DEV Diary: A Guided tour of Escaltion

Published on Friday, October 21, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Ashes Dev Journals

For this journal, I’m going to, in story form, give you a guided tour of Escalation.



Escalation is the first expansion pack to Stardock’s massive-scale RTS, Ashes of the Singularity.  It is sold as a stand-alone expansion with its pricing determined based on whether you already have Ashes of the Singularity or not.  To learn more, visit


The year is 2180…

The human race is at an inflection point.  The technological singularity has given humans capabilities that a person form the 21st century could scarcely imagine.  A handful of humans have made the transition to becoming “Post-Humans”, beings whose very consciousness is spread across multiple worlds thanks to the breakthrough technology of “Quantum Streaming” which allows for instant communication across great distances.

The largest group of these Post-Humans have formed a group called the Post-Human Coalition, PHC.  Its goal is to map out suitable worlds to expand to ensure that no individual Post-Human comes to dominate the rest.  Unfortunately, some of the Post-Humans have taken a different path. These renegades, still ostensibly PHC members, look to claim worlds for themselves. They fight each other and they fight the PHC itself. 

Into this turmoil has come a new enemy: The Substrate. The strong AI that has evolved along side the Post-Humans has determined that the PHC and its members must be annihilated before their recklessness jeopardizes all.

The planet, Elysium

Escalation doubles the number of playable slots from 6 to 12.  Today on the planet Elysium, 12 factions will battle against each other for control of the world.  Elysium is a crystaline world, a planet class new to Escalation.


Setting up with 12 players.



Crystaline worlds have a violet hue to them.




Escalation adds some new very low-tier defenses that can be upgraded.




and further out


and further

Meanwhile on Pollux



The new PHC Instigator is constructed at the Nexus. It is expensive but is quite effective at taking lightly defended regions.



late game, it remains easy to manage vast forces across the world thanks to the strategic zoom.



From up here it seems peaceful. Sure, I’m red but having an enemy army in my base is so less scary from space. Winking smile




Deneb Revisited




More to come..

Who is Stardock?

Published on Tuesday, October 18, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Journals

With Star Control: Origins announced, people are wondering who Stardock is and what we’re all about.  Many of you are already familiar with us but for those who aren’t, here’s a background.

Game History


When you read the comments on Stardock’s history we’re best known for our work on Galactic Civilizations and Sins of a Solar Empire.  You will also see some people mention Elemental which had a rough launch but came back with its sequel and expansion (which were given to Elemental early adopters owners for free).

For Star Control: Origins, we have created a new studio.  It is made up by industry veterans from Firaxis, Big Huge Games, Relic and of course Stardock.  Because of the size of the project, Stardock has teamed its partner studios together: Stardock’s new Towson Maryland studio + Soren Johnson’s Mohawk Games (helping with the art direction, networking and design support) + Oxide Games (Nitrous game engine).  It’s an amazing team of people who know Star Control inside and out.

Our general development philosophy has been to work with gamers to make sure the final game is really good.  It’s probably for this reason that Stardock, as a publisher, has one of the highest metacritic averages in the industry.  You are not just a customer, you’re part of the team and we’re very excited to have you here.

Stardock Announces Star Control: Origins

Published on Tuesday, October 18, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Press Releases (Star Control)

October 18, 2016 – Plymouth Michigan - Stardock announced Star Control: Origins today.  Star Control: Origins is a sci-fi action/adventure game with many RPG elements set in the future where the player is the captain of Earth’s first interstellar starship that explores a procedurally created galaxy, makes contact with various alien races, explores unique worlds, and engages in action packed battles, all while trying to unravel the complex intrigue that has the galaxy on the brink of chaos.

"We Earthlings are the newcomers to the galactic scene," said Brad Wardell, Executive Producer. "The dozen plus space-faring species have been hatching their schemes since before we got out of trees. Now, suddenly, they have to deal with those meddling apes from Sol 3 who threaten to upset the plot."

