Map Making

The new game needs a new map, so I thought it might be interesting to go over the technical process involved in creating a functional map.

Six Ages (like King of Dragon Pass) divides the local map into zones (such as the Imther Mountains), as well as hexagons. Exploration reveals new hexes. Which zone you’re exploring influences the results (as with most things in the game, it’s not purely deterministic).

I draw each zone as a separate layer in Photoshop, giving it the name of the zone. Then I use File > Export > Layers to Files to create separate PNG files. I actually do this twice, once to create trimmed images that can be used for hit-testing, the second to get the metrics of each zone. The command takes nearly 9 minutes to run on a recent MacBook Pro.

Photoshop exports the layers with file names like _0002s_0002s_0001_Vestantes.png, so I run a couple bash scripts to clean that up

for f in *.png; do mv $f ${f/${f:0:12}/}; done
for f in _*.png; do mv $f ${f/${f:0:6}/}; done

to leave me with Vestantes.png.

The untrimmed images are each 1500 x 1375 pixels (in the case of “Ride Like the Wind”). I feed these through TexturePacker, which is designed to find the unused pixels and combine the images into a single sprite sheet. This is important with some graphics systems, but I actually ignore the image. What I’m after is the metadata, which describes the bounding box and position of each image within the overall picture — i.e. its geometry, where it is on the map. I use Lua to specify the game’s data, so I have TexturePacker export for the Corona SDK. Corona uses Lua, so I can use the same data files even though I’m not using Corona. A typical zone looks like

	-- Vestantes

	sourceX = 0,
	sourceY = 775,
	sourceWidth = 1500,
	sourceHeight = 1375

so I can do hit-testing based on the 434 × 317 size of the zone. I also create a separate metadata file, which describes the features of each zone:

["Vestantes"] = {flags = kFeature + kAcrossOslira, label = "Vestenan", labelVariable = "showVestantes"},

(This is an explorable feature, that requires crossing the Oslira River to visit. Once discovered, it’s labeled on the map.) There’s a bit of sanity checking in the game to make sure every zone has its feature data, which is useful during development (the data is spread between two files so that the geometry can be regenerated if something changes).

Clan zones need special attention. Is a clan that has claimed the zone NBE1 adjacent to a clan in NBE2? This is additional metadata:

["NBE1"] = {neighbors = {"NBE2", "NBE3", "SO1"}, flags = kRiver},

To help edit this, there’s a special debugging mode which shows the connections. There’s some sanity checking code for this too, though it’s mostly a manual process.

The first time through this, I noticed there were some stray pixels in one of the layers (and had to run TexturePacker again). But it’s a pretty straightforward process.

The final step (before testing in actual play) is to make sure the number of exploration hexes is correct.

The new map is ready to go, much earlier in the process than with the first game.

Chapter Two

Although it’s a bit of a gamble, I’ve begun working on the second game in the Six Ages series, “Lights Going Out.” This will continue the story of your clan generations later, as Chaos invades.

Development is moving on three fronts. Robin Laws and I have been mapping out the overall story, and have a list of over 150 possible scenes to support it. A small art team is working up concept art for your clan (which has changed over the years) and several new cultures you may encounter. And I’ve started coding, to make sure that games saved from “Ride Like the Wind” can indeed be opened and continued.

This is basically all preproduction. There’s no formal schedule yet, though given the scope of the game it will surely take at least a year of solid production work.

But it looks as if things on all three fronts will work. So I recommend that if you have completed “Ride Like the Wind,” you keep at least one game, so you can write the next chapter of your clan’s saga.

P.S. This work is not impacting the schedule to bring “Ride Like the Wind” to more platforms.

App Store Reviews

As you probably know, App Store reviews (and ratings) are critical for a “premium” game (one that doesn’t nag you about microtransactions), and even more so for an indie developer (without an ad budget). Many of you have written one, and we really thank you.

US App Store

One aspect of Apple’s App Store is that you can only see reviews from players who also use your country’s App Store. In other words, if you’re Australian, you can’t see what Canadians think. About 2/3 of our sales so far have been from the USA, and this may well be partly why (since Americans have plenty of reviews to check out, while Belgians or Danes have none).

So I thought it’d be useful to let people see reviews from other countries. Here is a selection of unedited reviews, with their country of origin.

A Fiery Return
Six Ages: Ride Like the Wind is an amazing game. As a successor to the 1999 release King of Dragon Pass, Six Ages brings back a similar, but refreshingly different art style to the classic mechanics long time fans love. Unlike its predecessor, Six Ages offers a more comprehensive and user friendly tutorial that makes the game much easier to get into, along with useful information that can be used throughout your games. I personally loved the music, art, and story the game offers, combined with the potential for more with the yet unreleased Lights Going Out and A World Reborn storylines. If you are a fan of King of Dragon Pass, or even games in the style of Banner Saga, I would highly recommend this purchase.

A great sequel
A ore than worthy successor to the classic King of Dragon Pass. A different and unusual mix of gameplay that isn’t like anything else.

A reason to own an iOS device
It takes a lot to rouse me to write a game review. Six Ages is one of those games. It’s a strange mix of management/diplomatic strategy and rpg. It’s a very unique experience that is at its best on a touch screen. Few gamed arenquite so beautiful and compelling. It’s very much worth the purchase. In a word with fewer reasons to own an iOS thing, being currently the only way to play Six Ages is a reason. Hard to believe Apple haven’t featured this one yet.

A Spirited Successor!
“I was thrilled to hear there would be another entry into the world of Glorantha, and Six Ages certainly hits the mark set by KODP. I also enjoyed some of the new mechanics and lore that add some more fun and depth to the gameplay.

Some of the previous reviews critical of the difficulty and lack of baby stepping disappoint me. This game is designed very much with replay in mind. Make mistakes! Learn from them and do better next time! Part of what makes games like this much more fun than a plethora of other mindless apps I could name, is that your decisions have consequences! Often times there are no ‘right’ answers. – I love it!

Patiently anticipating more of the clan story to come in the form of DLC.”

A Superb Game…
Six Ages is a wonderful and worthy successor to A-Sharp’s much beloved King Of Dragon Pass. A truly beautiful, breathtaking, immersive journey into Greg Stafford’s world of Glorantha, the new setting and mythology broadens and deepens its already-rich and engaging lore. Whether you’re a long-time fan of Glorantha or new to the world, Six Ages will surprise and delight you. Ride like the wind!

