Archive for August, 2007

The Secret Unseen World

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

I’ve written before about one of the major design decisions that went into this strategy game. It’s generally called hidden information. It’s the equivalent of the two cards that are face down in a game of Texas Hold’em. If you were playing a real boardgame against a “mechanical turk” that was acting as your opponent then in most games you would see all his playing pieces on the board. In a game of Chess there are no hidden pieces. The artificial player makes a move and you can usually quickly assess where it lies on the bell curve of competency. With hidden information things become clouded. Uncertainty is much harder for an AI to deal with than for a human. It can also make an AI look stupid when it’s being rational and smart when it’s being stupid. I got an email today from a customer (We’ll call him player X) with a legitimate question about why the AI waited five turns to attack him to finish him off.

“Anyways, I have just played my first HUGE game vs 3 AI opponents and got creamed ūüėõ
Nice job on the AI…however……they just won’t finish me off!

I have attached the save file. They seem to just sit there and not attack.”

Right afterwards he sent this:

“LOL‚Ķwell I decided to advance the game a few more turns and sure enough they finally attacked me a finished me off.

It just seemed strange that I had the weakest unit defending the base and the AI just sat there for maybe 5-6 turns doing nothing ūüėõ

Anyway, be good to hear what you have to say about that”

I was curious myself and of course the stomach starts to turn thinking there is some major goof on my part. To be honest there are still major goofs in the machine I am sure, but with such a complex contraption there are bound to be. You just have to keep whittling away. Anyway, I loaded up the save game and flipped the switches so I could have the “God View” and see everybody. I had to chuckle because it immediately became apparent what was going on as the hidden world beyond Player X’s lone isolated and besieged stronghold was revealed. The middle of the map was a cauldron of conflict. The Xenopods who were besieging Player X’s outpost with two armies one of which had a Corrupter Bio Mecha and a Psyker unit. He was down to a lone mobile supply unit. To the north however, the Free Mutants had just captured an indie facility and it was obvious that the Xenopods were starting to queu up some defensive goals to respond to the Mutant incursion. But the biggest problem was right next door unseen to Player X.

Why No Attack?

Tyranicus had shown up with his legion to lay claim to the Imperial Stronghold of Player X as well. The Xenopods were busy with bigger fish to fry and the 3 AP to assault the place were being spent elsewhere. Now this is interesting as well. What would a human do? He could decide to just sit there and see what Tyranicus does. The forces are pretty evenly matched. He could quickly take the Stronghold and get it’s defensive bonus. He could move another strike force towards Tyranicus and make the odds favorable if he brings him to battle. One of the key conclusions to make was that the human position was insignificant but whether or not the stronghold itself was important was subject to debate. Supply was not an issue for either side. The AI decided on the last one and spent several turns gearing up the war machine towards the point of contention. I think I would have chosen to take the Stronghold immediately. Why did the AI decide to do that. Well it has to do with priorities and goals and the deterministic way they are processed. The AI was weighing Mutant incursion and Machine threat and deciding that it needed to get some firepower into the area to make the odds better. The goal priorities and the Action Point costs associated with them didn’t leave 3 action points left over to conduct the assault. The consoling factor is that some human players might have made this choice. It’s not clear cut smart vs. bonehead.

Adventures in Indie Marketing

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

Making a game is really only part of the battle. Getting the game in front of customers is probably harder than making the game. Well, maybe that’s a little hyperbole, but it’s certainly not as fun as making the game. So far my marketing strategy has consisted of the following.

Google Adwords
Yahoo Adwords
Boardgame Geek banner
Responding to players on various forums
Contacting potential reviewers
Banner ad on the Games Advertising Network

My best asset so far seems to be word of mouth. Of course key opinion makers like Bill Harris of Dubious Quality have been tremendously important. I asked Bill if he wanted to check out a review copy a couple of weeks back and he said nope he was just going to buy it and give it a look. I had a feeling he might enjoy it because he likes quirky games like Dwarf Fortress. You can tell from his Friday round up links that he likes to think and AE definitely makes you do that almost every step of the way. I’ve heard from several customers that Bill pushed them over the edge to continue with the game even though the learning curve was almost too much. Bill has also made a playing guide which has proven a big help for a lot of people. Now if only I could find a dozen more Bill Harris’s I would be set.

Distant Thunder AAR Turns 6 – 15

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

I’ve posted the next installment in the Distant Thunder AAR. Things are starting to heat up a bit. Contact with Xenopods to the North West and Mutants to the East. Plus after exploring the surrounding wastes I have discovered zero resource icons. That is going to be a big problem. I’m going to have to decide quickly whether to go for broke and try and take the Xenopods in one roll of the dice or play defensive and hope for some expansion to the east that opens up some resource tiles. There is a raider stronghold on the Great Berm to the north but it’s got some strategic drawbacks as you will see.

