You would do well to look at the development log "A new beginning" - several of the issues you raise are addressed there.
Recent community posts
Personally I find myself disagreeing with some of your assessments, but then again those have to do with what I expected from That Which Sleeps and not so much with Shadows Behind The Throne itself.
"Failures are those which add complexity without a very strong reason to exist. Cities don't need to be constructed building-by-building, as this just adds design overhead. Investigators don't need to go from city to city, this only made the map a confusing mass of units moving. My initial aim for investigators was a vision of a game in which your enthralled lives in a dark castle past a forest, and kills off anyone coming to visit, isolating their village from the world, trying to stay hidden from the world at large as they built up power. Sadly, this just isn't feasible with the current map setup, and the map can't easily be changed without altering all other gameplay loops."
The biggest issue here is that the mechanics you were going for are meant for a different thing altogether. I like the idea of city buildings, I really do, and part of the fun expected from TWS no doubt was taking isolated territories, turning them into fortresses of darkness, and then launch massed assaults on the frontiers of civilization.
And strategies like that is where TWS and SBTT differ the most. TWS had (or intended to have had) features that balances these different approaches out. For example, if I wanted to the above, then I did not need to worry about the nations of the world merging into a gigantic superpower nation capable of taking on all my combined armies by themselves. Sowing mistrust and causing misdirection is easy when the game takes a cue from, say, CK2 or EU4 and you have different cultures and religions - and this applies to both lore and gameplay. Why should I care about some distant threat with huge armies when right at home there is a potential risk of heretics rising up? Why should I team up with infidels to defend their borders when it would be easy to pick up the carcasses of their empires and spread my own faith (and potentially culture)? Even in real life threats like The Huns or Mongols were not enough for the various nations to set aside their differences and work together for a brighter future, and even if they had inevitable issues would have arisen as a result of such strange alliances. Hell, if anything the actions of the Huns basically struck severe blows to the greatest extant empires by exacerbating cultural differences and resource shortages, and the Mongols did basically the same.
Consider the 'clue system' vs. the 'evidence' approach Shadows has. Shadows has none of the above features (this is not a criticism or derision - merely laying out information), and the ones it does have do entirely different things. 'Evidence' is not meant to indicate that a greater threat, the nature of which must also be investigated, is looming on the horizon. It simply means that a noble is dealing in sinful acts that must be punished - lo and behold, this is exactly what happens in the game. 'Threat' carries no weight beyond 'danger'. Hence when summing up whether to team up with mortal enemies or not, nobles often choose to completely set any personal ambitions aside and join up with nemeses to defeat the player's forces. Clues on the other hand were explicitly not about the player's servant at all (who would accrue 'fame/infamy' overtime simply by performing actions too often/too great in power), but rather about the nature of the player's character. This is why in TWS's intended gameplay performing actions not expected of one's character was meant to be a good way to throw off heroes - hey, it turns out Karth (in TWS's lore the creator of Orcs) was not behind this game's manipulations, despite orcs being pushed to attack civilization over and over by eldritch forces.
Finally, consider your vision vs. potential playstyles. In-game tools provided, Not everyone is going to go for Dracula. Not everyone is going to for Deep Ones or Orcs either. Some will love political manipulation, others will hate it. Ultimately what you need to do is think what you want your game to do - not what you want the player to do. So far in SBTT what I have seen is a classic Light vs. Dark thematic centered around nobility, all eldritch elements have come second to it. Hence what you might want to do is either keep expanding things or rework the way your existing concepts interact with each other (for example you could make the 'Dark' faction more akin to stereotypical demons, even if you keep the Lovecraftian lore, as those would be more suited for a game based around court intrigue... With their contracts and infiltration and all that).
All in all I am glad that work continues on the game, but I just wanted to say the above the above to offer my perspective.
Edit: Also please excuse the language but damn, the itch.io interface still confuses me after all these years.
===> SPOILERS AHEAD! <===
Playthrough and story
Having seen the two endings I think I get the meaning of the game. Or maybe I am reading too much into it, but I had fun thinking this out so why not write it down? Despite having tried to get a more "neutral" one in the second run, it turns out there being only two endings is justified. I will elaborate on the game, it's ideas, and what I think about it below:
The game starts by telling the player that "the kingdom of birds has fallen and will not rise again." While that is a reference to the phoenix bird, the way I see it, the bird "god" is actually a roc, which is more fitting for a malevolent being as the roc is actually said to be as big (or bigger than) mountains in mythology and eat elephants. I could think of no better villain for such a story.
