Star Control: September 2016 update

Published on Wednesday, August 31, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Star Control News

One year ago I wrote the September 2015 update. You can read that here.

A lot has happened in the past year.  So let's get right to it!

Greetings!

With Offworld Trading Company now released as well as Ashes of the Singularity released, the Star Control team has gotten reinforcements.  The team is now a who's-who of some of the most experienced game developers in the industry.  

Broadly speaking, the Star Control team is made up of the leads of Civilization IV, Civilization V, Galactic Civilizations and numerous other classics.  Never before have I worked with a team with this much experience.  So many people love Star Control and want to bring it back.

Challenge #1: The technical challenge

Star Control is an immensely difficult technical challenge to do today.  You really wouldn't think that given that 24 years ago, Star Control 2 was done as a DOS game. How hard could it be?

The challenge is that Star Control is really five games.  Let's walk through that:

Game #1: A planet exploration game.  You could make an entire game around Star Control's planet exploration concept.

Game #2: A galaxy exploration game.  Space is big.  In fact, some say the universe has hundreds, perhaps even thousands of stars. In Star Control's case, the galaxy has over ten-thousand planets out there.

Game #3: An adventure game.  This is the meat of the game. Going on quests, getting an interesting story to drive you to new objectives is what, ultimately, ties the game together. Without the alien adventure game, Star Control would just be some game where you explore a big galaxy full of planets to land on to get resources to upgrade your ship to get to the next planet. And who would want that? ...

Game #4: The combat game.  Super Melee.  This is where you battle with other ships that have unique weapons and defenses. It's an action game. 

Game #5: It's an RPG.  You are the captain. You have a ship. The ship is, ultimately, your character. Your allies are your party.  You level up, get equipment to upgrade your ship so it's better and more interesting.

It's a big project and one we're happy to tackle. But it won't be easy.

Challenge #2: The budget

The new Star Control game is the biggest game we've ever made.  Its budget is bigger than the combined budgets of all the games we've released in the past few years.  Stardock is the oldest independent game studio left in the industry and this game is a huge challenge for us budget-wise.  When people get excited about this game or that game, it's easy to forget that most of those games are from publicly traded companies or are funded by a publicly traded company.  The new Star Control is not.  It's directly funded by the individual sales of our games by you guys.

Challenge #3: The Setting

Star Control takes place in 2085.  The humans are about to discover that the galaxy has been busy for a long long time.

Challenge #4: Hardware requirements

Star Control uses the Nitrous engine.  For those of you not familiar with it, it's a next-generation 3D engine that can handle CGI like visuals in real-time.  However, that comes at a price: Hardware.  We are working hard to make sure Star Control will run on almost any system that supports DirectX 11, DirectX 12, or Vulkan.  

Founders and setting up canon

A year ago, we let in a tiny tiny number of people into the Founders program.  

We needed the thoughts and feedback of some die hard fans of the classic Star Control series that featured the Ur-Quan story line.  It is not commonly known but the full name of Star Control 1 back in 1991 was Star Control: Famous Battles of the Ur-Quan conflict Volume IV.  

Star Control 1 and 2 deal with the Ur-Quan conflict.

And there's also...Star Control 3.

We've now had almost a year of listening to their thoughts and their ideas on all this.  The biggest challenge we had was determining what is and isn't canon and how to have new adventures without overwriting what came before.  

Most people who get into the new Star Control will never have played or even heard of the classic series from the early 1990s.  But for those, like me, who have, it has a very special place in our hearts.  So the challenge has been, how do you support both groups? 

So to that end, we have concluded (this is only of interest to super fans of the original)

There is a single Star Control multiverse.  Star Control 1 and 2, the Ur-Quan conflict epic, takes place on the universe we designate as Earth-UrQuan.  Star Control 3, however, takes place on Earth-Crux.  Earth-Crux is similar to Earth-UrQuan but is not the same universe.  Thus, if Paul Reiche and Fred Ford, who today work for Activision working on Skylanders are able to return to their Ur-Quan stories, we presume they'd continue from the events in Earth-UrQuan (or whatever designation they'd prefer).

The new Star Control prequel also takes place in its own universe.  That doesn't mean it's a universe without the Spathi and Ur-Quan and so forth.  But if you run into them, it won't be until at least 2122 (after this prequel takes place and only if Paul and Fred are involved in that story).

For all players, the new Star Control prequel is a clean slate. 

For people who aren't familiar with all this lore, we still sell Star Control 1/2/3 from the 90s so you can get into that lore.

