Clockwork Empires

Clockwork Empires first video released, dev team explains key systems

Evan Lahti at

You may recall our enthusiastic interview, preview, and video coverage of Clockwork Empires. The indie project is a Dwarf Fortress-like, Victorian colony sim that we’re anticipating with zeal, partly due to its Lovecraftian underpinnings.

After months of heavy development (punctuated by a few dev blogs), Clockwork’s Vancouver-based indie creators Gaslamp Games have published the first video of Clockwork Empires. Gaslamp also underlined that it plans to release the game in 2014.

I spoke with Gaslamp about its progress on Clockwork Empires this year and got the studio to clarify its current thinking about the design of some of the sandbox game’s key systems, excerpted below.

Gaslamp on citizen relationships in Clockwork Empires

Daniel Jacobsen, CEO: The characters will sit around and talk to each other, and if they find out they have any things in common when they’re having their conversations, suddenly they’re in a relationship. It’s amazing. If only life were this simple.

Nicholas Vining, Technical Director: You like potato chips? I like potato chips. Let’s get married!

Jacobsen: Anyway, this a pretty superficial thing. That, in itself, is not particularly uncommon as a level of sophistication for character relationships. But for example, the next step is to have characters recall the conversations they’ve had with other characters, and based on having a sufficient number of positive experiences with a given character, they might decide to start a relationship in which they’ll go through what will probably, initially, be very short courting rituals. Then maybe suddenly they’re married, or they’re definitely in a relationship.

Vining: Or spurned.

Jacobsen: Or spurned, yeah. Maybe the other person isn’t interested, or is previously engaged. What’s really cool about this is that the simulation is now working, and we’re basically cramming this stuff in as fast as we can. It’s leading us to these situations where we’re like, we can do anything we want with this. What is the best way to describe these characters?

Vining: We have a lot of good moments in the office where a terrible thing will happen and everyone will cluster around to look at the thing that just happened and see that we’re going in the right direction.

On insanity

Vining: Madness is a thing that will trigger cult-like behavior, as well as other behaviors too. Ranging from walking into the sea, never to return, except as a different person than you once were, to just plain old murdering people with a nearby agricultural implement.

David Baumgart, Art Director: Just running a well-ordered colony will sort of dampen these effects. If everyone goes to church on time and has a drink in the evening, everything will probably be okay.

Jacobsen: If you’re supplying them with the things that will keep the madness at bay, so to speak.

Vining: Objects have madness, buildings have madness, characters have madness. A mad architect will make mad buildings that make people go mad in them when they work.

Jacobsen: It’s an interesting design construct. I think this is one of those things that we’re getting really close to needing to test very thoroughly. Madness on a character level can be managed. But once it starts spreading to a higher level, it may be difficult to convey to the player exactly how to deal with it or where it’s coming from. At this point, the character-centric madness is something that we’re excited to pursue. The other stuff is really interesting, but it has an exponential curve that could be very dangerous. We’re going to try a few things and see what people like.

On the Clockwork Empire itself

Jacobsen: The Empire is sort of… Its effect on the player within the game takes the form of prestige that you can gain for various actions, and also quests or missions that you can complete in the game. Most of the effects of these things… The effect is about 50 percent meta-game and 50 percent within the game. It’s not something that we’ve fleshed out enough to really want to talk about at this point. If we were to tell you about it, it would be basically where we were at before, which is that by accomplishing missions for the Empire, for various groups within the empire, or for perhaps different nations altogether, you can gain prestige with which you can basically buy favors from the various groups, as well as getting some insight into their goings-on, their inner workings.

On the animal kingdom

Vining: Let’s see. We have a great variety of beetles. Beetle collecting is important.

Jacobsen: Quite large beetles.

Baumgart: There’s some naturalist from the 19th century who said that the creator must love beetles, because half the species that exist are beetles. Or something like that. Riffing off of that, we’ve got tiny beetles, large beetles. They act like livestock or work animals, beasts of burden.

Jacobsen: Beetles of burden.

Baumgart: We just have this whole beetle thing going on. There’s this Mongolian… No, it’s just a death worm.

Jacobsen: It’s based on the Mongolian death worm sort of mythos, though.

Baumgart: That’s become our corpse disposal.

Vining: There’s the northern vomiting fox.

Baumgart: We have a fox. It’s adorable. It doesn’t vomit.

Vining: The plan is that it will vomit. And we have an animation for this.

Baumgart: We’ve talked about it. We’ll see. We have a capybara and a tapir. We have all these strange South American mammals. The approach was not to take completely normal animals, but some that are just slightly more obscure, from the Ice Age or something. There are no cows. We have the aurochs, which is a species of cattle that went extinct in like 15-something. A giant cow, basically. It’s stuff that’s at the fringes of the animal taxonomy from the time.