The Past, Present and Future of Elemental

Published on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 By Brad Wardell In Elemental Dev Journals

After we complete upcoming expansion pack for Elemental: Fallen Enchantress (which we expect to announce NEXT WEEK) we have to do some hard thinking.  Specifically, what do we do next? After some trials and tribulations we’ve put together what is, in effect, a Master of Magic style engine (and before someone flips out, I’m not saying FE is just like MOM, I am saying that at this stage, our *game engine* is finally capable of actually making that game which is obviously was not capable of in 2010).

But first, let’s look at the history…

Once upon a time…

After Galactic Civilizations II I wanted to do a fantasy strategy game.  I wrote up a brief treatment and had our lead artist draw a mockup of what it should look like:


Basically, I wanted Master of Magic with updated graphics and multiplayer. 

During this time, Stardock had the opportunity to publish two games – Sins of a Solar Empire and Demigod. Two opportunities we couldn’t pass up. Meanwhile, Impulse was starting to really take off too.

Now, we’re a small company. REALLY small. People are always shocked at how tiny Stardock is. We might possibly be the oldest independent game studio left (20 years old this year) that still regularly produces new games but the entire enterprise is less than 60 people and that includes our main business – consumer software (Multiplicity, Start8, WindowBlinds, Fences, etc.). 

What that meant,  back in 2008 is that the team that made Galactic Civilizations had to be spread out to help out on Sins, Demigod and Impulse. To do Elemental, we hired up.


Elemental (and at this point, it was just called Elemental) was going to be a pretty straight forward game. Build cities, capture shards, learn magic, research tech and conquer the world.

Now, Stardock’s game studio didn’t run like a normal game studio. That is, there was really no such thing as a producer or a designer. You either coded or you did art. We had titles but they had no real meaning.  Design was handled by the person who was implementing an “area” of the game (for example, GalCiv II did not have a visual tactical battle display in its design, the person who was assigned to code “resolution outcome” wrote that).

And we had a lot of ideas.  Why stop with Master of Magic’s design elements when you can also throw in Magic the Gathering concepts, Total War, Civilization IV, Ultima, etc.

Slowly, things began to morph as people had more and more ideas get presented.


The spell system got more sophisticated.


The tactical combat design scope grew.

And the reality was that all this stuff just didn’t mesh together.  At one point, we even had underground dungeons.


So when Elemental came out, it was extremely buggy (we had spread ourselves too thin – we had no redundancy) and the individual components just didn’t flow together.

Fall From Heaven

When we looked at what went wrong with Elemental it became clear that we were just wearing too many hats. No one owned the design. No one owned the look of it. No one owned the engine design. We needed to bring someone in who would own the project and enforce their will.

That’s what Kael, the designer of Fall From Heaven was able to do.


Kael (Derek Paxton) didn’t just have great game design skills, he was a senior project manager at Novell.

Originally, we had planned to do two expansion packs:

War of Magic – Fallen Enchantress and War of Magic – Forge of the Overlord.  But it was decided that we should do a more ambitious overhaul to the base game and this became Elemental: Fallen Enchantress.

Fallen Enchantress


So with Fallen Enchantress, we ended up with a pretty good fantasy strategy game (if you don’t already have it, GET IT!). We have lots of ideas on how to improve it but the important thing is that we now have a fantasy strategy game engine that is capable of doing whatever type of game we’d like.

And that’s where we’re at. What do we do next? I can tell you one thing, it will not have the word “Elemental” in it.  Why? Check this out:  [Google Search Results]

That isn’t to say we’d scrap all our work and start over with a brand new design and recreate the millions of dollars in art assets.  But it’s not going to be tied to Elemental. But this assumes that our players want us to continue making this style of strategy game at all.

After all, there are some exciting fantasy strategy games in the offing – Age of Wonders 3 I suspect will be announced soon and Eador: Masters of the Broken World looks excellent. Are there enough people who want Stardock to keep making fantasy strategy games of this type to justify that effort?

[Quick aside: What do I mean by “this type of strategy game”?]

Personally, there are two key differentiators in fantasy strategy games that help me define what sub-genre they belong to:

  1. Am I building an empire via starting new cities on a largely empty world (ala Master of Magic)
  2. Am I fighting battles strategically (Fall from Heaven) or fighting them tactically (ala Master of Magic)

And specifically, the question is: Making fantasy strategy games that involve tactical battles, city building and RPG elements? That’s the niche I think we have here. I don’t think we’ve nailed down the perfect blend yet but that’s what time and experience exist for.

And that is what we’d like to hear from you.  Do you like what we’re doing enough to keep Should we continue it forward (and don’t answer “Make Fall From Heaven” its future isn’t tied to this). Also, before someone screams GalCiv III the future of GalCiv is not tied to anything we do here.

Go here to answer:

Discuss in the comments.