Random Elemental journal: December 2009

Published on Thursday, December 10, 2009 By Brad Wardell In Elemental Dev Journals

One of Sid Meier’s rules of game design boils down to “Prototype, prototype, prototype”.

Forgive me for any unintentional hubris but as far as I’m aware, Elemental is the first commercial PC game that opened that phase of development to the public.

Just this week all kinds of changes have been made to the engine.  So let’s talk about that.

First, for those of you not in the game industry, the thing to remember is that 80% of a game’s development time is spent on engine and assets. The remaining 20% is the actual “game”.  That’s why we have the luxury to monkey around with different game mechanic ideas.

Star Emperor

15 years ago IBM came to me (I was in college) and wanted a “Galactic Civilizations” game but different for something called the IBM Family Funpak. I said “Oh…oh yea, I have a game called…Star Imp..er…I mean Star..Lor- er Star Empir…er Star Emperor. Yea, Star Emperor.”

IBM agreed to pay a pile of money for this game and over a weekend I took my GalCiv for OS/2 code, changed the game mechanics to Star Emperor and voila. A million licneses sold to IBM. 

GalCiv was basically Civilization in Space.  Star Emperor was basically Warlords in space. IBM was happy. Gamers liked it. And I decided I’d do this Stardock thing full time. It totally beat out doing “Truth in Lending” programs for Ford Credit.

Cool stuff in Elemental

Quickie concept of updated Diplomacy interaction

For Elemental, of course, we have more than a weekend to whip up our game mechanics.  But that’s half the fun.  We get to play around with all kinds of different idea.  Best of all, thanks to this Internet thing, we can get input from others.

So here’s stuff from this week:

  1. There will only be 1 type of mana. Mana.  Control of the elemental shards will be handled ala Magic the Gathering. A spell may cost N mana but also require control of M shards to cast. This way, players don’t have to sit there and hold shards for dozens of turns to cast a spell and creates a much more vibrant game.
  2. The battle system has been monkeyed with several times this week internally.  The current system has Attack along with a range for that attack.  There is also no longer “fire” or “frost” damage but instead simply Arcane damage and Arcane resistance.  It’s very similar to what Master of Magic except we have Combat speed in there too.
  3. Players will get a cue that the enemy player is about to cast a spell so that they have the opportunity to counter it when in a tactical battle.  If auto-resolve is on, players will be able to set a default amount of mana they’re willing to invest in a given battle. (we’re still playing with this and expect to for months to come  based on player feedback).
  4. Multiplayer diplomacy will get its own UI rather than sacrificing even an ounce of the SP diplomacy UI to support MP.
  5. The campaign is going to be much much more story driven than originally conceived. Cut-scenes between each chapter written by our friends at Del Rey.
  6. The map itself is going to get a lot more interesting stuff in it. This should start to show up in the next beta but basically, the map is too boring right now.  You’ll see.

Now, for those of you NOT in the beta, fear not. You’re not missing out on anything fun. These prototype betas are explicitly designed to be awful so that we can try out lots of different ideas cheaply. This is going to continue on through the entire prototype phase of the beta (which is beta 1 AND beta 2). 

For those of you in the beta, you’re hopefully starting to notice what makes our games a bit different in how they’re developed. We use our software tech like DesktopX and other goodies that allow us to make massive, easy changes to our game mechanics. This way, we can radically change things based on player feedback. 

We can re-do an entire screen in less than 15 minutes (for instance). If there’s anyone in the industry reading this, please feel free to run through the normal way a screen gets changed so that readers can see the contrast.