A few words on Redux

We’re often asked whether the original game will get a patch, and indeed this was one of the first ideas we pursued in the aftermath of the brand relaunch.

The version you can currently buy on Steam is the same as the last one Red Redemption uploaded before they finally closed their doors in 2011. The only progression subsequent to this occurred a couple of years later in 2013, when a community member called Delnar Ersike released an unofficial patch for the base game he’d been working on as a personal project.

Delnar’s work remedied many outstanding bugs in the game scripts, and also made some long-desired improvements, such as displaying numerical card effects to the player. However, there were many parts of the game that remained inaccessible to Delnar, which frustrated many of his more advanced proposals.

Come late 2015, Soothsayer had announced that work on a sequel had started, and the directors were considering how to make best use of the resources at their disposal. It was very early days for the company, with a new team to build, and many uncertainties to resolve. As part of improving our capabilities, giving the original game an official patch seemed like a pretty good idea.

With that in mind, it was clear that Delnar, with his remarkable understanding of the game and prior experience, would be a great person to have involved. Fortunately, he had independently heard news of the brand relaunch, and he established contact himself. Together we began exploring what cooperation might be possible.

Another person we had got in touch with was Richard, one of the Red Redemption programmers who had worked on the original game. He too felt the desire to make advances on the 2011 version, and we welcomed the chance to add his expertise to the team.

With both these talents on board, we felt we had a chance at rebuilding the old game code, making a completely new version possible. Internally, we christened the project “Redux”, and explored what exciting advancements we might achieve.

Delnar had never been able to patch the DLCs for the original, so fusing Delnar’s improvements with the Tipping Point version was the first basic goal. If we achieved that, then other previously-impossible things became doable too. Localised versions, with non-Latin alphabets, for example. Unlocking the code for modding, so we could have ongoing product support. Bugfixing, new scenarios, and data revisions, all looked to be feasible. Indeed, it got to the stage at Soothsayer where interest in Redux was nearly rivalling that in FOTWO.

By early 2016, we felt nearly ready to inform the community about what was going on. The project seemed to be going well: we had the source code in an online repository, with Richard and Delnar making great inroads on getting the code to compile. Momentum and excitement were building.

However, it became rapidly apparent that we had a major problem: the task was far more complex than any of us involved had conceived.

The game code, even though it is only six years old, is the product of a vanished time and place. The systems it was built on, the networked studio environment of servers, development tools, and software libraries that Red Redemption’s talented team had assembled in over a decade of making computer games, are no longer in existence.

Delnar and Richard tried extremely hard to rebuild a functional approximation of the Red Redemption development environment, but even with modern coding tools, the task was Herculean. The original game had been programmed in an extraordinarily intricate manner, created as it was before the days of Unity and its fellow middleware platforms, which were just beginning to appear on the scene.

The Fate of the World development did make use of an early version of the OGRE platform, it is true, but this was not the only tool used. The game scripting was in the LUA language, while the game designers used an online tool developed internally with Python to implement the different scenarios, card designs, and game events (these were the bits that were accessible to Delnar). Finally, the project also made use of Red Redemption’s bespoke User Interface code, which had evolved with them over their many projects, and which required a very high level of experience and expertise to make work.

Delnar and Richard – both of whom had limited time to contribute – eventually were forced to admit that the immensity of the task was beyond what was possible under their contracts, and with regret we decided to mothball the whole project.

The proposal does remain theoretically possible, but would require us to dedicate at least one full-time programmer to the task. That’s not something Soothsayer could do last year, and it’s not something we can do right now. It is, though, something we may be able to do in future.

As we’ve said before, the year ahead is critical for Soothsayer; it’s our best chance yet at getting FOTWO into full-time development, and seeing it through to completion. When and if that is underway, the prospect of renovating the original game may once again become feasible. Many of us here would love to see that eventuality come to pass.

As always, thanks for reading, and we’ll be back next week, with more updates on how the MVP ratification is going.

