Friday Facts #85: Icebergs & Labyrinths
Game design is an iceberg. Picture an image of a tipped glacier burgeoning above the water, with a gigantic mass underneath the surface. In a video game that is more reflex-focused, when a player jumps onto a moving platform, the unseen systems must react in a way that feels like natural movement. The player only has to tilt a stick and press A, but there is simulated gravity, acceleration, and movement control which must always be working behind the scenes, and in real-time.
When someone plays a game, the systems are rarely as forward-facing as they are in NewCity. In simulation-heavy games like ours, FTL, or RimWorld reflexes are wholly unnecessary (unless you refuse to use the pause function!). The player is constantly struggling with choices that provide obscured systemic overlap; the unintended consequences are engaging in a way that’s at odds with something like a platformer. If a road is torn down, how will that affect the value of the surrounding property? These consequences exist to destroy the player, and the mitigation is thrilling.
So when we here at Lone Pine Games want to add something new like an improved stock market or a districting system or a new tutorial, we are trying our best to layer it in a way that is both challenging and welcoming. We want players to take time and fully digest as much of the iceberg as they can. And as it stands now, we have too many people bouncing off the game within the first few hours. We hope our updates are adding as much to the top of the iceberg as they are to the bottom.
Not only is game design an iceberg, the act of forging a playable experience from raw code and assets is as a labyrinth. It’s far easier to get lost than it is to find the exit. Occasionally, it helps to step back — or return to the summit outside the entrance — where you can view the whole of it at once. Take a breath, recognize the mistakes made along the way, and reenter with renewed purpose.
There has been some concern about our current update schedule. Allow me to reassure you: NewCity isn’t abandonware, nor are we done working on it. Far from it. That said, I completely understand the concern. Early Access is a crucible in which independent game developers are tested. Many have been found wanting. And in so doing, many have promptly abandoned their efforts once the challenges outweighed any potential benefits in their mind.
Not we. I wrote something on our Steam Discussion board which I’ll place here once more. For posterity:
You know, this is our fault. We set an unsustainable pace with the first year of development. While weekly or bi-weekly releases are nice for players, for a small team they often lead to cut corners, more bugs, and more time spent putting out fires than focusing on forward motion. Perhaps this is why many indie teams stick to longer cycles or “when it’s done” right out of the gate. But since this is our first game as a team we had to learn as we went.
I see your concern. But please understand that the game is not abandonware, nor have we given up in any sense. Future releases will generally be “when it’s done,” and as discussed here on the forums and on our Discord, not every release will have lots of front-facing content. Sometimes we need to spend a significant amount of time on backend systems. Sometimes we’ll need to set up additional updates in the future. And while we weren’t able to meaningfully or consistently do that with a weekly/bi-weekly release cycle, we’re taking the time we need to do so now.
The next release will offer “just” keybindings, sure. A necessary if not flashy feature. But the system underlying it will represent a more robust save file system and other possible improvements in the future. All with the focus of working toward v1.0 by year’s end and a more stable, playable NewCity. Thank you for your patience in the meantime.
We’re in this to the release out of Early Access. As with many, many games gone before, our version 1.0 will look a lot different than we anticipated at dawn’s first light on our adventure. Games become a bundle of concessions, ideas both good and bad, and are filled with an equal measure of missteps and victories. But each one — so long as they aren’t shovelware — represent something fundamental. A desire made manifest. They represent a void that a developer identified, and hopefully a solution that fills that selfsame void in the players.
I reiterate: we aren’t done with NewCity yet. We have a bit to go before version One dot Zero. And, as with our update schedule, exact dates are subject to flex around as we work hard to offer our best. We’ll do our best to communicate those changes to you and the reasons why — perhaps better than we have in the past.
Thank you for sticking with us on this journey. And like I said in the post above, thank you for your patience. There may yet be a few surprises in store for all the mayors of NewCities.
As always, we look forward to seeing what you build.
At Lone Pine Games we are always looking for feedback to improve our game! The best way to provide it is through our community Discord, which can be found here: http://discord.gg/cz6t4J5
We are thankful to have such a lively and dedicated group of Mayors participating in discussions regarding new features, city planning strategy, development news, and just about anything else.
If you want to play the game and haven’t got it yet, head over to our Steam page. We’re also on Reddit and Twitter.
Steam Reviews are always appreciated as well!