Grinding Gears: Clockwork Empires Doing ‘Earliest Access’

Just what every growing colony needs: shrines to dark gods.

The whole idea of Steam Early Access is that games on it aren’t finished, but people rightly expect certain (and sometimes unreasonable) levels of completeness, workingness, and polish. If a game is a bit too wonky when it hits Early Access, it may struggle massively to overcome spreading word that it’s a garbage scam. Needing time and more testers to give Clockwork Empires a going-over before it’s ready enough for Early Access, the gang at Dungeons of Dredmor creators Gaslamp Games are today launching it into what they cheekily call Earliest Access.

If you absolutely positively cannot wait to have a crack at the colonial city-building/Lovecraftian nightmare fun that made our John fizz and foam so much, Earliest Access will open tonight.

Clockwork Empires, to recap, sees you trying to build a (steampunk) colony in a America where you’ll find everything from fish people to eldritch horrors, and may end up dabbling in cannibalism or eating off meat trees. It’s a bit Dwarf Fortress-y in how much it simulates colonists’ thoughts, memories, and behaviours to allow exciting emergent happenings. John noted the wonder of the best soldiers being alcoholics because boozing after battle literally makes them forget, so they don’t brick it next time they see one of the horrors that tore their mate apart. Lovely.

You can slap down $30 now then at 6pm tonight get a Steam key for Earliest Access, which will become the Early Access version when it’s ready (in August, Gaslamp think), and finally the full game when it’s released.

“The game needs more hardware compatibility testing, large-scale bug hunting, and some more UI iteration before we’re ready for Steam,” Gaslamp say of Earliest Access. They’re clear the game’s still a bit wonky, as you can see in the delightfully detailed development progress updates. Raised expectations are a big cause of Early Access upsets, so they’re trying to manage them.

It’d be handy if they’d show off more of the game, though. While Gaslamp’s splendid development blog is filled with explanations and tales from the game, they’re light on video or even full screenshots. So here’s PC Gamer having a bash back in March (which obviously is outdated now):

26 Comments

  1. MistaJah says:

    This and Spacebase DF-9 look a lot alike.

    • Chalky says:

      I was rather disappointed by DF-9 but I’m a fair bit more excited about this game. It’s by the people who made dungeons of dredmor which was very good indeed and everything I’ve seen of the game makes it seem like their sense of humour combined with interesting gameplay mechanics will make this game pretty fun.

      I’m going to wait for steam early access though I think, to give it a bit of time to get over some of the bigger issues, but it’s definitely on my “to buy” list.

  2. jasta85 says:

    I gave in and signed up for the earliest access. I quite enjoyed dungeons of dredmor and this game is right up my alley. huge fan of dwarf fortress-like games, although very few of them manage to do a good job. hoping this one is one of those

  3. Synesthesia says:

    jizz and foam may need to be your new tab tooltip

    • Darloth says:

      Perhaps.

      Alas, that’s not what the article says. I also read that, the first time. Clearly we’ve been on The Internet too long.

    • jrodman says:

      Santorum?

  4. Merijeek says:

    So…I really like the look of this. It’s right up my alley.

    But I seem to recall some big stink involving DoubleFine and Kickstarter…and even on the Spacebase DF-9 “learn to play” they have one video from nine months ago…right above “We plan to do videos with each Alpha update, going over what you can expect in each new build. ”

    So, is it worth looking at? I’m a bit concerned just because I’d rather not buy in on a game that’ll fail.

    Should I be concerned or…?

    • Bluerps says:

      What has Double Fine to do with this?

      • Merijeek says:

        Right at the top of the page it says “A sci-fi building simulation from Double Fine productions”.

        So, ummmm, that?

        • Chalky says:

          Where? If I ctrl+f for “double” on this page all I find is your post…?

          I’m not aware of any relationship between these guys (who are best known for dungeons of dredmor) and doublefine. This also isn’t a sci-fi game. I’m so confused.

        • jasta85 says:

          this game is made by gaslamp games, I don’t see any mention of double fine on this page. check the clockwork empires official site, you can see the developer information and such.

          • Merijeek says:

            I think I see the problem. Mine was SUPPOSED to be a reply to MistahJah’s “Starbase DF-9” post.

            What I said probably would have made a lot more sense based on that context.

  5. Seafort says:

    Looks great but not for $30. They priced it way out of my impulse buy. Maybe later when the price is reasonable for what the game is but not now.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      And for ‘earliest access’ even. They should just allow people to sign up for early testing. That’s a service they can use, not something they provide. It’s a topsy-turvy world.

      • Chalky says:

        To be honest the price is probably an intentional attempt at discouraging everyone to jump on the earliest access version. The game is going to be pretty flaky and it seems impossible to explain to people that unfinished games are going to be unfinished.

        • MacTheGeek says:

          $30 will probably be the launch price. Charging the same amount for pre-Early Access is definitely a move to keep the impulse buyers away.

