offspring are nieces and nephews (and great, and great great variants) that are born during your lifetime. The so-called "gay uncle hypothesis" is alive and well.
And of course, your own lives count too. And note that baby suicides don't count to pull their mother's scores down, but do count as short lives for those who live them. Thus, for those who really care about their genetic score, survival in all situations is necessary.
Finally, is genetic score just a meaningless number? No, it has a small effect inside the game. Since it tracks family longevity, it gives you a distinct advantage in old age. The higher your genetic score, the fewer hunger bars you lose with aging. With a perfect genetic score of 60, you'll keep your full hunger bar all the way until your last breath.
So if you see a particularly strapping old person running around acting half their age, you'll know what's going on. They're genetically fit.
The leaderboard can be seen here:
Everyone is assigned a randomized name for tracking on the leaderboard. Your name can be seen on the GENES screen inside the game, along with a recent history showing changes to your genetic fitness over time.
|Update: Murder Mouth|
June 22, 2019
I do have a 102 fever right now, so I'll keep it brief (gotta go lay down).
This week's update adds one new major feature, sounds associated with the "kill face" that you make when targeting someone for murder. You can hear them when they enter that state, and you can hear them as they come at you. No more griefers sneaking around off-screen and pouncing.
Polls are also in-game and working, but most of you have noticed that already.
The life limit feature has been tweaked a lot. You now get 12 lives max, with one earned every 20 minutes. With the old 60-minute system, unless you lived 60 minutes every time, you'd always see your count going down a bit, and even if you lived 60, the count would stay the same and not rise. Now your count will generally rise as you play, quickly recovering from any short lives you had.
Also, new players no longer have bonus lives. This was confusing for some, and meant that new players saw a number going down and never going up, which is discouraging. Believe it or not, some players were so angry over their confusion that one is threatening me with legal action over this change. Ah, the adventurous life of a solo game dev! Contesting a $20 lawsuit in small claims court is going to be interesting.
So, new players, like everyone else, will generally see their count going up as they play. Good stuff. And yes, this system will continue to be adjusted in the future. As with the curse system, I kinda see it as a place-holder solution until the heart of the game is adjusted in other ways to make it an unnecessary feature.
A few bugs have been fixed, and there's a major quality-of-life improvement with building stakes. The floor stakes are the first transition (duh, you build O(N^2) floors for every O(N) walls), not to mention the tedium of building long roads. Also, there's always a common stake in the middle as the other stakes move around, meaning you can keep your mouse in the center when cycling through (instead of the hitbox changing entirely with each click).
I spent a good portion of the week on deep design work, thinking about this core problem: how can you really CARE about the survival of your immediate family members? In real life, you'd do anything to save your child or grandchild. In this game, you just kinda shrug and move on. This reduces the potential variety of family-based stories.
The current idea is to add a kind of genetic score to the game, attached to your account, based on the weighted success of your most-recent in-game relatives. They'll be weighted geometrically by birth time, meaning that the success of your youngest grandchild will be worth more than your oldest child (just like real life, where the littlest ones always are the priority, for good reason). Men will base this on the success of their nieces and nephews (the gay uncle gene), and of course your own success will count too. (Success means longevity, by the way.)
There will be a ranking for these genetic scores, so you'll be able to compare with others, and there will also be an in-game bonus for high scores. Currently, the idea (proposed by forum-member Wondible) is that the degradation of your old-age food bar is reduced (hey, you got good genes!). If you manage a perfect score (close to impossible), your food bar will remain at peak capacity all the way until you die. It will be strictly a bonus, and won't negatively affect anyone who gets a low score (the normal age-based capacity degradation will still happen).
Here's a little graph of possible weightings that each sum to 1, where X=0 is your most recently born relative (grandchild or whatever), and X=10 is your 11th most recently born, etc. By varying the severity of this curve, we can control how much more you care about the youngest members of your family.
I'm currently leaning toward the red (middle) curve.
Your mother and grandmother will count a bit too (but less, because they were born so long ago), so there's a mutual benefit effect to helping each other survive.
