About The Recent Schedule, and TLF Updates

A really great question from a recent post:

Hi Chris – Is the last federation pretty much the final product now? Unless I’ve missed something the last update was June 6th to 1.24 -25
Before that you were changing every two or three days. Thanks

I’ve posted a few notes about this in the Off Topic section of our forums, and I think some bits on the TLF forum as well, but not everybody sees every post, and I didn’t ever collect everything in one place.  So here we go!

What’s Been Going On Lately?

The Last Federation is not the final product any more than AI War is, in the sense that those games are intended to evolve over years.  Others like Skyward Collapse and Bionic Dues are the final product, but these two — AI War and TLF — are currently ones that we consider in active long-term development.
The lack of updates on TLF has been due to a number of factors lately.

Some have just been scheduling things with trying to make sure that our other projects don’t languish — for instance, there’s not enough art for TLF to be working on, so I have to get design stuff in place well enough for Blue to be working on art for Spectral Empire, even though I’m not going to be doing heavy design there for a little while, and Keith won’t be starting coding there until early July.  Since right now I’m the sole programmer on TLF, that means that sometimes I have to set that aside to help manage things with the other projects, since I’m also the designer and producer on all of them.

Another issue was some personal stuff that came up and impacted me for a week and a half or so there in a major way, so that set me back in general.

Another factor has been the website redesign, as well as the (still in progress) work on redoing our site store.  That takes an amazing amount of time, but it’s been something we’ve sorely needed for a couple of years now.  Now was finally a time where I felt like I had enough breathing room to do it (there’s always other stuff to be done with games, but if I never set aside time to work on these other side things then they simply never get done — I’ve been really wanting to do this site redesign since something like 2012, because Joomla really wasn’t working out for us).

Another factor is that I’ve been trying to work on better steamworks integration for our games, particularly for linux.  TLF’s steam achievements don’t work on linux, and I also want to get steam cloud support on our steam games in general.  Once I get that working, then I want to get Valley 1 and 2, Skyward Collapse, and Shattered Haven all ported to linux.  Tidalis will remain PC and Mac only, and AI War’s linux port will come after 8.0 comes out in August.  So that one will be more delayed.

Yet another factor is that I’m trying to plan an easier way to install expansion packs for our games, without requiring an actual installer.  “Just unzip into your main game folder” works for windows machines, but on OSX and possibly linux there is not a merge-folders-when-unzipping natural behavior.  Instead it just blows away entire folders, which is, ah, a big problem.   It’s not remotely insurmountable, though, as our normal in-game updater already solves that.  So I just want to make a form of expansion-unpacker that more or less does the same thing.  This will be important for our non-steam non-windows customers coming up when with the TLF expansion, as well as with our other games that have existing expansions when we do updated packages for them that include other OSes, etc.

And lastly, when it comes to the actual updates to TLF itself, the time that I do have for that has been temporarily spent on the expansion.  Some of that actually has gone to other changes to the base game, but there are substantial changes to underlying systems there, and so I want to make sure and get all of that in at once, and then do those as a beta update rather than an official update so that we can have a set runthrough of testing all at once rather than having to go back and forth between beta and official updates a lot, or stay in beta versions for a long time.

What Will The TLF Update Schedule Be Like In The Future?

As with AI War, that’s really going to vary depending on the time period.  There were some periods in the history of AI War where we went 6+ months without an update because it was in good shape and we were working on other things.  Then we came back into periods with updates every 2-3 days for a month or two.  And then many other extended periods with a release every 1-1.5 weeks or so.  That’s the current expectation for TLF from our end, given the level of interest the game has had.

When the TLF expansion comes out into its beta form, which should be within 2 weeks (I said that before, I know, but some other stuff came up as you note above — apologies, that usually does not happen), then expect a flurry of updates every 2-3 days again for a while.  Focusing both on tweaking and balancing the expansion content, as well as making generalized improvements to the base game.  When the expansion launches officially, most likely in August, then the base game will be considered 2.0 alongside the new expansion’s release version.

