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TIGSource ForumsCommunityDevLogsInterim – our crack at a strategic browser game
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MalcolmLittle
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« on: July 22, 2009, 11:41:37 am »

Interim (working title) is a strategic browser game which is basically an economic simulation and what we like to call a “violent trading game”. Thousands of players will be able to congregate to play the roll of dropped volunteers, entrepreneurs sent to a giant disaster area to clean up and restore society (and get rich in the process).

The player will be able to a start business by building factories, amassing a workforce and by selling and buying resources in the player-driven market. They will also be able to wage economic warfare against competitors with special buildings that hamper in a variety of ways the production of others.

The disaster area is an anything-goes economic Wild West where the volunteers gain wealth and influence by getting ahead of the competition, by any means necessary.

Status: On our way to the first beta version of the game.








Original first post:

I’ve decided to start keeping a developer’s log here at the forums at TIGSource. My friends and I are really getting somewhere with the production of our first game, and I also dearly love this site.

Well anyway, we are called Non Zero Games. We’re three guys who are making a game with the working title Interim. It is a strategic browser game with an strong angle towards economics and production.  This is what it’s about:

Story/Background:
The story is that a gigantic metropolis has been nearly outright destroyed by a disaster. The city is in chaos and completely helpless. There is no functioning government and all production and commerce has stopped. Utter bedlam.

Cue the players: You are one of the many private contractors and entrepreneurs sent to the problem area by an international coalition to repair and totally restructure the city. Your, and your fellow competitors’, mission is to restore order by getting the local populace back into employment and create a thriving free market. That’s all. The city’s people are more or less destitute; they have nowhere to sleep and practically no food. They have nothing. They will do whatever it takes to survive. Well now, a land in such a chaotic state is really a prime opportunity to make a buck or two. Or to get filthy rich.

Game play description
So, we have created a game where players will build businesses by creating buildings, producing (and refining) resources, selling and buying said goods and attracting desperate workers to their factories/buildings. One player might want to produce building material (of say, high quality) and sell it on the local market. Another might want to create housing for the area’s homeless workforce (who otherwise live in the employers’ factories).

The players will congregate in small cleaned up Neighborhoods, each built up of smaller City Blocks. Each Neighborhood has its own local market. A player can build a building and set up shop in any Neighborhood. They can concentrate on one area or decide to fan out all over the ruined city (a game server will be the entirety of the city).

The local population, the workers, will do anything for work and shelter. They will simply go to the employer who can make them happiest. The mechanic is that they’ll move to the building/factory in a city block that has the highest Contentment level (compared to its neighboring buildings). If your neighbor’s building has a higher level of Contentment he or she will attract the most workers from the block (i.e. from other player’s houses). The city blocks compete in the same way. City Block 1 is the most Content block in the area and it will attract workers from the surrounding blocks. The same goes for Neighborhoods … You get the idea.

Alpha stage
We have created an early (and kinda ugly) alpha version of the game, with all the core systems in place. A player can build and upgrade buildings, produce resources and sell goods in the local Neighborhood markets. The workers are attracted to and move between player buildings.



What we‘re doing now is balancing the whole freaking thing, while our back-end programmer is starting on other systems (right now it is Research Development). We still don’t have anyone to build the front-end though (it’s a simple Joomla website right now). I’ve been out on the net recruiting. I hope someone turns up soon. It would be nice to have that part of the game to start to evolve.
« Last Edit: February 26, 2010, 08:23:46 am by MalcolmLittle » Logged

MalcolmLittle
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« Reply #1 on: July 23, 2009, 03:12:10 pm »

Sorry for the long post, I'll try to keep it short(-er) from now on.  Micael, our main programmer, has now finished Research development for the game. It works like this:

Research (available buidlings and uppgrades):
Every player has to research the ability to access new types of buildings, and then the ability to upgrade the buildings’ attributes to the next level (there are five different upgrades that every building has, like Contentment (how content your workers are) or Quality (the quality level of the products you make), etc).

I understand the discussion we had as to why we wanted Research (making it more costly to specialize in one kind of business, and cheaper for players who choose to be generalists Update: it's of course the other way round, this system guarantees that specializing in one or few buildings is cheaper and without Research there would be no point whatsoever in specializing in one trade, something you want to have in the game to strengthen the interdepency between players) but I think it feels kinda silly to have to click on one button for the ability to build or upgrade buildings (another button click).



