A brief history of the Elemental games

Published on Sunday, October 5, 2014 By Brad Wardell In Elemental Dev Journals

Once upon a time there was Master of Magic

Back in 2008, Stardock was just finishing up its work on Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor.  We had been in negotiations with Atari to acquire the Master of Magic rights (to the point that we actually own the domain www.masterofmagic.com).  We had a game design all planned out for it complete with Halfings, Gnolls, High Elves, the works.  To be safe, we were not going to stray very far from the original design other than to add multiplayer and updates the units to modern 3D. 

When negotiations with Atari didn’t work out, it was decided we would create our own fantasy world that we called Elemental.  Early on we had a fairly straight forward conversion table:

  • Klackons = Quendar
  • Ironeers = Dwarves
  • Resoln = Nomads
  • Urxen = Orcs
  • Altar = High Men
  • Pariden = High Elves

Cities had 8 classes of buildings (Infrastructure, Industry, Commerce, Military,  Religious, Academic, Husbandry, and Naval).  And each race would have its own unique buildings in each category along with different bonuses to Workers, Farmers and Rebels.

Naming Convention

The game was to be called WAR of MAGIC.  But for trademark concerns, it was decided we would put the name “Elemental” in front.  This would prove to be ironic because in the long-term, people remember War of Magic as “Elemental” and not War of Magic.  As had been said in forums over the years, there would never have been a Elemental II. It would have been War of Magic II.


The original mockup for War of Magic

Design Divergence

War of Magic started getting the scope creep to end all scope creep.  We decided we would have huge, real-time battles.  We decided to have player designed units. The city improvements would be player designed as well, expanding out onto the map and having an editor where players could design their own very unique improvements.  Spells too would be designed by players in game.

This probably seems insane now but a game called Spore was coming out and we were enthralled about the idea of handing over the content creation to players.

Unfortunately, our engineering/art ambitions were beyond our ability to deliver, especially on the hardware of the time.


War of Magic

We tried all kinds of things to reduce the hardware scope which resulted in an art-style that was, unique but not necessarily appealing.  Player unit design required us to give up on the dramatically different race differentiation and the city design concept ended up completely changing the way the cities were made.

In the end, War of Magic ended up nothing like Master of Magic.

War of Magic is released

When War of Magic came out, people were very disappointed that it was buggy, bland, and nothing like Master of Magic.  It is a disappointment that haunts us to this day.

It ended up getting “meh” (3/5) reviews and we were so disappointed with it that we decided to give the two planned expansion packs to it for free to early adopters.


The expansions that never happened

Originally, we had two expansion packs planned.

  • War of Magic: Fallen Enchantress
  • War of Magic: Legendary Heroes

We would later then make a game called War of Magic II: Empire of Sorcery (and we have the domain to this too www.empireofsorcery.com).

One of the outcomes of War of Magic was that we brought on Derek Paxton (Kael) who had made the popular Civilization mod, Fall from Heaven to re-design War of Magic.  Not surprisingly, he didn’t want this new game associated too strongly with War of Magic so it would become a stand-alone game with a much bigger scope.

Branding confusion

Unfortunately, everyone knew the game as Elemental.  We learned a valuable lesson on branding – people will refer to your game based on the most unique word in it.  We ourselves referred to War of Magic as Elemental all the time just like we call Sins of a Solar Empire “Sins”.    So most people just think of the game as Elemental and not War of Magic.

So what would we call future games?

We looked at the branding debacle Star Wars had come into: Star Wars: Episode 3 – Attack of the Clones.  We didn’t want that.

Otherwise we’d have Elemental: War of Magic – Fallen Enchantress.

This is a problem we still have.

It was decided, ultimately, that it would be referred to as Fallen Enchantress.

Fallen Enchantress

With Fallen Enchantress, we looked at what the underlying engine we had built could do well and what parts it couldn’t do well. Derek Paxton designed a fantasy game that would satisfy most players.  We were still learning the ropes of what makes a good fantasy 4X title with this one. Fallen Enchantress was given away to all the early adopters of War of Magic.



Fallen Enchantress greatly tightened up the design and made it a generally well received game.

Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes

We took what we learned from Fallen Enchantress and made an expansion pack called Legendary Heroes.  Like Fallen Enchantress, it was free for early adopters of War of Magic. It was also sold as a steep discount to those who had bought Fallen Enchantress.

One thing that I wish we had done differently was not release it as a “expand-a-lone”.  Stand-alone expansions are an ugly hold-over of the retail days and not something we plan on revisiting any time soon. 



Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes took a pretty decent game and made it into a really good game

After Fallen Enchantress

In June of 2013, we had a hit.  FE:LH was well received. People really liked it. It was, by any standard, a really good game.  So what do we do? This is where branding gets in.

The name, for instance, is a problem for us.  We had already decided to name it Fallen Enchantress long before Derek “Fall from Heaven” Paxton joined us.  What if he someday wanted to make a Fall from  Heaven game? Having two series with “Fall” in the name was problematic.  This is an issue we haven’t resolved.

As a practical matter, Stardock wants to keep the good will and success of Legendary Heroes going.  I.e. a strong 4X builder with player designed units, vast worlds, wild lands, etc.  For all of 2013 and 2014 Stardock has continued to update Legendary Heroes with new DLC and new free updates.

Sorcerer King

In 2013, Stardock acquired the publishing rights to the Star Control (www.starcontrol.com) series.  What we really liked about Star Control (2) was the story and interaction with the different aliens while working against a powerful enemy.  It had been a long time since anyone tried to do something like that.

At the same time, a lot of really interesting 4X fantasy games had come out from other publishers. This would mean that a lot of gamers would already be familiar with the basics of a 4X fantasy. 

Thus, the idea for Sorcerer King was born: Let’s make a 4X game where the bad guy had already won and was now trying to become a god. Only you could stop him and to do so you would need to gather up the defeated remnants that you had previously competed with to stop him. 

For replayability, we would make sure that there was a lot of complex, unscripted interaction between the various players, random maps, random quests, and all manner of other content that would make sure each game was a new 4X adventure.  We had played a lot of game called FTL and saw how each game does feel very different based on the way it does its quests.

Ironically, the design is adhering a lot more closely to some of our original designs. Each faction is very different. Each unit has lots and lots of special abilities.  And ironically, the UI design is much more similar to the original concept we had all those years ago.



Star Control: Isn’t he cute?


Have you played FTL? If not, get it! Great game!


Sorcerer King: How do you make quests entertaining? Why, hire writers from Cracked.com to write them.


Sorcerer King in action


The Elemental Relationship

So how are all these games related?  War of Magic, Fallen Enchantress and Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes all follow a pretty straight forward path.  You could call Fallen Enchantress a sequel to War of Magic even though it is dramatically different (but then again, Star Control 2 is very different from Star Control 1).

I can’t answer the branding questions.  What I can say is that the War of Magic series (however they’re branded) will continue its own path (War of Magic – > Fallen Enchantress –> Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes –> X?) and Sorcerer King will have its own path. 

Knowing that the word “Fall” or “Fallen” is out of the question for future titles in the War of Magic path, feel free to make your own suggestions. Smile