Anyway, the protagonist emerges from it's shell and finds the roc who commands the little
birb burd to bring him food. The first task is easy, but immediately after giving the little bird the order to search for more the little bird runs into vulnerable and orphaned chicks. Here the "god" shows a disdain for weaker birds as he tells the protagonist to ignore the chicks and feed him instead, and right before that he even says that if the player wants to use checkpoints/teleporters ("return to me sooner") he would have to kill fellow birds yet to hatch.
From that point on, player choices determine the fate of the chicks, the god, the protagonist, and the world... Several rather frustrating deaths aside, specially if the player is trying to go for the best ending. Eventually the player finds another bird who resembles a cross between a robin and a hoopoe - the birds which, according to persian mythology, resisted the crow's influence and helped lead the flock of birds away from the mist and towards the path to meeting the "king of birds", or Simurgh.
At any rate, If the player remains loyal to the roc, the chicks starve and presumably the unborn are slain, their nests to be used as teleporters. This ending is the easier one to get and also rather unsatisfying - the hoopoe-robin chastises you for having been "led astray by power" and for believing blindly in heaven, whereas the world they lived could have been made into such a thing. I actually found the implication that the little bird was killed and sent to hell as punishment for the evil caused to be a poetic end.
If you choose to go for the good ending instead and feed the chicks (and also do your best to avoid murdering the unborn birds), the "god" becomes progressively angrier until he actively starts using his power to attack you, admitting his intention to destroy what remains of the world. While the game is at it's hardest, the ending you can get after slaying the tyrant-god is quite worth it: The hoopoe-robin praises you for your choices, saying that the world they live in can be made into heaven now that the kingdom of birds is no more. He ends on a hopeful note: "If nothing matters, why not let there be love?"
What I think about it
Again, assuming I am not seeing things were there are none, the game depicts a sick society at it's last throes where a weakened, cornered tyrant is desperately trying to finish off what remains of a deeply wounded world. At first I thought this was some sort of critique of modern day society, as it is implied there were other gods that formed the fallen kingdom but are now no more. But the whole "god commands bird to murder fellow birds" brings to mind biblical scenes and blind adherence to dogma more than modern decay instead.
The game is ultimately about doing what you think is right, but you will be judged for it. Do you really think some vague idea is worth more than those who are alive, or not yet born? Do you really think defying authority is worth it, even if it ends what is familiar to all? Which version of heaven is better to you?
Personally, I do not agree with nihilism as a philosophy. I never saw the appeal of it - to me things are not so much meaningless as they are subjective. There is a saying: "a man's trash is another man's treasure", so to me what a fellow person finds happiness and meaning in can be completely meaningless to me - and vice versa.
I also have to add that the game is quite inconsistent in it's approach to it. The bird who is opposed to the god is clearly espousing a morality that is not nihilistic - indeed, why let there be love? Nothing matters, remember? And when nothing matters, evil and good have no difference: Death is the same as life, joy is the same as misery, good is the same as evil. None of them hold any weight, zero, and infinity multiplied by zero is still zero.
While the good ending is more, well, meaningful to me as-is, I think perhaps it would have been better if the kingdom of the birds had been a good thing which the little bird attempts to serve and the other bird condemned the little bird's actions not so much based on morality but on futility - the kingdom has fallen and will not rise again, so all the protagonist has done is either delay the inevitable or hasten it, not really changing it.
Another approach would have been to ditch the nihilism entirely. This world clearly has good and evil defined, so why not roll with it from the get go? The hoope-robin asks the protagonist to consider the choices taken, but why not appear and judge earlier? Have him actively work against the evil god, condemn the player for not feeding the chicks, try to make him question Aevali's existence from the beginning, warn him that the "god" is actually a hateful entity. And when the die is cast and all choices are taken, rather than a bleak or hopeful outro you simply get what you worked for: The destruction of the world, or it's salvation.
Final words: It was quite an enjoyable experience, gameplay-wise though there are a lot of traps which could have been done without considering the game is more about moral choices than it is about platforming. At least that was how I experienced it. I could also talk more about the presented ideas but I think I have done enough about that already.
Also, yes, I was really bored. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Really glad rebellions are no longer a game-breaking issue! Glad I could give this one a try.
My experience has been generally pleasant, with the issue being some minor bugs and a major one.
- Some commands seemed to not work at random times, particularly the moving and calling commands.
- Moving command consistently refused to work under Lanitir, it would still refuse to work in other cities at random times.
- I seemed unable to influence characters with 3 districts in a city. This seems intentional, as no character in my games ever owned a full city, but I thought worth mentioning just in case.