It is when you really see an implementation that you begin to wonder how some things can be done better, or at least made easier for the user.

The next thing to do is to start developing the system for “aggressive” buildings.

Attack Buildings
In our game there will be a clearly cutthroat society and we want a sense of lawlessness to be felt throughout. The city is in chaos and the international coalition, that sent the players to the city, doesn’t help all that much. The players are left to their own devices and their own means of cutting the competition.

The aggressive buildings [or Attack Buildings, which sounds better] don’t create resources or products. Their use is to attack and impair competitors. There have been a few suggestions thrown around, from Private Security (vandals that heighten Criminality in a City Block [decreases Contentment]), Pharmaceutical Divisions (spread diseases and flues to workers [lowers the affected building’s Efficiency]) to the devastating Health Inspectors (can shut down buildings). These buildings will be out in the open, and clearly marked, in the Neighborhoods among other, more normal houses.

We wanted to have somewhat misleading names to all the aggressive buildings, but to have very telling and descriptive portraits of the buildings’ workers. I don’t want it be missed that these are “bad” and that they will most certainly tick off and seriously worry your neighbors.
« Last Edit: August 18, 2009, 04:36:29 am by MalcolmLittle » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: August 06, 2009, 06:11:19 am »

Constructing a thorough and balanced (and fun!) production system in a strategy game is tough! This is so freakishly hard, we have been working on our own system for weeks now and we’re far from finished. We want to have a player-driven economy in our game so it needs to be balanced. Developers of most single player strategy games often cut corners and have different systems that just don’t have a strategic balance. One means of production is often more economically effective than others (sometimes even vastly more effective). I find that kind of game play just dull and it cannot ever happen in a multiplayer game with thousands of players. That kind of trial and error mechanics could (barely) be justified in classic single player games, as a means to try to “teach” players the right and wrongs of production, but it is truly unfair in a multiplayer game.

Another hard thing about this aspect of game design is that a game economy cannot be too realistic; it needs to be fun for all, for the established player as well as for newcomers.

Production:
Today I thought I would describe how our production works in a little more detail. Production buildings can either produce Resources or Commodities (there is a slight difference; I’ll talk about what Commodities are in a later post).

Resources are basically recycled from the wreckage and rubble of the city and are collected from a number of different kinds of buildings. These resources are in turn used to either build or upgrade buildings in our game. One of the Upgrades that can be utilized is Quality, which of course dictates the quality of the items produced there.

That means that Resources and Commodities have “levels” in Interim, i.e. Quality. We decided to have “levels” to add depth to the production and also to create a more interesting dynamic in the player-driven economy.

A building may need, say, a number of Quality 1 Bricks to be constructed and a higher Upgrade, of say Contentment, for a building may need at least one Quality 5 Metal. That's basically how it works.

All production buildings have a Quality upgrade. The Quality of the goods produced is (for the most part) equal to Quality upgrade of the building. You can increase the Quality upgrade in exchange for a steadily increasing cost of resources.

Production of Commodities and Resources also include a fair amount of refinery; making higher quality items out of stuff of lower quality.

It’s kinda tricky to explain so I’ll try with an example:

We have a building called the “Sewage Treatment Plant” in the game, which can create Alcohol from Quality 1.

* Example: So, a Sewage Treatment Plant (that has had its Quality upgraded to 3) creates Alcohol of a Quality equal to its Quality upgrade (in this case Quality 3, or Q3).

Now to the refinery. You can also build a “Brewery” that “refines” Alcohol. It produces Alcohol of a Quality ten times over the building’s current Quality upgrade. To do this the building requires Alcohol of same Quality level as the building. Weird maybe, but it works like this:

* Example: A Brewery with, say, a Quality upgrade of 5 makes Q15 Alcohol but requires an equal amount of Q5 Alcohol for every Q15 it makes.

The third kind of building, named “Distillery” creates Alcohol 20 levels above the building’s Quality upgrade, but requires Alcohol 10 levels above the building’s Quality upgrade.

* Example: A Distillery with a Quality upgrade of 6 can create Q26 Alcohol but the owner needs a stockpile of Q16 to do it.