Founders: Phase 2

This Fall we anticipate starting up Founders phase 2.  This will be a much larger group that will continue to help provided feedback and ideas and this Winter begin testing out builds of the game with a select few being given the multiplayer Melee build to help us with multiplayer testing.

 More to come this Fall.

Stardock is looking to hire someone for the coolest job in the game industry

Published on Wednesday, August 24, 2016 By Brad Wardell In PC Gaming

Some people say that the dream job is to play video games, write about those games, take videos of them, etc. That job does exist and Stardock is looking to hire someone to do it.

The job is called Content Developer.

What does this job entail? Basically, playing our games and helping us get the word out to people what we’re doing via video, articles, screenshots, etc.

Here’s an example using our friends at Firaxis as an example: http://www.digitaltrends.com/gaming/civ-vi-spain-reveal/

This person plays the games, takes screenshots, takes video, edits the video and helps make sure people know about it.  It’s partly a marketing job and partly a game developer job.

Historically, I’ve done this job myself.  So I can say with some authority that it’s a pretty awesome job.  But as much as I love doing it, I am supposed to be writing AI, fixing bugs, attending endless meetings and talking to partners. 

Example:

I did this video:

Here is the original version we worked from (and yea, that's my voice with my script):

In the Offworld Trading Company video, I wrote the script, captured the video, edited it together in video and then recorded it.  Then, once we had the pacing down, I worked with Mohawk to get the right voice actor to read the script and then a final pass with the art team to clean up any remaining rough edges.

And I did the above while working on Ashes of the Singularity and being President of Mohawk, CEO of Oxide and Stardock along with my other jobs.  The point being, it’s a fun enough job that we’ve all hung on to doing this ourselves for a long time.

 

Skills required:

  • Love of PC games
  • Good writer
  • Comfortable taking screenshots and having an eye for a good screenshot
  • Able to capture video and edit it in something like Adobe Premiere
  • Comfortable using Twitch and YouTube and social media in general
  • Able to take the initiative to write articles
  • Willing to write and hang out online with other gamers and talk to them even when they’re being crazy
  • Comfortable talking to the gaming press and demoing the game
  • Comfortable with Twitter, Reddit, forums, etc.

Here are some examples of really good content developers:

 

Cruasder Kings II: Developer Diary

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQQqBIOgVRw

 

My primitive GalCiv II AAR:

http://forums.galciv2.com/104115/

 

Screenshot taken of Stellaris and posted online

https://twitter.com/Martin_Anward/status/768422035974389761

 

My Wiki entry for Ashes of the Singularity’s history:

http://wiki.ashesofthesingularity.com/index.php/The_Post-Human_Coalition

 

Endless Space 2 being demoed at Gamescom

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdUBlmrLtvg

 

When we were smaller, we would take care of it piece meal.  But in the next year or so we’ve got:

  • Star Control
  • Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation
  • unannounced game 1
  • unannounced game 2
  • unannounced game 3
  • Sorcerer King: Rivals

So we need someone dedicated to this stuff.

This is a full time job. While there’s a mild preference for the person to be able to be here either in Stardock Plymouth (Michigan) or Stardock Towson (Maryland) it really could be done anywhere in the world.

And yea, it is basically the funnest job in the world – which is why we haven’t hired someone to do it.  We love doing this stuff.

To apply, email jobs@stardock.com

Offworld Trading Company heads to the asteroids

Published on Tuesday, August 23, 2016 By Brad Wardell In PC Gaming

If you don’t already have Offworld Trading Company and would like an RTS that focuses on economy, plays at the pace you want to play and has really intelligent AI players that you can configure you should definitely go grab Offworld Trading Company.

image

 

The first major DLC was just released for it, The Ceres initiative.  The base game takes place on Mars.  By contrast, Ceres takes you to the largest asteroid in the Mars/Jupiter asteroid belt and adds new resources and structures.  From a replay point of view, it really changes things up because you’re battling diminishing resources.

Go grab it here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/511450/

Stardock is looking for some volunteers

Published on Monday, August 15, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Star Control

 

Stardock is setting up a number of Wiki pages:

 

  1. http://wiki.elementalgame.com

  2. http://wiki.ashesofthesingularity.com

  3. http://wiki.offworldgame.com

  4. http://wiki.galciv.com

  5. http://wiki.starcontrol.com

  6. http://wiki.sinsofasolarempire.com 

We're looking for volunteers to help flesh them out.  We can't promise payment but we will do our best to reward and thank active contributors.
 
