Version 1.3

Hi everyone, lead designer Keith Burgun here! Sorry it’s been awhile since our last post. Over the past few months, Crazy Monkey has been involved in starting a new project of their own (I’m not involved), and I’ve been hunkering down getting ready for the upcoming release of Auro: A Bumping Tactics Game, which I’ve been working on with Dinofarm Games since late 2011! Oh, and I’ve also been contracted to write another book (here’s my first one, if anyone’s interested). So things have indeed been quite busy!

 

Development So Far

EMPIRE had a very quick development cycle, given that it’s a highly original strategy game. Strategy games in general are very difficult to design and balance, but most strategy games that get made make their job a lot easier by building off of an established working design. StarCraft built off of Warcraft II; League of Legends built off of DotA; Puzzle Strike built off of Dominion.

EMPIRE didn’t really have a thing that it was building off of, so much. I mean, if we want to explain what the game is to people for marketing purposes and such, we can say “it’s like Civilization meets Dominion meets Rogue-likes”, but that doesn’t really capture what it actually is – whereas saying that Starcraft is “Warcraft II in space” kind of does actuallysay what StarCraft is.

So anyway, the point is – we’ve got a bit of a weird game here. And that’s a good thing! However, the weirder your game is, the more work you have to do to get it to really work. While I’m proud of what EMPIRE is so far, it has never quite worked in the way that I wanted it to. At high levels of play, the balance hasn’t been so great – many players have effectively solved every version of the game that has come out.

This is what I mean by the game having had a short development cycle. I think from start to release, it was just around 8-9 months. That sounds like a long time, but for designing a highly original strategy game, it’s not. What that means is: we still have a good amount of work to do. By the time we’re really, actually done with it for good, I want to make sure that it’s a game that you can play for years, not weeks.

 

Patch Notes That Stood The Test of Time

The reality is, Crazy Monkey has limited time to spend on developing patches for Empire, so I need to make sure that whatever we have them do is awesome. Introducing the 1.3 Patch.

Since our 1.1.1 version release back in early November, there have been some significant rule changes planned. I got the lucky chance to talk to some serious game designers about it at last year’s Practice: Game Design in Detail conference in NY. We had intense, long discussions about various planned changes, for days!

Since then, the Dinofarm Games Forums playtesters and I engaged in a pages long discussion about the proposed changes, through which time they and I honed in on various possible problems and improved the changes more.

I wanted to release some of these changes for the patch in December – the 1.2 patch – but there wasn’t enough development time available. So 80% of the changes were moved to a future 1.3 patch, and only the stuff that’s in 1.2 made it (which is still a lot of stuff!).

Recently I’ve looked over these changes and I’m pretty proud of them and excited. The game is going to change pretty dramatically, but for the better. I’ll explain some of the changes as I list the notes.

 

Version 1.3 Patch Notes (- with explanations in italics!)

General Changes

- Fixed basically all known bugs

- Increased the real-time speed that everything takes to do. Units move faster in combat, cards draw faster, etc. – These little delays really add up if you’re playing a lot.

- Never ask the player what they want to name their cities, just give it a random name – This sends the wrong signal to the player about how cities work in this game; you really shouldn’t be getting attached to them. Most players skip this screen anyway.

- Cities now reach, by default, the Farms shape – This is part of a general effort to have city placement and the overmap matter more. The monster changes later in the document will also have a strong relationship with this.

- Farms now take cities from reaching the old Farms shape to the following:

- On any tile, you can build a Town (Tile produces 3 Material until it dies) or a Walls (+1 Command, +1 Redraw when fighting in this city’s limits)

- Forests now give +0 Material, +5 Food

- The “Build Mine” option should be reformed so that it’s now “Build Structure” and can be done on any worked tile in a city

- Building a Structure, much like Exploring, ends your turn. – This means that when and where to build structures is a real decision.

- All Emperors start the game with 2 Warriors – We want there to be asymmetry, but it’s much better if it’s in a few, very clear areas and not all over the place. It was just too messy before.

- Map made smaller (it’s 30×30 now?  If so make it like 25×25) - Another part of the effort to make positioning matter

- All emperors now have max 1 Redraw and 2 Command, by default. - This isn’t a rule that should be messed with in the Emperors asymmetry; it’s too fundamental.

– Winning a battle no longer gives you *spell* cards, just action cards – I’ve always wanted spell cards to be a bit more special.