The lowly Sewage Treatment Plant starts off making Q1 and only makes Alcohol equal to its Quality level but it doesn’t require any resources to create its goods.

The same three “tier” system exists for all the different Resources and Commodities in the game [resources work differently now; they can be refined into totally new resources].

This system is one of the ways to maintain a market for lower quality goods, where players with buildings with lower Quality upgrades (meaining newer players) can still have a place in the marketplace, thus strengthening the interdependency between players.
« Last Edit: September 26, 2009, 11:58:18 am by MalcolmLittle » Logged

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« Reply #3 on: August 07, 2009, 01:33:11 pm »

Last week we conducted our first group test session. We were four people all playing at the same time for about two hours. We tried out with just two Neighborhoods (our islands of civilization in the sea of rubble) and decided to not use any of the newly implemented Attack Buildings; we just built and upgraded our buildings and basically just produced goods and sold and bought them in the local markets. I for one decided not to make any building materials whatsoever and just bought them from the other players (who were making them in abundance; it was a real steal).

It was working out fine and we decided to accelerate the time in the game to see how things were turning out. We found, typically enough, an unforeseen bug in how the workers move between Neighborhoods, City blocks and finally player buildings. It is really fortunate to find those kinds of hiccups this early in the game. And group testing is extremely important, these types of bugs are really hard to even detect when you're plodding away on your own.

I was happy anyway, glad that we had caught this in time. Our chief mathematician and head designer of production Pontus fixed it a few days later.

We’ll be having a much larger test session in a week; we'll have circa 15 people play together for three-four hours and discuss it afterwards. I'm really looking forward to it, it will be great to see what people think (even at this early, alpha stage).
« Last Edit: August 19, 2009, 12:29:35 am by MalcolmLittle » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: August 20, 2009, 07:17:36 am »

We have just had our larger test session this Sunday, with 14 play testers, and it went well! I’ll get to that in another post soon but now I want to write about Commodities.

Commodities
So, Interim is a strategy game where players construct buildings and build businesses in a destroyed mega-city. They congregate in cleared up and restored Neighborhoods. The metropolis’ inhabitants, the NPC workers, are attracted to player buildings and will start to work there (for practically nothing). They will however gravitate toward buildings with high Contentment. They will also move slowly towards the City Blocks with the highest Contentment rating within a Neighborhood, and in turn to Neighborhoods with higher collective Contentment.

This migration of workers, and the players’ attempts to attract them, is in many ways really the heart of our game. With the use of economy of scale workers become valuable and a high number of them is important to any budding industrialist. 

How do you raise your Contentment rating in a building, you ask?

1.   Upgrade the Contentment level in you building (one of five upgrades that can be done).
2.   Give your meager workers a pay to buy any (or all) of the three types of Commodities: Alcohol, Food or Relics (relics are vestiges of the old, pre-disaster society; i.e. non-functioning TVs, stereos and computer modems).

The workers will go to the local market place and buy the best items they can find (for the amount of their pay). If you give employees say, ten dollars to pay for Alcohol all the workers in the chosen house will go to the market and on a regular basis buy the best Quality Alcohol they can for ten dollars (we don’t have any wages in any real sense, the player can just type in how much he or she is willing to spend on Food, Alcohol or Relics for his or her employees). The workers will therefore buy items that have been created by other players and the local market places will cater to both players and NPCs.

Buying Commodities for your workers will increase their building’s Contentment rating but it will of course mean a cost for the employer. You don’t have to give your workers any pay, they’ll in essence work for nothing, but if your neighbors are paying your workers will start to leave you, one by one. So, the happier your workforce, the more workers will be attracted to your place of business. This creates of course a certain social dilemma; if no one in an area pays for food, etc, that would be the cheapest for all involved. If one player starts to pay however, than he will reap the rewards of having the most Content building, and attract workers from all the buildings in the area. In real life it usually escalates from there.
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MalcolmLittle
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« Reply #5 on: August 21, 2009, 06:51:53 am »

As I wrote in the previous post we had a test session on Sunday and it was actually really great. None of the 14 play testers had tried or hardly even seen Interim and they therefore started on a clean slate. After a short introduction by one the designers the players filed into two computer lab rooms and started to play. They found our rather poorly planned interface to be kind of unwieldy and obtuse but that didn’t stop them from playing.

