Word Gets Around

In Six Ages, your relationships with other clans are vital. The game tracks a number of factors for each clan, including how much they like and respect you, any slights they hold against you, and whether they have a formal alliance or feud.

These factors are all dynamic. They’re adjusted not only when you interact with a specific clan, but also when you do something that is likely to be newsworthy and spread to other clan. For example, in one event a combat hero can gain the respect of a clan and its neighbors. This OSL code handles that:

otherClan.fearsUs += 40
otherClan.likesUs -= 40
# all clans adjacent to otherClan .fearsUs +=20
a = AdjacentClans(AllClans, otherClan)
foreach c in a {
    c.fearsUs += 20

Other events have even wider impact (this one on all Rider clans):

# LikesUs+=3 * q (all Hyaloring otherClans)
h = HyaloringClans
foreach c in h {
    c.likesUs += 3 * q

But these are just numeric values. As Sin Vega discovered in her attempt to play as a petty jerk, your deeds can earn you a more specific reputation:

“We are known for our rudeness”, says the lawspeaker later that year. It’s nice to feel appreciated.

“We are known as backstabbing weasels”, says the lawspeaker at Sacred Time. I might have gone too far this year.

These reputations reflect a suggestion (case 8801) from our QA lead Liana Kerr, who wanted a way to give players a stronger connection to their clan.

Behind the scenes, there are a number of trends or events that you can become known for. A single act of mockery towards guests won’t give you a valley-wide reputation for rudeness. But they accumulate, and if you keep at it, sooner or later this will be the most significant thing you’ve done. By the same token, attacking your allies is a shocking breach of tradition and protocol (not to mention good sense), and that gets everyone’s notice. Over time though, any of these can be less notable in people’s memory if you no longer do them.

Our explorers visit the Great Glacier

So each “known for” item has a numeric value, which indicates its significance. Visiting the Glacier is a big deal, but not as unusual as managing to defeat the Alkothi. But if you raid several times each year, the raid score will accumulate until it outweighs defeating the Hell Men. Or perhaps by then that feat was too far back to matter any longer, since the score for each item is reduced every year.

An advisor says, “The clans of the valley know us for our many shrines.”

An advisor says, “The clans of the valley know us for having heroic clanfolk.”

Most of these actions are also tracked numerically through the standard relationship system (if you can defeat the Alkothi, you will gain much respect throughout the Valley), but others are a great way to reflect other player accomplishments like temple building or nurturing heroes. And the next chapter, “Lights Going Out,” will have items specific to its story. It’s a flexible system (we added several more late during development), and is a colorful and concise way to comment on the player’s story.

Year In Review: 2019

TL;DR: We released Six Ages: Ride Like the Wind for PC!


In March, I gave a talk about the design of Six Ages (and King of Dragon Pass) and how they work behind the scenes. This should be available in the GDC Vault.


We made a special demo version of the game to show at PAX West. (This gives a super-limited introduction and ends after one year.) Kitfox had a computer in their booth dedicated to this. It was great to see people actually playing the game, and meet one of the artists in person for the first time.


While the game was being ported to PC, we were fixing bugs discovered by our iOS players. Originally we had hoped to make a single release, but rather than delay things, we released 1.0.8 to the App Store.

Lights Going Out

We had begun work on the second chapter, Six Ages: Lights Going Out, last year. It’s always hard to know exactly how many interactive scenes a game will need, since it isn’t until you play for a while that you know what’s missing. But assuming chapter 2 is about as complex as chapter 1, we’re about halfway through scene writing and coding. And the scene-specific QA is about 30% complete.

We don’t have any release information yet.


Our goal was to release Six Ages: Ride Like the Wind for Windows and macOS in 2019. What that really meant was by mid-October, since indie games can’t launch whenever they feel like it and expect to get any attention. We needed to avoid as many similar game releases as possible, and beat the Christmas release cycle. (If we had slipped into November, we probably would have had to hold the game until 2020.)

It was a bigger project than we had expected, but Rusto came through and we did in fact release on 17 October.

Having a game on Steam has been a bit of a learning experience, since I tend not to buy my games there. I was surprised that you can buy a game you cannot actually launch. (We’re sorry that the game requires Windows 10, but there isn’t anything we can do about it.) GOG was different yet again. It was nice to have a publisher deal with many of the details.

I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get a lot of reviews, though perhaps we had done too well getting coverage of the iOS version, and it was hard for game sites to justify a second review. Plus, there really was no great release week — we came out at the same time as Disco Elysium, for example. Still, I was pretty pleased to see the Rock Paper Shotgun review.

And, we have been nominated for a few awards.

The port also gave us a way to sell Stan LePard’s soundtrack, which we had gotten requests for since the iOS release.


I have no idea if the Indiepocalypse is real (since Six Ages was my first PC release), but it does seem like the publishing world is different than a year ago, and definitely since we re-released King of Dragon Pass. Although we are busy with the second Six Ages game, I think it’s a good idea to think about what might come after.

I have been making notes and trying things out. The prototype shown here won’t be the next game, since it felt boring. But maybe I will have something to share next year.