Now I'm off to bed. Well, actually, my kids are waiting to watch Porco Rosso tonight. Nothing like anime on a high fever!
|Update: Lots of Fixes|
June 14, 2019
An update like this is long overdue. Thanks to all of you for reporting everything you reported. As a result, a pretty long list of issues had built up. This week, I got through all of the known and reproducible issues affecting the game engine and code. A few bigger fixes are worth mentioning specifically. If you've ever seen a "ghost" player standing there, aging, who no one else can see, the source of that problem has finally been found and fixed (it was caused by someone passing through your area, going at least 64 tiles in one go without ever stopping their walk). The issue with animals and other movable items not respawning when nature reclaims an area has been fixed. And most importantly, a server message overload that was triggered when you targeted a family member with a sword has been fixed. That overload was so extreme that it caused nearby clients to get bogged down and disconnect. A full list of the changes can be seen here:
Next week, I'll be focused on fixing all of the known content issues. Again, a lot have piled up (118, currently).
As always, if you find an issue with the game engine or code, please report it here:
And if you find an issue with the game content (like a missing transition, or something not containable that should be), please report it here:
There have been a lot of huge changes to the structure of the game over the past month, so this is a good place to take a step back and let the game breath a bit with these big changes while I focus on fixing reported issues.
|Update: Precious Life|
June 8, 2019
Life has been cheap in the game for a very long time. It always bugged me. Death is inevitably going to be somewhat meaningless, but it was a bit too meaningless. Yes, in any game where there's reincarnation, players are going to leverage that to achieve various goals. However, there should still be some trade-offs and difficult choices involved. Infinite and free is boring, because it makes you not need to decide.
The original concept for this game was actually One Dollar One Hour One Life, and that would have dealt with this problem quite squarely, while also committing commercial suicide in the process. I've also toyed with only allowing one life per player per hour, but that also seems too extreme.
There's a wide spectrum between those extreme options and life being completely free/infinite, though. It needs to have some cost, so you feel the pain of death a bit more, and so you at least have a more interesting choice to make when you choose death on purpose in order to get born into a different life. The solution is to only give you one life per hour, but let the lives build up over time, so that you have a buffer.
These numbers will be adjusted in the future, but currently, you start with 24 lives, and you earn one new life every hour whenever you dip below 12 lives. You earn lives this way day or night, whether you are playing or not. Most people will build back up to a full bank of 12 lives every night while they're sleeping. You start with 24 to give brand new players some cushion as they learn the game.
It's amazing how many of the long-term problems in the game are in some way related to life being too cheap. From griefing, to baby suicide, to too many Eves. We've tried a lot of laser-focused solutions to these specific problems, but the over-arching problem of cheap life remained.
To accompany this change, the lineage/area ban on /DIE is back, mother birth cooldown has been restored to the way it used to be, and the Eve spiral is back, replacing the newer Eve grid placement. The spiral now works along with the ancient map culling, resetting back to the center of the map once it has been reclaimed by nature, so Eves will come closer together periodically, instead of just once a week when the servers restart. Finally, roads, along with stone walls, are not reclaimed by nature, so you can build long-term routes across the map, even as civilizations die out along those routes. This should help distant villages continue to find each other over time.
And snowballs no longer make you drop what you are holding.
|Update: Clutter Be Gone|
May 30, 2019
John Serafin was one heck of an interesting guy. He always had a funny story to tell, or a wisecrack, or a hot take, and always in that amazing Queens accent of his. He was a real character, and he knew it. He always called me a character too, and I knew that I was. How often our friendly verbal fencing matches---as he called them---ended with him shouting, "Jeez, Jason, come on!" in exuberant exasperation. He was unusually tall, but not as tall as me, and it took him years to get over the extra four inches that I had over him.
The first time he met me---me, the man who would eventually marry his only daughter---he approached me with a stern look on his face, and said in a gruff voice, "Who's this guy?" I was frozen for a second, but then he cracked a smile and started laughing. By the end of that first evening, he and I were getting along famously. He was impressed that I was driving a Ford Taurus---that's a dependable car!---instead of a rusted out piece of junk. But that conversation about my Ford Taurus was just the beginning.