The Fate team





Economy of scale

Early in the week, we finalised the design that’s been our primary concern recently – the negotiation screen, which is the key new feature we’re adding to the sequel. It’s a really important function, designed to quickly resolve complex negotiations with multiple agenda points and multiple participants.

For us, it’s an essential addition: recent news has amply demonstrated the impact politics has on environmental science and mitigation, and we want to be able to demonstrate the tensions that are likely to arise in future international diplomacy.

With the negotiation wireframes agreed and briefed into the artist, we moved onto reviewing our designs for what we call “Visualisers” – user interfaces whose primary purpose is to explain clearly the complex systems that together make our global simulation.

We’ve already done a substantial amount of work on the subject, but a lot of our previous work has been “blue sky”: we recalled what had been done in the first game, and proposed how we would make improved versions of them in an ideal world. The result was a document with numerous different interface screen designs, each tailored to clearly explaining one aspect of the game.

What we hadn’t considered while doing this work, though, was how expensive they might be. Many of the new designs require considerable art assets to be made, which is a lengthy and expensive process – and this raised some problems.

As we mentioned last week, our primary focus right now is the Minimum Viable Product – the most cost-efficient version of the game we can possibly make, thus giving us the best chance of successfully raising the funds we need to begin full development.

A lot of these designs are just not implementable at the MVP level, primarily due to the art costs. We’ll have no more than 12 months of art labour (possibly less) to build the entire game, and this means we need to be very canny about the features we include.

The upshot is that we’ve cherry-picked only the most essential and important aspects of our various designs, and are now reworking them into new, syncretic forms.

Although we’ve had to say goodbye to some cherished ideas until finances permit, it’s also been a rather liberating process. The design that’s emerging is elegant and refined, and has made us question many of the assumptions we’ve made so far. We look forward to picking discussion up again on Monday.

As always, thanks for reading, and we’ll be back next Friday to let you know our progress.

The Fate team


The £60,000 question

It’s been another week of wrangling and reiteration, as we refine our vision for the core game components ever-further. It’s an essential process to ensure that we can make the most of our limited art budget, and also that our Kickstarter campaign is correctly costed.

The last point is particularly salient. Our primary goal is to bring the sequel product to market, and this means we need to be very clear on what making it will entail, and how much it is likely to cost.

Most of the discussion has focused on what the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is going to look like. This is the core game experience we can build and launch if we hit our first funding goal on Kickstarter. Many of the features we’d like to add to the game would require we hit “stretch goal” funding targets making them difficult to design for. We estimate that the MVP will cost in the region of 60,000 British pounds. That will allow us to run a four-person team full-time, albeit on subsistence wages, for about 6 months, thus taking Fate of the World forward for the first time since 2011.

To hit the figure of £60,000, we took a close look at our feature list to work out which parts of the game are critical to the experience we envision. Our list of potential improvements is long, and it is hard to rule out features we’ve grown fond of. Tempers have occasionally frayed, but overall it’s been a very healthy process, and one which has exposed more than one necessary design pivot.

Of course, we’re secretly hoping we soar way past that minimum figure once the campaign goes live so that we get to implement all our exciting new designs, with nothing left on the drawing board. However, we feel we must be realistic about what can be achieved through crowdfunding. We’d much rather be in a position where we succeed in moving the game forward for our fans. Each feature that we detail comes with a cost in effort and complexity, and much of our debate has been around how much work to invest in stretch goals that may not eventuate in this round. At present we feel nailing the core negotiation game and deferring other features to a later round could be the right path.

Overall, we’re feeling positive. 2016 had a lot of lessons for us as a company, but we managed to come through them largely intact and wiser for the experience. 2017 is shaping up to be productive.

As always, thanks for reading, and we’ll be back with another update next week.