 

Strife Changes

- You no longer gain Strife for a lost unit in battle. – This was doubly punishing in a really bad way that made late game often spike in difficulty too dramatically.

- You gain 1 Valor/Grit (whichever you have less of now) every 10 turns - We need a way for the game to constantly, slowly increase the size of your deck, without making it way worse necessarily.

- You gain 1 Strife for having taken any damage to your Camp in battle – Motivating protecting the camp makes battles a bit more interesting. If the camp is just a sack of HP that doesn’t matter as long as it’s not 0, then it’s not as much of a choice.

– You gain 1 Strife for losing a battle

 

Monsters/Attacking

- Monster Hives no longer launch attacks – This has always been a bit weird. One of the weirdest things was when you and a monster hive sent out attacks on each other on the same turn, or when they would resolve at the same time. It was just strange. It’s a nice idea in that it tries to simplify things, but it doesn’t really take into account anything about the map and so it’s kind of a waste of the overmap.

- The world now always has exactly 6 Monster Hives at all times. When one Hive is destroyed, another spawns in an area where there’s the most desolation, immediately. – There is no reason why the game should ever have “almost none” or “a dozen” of these; it should be uniform.

- Monster Hives no longer create desolation. – This was kind of a weird idea, that never really panned out. It’s much better if *you* create the desolation. It’s just unnecessary; monsters are already a threat on one axis.

- Monster Hives instead spawn Armies. Armies march along the world in random directions. They move slowly, once every 2-3 turns(6-8 turns on Mountain/Gem tiles). If they get within 8 tiles of a player’s city, they will walk towards it. When they reach the player’s city, the player is attacked. Monster Armies destroy Structures when they leave the tile. Two sizes of monster armies, Small and Large. Small contains 4-6 units. Large contains 8-11 units. Monster Armies may be targeted for attack with your army. Gain a flat 1 VP for killing a Monster Army in an offensive battle, 0 VP for doing so in defense. – This is probably the most massive change that version 1.3 will have, and it’s also the most important. This means that the overmap means something. I’m super-excited about this change.

- Monster Hives always have 8-11 units, including one Super Soldier. (Monster Hives are now all T3)

- Every 4 turns, one Monster Hive spawns an Army. The army spawned is Small by default, but the 5th, 8th, 10th and every spawn after is Large.

- Killing a monster hive yields 10 VP, heals surrounding area, and kills any monsters who came out of that lair.

Building Changes

 T1

Training Grounds – Produces 1 Warrior – We’re now tying building production to unit production. It was frankly very strange that there was this extra button on the HUD that you had to click on to go buy units. Very inelegant, and it sometimes caused balance issues.

Shaman Hut – Costs 1 Gem. Take a Spell Card Now. – These kind of “get a thing when you build this” changes are all designed to make cities more expendable; you WANT to keep moving along because you can’t get those bonuses again with this city.

Build Settler – Costs 50 Materials. Builds 1 Settler.

 

T2

Watch Towers – Costs 1 Gem. Produces 1 Archer

Farms – Access tiles further out.

Build Settler – Costs 50 Materials. Builds 1 Settler.

 

T3

Keep – Costs 2 Gems. Destroy 2 Strife Cards.

Academy – Builds 1 Cavalry.

Build Settler – Costs 50 Materials. Builds 1 Settler.

 

Post T3

Feast – Gain 3 VP

Exodus – Gain 1 Settler and abandon the city.

 

- You can still abandon the city at any time by going to the City panel, but if you do it this way you gain a strife instead of a settler.

Metagame

– You now start at level 1, with a score goal of 80. When you reach the score goal, the game tells you “You won!” and then have two buttons: “Main Menu” or “Keep Going!” (Civilization style). Reaching the score goal advances you to the next level and increases the score goal for the next time by 25 points. – We need a metagame that will keep growing with the player. Having a flat score value is bad, because the player gets to a point of skill where he can beat it 100% of the time and there’s no longer any challenge.

—-

Woof! Well, those are the changes. I’d love to know what you think of them. Please come join us in discussion of the game over at the Dinofarm Games forums. Thanks so much for reading!

 

Empire Version 1.2 is OUT (on PC and iOS – Android soon!)

Hey everyone!  Version 1.2 of Empire is now available on iTunes and Gamer’s Gate.  The Google Play patch should be out any day now.

Over the past month or so, I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of feedback from fans.  A lot of our fans are game designers themselves and have submitted incredibly detailed, thoughtful ideas.  I also got a chance to speak with some great game designers about Empire at the Practice: Game Design in Detail conference last month, at which I was lucky enough to be a speaker.

