Published on Monday, February 6, 2017 By Brad Wardell In Ashes Dev Journals


Our story so far...

Stardock loves real-time strategy games.  Our customers love real-time strategy games (Sins of a Solar Empire remains our best selling game of all time).  And we want your opinion on something important to us.

When Stardock sold off its digital distribution business to GameStop in 2011, we took that capital to help found a number of new studios including Soren Johnson's Mohawk Games, Mothership Entertainment, Stardock Towson and Oxide Games.  Our goal was to build new technology and studios that would create innovative new games.

In short, we've been pretty busy.

Ashes of the Singularity: A background

Of these new games, the first to ship was Ashes of the Singularity.  It is the first game to use the new Nitrous engine developed by Oxide Games. 

Nitrous is an amazing engine and all our new games are standardizing on it.  What makes it special is that it is core-neutral. That is, the more CPU cores you have, the more it can do.  It scales almost linearly as you can more CPU cores.  This means we can do interesting things like object space lighting, handle thousands of light sources, do all kinds of interesting things with AI,  simulations, etc.

Since Ashes of the Singularity was the first engine to use it, we were cautious as to how much we would invest into the game itself.  Nitrous is amazing but it was new. And the things we were trying to do had never been done before.  There was no DirectX 12 or Vulkan when we started working on it.  We were building it based on the theory that such a graphics platform would have to be made and got super lucky that they were made before the game shipped. 

On DirectX 11, you need a pretty powerful machine to run Ashes of the Singularity (on DirectX 12 or later Vulkan, you can run it on a potato practically, that's how much better DX12/Vulkan are).

But, like I said, there was no DirectX 12 or Vulkan back then so we designed the game to appeal to as many people as possible while still showing off what the engine could do. If all went well, the game would sell around 50,000 units in its first year.  That would be a very respectable release for a game that could only run on a fraction of the PCs available at the time.

DirectX 12

I can't even begin to tell you how much of a game-changer DirectX 12 was.  Suddenly, this game that was going to require a monster machine to run could run on much more reasonable hardware.  That's because DirectX 12 lets every CPU core talk to the graphics card at the same time.  On DirectX 11, only 1 CPU core can talk to the GPU at once.   As some may recall, people were dubious about the game's benchmark results on DirectX 12.  But as people quickly saw, it was a massive difference.


Who is the target market?

During the early access program, there requests, often strident, for features that we felt would alienate the mainstream gamers.  While we personally liked the features they wanted (upgradeable defenses, strategic zoom, more unit progress, etc.) we felt that this would create a learning curve that would keep us from even getting to the mere 50,000 units we hoped to sell to break even.


Ashes delivered massive-scale warfare across a planet


When the game shipped, it quickly reached a user base of over a hundred thousand players not counting the hundreds of thousands of players who got the game as part of their video card purchase. 

It also became apparent that many of them wanted an RTS a lot more depth where depth meant things like strategic zoom, upgradeable defenses, more resources, lots more unit classes, etc.  But doing so, we felt, would be a bait-and-switch.  I realize that some hard-core RTS fans can't imagine not wanting to have dozens of unit types but as someone who has tried and failed to get their friends to play FAF, learning curve matters.

So we decided to create a new SCU for those players who wanted a "bigger" RTS.  Escalation.



Escalation caters to the more dedicated RTS fan.  Strategic Zoom, Upgradeable defenses,  Specialized units


Last fall, Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation was released.  It's a stand-alone game with an $20 upgrade price for people who have the base game.  It got universally favorable reviews (lowest review being a 75) in the media and has a 81 Steam score. 

Meanwhile, the base game didn't fare as well . A lot a lot of passionate RTS players who had lobbied for what was in Escalation felt they were being asked to pay again for the game they wanted in the first place. Thus, the base's games Steam score went from "Mostly Positive" to something like "This game will kill  your pets" on Steam even though the game has continued to get frequent updates, new units, etc.


One engine: Two games.  The base game for the mainstream and Escalation for the dedicated RTS fanbase. Which game do people want us to focus our energy on?


And so here we are with the debate unresolved.  Which kind of RTS do people want us to focus on?  In the long-run, we need to focus on one RTS.

