[Prototype] Shifting Sands

edited in Projects
​Shifting Sands is a 4X game where you manage a single city sprawling across the sands of a desert that changes shape when you don't keep your eyes (or city) on it. It's mostly a prototype to test this mechanic at this time, so there's no goal yet, and very few repercussions for a failing economy.

​Full screen is definitely recommended!​ Click on the blue button in the bottom right.​

The game can be played with only the mouse, and most of the controls are described in-game. Actions consist primarily of left-clicking on units, buildings, buttons and right-clicking to order units to move or placing buildings. Instructions are given at the top and can be toggled on and off.

Information not described well in-game:
* Stone, Wood, and Tech resources do not stockpile and are automatically spent each turn. Tech is unused at this time.
* Stone and Wood are both used to construct buildings by assigning them to buildings under construction. Use the "Assign Wood/Stone" buttons in the bottom right, when they're not assigned they'll automatically be assigned to a newly placed building.
* Most buildings require both Stone and Wood to be built, but Wood can be used instead of Stone, whereas Stone cannot be used instead of Wood.
* The Water icon with an outline are considered water sources, and water sources cause water to be harvested on adjacent tiles (equal to the water source minus one).
* Units cannot move onto mountains or water tiles, although buildings can be placed on these tiles, including roads.

I haven't had a chance to playtest it often yet, so feel free to ask anything, and I'll try to answer quickly.

Note, this is obviously a prototype so a lot of things are definitely wrong with the game in its current form, that said, any feedback would be appreciated.​ For example, feedback on the UI isn't very useful to me as it is currently mostly tacked together to make it playable; any interesting ideas, or low-hanging fruit suggestions are still valuable though. The buildings and their dependencies on each other (via upkeep) is also not set in stone at all. I'm somewhat fond of the water source to food/wood/gold pipeline though so please feel free to criticise that.

The questions I'm most keen on having answered:
* Do you find there's something to latch onto with regards to the exploration -> sandstorm -> re-explore mechanic?
* What goal do you think would lend well to the type of game? My current thoughts are to require you to find certain structures in the sand and link them to your city, but that doesn't feel good enough to me here.
* Do you think combat makes sense for the game to some degree? I was thinking enemies could spawn out of the fog-of-war adding a need to keep tiles uncovered (instead of waiting for good tiles to generate).
* What repercussions make sense to you for running out of food/water/gold? Currently only stone/wood have repercussions to running out/low.
* Obviously there isn't much content at the moment so cities will somewhat quickly feel like they're maxed out (building anything new in a single turn, and never feeling like you'd run out of a resource), do you think this won't change by adding more expensive buildings unlocked via tech etc.?
* Please feel free to share any ideas you think could mesh well with the current iteration of the game, or even propose drastic changes you feel would improve the game.
Edit: I forgot these:
* Does exploration feel interesting enough to you? Are you excited if you find water if you're running low, or when finding a bunch of special tiles?
* Bonus question: You might notice that any location is valid for any building, let me know if any changes in that would be interesting. I've been testing it with the "requirement" of groves only being placeable on tiles that supply wood already.

Thanks for having a look!


  • edited
    Hey everyone,

    As per feedback I got from someone (who refuses to post on the forums :P) I've uploaded a new build where I added some structures on the map that generate in the 'fog' and gives you rewards if your units walk over them. There's no feedback of this happening at the moment (apart from your resources going up in the top-left in most cases, or your next building completing faster in the case of wood/stone). I do want to add feedback for moving over them, and also want to make their rewards less straightforward (in the direction of anomalies in Stellaris perhaps). Some examples I think could be interesting are: Reveal the elevation of a large area nearby, reveal some bonus resources nearby, or even cause bonus resources to spawn on its own tile and its immediate neighbours.

    I've also added some placeholder indicators to show where a unit can reach in a single turn and where buildings can be placed to help make the game a bit easier to get into. I know I stray from some assumptions made in other 4X games, but if you generally like these types of games, your feedback is particularly important to me.