PC User Interface

We spent a lot of effort making sure that the mobile version of the game worked well on all screens, from the smallest iPhone to the largest iPad, and from the low-resolution (132 pixels/inch) iPad 2 to the super-crisp (458 pixels/inch) iPhone 11. So we wanted to make sure that the personal computer version worked equally well with a mouse, keyboard, and PC screens.


iPad and iPhone shapes

iPhones and iPads come in a pretty large variety of screen sizes. Many iPhones have a 16:9 aspect ratio and many iPads are 4:3, but you need to adapt to different shapes. For mobile, we had two main rules: always use the entire screen, and since the pixel size is constant, show more content on larger screens (i.e. cover less of the text and require less scrolling). A secondary rule was to show all artwork — it’s never cropped.

As most games treat them, PC screens are actually pretty limited in sizes. The actual pixel resolution doesn’t matter so much as the aspect ratio. Most screens are 16:9, some 16:10, and some 4:3. Other aspect ratios are rare.

All PC screens are large enough that we can show the menu and dashboard on the left at all times, like our iPad layout. And stretching management screens from the nominal 4:3 design to 16:9 generally worked well. That covers most of the three dozen screens, including dialogs like Emissary and Sacrifice.

4:3 iPad

Things got more interesting when there are illustrations (like interactive scenes). Pat Ward’s design assumed a 4:3 screen (those were the only iPads when we began the game), but I was able to add some blank space in a few places to deal with things like the 12.9 inch iPad Pro, where picture plus advisors no longer filled the screen.

16:9 PC

But significantly wider screens makes a difference. With a 4:3 aspect ratio, the text parchment covers part of the illustration. With a 16:9 screen, text can be on the side, leaving all the art exposed.

On a 16:10 screen, the text would end up too narrow if it were restricted to the side, so it will cover artwork.

Unfortunately, we ran into some layout issues with 5:4 screens. These are rare, so we violate the “fill the screen” rule and letterbox. (This is pretty common for games.)

Unlike iPad, where the larger iPad Pro lets us show more information, larger PC screens are just larger. Since text is larger, it can use more pixels, and look crisper. Other than that, the game looks the same on my 5120 * 2880 display or QA’s 1366 * 768 laptop.


Six Ages uses three custom controls: value sliders, filters to choose what’s shown (e.g. feuding or allied clans), and a similar picker to sort leaders.

Sliders don’t need a large target to adjust the value, since a mouse is much more precise, and you can click on the bar to increment or decrement.

In a standard desktop app, you’d probably use a popup menu to filter a list. Mobile UIs don’t usually use popups, which is why we had a horizontal picker. But for the PC, we went back to the default. The precision of the mouse means that this can be more compact.

We probably could have used a popup to sort leaders, but I wanted to emphasize that one control would show you different information, and the other the same information in a different order. So we kept the horizontal list.


Rejected Knife Cursor

Most games use custom cursors, to fit the game theme. I really liked the idea of using the curved knife from the game logo, since once you flipped it, it was at the same angle as a standard arrow cursor. But nobody liked how it worked in practice. One playtester called it a “feather.” It was also unclear how large to make it. We eventually settled on a more traditional arrow, but in the colors of the knife.

Arrow Cursor

Many UI elements need a rollover state, to indicate that they will do something when clicked (and aren’t a decorative element). We didn’t need this for the mobile UI, so it was something we had to add to our buttons. (Thanks to Xin Ran Liu for working with me on this!)

Rollover is also a great way to show transient information — like a tool tip. We had a few places where you tapped to get extra information, so these were easy candidates for rollover. (Note that you want to see advice while interacting elsewhere on the screen; you click to show it, rather than have it disappear as you point to a response.)

The game has lots of scrollable lists and text, so the mouse’s scroll wheel usually scrolls. We broke this convention to support another common game convention: using the scroll wheel on the map zooms in or out.


Although the game can be played entirely with the mouse, it’s convenient to have a keyboard shortcut for common operations like dismissing news or picking a response. To make this work, responses are numbered.

And you can reveal an illustration behind text with the space bar.

I had wanted to let the player show advice via the keyboard, but decided not to delay the game to implement this.

Gold Master

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.

Windows and Mac Release Date

It’s been a long road, but we are planning to release Six Ages: Ride Like the Wind for Windows 10 and macOS on 17 October!


It will be available on Steam and GOG, and you can wishlist it on either store.

We’ve updated the screen shots at sixages.com so you can see what it looks like on a computer. And our publisher, Kitfox Games, made an updated trailer.

P.S. We have no news today about other platforms.

Release Notes

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

Emissary arriving and deciding on mission

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.

Some Notes on Porting

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.

Achievements screen shot: “Most Recent Fort builder”

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.

June Status

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).

App Store

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!

Chapter Two

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.

Port Progress

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.

We’ll let you know when we have one, but the best way to find out is to wish list the game on Steam.

The Six Ages Team: David Dunham

What’s your background?

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?

David Dunham
Illustration by Ellen Barkin

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 got into the overall game industry by writing articles and reviews for game magazines like Different Worlds and Space Gamer. This connected me with people like Greg Stafford and Forrest Johnson.

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.