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DT: State of SH, 2017!

Hey everyone! Welcome back from the holidays. Team Stonehearth took some time to rest, reconnect with our families, and play the games that inspired us, and now we’re back in the saddle and ready to spend 2017 making our game amazing. For this first Desktop Tuesday of the year, let’s take a look at where we’ve been, and what’s waiting for all of us in 2017!

Long post incoming!

If you’d like the TLDR, it’s this: 2016 was a great year for us in terms of features (combat classes, monsters, building, town progression), work on long term projects (performance, art), and in terms of building out our team. For those of you who haven’t been counting, we added nine members to Team Stonehearth in 2016! As we head into 2017 we double down on our goal, which is to make Stonehearth a complete, deeply enjoyable fantasy townbuilding game. We don’t know how long this will take us, because we’d much rather the game be good than finished prematurely, but we’ll continue to be transparent as we add new things and make further plans. Stay tuned!

Stonehearth in 2017

Recap from the video!

Since it’s the start of a brand new year, let’s take a moment to reiterate our long term goals:

Real life can be messy and chaotic. Stonehearth is a fantasy townbuilding/ant-farm game where you can step away from all of that and pioneer a living world that inspires warmth, creativity, and storytelling.

So how did 2016 help us towards this goal?

Features

We spent 2016 building a ton of new features to make the game more interesting, more challenging, and more complex!

Combat: We started with a bunch of new combat classes – the Knight, the Herbalist, the Cleric, and of course, the very epic Archer. To support these classes, we added new combat gameplay, including ranged combat, kiting, safety points, updates to the weapons and armor systems, and combat parties. To challenge our heroes we wrote a whole bunch of new monster encounters like the Necromancer, the varanus, the ogre doorbreakers, and enemy clerics. We finished up the goblin campaign, introduced the orcs of the red kiln, and buffed them all to heck with hard mode.

Building: After spending some time on combat, we then dramatically improved building—most buildings now finish—and to do this, we had to invent a bunch of dependency AI technology that, to our knowledge, nobody else has ever created successfully. Also: we have a new stairs tool, buildings can be destroyed in a fancy explosion, and we have fixed landscape scarring.

Progression: Finally, we touched very lightly on game progression. Our artists made beautiful things: templates and fountains and tier 2 quests for RC and Ascendancy.

Long Term Projects:

In August of last year, I did an update where I mentioned that the game was at a turning point, and that in order to continue to add meaningful content, we would have to take time to invest significantly in a few key areas: core game design, performance, and addressing long outstanding artistic aesthetic and tech questions. These would be long term projects that would happen in parallel with development. We realized that if we did not take more time to invest in these areas, new features would just make the game buggier, slower, visually jankier, and unsatisfying, gameplay wise.

To that end: we hired a full time lead game designer, whose work you will start to see in Alpha 20, and who will help us focus on the core game loop in 2017. We also made huge, constant strides in performance, moving the number of hearthlings the world can conveniently accommodate up from about 15 to as many as 30. Performance is a moving target, however, and we will continue to invest in it as we add more things. Finally, for artistic explorations, Allie did some paintings of the edge of the world, interspersed with making models for the game, and there will be more of this to come in 2017.

Investing in the Team

Lastly for 2016, I should call out that this year saw Team Radiant get acquired by Riot, which has been fantastic for our ability to grow our team with specialists across multiple areas. Riot has actively helped us add nine people to Team Stonehearth: A lead designer, a part-time UX designer, a full time generalist artist, a full time lead artist, a full time QA engineer, two summer interns (both of whom are returning next summer, one full time!), and, at the very end of the year, two experienced engineers (one who started in December, and one who will start in February).

This is a huge influx for a small team, and we are grateful to Richard, Nikki, Malley, Allie, Ana, Winnie, Morgan, Justin, and soon, Angelo for giving our game their professional dedication and commitment. Though we also said goodbye to Yang and Doug, and though Tom and Tony have transitioned by necessity to take higher level responsibilities on the team, the Stonehearth team going into 2017 is as strong and as committed as ever, and we hope you will see this in our output as everyone slowly learns to work together.