Absolutely amazing!
This is the spiritual successor to the incredible game King of Dragon Pass. Everything about this game is top-notch quality. The world brought forth by this game has limitless possibilities – replayability of this game is through the roof. Highly recommended!

Amazing AND iPhone X ready
Did you like King of Dragon Pass? Then you will love this game. I write books for a living and I found this as engaging, or more so, than KoDP. Plus, it does the full screen iPhone X thing. Just get it, and thank me later.

Amazing and unique!
“There is literally nothing else like this (well apart from King of Dragon Pass, which it’s safe to say if you liked that, you’ll love this).

Really amazing game, I can’t think of another game like it (apart from the one above, but it’s the same designers). If you like strategy/management/choose your own adventure style games, this is a no brainier. IMMENSE replay value. I love it! Keep up the great work! 😀”

Amazing story driven experience
This game, and its predecessor KODP, is an amazing story driven experience that weaves all of your decisions together in unexpected ways. The has a lot of replayability as a result. You can feel the love and attention that the developers went to to bring a massive amount of text to life and to ensure that each scene complement each other. More than worth the cost of the game. Check out the reviews or let’s play and if you are remotely interested, try it. You won’t regret it.

An even better game than KoDP!
“For those that have played the cult 1999 game, King of Dragon Pass, Six Ages will feel like they’re coming home. The game system is almost the same, you still care for your clan by choosing advisors, making sure the people are content and fed, sacrificing to gods and raiding your neighbours. All of this is done with gorgeous visuals and sublime music.
Players of KoDP will feel relieved when they see the improvement made in all these years. The one that stuck to me were the consequences that my actions made on the clan — whether on the number of cattle or morale of the people — clearly spelled out as I was making them. That’s important feedback that made me feel I had a handle on things even when disaster struck.
If you liked KoDP get this game now! You won’t regret it! For those who don’t know anything about it: you’ll find rich narrative in a land far removed from ours where you’ll manage a small community trying to survive difficult times in an ever darkening world.
***** Five Stars Game from me.”

An instant classic
Hi, I’m one of the lead developers of The Banner Saga. We were heavily inspired by KoDP, and I can safely say this is even better, bringing great quality of life improvements over its predecessor and improved combat while expanding on what made the original great. Everything about it is top notch and well worth your time and money. It is a minor miracle that this game even exists, buy it for crying out loud!

Best fantasy game ever!
Strategy, story telling, and fantasy that mixes bronze age mythologies into a fantastic game. If you loved King of Dragon Pass, you will love Six Ages, and if you have not played King of Dragon Pass, no need, Six Ages is a stand-alone prequal.

“Très grand fan de King of Dragon Pass, ça faisait un bon nombre d’années que j’attendais une suite de ce jeu encore inégalé et unique en son genre. Voilà chose faite.
Six ages en garde l’ADN et les fondamentaux, mais ajoute des nouveautés intéressantes.
Amateurs de jeux de gestion ? Vous n’avez pas peur du texte ? De la difficulté ?
Vous aimez prendre soin de vos protagonistes ? Ce jeu est fait pour vous. Il est certe cher pour un jeu sur iOS mais je peux vous garantir que vous ne regretterez pas votre achat.”

“More of the same formula as king of dragon pass but more fully realised depth and variation. Battles in particular have much more variation and varied outcomes. Epic! Also great to explore unknown lore of Glorantha.

Edit: a few weeks in- the initial similarities to king of dragon pass give way to a realisation that this is their new masterpiece. Nuance and depth abound- every corner has been refined and the love in the design is deeply evident. Surprises around every corner and new large world changing events make it all feel dangerous and uncertain. Success feels as it does in real life- an exhilarating combination of high attention, skill and luck (although you feel as you learn that you can influence your own luck).”

Don’t hesitate! Just buy!
“To start off, I have been waiting for this game for a few years now! Having previously played KODP and hearing about I sequel I was exited! I have nothing but good things to say now that I have had it for some hours now.

If you’ve played KODP then this will feel like home with the advantage of now feeling like you have more control over your tribe and the decisions made. However, this also allows for more strategy and therefore more trial and error. I am very satisfied with this aspect. This means that every game can play out in different ways and you can have different approaches.

For those who are playing this as a separate game and have no KODP experience. This is an all around good strategy/management game. Lots of devastating events which makes for even sweeter victories. However, this game requires time and commitment to enjoy. You can sit down and expect a quick play through. The creators have clearly put a lot of TLC into making this and it requires the player to do the same to really enjoy!

I’m so glad that there developers who can commit to putting out such amazing material and I look foreward to the new content that will be released!”

Een spel om je in te verliezen
“Net als zijn voorganger King of Dragon Pass vind ik dit spel tot de absolute top behoren. All-time. Op welk platform dan ook. Bepaal het lot van een clan door beslissingen op strategisch, moreel en triviaal niveau. Geen grinding of oppervlakkige actie, maar een levende wereld, waarin je daadwerkelijk op kunt gaan. Dit is écht een rollenspel.
Maar wat het zo geweldig maakt voor mobile is het feit dat je een complete roman speelt in stukken zo groot als je zelf wilt, urenlang of een paar minuten.”

Jogo absolutamente espetacular!

Everything KoDP was and more!
“King of Dragon Pass was the best game ever released for iOS.

Emphasis on Was, now that SixAges is out; it’s everything KODP was – the charming artwork, the captivating mythic narrative, the humor, the sheer depth and size and complexity of the world and the gameplay….

But where KODP was obtuse and confusing, Six Ages welcomes the player in with clear tooltips and a helpful tutorial. The game *makes sense* right from turn one. An absolute triumph.”

Fantastic game
I had only recently discovered King of the Dragon Pass on PC, and I was so pleased to find the sequel in the App Store. One of the few games worth every penny it cost to buy. Great replay value. Highly recommended.
United Arab Emirates

“In diesem Spiel führt man seinen Clan durch turbulente Zeiten in einer Fantasy-Welt. Der Spieler hat viele Freiheiten, man entscheidet darüber, wohin erkundet werden soll, wen man angreift, welche Geister man beschwört…
Durch die zahlreichen zufälligen Story-Ereignissen kommt keine Langeweile auf.
Ein würdiger Nachfolger von „King of Dragon Pass“.
Sehr empfehlenswert.”