So here is the plan: Let the market decide. 

What we want to do is give everyone who bought the game in early access or earlier a copy of Escalation (provided Steam and GOG are okay with this).   Everyone who bought the upgrade from Ashes to Escalation will get a season pass to the DLC we're adding to Escalation.

Then, with user bases a bit more equal, we can see which game people prefer.  Let the players choose which game they prefer based on what they actually play. 


Feature difference between the two.


The Long-Term plan

The game's hardware requirements today (4 core CPU, 2GB of video memory, 1920x1080 resolution min) ensure that it won't be a mass market game either way for some time.  And we are fine with that.  In the not-so-distant future, these hardware requirements will be mainstream and by that point, both games will have evolved.

The base game will evolve so that it becomes easier to pick up and play. The price will continue to get reduced.  The unit mix will continue to evolve (i.e.  we may replace units with better, more interesting ones but keep the unit count reasonable).  It'll still get new races to play, new campaigns and so on.  But the game play will focus on being intuitive.

Escalation will evolve to have more depth. Naval units, additional resources, lots more units, more tech progression. 

There is a case to be made for both.  It'll be interesting to see which one becomes dominant.



Escalation provides many more types of units and defenses to craft ever more sophisticated strategies

The question for you:

Which game fits you the best? The base game or Escalation? And why?

ASHES DEV UPDATE: February 2017

Published on Friday, February 3, 2017 By Brad Wardell In Ashes Dev Journals



February is here and there is a ton of stuff to talk about.


## VULKAN ##

We have been working diligently on Vulkan support and I am pleased to tell you that we have it...mostly working.  We are tentatively scheduled to release Escalation v2.1 (Ashes 1.51) on February 16.   Unfortunately, Vulkan won't make it in there as it needs a little more time to bake.


We have this.  It's not super stable though so we're still working out the kinks.  We expect to have an opt-in build available within the next couple weeks so people can play around with it.    We've been working with General's Gentlemen on the design of this feature so that it will appeal not just to those who want to see a replay of their game but also for casters who want to cast games.


I have an Ashes modding Skype channel where we're bouncing ideas around.  There is a fine line between "modding" and "end user customization".  As someone who started out as a modder, I tend to take a bit of a dim view on modders who think they have to have commercial grade tools in order to make changes. 

Making front ends to XML and CSV files is not super high on my priority list.  I expect modders to be able to do this sort of thing.

What I don't expect modders to have to do is: Reverse engineer the .OXModel format or hack the EXE to change game rules.

So on our end these are the tools that are in development:

Mod Manager.  This will let you create your own mod in \documents\my games\ashes..\mods where you will have a file a .ashesmod file (i.e.bradsbalancemod.ashesmod).

This file is a manifest for your mod tells the game where to look for your other files.

There are FOUR files I mod all the time for personal use:

  1. WeaponMOdulesTemplates.csv
  2. UniteTeampltes.csv
  3. BuildingTemplates.csv
  4. DefaultPlayerAI.xml

You can mod those files right now and drastically change the way Ashes plays.

Anyway, you can create your own versions of these files, put them in your mod folder and then have your .ashesmod point to them.  When the game sees a duplicate Internal ID, it'll replace the one in game with yours.

If you're into modding, you can practice this now by modifying one or more of the files there locally and see what crazy things happen.



Ashes is coming to a lot of new languages.  This will start with the big 2.1 (1.51) update.



For easier maintenance, Ashes of the Singularity and Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation are going to have their code-bases merged.

Thus, the base game will pick up a lot of the enhancements that are in Escalation (visual updates, engine update, UI update, etc.).

Escalation will have everything Ashes has plus:

  1. Strategic Zoom
  2. The New units
  3. Volcanic Maps (These will be made available as DLC for Ashes players)
  4. Crystaline maps (This will be made available as DLC for Ashes players)
  5. Escalation Campaign
  6. Upgradeable Defenses

The goal is that we want Ashes of the Singularity to be the "mainstream" game and Escalation be the hard-core game.  This frees us to continue to evolve Escalation in ways that would likely be unappealing to mainstream RTS fans (more resource types, more unit types, deeper economic features, etc.).