The game starts in the year 2086 with the unaware humans receiving a distress call from an alien ship that has crashed on the moon of Triton, leading to the formation of Star Control, an international space agency dedicated to protecting the Earth.  The player takes on the role of The Captain of Earth’s first interstellar ship whose first mission is to investigate the distress signal.

Star Control: Origins represents a new start for the beloved franchise.  Stardock acquired the rights to Star Control 1/2/3 from Atari and since then has launched a new game studio in Towson Maryland specifically to create the new Star Control title. The classic series is available for sale on Stardock's newly launched website with players also able to pre-order Star Control: Origins and join the Founder’s Program.

"Star Control is ultimately about us Earthlings exploring the galaxy, finding and talking to strange alien civilizations, and hopefully living to tell the tale," said Wardell. "We are hopeful those who remember the original trilogy will like the direction we’re taking here while at the same time introducing a whole new generation to the awesomeness of a game that combined action, adventure, and roleplaying in a sci-fi game simultaneously."

Star Control: Origins is scheduled for release on PC and consoles with the PC release scheduled for 2017. 

Players interested in joining the Founder's program for $35 will gain access to the upcoming beta program as well as access to the Founder’s Vault, mod tools, private journals and more.

Visit to join or get more details.


Ars Technica takes a first look at Star Control: Origins

Published on Tuesday, October 18, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Star Control News

Lee Hutchinson at Ars Technica got a sneak peek of Stardock's new Star Control: Origins game.  The first short video of gameplay is with the article.

You can see it all here:

It's a great primer on the original series (learn more here: and the challenges of making a new Star Control game.

Lee talks about the much decried Star Control 3 that was released back in 1996. Star Control 3 should be a warning to those who would meddle with someone else's lore. 

Last year, we started the Founders Precursor program. A handful of die hard Star Control fans were invited so that we could discuss both gameplay and how to deal with the lore of Star Control.

On the one hand, we didn't want to retcon any aliens out of existence.  But on the other hand, what do you with Star Control 3 which took the lore of Star Control 1/2 and took it in a...different direction than what most fans would have expected.  We wanted to leave the door open for players to still encounter the Orz or the Spathi or the Ur-Quan potentially in the future in a Star Control game while at the same time ensuring the Origins could stand on its own.

To that end, the Founders and us eventually came to the consensus that Star Control is a multiverse. The first two games revolve around teh Ur-Quan conflict. The third one is a game in a parallel universe that has its own history.  

For most gamers, it doesn't really matter. Most gamers today weren't alive when Star Control 1/2/3 were made.  But we wanted to create a satisfying foundation for those, like us, revere the classic series while at the same time, opening up the pathway to have future adventures with new casts of aliens and adventures created by fans and successors.

Only time will tell if we made the right decision.

Star Control: Origins–Founders Program Phase II

Published on Tuesday, October 18, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Journals



Today we are opening up the Founder’s Program to Phase II in preparation for alpha testing (Fall) and beta testing (Winter). 

If you haven’t seen the gameplay teaser, you can check it out here:

We’re still very early in development as you can see.  The creatures and other cool stuff on the planets weren’t quite ready to show yet and we’re saving the best parts for a later reveal.

Feature status


Founders will get access to The Vault.  This is where our internal development blogs are kept, lots of not ready for prime time assets and screenshots are shown and the forum where Founders give feedback on what they like and don’t like what we’re doing. 

To join us, visit here.

Sorcerer King: Rivals the October update

Published on Monday, October 17, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Sorcerer King Dev Journals



The first significant update to Sorcerer King: Rivals it out.  Most of it had to do with making the neutrals behave more intelligently (attacking enemies, building things better, etc.).  We also update the UI to make the Ascension spell much more accessible to players.

We also had a pretty major improvement to late game performance thanks to a customer who sent me a saved game who was running into this.  The result is that late game should be much much faster.

We don’t have any immediate DLC plans but we do have some free updates in the works for Rivals including a series of new campaigns we are going to start releasing (along with documentation on how we made them so that people can share their own).  They’re really fun to make and based on feedback, people seem to really like the campaigns.

Stay tuned.

