Star Control: Origins–Founders Program Phase II

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

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Greetings!

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: https://youtu.be/K6ntg47q_cM

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

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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

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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.

www.sorcererking.com

DEV DIARY: Your game competes against all games from all time

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

 

EscalationGradient

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

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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.

imageMisconceptions

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 youdon’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)

and

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

 

ESCALATE ON NOVEMBER 3

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.

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TOTAL ANNIHILATION vs. SUPREME COMMANDER

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....

Continue Reading...

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.

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In this screenshot you see the short-description.

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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.

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Steam page translated

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MOO: Steam page in other languages

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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.

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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.

Ashes Dev Update: October 2016

Published on Friday, September 30, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Ashes Dev Journals

Greetings!

Fall is here in the northern hemisphere. Time to migrate to Australia!

Here's what's new…

 

## Version 1.5 ##

I am hoping that version 1.5 will arrive before Halloween. It's going to be tight. Lots of work going on. I'll outline below some of the focus.

 

## UI ##

According to the Steam data, 28% of our players are playing at below 1920x1080 and the text and such looks awful. Unreadable imo. We are updating how the the game is displayed which should, we hope, result in a dramatic improvement to how the text, UI and really the game itself looks.

 

## Balance update ##

The Substrate are going to get a bit more love on the building destruction side. The PHC is going to get a bit of a nerf. We are also looking at porting back some of the work we've done in Escalation for the Substrate economy which should make them a bit different.

 

## Performance ##

Hopefully some of you noticed the significant performance boost in the September update. We are continuing down that path with version 1.5.

 

## Keyboard ##

High on our list is getting WASD keyboard support options in. I don't know if they'll make it into 1.5 or not. But it is coming.

 

## Vulkan ##

This is now working in our internal builds! This might show up in 1.5. AMD is providing a lot of assistance to us in getting Vulkan support so please be sure to give some kudos and credit to AMD for Vulkan in PC gaming. It'll run great on any GPU that supports Vulkan.

 

## Replays ##

This won't happen until after the Escalation expansion. We wanted to get this into 1.5 but it's a pretty big job. But it is coming.

 

## Scenario Creator & Steam Workhop ##

While probably not for 1.5, we are putting the final touches on a GUI Scenario editor. Lucky you guys. I had to make scenarios in a text editor. This will be in a free update that will include Steam Workshop support.

 

## Names Names Names ##

The mobile orbital nullifiers for PHC and Substrate need names. Put your suggestions in the comments.

 

## Reviews ##

We really could use your help on the reviews. We took a pretty big hit when people started down voting Ashes because they thought Escalation was a replacement to Ashes (it's not).

We are talking to Valve as to whether it'll be possible to turn Escalation into DLC so that it eliminates any confusion and we develop a game launcher that lets you pick the base game or Escalation. We prefer being able to use the Steam client as the launcher but given the backlast against expandalones, we're willing to spend the time and budget on writing our own launcher if that makes people happy.

Anyway, if you haven't reviewed the game on Steam, your review will absolutely make a difference.

That's all for now!

-brad

Dev Journal SK: Optimizing a big big world in Sorcerer King: Rivals

Published on Friday, September 30, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Sorcerer King Dev Journals

I had the opportunity to get a saved game from a player who was experiencing long turn times.  This was extremely useful because it’s one of those things you “hear” about sometimes but it “never happens on my machine”.

I was able to reproduce it and the results were fascinating.

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A huge part of the cost was recalculating those zones of control.  This is something that has always been in there (going all the way back to Elemental) but over time, it appears to have got more and more expensive as we have added more “stuff” such as the ruffians getting to have their own ZOC.

People sending me their saved games is like giving me gold.

I really enjoy seeing how other people play and it does more than anything to help us make the game better.  I think you’ll be impressed with the improvements we’ve made to Rivals.

I do plan to backport these changes to base Sorcerer King in the future.

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