The Fate team

Interesting times

Workwise, we’ve been very design-focused this week. We’ve started with our old work on the diplomatic interface, and subjected it to a rigorous reiteration. This is one of the first new design features we worked on – you can read our earlier thoughts on the subject here.

We’ve taken the key concept of an innovative deal-making system, and expanded on its function considerably, to ensure it beds in with our wider understanding of the product – we have a lot more answers now than we did when the last article was published.

It’ll still be a while before we have shareable assets, but the core team is clicking back into place in a very satisfying way. We’re really starting to see the benefit of shared focus, as everyone brings their strengths to the table – by the beginning of March, we anticipate that the company will be at its highest level of function ever, which is very gratifying for all those who have kept the faith over the last couple of years.

Meanwhile, the news continues to urge our efforts onwards. 2016 was reported as the hottest year ever, with a worryingly low levels of arctic ice coverage. There’s increased political sensitivity around the subject of climate change too; we linked to the uncertainty surrounding the EPA last week, with the Trump administration’s actions confusing and worrying many. There have even been rumblings of war. It is certain that we live in interesting times; through our efforts we hope to make them more understandable too.

As always, thanks for reading, and we’ll be back next week with another update.

The Fate team


State of the art

It’s been a turbulent week in the world of climatic science, with concerning events occurring across the spectrum. Nevertheless, we press on with our project. As we move towards our Kickstarter campaign, our first business is bringing the existing artwork up to display quality.

Over the past year, we’ve worked on numerous designs, draughts, sketches, and concepts, as we’ve contemplated what the key components and features of the new game are going to be. Some just need to be revisited and polished, while others will need considerably more iteration.

Thus far, quality concept art has been difficult for us to produce internally; many of the early team members were multi-disciplinarians, and lacked the specific skillset necessary to take the work to a sufficiently high level (this is the main reason we haven’t shared many pictures with you previously).

Fortunately, though, we’ve just welcomed a new Concept Artist into the team. They’ll develop our first high-quality graphical assets from the work that’s already been done, and we intend to be sharing some of these very soon – including the first look at a major new feature we’re adding to gameplay.

Overall, the pace at Soothsayer is picking up day by day, week by week, as we move past some of the difficulties that have impeded us. As the team gets busier and busier, events in the outside world remind us of the value our product can have, to help people understand the weighty, complex problems we all face.

As always, thanks for your ongoing support and interest, and we’ll be back with another update next week.
The Fate team

We go again

Much has happened since last we spoke, but we enter the new year with a revitalised core team, and a clear purpose.

The next five months are critical for Fate of the World Online. Our vision is undiluted: to bring a fresh and important new game about global warming to as many players as possible, including free use for educational institutions everywhere.

To achieve that vision, we need to go into funded production; we’ve taken the project as far as we can using volunteer work and organic growth. We envisage that the upcoming development will be broken into three phases.

Phase 1 will deliver a minimum viable product (MVP) that we can open up to beta players. We think that will take six months from start of production.

Phase 2 will expand on that MVP over about 12 months to reach a public launch of the game.

Phase 3 will continue to revise and improve the game as it is being played publicly, responsive to player comments and criticism, as well as emerging science.

Funds for phase 1 we envision coming from a Kickstarter (watch this space!).

Funds for phase 2 we will raise from private investment, based on a successful Kickstarter proving interest.

Phase 3 will be funded from our earnings. Our goal overall is to create an ongoing, sustainable way to develop Fate of the World Online for you, and everyone else who cares about the impact of climate change on humanity.

We hope you will come along for the ride, and if you know anyone, or know anyone who knows anyone, who might help us – please put them in touch!

Best regards,

The Fate team

Contractions of increasing frequency

We are now returned from our camping holiday, which was largely characterised by heavy rainfall and inadequate bedding. Nevertheless, a fun time was had by all; campfires were lit, marshmallows were toasted, and various other items were experimentally cremated by curious children.