DEV DIARY: Everything you wanted to know about Escalation: Part 1

Published on Monday, October 17, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Ashes Dev Journals



This is going to be long and go into both Escalation, the development of Ashes of the Singularity and discuss the technological singularity.

Our story so far…

imageThis past Spring Stardock released the real-time strategy game, Ashes of the Singularity.  It’s a game set in the post-technological singularity future in which humans have begun to expand to other planets.  In this future, a single individual is so powerful that they can manage entire armies of semi-autonomous machines called constructs.  In Ashes of the Singularity, the player is part of the PHC (The Post-Human Coalition) tasked with dealing with renegade humans as well as dealing with a new enemy: The Substrate.

The game received generally favorable reviews with gamers praising the adoption of modern hardware to deliver an unprecedented scale to the genre and gorgeous visuals (provided you had the hardware).  But the game was also criticized for having a campaign that felt tacked on, uninspired art direction and a tendency for those thousands of units to end up being a giant unmanageable blob late game due to the game’s insistence on keeping the camera relatively close to the action and a general feeling of missing strategic depth.

In November, we are releasing the first expansion pack, Escalation, which aims to address those criticisms and more. 

For Escalation to be successful, we first needed to think long and hard about some of the basic premises for the game.  And now for those thoughts…

Not a technology demo


Since Ashes of the Singularity was the first DirectX 12 game and includes a built in benchmark for testing DirectX 12 thoroughly, it naturally received a lot of coverage for its state-of the art engine, Nitrous.  This caused many people to conclude that the game itself was a technology demo.  And to be honest, while that wasn’t our intention, a pretty decent chunk of our time and budget was spent on the underlying technology to drive the game which naturally meant less time to think about the game itself.

With real-time strategy games, you can’t really escape addressing the technological requirements.  I’ll spare you the details here as I wrote about it, at length over at IGN. So it is true that a lot of our thought was going into how to build Ashes of the Singularity since, for us, Ashes of the Singularity is a long-term project for us.  We strongly believe that there is demand for real-time strategy games, the challenge is to make any new RTS compelling.


It wasn’t until Ashes of the Singularity was released and we started talking to other RTS developers that we realized our market misconception on the genre became fully realized.

Here is the short version: In the age of digital distribution your game competes with every game that has ever been made.

When we released Sins of a Solar Empire in 2008 we were only competing with the other 38 SCUs at Walmart.  What some other RTS had in the past was irrelevant because it was not competing with us for sales.  Sins of a Solar Empire didn’t have to compete against a Homeworld: Ultimate Edition or really even Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance (other than at the beginning). 

Ashes of the Singularity was released fully realized. Every unit, map, etc. was planned from the start.  We added a campaign (something Sins didn’t have) a couple months before release because players wanted one.   So from our perspective, Ashes of the Singularity was the most mature new game we’d ever released.  Months of QA and testing along with great support from AMD, Microsoft, Intel and NVIDIA meant the game wasn’t buggy on release.  Both races came with about 15 units each, a strong AI and lots of maps.  So great right? Wrong.

Your game competes against every game ever

Game Price on Steam
Company of Heroes  $19.99
Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance $14.99
Age of Empires II HD $19.99
Ashes of the Singularity $49.99

One of these is not like the other.

The argument “But Ashes of the Singularity is new!” is not very compelling on its own. 

The player wants to know “Why should I pay $50 for your game when I can get these other games, that have a lot more stuff, have been vetted for years, have established communities are less than half the price?”

Ashes vs. The World

So what makes Ashes of the Singularity distinct?

  1. Ashes of the Singularity can support huge world-wide armies…But SupCom: FA supports pretty large armies and has strategic zoom so managing them is easy.
  2. Ashes of the Singularity has true line of sight…But Company of Heroes has that too and takes cover and position into consideration for calculation damage.
  3. Ashes of the Singularity has a really good single player sandbox with great AI…but Company of Heroes has pretty good AI too.

In fact, if you were to make a table of features comparing recently released RTS games to the classic and the comparison chart looks pretty brutal right now.  It’s not that the RTS market has died, it’s that new RTS games don’t compare well against games with $20 million+ budgets from the past. 