    Edit: If anyone knows how to make the Unity WebGL builds interact better on itch.io (wrt full screen mode) please let me know, thanks.
  • This is way too intimidating for me, I expect to have to spend an hour or more just figuring out the concepts and the presentation just doesn't look attractive enough to make that investment.

    Maybe work of your UIX and presentation a bit?
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    @critic Did you try running it or is that based off the screenshot? I realise that my screenshot could look overwhelming but it should hopefully be much simpler to play than it looks in that shot. The reason I'm asking is because I don't expect it to take nearly that long to figure out, but I could of course be wrong.

    I'm also hesitant to invest a lot of time into improving the UX and overall presentation (all I've done so far was to try and make it playable by people without me being there to explain things). The reason for this is because I want to figure out if the main idea and mechanics are worth it first. Thanks for the feedback nonetheless as it does help me figure out how easily I can get feedback from others for this project.

    Perhaps it would have made sense to start sharing the game on here before it was at a point where feedback would be very useful just so people could see it come together and as a result have an understanding of the gameplay already.
  • It's based on the screenshot, how can I download the game, the web-player is kind of awkward?
  • @critic I've uploaded downloadable builds. I forgot to add a way to quit the game, so in order to quit you'll need to alt-f4 or something like that. Sorry about that, and thanks for trying it. Let me know if you run into any other issues with the builds, I've only tested them on my (linux) laptop, and one other windows one this once now.

    Also I'll try to upload a more chill screenshot as well :P
  • edited
    Hey, I played very briefly and was actually surprised that the concept was making me want to play the game, if it was a bit more polished I would have tried to make a functioning city network. Some thoughts are below.

    [-]Map is a bit weird, the elevations and gaps between the tiles are a bit distracting, you don't need a 3D mesh at this time, rather make the terrain flat and make the tiles more distinguished.
    [-]Would be nice if it was possible to rotate the map.
    [-]Resource collection is not clear, I still don't know where the resources come from, except from the buildings I seem to have other resources coming in, not sure where from.
    [-]I'm able to build structures without having the resources stockpiled, it's traditional to have to have the resources for the build.
    [-]Building menu doesn't show what resources will be gained by making the building, just the cost of resources to make the building.
    [-]Not sure what the relationship between the tile resources and buildings are.
    [-]You could get away with 80% of the screen space used for the build menu if you used icons instead of words.
    [-]Resources UI in the top left really doesn't need to be that large, smaller icons would suffice.
    [-]It's not clear how to build a second city.
    [-]Would be nice if buildings had a bit better 3D models, I understand that it's not a priority, but even a ~6 primitives per model can go a long way, even if you don't know 3D modelling, it's hard to identify what is what.
    [-]Seems that a sand storm clears buildings that are in construction, I don't think it should do that.
    [-]Would be interesting for armies to collect resources as they pass over tiles.

    It's a nice concept, my mind wondered off into having a small civilization for a few seconds.
  • @critic Thanks for giving it a go!
    I've responded to your thoughts below, no need to follow up on it, but I think it helps me to express them this way as well.