Over that time, I’ve been working hard on a big set of rule changes.  I’ve been looking at what the fundamental purpose of different things in the game are, questioning and re-questioning stuff from different angles.  Just from playing, I think most players would agree that the combat is much more fun and interesting than the overmap, and this is something I’m working hard to improve.  Interestingly, the solution is to both make the overmap “less of a thing” – to make it lighter and involve less busy work (particularly, hitting next-turn), and also at the same time making the overmap more interesting (each choice means more).  So I guess a way to describe it is that it will become less granular.

Most of these changes won’t be in the 1.2 patch that just went out.  1.2 is a small patch that is trying out just a few of the features from the eventual big patch.  Next month, we plan on diving into the really big 1.3 patch, which will involve some major changes to how monsters work, how buildings work, and other things.  For now, we’re cleaning stuff up a lot, and adding more context from battle to battle by having units preserve their health between battles.

Onto the patch changes!  Remember to come discuss them with us on the forums!

Unit Changes
– Warriors have 4 HP.
– Cavalry have 6 HP.
– Archers have 3 HP.
– Your units no longer heal between battles.
– There is no longer a cap on unit deaths and strife cards in a battle.

Emperors Changes
– Reduced the starting Strife for all characters by 2.
– All emperors now start with 1 warrior, 1 cavalry and 1 archer.
– The War Chief:
+1 Action Card to choose from after a battle.
Warriors have +2 Health.
– The Senator:
Keeps destroy 3 Strife Cards.
Units regain +1 Health after every battle.
– The Wizard:
Killing a unit gives him a redraw.
Unique card: Meteor.

Card Changes
– Archer Take Cover now only allows you to move your archer behind a warrior or cavalry.
– Archers Shift has become Shift and allows you to move all units of a picked type up or down 1 tile. You get redraws depending on the amount of units of that type you have.
– Savage blows is no longer unique but gives +1 damage instead of double damage.
– Bounty card is no longer unique, but gives 25 materials instead of 30.
– Resurrected units now have 2 HP instead of 1.

Monster Changes
– The base minimum number of monsters in a battle is 4 instead of 3.
– The minimum number of monsters you will meet in a battle now also scales with the turns. This rule only affects situations where you kill monsters but don’t destroy the monster nest.
– Super monsters now have +1 HP.

Polishing
– When having to select a new card, you can see how many cards of that type you already have.
– Description of Feast and Academy have some improvements.

EMPIRE News and The 1.1.1 Update!

Hey everybody!  It’s EMPIRE News time!

First thing’s first – the 1.1.1 update just went out, with some crucial balance fixes, a ton of polish, and even some bug fixes.  You can read the full patch notes at the end of this post.

Also, did we mention that EMPIRE is on Steam Greenlight?  We really need your support, so come on down and vote for us, would you?  You can also purchase EMPIRE on Gamer’s Gate right now if you want to play it on PC or Mac.  Oh, and it was just submitted to the Mac App Store!  Look out for that in the next day or so.  EMPIRE is EVERYWHERE!

We’re working hard on making EMPIRE better and better with each new patch.  It’s so exciting how many people have been writing such positive reviews on the App Store, Google Play, and various forums around the internet.  Thanks everyone for your support.

And thanks even more to the people who gave us useful constructive criticism.  I’m pretty sure I read *all* of the comments I can find regarding game balance and general gameplay thoughts, and I take them all to heart.

We have BIG PLANS for this game!  Please let us know if you have any thoughts, comments or ideas.  Also, EMPIRE is the kind of game that needs word of mouth to survive, so if you like the game, please tell your friends about it and post on social media and such.

 

Onto the 1.1.1 Patch notes!

Balance changes:
– Keep now costs 2 gems (they used to cost 50 materials).
– Academy now cost 50 materials and give 8 Victory Points (they used to cost 2 gems and gave 15 Victory Points).
– Each new feast now gives 2 more Victory Points than the previous one in that city.

Polishing:
– Scrolling of cards and emperors now is smoother and can be done with less effort. You can also just tap on a card or an emperor and it will automatically scroll there.
– In combat, the camera will no longer move when zoomed out.
– The combat zoom’s last used setting is now properly stored and used in the next battle.
– The prompt that asks the user to play the tutorial is now only asked once.

