Hey everyone, welcome to another Stonehearth Desktop Tuesday! Last week we talked a bit about our new roadmap: how it’s now based around gameplay missions, rather than features, and how it visually grows out of our old roadmap, to express the continent of coming work, both known and unknown, that we anticipate is yet before us on our Stonehearth journey. This week, I’d like to dive deeper into why we changed our roadmap structure, what this means for our team and the features we’ve been looking forward to up to this point, like Northern Alliance or Glaciers or Multiplayer.
The Roadmap, Part 2
Recap from the video:
- Writing a roadmap for ourselves has been a great opportunity to answer some questions for ourselves about our team’s speed.
- Both on our team itself, and among some of you in the community, we know that it’s easy to feel like our progress has slowed way down since Alpha 19, even though everyone is working as hard as they can each day. So why is this, and how did it happen?
- One answer is that we’ve grown the team a lot, not just in size, but in specializations. As I mentioned last January, this requires us to find new ways of working together. More communication has meant a longer development cycle, in exchange for higher quality art, code, and design output.
- Another answer is that gameplay infrastructure work requires us to touch lots of systems, and each new system grows in complexity and development time given the number of other systems in the game.
- The roadmap-related answer is that we’ve pivoted our goals to be gameplay focused instead of feature focused, so if you’re used to tracking our progress in terms of features, it’s natural that it looks like our progress is very slow. As I’ve covered in previous Desktop Tuesdays, we started this pivot last August, when our team began to work on end game content.
- We were incredibly excited about our end-game content! We had just shipped the engineer, who introduced siege mechanics, and we were set to do three titans, the magmasmith, the geomancer, and the Northern Alliance, all by Christmas. We’d been looking forward to making this content for three years, and we felt like we’d finally fixed enough bugs to make the game stable enough to really enjoy.
- The problem was that as we got deeper and deeper into titans, which we wanted to be epic, unique entities that you had to defeat in various ways, we realized that we were essentially writing three different mini-games that would bolt on to the end of your Stonehearth experience. We didn’t want this; we wanted titans to feel like the epic conclusion to all your previous hard work; we wanted you to have lots of different ways of defeating them. But nothing we designed felt like it built satisfactorily on the systems that already existed. At the same time, you were giving us feedback about the engineer–about how it felt bolted on, and about how it didn’t contribute significantly to the complexity or balance of combat. These two things seemed related, but we weren’t sure, as a team, how to fix the problem. It was time to get some outside help.
- After taking feedback from you in our forums, and from professional game system designers, with credits ranging from Sim City to Bioshock Infinite, we realized that Stonehearth was great at evoking a mood of warmth and cozyness, but that it’s fundamental gameplay loop needed to be a lot richer than it was in order to support a satisfying and emotional/tactical conclusion. Previously, we’d developed all our simulations in silos: building, farming, trading all were separate systems that did not interact at all with each other. All the system designers we spoke to were in unanimous agreement: we needed to tie them together through a unified system that would also provide micro-goals and moments of challenge and celebration throughout the game’s arc.
- Designer Richard spoke most precisely about this, so we asked him to come onboard and pave our way forward.
- Richard started with the hearthling mood system, which is set up to be the mechanism by which your hearthlings will give you feedback on all the systems in the game and how you might want to optimize them. The trait system enhances it by allowing hearthlings to give you feedback on different aspects of the game based on their inclinations, and the coming conversation system will celebrate the things that you’ve accomplished and experienced, all from your hearthling’s POV.
- Gameplay system work isn’t as showy as terrain, or water, and it won’t pay it’s full dividends until every system you see in the above roadmap is revisited to match. However, without it, any new system we add will feel bolted onto the experience, and will not contribute to a satisfying end state. We still want to get to these things like The Northern Alliance or Titans or Glaciers, but we’ve learned through hard experience that we need to do foundational system work, before that stuff will feel satisfying.
- From your perspective, if there’s a brand new feature–we hear a lot about fishing, for example–that you’d like to propose for the game, we still want to hear about it, along with the gameplay goal that you think it best satisfies. If it helps, think not just about what will make the game better, but why it does and how it does.
- So what about other features that we’ve talked about but that aren’t on the roadmap yet, like Multiplayer? If you don’t see multiplayer on the roadmap right now, it’s because we’re still exploring what gameplay goal we think it best satisfies: is it a chance to chill with friends, a chance to crush your rivals, or a chance for team creative expression?
- In the case of multiplayer in particular, we’d like to hear how you imagine yourself playing it, which will influence the prototypes and explorations we’re making. Expect to see multiplayer on the map when we figure out exactly how we want it to make the game better, and once we’ve verified for ourselves that it has a chance of being successful at this.
- You can see from our many, many, many proposed roadmap items, that this roadmap represents a ton of work, and the way we plan to update reflects the fact that we don’t yet know what all that work is going to be. Suffice to say, making Stonehearth satisfying is going to take a long time–years.
- Making a good game is even harder than making a game with tons of flashy features. However, as a team, we’re confident that this pivot towards gameplay represents a path to a stronger, better, more enjoyable Stonehearth.
- We do not have a final ship date for you, but with this roadmap, as with all our updates, we pledge to be as transparent with our process as possible, so you can be just as informed as we are about when we’ll finish.
- As always, thanks for taking this journey with us. Since starting to work on Stonehearth, our lives have changed multiple times, and we’re grateful to be sharing these moments with all of you.
Want to know more about the roadmap? You can find it and an associated FAQ here.
It’s time for our quarterly morning update stream, for those of you in Europe! That is tomorrow, Wednesday 5/10, and 8:30am PST. Malley and Richard will take your questions and feedback about how the game is going, so come prepped with stuff to ask them. 🙂
Regular Thursday stream should happen at 6:00pm PST on Thursday 5/11. We’ll see how life is going with Engineer Angelo, in his very first stream debut.