Behind the scenes fun at Stardock and GPG

Published on Wednesday, November 18, 2009 By Brad Wardell In Demigod Journals

So today we’re playing a lot of Demigod v1.2.  There’s always that “release or not release” question hanging in the air.

Today, there’s 2 “show stoppers” still left. The Torch Bearer’s Ring of fire doesn’t go away (which would make Torch Bearer users happy but not the rest of us) and the other is that choosing a random Demigod will randomly let you play one of the two new Demigods.  That second one is obviously not a show stopper from the player’s point of view but we really do need to get it straightened up.

The time zone difference between Stardock (eastern) and Gas Powered Games (pacific) is what makes this kind of thing tough because, as I write this, it’s 8am there which in game development land might as well be middle of the night.  So then it’s a question of getting the fix in and uploaded, staged, re-tested and released.

To be honest, if it weren’t for the torch bearer thing, we’d be inclined to put it out still and let people “discover” the random demigod “feature” but on the other hand, in MP, it would encourage everyone to play random which might have pretty unfun game results and we want to really give this release a lot of attention since it is just such a big improvement.

Now, one of the other things I thought I’d use this journal entry to address is some of the things I read about Gas Powered Games on the forums.  Now, I work for Stardock, we’re the publisher. This website is run by Stardock.  So naturally, we’re pretty active.  But the GPG team does hang out here reading. They just don’t comment since they’re busy working on the game.

And I mean that.  Every day we’re emailing back and forth. Tossing around different ideas for future updates to Demigod. 

Stardock isn’t a real company.

What many users don’t realize is the difference between Stardock and Gas Powered Games is that GPG is a real game company and Stardock isn’t. 

Let me explain:

At Stardock, we’re really just a bunch of fan boys.

imageSometimes we code the games (Galactic Civilizations). Sometimes we publish the games (Sins of a Solar Empire, Demigod).  Our involvement on the games we “publish” is non-traditional. The original designer of Demigod, John Comes, who’s now at Uber Entertainment, would be the first to tell you that the final release of Demigod is nothing like what he had in mind. It’s totally different.

That’s because of Mike Marr (and GPG) and I.   So the toned down generals in Demigod? That’s my fault. I wanted to get rid of generals entirely but from a marketing standpoint we couldn’t.  On the other hand, citadel upgrades and flags were from me.  My suggestions though were similar to the kind of fanboy posts you’d see on a forum. By contrast, designer Mike Marr was the true genius behind turning suggestions into something good.

In Sins of a Solar Empire, Brian Clair (who used to run Avault) and I worked with Ironclad to make massive changes to the original concept of Sins of a Solar Empire.  I basically wanted Sins to be Total Annihilation in space. I have no shame.  Hence, Sins has infinite resources with “metal” and “crystal” (crystal wasn’t in TA but was in StarCraft). Ironclad, of course, were the ones who took our “fanboy” like feedback and made Sins of a Solar Empire into the great game it became and continues to be.

Anyway, the point being, some people on these forums make the mistake of thinking what Stardock does is normal – constantly updating and talking to fans. It’s not. We’re mutants. 

Even now, the only reason I’m not at Chris Taylor’s house is due to the..well the restraining order(s).

 imageBut let me talk about the pedigree here so you can understand the difference between a professional game studio and a fanboy company.

Chris Taylor didn’t just make Total Annihilation. He made Hardball 2 and countless other games.  Their VP of Business Development, Kellyn Beeck, was the guy  who made Defender of the Crown (if you had an Amiga and didn’t play that game then I’m not saying you’re a bad person…okay, yes, I’m saying it, you’re a bad person).

Basically, every person we work with over at GPG are experienced game designers of original IP.

By contrast, at Stardock, I basically just makes games I want to play and have no shame of borrowing from whatever else. 

Galactic Civilizations?  That’s Civilization in space.  If I hadn’t written the original version in college I would have known better than to use the word Civilizations. I picked up Teach Yourself C in 21 days in order to learn how to program so I could make it. Seriously.

Nowadays we would have called GalCiv something totally original like Space: Total War or something that wouldn’t get us into trouble…

Then there’s Elemental which let’s be honest, is really a next-generation combo of Master of Magic, HOMM, Age of Wonders 2: Shadow Magic combined with bits and pieces from lots of other things we like to play including board games.

image The point I’m trying to make with you guys is that the reason we’re all over the forums and making these journals and such isn’t because we’re a good company. There’s no real business justification to do it. We do it because we’re basically just fanboys.  I was writing long posts like this during the Supreme Commander 1 beta (some of you may recall).

Real companies are smart enough not to show you the sausage factory.  Stardock, by contrast, does not.

Most corporate visitors who come to Stardock are shocked at the size of Stardock. Normally, a company that’s grown to our size would have grown up by now.  We just won’t grow up.

The ramifications of real-time communication with fans

Real companies don’t communicate with fans as much for good reason: Too much communication ultimately leads to expectations not being met. We know this.  But as fanboys, hanging out on forums posting what’s going on is what we do.

For instance, a real company would have had Demigod v1.1 be that May release that fixed the online multiplayer issues – btw, on a game that has sold hundreds of thousands of copies, only around 25,000 users even logged to play multiplayer between release and June (we had 10X that many pirates trying but they didn’t get access to the MP stuff after day 3 but that’s another story). 

So as big of a deal the online multiplayer shenanigans was to us (i.e. us fanboys at Stardock and those of you into this stuff) in the “real world” only a small percentage of users were even aware or cared. 

Then Demigod v1.2 would have been released in July (which was called v1.1).

In September v1.3 would have been released (which we called v1.19)

And then this month v1.4 would have been released (which we’re calling v1.2).

In other words, a steady stream of improvements to what is, without a doubt, an outstanding game.  But the journals tend to make it look like the updates are late or few and far between but they only seem that way because Stardock isn’t a real company and lets people see, in near-real time, what exactly is going on.

imageGPG has been continuously supporting Demigod since day 1. They’re working as a professional game studio that has been, consistently, releasing a steady stream of improvements and enhancements for the game. Staffed with industry veterans, they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.  Every day, I get a half dozen emails from people at GPG – and that’s nothing compared to what QA/Support do back and forth with them.

It’s only when you look back and realize that Demigod’s only been out 6 months and you look and see how much better the game has already gotten (and it was good to begin with) and how much better it continues to get that you realize just how much effort GPG has put into supporting the game.

Anyway, I need to get back to “testing” Oculus some more.  Then I have to try out Sins of a Solar Empire: Diplomacy and there’s a new build of Elemental.  Then I need to see if IconPackager 5 is ready for release this week and see how things are going with yesterday’s release of WindowBlinds 7 (I made a quick video demo here). Then I need to see how the Live Writer integration into is going and see if the WinCustomize skin queries got updated to improve database response and then there’s some new moves to be updated for the Elemental pen and paper game we’ve got going and then I think I’ll write some blog on some topic that will get us into trouble and then…