Brad Wardell's Blog


The Video Game Machine = The Game that makes games

Published on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 By Brad Wardell In PC Gaming

Have you ever been playing a game and wished you could just hit a button and start changing it right in the middle of the game? Then you're going to love The Video Game Machine (VGM).

This is a game we've been working on for over four years.  Hopefully you'll be able to see why.

VGM isn't a development tool.  It's been designed so that anyone can make games with it.  Easily. Here's how it works:

First, you pick a genre.  We've started with popular genres from the 8-bit era (1980s and 1990s). 

Picking the genre eliminates most of the complexity right off the bat.  If you pick a side-scroller, you already have most of the basics down right there.  It's...a...side...scroller.  You can configure it further with the rule-book but the genre sets the stage for how the game is going to play.

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Pick your genre

And since it's a side-scroller you have a hero right?

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Pick your character

Eventually, you'll be able to import your own character, graphics, etc.  But for now, we supply the basics for you.

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Once you name your game you're ready to go!

 

You then start with a clean slate:

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You can also just load an existing game and start editing that, we include an ever increasing set of games

 

You can also pick your look.  Does the game look like it's being played on a CRT (television) or a modern monitor? What graphics set do you want to use?

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We already include a ton of different tilesets so you can truly make your own world.

And again, eventually you'll be able to import new tile sets that you create.  But right now, we just want to focus players on the core features.

You can even choose the music you want:

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You can set the pacing of the music which remarkably enough, can really alter the feeling of the game.

 

Not every side scroller is the same of course.  Super Mario Bros is very different from say an Endless Runner or say Commander Keen.  This is where the rule book comes in:

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You can further customize the game with the Rulebook

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Editing my game

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Adding enemies

At any time, if you hit the TAB key you can start playing.  There is no separation from making and playing.   Here's me just hitting TAB:

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Easy to switch from making to playing.

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CRT effect!

This makes it super easy and fun because you can constantly try out your stuff.

 

By this point, you're probably starting to understand where things are going.   There are 3 levels of player for this game:

  • Player A: Just wants to play lots of cool games
  • Player B: Wants to make games but doesn't want to get too technical
  • Player C: Wants to mod games or make really sophisticated games.

For now, we're just focusing on player A and B.  But you can imagine eventually people being able to script up their own rules, their own AI stuff and their own mechanics and sharing them.  They then would show up in the rulebook or in the enemy list or have new tiles and new heroes and so on.

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Once you have made a game, you can share it with the world.

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Games made by others

Since we're just in alpha, you can already see the work we have ahead of us.  For instance, we'll need some sort of rating system on public stuff so people can choose between the good stuff and the stuff I made. 

Other Genres

For the Alpha, we only included two genres. Side-scroller and Adventure.

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Adventure genre

Like with side-scrollers, there are a ton of different graphical choices to choose from.

The path forward

We're starting the alpha with the game only costing $10.  Obviously, it won't stay this way.  But we want to encourage lots of people to come try it out, give feedback, tell us what they like and don't like and of course, make games.

Like I said earlier, The Video Game Machine isn't a development tool.  It's meant to be fun.  It's not intended to compete with Unity or Unreal or even sophisticated game making products.  This is a game that is meant to make it easy and fun for people to create games in well understood genres. 

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We made it very easy for people to tell their own stories through their games as well.

We internally have around 7 genres in various stages of development.  You can probably guess most of them.

Over time, as we advance, modders will be able to create and share their own music, tile-sets, enemies, game rules, gizmos, etc.

Starting today, May 29, 2019, you will be able to start playing it if you join the Founder's program.  Join the adventure at www.TheVGM.com.

Fantasy 4X strategy game, Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes gets major update

Published on Friday, May 10, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Elemental News

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Stardock released a major update to its classic fantasy strategy game, Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes today.  The new version incorporates many months of fixes, performance optimizations, AI enhancements, balance tweaks and a host of other improvements.

"We are really happy to finally be able to get this update out to the fan community," said Brad Wardell, CEO of Stardock Entertainment. "We've been making improvements to the game for many months and been waiting until it reached a critical mass of updates to get it out there."

The game takes place on Stardock's fantasy world of Elemental.  In it, players start a kingdom from the a single leader and must contend with other civilizations who are looking to take control of the world.  Players research technology, design their own units, build cities, fight wars, go on quests, engage in diplomacy all while trying to unite the world under their rule.