Above everything else, John Serafin was a car man. He lived through some interesting times on Long Island back in the day, and he longed for a return to a more elegant era. The old money. The sprawling estates. The hired help. The glistening lights of distant garden parties shimmering across the still evening waters of Long Island Sound. The mystery and romance of it all. But most of all the cars, those glorious cars of his childhood. Cars that his impoverished family didn't even have---just blurs of chrome and metallic fleck paint zooming past him as a small boy in his rough Queens neighborhood. The cars from that era were huge, heavy, and all curves. We get excited about a V6 today, but how about a V8, a V12, or even a V16?
Did I say he was a car man? That was too vague. John Serafin was a Cadillac man. Cadillac was his make and his life-long passion. He eventually realized his dream of owning one of those glistening marvels that was so out of reach during his childhood. Here is his baby, a 1935 Cadillac Fleetwood convertible sedan:
All original parts and paint. Cracking original rubber gaskets around the doors. He claimed it was a one-of-a-kind, a V8 edition in a year when no other V8s were made. When I said these things are heavy, I meant it: a good portion of the framing is made out of solid wood. I got to ride in it. At one point, late in his life, when his legs started to fail him and he could no longer operate the clutch, he even let me drive it. This was indeed a machine from a different era---a time when a trip to the mostly-deserted tip of Long Island on the rustic parkways was a daring adventure, and a time when flat tires were the norm. That is the Long Island we read about in the great novels of the past century.
But he was more than just a car guy. He was the father of my darling wife. He was a grandfather of my three boys. He was my beloved pal and verbal fencing partner---that initially gruff guy who quickly welcomed me, this tall, strange, seemingly unemployed young man who was in love with his daughter, into his family with open arms.
John Serafin, the Long Island Cadillac man, died last night. Goodbye sir, I'm going to miss you.
With that important story told, I'll now turn my attention to the update. It comes to you a day early, because we're catching a plane tomorrow for the funeral. Needless to say, there probably won't be an update next week.
The biggest changes are to storage. Baskets no longer decay. Yes really. I finally caved on that sore point after a whole year of holding the line. Looking through the existing content, I found 67 different bowls of stuff that weren't containable but probably, logically, should be. That's a lot of stuff that used to sit on the ground, but can go in a box now. I've also added a new kind of box, a slot box, that can be used to store 10 small items (instead of four big items like the regular box). Before, the only way to store that many small items in one spot was to nest baskets in boxes, which made the items fiddly to access.
Before this update, there were over 1000 Eves every day, and it was clear that many players were abusing the /DIE feature to ban themselves from all family lines so that they could play as Eve. These "unnecessary Eves" were creating too many families, spreading babies out into too many doomed family lines, and starving the existing, long-running lines of necessary babies. Even worse, with the latest close-together changes, many of these Eves were griefing existing towns---and an Eve has very little to lose.
The effect of /DIE as a baby has been changed, in that it no longer triggers a lineage ban, but instead adds that family to your temporary skip list. Once you've skipped through all families, and there are none left to try, your skip list clears, and you go back to being born through all the same families again. In other words, you can't use /DIE to become Eve anymore. You only become Eve if another Eve is really needed (there are actually no available mothers around to have you).
This cut the number of Eves down by a factor of 10x, which will take a huge bite out of the above problems.
There has also been a problem of growing clutter over time, with everyone close together, and a lack of greener pastures for fresh starts. A new long-term map culling system has been added, where any 100x100 region that hasn't been seen by anyone for at least eight hours slowly goes back to nature, one tile at a time. The only things that survive the ravages of nature are stone walls, which remain in place, with trees regrowing up inside of the outlines of former building. This culling should help to create some greener pastures for new Eves. By the way, this only happens on servers with 15 or more simultaneous players.
Two client-side movement glitches, affecting the movement of other players, have been fixed. Hopefully, rubber-banding when trying to follow someone on a long walk is a thing of the past.