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.
We just released a new version of “Ride Like the Wind” on the iOS App Store. A lot of the changes are fixes for bugs reported by players. (As a reminder, we want to hear about problems no matter how you tell us, but our FAQ explains the best way to send in reports.) Other changes came about because we’re working on a sequel and a port.
Developing a sequel means reusing as much of the game as possible. This can mean extra scrutiny as part of the code is made a little more general-purpose, or just because we’re running it in a different context.
Developing a port makes you play the entire game again looking for bugs. Sometimes the bugs are in the game itself, not in the new code of the port.
I try to avoid the typical “Bug fixes and performance improvements” in the update notes and explain what you’re actually getting. But even with a thorough list of changes, I thought it might be interesting to go into a little more detail. This is, after all, a development blog, so I’ll share more of what goes on behind the scenes. (A few of the changes don’t have any particular explanation, so are not mentioned here.)
New interactive scene
While working on “Lights Going Out,” we were discussing how clans relate to each other, and I realized there was a common way missing. I got this working in the new game, then made a similar scene for the first one.
Reworked emissary flow
The upcoming game will let you send emissaries for new purposes. On one hand, we didn’t need to change “Ride Like the Wind.” On the other, we were working on a port, so why not make the change once (before the dialog was ported)? The original approach was a little inconsistent if you were dealing with feuds, so the new flow gets rid of that rough edge. It’s also an opportunity to show more advice.
Improve compatibility with iPhone 4s
One player was using the smallest possible phone. The experience is still not optimal, but it’s a little better now.
Better handling of 10.5 and 11 inch iPad Pro, and 12.9 for map
The 11 inch iPad Pro didn’t exist when we were working on the previous version. Our original design was for the 9.7 inch iPad. Although the UI is adaptive, some of the art was designed for a specific aspect ratio. And, the newer devices also have safe areas for rounded edges or system UI.
Correct bonus for 3 treasures
I found some inconsistent coding while looking for how to best implement a “Lights Going Out” treasure. To make sure it doesn’t happen again, I added a unit test.
Fixed a couple curses
Cursing another clan had different effects in different scenes. The same curse is now consistent wherever you choose it.
Healers are much less likely to be war leaders
I also fixed a bug that occurred if a healer happened to be the best war leader. At the time of battle, the game picks an available person with good leadership as well as good combat. That may be strictly logical, but it’s not plausible that someone devoted to the peaceful healing goddess Erissa would direct warriors to attack.
Fixed bug that might have caused some scripts to be queued twice
This one was player-reported, a very rare combination of events.
Fixed some typos and incorrect recommendations
This was probably the most commonly reported category. Again, thanks to everyone who pointed them out.
Fixed crash after deleting saved game
This was probably the most benign crash possible (the app did delete the saved game), but also one of the more commonly reported ones. It was also hard to figure out exactly what was going on. I tried to fix it several times, but finally figured out a way to reproduce the crash and fixed it.
Distinguish between several ways to connect to the next game
Now that we actually have the next game in development, we’re working on making it meaningful that you played the first game (while at the same time making sure players can begin with the second chapter and not feel left out). There were some copy-paste errors that could have affected a few of the story paths.
Tip for ritual misstep
Another context-sensitive note about how unpredictable the Gods War is seemed appropriate.
Very minimal support for keyboard
The Windows and Mac version supports keyboard input. The level of support isn’t as strong, but if you happen to have a keyboard attached to your iPad, you can use it in a few places.
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.
I have a master’s degree in computer science. About half my career has been working on general software (like the Opal outliner and the built-in book reader for Apple Newton), and the rest on computer games (including paid gigs at Shenandoah Studio and GameHouse).
How did you get into the industry?
I first started working with computers for money while in high school, though this was more keypunching and other operations-type things for the library and the school district than actual programming. I did some of that while in college.
My first game writing was for the fanzine Alarums & Excursions, which was my initial connection with Robin Laws.
I was also part of the community of Glorantha fans, both online and at conventions. That’s certainly how I ended up being able to do King of Dragon Pass with Robin Laws (he writes about our meeting at Glorantha Con 4).
What was the first gaming product you worked on, and in what capacity?
The first two digital games I made aren’t really products. I made an American football game while I was in middle school. My friend and I played it on the Olivetti Programma 101. You’d pick a play by running a secretly-chosen magnetic card though the reader, the defender would type something, and then the offense could type an “audible” to react. We had to keep track of field position and score separately, since each play was reprogramming the device from scratch via the card.
And I collaborated with Forrest Johnson on a text adventure game which was probably too ambitious, and was never finished. I was the programmer, and Forrest did the text. We had a nice working prototype, but were trying to come up with a system that could handle almost anything. Basically, it was an engine for parser-based text games.
How were you introduced to Glorantha?
Technically it was because a friend and I were looking to play something together, and I bought a copy of White Bear & Red Moon. I’m not sure we ever did play it. I did send in the included postcard, and Greg Stafford sent back a copy of his zine, which expanded the game a little and had some information about the setting. I don’t think any of it really stuck (though I saved the copy of Wyrms Footnotes).
