DEV DIARY: Escalating the RTS

Published on Tuesday, October 11, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Ashes Dev Journals



On November 3, Ashes of the Singularity gets its first expansion pack: Escalation.  It’s a stand-alone expansion which means that if you don’t already have Ashes of the Singularity, you can just buy Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation and get everything that’s in the base game too.




There are a lot of reasons we decided to separate the base game from Escalation.  Much of this came from how the game developed during the beta period.  For those of you who weren’t part of the early access program, we had very heated debates regarding the direction the game should go. 

To oversimplify things, there were two camps: The Total Annihilation camp and the Supreme Commander camp.  Now, you might think these camps would be the same but they’re not.  As good as Total Annihilation is, it is a lot simpler than Supreme Commander.  There’s no strategic zoom, there are no upgradeable defenses and it has limited progression as part of its strategy.  

I was part of the Total Annihilation camp and Ashes of the Singularity 1.0 reflects this.  We wanted Ashes to be a more approachable game than Supreme Commander was and felt that features such as Strategic Zoom and complex economic interactions would be a turn-off the wider RTS community. 



Strategic Zoom in Escalation (full zoom out). Courtesy of PC Gamer


The problem with that approach is that it results in a game that doesn’t feel featured enough to justify a $39.99 price tag in 2016.  While Ashes shipped with a lot more content than Sins of a Solar Empire did back in 2008, the market has vastly changed since then.  In 2008, Sins was only competing against the other 37 SCUs on retail shelves at Walmart.  In 2016, Ashes is competing against every RTS that has ever been released.  If the only obvious innovation in Ashes is that it can handle thousands of units easily that’s just not sufficient in a full priced PC game now when a player can choose from all the RTS’s of all time.

So how do we adapt to that?

The answer, we had to rethink the game’s design. It has to evolve to be obviously different than anything that has come before.  It has to find its own niche.


Now, one path we considered was making Escalation a DLC for Ashes of the Singularity.  The problem with that idea is that a year from now, Escalation and the base are going to evolve in very different directions.  We are going to continue to develop and enhance the base game for years to come with our original vision in mind: A modern Total Annihilation style game.  The base game will be priced to address that.

Escalation, by contrast, will evolve to become substantially more sophisticated.  We are looking at adding more resources to the game, a tech tree, resource refinement.  This will allow for a lot more strategies and a lot more variance based on map and resource placement.

Now, you reading this may look at these features and think “yay!” but I can assure you, there are plenty of players who will find greater base building, more resources and a tech tree to be overwhelming.  But the business reality is that when a new RTS is competing against every RTS that has ever been made, you either have to price your game to compete with them or you have to develop something that has never been done before.



Volcanic Worlds in Escalation. Courtesy of Gameranx




Now, all this might sound great unless you’re an early adopter.  A lot of people bought the original game for $49.99.  It’s pretty crappy for those people to then have to pay $20 (a total of $69.99) while newcomers get it for $39.99.  So how do we support them?

In the old days, all our games came with activation. A user would enter their email address and enter our database.  Some users would post angrily about this and we would explain to them that by associating their game with an account, we could offer more discounts.  Ultimately, we eliminated the activation on our newer games so the problem is, unless you bought it from us, we don’t know when you bought the game or how much you paid. 

But we’re not totally out of luck, we do know these things:

  1. We know who was a Lifetime Founder (they already get all this automatically)
  2. We know who was a standard Founder
  3. We know who was part of the Early Access program
  4. We may know those who bought the game shortly after release

That means we can give those 4 groups the first several new DLC for Escalation for free.  So we will.



Episode I x    
Post-Human Coalition x    
Substrate x    
Gen 1 Units x    
Gen 1 Defenses x    
Temperate environment x    
Desert environment x    
Arctic environment x    
Single Player Sandbox x    
Custom Multiplayer x    
Ranked Multiplayer x    
Single Player Scenarios x    
Map Editor x    
Gen 1A Units x   Added in 1.2
Observer Mode x   Added in 1.3
Scenario Editor Fall 2016 Fall 2016 Planned for Version 1.5
Multiplayer replays Fall 2016 Fall 2016 Planned for Version 1.5
Multiplayer Scenarios Future Future  
Gen 1B Units Future x Planned for Version 1.5 of base game
Episode II   x  
Gen 2 Units   x  
Gen 2 Defenses   x  
Volcanic environment   x  
Crystaline environment   x  
Strategic Zoom   x  
96KM maps   x  
Multi-tier terrain   x  
Additional Resources   Future  
Gen 2A Units   Future  
Gen 2B Units   Future  
Gen 2C Units   Future These units wouldn't hover
Gen 2D Units   Future These units would be legged
Tech Tree   Future  
Naval   Future (DLC)  
Third Race   Future (DLC)  
Fourth Race   Future (DLC)  


Let us know what you think!