Bug fixes:
– Strife card description has been fixed.
– Tiles should always load properly (there was a rare bug that changed tiles into water or created weird looking fog).
– Units moving in place bug fixed
– Small fixes in the help panel.

Also, we updated the PC and Mac build on Gamers Gate so people can now select their resolution before they start the game

Version 1.1 Released!

We’ve submitted version 1.1 to the App Store and Google Play.  Google Play has a much faster turnaround, so if you’re an Android user, it’s already out there – go play it now!  If you’re an iOS user, you’ll probably have to wait one or two more days before you get your hands on all these delicious changes.

I don’t know about you, but reading patch notes has always been one of my favorite parts of being into a great game.  Without further ado, here are the patch notes.  Note that there’s a ton of smaller things that aren’t written down here, like polish and stuff – this is just the significant rule changes.  Enjoy!

Continue reading

Asymmetrical Heroes and More for Version 1.1

I've written before about how important it is that developers take care of their games post-release.  Wrote about it at my blog, and then re-posted the article to Gamasutra.  I feel strongly about this, and I want to be on record, very publicly, as having said it loud and clear.  And it totally applies to EMPIRE, of course.

So, the game was released on the 5th – about ten days ago, at the time of this writing, and we're already knee-deep in the first patch.  Version 1.1 will fix a ton of balance issues, a few bugs (there aren't many bug reports, though, we're proud to say), and even adds some significant new features.  Wanna hear about 'em?

Keep in mind, this is a tentative list – some of this is subject to change by the time 1.1 reaches your hands.  First, we'll start with the new features, which are probably the most exciting to hear about.

Introducing the EMPERORS!

As of version 1.1, EMPIRE will have three asymmetrical “factions” you can choose from.  Beyond having their own portrait art done by Gilles Ketting(the same dude who did our lovely card paintings) and lore, they also have their own starting decks, starting armies, and even different special global powers.  I won't give you the specific numbers for the most part, because we're still balancing / tweaking those, but this gives you a general idea of what we want for these Emperors.

SENATOR_PORTRAIT_ROUNDEDMarkus, The Senator

Markus is a much-beloved leader, both because his eloquent words have a way of inspiring unity in the tribes, and also due to his stewardship of the lands.  As Emperor, Markus is well-balanced, although not quite as natural a fighter as some leaders.

Markus starts with a pretty balanced deck, and one of each unit type.  He starts with the unique Copy card, and has a high redraw cap.  He also gets more food out of Forests, so he generally has a good growth rate.  He's kind of the all-around guy, but with a slight bias towards economy / overmap.

WIZARD_PORTRAIT_ROUNDEDJohan, the Wizard

Johan is a mysterious figure with a trail of stories so bizarre, many in the world believe him to be a myth altogether.  As Emperor, Johan wields great magical power, although often has difficulty maintaining a basic sense of order among his people.

Johan is the classic “glass cannon” approach.  He has a LOT of downsides – doesn't start with any cavalry, cavalry cost 25 more materials to produce, and a paltry 2 max redraw.  However, he also starts with several powerful spell cards (including the newly-unique Meteor card) and 2 Command, allow him to cast spells on turn 1.

WARCHIEF_PORTRAIT_ROUNDEDShirin, The War Chief

When not on the battlefield, Shirin appears calm and stoic; almost like a stone statue of herself.  However, when on the battlefield, Shirin shows a brutality and skill that terrifies all who witness it.  As Emperor, she relies heavily on her combat abilities.

Shirin is all about large armies and smart use of Action Cards.  A cool rule that Shirin has is that when she kills a monster, she gains 1 Command and 1 Redraw, but on the other hand, Spell cards are harder for her to obtain.  On the overmap, she has an increased capacity for materials, allowing her to produce more Cavalry or other unit types when she needs them.

So those are the Emperors.  Later on, we could perhaps add more of course, but for now we think that this is just enough variety to help our little solitaire strategy game have enough longevity.  I should make it clear that the Emperors are less like classical videogame asymmetry, and more like gameplay variants.  We may add different gameplay objectives (I'll get into that in a second) and other game-wide rules for the Emperors in the future if needed.  As it is, they do not compete with each other on the same scoreboard – each Emperor gets its own scoreboard.

Victory Condition!

One of the biggest requests we've been getting is for some kind of clear, achievable goal.  We've heard you, and frankly, I'm a bit angry at myself for not having thought of this simple solution before we launched.

