This week I’ve been presenting internally our company business plan for 2011. Part of this is the Stardock Customer Report 2011 (which we’ll be making available publicly soon) along with our road map on the studio games (this doesn’t count future titles from our partner Ironclad who developed Sins of a Solar Empire nor does it address next steps in the Demigod franchise.
This journal entry will likely only be of interest to either techies or biz types. So if you’re looking for interesting game feature stuff, you’ll probably want to skip this.
The Road Map
Essentially every studio has a road map. They just don’t make it public for obvious reasons. Since we’re privately held, we can pretty much do whatever we’d like and one of the things we like is to keep our fans up to speed on what the heck is happening here.
So below is the road map for the studio developed (Stardock Entertainment’s studio) titles.
Kumquat is just our internal nickname for the engine. It was called this in honor of former Stardock developer Mike Duffy who created the predecessor “Pear” which we licensed from him after he left to start his own studio. Pear is what all Stardock games from 1997 through 2003 used (Entrepreneur, The Corporate Machine, LightWeight Ninja, Galactic Civilizations I). It was a fantastic game engine for its day but was 3D.
Kumquat is a new engine that was developed originally for Society which is the free to play MMORTS that we’ve been slowly developing for the past hundred years or something like that. We decided to have the first game that used Kumquat be a fantasy strategy game, namely, Elemental: War of Magic.
Now, when War of Magic was being made, we obviously had very high hopes for how it would be received. So we pictured having Elemental: War of Magic – Expansion 1…2…3. And then you’d have Elemental: War of Magic II and so on. But when Elemental: War of Magic was released it was very buggy and even after the bugs were largely fixed, the gameplay wasn’t what we had envisioned it being. We had cut or altered so many features from the original design to match what Kumquat could do – at the time – that we ended up with something that few were pleased with.
But work on Kumquat has continued non-stop and so in December it was decided that rather than continue the War of Magic line we would use the opportunity to create a new fantasy strategy game in the Elemental world that would succeed War of Magic and then just give that to everyone who bought War of Magic in 2010 it for free with steep discounts for anyone who buys it before it is released. That’s where Elemental: Fallen Enchantress comes in.
The effect of this is that we’ll eventually have War of Magic, Fallen Enchantress and <Untitled third branch>. This isn’t really very different than what we did with Galactic Civilizations II with the exception of the intention to have them be stand-alone and thus allowing the separate entities to continue to be potentially developed on their own path based on what players ask for. If the strategy games were primarily multiplayer games, we obviously couldn’t do this because you’d be fragmenting the player base. But these are primarily single player games that happen to have (fairly crummy) multiplayer support.
One nice thing about this is that it gives us, and players, a lot more design flexibility. Fallen Enchantress is a pretty radical departure from War of Magic. Based on what I’m seeing, I suspect most people will prefer that by far to War of Magic but only time will tell. But in any event, we will be making a v1.3 of War of Magic that will be on its own code branch.
As a game developer, I can tell you that this is pretty exciting stuff. Consider the challenges other strategy game franchises have. Some players would have liked to see Civilization V be more along the lines of Civilization IV. Others would have preferred it to be far more complex and others would have preferred to have it streamlined.
Elemental: RPG games
Now, as some people may recall, after War of Magic’s difficult launch, we had to re-evaluate our staffing levels and reorganize. This meant some painful layoffs back last Fall which came from people slated for the RPG title. After War of Magic, it was recognized that the game studio was being run like a hobby and not as an engineering process like our enterprise software unit. This meant we needed to bring in full-time designers and full-time project managers onto the studio. Thus, the second studio team, designated for the Elemental: RPG, got largely zapped. This year we will begin to reconstitute this team as we bring in a lead studio developer and some senior developers to help ensure that we don’t have another War of Magic episode.
The Mod Layer
As some people may remember, I was planning to take a sabbatical last year. Clearly that didn’t happen. I am still planning to do this sometime early this year. With Kael and Jon Shafer here now, I am comfortable that the games unit won’t need me to intervene. This will let me create what I’ve creatively named “Mod Layer”. The idea is to create a piece of middleware between Kumquat and future games that would allow people to make games using mostly Python. I’ve started the planning part of this with our DesktopX lead developer so that we can use Expression Blend to create “objects”, and then manipulate them via Python and render them in Kumquat. This way, modders can easily create a wide assortment of games that are either 2D or 3D and potentially portable to (at the very least) Xbox Live Arcade and Windows Phone (though I’d like to also do iOS but Xcode is the devil still so I may ask some Stardockians to make that part for me <g>).