What Ashes has going for it is technology.  It is a brand new, 64-bit, multi-core, 4th generation engine.  The first of its kind.   What it needs is time to build up the content and refinement of the classics.

Unfortunately, it was released under the old retail model. It’s a new, fully featured game and thus is $49.99 – the same price or less than other new RTS games when they were released at retail.  That model no longer works.

Finding your niche

The original plan for Ashes of the Singularity was that it would be a roughly 15 unit per faction game with DLC and expansions adding new races, maps, naval (add say 4 naval units) and stay very accessible as a strategy game.  In our PR for Ashes, we talked about Ashes being a “reintroduction” to the RTS genre for a new generation.  With hindsight, that’s breathtaking naiveté.  People interested in dipping their toes into the RTS market could try out Supreme Commander 2 for $5 during the next Steam sale.  Even if you don’t like Supreme Commander 2, you must admit that it does a pretty decent job as a casual introduction to RTS games (92% review score on Steam btw).

For Ashes of the Singularity to succeed, it has to find a niche that can leverage its strengths that no other game has now or is likely to have in the near future:

  • No one can touch Ashes AI potential. The engine scales almost linearly today to 10 cores. We are not aware of any other RTS that scales beyond 2 cores. That means the AI can keep getting more sophisticated over time.
  • No one can touch Ashes potential for strategic depth. Potential being the operative word since it doesn’t have that today.  From a simulation point of view, Ashes can do crazy complex stuff.  The game needs to evolve in that direction.
  • No one can touch Ashes visual potential presently.  5K montiors? 8K monitors? Ashes loves them.  HDR color? Vulkan? Movie quality lighting? Ashes can do all of that and more. 
  • Ashes has amazing modding potential if we can get tools and exporters to the community.  With 64-bit memory and a data driven engine, modders could literally recreate every RTS they ever wanted. We just have to build the tools for modders to do this.

But the key takeaway is niche. It has to find its own niche.  You can’t be all things to all people when you’re competing against every game ever made.

Escalation vs. Ashes

By this Summer, we realized we had two different paths we wanted to take simultaneously.  We still wanted to have an RTS that acted as a good modern introduction to the genre.  One that was constantly supported with improvements and updates but also kept fairly approachable and inexpensive.  We also wanted an RTS with immense depth and detail that was most definitely niche in its demographic.  This game would target the experienced RTS gamer who has always wanted to run a world wide war against lots of opponents and deals with lots of resources and strategies and doesn’t feel rushed. 

From these two contrary visions we got:

Ashes of the Singularity (the base game)


Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation

Supporting early adopters

The idea of pricing Ashes of the Singularity to compete on price at $19.99 sounds great on paper until you remember that a lot of people paid $49.99 for the base game.  They have to be made whole otherwise you are punishing your most loyal fans. How do address this?

Because we know the Founders and those who were in Early Access we can do something for them: Give them all the DLC for Escalation until they get enough DLC that it more than makes up for the price difference.  Whether that be a year or three years.

imageEscalation Design Premise

I’m going to be up front about this.  Escalation isn’t for everyone.  We are adding a lot more units. A lot more map types. We eventually will be adding more types of resources along with more units that will require those resources types.  There will be units you build that you will automate to go and do things for you.  In short, you will be building a machine. It’s an RTS with a lot more depth than the base game.  That’s another reason why the base game will continue to be developed and evolve too because some people will want a simpler, lighter RTS.


Next up: What’s new!

DEV DIARY: Escalating the RTS

Published on Tuesday, October 11, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Ashes Dev Journals


On November 3, Ashes of the Singularity gets its first expansion pack: Escalation.  It’s a stand-alone expansion which means that if you don’t already have Ashes of the Singularity, you can just buy Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation and get everything that’s in the base game too.



There are a lot of reasons we decided to separate the base game from Escalation.  Much of this came from how the game developed during the beta period.  For those of you who weren’t part of the early access program, we had very heated debates regarding the direction the game should go. 