Get this, love it, then get KoDP
“So many good things. If you want something different, a story driven RPG, a civilization management game, a game that lets you write the history of a people… look here!

If you never played King of Dragon Pass (SA predecessor), you should, but there is no reason to play it before this game. In fact, you should probably play this game first. Six Ages is almost a KoDP trainer with regard to game concept and interface familiarity. And, in the history of the in-game chronology, SA comes before KoDP. SA is the easier game to learn, but every bit as engrossing, fun, and challenging as KoDP. Wonderful game. It works flawlessly on my year old iPhone and on my iPad 3.”

Great adventure/RPG/strategy/storytelling game
A worthy successor to legendary King of Dragon Pass. I really enjoyed guiding the destiny of my clan over generations through the mythical landscapes of the gods war.

Great game
Fun to play, and with a genuinely affecting emergent narrative.

I’m hooked
I’m picky about games to invest in and took a chance on this one. I don’t think I ever wrote a review for a game but I had to say something for this one. The style of this game is very unique with this intriguing strategy concept. You nurture your clan like Civilization style play but are confronted with many “choose your path” scenarios that impact your growth. So many avenues to take to dictate your future. This is what makes this game strategic and compelling to challenge what you do. Give it a go!

Instantly hooked
“So much to do in this game. Make sure you have enough food, watch your neighbors for raids, while hoping you’re doing enough to please the gods and build your economy.
Tough choices make it feel like you’ve really got something to lose. I love playing this game and trying to finish it again and again in different ways.”

It’s like KODP but better. Great game!
I love the new artwork, and the added complexity to this game. KODP was great but it lacked depth to the mechanics. This game fixed that. The new combat system is more interactive and fun too! Love the parley system and how your allies can send you gifts even without asking for a favor. Amazing game.

One of the Best Strategy Games Ever?
“I discovered King of Dragon Pass a few years ago on a website called Rock Paper Shotgun. It listed it as one of the best 50 strategy games of all time. I tried it and I had to agree, despite that it was made in 90’s. I have to say, Six Ages is in my opinion a superior game overall. They reduced the tedious micromanagement of fields, herds and crops and instead introduced a nice venture system, some family politics within the clan and also different types of tribes. The game is superbly written and in my opinion more challenging than KoDP. If only for the art and effort of the small team who made this, this would still be well worth the 10$. It is doubly worth the price given that it’s a masterpiece.

(I admit that this game is not for everyoneone. To those who are unfamiliar with this type of games, it is more like an interactive book where your choices influence the narrative than a modern video game. I find that this stimulates imagination and adds an immersiveness that is really hard to find and few games can even come close to.)”

For those unfamiliar with King of Dragon Pass, Six Ages is the perfect amalgamation of a “choose your own adventure” story telling and resource management game. Don’t be put off by the price, it’s worth it. It’s also well adapted for mobile.

Výborná příběhová rpg deskovo strategická hra.

Second and best of its kind
A major improvement on King of Dragon Pass, itself one of the most unique management simulations ever with multiple hearty dollops of interactive fiction. You are placed in charge of a clan of bronze age barbarians and tasked with ushering them through survival, to greatness. Brutally hard, but submerses you in the mindset of your clan. Unique and excellent

Similar but more engaging.
I loved Kings of Dragon Pass, 24 hours in this seems more involved and immersive. If a game can be complicated stimulating and accessible then this is it. Rich levels of detail and replay-ability, with ‘one more click’ fighting with the instinct to research about the issue your dealing with, plan the tribal objectives and deal with the unexpected. This is interactive fiction at its best, where the more you let your imagination be stimulated, the more rewarding the experience is. Great job, great game!

Simply Amazing!
“I don’t even know where to start for my love of this game it’s just that good!
I guess I’ll start the art and music, the art for every scene is absolutely beautiful, I always look forward to new events to see what new stunning pieces of art I’ll see. The music also is just as amazing as the art, I personally absolutely love the battle music it makes me ready to face whatever threat dares strikes against my clan.

Next all I’ll talk about clan management. At first it’s pretty daunting with all the different tabs and numbers but thankfully the tutorial is very well made helping you understand the basics pretty quick. Something I really like about Six Ages over King of Dragonpass are ventures. Basically ventures give your clan something to do for the year like expanding crop fields, training your troops, having your crafters work on exotic materials. What I like about ventures it feels like I’m a bit more of a leader, I mean I know you control what shrines are built, when to explore, who to fight, and stuff like that. It’s just nice having another thing to think about.

What I also love about this game is how easy it is getting into the world and becoming immersed, the lore is so intriguing and the background on every race and culture makes me wish that as you learn more that new information is added to the lore tab. There’s quite a few races in the game like humans, elves who are actually plant people, dwarves who are made out stone, trolls who are boar people, spirits, and the gods. Humans so are really varied with many different cultures like the Riders (you), the Wheels culturally very similar to you but ride chariots and are very patriarchal, the Yeleni who are poor hunter-gatherers who worship a vulture god, Ergeshite who herd goats and worship two goat gods, and then finally the Ram people who worship a murderous thunder god and are the ones that destroyed your people’s empire.

There’s so much more to talk about but this review is already so long but the last thing I’ll say is if your a fan of strategy games or new takes on fantasy give this game a shot. You won’t regret it!”

Surpasses its predecessor in story, art, music and depth
Few games make you as invested in the story. The people of your clan feel real. Six Ages streamlines the gameplay of King of the Dragon Pass. I especially like all the extra tips that explain mistakes more thoroughly. The magnificient art and music immerses the player deeper into the world of Glorantha.

This game was made with so much passion.
Completely lives up to King of Dragon Pass in every way and more. If you were ever into choose your own adventure games in your childhood, this game is a throwback to that mixed with the flair of epic fantasy storytelling. Seriously – the amount of writing put into this is about the same length as 4 Harry Potter books – and every single word is absolutely captivating. Well worth the price, well worth introducing it into your life.

Thoughtful, deep, very special game
I haven’t played a game that made me feel like this since I bought Civ 4 as a teenager. You control this clan and it honestly feels like you’re playing as the conscious of a circle of elders. You grow with these people. You make genuinely difficult decisions. And you strategize in a way that almost feels like learning a song on the piano as someone who’s not particularly good at piano. You have no idea what you’re doing at first but you settle into this groove and you eventually become successful in ways that you don’t even quite understand. You grow with the game. It’s brilliant. Play it. It’s worth it.

