The Building of a Village Builder

What started a few weeks ago, as a pure experiment, evolved into a prototype of a village builder game. To clarify, it’s a video game, where you build a village by acquiring and investing resources, attracting settlers, traveling merchants and eventually even barbarian raiders to your settlement.

You begin as one person with a camp. From there, you can start gathering wood, food, stone or gold. You’ll need these, to add buildings to your settlement, starting with a hut. Each building serves a purpose. The hut, for instance, houses your villagers and thus sets the maximum people that can settle with you.

The goal is simply to get through 365 in-game days, and see how much you have accomplished in that time. It is possible to end the game before then. If you mismanage your village, starvation might get you, or villagers may even rise against you. And of course there were those barbarians, I mentioned.

The game scales with your village. Visiting merchants have bigger, better offers, the stronger your village economy is. Likewise, hoarding gold will increase chances of getting raided. Besides buildings and resource gathering, the player can invest gold in technology, thus improving on the village in a slightly different way. For example, increase the technology for housing, and each hut can hold additional villagers. Increase farming technology for additional food yields, and so on.

The experiment that started it all, was to prove myself wrong. A while back, I experimented with making a similar type of game using Gamesalad. I fairly quickly got stuck, however, and decided that the engine was to blame, for not being well suited for this type of game in the first place. Since then, I have learned a lot about designing the relevant mechanics, and so I wanted to see if I could do it now. The result, while still very primitive, is already both more sophisticated and better balanced than my first attempt ever was.

There is still far to go, before I would even call this an “early release”. It’s a prototype evolving into a pre-alpha. For one, the game has no art or sound at all. It’s just buttons and text in black and white boxes. There are many bugs and things that need tweaking and rebalancing, and I really want to integrate some sort of procedural storytelling device, which I will likely tie in with the villagers themselves, somehow. I haven’t fully developed that layer yet.

Working in layers has been my approach all along. The resources you gather is one layer, buildings add another, the technology and trading represent new layers as well, and so on. I try to design each layer to be as independent from the others as possible, to make things easier to balance and change, as the game evolves. This is where I felt that Gamesalad fell short before, and though it does have its limits, working within them adds a challenge and structure too. I often find inspiration from having to work within a limited space, regardless of whether that space is technical or creative in nature.

Along the way, I tweet updates and occasional screenshots (I’ve included a few examples in this post), both as a log of how things progress, but also to put it out there for early feedback, support and a feeling of having committed to the project. Last time, I gave up when things got tough. This time, things just seem to be get more fun as I go…

Salvage Trader Tools

I’m happy to report that work on Salvage Trader is progressing. Every week I send out an email with the latest news and a link to the freshest alpha build. This simple commitment keeps me productive and the game moving forward. Scroll to the bottom of this post to sign up!

Salvage Trader, main map as it looks in alpha.The goal is to launch a Kickstarter campaign when the game is ready to go into beta, and hopefully fund the last leg of the journey this way.

First, I’d like to share a list of the tools I’m using to develop the game, starting with the engine itself…

Gamesalad

Being a drag-and-drop engine makes development of small games very fast, though it certainly also has its limitations. There is no actual coding in Gamesalad, though it helps greatly if you have programming experience enough to know how the logic behind it works. It will help you set up behaviors of the individual actors within the game and pass information around behind the scenes. As far as the limitations go, they include bug hunting and occasional strange behavior. Gamesalad is great for many things, but I do sometimes feel I’m pushing its limits with Salvage Trader.

Graphics

I happen to use Photoshop CS5, which for the simple graphics I’ve been adding is more than plenty. If you don’t have Photoshop, you can just as easily use Gimp or any other program that lets you draw things and save them as png files. Animations are just a series of png files strung together in Gamesalad, and since the engine does not support video playback there’s nothing to worry about in that department.

Sound and Music

For creating 8-bit sound effects on the fly, Bfxr is a little gem. I start out creating a bunch of random sounds, until something good happens. Then I tweak it a bit to make it better, save it and add it to the game. For making music for the game, I simply use Garageband which comes with every Mac and a cheap USB keyboard (M-Audio Keystation 49e, for those who care).

Mailing list

If you would like to play the alpha version of the game and receive updates on its progress, sign up for the mailing list using the form below.


My first Kickstarter will be a Space Trader game

Salvage Trader, behind the scenes.
On the day the pirates came, the small colony you grew up in was destroyed. In a manner of minutes your loved ones were dead and your home going up in flames. Without any hope of victory, you put your faith in an old shuttle from the junk yard you worked in, hoping it would hold together long enough for an escape. It barely did, only now you found yourself alone in space, without a home or a family, but with a burning desire for vengeance. Only one group holds enough power to take on the dreaded pirate kings, and so you set out to build a new life for yourself and join the Salvager’s Guild… Continue reading