There was some heavy, and quite strange, action in the market place, with a lot of selling and buying. People were slamming the refresh button on the market place page like mad. Thery were also hoarding resources like crazy. So, typically if there is a high demand and low supply the prices should soar but in our case players sold items sporadically for hardly any money whatsoever. High quality Alcohol was being sold for a few dollars per unit at one point. And then the market would dry up once again. The play testers explained afterwards that it probably had to do with the mission system we had implemented for the test (basically just produce and delivery quests). They often needed a quick buck and only cared about resources and commodities that were required for missions so they sold off their own production supplies cheap. Weird.

We had worked really hard on the Attack Buildings, balancing them and making sure they worked properly, but no one really used them. The few that built them even regretted doing so after two hours (the costs of constructing new buildings go steadily up). The game was probably complicated enough without them so they weren’t something people put much time and effort into during such a short time period, but we’ve realized that they are actually too expensive to justify building or maintaining.  We decided to change them so that they will affect one building negatively and another positively to keep them somewhat economically viable. We don’t want people to make a profit by harassing others but we don’t want to make it so that only wealthy “griefers” would build and utilize these houses.

The test was great anyhow. This being our first game, the test gave us a real sense of pride by seeing other people playing our game. Engaged and actually enjoying themselves. This maybe fades after you’ve done a few but this was a feeling I won’t soon forget.
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MalcolmLittle
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« Reply #6 on: February 25, 2010, 09:25:19 am »

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything here but the team and I have been working hard all autumn and winter on the game. We’re now on our way to the next phase of testing (mmm, “beta”) and we are making sure that the functionality is set and that the front end will work.

We had pretty much the entire time thought that we could have a Google Maps kind of interface where you could start with pretty much the entire city in front of you and be able to zoom down to the different Neighborhoods (the small enclaves that basically are small “towns” in the giant destroyed city) and than to blocks and individual buildings. In the end we found it to be kind of unwieldy, to say the least, to have all that plus basically an entire game so we scrapped the plans. We were also realizing that the city planning of the Neighborhoods, the blocks, streets and houses, would all look uniformly the same. Block after block, row after row of same-sized buildings. The game would be just too confusing, not knowing where you were or where other buildings were in the Neighborhood. If you’re going to be topside pretty much the entire time, you need to have a varied city to find your way around (and not be bored stiff).

We are going to keep a world map of all the Neighborhoods but we’re trying to have a more dynamic (and in the end, player friendly) way to see the make up of the individual Neighborhoods. You’ll be able to sort the buildings and City Blocks by different criteria, say, by the Most Content, Most Employees, My Friends, etc.

I would like the player buildings to still look like buildings and that by always organizing them by City Block we will still keep a somewhat urban and city-like feel to the game. But we will have to wait and see how it turns out when we begin to get some final art and design for the game.

For the time being we’re just using temp icons I drew (which don’t look like buildings). I’ve also tried my hand at some kind of temporary logo and a few pictures of what we are shooting for in terms of style. I'm not planning on doing the final art but it's nice to have something in the game, and also to show people.

Examples:

The temp pics for the Lamp Factory (produces Lamps which is used for Efficiency upgrades), Telecommunications Office (an Attack building, lowers Efficiency ehm I mean Protection) and Distillery (produces high quality Alcohol).





« Last Edit: February 26, 2010, 08:32:38 am by MalcolmLittle » Logged

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« Reply #7 on: March 12, 2010, 07:19:49 am »

Creating a strategic browser game is difficult but it can be just as hard to explain it adequately enough to new players. There is a lot of information to be taken in and you don’t want to confuse, or worse bore, the people who are going try your game. How do we describe our concept of Contentment? How can we try to guide a new player in choosing which building he or she might want to construct? Which business practices are sound for generalists or specialists?

We are now trying to finish the first version of the tutorial and I’ve pretty much spent two months trying to get this ravenous beast down to a manageable mess so we can begin to test it. Is it clear enough? Does it give the player a sense of purpose? Does it help the game’s general atmosphere? So many questions.

