Crunch time at Stardock–Fallen Enchantress nears completion

Published on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 By Brad Wardell In Elemental Dev Journals

(this is going to be long…but here we near the climax of the story of the making of Fallen Enchantress).

In the beginning…

imageSo as some of you know, my day job is President/CEO of Stardock.  I founded the company when I was in college to help pay for school – until I could get a “real” job.  Not surprisingly, I was unable to find a real job and so, I’ve been “stuck” here for the last 20 years. I’ve even put my resume on that fancy paper. You know, the textured kind? No luck. So here I am.

When we first got into the Windows market, the games part of our business was largely a hobby. Something we did for fun.  Even today, it’s the enterprise and consumer software I rely on to pay Stardock’s bills. This has allowed us to try some interesting things such as create a very liberal return policy (at the time) that centered around the Gamers Bill of Rights (i.e. if we make something you find buggy that you bought from us, you can return it for a full refund).  Nowadays, most of what’s in the GBOR is taken for granted (reasonable return policies, no CD copy protection, etc.). 

As an industry, we’ve come a long way.  I think the general improvement to the quality of PC games combined with the much much better customer service gamers get is one of the reasons the PC game industry is growing so well again (and yes, I read Internet forums too, don’t let the angry, gullible, or entitled fool you, a PC gamer in 2012 is vastly better off than a PC gamer in 2002 in terms of buying a game, downloading it and having it work and not being hassled with obnoxious copy protection schemes).

In short, it’s a great time to be in the PC game industry.

Beyond War of Magic

HighwayWe took a bruising for the state of War of Magic was released in. And we deserved it. Ultimately, my job is to make sure the stuff we make is really good and in that case, I failed. On the other hand, a lot of good came from it. Today, we make much much better games.

Why Fallen Enchantress is being “given away” to War of Magic early adopters

Giving away Fallen Enchantress to early adopters of War of Magic is a no-brainer.  First, it lets them know that our deeds match our words. It’s easy to say customer friendly things. It’s another thing to spend millions of dollars to back those words up. 

Putting the principle of the matter aside, it’s still good business. The people who bought WOM early on and were disappointed can see that we didn’t forget about them. Repeat customer are the life blood of businesses.  Making our WOM customers know that we stand by our words just makes good business sense.

Our “crunch” time

Our crunch times these days doesn’t mean working weekends or crazy hours. After War of Magic, we made it company policy that crunch times like that would be forbidden. If it looks like we’re going to “come in hot” then just move the date. Don’t debate it, just move the date.  We did that with Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion and we did it with Fallen Enchantress. Even now, I can’t promise you a specific release date.  I’ll wait for Thursday’s build, talk to the QA team, get together with Derek and others and pick a date.

Such a luxury in release flexibility would have been impossible for us just two years ago. Thank goodness for digital distribution.

Flight of the Indies

In the “old” days, there were lots of guys like me.  We weren’t called “CEOs” back then. We were called game developers.  Eventually, most of these companies either got bought up, disappeared or became work-for-hire studios. It’s a brutal business to be in. I’m not sure how many >50 employee, independent, self-funded game development studios are left (feel free in the comments section to list as many as you can think of).  The result is that we tend to mostly see games that are either huge ($10+ million budgets) or tiny (<$1 million budget).  We’re hoping that if Fallen Enchantress is successful that it will help validate that there is a market for so-called “niche” games of significant budget. It’s one of the reasons we’ve spent so much time making sure we get FE right.

Beyond Fallen Enchantress

imageFallen Enchantress paves the way for a lot of exciting and interesting expansions or sequels.  I do hope it does well enough to justify a third game in the Elemental universe (not counting expansions).  It’s a rich world that, thanks to you guys, we’ve been able to develop and mature over the last couple of years into something really special.

The people who helped make Fallen Enchantress

For a modern PC game, Fallen Enchantress has a remarkably small team.  My personal role on the game has been lead developer and AI programmer.  It’s the first time since the OS/2 days that I’ve been the “lead” developer on anything.  We’ll write up a “post mortem” like we did with Galactic Civilizations II.  But broadly speaking, a few developers, a few artists, Derek, Jon, Toby and a few others are the team that made this game.

Here is a sampling of pictures of the team in action:


Derek “Kael” with Bailey. Derek is the lead designer and Project Manager (Producer)



Jon Shafer with his parrot. Jon Shafer designed and implemented the Fallen Enchantress campaign while working on another, unannounced game



Kay (with Jon’s parrot) did all the game icons (like spell icons) and many of the higher quality monster textures



Love all that cool art painting in FE, Leo. Is. The. Man.


Scott (Boogiebac) is our mad scientist, he does…a little bit of everything.



Sarah is my executive planner and keeps me on track between the many different projects going on around here

Akil manages the art team. He modeled a lot of the monsters and generally makes sure things are getting done.


Paul (Mormegil) makes the map stamps and is our UI wizard along with a thousand other tasks



Emily helps ensure we get our paychecks!



Marketing meeting, Angie, Derek, Skittles, Sarah, Nakor, Brian (Yarlen), and Chris making plans



Toby is the Associate Producer, he is the one who helps Derek with UI design, balance tweaking, and produced the tutorials


Sarah is our go-to person on game system implementation (i.e. implementing new features to the game engine)


Jesse, by contrast, is the 3D engine guru. At a normal PC game company, there’d be a 3D engine team. At Stardock, Jesse IS that team.


Jonny & Ari handle graphics engine work and animation rigging respectively. Ari’s the one who made those cool Mite animations.



Kim, our controller, is the one who makes sure I don’t spend all the money on candy.



Cari (Elf) is Stardock’s senior game developer (lead developer of Galactic Civilizations II).

Alan is our up and coming engine architect


Kay making icons

Charles is the go-to guy for integrating XML and the game code along with a million other things.


Of course, this is only a partial list, the credits video is shown at the end of the game which includes our valiant QA team, the support team and other team members who ducked out when they say me coming around with the camera. Winking smile

…and now back to work.