In summary, 2016 was a really great year that’s set us up perfectly, in terms of team and long term projects, for all the things we still need to do to make Stonehearth a satisfying, complete experience.

Onto 2017!

Our work to achieve a fully functional game breaks down into three major categories:

  • First, a really solid game loop that allows all our content to build on itself so that the total is greater than the sum of its parts. It should provide smooth and challenging progression, make the game even more impossible to put down, and allow for a deeper, broader experience that changes based on how you choose to play—enhancing customization and replayability. We also want to be sure your experience has meaning; that each system you explore has a clear purpose and reason for existence.
  • After that, we need the game to have a satisfying conclusion. The game, as it stands right now, has no end game content, because end game content is best when it is a test of your mastery of the existing systems. To get there, we need to overhaul the existing systems, as mentioned above.
  • Finally, we need to understand multiplayer. We’ve designed the technical elements of the game to allow for multiplayer, but we’ve never investigated what it would look like from a gameplay POV. If we just threw two people into the existing game, the experience would be a disaster: none of the challenges would scale, there are no trading mechanics, and the performance would be a nightmare. So there’s a lot more thinking we need to do here.

Items 2 and 3 cannot happen without item 1, a solid game loop, so for 2017 we will focus on revising and expanding existing systems so that they create a virtuous loop of optimization, customization, breadth, and depth.

Focus on the Core Systems

To get this started off, we’ve chosen to revise hearthling happiness into a unified system that will serve as the basis for introducing ever-expanding levels of complexity and meaning in the game. For example, early game hearthlings may encourage you to build them shelter, or make them food, or keep them safe. Mid game hearthlings may want more complex things, like aesthetics or human interaction. Our goal is to make sure you have a strong reason to invest in each system, adding significance to yours and your hearthling’s experiences. The system should also encourage multiple possible optimizations based on how you desire to play—economy, food, combat prowess, etc. It will also allow us to add new systems, like mechanics around cramped-ness or darkness.

Going deeper into 2017, I would also expect us to revisit other major systems, like the in-game economy and the primary classes and their relationships. We should also spend time on our simulation: on our water, for example, and on our building.

And of course, we will continue to work on our long term projects: performance, better error reporting, futureproofing our work by making our code patterns more robust, artistic exploration, and investigating multiplayer and planning out the end game.

By starting 2017 with a focus on core systems, we will unlock our ability to complete the game as a whole, and ensure that when we finally do get to the Northern Alliance, or glaciers, or weather, or festivals, or the geomancer/magma smith, it means that they will significantly enhance gameplay, instead of feeling bolted on, or like palette swaps of existing classes.

Coming Soon…

So, now that I’ve laid out our very general plan for the year, what happens next?

First – Keep An Eye Out for Upcoming Milestones: As the year progresses, and our planning coalesces, we will get you some milestones for the roadmap and updates to the main site and trello. We’re currently in the midst of 2017 planning, with details only spelled out so far for hearthling happiness, some updated combat mechanics, and hearthling traits.

Second – A New Stream Schedule: Our goal with our streams has always been to show you our development process and incorporate your live feedback into our work. Over the last six months, we’ve noticed that our effectiveness at this has decreased. More and more of our projects are cross-functional and require multiple people to implement, so scheduling stream-friendly chunks of work has gotten difficult. At the same time, we’d like more of our team’s domain specialists to get a chance to know and work with all of you, but we don’t want everyone on the team to be constantly scrambling to put together work that is easily streamed.

To that end, we are changing our streams in 2017 to feature six developers across all areas of the product—engineering, art, and design—and choosing to feature just one each week—on Thursday nights, at 6:00pm PST. This way, each volunteer streamer will have time to bring you work that is representative of their discipline, which should improve both the content and impact of each stream. These started last Thursday, on 1/5/2017, and will continue this Thursday, on 1/12. We hope to see you all there!

For those of you in Europe, we haven’t forgotten you! We will continue to do Wednesday 8:30am streams as well, but reduce them in number from weekly to quarterly, and change the focus so it’s more about you than about us. Before we get to content creation, we’ll start each one with a brief update as to where we are with the game, and then go straight into a feedback session so we can be sure to capture all of your thoughts and suggestions. The target dates for those streams are currently:

  • Wed, Feb 8th
  • Wed, May 10th
  • Wed, Aug 9th
  • Wed, Nov 8th

Third – Alpha 20! It’s on its way and stuffed with happiness features, plus a few combat tweaks. Stay tuned!