Version 2.5 is available from the game's home page at www.elementalgame.com as well as on Steam and GOG.

It's available on Steam and GOG for $24.99.

Screenshots:

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Ashes of the Singularity is getting bigger

Published on Wednesday, April 17, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Ashes Dev Journals

Next month will mark the third anniversary of the original release of Ashes of the Singularity!

It's amazing how much things have changed since then.  I was looking at screenshots and gameplay video and the game has come so far from its first release.

This first image is from Ashes of the Singularity v1.0:

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And here is what today's opt-in update looks like.

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The first thing tto notice is how much bigger the buildings and units are. 

Here's a screenshot that shows it off better

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We still have more work to do as the sizes are going to create some pathing and formation bugs which you will see for yourself if you try out the opt-in.  But the increased size makes the battles a lot more interesting and helps communicate the interactions between units much better.

Galactic Civilizations III: Retribution Journal #9 - Campaign

Published on Monday, April 15, 2019 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

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The new version of Galactic Civilizations III includes an updated campaign screen that shows the campaigns as part of a timeline. We wanted to help players know where different campaigns take place in the overall story.

It's hard to believe that the base GalCiv III campaign, Crusade, actually takes place in the middle of the stories that were released for GalCiv III!

Our story so far...

During the campaigns of Galactic Civilizations II, the story ends with the human main fleet teleporting to a pocket universe, but not before using a Precursor (Arnorian) artifact to protect the Earth from Drengin invasion.

Galactic Civilizations III deals with the fleet's return from the pocket universe with a new artifact. A powerful orb known as "the bane" that was a weapon used by the Mithrilar (the beings who created the Arnor in the first place). The Terran fleet, armed with Precursor technologies, swiftly frees the people of Earth, who have been busy building their own fleet behind their protective shield.

The humans go on a crusade to free the other civilizations from Drengin thralldom. Their campaign to free the galaxy starts to turn dark as the Thalan, a species introduced in GalCiv I, explain that they are travelers from an alternate future and that the bane exacts a terrible price for its use (which is why it was hidden in a pocket universe in the first place). The bane's user will begin to lose all manner of perspective, which will lead to the destruction of the galaxy.

Retribution is at hand

The Retribution campaign is a 4-part campaign. I will say, at the start, that Galactic Civilizations, being a space sandbox game, doesn't lend itself to story-based campaigns. I generally don't recommend that people play the campaigns until they are done playing the main game (as opposed to the other way around). The campaigns exist to help players know the lore for the world in which the game takes place.

With that warning said, let us begin destroying the universe.

Into the fire

The campaign introduces (or reintroduces) players to the Drath and Korath, who were both eliminated as major powers during Twilight of the Arnor and Dark Avatar, respectively, in Galactic Civilizations II. 

This campaign is the conclusion of the 23rd century era of Galactic Civilizations stories. While I won't promise you'll love the campaign gameplay (they're not my cup of tea), I hope you enjoy the story they tell.

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Retribution Journals

Journal #1

Journal #2

Journal #3

Journal #4

Journal #5

Journal #6

Journal #7

Journal #8

Journal #9 (Current)

A Quiet PC is a happy worker

Published on Tuesday, April 9, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Personal Computing

One of my favorite features of my work machine is how silent it is.  I mean, silent.  Even  under pretty heavy loads it is really quiet. This means no overclocking but I know from experience that overclocking only presents modest improvements and frankly, I'd rather just buy slightly faster hardware that I run at spec (or even below) for quieter day to day operation.

The key features I have going are:

  1. Corsair RM1000i power supply. I love this thing.
  2. A big heat sink (instead of water cooling).
  3. Careful use of fans (basically they're completely off until they need to be on).

Maybe it's an age thing but there is something quite beautiful about a silent, but monster, PC.

Siege of Centauri: Stardock's take on tower defense

Published on Monday, April 8, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Siege of Centauri Dev Journals

What is tower defense?

Tower defense is a genre of strategy game in which you have ever more daunting enemies trying to attack your base (or simply escape).   Your job is to place defenses ("towers") to stop them.

Each of your towers has specific strengths and weaknesses.  Some are fast firing but do little damage while others fire infrequently but do a lot of damage.  There are towers that do area damage and towers that can only target one individual at a time.  There are towers that can target just air and towers that can fire great distances but only hit the ground. 