Every step needs to be short and to the point. We figured that the player needs to be constantly doing something and not just reading paragraph after paragraph. I would like to have the tutorial to no be longer than 30-40 minutes but at the same time I don’t want it to miss anything important. The player needs to learn the basics to be successful and it's those "basics" that are a bitch to write. I found that it takes iteration after iteration to get the tutorial clear and good enough.
« Last Edit: March 16, 2010, 10:27:05 am by MalcolmLittle » Logged

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« Reply #8 on: March 16, 2010, 07:09:15 am »

Besides working on the tutorial I have tried to write some small texts to give the game some atmosphere. Here are some of them:


Freedom is not a tea party or an opportunity for polite discussion. It is a flashflood that clears all before it.

- Amy Fallows, one of the labeled “Frontiersmen” of the United International Coalition, the first volunteers dropped into the disaster area.



This land has given me everything. I am no longer a representative of my country’s rescue team or the UIC. I have no country. I am a proud member of this community and I will do everything to protect it.

- Yuan Nuo, before swearing in as judge for the council of Cloudless Heights.




The world has abandoned us. The UIC will rue sending us here. We are the sons of no one!

- graffiti seen at the entrance of the new commercial district in Neighborhood #33, presumably by the notorious Bastards of Young.
« Last Edit: March 16, 2010, 10:06:21 am by MalcolmLittle » Logged

deathtotheweird
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« Reply #9 on: March 16, 2010, 08:58:58 am »

I think this sounds pretty awesome, just reading through this thread. Seems like you guys have been working on it awhile, too. The premise is just awesome. a 30 minute tutorial does sound brutal though, I'd rather just read documentation. Unless the tutorial is optional, then it's okay.
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MalcolmLittle
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« Reply #10 on: March 17, 2010, 12:25:00 am »

Thanks Allen! We are proud of what we have accomplished so far. It will be soon two years since we started to design the game.

We will see how long our tutorial will be. I tried the one that Lord of Ultima has, probably the biggest competitor in the biz right now, and it was easily 20-30 minutes to complete (at a leisurely pace). Our tutorial will of course be optional, but the player will get some rewards for doing it. It keeps the player motivated during the process.
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MalcolmLittle
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« Reply #11 on: March 19, 2010, 09:23:35 am »

Two more atmospheric quotes, ones I put up at nonzerogames.com

We have been hounded and tread upon since our arrival. This will stop now. If anyone uses coercive business practices against any of our members those people will see their livelihood obliterated.

- Ola Haraldsen, chairman of the Fair Business Association, upon their “Don’t ‘Trade’ On Me” declaration.



I remember how things were done back when we were Outside. Federal legislation, public relations, ethics, all that stuff. It’s not like that anymore. Here I have all the tools I need.

- George Rozen, owner of the food franchise “Practically Chicken”, omitted from the report “Volunteer testimonials, second round”.
« Last Edit: March 19, 2010, 09:43:09 am by MalcolmLittle » Logged

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« Reply #12 on: March 20, 2010, 07:14:38 pm »

We are now looking for someone special to do the art for the game. Our (rather extensive) ad can be seen in the Jobs section of TIGFourms. If you know someone who might be interested spread the word!
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MalcolmLittle
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« Reply #13 on: May 06, 2010, 07:33:51 am »

It took a while but we have now chosen the artist for our game. We are extremely happy with the turn-out and we are almost giddy with the possibilities of working with such talent. We decided on the Montreal based Caroline Breault, a.k.a. Cab. We thought it important to really go beyond what the browser strategy genre is doing at the moment and try to find someone who could make our game "pop" and stand out. We are very happy with our choice and can hardly wait to how things will unfold.

Cab's website: http://cabfolio.com/ and deviantart page: http://enjeru.deviantart.com/
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« Reply #14 on: May 06, 2010, 10:12:42 am »

wow, nice choice!
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« Reply #15 on: May 07, 2010, 09:55:43 am »

Yeah, that artist seems to have more than just good technique going for them.
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« Reply #16 on: July 14, 2010, 04:34:59 am »

The summer is well under way and the game goes on. You wouldn't ever had thought that making a game can take so long. We’ve tweaked the game’s resource production and added some new goods for the market to make production more robust and diverse. I'll write more about it soon.

The best part of the summer is that our artist Caroline Breault is creating the illustrations for the game. I thought it would be nice to show off some of her work.