To oversimplify things, there were two camps: The Total Annihilation camp and the Supreme Commander camp.  Now, you might think these camps would be the same but they’re not.  As good as Total Annihilation is, it is a lot simpler than Supreme Commander.  There’s no strategic zoom, there are no upgradeable defenses and it has limited progression as part of its strategy.  

I was part of the Total Annihilation camp and Ashes of the Singularity 1.0 reflects this.  We wanted Ashes to be a more approachable game than Supreme Commander was and felt that features such as Strategic Zoom and complex economic interactions would be a turn-off the wider RTS community. 



Strategic Zoom in Escalation (full zoom out). Courtesy of PC Gamer


The problem with that approach is that it results in a game that doesn’t feel featured enough to justify a $39.99 price tag in 2016.  While Ashes shipped with a lot more content than Sins of a Solar Empire did back in 2008, the market has vastly changed since then.  In 2008, Sins was only competing against the other 37 SCUs on retail shelves at Walmart.  In 2016, Ashes is competing against every RTS that has ever been released.  If the only obvious innovation in Ashes is that it can handle thousands of units easily that’s just not sufficient in a full priced PC game now when a player can choose from all the RTS’s of all time.

So how do we adapt to that?

The answer, we had to rethink the game’s design. It has to evolve to be obviously different than anything that has come before.  It has to find its own niche.


Now, one path we considered was making Escalation a DLC for Ashes of the Singularity.  The problem with that idea is that a year from now, Escalation and the base are going to evolve in very different directions.  We are going to continue to develop and enhance the base game for years to come with our original vision in mind: A modern Total Annihilation style game.  The base game will be priced to address that.

Escalation, by contrast, will evolve to become substantially more sophisticated.  We are looking at adding more resources to the game, a tech tree, resource refinement.  This will allow for a lot more strategies and a lot more variance based on map and resource placement.

Now, you reading this may look at these features and think “yay!” but I can assure you, there are plenty of players who will find greater base building, more resources and a tech tree to be overwhelming.  But the business reality is that when a new RTS is competing against every RTS that has ever been made, you either have to price your game to compete with them or you have to develop something that has never been done before.



Volcanic Worlds in Escalation. Courtesy of Gameranx



Now, all this might sound great unless you’re an early adopter.  A lot of people bought the original game for $49.99.  It’s pretty crappy for those people to then have to pay $20 (a total of $69.99) while newcomers get it for $39.99.  So how do we support them?

In the old days, all our games came with activation. A user would enter their email address and enter our database.  Some users would post angrily about this and we would explain to them that by associating their game with an account, we could offer more discounts.  Ultimately, we eliminated the activation on our newer games so the problem is, unless you bought it from us, we don’t know when you bought the game or how much you paid. 

But we’re not totally out of luck, we do know these things:

  1. We know who was a Lifetime Founder (they already get all this automatically)
  2. We know who was a standard Founder
  3. We know who was part of the Early Access program
  4. We may know those who bought the game shortly after release

That means we can give those 4 groups the first several new DLC for Escalation for free.  So we will.



Episode I x    
Post-Human Coalition x    
Substrate x    
Gen 1 Units x    
Gen 1 Defenses x    
Temperate environment x    
Desert environment x    
Arctic environment x    
Single Player Sandbox x    
Custom Multiplayer x    
Ranked Multiplayer x    
Single Player Scenarios x    
Map Editor x    
Gen 1A Units x   Added in 1.2
Observer Mode x   Added in 1.3
Scenario Editor Fall 2016 Fall 2016 Planned for Version 1.5
Multiplayer replays Fall 2016 Fall 2016 Planned for Version 1.5
Multiplayer Scenarios Future Future  
Gen 1B Units Future x Planned for Version 1.5 of base game
Episode II   x  
Gen 2 Units   x  
Gen 2 Defenses   x  
Volcanic environment   x  
Crystaline environment   x  
Strategic Zoom   x  
96KM maps   x  
Multi-tier terrain   x  
Additional Resources   Future  
Gen 2A Units   Future  
Gen 2B Units   Future  
Gen 2C Units   Future These units wouldn't hover
Gen 2D Units   Future These units would be legged
Tech Tree   Future  
Naval   Future (DLC)  
Third Race   Future (DLC)  
Fourth Race   Future (DLC)  


Let us know what you think!