Thanks!

Stardock is looking for some volunteers

Published on Monday, August 15, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Ashes of the Singularity

Stardock is setting up a number of Wiki pages:

 

  1. http://wiki.elementalgame.com

  2. http://wiki.ashesofthesingularity.com

  3. http://wiki.offworldgame.com

  4. http://wiki.galciv.com

  5. http://wiki.starcontrol.com

  6. http://wiki.sinsofasolarempire.com 

We're looking for volunteers to help flesh them out.  We can't promise payment but we will do our best to reward and thank active contributors.
 
Thanks!

Ashes of the Singularity: August update

Published on Monday, August 08, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Ashes Dev Journals

The goal: Create the biggest scale real-time strategy game ever

imageAshes of the Singularity is a real-time strategy game set in the not-so-distant future where a single person can control thousands of constructs (the distant descendants of today’s drones) in order to conquer an entire world. 

The world is broken up into regions with each region containing various resources that players capture and can then build up defenses, exploit the resources within and use as a staging area to conquer more of the world.

Little tiny ants

On the one hand, we want players to get a sense of the epic scale of these maps and see vast armies battling it out without turning them all into icons.  On the other hand, we want players to be engaged with the world so we’ve resisted getting too abstract with how we display everything.  Every unit in Ashes is unique with a specific role whose differences can be subtle. Hence, if we got too abstract, it becomes impossible to recognize the interplay between different unit mixes. One of the strengths of using Oxide’s Nitrous engine is that we can zoom way way out without hiding or abstracting units.  The downside is, of course, you zoom out enough and everything looks like “little tiny ants”

 

 

Hardware requirements

PHC_Indirect_LayerssThe other big challenge has been hardware requirements: Ashes of the Singularity v1.0 requires a video card with 2GB of video memory and a 4-core CPU with a display of 1920x1080 and 4GB of video memory.

According to the Steam hardware survey these requirements have consequences for us.

  1. The 4-core CPU requirement costs us 51% of the Steam user base right off the bat.
  2. The 2GB video memory eliminates 59% of the user base
  3. And the display resolution cuts out 53% of the user base.

It is safe to say that at least 70% of the Steam user base cannot currently run Ashes of the Singularity due to low hardware requirements.    Despite that, during the month of July Ashes of the Singularity past the 100,000 units sold mark.

We knew, long ago, that our hardware requirements would ensure that Ashes was a niche title on release.  It’s done substantially better than projected (in fact, it has done far better than it has any business doing given the hardware requirements and the genre). 

To put it in perspective, Ashes sales are at the top of the RTS charts for new 2016 releases despite not having a well known IP and costing $39.99.

Still, a goal of ours is to reduce the hardware requirements. That’s where version 1.3 comes in.

Version 1.3

image

On August 4 Ashes 1.3 was released and we are on the edge of being able to reduce the hardware requirements to  1GB of memory and a 2-core CPU.  We’re not there yet but we’re getting pretty close.  The one area we really need to work on is the minimum display resolution which is tricky given how generous we were in our UI design (generous to ourselves that is).

Some highlights of 1.3 include:

  • New unit physics system so that units can now turn on a dime and are exceptionally responsive.
  • New army organization system that breaks armies into companies if they are split up so that they don’t always have to be together in a single giant group
  • Updated pathfinding so that units don’t glomb up on each other
  • Updated UI across the board
  • 5 new (free) maps
  • Map ping for multiplayer
  • Various bug fixes and balance updates

It’s a pretty meaty update, particularly under the hood.  Someone who bought Ashes of the Singularity in May who hasn’t played it since and downloaded version 1.3 would discover that Ashes is a lot faster, a lot smarter, a lot prettier and has a much better campaign.  Too late for reviews but important for rewarding early adopters and fans.

 

Multiplayer: Season 2 begins

Season 1 is over and the winners are:

image

 

The ranked multiplayer in Ashes is similar to that of Hearthstone which probably isn’t surprising since it was designed by Adrian Luff who joined us after having been an architect of Battle.net for twenty years. Of the top 10 players, 6 players were Substrate and 4 were PHC. 

You can explore the Metaverse by going here: http://www.ashesofthesingularity.com/metaverse. This site also includes the DirectX 11/12 hardware performance results.

 

 

Single Player: What’s coming

Engineer_Web_LayersDespite Ashes having a pretty lively multiplayer community, over 95% of the player base only plays single player.  As in, they have never attempted to play multiplayer.  This is important for fans to understand because we often see people wanting us to spend more time on multiplayer features (something we tend to want to do because we play multiplayer). 