With such bucolic delights in the past, the project continues. This week, progress has mostly consisted of addressing a range of contractual concerns that have been raised by prospective team members, as we seek to increase our developmental capabilities.

Clauses have been questioned, hypotheses have been posed, and semantics queried, but we’re cautiously optimistic that all these issues have been answered satisfactorily, and we’re ready to move on to the next stage.

One other very cool thing also happened; last night, we received an e-mail from David Waddington, Associate Professor in the Department of Education of Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.

He informed us that he and his colleague Thomas Fennewald have been studying Fate of the World to see how efficacious it is for educating people about climate change. Their research is not yet fully complete, but they have already presented some of the early findings at the Games+Learning+Society conference, which took place in Madison, Wisconsin last month.

He sent us the pdf of the poster displayed at the conference, which you can look at here. He also included word clouds generated from participants’ responses on the subject of climate change before and after they played the game, which indicate some of the changes in understanding people had from getting hands-on with the issues humanity are likely to face in future.

Needless to say, we are hugely gratified that our game merits academic research, and we keenly await seeing David and Thomas’ completed work. Detailed analysis like this is fantastically valuable to us as developers, and we’ve already taken on board some of the points raised here (for example, it’s unlikely that the sequel will be quite as Nintendo Hard as the original).

So, all in all, not too bad for the first week back at work. Things should pick up even more next week, as the new school term begins, and team members can turn their efforts from childcare to content creation. Thanks for reading, and tune in next week for another exciting instalment!



August personages

August is the month people traditionally go on holiday in the UK (myself included — I’ll be heading off camping with my family in a couple of days), but interesting things continue to happen.

Highlight of the week was meeting up with Robin and Richard, two of the programmers on the original game. Robin managed the entire programming team at Red Redemption, as well as coding the front end, while Richard was responsible for implementing the “spinning globe” interface.

We met up in one of Oxford’s more picturesque taverns, and spent a very pleasant couple of hours sipping beer, reminiscing fondly over a project that one of the team members memorably described as “an eighteen-month death march”.

Making computer games, in case you’ve never done it, is really quite hard. This is true at the best of times, but is even truer for Independent developers, where extreme shortages in staff, funding, and other support is basically normal.

There was much laughter as we recalled the many difficulties we had to transcend. Basic deficiencies that existed in the tools, and how we got around them – like the card-based “Babbage Engines” we made, to cope with the fact that a key part of the game engine couldn’t do a direct compare between two data values.

That the Steam achievements are still bugged to this day. How the first-released version of the game wasn’t even completeable on the highest level, due to a bug caused by a late gameplay change (thank you, hot patching). But, most of all, how proud we were to have achieved what we did, overcoming all these problems to launch a game whose aim is to educate people about the world around them, and how human history is about to enter its most crucial phase.

The evening ended far too soon, and we went our separate ways (though not after a spot of Zen Navigation on my part, I sought to exit Abingdon). Will there be some upshot from this meeting, relevant to the future of Fate of the World? Well now, that would be telling. All I can say is this: we hope to make another announcement very soon, and people on the mailing list will be the first to know.


Diplomatic efforts continue

It’s been a pretty good week; momentum seems to be picking up again, and we’ve been having some very positive discussions with some very interesting people.
As a result, we should be sharing some more exciting news with you very soon — those of you on the mailing list will be first to be told, of course, so if you haven’t signed up yet, all you need to do is use the widget at the top-right of this page.

Meanwhile, a lot of my time has been spent working with Clive, working on the third iteration of the Diplomatic interface, which is shaping up to be one of the most important (and innovative) parts of the whole design.

Original FOTW didn’t have much time for diplomatic niceties. As head of the GEO, you were an unelected and unaccountable authority, dictating policy as you saw fit, and following no agenda but your own (as if that could ever happen).

In reality, diplomacy has a massive role to play in humanity’s struggle to tackle the challenge of climate change and other environmental issues. Diplomacy is the process by which consensus is reached; conflicts resolved; concessions agreed; and cooperation achieved. It is what we must turn to, if we wish to see a future characterised by peace, and not war.

