November Ashes Mega Diary

Published on Thursday, November 03, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Ashes Dev Journals

Greetings!
Sorry I haven't been as active lately. It's been Ashes of the Singularity 24/7 here at Stardock.

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So let's do this:

## Escalation ##
We had to push the release date of Escalation from November 3 to November 10. This is my fault as I just wasn't comfortable with the balance in the campaign. It was a bit too hard on the default setting and we needed to adjust it.


Obviously, you can change the difficulty level (side note: In hindsight, it's pretty insane that the original game shipped without a campaign difficulty slider) but the default does matter a lot.

Escalation also has added more units to the mix to the point that our review guide is a bit out of date.

For example, the Charon cruiser is awesome. Any army it is apart of is able to teleport reinforcements to it instantly. But it will probably have a lot of threads about it because there's a unit that is very tough to balance. On a huge map with 20 factories going, a Charon is a roving nightmare unless you kill it quickly. So it has to be handled very carefully.

Back when I was a Total Annihilation nut playing in the PGL, I used all kinds of cheese tactics like com napping, jamming a flash into other people's factories (the destroyed hulk would block units from leaving the factory), giving metal generators (consume energy to give metal) and then gifting them to my opponent so that I could assassinate my opponent's commander without worrying about his Dgun. I'm not proud.

I bring up the above because as I play and balance Escalation, it's an endless challenge to find that right balance between what is fun and what is exploitable. Escalation includes a number of really interesting new units that are likely to create some new ways of playing the game that we can't imagine yet. So we'll have to pay very close attention to that.

## Flocking ##
Some of the negative Steam reviews talk about path finding problems in Ashes. But the problem they are experiencing isn't path finding, it's flocking. The units know how to get where they're going just fine. The challenge is what to do when you have hundreds of them trying to get past each other in the most efficient way possible. That requires a really sophisticated flocking algorithm and it's something we've been spending a lot of time on these past couple of months as it is a non-trivial programmatic challenge.

We think we have a suitable solution that should be ready to be made public next week. There are opt-ins that are starting to get pushed out that will test this and hopefully will make positioning armies much more enjoyable.

## Tournament Edition ##
Early next year we are going to create a Tournament Edition of the game. This version will initially be only available to Ashes players to share with 4 friends for free. Ashes of the Singularity: Tournament will be a multiplayer only version of the game to help encourage a bigger multiplayer community.

We still expect 90% of the player base to play the game exclusively single player but we do want to make sure there is a really strong multiplayer community as well.

## Vulkan ##
We have this most of the way completed and have test apps of it ready. The remaining issue is HLSL to Vulkan. One of our partners is working on an HLSL shader converter. Once we have that, we should be able to release a Vulkan version soon after.
Once there's a Vulkan version, we can take a look at SteamOS (Linux) support.

## Roadmap for Escalation vs. Ashes ##
It is important to remember that for us, there is ONLY Ashes of the Singularity. Escalation is an expansion to Ashes of the Singularity. When we are working on Escalation, we are also working on Ashes.


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Ashes of the Singularity user interface

vs.

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Escalation UI

 

Going forward, we will be differentiating Ashes and Escalation more distinctly and some of that means that certain elements of Escalation will come into the base game or be made available as DLC.

For example, here are some DLCs we are thinking of making available to Ashes players in the future that come with Escalation:

1. Crystaline worlds
2. Volcanic worlds
3. Maps with more players on them

There are also features that are probably going to back into Ashes (for free) that will debut in Escalation such as:

1. The UI update
2. The Substrate economy change
3. Upgrading the Smarty to a Barrager
4. Upgrading a Annihilator to a Deadly Annihilator
5. Adding a low level anti-air defense for the PHC and Substrate that upgrades to a better one.

But over time, you will see the distinction between the two grow.

## Philosphy on RTS game design ##
As some of our Founders can tell you, the design for Ashes of the Singularity was NOT to be like Supreme Commander. I once even posted on our forums that if you were hoping that Ashes would replace SupCom that you would be very disappointed.

So for example, I opposed, in Ashes, to have things like strategic zoom or more than 15 units per faction or lots of defensive buildings. I still am not sure having upgradeable buildings in the base game is a good idea but I feel like I've promised that to the community.