    * On the 3D mesh thing. The elevation does matter a bit, and the cliffs prevent movement (which I felt can make exploration more interesting) but point taken and I'll have a think about making it more readable, I might put in a small asset for the cliffs. Endless Legend distinguishes between different elevations nicely.
    * Rotating the map is a cool idea! I'll have a look at doing that some time. Might also help slightly with the first point.
    * I'd be curious to hear more on what resources you were expecting and when the outcome doesn't line up with your expectation. Basically, the tiles you place buildings on get modified by them and then give you all the resources displayed on the tile after construction. Additionally moving a unit over a ruin (the brown cylinders) will give you a bump in a random resource, but this is not communicated at all.
    * I have a few thoughts on this point so I'll cover that at the end.
    * The buildings are somewhat complicated as they do a variety of things. I could ultimately describe it via iconography but didn't want to do that yet. A description of what a building does is written in the bottom left panel if you have something seleted in the build menu though.
    * If by tile resources you mean the special ones where there are bonus resources, then there is no relation beyond them increasing the base tile yield. Otherwise the relationship is described in the bottom left panel as in the previous point.
    * On the building menu taking up a lot of space; Using icons is a good suggestion, I do want to change the wood and stone referenes to icons at some point. Will try to get to that sooner rather than later.
    * Haha, the resoure panel is obnoxiously big yes. I made it quite big to help people figure out the icons the first time, but after that it's definitely too big. I also aligned it to a power of two for image scaling reasons but in retrospect, that's not really needed. I'll shrink it down a bit. Do you think the icons were clear in-game or did you only understand what the resources were when looking at the bar?
    * It is (intentionally) not possible to build a second city. I want to avoid the scaling issues of other 4X games, where at some point managing each city becomes tedious. I could probably not have the city center shown in the building menu at the start, and allow you to found a city in a different way to avoid confusion. Do you think multiple cities would be preferable though?
    * I like the suggestion of increasing the recognisability of the buildings. Admittedly I didn't think of colour-blindness for the prototype. I'll try and do that soon.
    * Skipping the sandstorm interaction, I do have something in mind for armies collecting limited resources. I'll elaborate on that system when I've implemented, but I'll think on this a bit more anyway, thanks.

    Now for the two points I skipped:
    On the traditional stockpiled construction, I feel that the stockpiled construction you refer to, as well as the per-turn approach I used are both "traditional" ways to handle construction. In my experience, 4X games traditionally use the latter where the "production" resource is automatically spent each turn on whatever is in a city's construction queue. On the other hand, in management games, buildings are often bought with a stockpiled resource like a currency, although they sometimes take up some form of a resource during production as well. Obviously, other games also use one or the other, and there are other models as well (depending on what you define as a resource).
    I opted for the per-turn approach as I've been working on the game as a 4X, and in my experience that's the traditional approach there, although I did try to shake things up a bit. How it works is probably not very clear yet though, and I believe I can work on that at some point. Perhaps even just making it that you need to have something in construction before allowing you to end your turn, and adding the option to convert stone and wood into another resource as a "construction" like Civilization does.

    On the sandstorm clearing buildings under construction, that is intended. At the moment it would be too easy to save ideal tiles by putting down a building plot and never constructing it until you can spare the resources. Granted, if I change the building cost model to be spent out of a stockpile instead of per turn, that issue would not exist, but for now I prefer the current model. I could add an upkeep cost for buildings under construction to offset that, but I ultimately want people to require different strategies to save tiles. I do admit that the current buildings don't necessarily present interesting enough options for that though. Did you notice that roads also disappear in the sandstorm? What do you think about that?

    Finally, do you have anything to add on the topic of exploration by any chance? And did it seem as daunting to play when you tried it as the screenshot made it appear? I still need to update the screenshot :P

    Thanks again for having a go at it and for your feedback!
  • Hey, let me address some of your questions.

    [-]I understand that you have higher terrain, but there is literally holes in your map that peek into the background, all the information that is on a that 3D map can be conveyed using 2D, while making it much easier to implement.
    [-]I get that the buildings are self explanatory, but having the game show me what the outcome will be just seems like a nice thing to have.
    [-]If you are going with a 4x perspective, there really shouldn't be anything stopping the player building more cities, for instance you could have a requirement that they are connected by roads, also I wouldn't destroy the roads after a sand storm, you could randomize the terrain under them though.
    [-]If you are going to go with constructing the buildings from a pool and not using stockpiles, you should indicate that somehow, like using a progress bar.
    [-]I'm not color blind, but still wish I could recognize the buildings by something else but color, also because of your 3D terrain mesh, the buildings don't always stand out of the terrain, I suppose this is a placement issue.

    I just feel like you are not conveying the meanings of all the concepts properly, mostly because of UIX issues, the concept of having the map change is solid and somewhat unique.
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