Of course, we’re not the first game to feature a diplomatic interface, but ours needs to do things that few others have attempted.

For example, most other games treat diplomacy as a one-on-one affair. You have a meeting with another national leader/sorceress queen/alien exarch, and between the two of you work out a deal that seems mutually beneficial. Click the button, sign the deal, job done.

FOTWO, in contrast, is a game about summits, particularly the UNFCCC Conference of Parties, where legally-binding climate treaties are made. Lots of diplomats, representing lots of different nation groups, all trying to come to some sort of mutual understanding about the scale of climate change, and how to solve it.

To model this well, we’ve had to tackle a lot of design issues. What’s the best way to formulate a binding agreement that covers multiple parties? How do we show feedback from different diplomats clearly and effectively? How do we make the process sufficiently quick and interesting to resolve that you won’t mind doing it multiple times during a game? And how do we make the whole thing look pretty?

We’ve got answers to some of these questions so far, but not all. Once we do, you’ll be the first to know about it.

Business As Usual

It’s been two weeks since the last Dev Blog, the longest period since we announced the sequel.

Fact is, there hasn’t been too much to talk about. Clive and I have been working on some Diplomatic interface mock-ups, but they’re not ready to share with you yet. Contracts are still being tinkered with, and potential new team members are being sounded out, but these things always seem to take much longer than one feels they ought to. People get sick. They need to cover childcare unexpectedly. Meetings get postponed because urgent client work pops up. Business as usual.

Business As Usual (BAU) is also the name of a key part of the Fate of the World game engine: it’s the very important code which models basic human economic activity, in response to the resource shortages, technical advances, and ecological setbacks that occur in the decades ahead.

The principles are as follows:

* A region’s economy is divided into Agricultural, Industrial, and Commercial sectors.

* Each sector consists of labour (individual workers) and infrastructure. Infrastructure consists of the buildings, machines, tools, and installations which allow workers to be more productive.

* Infrastructure is measured as “Capital Index”, where one unit of CI is the equivalent of a single workers’ productivity. So, if each farm worker has a tractor which allows them to do the jobs of 10 additional workers, the Capital Index would be 10.

* Both workers and Capital Index have resource requirements – how much water, oil, gas and coal they need to use. They also have energy requirements too – raw electricity, which can be generated in many ways. Finally, transport requirements are factored in.

* Once all this data is established, then each turn the BAU code will attempt to fulfil each economic sector’s resource requirements. If these are completely filled, then the sector will output 100% of its possible GDP, and a small amount of Capital Index growth will occur. However, if there are resource shortages, then GDP output will be hampered, and Capital Index is likely to shrink.

Of course, there are all sorts of other misfortunes which can befall Capital Index. Floods, fires, famines, political upheaval, even nuclear war… there’s a lot of bad stuff that can happen in the future.

If you own FOTW, and want to have a poke around the system, you can delve into the data using the “Stat Telemetry” button shown on the screenshot below. This brings up an interactive data set which shows the flows of resources through the BAU engine – just click on a particular lozenge to see more details about it.

FOTW stat

What sorts of improvements to BAU are we discussing for FOTWO? Right now, it’s looking like a complete overhaul, though the core principles will be preserved.

First, we’ll be modelling data at a national level, which means we can be more accurate and nuanced in how we measure things.

New resource types will be included. Aluminium and iron production will both be added, rare earths and phosphorus too.

Land usage will feature for the first time, allowing us to measure capital density, and closely model the impact of environmental decay.

Finally, we’ll be expanding the economic sectors into different subtypes: Arable, Pastoral and Mariculture for Agriculture; Resource extraction, refinement, and manufacture for Industry; and Retail, Services, and Finance for Commercial.

Creating these systems changed forever our understanding of how the world works. We hope they inspire you in the same way.