The PC (i.e. Windows and macOS) version of Six Ages: Ride Like the Wind has reached “Gold Master” status!
While we are not actually shipping a CD off to manufacturing (like we did 20 years ago for King of Dragon Pass), we have a build that we can submit to Steam and GOG for their approval and release process. This also means that reviewers can be looking at a final build.
To get to this point, Rusto Games has been busy fixing bugs. And we’ve had our own QA testing as well as very helpful beta testers trying to find bugs. (QA also has the task of making sure bugs are actually fixed.)
The final phase is working with our publisher to make sure the stores are set up for release on 17 October.
Many games can be brought to new platforms with some careful attention to the user interface on the new device. In fact, I’ve done this twice (adding iPad support to King of Dragon Pass, and adding iPhone support to Battle of the Bulge). You may need new art assets, and certainly a bit of new coding. But most of the game code is identical.
Back when I started working on Six Ages, this was my plan. Basic development was on iOS, in part because the tools were more reliable. I had experimented with two different solutions to bring that code to other platforms, and was optimistic that I’d be able to just rebuild the game. Then I’d be able to polish it, add support for platform-specific achievements, and start a new testing cycle.
Things didn’t work out as I’d planned. Both of the porting libraries I had expected to use were discontinued (one formally, one not formally abandoned but clearly not viable).
So instead of just recompiling, we were faced with rewriting. That’s a way bigger hurdle. And that’s why it’s taken longer than our original plan.
I’ll discuss this in more detail in the future, but we’re pretty much at the point of adding support for platform-specific achievements. QA has been testing the port, and we hope to bring in outside beta testers soon. Our publisher has suggested that people interested in testing the game sign up on Discord. If you’d rather wait until the last bugs are out, wishlist the game on Steam or GOG.
Today we hit an important milestone: “Ride Like the Wind” for macOS and Windows is far enough along to be declared “Alpha.” Different studios use that term differently, but for us it means it’s essentially feature complete. The various tutorial elements are not implemented yet, and there are a number of known bugs and things to polish. But the UI is all there, and you can play the game. Rusto Games has done a great job adapting to a very different game engine.
Our QA team has started taking a more thorough look at the port. Their available Windows machine had a smaller screen than I thought we could support, but it seemed to run well enough. That’s a good sign. It can also run on a 5120 x 2880 Retina display connected to a Mac.
Once it’s had more testing, and the Guide and Tutorial are in, we plan on doing some beta testing with a small number of players. We’re still planning the particulars with our publisher, Kitfox Games.
Once we have beta feedback, we’ll be in a better position to know a release date. One reason this is hard to know in advance is that it can depend on other games. With a couple hundred games coming out each week, you obviously can’t avoid all conflicts, but there can be games you don’t want to release simultaneously with.
If you haven’t already wish listed the game on Steam, please do. We also expect the game will be on GOG (though they don’t have store pages for alpha software).
We’re also fixing bugs and added another interactive scene to the game for an App Store update. Thanks to all our players who have reported bugs!
Meanwhile, we’ve been working on the next game in the saga, “Lights Going Out.” The art style is defined and a reasonable amount is complete. It’s hard to know how much writing we’ll need until you can play the game from start to finish, but I think we’re close to having half the necessary scenes written and coded.
“Lights Going Out” lets you continue a game of “Ride Like the Wind,” so you can determine the next chapter in your clan’s saga. As a practical matter, you might want to save any games you’ve completed.
I’ve been holding off talking about porting Six Ages because the first attempts had early promise but ran into various extreme problems, including life-threatening medical issues. (Fortunately the programmer didn’t die, unlike at least one porting library.) Even now, there’s a small chance that we’ll run into some issue and have to set the clock back. But I’ve seen the game running on Windows and Mac and feel pretty confident that we’ll be able to release on Steam and GOG for those platforms in 2019, as we’d planned. (Of course we’d like to support other platforms but don’t have any news at the moment.)
It’s been a while since I’d done a game port, and I’d forgotten that progress is essentially inverted from normal development. In a typical game, you start by building out enough of the game to play. This is often called a “vertical slice” (though different studios use that term a little differently). The idea is that you have a simple level where you can make sure that movement, matching, or whatever game mechanic works. Then you add polish and all the other levels.
Six Ages (and King of Dragon Pass) were hard to slice like that (since a year of play consists of almost all game screens), but the basic game was working after a while, and we continued to add story scenes, art, and polish.
When you port, the game is basically complete at the start. So once you have enough infrastructure for a vertical slice, you can essentially play the entire game.
With the Six Ages port, basic interactivity went in early, so you could pretty much play any scene (picking responses, choosing wealth, etc.). And that was it. You could only play that scene, because the management screens hadn’t been coded yet. And then when they were, you couldn’t play effectively, because advice hadn’t been hooked up. And so on.
The game is now at the point where all the UI an experienced player needs is working. This means we can start worrying about things like new screen sizes, keyboard support, cursors, and mouse rollover. Plus of course the rest of the UI, such as Guides, Help, and Tutorial. And music, transition, and bug fixes.