Turns 6 – 15

Art of the Apocalypse III

Friday, August 17th, 2007

Last but certainly not least are two great artists from the UK and USA respectively.

Jon Hodgson created the art for the Xenopod faction.¬† It wasn’t easy giving all those squidhead heroes some personality.¬† You can check out his website at






Katie Davis is my graphic artist/web designer as well as my little sister.¬† She created many of the icons you find in the game.¬† She also concepted and built the Cryptic Comet website and the game’s manual.¬† You can check her website out at

Here are the medals awarded to Legendary Armies (more than 35 prestige points earned)that Katie designed.


Faction Medals

Art of the Apocalypse II

Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

I thought I’d feature some more of the excellent artists that helped me out with this game.

Richard Lim Boon Keat hails from Malaysia.¬† Ric did most of the independents’ facility card images and a large number of the “flavor” images that pop up when a challenge occurs.¬†

You can catch his gallery here 

Here are two of my favorites.





Old Leaky Reactor


Michael Grills is a former Bioware artist who went freelance.  He lives and works in Canada.  Michael did the images of the cool looking sci-fi weapons and artifacts that you find as you explore the wasteland along with all the nifty ones you can create with your heroes.

Michael’s website is here

Here are some of the treasures of the wastelands


Pulse Laser



Art of the Apocalypse

Monday, August 13th, 2007

I had some requests over at the Wargamer forums that I post some larger versions of the art so that they could be used as wallpaper. 

Matt Bradbury is a very talented artist living in the U.K.  He did a the Machines and Mutants factions as well as a bunch of the support art.  You can catch his gallery at

You can click on the images to view a larger version 




Zdenek Sasek is a also a very talented artist.  Zdenek hails from the Czech Republic and did the art for the Imperials as well as some of the indies that you run across.  You can check out his portfolio at:



A Story In Every Game

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

There are some great After Action Reports going up about the game.  There are two at Octopus Overlords that I have been following (Image Heavy so be warned)

I’ve also decided to start one myself.¬† You can follow it by clicking on the link here or the link on the right hand side under pages

¬†I’ll try and make steady progress every week at least.¬† It’s a lot of work I have discovered to get the images all up and looking nice so the pace will be measured.

Color Blindness Test

Thursday, August 2nd, 2007

I’m working on an optional support¬†mod for people with color blindness.¬† The positioning of the resource icons on tiles will be fixed according to their type.¬† I’m also redoing the color of the icons to make sure they can be distinguished from each other¬†more easily.¬† Using some input I got from¬†a helpful player I came up with 5 colors.¬† If you have some form of color blindness and you are reading this please take a look and let me know what you think.¬† You can email me at¬† Apparently there are many different forms of color blindness and no two persons perceptions are quite the same.


Color Blind Test


Had we but world enough and time, this marketing my lady were no crime

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

I think I am entering the next stage.  Thanks to a group of players who kindly sent in save games I was able to fix a lot of script errors that slipped through my not quite perfect QA process.  Unsurprisingly most fell in to two categories.

The first were things that should have been found but were so simple that a person who has been playing the game frequently will miss because doing “that” is something they have learned not to do.¬† For example, somehow a feature slipped through where if you click on an invalid hex to move your army into then the appropriate dialogue box popped up and told you so.¬† After you acknowledge the dialogue box if you cancel the move by right clicking…..the army would just dissappear.¬† Poof!¬† Valid and invalid hexes are marked by an overlay and once you get the movement mechanic down you tend not to click on invalid hexes because it is so obvious.¬† But someone new to the game and experimenting around will.¬† Some fresh eyes at the very end can be helpful.¬†

The second group were always triggered when some unusual confluence of events happened, usually when an army or hero card was destroyed and a goal object that it was assigned to tried to do something with it.  Locking these down was pretty easy with a save game. The error was almost always due to the object (army or card)not being present (= void) when some function was being called on it.  This (knock on wood) has been pretty much taken care of by doing a thourough fail safe review and lots of help from players. 

My goals now are to:

A)¬†Keep improving the UI by adding a hex recognition system that indicates where the latest action is taking place.¬† I’m also going to look into coming up with a marking system for cards that are not playable from the hand because of resources but after probing this a bit it looks like it could be difficult because of the way I have built the card UI already.

B) Create a installable mod for people who are colorblind.  New colors for the resources on the cards and a positioning system for the icons on the tiles

C) Test and Launch the Mac version

D) Create an non-interactive demo in Shockwave that runs players through the basic mechanics

E) Keep listening to players…..touchy feely I know but the input is very valuable

F) Marketing!¬† Right now I have a banner up at the board game geek¬† and I’m doing Google/Yahoo adwords.¬† The budget is puny but I am running a marathon here and not a sprint.¬†