- The hidden PoI featuring a battle refused to let me actually fight the battle with some characters. I tried first with a thief and then a mage, not sure if that is important or not but it was not until I slipped in an assassin that I actually managed to fight the battle and retrieve the forgotten knowledge.
- Sometimes, when moving, characters would jump from one point of the map to the other even if there was no connection (Hidden PoI > Vokar/Salin directly with no in-between travelling). I managed to induce this by ordering my agents to move from said hidden PoI to said other ends of the map.
Since the game is just a prototype and there is not much to do otherwise I tried to just play it until conclusion, it was surprisingly quick once the "rebellion spiral" is out of the picture.
Good work overall, I am sure it must have been difficult to implement all these mechanics. Goes to show you how unrealistic Josh's expectation was.
Gave this new version a try, same result as before - either I win before everything descends to chaos (endless rebellions + negative population numbers), or game becomes unwinabble.
Ideas: "Regime purge".: Make it so instead of rebellions going on forever, they reduce the population a bit and purge all characters who own districts as well as purchasing food so a new rebellion is not as likely to occur.
"Everybody on edge": If population is at 1000, a revolt does not happen (as that would effectively result in a depopulated city), but the unrest does as the idea name says and so agents are much more likely to be discovered. If they are found out, they are lynched, reducing unrest as the government uses them as escapegoats.
"Time for peace": After a new regime takes over, cut unrest in half, 2/3, or do away with it entirely.
I think it is a good short game but the premise is not correct. It should be: "Will Oceania be able to avoid a global nuclear war until it can come out on top ?" and not "Will Oceania be able to avoid a global nuclear war and come out on top ?"
Reason for this is that the war is unavoidable, so the only way to "win" as Oceania is to is to get your country on white levels.
I think the problem with rebellions is that they are currently a doomsday device. Either you win before rebellions, or you become unable to do so thanks to them.
The large issue however is that historically rebellions always served a purpose - and yes, they did happen in case of starvation although it was not the most prominent cause. An influential noble/clique might want to overthrow the government, religious unrest, the nobility supporting the wrong side during a civil war, foreign invaders being unable to assert proper control of their conquests, etc... However I realize that right now the game simply is not in a state to simulate those things, so perhaps the rebellions simply need time for their mechanics to come, as it were.
Regarding freezes: I noticed the game did not consume a lot of memory. I still reported the issue because a welcome message popping up in turn 42 does seem like a bug, although just to clarify it was my hard disk the one thing being heavily in use (I was performing a +100 GB installation), ram-wise everything was fine.
Played two games so far, it is nice that there is now a way for characters to reduce unrest a bit (which helps delay the inevitable, if anything).
My first game ended up in chaos as per 0.0.6 version, since rebellion took over three cities (and then four) before I could get their secrets. So far, if unrest spirals out of control there is still no way to get it back down, even with the unrest reduction in effect.
My second game went much more smoothly - I played against the game's unrest mechanic this time and went for the most unstable cities first. By the time they fell, I had already gotten their secrets and could claim victory.
Nothing new to report on other fronts, I will keep playing and if anything new pops up gameplay-wise I will comment on it. So far the new mechanics do not seem that huge of a change (my agents could still perform their jobs even while in the midst of faction wars, guild wars and other such things).
On an interesting note, the game seemed to freeze when my hard disk usage went up by a background installation, even going as far as giving me a black screen if I minimized and then maximized it. However once the installer got past the heavy load the game resumed just fine... Although it did give me the welcome message again for some reason (bear in mind this was turn 42, I had long closed it).
Right now it is very barebones, but it is a 0.0.6 alpha so it is to be expected. There are a lot of things that happen on the screen that the player cannot affect at all (characters can own city districts for example, but the player cannot order a character to take or cede control of one such districts directly or indirectly).
Out of several games, I have been able to win only 2. The other I did not lose, however I was rendered unable to reach a conclusion due to rebellions spiraling out of control. In fact, it seems right now there is no way for a city to go back to stable once a rebellion (beginning at 10 unrest) sets in. I have had a city go +125 unrest and into negative population, but otherwise no change - the rebellion keeps on going strong.
I am not exactly sure how the resource system works, but right now it appears that the capital is almost always on fertile grounds and/or rich, and cities with money seem to buy the others' food even when there is no need, leading to starvation and the unrest spirals I spoke before.
Investigators right now are utterly ineffectual. While I do appreciate it when I can convert them to my side, at the moment the challenge seems to be more about winning before rebellions can start.
Not much else to say at the moment, it is possible to play the game from start to finish but there is little to do (and yet that is more than we ever had of TWS, so props to you).