November 2020 Progress Update

Hi there!

With my work on the 0.8 branch of After The Collapse taking most of my time, we’ve hit a temporary lull in my release schedule. To keep you waiting, I think it’s a good time to talk about the progress made toward the next major update. Out of the many things planned for the 0.8x cycle, I decided to focus first on what I consider to be ATC’s major issue when it comes to player retention. Namely, a very unfriendly “New Game” menu, and near useless difficulty settings. Of course this first update won’t just stop to those two items, but it’ll be the main subject of this article.

Please note that many of the changes detailed in this article are still under construction. As such, the implementation might vary slightly.

New Game Menu

The three different new game buttons (tutorial, main, custom) are being replaced by a single “New Game” button leading to a very complete scenario selection menu. For those in a hurry, here’s a short video detailing the whole menu and a few other things:

As you can see, the same menu regroups all usual starting positions in addition to scenarios like the good old Last Stand and newcomers like “The Plague”.

Scenarios are a fully customizable and moddable. They define the starting location, difficulty levels, events, your starting survivors, equipment, technologies among a ton of additional settings. They also define what the player can or cannot change before starting a game. For instance, with the “custom game” scenario, you can change pretty much everything about your game. While with “The Plague”, you start with a preset location, survivors,  events and difficulty settings. We’ll go over difficulty settings further down.

Anyway, once a scenario is selected, and we’ll use “Custom Game” as an example here, you get to the next screen:

The first tab allows you to customize your faction. You can select your name, flag, ethics and (if the scenario allows it) if you want to start above or below ground. The main feature, beside the ability to select a different flag, is that you can decide to start with a bunch of cannibals or not. Speaking of cannibals, I also added a mature content flag to the settings which I will detail further down this article.

The next tab is your usual equipment customization menu. Not much has changed here except that the menu is larger and a few minor issues have been fixed. Let’s get to the new and interest bit, then.

As requested, you can now customize your settlers, see what they will look like, add, reroll and remove them at will. I still have a small problem to overcome. It makes it too easy to start with overpowered survivors. In the future, I’ll have to find a way to balance that. The obvious (and easy) solution would be to limit the amount of rerolls. But I know all too well how much people love to optimize the fun out of their games. I’m afraid it would incite some people to restart the game over and over again. The alternative solution, which is much more annoying to write, would be to write a secondary settler generator (for this menu only) which would attribute good and bad traits in a fairly balanced fashion. We’ll see. I’ll keep it “as is” in this first release, though.

I’ll skip the surface and underground settings as they are pretty much unchanged from 0.7x.

Finally, assuming you’re playing on a scenario asking you to select a location on the map, this menu has been overhauled too!

As you can see, it got a much needed makeover. It’s not exactly what I want it to be yet, but we’re getting there. You get a lot more information about the spot you want to settle on, It warns you about potential difficulties related to the selected map. The menu also tells you why you can’t settle in some locations like point of interests and AI factions’ headquarters.

And, of course, after the location is selected, the game starts as usual.

Difficulty Settings

Difficulty settings were pretty lackluster in previous versions. Finding a balance between the newcomers who find the game too hard and the regulars who find it way too easy was pretty much impossible. Well, this will hopefully become a problem of the past. As you might have noticed in the previous screenshots, scenarios have 3 drop down menus below their descriptions. Let’s see what up with those.

Clicking the Difficulty dropdown (which comes with several presets) will unlock this sub screen. As you can see, it’s fairly complete and adds a ton of new settings to the game. I am not going to explain each individual one, as you can easily guess what most of them do, but I will still go over a few of the more interesting options.

First we have the “Pandemonium Infection Rate”. It determines the percentage of survivors who are infected by the virus (which will slowly turn them into hostile tribals or shamblers if left untreated). It does not impact your starting people, but it does impact any new recruit. In the same vein, you can now select if the “Sickness” meter is lethal or not and you can disable the negative health effects given by acid rains.

The next setting, which I still have to implement (I am not yet 100% certain it will make it to 0.8.0), is the “Rare Water Sources”. Simply put, it makes water a lot more difficult to get. Water wells will need to be next to actual water sources like lakes or rivers (yes, those are being implemented), and cannot be placed too close to one another, while purified water itself is made a “Rare” item, making it much less likely to appear during expeditions. The idea behind this setting is to give a proper challenge to the most experimented players.