The last two images depict a few of the attack houses we have in the game (the Psych Ward and the Casino). It's been a blast writing the in-game description texts for the buildings and than see later how Caroline envisioned them. Lots of fun after months of coding and writing.
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« Reply #17 on: July 19, 2010, 04:52:53 am »

We have a (semi-?)final list of producible goods in the game now. There are basically three types of goods produced: resources (goods for either construction or upgrading buildings), consumables (goods that can be consumed by players' workers) and papers. Papers are not created by any special house; all production buildings will have a percentage of its goods be papers. Papers have two uses:

  • You can spend papers on Research & Development (R&D)
  • They can be used as money in the game

We had an earlier system in which a player slowly amassed a pool of points could be spent on either developing new buildings or new upgrade levels. Such a system like that was just too game-y and tired. It had no connection to anything else in the game and it was strange to ask players to observe their inventory _and_ a separate system which just happened to collect R&D points.

We also decided against having a traditional monetary system. It felt, among other things, good that everything could be gathered in your inventory.

As for the papers' fluff; the Coalition (the people who sent the player volunteers to the disaster area) has deemed it necessary to collect as many valued documents as possible from the ruins of the city. Stocks and bonds, property deeds, government and municipal records, monetary bills and the like is now widely coveted by the higher ups at the UIC. The thing is that the UIC have been very vague with what kind of documentation they desire. People in the disaster area have therefore begun to accumulate all kinds of papers: company spreadsheets, printed letters and emails, newspapers, practically anything with print on it.

It isn't a very modern explanation (wouldn't everything important be saved on off site servers?) or even a very realistic one. We just thought it would be fun.

The resources are:
  • Building Materials: used for the construction of new buildings
  • Tools (region specific): used to upgrade buildings’ Quality Level
  • Lamps (region specific): used to upgrade buildings’ Protection Level or Storage Level
  • Plants (region specific): used to upgrade buildings’ Contentment Level
  • Batteries (region specific): used to upgrade buildings’ Efficiency Level

and the consumables (all used to raise a building’s Contentment):
  • Alcohol
  • Food
  • Relics
  • Smokes

Many of the resources are specific to different Neighborhoods to stimulate trade between them.

We hoped the names of the goods are simple yet flavorful enough to be usable by players. We planned earlier to have different kind of metals as resources but that was really dull and very unwieldy (why use steel to raise Contentment?) and we just figured we could go wild and do whatever we want. It was still difficult and took a few meetings to work out though.
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« Reply #18 on: August 11, 2010, 06:04:29 am »

We have from the beginning decided that there needed to be a cap in how much resources you could have in your inventory. We didn't want people to be offline for weeks and log on and find that they now had an amount in the millions. We hadn't done anything about it because we didn't need it in the testing but we have now realized it was quite hard to implement. The ideal would be that you could only have a total amount of all your goods in your inventory, and have any amount in any ratio (2999 Tools and 1 Plant, 3000 in total). Keeping track of how much we would have in people's inventory and in turn switching off production when the total cap was reached turned out to be a total pain so we just decided to have a cap for every individual type of good. Simple is good enough sometimes.

So we now have a building upgrade called Storage. The Storage Level indicates how much of each good you can have in your inventory. So if you decide to invest in upgrading your building's Storage Level you will be able to raise the maximum number of goods you can hoard in your factories. Players will have one inventory per Neighborhood (so they won't have to keep track of which goods are in which buildings: boring!).

Our great artist Caroline has published some glimpses of work shes done for us on her blog. Check them out!

She has also drawn some standard avatars for us (to use before players upload their own images).

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« Reply #19 on: August 22, 2010, 11:46:12 am »

We had a meeting last week, our first IRL in a long time (at least with all three of us). It was decided that we are going to attempt the daunting task to finish the production and the distribution of workers in our game (at least until we do some large scale testing), plus start to make a system for the game's achievements (we want to make them relative to other players' progress and in that way add competition). 

Because of an increase in work-related obligations we have also settled on relieving some of the workload from our beloved programmer and hire someone to do the more front-end-kinda stuff like getting the game's market up to snuff. We might find someone we know to do the work but if not we'll post an ad here on the forum.
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