Clockwork Empires set for "Earliest Access" launch on July 18

Andy Chalk at

Gaslamp Games is taking Early Access to the next level with an "Earliest Access" release of Clockwork Empires. It's pretty much exactly what it sounds like: Buy the game now, get upgraded to the Steam Early Access version when it's ready and then get yet another upgrade to the full version on launch day.

"Earliest Access" may sound like an ironic gag at the expense of the Early Access trend, but as Gaslamp Games explained, there's actually a good reason for it. "Earliest Access is our opportunity to take our testing to a larger scale than our internal testing while retaining as much of our ability to communicate directly with fans as possible. The game needs more hardware compatibility testing, large-scale bug hunting, and some more UI iteration before we’re ready for Steam," it wrote. "Also some fun stuff will be added through the process because we can’t help ourselves."

Earliest Access is expected to last about a month leading up to the Early Access release, the proper date of which will be announced near the end of July. That will represent Clockwork Empires' "final stage of evolution," which will see regular monthly content updates and a gradual drive toward completion. The hope is to have the game launch-ready within nine to 12 months, but the studio said it "absolutely cannot guarantee a final release date" at this point.

A more detailed look at the state of game can be had via the Clockwork Empires Development Progress page, which details the progress of various aspects of the game and also explains why the team has decided to go ahead with Earliest Access.

"We've hit the point (as of July 2014) where the game is getting very visibly better with each update we send to testers, and the experience is becoming less about basic functionality as it is about playing the game itself," it says. "Hitting this tipping was the most important criterion for us for any form of early access and we're at the point where people who want to participate will be able to watch the project take shape, submit bugs, help us prioritize features, suggest how to resolve design issues, and play the game largely crash-free."

As Evan described in his hands-on preview, Clockwork Empires is a sort of steampunk colony simulator in which players are essentially doomed to fail, as they fall victim to the unearthly horrors of an awakened Cthulhu-esque demon. "We’ve given characters an incredibly intricate set of tools allowing them to construct a world and unleash cosmic horrors in vast, complex ways," Gaslamp said. "The player is left with their own choices for his or her characters - there are rewards and consequences for each action. Eventually it unravels into a remarkably entertaining character-driven cataclysm filled with incredibly horrifying-yet-delightful possibilities – death, disease, prosperity, science and more - without a true victory condition."

I don't know about you, but that's a game I want to play. The Clockwork Empires Earliest Access releases goes live on July 18.