And just to drive home the point how serious we are on this: We plan to give everyone who was part of the early access program a free license of Escalation (that's about 100,000 free licenses).

Anyone who has upgraded to Escalation already or does so before we do this will get a lifetime pass Escalation DLC.  And those who were part of our Lifetime Ashes Founder's program will be truly getting a lifetime pass to Ashes such as sequels.

So if you were part of early access and haven't upgraded to Escalation, you'll want to do that before we do this.

As many of you know, the base game sold a lot more than we had anticipated.  Remember: RTS games are supposedly "dead" and only MOBAs have a market.  Combined with our hardware requirements, we presumed about 50,000 units in the first year.

Thus, putting Escalation and the base game on equal footing, we can see which game has more players.  Ashes or Escalation.  I know you hard-core RTS players are convinced that Escalation will win.  Don't be so sure.  I love them both but it's Ashes, not Escalation, that my friends tend to prefer for LAN parties due to the relative simplicity.

In short: If you were part of the Ashes early access program (or likely bought soon after it came out) you will soon have an Escalation key too.  Play whichever one you prefer. The market will decide which path the RTS community wants us to follow.


In the "not a promise" category, Episode 3 is well into development.   While Episode 3 will be DLC, Juggernauts will be a free unit added to the game.  Each side will get one and they'll appear in Episode 3. The base game, btw, will be getting Juggernauts too as they make a satisfying doomsday weapon.

Right now, I have early Spring as the release date for this.  



Where Escalation focused on making the game...well bigger, the next major area of focus is going to be water and naval.   That doesn't mean it's the next thing on the list as we have a long list of things we want in this game first ranging from wrecks to more types of units to more single player and multiplayer replayability features (I'll be talking more about this in the near future).

The one thing that we are excited about the most and that we hope we can persuade you to be excited about is that this game is still at the start of its life.  Go look at every other RTS on the market.  Go.  I'll wait.

Are you back?

Ok, I will keep nagging about this but it is non-trivial to make a major RTS.  Even Microsoft struggles with it (Halo Wars for instance).  It is tough.  And here we are (you guys and us) with a fresh engine designed specifically for RTS games that supports DirectX 12, Vulkan and as many CPU cores as you can throw at it.  Right now, that's all really just potential.  But as any SupCom player can tell you, the tech does matter because it determines the long-term evolution of the game.

So that's all for this month. 


Galactic Civilizations: Ship Designer

Published on Friday, February 3, 2017 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

Ship design has been part of Galactic Civilizations games for many years.  However, with Galactic Civilizations III, the designer has reached the point where user creations are starting to rival what you would see in movies.

The ship designs we included are wholly original creations based on the lore that's been developed over the past 25 years.

The ship designer itself lets people put together thousands of parts to create whatever they want.

A new design

For the serious designer, they start from scratch.  This blank screen with a collection of parts is the starting point.


In the beginning...



As you add parts, you will see red dots where you connect other parts to it.



In the hands of a clod like me, I can design something like this in minutes.  The controls in the bottom right let me resize, rotate, animate, etc.



In the hands of someone with some skill, you can get something like this such as this Babylon 5 inspired Starfury like ship.  Because ships are hard surfaces, it's relatively easy for someone to create pretty much any ship.  Organic ships tend to be a lot tougher to make.   But most ships are ultimately a series of wings and cylinders.

What is part of the game?

Obviously, we don't include any of these designs, even inspired ones, with the game.  The point of the ship designer and the fans who share their ship designs is to create their own stories in their heads. 

There is a cottage industry of people who compare different ships sizes, write fan fiction regarding their favorite ships.


Ship size comparison on deviantART.

Anyway, the point being, what people create and share with our tools is up to them.  Galactic Civilizations has always been about creating your own sandbox universe to play in.  It asks the question: What happens after we leave Earth? What is next? And leaves the answers up to the player.

If you have any questions, feel free to post in the comments.

CRUSADE DIARY 1: Introducing Galactic Civilizations III: CRUSADE

Published on Thursday, February 2, 2017 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals


Explore. Expand. Exploit. Exterminate.  This is where the term "4X" originates. 