Because you have finite resources, knowing what enemies are coming and where they are coming from is key as you will need to choose your towers carefully.

Stardock's take

Stardock has a new game engine that is specifically designed to handle massive entity counts.  By massive we mean like 100X more than what has been seen before.  That allows us to think of game designs that weren't previously doable (at least without an insane PC).  An entity is a full-on unit. Not a clone or a visual trick but an actual unit with its own AI, weapons, pathfinding, targeting, etc.  

Having more enemies isn't enough on its own.  We also wanted to bring some of our 4X strategy game experience into Siege of Centauri.  Here are a few examples of what we mean:

  • Maps have Metal Refineries which produce resources. They provide alternative locations that the player may, or may not, want to defend.
  • Scavenging.  Players don't collect resources from killing enemies by default. Instead, player-built scavenger modules will collect resources of units destroyed in their area.
  • Orbitals.  The player has a set of orbital abilities that can be called down to take a direct hand in the action in a pinch.
  • Map Objectives.  There are various achievements attached to maps that give the player additional twists in trying to solve the map.

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What Early Access is Missing (or what we're working on still)

It is important to stress that this is a BETA and not feature complete. This isn't some demo.  We have a number of features we have in various states of completeness that we may or may not add in based on player feedback.  That's the point of having early access.

Features that are definitely coming, just not ready yet:

  1. Voice-overs.  Lots of them.
  2. More enemy unit types.
  3. More weapon types.
  4. More orbitals.
  5. Survival Mode (maps where you will definitely, eventually lose but see how far you can make it)
  6. Equip screen.  Eventually we will limit your active tower types to 10 and you'll need to pick from your arsenal the 10 you want to use on based on the enemies that will be on there.
  7. Much better effects (we have lots of programmer art in right now).
  8. A lot more optional objectives.
  9. More battle locations (a lot more) on bigger maps.
  10. The Archive screen is still an early work in progress.
  11. More paths (general map pass with enemies taking out other buildings that aren't on a direct path to your base).
  12. Placement grid (makes it easier to place your towers).

Features we have in various states of completeness but want player feedback on beta 1

  1. Tower upgrade tree (versus linear progression). Again, this is one of those things that sounds good on paper but might make the game too busy.
  2. Destructible walls (place obstacles to force the enemy to either destroy them or find another way)
  3. Night maps (we had these but they weren't fun, you placed light beacons to see, seemed like a good idea on paper)
  4. Second resource (that is used for Orbitals rather than orbitals being set to a time out).

The take-away here is that Early Access here is designed to give players input into the game before things are locked down.  We have a lot of work ahead of us and we are excited to hear your ideas.

 

HDR, HDMI and oh my!

Published on Tuesday, April 2, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Personal Computing

So I recently got a 4K projector for my home theater.  It's a Epson Cinema 4010 and on paper, it's a 4K HDR projector.  I have connected it to my Apple TV 4K and that's when I started to realize that HDR is still not fully ready for prime time for most people.

Here's some background:

Color TV is in color...but barely.  We are used to it but it's actually pretty crappy.  Luckily, we don't realize how crappy it is until we see something like HDR which stands for High Dynamic Range and shows a lot more color.  But HDR is also just the start.  There's also Dolby Vision which like HDR but better. 

However, HDR requires more bandwidth than SDR (standard).  And not only are most HDMI cables just v1.4 (most people don't even know there's a version number on HDMI) but most televisions and controllers are v1.4 as well.  You actually need v2.0A (obviously) to get the full benefit and needless to say, my new Epson projector doesn't have that.  

So what does that mean? How can it be HDR but while still using the older (but standard) HDMI setup?  The answer is frame rate.  I can watch HDR movies at 24 frames per second (which is like a movie theater I suppose) and the difference is pretty noticeable.  But this took some trial and error to understand because the 4K projector (which, it turns out, is not really 4K but really 2X1080p) like most audio/video equipment, does its best to bury these stats so that only the truly entrenched can discover this.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love this new projector.  And I'd argue HDR is a bigger deal than 4K.  But it's pretty surprising that we are increasingly seeing these amazing new standards come up (like Dolby Vision which my projector doesn't support at all and HDMI 2.0a which isn't even that new) with the hardware makers not making use of them.  

In short, we're still probably a couple years away from HDR and its cousins being mainstream.

 

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