That’s still a lot of work, and there’s still a lot of uncertainty about schedule. For example, as I write this we’re still not certain if sound and music support needs to be completely reworked. (If so, that’s obviously an unexpected delay.) Since our goal is a quality game, we can’t suggest a release date.
This year, we finished “Ride Like the Wind” and released it to the App Store. It’s gotten pretty good reviews, including making it onto at least three “best of the year” lists (Gamasutra, TouchArcade, Pocket Tactics). And players helped us find bugs, so we released 6 updates (also adding more leader portraits and treasures, and the possibility of becoming known as a weasel).
The story of bringing the game to other platforms wasn’t as happy, though at least our first programmer did not perish from life-threatening medical issues. Our new developer has been making good progress, and we are still on track to release in 2019 (as we originally hoped). Although the game will be available elsewhere too, it helps visibility if you wish-list it on Steam.
I spoke about Six Ages (and King of Dragon Pass) at NGS2018.
And we began working on the second game, “Lights Going Out.” This will tell an entirely different story, continuing the saga of your clan generations later. Since the basic game system has been implemented, it’s already possible to get through a few game years. We’ve got 63 interactive scenes working (and partially tested), and 17 story illustrations completed.
We’ve been moving steadily forward on the next Six Ages game, “Lights Going Out.” It’s in the production stage, and we’re busy creating scenes and art, extending the game design, and coding.
The concept art process let me make a document to guide our artists, and we currently have 7 pieces of scene art complete. (Others are in progress.) And with six new portraits, you can almost assemble an entire clan council from new characters!
There are over 250 scenes briefly described (e.g. “earthquake” or “flood”). 31 are now coded, and can be run.
Other bits of game design are moving forwards as well, such as new ventures and magic. And there’s a new map.
Since this is the second game in the series, there’s a lot that doesn’t have to be created. Although not enough is really working that you can play the game, you can at least run through a game year.
The automated testing has a few rough edges (since some of the unit tests assumed scenes from “Ride Like the Wind”), but it’s been useful catching problems in the game so far. And the game is far enough along that QA can start exhaustive scene testing.
Speaking of bugs, working on the second game accidentally pointed out a problem with the first one. (The fix, enabling many more random rumors, ended up in version 1.0.7.)
Speaking of second game, the mechanics of loading a completed game and continuing are in and working. We’re taking note of various decisions and accomplishments that your clan can carry forward (though you’ll also be able to play without ever having played “Ride Like the Wind”).
I think the biggest advantage of working on a sequel is that scenes can be up and running almost as soon as they’re written, so we can see how they work while they’re still fresh in our minds. There’s a lot less that you have to take on faith will work.
It’s a very different game so even though we know scenes run, we won’t know how they all fit together for some time. But I’m encouraged so far.
P.S. This work is not impacting the schedule to bring “Ride Like the Wind” to more platforms, and we hope to have an update on that soon.
P.P.S. It does mean that fixing bugs in “Ride Like the Wind” has a lower priority, though that’s still happening.
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.
Although we have a build approved for the App Store, we’re still fixing bugs and making small changes. There’s not much time left before launch, so we’re trying to triage issues to make sure they aren’t likely to break anything unexpectedly, and that QA will be able to verify that the change actually works.
We’re also still busy revamping our web site and marketing.
Our plan is that Ride Like the Wind is the first in a series of six related games. You’ll be able to play them in any order, but the idea is that you can continue the story of a clan through the ages.
The designers of King of Dragon Pass, David Dunham and Robin D. Laws, have refined the classic game.
Compared to King of Dragon Pass, play is both simpler and richer. You’ll get to make more decisions in combat, and can appease an assortment of spirits as well as build shrines to your gods. You’ll explore an unknown land about four times as large, and can choose a special action to perform each year. Food production is less complex.
Of course, you will still have advisors with unique personalities, and will follow their stories over multiple generations. Your cows will show your prestige. And you’ll be able to visit the land of the gods.
We’re working hard to do the last final polish, so you’ll be able to enjoy the game at the end of the month!
In some ways this is just an arbitrary milestone. “Beta” is a pretty loosely defined term, indicating a point in the software development cycle when we think the game is close to the final product, but still has bugs. We don’t expect a lot of design changes, but things are’t locked down. In fact, I made a change to the main menu screen the day after declaring beta. But the main focus now is getting the game shipped.
That has two main components: finding bugs, and marketing.
Our QA team is still testing (especially since one of the last features added was a new scene), and we’re expanding outside testing to more playtesters (we still have a backlog, but let us know if you’d like to be added to it). I’ve also been running some automated tests, but they can take almost half an hour, so that’s not routine.
We’ll be ramping up marketing more once we have a release date. Given that the game involves exploring a story with some plot twists, we don’t want to give away too much too soon. But we’re starting to plan. We do know that we need to do our first video trailer, and need to find someone to help us make one. (Please contact us if you are available to do video production!)
The other aspect is making sure the game is fun, and the right level of challenge. There’s a lot of emergent story that can be tricky. This is another reason we don’t yet have a target date to release the game.
But overall things are going well. We’re definitely on the road to a release candidate.