Ultimately worth the time investment
“My first instinct was to conclude the game was illogical whenever something I didn’t understand happened, but I’d always dig deeper and there was always a good reason for whatever had occurred. The game purposefully obfuscates information, you are a Bronze Age people after all, and I came to realize the game is ultimately the better for it.

With that said I’m just going to leave my review like this and close with a 5* rating and full recommendation to anyone with a bit of patience. The game accommodates players of all skill levels and though it may at times seem illogical, you can rest assured the team has put thought and effort into every aspect of the experience.

Loving Six Ages and can’t wait for the next entry in the series.”

Unique and fun!
I was a big fan of King of Dragon Pass and love Six Ages so far! Excellent writing and emergent storytelling. If you’re like me and love history, strategy games, and good storytelling, check out this game!

Unique Retro Fun
“An updated version of the unique gem that was King of Dragon Pass, it plays in a very similar way – wonderful stuff.

Both games bring me all the way back to the ZX81 and the first game I ever played called Warlord (which was essentially a seasonal, turn based decision maker of a much simpler, text based variety, as befitting 1982) – nostalgic to the max!
You guide your clan through trials and tribulations during seasonally divided years selecting clan leaders, managing farming, combat, building, trading and exploration. This plays out over years of turn based, choose your own adventure style, decision making, with the help of your clan circle advisors, as you navigate numerous stories and scenarios. Grow strong, keep your clan happy, learn lore, make friends and vanquish enemies.
The game creates a wonderful atmosphere akin to Norse and Greek mythology. Honouring your ancestors is vital while appeasing and drawing on the all powerful, warring gods and lesser magical spirits. The settings and stories are varied and entertaining, it’s very satisfying when things go well (a combination of your choice and associated weighted chance). The art work deserves a mention as it enhances the atmosphere no end (tap any image to see it in its full, unobscured glory).
If you’ve ever enjoyed mythology, you’re a turn based fan with an eye for fine detail and you like reading choose your own adventure stories then this is a gem of a game that will give you many hours of enjoyment.”

Wonderful Game!
“The game and setting are unbelievably unique. The game is more accessible than the amazing King of Dragon Pass, although that game revealed its victory conditions in a more satisfying way.

I can’t wait to try the other episodes as they are released. This game is well worth the money and delivers a AAA experience!”

Пока все хорошо


Making Six Ages for iOS: A Retrospective

Six Ages: Ride Like the Wind was an attempt to recreate the magic of King of Dragon Pass, both from a game play sense, and from the personal viewpoint of a creator making something special with a great team. King of Dragon Pass managed to keep some people playing for nearly two decades. Making it was for me an amazing collaboration.

The game is a peculiar combination of narrative and turn-based strategy, drawing on the rich background of Greg Stafford’s Glorantha. The story is driven by making narrative choices, and held together by a politico-economic model that provides context and meaning to those decisions. And your strategic decisions can result in new narratives.

The scope of the game is also unusual, in that you’re in charge of a small clan whose story unfolds over several generations. Individual characters advise you and execute your decisions, but they may die of old age before the game is over.

This post originally appeared on Gamasutra.

Here’s a postmortem of the development process.

What Went Right

Improving the Formula

Why tamper with what works? Over its long life, King of Dragon Pass has sold nearly 200K copies. So Six Ages is a similar game. But we tried to improve the weaker areas and double down on the strong points.

I’d already simplified KoDP a bit for its 2.0 reboot, but there were still fiddly bits like precisely allocating land use, worrying about exact labor allocation, and counting individual beans, er, Bushels of food. A new system of Ventures, or special tasks, lets you clear fields or pastures without worrying about the numbers. This mechanic handles a wide variety of economic chores, giving the player a lot of control over how to allocate the clan’s labor. And we now assume your clan knows how to feed itself, and you only worry about having a sufficient reserve to make it to the next harvest.

Hyalor rides Gamari, who tries to buck himHeroquests—reenactments of myths on the Other Side—are a unique feature of the setting. They are intentionally unpredictable, to be true to Greg Stafford’s writings. This often frustrated KoDP players. In Six Ages we made several changes in the ritual visits to the Otherworld, in particular providing an in-game explanation of what went wrong (for example, “She said she should not have expected Yamsur to help. All the stories suggested he wouldn’t.”). We also do something similar for failure in more mundane situations (“<testee> said Nyalda might have heard our pleas if we’d devoted more ritual time to pasture magic at Sacred Time.”).

Your advisors have personalities, and we added new quirks (e.g. the Song Quoter and Xenophobe), and made sure that your clan council would sometimes talk to or about each other (since that was one of my favorite bits of KoDP). They may also initiate actions to further their own agendas.

Under the hood, we rationalized how success chances were calculated, and came up with a flexible system of concerns, which are essentially ongoing modifiers to a leader’s odds of success or the economic model. This made emergent properties easier for the designers to understand, and helped explain things to players.


Part of the formula was the mythic setting, Glorantha. We went all in on exploiting Glorantha’s rich background, setting the game in what KoDP regards as the age of mythology.

Map of GloranthaEven though the game was in a less documented time and place, we still had a lot of Gloranthan lore to draw from. We added new details as needed, expanding on material written since KoDP came out.

Greg Stafford, the creator of Glorantha, had retired and I didn’t really have the chance to work with him again. He did make some useful comments early in development. I was in close contact with Chaosium’s Creative Director, and we shared ideas and maps. You’ll find some of our art in Chaosium products.


Once again I was able to work with extremely talented people. The Six Ages team was virtual, spread across many countries and time zones. I’ve never met most of them in person. But I didn’t need to limit my search for the best people to those I could meet with face-to-face, let alone share an office with. To stay in touch, I experimented with using Slack when we had a small group of concept artists. This turned out to work very well. (It certainly helps that so many people read and write English, even if it’s not their native language.) We didn’t end up with the same sort of cohesive team you can get when everyone is working in the same physical space but it still felt like a team. And once again, it felt to me like a great collaboration.

Being able to work with members of the original team also turned out to be a marketing point.