DEV DIARY: GalCiv III & Other Languages

Published on Monday, October 10, 2016 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals


Right now, Galactic Civilizations III supports:


  1. English
  2. French
  3. German
  4. Russian


Because of the way we made Galactic Civilizations III, translation is very expensive.  There are a lot of words.  But nearly all of it is in the technology descriptions.


In this screenshot you see the short-description.


And this one shows the long description.

Translation costs by the word.  That long description has 38 words and each civilization has their own tech tree and each tech tree has hundreds of potential techs.  Thus, translating to the other languages we want to translate to costs tens of thousands of dollars.

Now, in the bigger scheme of things, this isn’t that much money.  But there are definitely languages where we won’t make that back.  So we have to put some thought into it.

So which languages should you translate to?  There’s a lot of data on that so I won’t bore you with the details.  But let’s look at what some other games translate to.

Here’s Stellaris:

  1. English
  2. French
  3. German
  4. Spanish
  5. Polish
  6. Portuguese
  7. Russian

Here’s the new Master of Orion:

  1. English
  2. Russian
  3. French
  4. German
  5. Czech
  6. Japanese
  7. Portuguese
  8. Turkish
  9. Polish
  10. Korean

Here’s Rocket League:

  1. English
  2. French
  3. Italian
  4. German
  5. Spanish
  6. Dutch
  7. Portuguese
  8. Japanese
  9. Korean
  10. Russian
  11. Turkish

And it would be insane not to include Civilization VI:

  1. English
  2. French
  3. Italian
  4. German
  5. Spanish
  6. Japanese
  7. Korean
  8. Polish
  9. Portuguese
  10. Russian
  11. Chinese

Meanwhile, Ark? It supports 21 languages, all with full audio.

But none of that can hold a candle to Counterstrike: 25 languages.


Steam page translated


MOO: Steam page in other languages


GalCiv III: page translated

What to support and how much?

For one thing, the largely redundant long tech description is not something that really needs to be translated.  It could just use the normal description. This is what most games do (as in, nearly all games).  We just tend to be a lot wordier.  We’d continue to support the 4 languages we have but then add:

  1. Italian
  2. Spanish
  3. Polish
  4. Portuguese
  5. Japanese
  6. Korean
  7. Chinese

We’d do the first 4 soon and the last 3 later since those would require some changes to our UI system to fit.

We live in a world of many languages and that’s a good thing.  Language is the key to culture and makes our world a richer place.  I just wish it was less expensive to translate it all. Smile


Screenshots of the week:

image by starmac45


imageby Radaney


imageby 41ndigo

Intel Device Advisor Scorecard

Published on Sunday, October 09, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Blogging

If you are like me you are probably the guy that people call for help on their computer.  Recently, I discovered the Intel Device Advisor.


It’s as brilliant in its concept as it is straight-forward in its implementation.

Here’s how it works:

You download it and run it.  It stays in the background for a long while (as in, days).  It then reports to you, based on your uses, things you might need and where you can get them.  This is something Windows should, frankly, come with.  It’s still relatively early in its development – not on the tech side but on the offerings side. But for example,  imagine if a relative is complaining that they’re always running out of disk space.  This app, itself, won’t fix that.  But instead, would promote a series of disk space optimizers (hint, hint, Intel <g>) or alternatively detect that your motherboard has an M.2 slot and recommend a compatible M.2 drive that even casual users can probably handle putting in (terrible name, M.2, it’s basically a tiny little drive you plug into the motherboard).

My next PC

Where it really shines though is handling the #1 question I get asked: What should I get for my next computer?  This app will literally configure one for them from various third parties for them. It seems almost like magic. Seeing iBuyPower and Asus with really specific configurations on an Intel page is a bit surreal.

This app is still early but I am pretty excited that Intel’s hardware knowledge paired with third party vendors could make dealing with the giant PC ecosystem a lot easier.

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