In order to Win in Empire, gain 200 Victory Points.  If you want, you can continue past that and see how far you can get, but gaining 200 is the goal.  If you die before getting 200, you've lost.

We also might add a Hard Mode that requires 300 or more victory points, although that hasn't been ironed out completely yet.

New Resource: Gems!

Screen21

In general, another complaint people make is that the combat is significantly more fun than the overmap.  I agree with this complaint whole-heartedly.

One of the biggest problems that I kept running into through Empire's development was making everything work with just the two resources: Food, and Materials.  I generally like to start with too few resources, and move up as needed, but unfortunately it didn't quite dawn on me until after the game was out that by adding one more resource, we could dramatically improve the overmap game.

Gems can be seen through the fog of war, so you now have some kind of cue as to “where to explore”, whereas before it was slightly hard to know which direction to go.  They are required for gaining spell cards, giving “taking action cards” more of a role.  They are also required for building archers.  Archers now cost very few materials (less than warriors), and 1 Gem.  This means that your army composition will be slightly dictated by which resources you have a decent amount of.

Other Stuff!

There's so much more stuff that I can't really even get into all of it right now.  I'll just say that I keep in close contact with our best players, like Mercviper, who got a whopping 559 points within the first couple days.  Guys like him have been interacting with us on the forums and letting me know about the balance exploits they've discovered.  Part of this stage of development is a bit of a special “whack-a-mole” game where we try to knock down every overpowered strategy, without harming the ability for players to make interesting, dynamic, creative decisions.  It's hard, but fun.

We also have massive plans for version 1.2, including a big, positive change for how monsters work on the overmap.  Keep a lookout!  Thanks for reading, and please come join us on the forums!

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EMPIRE Is Complete! Release on Oct. 4!

Good news!  EMPIRE is now feature-complete!

Combat!  The best part of the game.

Combat! The best part of the game.

After many months of hard work, we’re happy to announce that we’re moving into the “gold” phase of EMPIRE’s development.  This means that no new rule changes can come into play from here until release, during which time the game will go through a rigorous QA testing run.

The game is the best it has ever been.  This past month – as I wrote about in the last blog post – has been pretty dense in the amount of rapid improvements to the gameplay.  We have to thank our testers – Bucky, Vivafringe, Endevero, Nachtfischer, Senator, Donderper, and a few others.  They have been essential in getting the game to where it is now.

I also want to stress that we have a ton of awesome ideas / features planned for post-release.  Launch day is only the beginning!  Oh, and speaking of launch day…

 

Release Date!

We have to go through QA, and then submit to Apple, but we estimate that the game should be in your hands by October 4th!  Pretty exciting.

Right now, we just need to get the word out about our game.  We know tons of people would want to try a super-modern, original 4X-strategy/deckbuilder game, if they just know it exists!

Email your favorite blogs about us!  Tweet about us!  Post on forums!  Anything you, our fans, can do to help get the word out would make a huge difference.

Anyway, thanks for staying tuned to our blog.  More updates to come soon!  Also, here’s another screenshot!

The Overmap!  Spread your Empire!

The Overmap! Spread your Empire!

EMPIRE Beta Challenges – The Fun Part!

New to EMPIRE?  Check out this post for a quick introduction to the game!

EMPIRE's Beta has been a strong success so far, with very active participation from a lot of great beta testers.  Many of them were also fantastic testers largely responsible for getting AURO into the balanced, tight and interesting little gem that it is.  Good testers are pretty much *as* important as a good designer, and we've definitely got them for EMPIRE.

So let me fill you in a bit on what we've been working on.  This is a pretty highly detailed game design journal for the game, so I hope that it's interesting, and please let me know if you have any thoughts.

The Game Designer's Favorite Phase

Right now, we're still in the phase where we're making rather significant changes rapidly, trying new ideas, re-arranging stuff, and even removing/adding subsystems where needed.  For a game designer, it's quite scary and stressful, particularly for one like me who is always treading new ground.  However, it's also the most fun and interesting work a game designer gets to do.

At the start of a game's development, it's definitely fun to “imagine” all these ideas for how the game will work.  As a kid, this was always my favorite thing to do, because the game in my head was always way more exciting than reality.  However, as you get to be a more experienced game designer, you start to realize that fact a bit more, and that really drains the fun out of the initial “thinkin' stuff up” phase.  So that phase is still fun for me, but it's a bit diminished by the feeling that I know 70-80% of what I think sounds good now will have huge problems in reality. Continue reading