My real introduction was through RuneQuest and Cults of Prax, which fleshed out Glorantha enough to be truly complelling. I played in Ron Boerger’s campaign which quickly ended up in Pavis and the Big Rubble, wandered up to Griffin Mountain, and spent time in the Borderlands. (My character in Ron’s game makes an appearance in King of Dragon Pass.)
What inspired the format of King of Dragon Pass?
Greg Stafford and I worked up the basic game structure, first by mail and eventually in person. For me, the big inspiration was the 1991 computer game Castles, designed by Scott Bennie. The basic game was about building castles, and defending them against attackers. There were also random interruptions, where you had to make decisions about minor crises, such as your workers being terrified by a werewolf. I found this more interesting than making castles and wanted to make this a core part of the game, rather than something that didn’t seriously affect game play.
The Icelandic family sagas were a big factor too — plucky settlers farming and adventuring over multiple generations.
I can’t speak for all of Greg’s inspiration, but I do remember on my visit he made a point of showing me the 1988 game Hidden Agenda (I recollect it as all green, though perhaps that was his monitor as screen shots seem to be white on black). While you’re also dealing with crises, the key element here was picking your advisors.
It wasn’t much of a stretch to make this Gloranthan, picking your clan council instead of cabinet ministers.
How did it develop from your first conception to the final game?
The basic outline of King of Dragon Pass must have crystalized pretty quickly, because I think the final game is actually pretty close to that first conception. Obviously there were a lot of details that needed to be added, like the look of the Orlanthi, tribal negotiation, the scripting language, and heroic combat. But it always had advisors commenting on decisions that were linked via an economic model (which they also commented on depending on their expertise).
What was the most challenging part of the project?
In Six Ages, making sure the player knows what to do turned out to be a problem. One aspect of this was explaining the basics of game play. We’d come up with a nice system of contextual tips, but it wasn’t until we had people who had never played King of Dragon Pass try the game that we realized that the tips didn’t really give you an overview of how to play. Especially since several aspects of the experience are very different from other games. So we had to create a short scripted tutorial.
The other aspect is that it’s hard to communicate the goal of the game when it involves something of a plot twist. In King of Dragon Pass, the name of the game tells you your objective. I tried to add as much foreshadowing and explanation as possible, given the constraint that it has to be conveyed in-game by advisors who don’t have any idea about the plot twist either.
An alternate answer might be: bringing the game to more platforms. (In an area where we got lucky with King of Dragon Pass, we were unlucky, repeatedly.) Fortunately it looks like the current approach will succeed.
What was the best part of the project?
Making King of Dragon Pass was one of the great experiences of my life. I worked with some extremely talented people to create something that had never been made.
Six Ages couldn’t quite capture that (for example, Greg Stafford had retired, and this was a essentially sequel rather than a groundbreaking game), but it was another chance to create a pretty special game. And once again I was working with some amazing talent. This was an opportunity I had been hoping to have, and it finally worked out.
And it was a chance to make a similar game after having worked another ten years or so in the computer game business, and put into practice everything I’d learned since making King of Dragon Pass.
Other than Six Ages or King of Dragon Pass, what’s your favorite computer game?
That’s always a hard question! I’ve been playing them since the 1970s, which covers a lot of games. On the other hand, I’ve spent a lot of that time making games, which meant I don’t play them quite the same way most players might.
These days I seem to spend most of my relaxation gaming on games that I can play away from my desk, and which I can dip in and out of. Two Dots on iPad is a tactile experience — but I doubt I would enjoy it on a computer screen despite very competent design. And I have been playing Fallen London in a web browser for years, for its great writing. I don’t know if it’s a factor but both of these have mechanisms that cap my play time, which might prevent burnout.
I suspect my favorite is The Secret of Monkey Island, which was funny and well crafted, with a great soundtrack. And the satisfying ending was one of the inspirations for King of Dragon Pass.
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.
I’d promised an update about the work moving Six Ages: Ride Like the Wind to more platforms, but I just realized it was only via Twitter. So here’s the official note, from our publishing partner Kitfox Games:
Six Ages Steam Release Delayed
Six Ages is more than a myth or a legend — it’s going to be playable on Steam (hopefully)… but not as quickly as we’d initially planned.
Unfortunately, the original programmer we contracted in the summer didn’t work out, and although he had to visit the emergency room a couple of times, he’s thankfully recovering now. But we have had to re-start the porting process with a new porting partner.
We’re happy to be working with Rusto Games, a small outfit in Finland (three cheers for Finland!) who are big fans of King of Dragon Pass and Six Ages, which makes us big fans of them in turn.
We aren’t sure exactly what the new release date is, but we’re hoping to hit desktops (PC and Mac) spring or summer 2019. You’ll be the first to know when we have more details. In the meantime, David and the team has been making lots of bugfixes, so it will be the most polished release of the game it can be.
Thanks for your patience and support!
Victoria, Tanya, and the Kitfox clan
As they point out, the silver lining is that this gives us more time to find and fix weird edge case bugs (such as two random events occurring in a specific order and timing).
Rusto Games has made significant progress, so I think we’re still on target for our promised date (see our FAQ): 2019.
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.