The granddaddy of our genre is, of course, Sid Meier's Civilization. Where Sid Meier's Civilization leverages our common history from the dawn of agriculture to the moment we leave the Earth, Galactic Civilizations begins at the moment we leave our home world.

In Galactic Civilizations, players create their own histories.  Each game is a different possibility. 

When we released Galactic Civilizations III, we began taking notes on what players wanted to see in future updates or expansions to it.  Many of the features ended up in updates which culminated in the recently released 2.0.  Other features would take a great deal of time and thought to do. 

The biggest, most important features have come together in Galactic Civilizations III: Crusade.

Those features are:

  1. A Civilization Builder for creating and sharing full-fledged civilizations including ships, techs, custom diplomacy behaviors, etc.
  2. An economy based on citizenship that allowed players to macro or micro manage their civilizations based on their preferences in a way that didn't penalize either play style that eliminates sliders and dials.
  3. Espionage for spying and sabotaging your opponents.
  4. Interactive Invasions that make invading a planet a game unto itself.
  5. A better UX for managing large and small empires alike.

These aren't the only features in Crusade of course.  Far from it.  It doesn't even touch on the Crusade campaign, the new alien civilizations, the new graphics engine, the new resource system, the combat changes, the continued evolution of the AI (I am happy to say that the free update to GalCiv III in v2.0 now surpasses the AI in GalCiv II -- sorry it took so long, I'll be happy to discuss AI coding in another diary entry).

The Schedule

Each week between now and the release of Crusade, we will be posting Development Diary highlighting a major element of the expansion.  Here is a sneak preview of the first three:


CRUSADE DIARY 2: The Civilization Builder


February 9, we will walk through how you can build your own civilization to play as or to play against including how to assign specific ships for different roles, share your creations, create diplomacy behavior and more.


CRUSADE DIARY 3: Galactic Citizens


February 16, Take a tour of the all new citizen based economy. Gone are sliders and dials and in their place are your people.  Much strategy (and AI coding) goes around how to get the most out of your most valuable asset: Your people.


CRUSADE DIARY 4: Spies and Saboteurs


February 23, The galaxy is a dangerous place.  One of the vocations your citizens can take is to be trained to be spies and sent on dangerous missions. We will walk you through how espionage works, its consequences and the importance of knowing who is doing what and when.




Lone Star


The Sabre

Civilization Builder


Q: Will Crusade be a stand-alone expansion?

A: No.  It will be released as an add-on to Galactic Civilizations III (DLC).

Q: When will it be released?

A: Our target date is Spring.

Q: How much will it cost?

A: $19.99

Q: Will there be a public beta?

A: No.

Q: How will I be able to get it when released?

A: It'll be on Steam, GOG, direct and elsewhere as a DLC to Galactic Civilizations III.

Sorcerer King: Rivals 2.1 preview

Published on Sunday, January 29, 2017 By Brad Wardell In Sorcerer King Dev Journals



The editor

I’m working on Sorcerer King: Rivals v2.1 right now.  Much of my work is actually happening in the Unit editor:


This is just a glorified Excel spreadsheet that lets me change the pre-requisites.


The new units

There are 5 sovereigns we are enhancing:

  1. The Commander
  2. The Tyrant
  3. The Guardian
  4. The Priestess
  5. The Tinkerer

Each of these 5 are going to get their own starting units and their own unique improvements that go along with their theme.

Originally, we envisioned these sovereigns as being part of The Kingdom so naturally, they would have the same units.  While that makes some sense lore-wise, it wasn’t satisfying gameplay wise which is why we’re trying to further differentiate it.

The new campaign

The campaign new campaign is done and in QA.  Hooray!

The date

We’re looking at just under 3 weeks to have this out to all Sorcerer King: Rivals players!

Stay tuned!

Galactic Civilizations III: Season 1 Episode 1

Published on Monday, January 23, 2017 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

Greetings!  Welcome to the first season of Galactic Civilizations III AARs.   Long ago, I used to write stories regarding Galactic Civilizations II.  With the release of Galactic Civilizations III 2.0, I am proud to bring you a new generation of stories based on Stardock's epic 4X strategy game.

This is just one story...your story will be completely different.

We have detected something...

Just beyond Jupiter's orbit, something was noticed.  Something massive but previously undetected.


