Year In Review: 2022

Lights Going Out

Obviously, we didn’t meet our goal of completing the game this year.

Chart showing scenes coded and scenes fully tested

We are a lot closer. The “exhaustive scene testing” chart isn’t a complete picture, but it’s one way to visualize the progress. For what it’s worth, there are about 36% more scenes than “Ride Like the Wind” (which is one reason it’s taking so long to wrap up).

Chart of mood and food

We’ve also been testing the balance of different victory benefits for games continued from the first chapter, and tracking emergent behavior from different play styles. Is it possible to win without anyone starving? Does clan mood go into an irrevocable dive? Can you quash the local impact of Chaos? Can you still win at Harsh difficulty? The game tracks a number of values, and I graph these so I can spot unusual changes. If there’s a big change, I can check the logs to see what caused it.

A less tangible factor is how the game feels. Testing isn’t really the same as playing, but I think we’ve identified a few places where we needed to create more stories. (That’s the rightmost green circle in the chart.)

Magic screen from the Mac build

The first game was set in the Storm Age. This one takes place in the Chaos Age (or Great Darkness). Our plan was always to adjust the user interface to reflect the difference. Our publisher’s art director, Xin Ran Liu, gave us new assets that reflect your clan’s rise to glory (buttons are now metal) and the decay of the period (buttons are cracked or suffer from tin pest).

The music also needs to reflect the differences, as well as different story themes. We’ve made some good progress.

Our development process is dependent on iOS (for build automation, bug reporting, and unit testing), but late this year we made sure that the game still builds for Windows and macOS, and has the necessary UI changes. I often seemed to be fighting the development tools (breakpoints have been my nemesis with Unity since 2012) and various compatibility issues. But on the plus side, my tools do seem to be working better with Windows. The desktop builds are basically ready to start testing.

OBS capturing the Six Ages main menu

Since we have the game running at 16:9 with a cursor, we can make a game play trailer, which we need to create a Steam page. (I expect Kitfox Games will be setting that up next month.) I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of what OBS can do, but it does let me capture video of just the content area of the game window.

There’s still artwork, music, and testing to complete, but things look much closer than they did a year ago.

Ride Like the Wind

Clan screen on iPad mini (6th generation)

Our focus was on finishing “Lights Going Out,” but since the code base is the same, we released an update to the App Store to deal with the latest iPad mini. Unlike desktop, which has fewer screen shapes and typically letterboxes, the iPad and iPhone builds use every available pixel. The original design was back when all iPads were at least 768 points high, and things like the side menu needed a little tweaking for the 744 point mini.

World Events

COVID continues to be an issue. Our summer intern caught it and wasn’t able to do as much testing as we’d hoped. Please wear an N-95 mask when you’re out in public!

Russia’s attack on Ukraine hasn’t had a direct impact on our team, and so far HeroCraft (which is based in Russia) has been able to keep publishing King of Dragon Pass for us.

Thanks to Elon Musk’s mismanagement of Twitter, we’re now also posting on Mastodon at

What Next?

The Six Ages games have taken a lot longer than I expected to create. In 2023, I may be able to start something shorter.

Facing the Music

Six Ages: Lights Going Out has been Feature Complete for a while. We’re still testing it, and pushing towards Content Complete. One aspect of that is composing the music. The game takes place generations later, and things are very different, so while a few pieces will be the same, most need to be new. (To save time, the various UI-related sound effects will be the same.)

There seems to be no shortage of freelance composers out there, but I sort of accidentally found Neha Patel via Twitter (before Elon Musk began ruining it). We had a discussion about game soundtracks, I checked out her portfolio, and asked her to fill Stan LePard’s shoes. The fact that she knew who he was was a plus (it also speaks well for how Stan tried to help out other composers).

My basic design approach is to look at the events and come up with a couple dozen themes or categories. Many of these ended up the same as Ride Like the Wind — “Strife,” “Request,” “Opportunity” — but some situations are different, and I also decided to add some new categories. So music may be called “InternalPolitics,” “ExternalPolitics,” or “Decay.”

A farmer inspects ice-covered furrows. A scarecrow is in the background.

I prepared a list of these, and then for each one, made a short text file describing how the music will be used. I also include 2-4 illustrations to help Neha see the mood we’re after. Here’s Decay:

The world is getting worse

This music is used when the situation involves the overall deterioration of the world. This could be the failure of large political institutions or trade networks, acid rain, crumbling walls, climate change (in this game, it’s cold), greed, imminent starvation, toxic clouds, abandoned temples.

These are all bad situations, but they aren’t overtly supernatural or related to the forces that are explicitly trying to destroy the world.

The purpose of the music is to evoke a feeling, so when Neha sends a draft, I run it by Elise Bowditch, who also reviewed the music for Six Ages: Ride Like the Wind and King of Dragon Pass. I play it without explanation, and get her thoughts. Does it suggest monsters? impending doom? annoying neighbors? Does it feel optimistic or despairing? Elise is good at describing (one piece sounded like a “circus of horrors”). If it doesn’t seem to fit, we may need a completely new approach.

Assuming there’s a plausible match, we can then worry about specifics, like whether crashing cymbals are appropriate or the instruments should be swapped out. Occasionally a piece that really isn’t working can be radically transformed by changing an instrument.

Or sometimes a piece that didn’t give the right feeling for one situation ends up working fine for another.

We’re still in the process of creating music, but it’s coming along nicely. I kept hearing “ChaosHorror” in my head even when I was working on other stuff, which I consider a good sign.