Testing Focus

To leverage a very small QA team, I made sure they were supported by tools. A debug dialog allows viewing raw values, running scripts, or setting up unusual situations. Many debug scripts do the same, and when QA wanted a new one, it was always top priority so they could keep going. For example, they might need to turn someone into a shaman, or make a neighboring chief a woman.

The scene compiler, which processes our custom scripting language, outputs a number of reports. They can be compared across builds, which made it easy to spot script typos. The compiler also output all text from the scripts. I’d periodically spell check this (which always made me come close to regretting that we’d included a personality quirk of inventing words).

Other typos could be caught by automated tests. I created unit tests which did crude sanity checking of every response of every scene. These could be tweaked to check certain problematic situations, like having no wealth or friends. I never got this fully automated, but the tests did keep a lot of bugs from even getting to QA.

Another tool was the ability to report issues directly from the game, on demand or after a crash. Reports include a detailed debug log which shows the scripts run, along with variable values. They also include two game saves (in case going back in time made it easier to reproduce a bug).

We didn’t add playtesters until relatively late. They had the same reporting feature, and I added a bunch of turn by turn economic data to reports, to help tune the game.

Refined User Experience

King of Dragon Pass came out when we didn’t have to worry about multiple screen sizes (both in its original 1999 release, and the 2011 iPhone edition). To handle phones as well as tablets and computers, we came up with a design that has two basic size classes. Each handles different screen sizes within the phone or tablet size class. (Tablets and computers have the same basic layout, though they’ll have other UI differences). This turned out to be very useful when Apple introduced an iPad with twice as much screen real estate as previous models. As much as possible, layouts within a screen are the same for both size classes. Small layout adjustments can be made by constants for finer-grained size categories.

Although your advisors mention exceptional circumstances, we also show them in a dashboard associated with the screen-switching menu. The economic concerns mentioned earlier are the most common, but promises, opportunities, and transient warnings also appear in the dashboard. This gives a quick summary, which advisors can give more information about.

KoDP’s tutorial was an attempt to show most parts of the game in one game year, but it tried to give the player as much freedom as possible and ended up very brittle. Rather than direct you through every management screen, tips now appear in context, so you can learn about a feature when you first encounter it. Playtesting revealed that this worked well if you were familiar with KoDP, but didn’t give you an overall sense of how to play. We added a very constrained tutorial at the last minute, which gives players an interactive introduction.

Like KoDP, Six Ages supports VoiceOver, so blind and low vision players can play on an even footing with sighted players. We redesigned how exploration worked to be task focused, rather than literally trying to duplicate the experience of choosing arbitrary spots on the map.

What Went Wrong


I never made a very detailed estimate, but figured the game would take about 24 months. It ended up more like 46. By comparison, the original King of Dragon Pass took about 33.

Some of the slip was probably because I didn’t have any other programmers or producer (as I did with KoDP). And some of the freelancers couldn’t always work full time. But mostly it was a problem of not understanding the scope of the game. It was intended to be shorter than the long game in King of Dragon Pass.

The original plan was 275 interactive scenes. It ended up with 412. (KoDP had about 600.) Although we knew we could drop things like the tribal negotiation scenes in KoDP, we ended up needing even more scenes for the victory track than KoDP had.

We came in over budget as well, but only by about 23%. And that was still significantly less than the budget for KoDP.

The lengthy development period made it harder to generate buzz, since the release date was so far away.

We do hope that when we make the next game in the series, we won’t have to create all the infrastructure, and will have a better sense of what’s needed.


We’d hoped to be able to release the game on more platforms relatively quickly. Unfortunately, third-party libraries we’d hoped to be able to use were either discontinued by the time the game came out, or couldn’t be used with the latest development tools.

We’re currently working on a port, but it’s going to be much more expensive and time-consuming than we’d originally expected.


The downside of working with freelancers is availability. Of course, an organization with employees can have turnover as well, but a couple team members left to further their careers, and several were constrained by other projects or caring for young children. In the end I don’t think this caused significant delays, but it was a constant worry.


Even though the UI works well, one of our tradeoffs turned out to be problematic. Players often need to be aware of the current season. Although this was always shown on iPad, and easy to get to on iPhone, players weren’t always familiar with the Gloranthan seasons. In King of Dragon Pass, an illustration helped remind them. We eventually added a popup showing an illustration, but this wasn’t nearly as convenient. On the plus side, we managed to convey additional information (whether you were early or late in the season), and the dashboard probably was more important. Earlier playtesting might have caught this in time to rework the UI.

Another issue that surprised us: a few players complained that we’d made the text too small. It turned out that they had large devices, and because KoDP wasn’t designed to take advantage of them, iOS enlarged the screen. These players were unhappy with the extra screen real estate they got because Six Ages will show more text instead.


It turns out that when winning the game depends on a plot twist, it’s really hard to tell players how to win the game. Many players aren’t sure what to do up to that point. And if they fail to win, they often have no clue why.

Not only that, but the overall game story is a bit of a surprise if you’ve played King of Dragon Pass.

These factors also made it harder to do buzz, since there was a lot I didn’t want to reveal too early. For example, we couldn’t do open development like many indie studios do, because in a story game, there isn’t much else to talk about other than the story. And much of the art could also be considered to spoil the story, or at least a big PR splash at launch.


Currently the game is out on the App Store, to very favorable player response (4.84 stars) and pretty solid sales for a “premium” game from a tiny studio. Most reviews say it’s a more polished game, with an equally strong story and mythology, compared to its predecessor. According to one player, “the initial similarities to king of dragon pass give way to a realisation that this is their new masterpiece. Nuance and depth abound- every corner has been refined and the love in the design is deeply evident.”

We’re still in the middle of porting, adding new features, and fixing pesky bugs. But we’re encouraged by this response and hope to start working on the second Six Ages game very soon.

Questionnaire Metrics

I don’t think data-driven game design is the best approach to a narrative game, but it’s a valuable tool. It’s certainly worth gathering data to see if players are actually experiencing the story the way the designers intended.

Unfortunately, it appears that in my eagerness to measure outcomes, I went past the design limits of Flurry Analytics, and am not actually tracking everything I thought I was. But I am capturing a lot of anonymous data, and I thought it might be interesting to share some of it.

The clan questionnaire establishes the backstory of your clan. As usual, there is no best response, though a few affect difficulty. The questionnaire gives you an interactive introduction to the game, and lets you decide on how you want to play (these are the choices your ancestors made, and determine how they will react to your choices made in other contexts).