The Imagineer is sent out to investigate.  Scientists determine that it is some sort of relic from a long lost, space-faring civilization.

Continue Reading...

DEV DIARY: Ashes T4s

Published on Friday, January 13, 2017 By Brad Wardell In Ashes Dev Journals


We are currently working on additional units for Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation.  The T4s and more T3s are not units you will run into in the competitive multiplayer games but on the bigger maps, late game, we run into a lot of cases where the existing units just aren't powerful enough to distinguish between one civilization and another.

Below is a list of some of the units we are considering.  Feel free to suggest your names:

Name Level Description
Jinx T1 Fires a shot that slows down a unit. The more hits, the slower the unit goes
Flea T1 Splinters won't target it. Can jump up a level of ground without a ramp
Havok T1 Very fast moving light attack unit
  T2 Protects area from bombardment
  T2 Hides area from radar detection
Helios T3 Flying air Dreadnought
War Hog A3 Slow moving flying air cannon
Theia T3 Giant Mobile Factory
  T3 Greatly enhances other units in fleet
  T4 Very slow moving doomsday machine that will destroy one thing at a time.
  T4 Very slow moving doomsday machine that wipes out vast swaths of cheap units
  T4 Very slow moving doomsday machine that lays siege to a distant target
  A3 Ultimate air superiority fighter
  T4 Very slow moving doomsday machine that protects everything nearby

These units will be released for free for Escalation owners.

DEV DIARY GalCiv III v2.0 preview

Published on Friday, January 13, 2017 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

I'm enjoying my time back on Galactic Civilizations.   The team is working on lots of neat things for the upcoming version 2.0 update which is due this month.

Here are a few highlights:



There's a new resource called administrators.  Your capital world provides N of them where N is based on the size of the map.  Building a starbase consumes one.  You can get more by researching government related techs but that means you're not researching weapons or economy techs. 

The practical effect is that it takes a little pressure off the idea that you have to spam out starbases and also gives some advantages to smaller empires who can now choose to use their starbases to improve morale and productivity in their home systems.


Better diplomacy


When I play other games, I tend to cheese.  There have been patches made for games over the years to counter some of my cheese.  There's plenty of diplomacy cheese in GalCiv also and thanks to player feedback, I was able to b-line my way to it.

But it wasn't just cheese that I wanted to improve on.  I wanted the AI to do more trading and less "give me stuff please". So I worked on the diplomatic system to work harder on coming up with trades.  It'll probably be one of the first things players notice.  More AI talk with more interesting trades.





One new system I spent some time on was the concept of redlining. 

When I inevitable have to work on contracts in my "day job" at Stardock/Mohawk/Oxide I do what is called redlining.  That is where I make marks on a proposal as to why I think we should pass on it or cross out things that won't work for us.

One of the first things I did when cheesing GalCiv was to use the old technique of manipulating the aliens to do things that weren't in their best interests.  Now, to be fair, most people don't do this kind of thing but once you do it, it's hard not to do it.

So in response, I implemented a redlining system that you code-geeks might find interesting:

I noticed that the game passes around the trade offer a lot:

VOID IAIOpponent::AppraiseTradeOffer(CDiplomacySystem::ActiveTradeInfo* pTradeOffer, CDiplomacySystem::ActiveTradeInfo* pOtherSideTradeOffer, ObjectID forPlayerID, ObjectID otherPlayerID)

See the pTradeOffer there?  It was the full detail of what was being offered and the AI looks at it in lots and lots of different ways.

So what I did is add a vector of redlines to it.  That is, the AI can be evaluating an offer and say "Hey, this tech is too valuable" or "Those guys are too tough" and add that redline to the trade offer.

Then, when it gets back to you, you see why they rejected it.  And in the process of implementing it, I went ahead and got rid of some of the things I was exploiting like how easy it was to get other people to do your dirty work (you can still do it but you  need to have a lot of persuasive ability or have a much better deal or both).

UI: This will be controversial

I don't expect this next change to be universally loved and I haven't gotten approval yet from the GalCiv III lead designer, Paul Boyer to check this in. 