You can also customize other factions, making them easier or harder to deal with. And finally, we have the “Bandit Lair” setting. It’s not yet implemented, and probably won’t be part of 0.8.0 but its goal is to occasionally spawn bandit lairs around the maps. As the name entails, bandit lairs are local bandit groups which will attack nearby bases and points of interest in a regular basis until the player (or an AI faction) destroys the lair.

Event Settings

And of course, game “random” events will be customizable too! The 2 other drop down menus (events and event frequency) both open the same sub menu:

You can filter in/out easy and difficult events and you can even completely remove positive or negative events (or both if you don’t want any event at all). It’s also possible to customize their frequency manually or by using one of the 3 different presets.

Toggle Mature Content

I know that there’s quite a few parents playing the game with their kids and that the recent additions to the game might not be very kid friendly. As such, I am replacing the “toggle blood” setting by a much more complete Mature Content one. If checked, it will disable several of the most ‘controversial’ features:

  • Blood effects and decorations won’t appear in the game
  • Cannibalism is completely disabled (with the exception of the Pandemonium virus)
  • Prisoner buyers and sellers will never spawn (you can still take prisoners if you want to, just not cook or sell them)

On a technical (and moddable) level, events, recipes, items and traits can be tagged with a “Mature” tag. The game will simply ignore everything marked as such when the “Mature Content” checkbox is disabled. As such, mods can also support “kid friendly” versions if need be.

Map Generation

As shown in the video, water looks a lot better now. It’s an animated 256×256 texture (again, fully moddable) which is tiled under the map, instead of being a small 64×64 blueish tile. Lakes will be added to maps (to fill up those map corners and in preparation for the “Rare Water” difficulty settings) both above and under ground. I’m also adding a few new building variants and other small tweaks and improvements.

Nothing major, but do not worry, there’s a LOT more to come in this area. Just not for the initial 0.8.0 release.

Game Engine

I went through most my code, looking for issues, removing duplicate code, optimizing what can be and so on. It’s definitely not as sexy as the previously mentioned features, but paying your technical debt is an important part of maintaining an healthy project. Still, it should make the game way more stable. It’s not like it’s particularly unstable, but all bugs must be exterminated nonetheless. It should be a tad more optimized, but I am not entirely sure it’s something the end user will notice, except in particularly busy situations.

Weather and Climate

Last but not least, the weather system is going through a major rewrite. Contrary to previously mentioned changes, I am still in the middle of rewriting this part, as such the final implementation may vary a bit from what I am writing right now.

As you’ve certainly noticed, the weather in ATC didn’t make a lot of sense, a cold wave could follow a heat wave, and weather could suddenly go from a stormy weather to clear skies in the blink of an eye. While I don’t think it was that much of a concern gameplay wise, it was still annoying. I’d like to replace that by a climate system that will determine the average temperature, precipitations, acidity levels, wind strength, and their min/max variation.

It would have several implications. Firstly, not all starting locations would be equal when it comes to weather. Some regions would be colder and humid while others would be arid. Yes, I know, we’re in a city scale-wise and that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but nor do crops growing in 3 days. Scale and speed have to be tweaked to make a game. Secondly, instead of switching from a weather pattern to another every few hours, changes would be more gradual, clouds will appear before it’s raining, temperature will slowly rise up and down instead of toggling between different states, giving you some time to prepare.

Of course, it also means I have to scrap and rewrite the whole weather thing. It’s going to take a week or two and we’ll surely find new an interesting bugs that way.

In Conclusion

This 0.8.0 update is going on nicely. The “New Game” menu was incredibly painful to write, the user interface library I am using was definitely not made for that level of complexity, but I am very happy with the end result. I don’t have an exact ETA for the first release yet, but I’m pretty sure it should be ready in early December, hopefully during the first week. I will publish an untested version in the Nightly Branch soon-ish.

So, what next? Well, after the usual cycle of hot-patches, I will start working on the new expedition system detailed in my previous devlog at least as the main focus. I will still continue to improve other parts of the game in parallel.