But why? The answer is that Ashes of the Singularity, at its heart, is supposed to be a next-generation RTS to introduce people to the RTS genre.

I read people saying that people should just buy "Supreme Commander: FA" or some other classic RTS. I'm obviously a big fan of Total Annihilation, SupCom, FAF, etc. but are you sure that's the game you really want to use to introduce someone to the genre?

The fact is, a lot of these great games do not work well (or at all) on modern hardware. The mouse cursor might not work or they crash if you're running at too high a resolution or they are no longer compatible with certain video cards and so on.

## Where Ashes will go and where Escalation will go ##
At a recent LAN party for core PC gamers who were NOT RTS players, I had to pick a game to introduce the RTS to them and that game was Company of Heroes. Not CoH 2 (or Ashes) but the original Company of Heroes (this is why marketing hates when I post, I'm recommending Company of Heroes as the best intro RTS game on the market <g>).

The only reason I didn't push Ashes was the hardware requirements. The 2GB video memory requirement was too much for a couple of them. If we could fix memory requirement that then Ashes would be a no-brainer. Alternatively, we can just wait until 2GB video cards are the norm.

If you take a fresh look at Ashes of the Singularity, not as a veteran RTS player but as someone looking to recommend an RTS to someone interested in the genre you'll (hopefully) note these things:

  1. It's pretty bullet proof. You install it on a new gaming PC and it just works.
  2. The game mechanics are straight forward. You capture regions and get their resources. You can then build up those regions and get more resources which lets you build more stuff.
  3. There is some action in the first few minutes (In TA or SupCom, it can be several minutes before you even get to see any boom boom boom).
  4. It's visually gorgeous (on a modern PC anyway).
  5. Losing isn't particularly frustrating. Losing due to a Turnium build up is not generally anger producing. Having someone finally beat you back to your base can actually be fun. By contrast, losing because someone nuked your commander or did a Reaper rush into your base or put barbed wire all over the map or having your entire army melt because you couldn't find your little unit with the right counter to activate its special EMP power and select the enemy unit that would be casting the melt army spell can be extremely frustrating to a new player.

That isn't to say Ashes is perfect. We should have had a mobile orbital nullifier unit in the game when it shipped. We didn't think of it at the time. But we will add that. But overall, Ashes is a really really good introduction to the genre.


By contrast...

Escalation is designed with RTS veterans in mind. We listened to the feedback and realized that Ashes couldn't be a one-size-fits all game.

I spend a lot of time reading RTS communities and the Ashes one is the best i've been apart of. You guys are amazing and your feedback has been extremely helpful. But we couldn't put those ideas and features into Ashes, the base game, even as DLC at any price because at that point, it's not Ashes of the Singularity anymore, it's a hard-core RTS game.

That's where Escalation came in. With Escalation, I am comfortable having strategic zoom (and in fact, it's layered strategic zoom like we did in Sins of a Solar Empire). I'm okay with having a lot more units and defenses.

Esc_SS2

Strategic Zoom in Escalation

That doesn't mean Ashes, the base game, won't eventually get naval units and more factions of course. None of our plans have changed with regards to the base game. We just want to be able to have a game that targets ALL PC gamers (Ashes) and a game that focuses on veteran RTS players (Escalation).


## How did Escalation get so much stuff so fast? ##
As the Founders know, our sales projection for Ashes of the Singularity were modest. As I posted in our Founders forum last year, our objective was to sell 50,000 units of Ashes of the Singularity before the end of 2016 (not counting OEM sales).

It's not that we didn't have confidence in our game. It's that the demographics are the demographics. 4 core CPUs + 2GB video memory as a base requirement cuts out most PC gamers. It's just that simple. Not many people can play Ashes of the Singularity.

When it became clear Ashes of the Singularity was going to more than double the projections, we beefed up the team. A lot.

  • Ashes of the Singularity = Oxide Games
  • Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation = Oxide Games + Stardock

 

So once we had a design down for Escalation we had a lot more people available to do stuff.
Anyway, I have more to say but can save it until later. This is already really long. Let me know if you have any questions.


-brad