Which of the gods did your ancestors favor?

Players had no strong preference. 53% picked the Earth Goddess.

Which famous event of the gods did your ancestors support?

The most popular gods to help were the trade goddess, the warlike sun, and the cow goddess.

Who was your ancestral enemy?

The forces of water were a slight favorite. Perhaps players remembered that this was a weaker foe in King of Dragon Pass. (That’s not necessarily the case in this game.) Presumably the elves and dwarves are poorly represented here because both are not early enemies, and are available as choices only if you pick “Our worst danger came later.”

Which god did your ancestors bring from the Golden City?

Apparently our players were keen to be master redsmiths, over half of them making sure to bring the god of bronze working as they fled their home. 25% retained literacy. Only 5% brought the secrets of glass making, which I guess is represented in the artwork (other than the user interface, I don’t think we explicitly show any glass).

Which group of the First Division were your ancestors?

Given the importance of herding to the Riders, it’s not surprising that 44% of players decided that their ancestors were the best herders in the First Clan. I always figured that the most dissatisfied members were the ones who most wanted to split, but this isn’t a popular choice.

Who did your ancestors meet in the Second Migration?

The most popular choice was herders, followed by farmers.

Almost everyone adopted them, and most players made them full citizens of the clan.

How hard will life be?

The final question is primarily to establish your starting conditions. This is a difficult game, so it’s totally fine to start at the Easier setting. Most games were started at Normal. Probably players only play at Harsh once they have mastered things.


Getting metrics is relatively easy. Effectively analyzing them can take a lot of time (I worked on one game where there was no analysis until after the game shipped.)

Actually taking action can be tricky. I’m surprised that so few players chose dwarves or elves, but I think it would break the story flow to give them more equal billing (as well as presenting more choices than necessary at one point).

Although I don’t think any of this particular data will result in design changes, we have been doing some tuning based on what we see. It may be subtle, but some of that will be in the next update.

The Six Ages Team: Robin Laws

Our series of interviews with team members continues with our writer/designer, Robin D. Laws.

What’s your background?

I am a tabletop roleplaying game designer and author. I created such roleplaying games as Hillfolk, Feng Shui, The Esoterrorists, and the upcoming Yellow King Roleplaying Game. My fiction credits include nine novels and the short story collection New Tales of the Yellow Sign. I’m the winner of five Gold and five Silver ENnie Awards as well as the coveted Diana Jones Award. You can hear me every week on the podcast Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff.

How did you get into the industry?

Robin D. Laws
Illustration by Jan Pospíšil

Through the fanzine Alarums and Excursions (which will feature later in our story) I struck up a correspondence with Jonathan Tweet, eventually leading to my contributing additional material to his groundbreaking game Over the Edge. He says I inspired this by imagining what a William S. Burroughs roleplaying game might look like. At about the same time I got a query out of the blue from Steve Jackson Games, asking if I wanted to turn the weird hunter-gatherer dark fantasy game into a supplement; it became GURPS Fantasy II. That led to additional opportunities and I’ve been working full time as a writer and game designer since 1992.

In other words, I got in when the cutting edge communications technologies were APAs and physical mail.

How were you introduced to KoDP

Six Ages: Ride Like the Wind is about a people escaping from encroaching glaciers, but I owe my participation in it to the actions of ice demons. In 1997 I went to a Glorantha convention in Chicago, planning to meet with the world’s creator, to pitch him on my approach to a new roleplaying game for his setting. A massive snow storm canceled his trip, and here I was at a convention with the meeting they’d flown me in for also out the window.

Another attendee I also knew through Alarums and Excursions: David Dunham. We sat down to dinner together and he told me he had a Glorantha computer game on the drawing board. If only he could find an experienced writer who also knew this very specific world…

We both looked at each other and thought “oh wait a minute” and before I knew I was signed on as head writer for KoDP. Not far into the process it became apparent that writing was also game design work, hence the double credit.

Other than Six Ages or King of Dragon Pass, what’s your favorite computer game?

The simulation of the classic analog Addams Family pinball game, on the Pinball Arcade iOS app.

How did your writing style develop?

Any writer’s voice is a combination of all the various influences you absorb through reading, plus the effort of writing a whole bunch of terrible stuff until the cruft falls away. The secret to developing a unique style is to assimilate so many disparate influences that they, plus your life experience and personality, come together into something no one else would arrive at.

What was the most challenging part of the project?

I’m not saying the game has a big culminating storyline. But if it did, getting the scene branching right for its myriad possible outcomes took a lot of doing and redoing. Hypothetically.

Day to day, the biggest scene writing challenge lay in the tri-cultural nature of the setting this time out. In KoDP, you’re Orlanthi clan folk, interacting with other Orlanthi. In this opening chapter of Six Ages, any neighboring tribe you deal with might belong to your own culture, a closely related rival culture, or a third, quite distinct people. So any scene where you talk to a neighbor required a distinct set of responses for every approach you take.

What was the best part of the project?

Several testers reported finding certain moments genuinely affecting, even moving. That’s the response you hope for as a writer in any medium. Maybe surprising in a resource management game, which you might not think of as a forum for powerful emotion. That’s a testament to David’s original genre-fusing vision for KoDP. It also reflects our shared attitude that, even though the game is set in an imaginary place, that it should have room to reflect the full contradictions of the human experience. With so many scenes to work with I could build in a wide emotional palette, from funny to scary to—depending on the choices the player makes—triumphant or tragic.

The Six Ages Team: Jan Pospíšil

Our series of interviews with team members continues with our lead artist, Jan Pospíšil.

What’s your background?

I have a master’s degree in computer graphics programming, but in art I’m self-taught.

How did you get into the industry?

Self-Portrait by Jan Pospíšil

I’ve been full-time freelancing for over 5 years now (I think). At first I posted my portfolio on a bunch of RPG forums and that got me a few hobbyist level jobs in pen and paper RPGs (which is where I would get the majority of work in the following years). Then in short succession Jeff Richard (then of Moon Design, now Chaosium) and Jon Hodgson (Cubicle 7) contacted me for work and I’ve been drawing for them ever since.

I was a big fan of Tolkien and also drew a lot of historical/ancient stuff and both those areas eventually became my “niche.”