After that… right now it’s too early to say, but I’m expecting that we’ll likely be in a period of releases every 1-1.5 weeks for a while, as we’ll be working on Spectral Empire in the main.  Assuming interest remains high in TLF, then at some point we’ll work on a second expansion for TLF, and during a month or so period there we’d see heavy development again with tons of updates to both the base game and then of course work on the expansion.  If you look back at the history of AI War updates, you can see that’s more or less how it works out.

Completely as an aside, we tried the approach of not doing expansions and just doing tons of free updates to the base game with Valley 1.  Valley 1 sold very well at the start, but partly because of our persistent post-release work without any sort of paid additions, we’re still very much in the negative for having made that game (aka, it cost us a hundred-ish thousand dollars more to make than we have made selling it).  With AI War, we’ve been able to balance things out more, having it be very profitable on an ongoing basis (5 years now!) partly thanks to the expansions, while at the same time using that to help fund updates to the base game, free for everyone, all through that time.  And frankly that covered the losses we took on other titles that were not financial successes — it let us have a bit more freedom to experiment.  Some of which led to great results, and some of which led to results that the market at least deemed not as great.

Anyway, so that’s our update model and the reasoning behind it, which is all super familiar to long-time followers of AI War.  Any questions, always feel free to ask!

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15 Responses to “About The Recent Schedule, and TLF Updates”

  1. Bruce McLeod says:

    Chris – thanks a lot for the information and everything looks fine. Just be careful not to pull a Zerosum games Public Relations disaster such as Dan Diccico is doing. Basically releasing what many consider to be a working version or giant patch of Stardrive calling it Stardrive 2 which may or may not work upon release. And charging all the kickstarters and customers again.

    I am deeply involved in the backlash and public relations nightmare he has brought upon himself.

    Glad to hear you are also continuing both TLF and AI Wars support as I have it and all the expansions and will buy your new one as well.

    Many thanks for your open and frank discussion of what is happening.

    Bruce “buddy” McLeod
    I’m spartacus on the Stardrive forums

    • Chris Park says:

      Makes sense! And yep, we never charge for fixes or whatever. Heck, we gave Valley 2 away for free to all Valley 1 customers! In terms of expansions, they add more content and that’s it; basically around $7 for that, not the price of the full game again. And then for the evolution of the main game, that gets partly funded by its own ongoing popularity (knock on wood), and the expansions (which in term help to drive the base game popularity). It’s a model that’s been super popular with our players for about 5 years now.

      TLF is something that some people feel is less polished than they want or expect, while others are quite happy with the experience as it is. This seems borne out in reviews and in player commentary, although of course everyone always wants MOAR (me included!). Anyway, I can’t speak with any impartiality on which camp I think is correct (certainly I stand behind what we’ve created, so you can guess which camp I fall into), but I always see room for improvement in everything I do, so I’m always really happy to be given a chance to do that when feasible, too. I view it kind of like with books where it comes out and is great, but then the author later releases their “definitive edition” that fixes some typos and continuity errors or whatever. Ender’s Game comes to mind for me with that.

      Anyway, perhaps all that is TMI, but that’s basically my thought process. Hope that makes sense!

  2. Chris Park says:

    As usual, there’s a lot more discussion about this one in the forums: http://www.arcengames.com/forums/index.php/topic,15907.0.html

  3. Alzarath says:

    Hey there. So happy to see your games finally being ported to Linux. I lost hope. Might I ask why Tidalis won’t be coming? Members of the community are disappointed to hear this and I’m sure they’d like an explanation.

    Anyways, thanks on behalf of the Linux community. I’ll definitely check the rest of your games that I don’t own out.

    • Chris Park says:

      It’s been a slower process for us than I had originally anticipated, and for a while originally we just decided to test it with our newer games and get the kinks worked out before trying to backport and then also have to support those. But the intent was always to backport everything.

      For Tidalis… the main problem is that game is just not a popular one, and we’re still something like $50k in the hole from having made it. We’re not going to be making up that gap any time soon, and in order to port the game to linux we would have to upgrade the version of unity for the game from 2.something to 4.x, which is a huge jump. The odds of that causing some various support issues unrelated to linux and general less-functional-ness for a while is pretty high, which would be a distraction and yet more money that we’d never recoup on that title.

