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Update: New Brothers
July 19, 2019


I'm back from a very interesting and refreshing trip to Taiwan. Taking time off---and not working on the game at all for a week---is a really important thing to do from time to time.

The variety among the red-headed a black characters has been a little thin for a while. This update adds two more male characters for each, taking the total up to 22 playable characters, currently in four different skin tones (12 males and 10 females) The red-heads and black characters are still missing one female each (to bring them up to six each), but those will be added in the near future.

As the character set has grown, I'm facing a larger and larger creative challenge with each new character that I add. I want them all to look unique, and 22 unique people is already a pretty broad spectrum. I already have a bearded guy... already have a balding guy... already have a mustache guy.... oh wait, I don't have a totally bald guy yet!

Along with the characters, there are a bunch of fixes. I'm still working on those reported issues, bit by bit. Reconnection after a network outtage is now much more robust (before, if the server didn't know you were disconnected, it would block you from reconnecting). Projectile aiming from acute vertical angles was totally broken (the line algorithm that I was using was missing an important case), but it's working now. You can now swap items into full clothing containers (like backpacks). You can't force-break someone's YUM chain by feeding them (getting fed by someone else only helps, but never hurts, your YUM chain).

There's one more big change that I'll describe in a minute, but first a little context.

Over the past few months, I've been tackling several "grand design challenges" in this game. Most of them have now been solved to my satisfaction, but there's one big one left. Those design challenges are:

--The possibility of property as a foundation for social structure, trade, inheritance, and inter-village negotiation.

--Bringing villages closer together in an crunchy way (without having everyone just blend together into one bland mega-city).

--Some reason to care about the survival of each and every one of your offspring.

--The civilization-building arc, from Eve up to the diesel water pump, is challenging and reasonably well-paced. There are many possible failure points along the way, and the challenge is indeed transgenerational. (The pacing might still need tweaking... but it's close enough for now.)

The reason why these design challenges are so important is that, in solving them, we will enable new kinds of intricate emergent stories inside the game. As a simple example, if all property is communal, you never have to ask your neighbor if you can borrow a tool. You just walk up and grab it. The story where you have to ask first is simply more intricate, by one degree. Your neighbor might say no. Then what? Well, you have a bit of drama, that's what. The same goes for caring about offspring. "We were short on food, so my teenage son died. Shrug." That's not a very interesting story. A desperate search for food, to save your teenage son at the last minute, is much more interesting.

The last grand design challenge is this:

--What is the long-term arc of the game? What happens after you hit the top of the tech tree? Does the game vary across a week or a month? Is there a game-wide arc? Do resources run out on a global scale?

This part of the game is currently handled by an ever-expanding Eve placement spiral that forges endlessly into untouched wilderness. We have a perpetual churn of brand new civilizations rising and falling in parallel. But each rise-fall cycle follows the same arc, and happens in relative isolation. Yes, villages can interact, but interaction is optional. There are no pinch-points where they must interact. If you need extra resources, you can always just head into the unexplored hills and find them. If you really run out of resources in your local area, you can migrate into greener pastures. On an infinite map, there is an endless supply of greener pastures.

And you can see how optional village interaction reduces story complexity. "We were out of oil, so we wandered into the hills and found more." That's way less interesting than, "We were out of oil, and we couldn't find any new deposits, but the neighboring village had control over three productive oil wells."

This is the grander-scale version of asking the neighbor if you can borrow a tool. Will they give you some oil? Will they demand something else in trade? Will they answer "no" with a volley of arrows? All of these possibilities are grist for the emergent drama mill.

But currently, there really is no long-term arc in the game. There's a perpetual cycle of parallel civilizations spawning in resource-rich wilderness.

So I'm thinking about changing this. I'm thinking about long-term, world-wide arcs. Arcs that take several days to complete. The most obvious arc is one based on world-wide resources running out. At the start of the arc, the world is green and rich with resources. But as people survive longer and longer in that world, the resources get consumed. Meanwhile, civilizations become more advanced and efficient in their use of the remaining resources. But pinch points and dramatic texture will emerge when one village runs out of a necessary resource first.

The problem with such an arc, of course, is that it's not sustainable. The current implementation is sustainable, though bland. The big question with such an arc is this: what happens at the end? Obviously, there will be some kind of reset at the end of the arc, but what happens in the hours before that reset? Imagine a world where there are almost no resources left, and people are barely surviving. Imagine that you're a brand new player who plays their very first games in such an environment.

Part of this change may involve a finite map. An infinite map, though tantalizing conceptually, means infinite resources.

But this week, as a warm-up exercise, I've patched end of the current civilization arc to eliminate a steady-state once you have a diesel water pump: oil wells now eventually run out.

"We built an oil well, and then had oil forever after that." That's not such an interesting story.

I'll be tackling this issue on a larger scale next week.
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