When it comes to computer games, I started by modding during my uni studies. Curiously, neither my computer science degree, nor my modding efforts contributed to my first real videogame job – doing art for KoDP and Six Ages. (I have my continued work on pnp Glorantha to thank for that, I believe.)

What was the first gaming product you worked on, and in what capacity?

I have to admit I don’t remember. Unfortunately I lost a backup drive from that time, so there’s no way to check. Most likely it was a few pieces of black and white art for a supplement book by a small publisher.

The first product I consider a career changer was probably the Guide to Glorantha, for which I painted a series of colour plates.

How were you introduced to KoDP

Someone shared a few pictures from their game in a screenshot thread on the TaleWorlds forums. I was immediately interested, because I’ve never seen a game with art like that. Especially intriguing was a scene depicting Grazelanders, who I recognized as Scythian/Pazyryk inspired.

I had to know what this game was about! The concept sounded incredible and I immediately pirated it and spent a few weeks playing it to exhaustion. (Sorry about that! I’ve bought it on several platforms since then.)

How did your art style develop?

Chaotically and slowly. Before I started learning with some semblance of focus (in uni and on), I did everything by feeling and instinct. In a way that felt more free and I was far more daring in those days.

Now I’m mostly trying to get faster and away from aping my favourite artists too much. (Which I definitely did for some products I worked on, like Angus McBride in Glorantha, or Viktor Ambrus on “The One Ring.”)

I did a lot of ink drawing on Six Ages (as opposed to painting), which was very useful training in hindsight. I also practiced horses a lot, that’s always useful.

What was the most challenging part of the project?

The scope of it. Most projects in the past would take up to a few months to finish, followed by a period of crippling doubt (“Is any of this any good?!”), followed by the joy of seeing them in the hands of happy customers. Working on Six Ages meant four years of not being able to talk about anything I was doing, and there was so much of it to do! Definitely a different experience.

What was the best part of the project?

Seeing it all come together and working with the other members.

Reading Robin’s writing where he’d build on the concepts we came up with in preproduction, meeting the characters he created.

Seeing other artists do their thing and thinking: “Oh man, I wouldn’t have thought of that!”

Reading the testers’ experiences playing the game for the first time.

Other than Six Ages or King of Dragon Pass, what’s your favorite computer game?

Can’t easily reduce that to just one, so…

I’ve spent the most time with Mount&Blade:Warband (thousands of hours probably, since 2006).

The best recent game I played is The Witcher 3:Wild Hunt (I’ve been a fan of the Witcher books since childhood).

My “most interesting/innovative” recent game is Exanima – for its unusual physics-based combat system (having 238 hours played on Steam).

The Six Ages Team: Liana Kerr

Although I (David) get to be the public face of the game, nearly two dozen people helped me make it. I’d like to share some of their stories, starting with our Quality Assurance (QA) Lead, Liana Kerr.

What’s your background?

Liana Kerr
Illustration by Ellen Barkin

I dabble in writing and art, and I’ve studied Japanese for several years. I’ve done fan translations of video games and a little professional translation. I have a huge weakness for RPGs, adventure games and sim games, but I have a tendency to lose myself in games, so these days I just play a couple of mobile games that don’t require much time or brainpower. I’m the primary caregiver to my two children, six-year old Milo and one-year old Felix.

How were you introduced to KoDP

Back in college, my boyfriend presented me with a new game for Valentine’s Day. It was perfect: it had gorgeous artwork, engaging writing, a challenging scenario. I played it over and over, creating happy little Ernalda-worshipping Peace clans, exploring Dragon Pass and learning all the lore. And what of the guy who knew me so well that he gifted me a game that I played for years? I married him, of course! (And eventually we had a child who encourages me to “get lots of cows, mama!”)

How did you get into the industry?

I had been following the King of Dragon Pass blog, and I offered to help beta test the iOS version. “I have a good eye for detail,” I told David, in what may have been an understatement. Unfortunately, David already had as many beta testers as he needed. Fortunately, most people are not very good beta testers. I got in on the next round of testing, and as I hadn’t played KoDP for several years I was thrilled to be able to return to the game. Beta-testing KoDP coincided with being pregnant with my older son, and it distracted me from my constant nausea. I ended up filing so many bugs that I was convinced David was sick of this annoying fangirl who kept nitpicking his game! But instead he asked me to help test the iPad version, and sent me an iPad inscribed with “Queen of Dragon Pass.” When he started adding more new content to KoDP, I started working as a freelancer doing more formal QA, and it’s been my dream job ever since!

What was the first gaming product you worked on, and in what capacity?

King of Dragon Pass is the first game I ever worked on professionally. I’ve also worked on fan translations of some Super Famicom RPGs, both as a translator and finding bugs in the patches. (I translated Metal Max Returns several years ago, and three games that haven’t been released yet, Granhistoria, Metal Max 2 and Tenshi no Uta.) Working on Six Ages has made me want to design games myself. Maybe once the kids are older!

What was the most challenging part of the project?

Making the mental transition from “my job is to find bugs” to “my job is to help make this an awesome game.” I had a lot of issues with imposter syndrome and self-confidence, which meant my tendency was to assume that my input wasn’t very valuable. I mean, who was I to contradict David Dunham on a matter of game design, or edit Robin D. Laws’s writing? But the truth was that my position was unique: as a longtime fan of King of Dragon Pass, I approached Six Ages from a player’s point of view, and so I was not only looking for bugs, I was also looking for scenarios that didn’t make sense, outcomes that felt unfair or unsatisfying, or places where a little extra detail would have a big impact on the scene. For example, when another clan creates a song mocking you, I wanted to know exactly what the insult was! (And Robin came through with not one, but several different insults that are chosen randomly each time the scene appears.)

Our neighbors know us for being the last clan to arrive in the valley.So there are a lot of little details in Six Ages that come directly from my experience as a KoDP player and give you a greater sense of connection to your clan. I always wanted my clan to be known for something, as the other clans are, and in Six Ages your actions will give you a reputation. I wanted a little more focus on some of the recurring characters, and now they give unique advice and have a couple more scenes… although if you want them to be heroes, you have to give them those opportunities yourself.

Having my ideas get implemented and my input valued went a long ways towards boosting my confidence, which in turn made me more likely to give my opinion even more freely. I think Six Ages is even better than King of Dragon Pass, and even though I have seen all possible outcomes of every scene in the game, I still enjoy playtesting it. I’m proud to say that some of that depth came from my input, and hope that other KoDP fans love Six Ages as much as I do!