      Shattered Haven also isn’t very popular, actually is less so, but we’re going to be porting that across because it’s on a much more recent version of unity and so the chance of new bugs from that upgrade is something we’re really familiar with (and is as close to zero as any sort of upgrade ever is).

      So the TLDR is that it’s really a matter of the age of the engine that Tidalis is on, and us not wanting to open up a nest of support issues with it.

  4. Great update. Arcen continues to be one of, if not the, best companies for sharing long term plans. I love the continued support of AI Wars and glad to see TLF will be a continued project. I have no fear that Arcen will do something crazy like the Stardrive deal.

    • Chris Park says:

      Thank you for the vote of confidence! We’re gaming consumers as well, and so we just basically try to treat people as we want to be treated with the other games we play, too.

      • Bruce McLeod says:

        Dear Chris

        I used your answers to me in their entirety Chris as an example of how things should be done by a developer. I titled the thread

        ” A lesson from a real developer (Chris Park of Arcen games) on how to handle an honest question.”

        I think the observations and responses from gamers may interest you. I hope I have your kind permission to leave the post up.

        Bruce McLeod
        I’m spartacus

        • Chris Park says:

          Absolutely, always feel free to quote me on anything I say in public. I appreciate your asking, but there’s no expectation of privacy on my end when I post things in a public forum. I also do not differentiate between “press releases” and “forum comments” in terms of what I say. What I say is what I say, I’m not sure why the venue would make any difference to anyone.

          Anyway, I’m not looking to get embroiled in a mess with another developer, and honestly I don’t know them or anything about their situation, so I can’t comment. I get the gist of it from a brief perusal, but as a general rule I try not to criticize my peers, particularly without knowing all the facts.

          For instance, the Project Zomboid guys got a ton of flak for a lot of reasons, and they mishandled some things in terms of how they spoke to people, but I “know” them through the general network of professional indies, and their side of things rings true to me. I think they were trying their hardest, made some mistakes (we all do), and seemingly came out doing well on the other end of it. Though I don’t follow it really closely, so again I’m not really in a position to comment.

          Which is not to say that I disagree with what you are saying about this other developer you are talking about; I don’t have any opinion on the matter at all, since I don’t know the facts. But obviously if your allegations are true, given my nature you can guess what I think.

  5. folexe says:

    I pray for double byte character processing and the TrueType font file Supported that I can translate into Japan,
    I was able to translate it in AI War v3.0 (Zenith Remnant).

    http://cgi.members.interq.or.jp/world/fol/diarypro/data/upfile/208-1.jpg

    • Chris Park says:

      Unfortunately not, as we’re using bitmap fonts, which are a lot more flexible in general for us (styling and coloring and whatnot) when working in a defined character set. Obviously it’s definitely less flexible when looking at a larger character set.

      THAT said, there is absolutely nothing stopping anyone from replacing any of the fonts in our game. They all use the standard spritefont format, and the only real restriction is that all your characters have to fit on one image. Since that image can be 4096×4096 if need be, that’s not really an issue I would not think.

      Textboxes would still be iffy, because the font on them can’t be changed. But for everything else you could replace it. There are a variety of good spritefont editors, but the most flexible and highest quality that I’ve found in my experience is Shoebox: http://renderhjs.net/shoebox/

      Anyway, our game itself supports unicode, so there’s no reason to think that if you mapped to the spritefont properly using the also-unicode shoebox stuff (I THINK it is unicode, anyhow), then you could have nice replacement fonts for ours. It would then be a matter of just making sure that you tweak the sizing of your replacement fonts so that they fit well with ours, etc.

      Although, in retrospect, AI War and Tidalis don’t use our newer GUI system, come to think of it, so I’m not sure if that actually works there. *Slaps forehead* All of our later ones would work as I described above, though. :/

  6. iggzy says:

    I appreciate this update on the updates. You have done a great job updating the game already and I look forward to the future ones.

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