But anyway, I really really REALLY hate the ship list thing.  That is, when I go to pick a ship to build, it gets filled with tons of auto-generated ship designs.  None of the filter options work for me (i.e. I don't like them).


So instead, what I did was make it so that when you first load up the game, only your favored ships are shown and the other ones are folded up.  Then I made it so that if you click on the label (like Beam Ships) it'll unfold the other ships.   

Now, the trickier thing I had to do was when designing a ship.  I wanted my ships that I designed to automatically show up in the favored list.  It was annoying to design a ship and then have to go look for it.


So now, when I design a ship and save it (in this case, I'll call it the Intrepid class).


Ironically, this proved a lot tougher than you'd think because the ship design screen deals primarily with saving files where as the ship build list actually deals with UI handles (which don't exist when you design a ship since you haven't added that ship to a listbox list yet).

But it's done.

There's a lot of other stuff going into 2.0.  Today I'm working on late game AI stuff.

This free update is due this month.  Stay tuned!

Ashes Dev Diary: But it's on my home machine...

Published on Thursday, January 12, 2017 By Brad Wardell In Ashes Dev Journals

So I did a lot of changes on Ashes balance over the holiday and the team was asking for those changes to be checked in.

I said, "Sorry! I forgot to check them in, they're at home..."


Then suddenly, I realized, I had taken my work machine home to do those changes and brought my work machine back to the office after break.

So I do have them here which means my balance and AI tweaks can go in the upcoming update after all!

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation v2.03 changelog (Released 1/26)

Published on Tuesday, January 10, 2017 By Brad Wardell In Ashes of the Singularity

**RELEASED 1/26/17**


  • Eliminator Turret damage increased from 1000 to 2000
  • Starburst Turret damage increased from 80 to 200
  • Artemis logistics cost increased from 6 to 8
  • Thantos sight radius increased from 500m to 800m
  • Athena HP reduced from 2000 to 1200
  • Engineer build time increased from 25 to 26
  • Strategic Bomber cost increased from 120 metal to 480 metal
  • Strategic Bomber cost increased from 800 rads to 1200 rads
  • Drone Hive shield recharge reduced from 2 per sec to 1 per sec
  • Mauler max shield increased to 1200
  • Mauler rad cost increased from 60 to 80 rads
  • Destructor logistics cost increased from 4 to 8
  • Substrate Constructor build time increased from 24s to 26s
  • Punisher radioactive cost increased from 240 to 280 rads
  • Punisher shields increased from 800 to 1200
  • Dominator build time increased from 50 to 60 seconds
  • Barrager turret build time increased from 100 to 120 seconds
  • Artillery turret rad cost increased from 180 to 240
  • Artillery turret build time increased from 120 to 180
  • PHC Refinery HP reduced from 1500 to 800
  • PHC Quantum Relay build time reduced from 70s to 60s
  • Air Eliminator Turret Rad cost increased from 270 to 600 (this is an end game ultimate air defense)
  • Air Eliminator Turret build time increased from 120 to 240
  • Sky Ender Turret build time increased from 80 to 240
  • Sky Ender Turret rad cost increased from 60 to 600 rads (this is an end game ultimate air defense)
  • Increased Caregiver logistics from 3 to 30
  • Harbinger shields increased from 600 to 4000 (designed to be an incredibly resilient air unit)
  • Harbinger rad cost increased from 800 to 1200
  • Caregiver vision increased from 500m to 1000m


  • Added unique icons for AA and Mixed Turrets
  • Made the attack-move order preview in strategic view red
  • UI now displays the proper cooldown percentages for "custom" cooldown lengths.


  • Fixed a crash with when updating Constructor orders.
  • Athena weapon effects are now properly aligned with its weapons.
  • Smartie missiles now use all of its tubes.
  • Fix issue with "Paranoid Android" achievement that prevented it from being completed reliably
  • Fixed a crash related to selecting a specific unit within a formation
  • Units will no longer stop moving if their destination region is captured before they arrive.
  • Typo fixes


  • Europa: Give bonus logistics to cover cost of free Dreadnaughts
  • Betelgeuse: Added additional Artemis waves
  • Yorkshire: Fixed a camera related crash
  • Lagoan - adjusted Aviary dialogue
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