What was the best part of the project?

I got to be there as it all came together. When I started working on Six Ages, Robin had written over a hundred scenes, but the artwork was all placeholders, there was no music, the UI was incomplete and the advisors’s faces were from KoDP. Plus, there were still hundreds of scenes to be coded, and some weren’t written until well into the game’s development. I worked assiduously on testing scenes, but I couldn’t really visualize the eventual outcome. But with every new build of the game, there was some small improvement: for example, the pixelated placeholder art would turn into a pencil sketch with notes on it, which later became a black and white drawing, which eventually blossomed with glorious color. I tested most of the exploration scenes with placeholder art or sketches, so it was gratifying to run into the finished scenes as I played and experience them as they were meant to be seen. When the music was added, Six Ages really started to feel like a game to me, not just a collection of scenes and sliders. By the time I was able to finish the game for the first time, I felt like we had really created something special!

I also just love finding really great bugs. One of my favorites was the bug where another clan would show up to attack you, then parley with you and offer you tribute to end the attack. Compared with game-breaking bugs or bugs that are hard to reproduce, a bug where people show up on your doorstep and offer to give you loot instead of attack you is a sweet bug indeed. It was almost a shame to report it! Any time negative numbers of warriors die, fractions of a cow get traded away, or nonexistent clans show up at my clan borders, my day just gets better and better. What I love best is when I manage to crash the game so badly that I can’t even re-open my saved game. Because that means we can fix it, and no one else will ever lose their game to that same bug. I get territorial about my bugs; once Six Ages is out, no doubt thousands of people playing it will expose some that I didn’t find, and some part of me is always going to feel jealous of the people who find the best bugs.

Other than Six Ages or King of Dragon Pass, what’s your favorite computer game?

I’d have to say Undertale. I like being able to play a game in a peaceful way — I once played through the original Fallout as a pacifist, although I may have taken a potshot at the Overseer in the end — and I was fascinated by its fourth-wall breaking aspects. I especially enjoyed playing a game that treated my decisions with tangible moral weight and permanence, because I couldn’t help contrasting it with my work testing Six Ages. For the sake of seeing if some minor line shows up right, I might systematically kill off every single noble in my clan. (The debug menu offers me nearly a dozen ways to murder people. For example, I can kill off the whole circle, pick out one noble to kill, kill off all the men or women at once, kill off another clan’s leader… And that’s not even getting into the many ways someone can die within the game.) Or I might force a scene repeatedly to test all the branches, meaning that from my clan’s point of view, they’re being attacked by a dinosaur or a Chaos monster ten times a year. Restore from the previous year, and no one even remembers it happened! I feel my sins crawling on my back…

Restores radio buttons (Unlimited, One, None) from the clan questionnaireMy desire to play with some form of moral weight actually inspired one new option for the game. You can still choose to have unlimited restores, which means if something goes wrong you can restart the year with no penalty. But you can also now choose to give yourself just one chance to restore, or you can play the entire game with no ability to restore at all. When you can only turn back time once, or when death is permanent, the impact of every choice you make is magnified. I have beaten the game on Hard mode with no option to restore (without resorting to the debug menu, of course). So it is possible, but it requires patience, diplomacy, careful preparation and the ability to roll with the punches.

Bugs, Part 2

We’ve been using Manuscript (originally Fogbugz) to manage the project, starting during the first week of development in August 2014. Since then, the team and playtesters have created 3412 cases. This breaks down into Manuscript’s categories as:

Donut chart of categories123 Inquiries. This includes playtester feedback and comments, and 75 completed games. I try to do some analysis of each game, to learn where players get stuck and to make sure things are tuned OK. Once in a while this uncovers bugs.

485 Features and 61 Schedule Items. These represent tasks like like “Map Creation,” “iPhone X support” or “Sweep to be sure ChooseLeader is followed by a leader test.” The two categories are pretty similar, but a Feature would probably be passed to QA to check, and a Schedule Item could usually just be marked completed.

2714 Bugs. These are things that didn’t behave as expected. They’re typically fixed, then verified by QA as working correctly. Since we added playtesters over time, we tended not to get a lot of duplicate bugs (though it’s never a problem if we do, since a different report may give insight into reproducibility, and they’re easy to verify).

Overall, we closed 3313 of the 3412 cases. Of the 99 cases not closed, 26 are feedback that I was keeping handy (and probably should close to clean up the project). Most of the rest are issues that we deferred as part of the triage process, (see part 1) or as features that would be nice to have in an update.

Donut chart showing 99% Fixed, 1% Open bugs2695 of 2714 bugs have been closed. A few are still being verified as fixed, or were deferred for an update. (That’s about 1.8 bugs per day over the entire project.)

I don’t really like managing purely by numbers (the way a really large project might have to), but it’s good to see that our gut feeling that the game is solid is also backed by data.

(part 1 of the series on bugs is here)

Bugs, Part 1

I don’t know if this is a dark secret of game developers, but games ship with bugs. Known bugs.

Status and Triage posts from Slack

Part of the late development process is reviewing the bug list to see what most needs fixing. We all hate bugs, but we also love shipping. Not everything has to be fixed before release. The closer we get to making the release build, the stricter the criteria become. We’ve recently deferred a bunch of bugs that we would have fixed when we started the triage process.

Why be so strict? Because many fixes can have unintended consequences. We just discovered a fairly rare bug yesterday, which had been introduced by a change we made last year (which was tested back then and found to work perfectly as designed). Since even a simple bug fix can destabilize the game, we want to make sure any last minute fixes are truly warranted.

At the end of the process, the only bugs to be fixed are those that affect all players, prevent play, or make us look stupid. Most of what we’ve been finding lately have been issues that come up if you have tons of feuds, or when you made certain decisions and then ally a particular clan. These aren’t going to be that common. And even the players who end up doing that won’t be blocked from the game, or find it illogical. My classic “look stupid” bug was a game I saw years ago, where the publisher spelled their own name wrong on the title screen. Luckily we haven’t found anything like that.

But of course, we do want to fix all the bugs. So I’ve been making the fixes in an alternate branch of the code. As soon as everything is locked down in the App Store, we’ll switch over internally and start testing that.

Part 2 of “Bugs”