          I’m not sure about the idea of going public so early, though. It’s one thing to recruit some people with fairly-standard rigs for closed alpha testing, and quite another to throw open the doors while the building is still heavily under construction. Yes, you’ll likely have a larger test pool in the latter case, but how many of those “found bugs” will be due to outside causes (unpatched OS, unfriendly background apps, poorly-configured systems, etc)? Seems to me that you’d want to constrain your pre-alpha bugfixing efforts to the game itself, not go off chasing workarounds for ten-year-old sound cards.

  6. therighttoarmbears says:

    I have to be pretty much the last person to the party on this, but started playing Dredmor last week (looked at backlog, said “well, I have 15 minutes, let’s try something new, how about this”), and that game is awesome. Quite awesome. So, I have a lot of confidence that this will be a humorous, intricate, deep game. That being said, Early Access just isn’t fun for me. I have no desire to pay money to play test a game that is a mere skeleton of what it will become. I like my games fully fleshed out, thank you. However, everyone is completely entitled to like different things :). Does anybody have a counter argument? An awesome experience Accessing Early that is specifically related to the alpha/beta nature of the game?

    • Frank says:

      As you suggest, it’s a matter of taste, not argument.

      I like thinking about the design decisions behind strategy games, and early access let’s me chat about them while they’re still in flux. I’ve gotten early access included in a kickstarter, for +$5 in a kickstarter and in a bundle sale, all with post-release bonuses (Banner Saga, Rebuild, Aerena, respectively). It’s been more than worth the money.

      Banner Saga and Aerena were released pretty quickly after I started and were roughly feature-complete already. Rebuild still has a long way to go, but I am glad to play the game now rather than a year from now.

      I have other early access games from bundles that I’ve forgotten about, but have no regrets.

      • therighttoarmbears says:

        Exactly, sorry I used the word “argument”, I just meant “different experience”. And thanks for sharing, that seems like the sort of itch you might be able to scratch by being involved early :). Any other fun aspects of it? I’ve tried a couple early access things (dungeon of the endless, kerbal, and prison architect) and each time came away feeling that the potential was there in all of them, but they didn’t yet feel like a cohesive experience. I suppose I just want to play finished products, I dunno. I’ve been excited by the prospect of nuclear throne, but have purposefully avoided being involved in favor of the finished project, though I understand that there development is apparently a lot of fun to watch and interact with.

        • Frank says:

          A lot depends on the community and the devs’ engagement with it, which is hard to know ahead of time. I think you’ll have better luck in some genres than others, though. Older, somewhat creative types are into multiplayer turn-based tactics, it seems, but of course not everyone’s a fan (yet).

          And, yeah, with super open-ended, single-player games, it can be a drag (which is to some extent how I’d characterize the Rebuild beta and imagine the games you mention).

    • Didero says:

      I only have experience with Nuclear Throne and Kerbal Space Program, and I got both when they were well into their alpha.
      The benefit of these games is that their base is already (mostly) fully functional. The gameplay itself is set in Nuclear Throne, and there’s already a whole solar system to get around in KSP.
      The fun here is to see how the game slowly grows and expands. Every update adds little extra features, that, while not massively changing the game, make it interesting to play for a bit again, to see how the familiar expanded.
      But like I said, these two games are far less ‘alpha’ than a lot of other Early Access games, so it’s probably not representative of the entire group. But it is fun to see a game grow.

      • therighttoarmbears says:

        Well, when you put it that way, perhaps I should stay open-minded about it. :). I certainly see the appeal of watching things grow incrementally as much as the next person who plays video games.

        • darkath says:

          The thing about KSP is I think that the game was never intended to be “completed” any time soon. Basically their whole business and development process is based around early access (even before early access actually existed on steam). My Bet is they will continually expand and improve the game and when they’ll be done with it they’ll call it 1.0 then move on to their next project.
          But seeing how there is so much they can still do to make the game the ultimate space program (and explosions) simulator, i don’t think they’ll ever reach 1.0 :)

          Another important point : Sandbox games are really suited to the early access model because they allow you to experiment with the features, even if all the features are not in the game in. Prison Architect, KSP, Minecraft etc. were already fun sandboxes when they were released in their earliest form, and subsequent updates gave mostly more tools to play with the sandboxes. Early access don’t work with RPG though. Even if i pre-ordered Wasteland 2 I have no real desire to launch the game before it’s released in its complete form, because it would spoil me the experience.

  7. brotherthree says:

    I’m really looking forward to clockwork empires, even better to see a local crew working on it.

    Ill have to drop off some beers for the vancouver office when the game releases :P

  8. J. Cosmo Cohen says:

    I normally don’t buy into Early Access, but having followed this game for some time I feel compelled to buy into it. The “bugs” they showcase in the email updates are hilarious, so I’m hoping I’ll laugh more than cringe when I encounter them.

    Plus, it always seems like Gaslamp are fine-tuning the engine, making sure it’s as robust as possible and are just starting to make it more playable. At least, that’s what I’ve gathered.

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    teije says:

    I am tempted by this, as the game looks awesome and their blog is very interesting and frequently hilarious. But I just can’t bring myself to spend my gaming time finding bugs for other people.