Lastly, I want to reiterate again that our whole team feels privileged to be making this game together with all of you. Your feedback on the game, and all the mods and art that you add to it and create about it, and all the cities you build and share, are the #1 reason we come to work every day and work so hard deep into every night. It’s why we work as transparently as we can, and why we are so excited to release each build to you, even if it’s on the unstable branch and buggy as heck. So if you’re ever curious as to why we’re doing what we’re doing, or about how you can add something of your own to Stonehearth, please just pop into the comments, or onto our forums on discourse.stonehearth.net, and ask. Thank you for being with us through 2016, and I look forward to sharing all of 2017 with you as well.

If you’ve got questions, we’re happy to take them, here in the comments, or in our forum at discourse.stonehearth.net

FAQ/Common Questions

We’ve seen a number of questions asked repeatedly, so let me summarize them and our answers here!

Will we ever finish the game, or is this like Dwarf Fortress, where development goes on forever?
We will finish the game. It will exit Early Access, go 1.0, whatever label you want to assign to it. We want you to be able to play SH, from settlement to city, and see your progress, and finish and have a really great, bug free time. We don’t know how long it will take us to do this; but it’s much more important to us that we do this right, than do this fast. Instead of giving you dates, we double down on our commitment to being transparent, so you can see our progress, and measure our velocity for yourself.

Is there a danger this game will be abandoned?
Nope! We’ve got a strong team working full time on a game we love. The team grew by nine members last year, and has plans to grow further as needs warrant in the year to come. If you want to reach us, you can get any of us, any time, on our forum at discourse.stonehearth.net, or on our streams, or in the comments after a Desktop Tuesday. Better yet, we know you love the game too! Our Steam sales have gotten stronger, month over month, since we came to Early Access, and we know this trend will get even stronger as we enhance our content.

Where is Multiplayer?
We very much want multiplayer to be a part of the Stonehearth experience. We want to play the game together! One of our long term tasks for this year is to figure out exactly what this means from a gameplay as well as from a technical perspective. We believe there are actually very few existing city builders that do multiplayer in ways that we find compelling, so this is a long term task whose parameters will become more clear as we improve the stuff we’ve got now.

Where is the Mac/Linux Port?
My deepest, sincerest apologies to all of you who have waited so long for Mac and Linux. We hear you all, and it is still on our radar. However, if we want to commit to Mac & Linux support while the game is still in development, we estimate that this would be a full time job for one developer. Given all the features and performance tasks we’re currently committed to, we do not have this time to spare. With the current composition of our team, we still believe that the right time to do this port is when we’re closer to calling the game complete, so we don’t have to test and debug each release on three different systems.

Why are you starting with the happiness and then continuing onto existing systems? What about the Geomancer/Northern Alliance/Etc?
We need a solid game loop before the new systems can be sure to make sense. For example, before we can gauge whether a new combat class is working, we need to understand the balance between the existing classes. Before we can add more items, we need to know that all the existing items make sense with each other, so the new ones can be significant in some way. Happiness is a great place to start this work, because it’s a system that touches all the other systems, and will allow your hearthlings to tell you how they would prefer your town to be optimized.

Where are my Kickstarter pets?
Everyone on our team loves the pets, so our original goal was for pets to be our “dessert feature” that we’d work on to celebrate finishing all the super hard parts. Recently, we’ve also have some new ideas as to how the pet system should work beyond being cosmetic additions to your town, so we’ll tackle that before we do puppy/kitten/mammoth/dragon.

Streams on Thursdays? Why Thursdays?
We took a look at our Twitch statistics, and saw that this was, by far, the day when the most people were available. Apologies if this means you cannot make the streams at this time (Michael Handy we will miss you!). Instead, please come hang out with us on discourse.stonehearth.net, or find the streams archived on YouTube.

Other questions? Let us know!

Other Announcements:

This week’s stream will happen on Thursday, at 6:00pm, PST. See you there!