So often we have to make tough decisions on whether to put engineering time into features to help multiplayer or engineering time to support modding (we think a lot of people would love to make their own units or just share scenarios and maps with one another via Steamworks). 

For that reason, modding and sharing mods will make up a lot of our upcoming engineering time.  We want people to be able to make maps, units, scenarios, UI changes, buildings, terrain, etc. and share it easily withy one another.

 

 

Expansion News

PHC_Battery_Web_LayersThe first expansion for Ashes of the Singularity will be coming out this Fall.  It will be a stand-alone expansion (i.e. you won’t need to buy the base game).  This is the same thing we did with Sins of a Solar Empire and Fallen Enchantress and it worked well.  A new player would just buy the expandalone and get the base game and the expansion integrated.  DLC from the base game will migrate to the expansion (i.e. players won’t have to buy it again).

We also plan to allow people with the base game and the expansion (despite being different products) to be able to play together in multiplayer.  We don’t want to split the community and it gives us an opportunity, over time, to make the base game of Ashes of the Singularity a good introduction.

We’ll be announcing the expansion soon but in the meantime, here are some general details:

  • Will have three episodes (one of which is Imminent Crisis from the base game)
  • Lots of new defense buildings
  • New global abilities
  • Bigger map size
  • More players per map
  • Roughly a dozen new units
  • Game setup options
  • New types of worlds
  • Global view (similar to Strategic Zoom in GalCiv, SupCom, Sins)

There are a ton of other features as well but those features will be added to the base game as well for free.

The base price for the expandalone will be $39.99.  For a limited time, the upgrade price for existing players will be $14.99.

 

More soon!

First World Problems: August 2016

Published on Sunday, August 07, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Everything Else

In no particular order.

 

  1. If the Roomba would just empty its bin on its own, it would be a completely autonomous vacuum system.
  2. I wish there was an AI bot that could just block posts and messages from friends when they’re about politics. I don’t care which monster you want to support. You’re still supporting a monster.
  3. There are not enough bike paths to my office here in Canton/Plymouth Michigan. Nothing reminds you of your mortality like having a car zip past you going 55mph mere inches from you.
  4. It is, literally, impossible to reduce the services you pay for via Comcast online. You have to call someone. This is so consumer unfriendly that you’d think the CPA could take time out of banning magnetic balls to do something about this.
  5. Verizon let me activate my iPad 2 to have cellular service.  But it provides no way to end it unless, wait for it, you call them.
  6. The Star Control team has gotten so big that we had to eliminate our gaming area to fit more desks.
  7. Twitter is already dead. It just doesn’t realize it yet.  They rely almost completely on mobile ad revenue and still lost $107 million last quarter (that’s just 3 months) and their user base is stagnate.  As soon as the iPhone/Android app bubble bursts, so will Twitter. Even with the buble they’re losing nearly a half billion a year.  Give me $10 million and I’ll build a much better BBS and I won’t even ban you for insulting a social justice warrior.
  8. If I was a betting man, I’d bet on Slack to be what ultimately kills (or buys) Twitter. Bookmark this.
  9. I ordered a Telsa Model X in May.  It’s now August. Still waiting. They seriously need to get their shit together if they want to be able become mainstream.  My Porche 911 Turbo didn’t take this long and it had to cross the ocean (which was fun to track the freighter).
  10. I really, really don’t like Steam’s review system. It’s so open to abuse and while you might think that it would affect every game equally, it doesn’t. Certain genres (and price ranges) are much more susceptible to it. 
  11. IMDB user reviews are starting to become worthless. Thanks to bots, crappy movies get amazing launch day review scores (looks darkly at Suicide Squad’s 8.1 rating when it first was released with 13,000 “ratings”).
  12. Geothermal cooling is better on paper than in practice. 

 

See you next month!

 

Previous:

Roombas everywhere

Published on Thursday, August 04, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Everything Else

I recently picked up a Roomba and am amazed at how far they have come.

Like many people, I followed the original release of the Roomba robotic vacuum it seemed kind of like a toy at the time.  No more.  It’s for real.

Right now, my office building spends about $1,600 a month on cleaning.  Now, vacuuming isn’t the main thing they do but it is a significant part of what they do.  It is tempting to just buy three high end Roombas (one per floor) and let them go and see if we could reduce our cleaning costs.

Roombas, and other devices like it, are the leading edge of the AI-based automation revolution that is starting.  If you aren’t scared, you should be. I know I am. 

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