Brad Wardell's Blog


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.

 

Your favorite tower defense games

Published on Monday, March 18, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Siege of Centauri

So what is your favorite tower defense game and why?

One of our favorites is Defense Grid.  Below you can read Callum's thoughts on why it's so great:

Defense Grid: The Awakening is regarded as one of the best tower defense game on Steam, my experience with it has been extremely positive and can see why it is praised so highly. Many of the tower defense games try to implement some innovation or unique spin to the genre, but Defense Grid (DG) is a very traditional tower defense. Instead of shaking up the formula it delivers a very solid classic TD experience with an interesting variety of towers that function very differently and consequently forces positioning of them to be very tactical. Short-range inferno towers should be placed on critical choke points while Laser Towers need only to target a creep briefly to apply the damage-over-time burn damage, meaning they can be placed in poor locations to still good effect.


Gameplay There is wide variation in enemy and tower types which means players have to manage their composition (Splash towers, anti-heavy), it also means there is room for multiple different tower strategies both in composition and in positioning. The advanced arenas provide many different build locations for where players can focus their towers, if you lose a mission you can restart and try going somewhere else.

Gameplay DG has a great mission variety with map layouts and creep paths. Some have the creeps spawn in from a single spot and need to run through and back again, others are only A to B, some involve multiple creep entry locations, and some include air units. Some missions require walling while others don’t give you the option.

It tells you which waves are incoming so you can prepare the right towers in advance and not get “unlucky” and build the wrong ones. Tells you how many waves in you are.

Presentation, QoL Creeps and Towers have a consistent color scheme for their difficulty; Green/amber/red denotes their strength as you upgrade towers.

Gameplay Complexity of placing Towers is increased because towers can’t fire through others, they can only fire through the limited gaps inbetween them. This means you want to place weaker or certain tower types (Laser, Meteor) behind others.

Gameplay Towers can be upgraded which takes time so you want to avoid doing that during combat. If upgrades were instant there would be no consideration. A lot of the game is trying to identify which towers are being the most effective and focus on upgrading those or saturating that area.

Presentation The towers, creeps and effects are average looking but the background scapes are gorgeous and makes it a pretty and immersive game. This is an important emphasis that other TD’s do.

QoL Lots of quality of life features very important for tower defense: Fast forward, checkpoints, incoming waves, range displays, hotkeys.

QoL Information is communicated readily to the player, they can select a creep or tower and get a summary of all the stats and quirks.

Gameplay Lots of replayability due to different challenges and modifiers that can be applied to each mission, as well as a leaderboard for competing with steam friends and global.

Gameplay Creeps having to collect Energy Cores and escape back to the end and Energy Cores can be transferred from a dead creep to another as it floats back. This means taking losses is more gradual than just whether or not you kill everything as you can lose multiple energy cores while still being in a good spot.

QoL Shows range of every tower when you go to build or upgrade

Gameplay Towers in many locations can be structured in a way to “Wall off” creep movement paths to funnel them in and maximize their running time through the maze and maximizing damage received from towers.

Gameplay More opportunity cost is made by interest, if you don’t spend your money you get extra interest on that but then you may suffer losses, and loses cores reduces interest rate.

Notes

  •    Can block pathing to create tactical walls
  •    Tells you what enemies are coming so you can counter them more  deliberately
  •    Upgrading towers changes the VFX and weapon type
  •    Beautiful backgrounds
  •    Having them pick up power cores and run off with them is less contrived and feels more tense than just running past the edge.
  •    The maps are positions in a way where some building slots are better than others and you have to be mindful of putting a short range tower in a bad spot
  •    Have to think tactically about where to go
  •    Can hover over each unit to give you info, lore and stats about that unit type.
  •    Different modifiers and mutators for each map, so you can play every mission multiple times to complete all the missions with certain challenges
  •    Gradually introduces towers over time depending on complexity
  •    Upgrading is an interesting opportunity cost.
  •    Leaderboards for every mission
  •    Rounds are mixed up with different alien types even during each mission
  •    Consistent color scheme, green/amber/red for toughness of aliens and  your own defences.
  •    Certain towers do well in certain areas. You want to spread out laser towers instead of placing them all together to tag as many aliens as you can. Inferno you want to place on a great corner.
  •    Fast forward mode
  •    Strength level of tower communicated on its base
  •    Towers can’t fire through each other physically so you have to be careful about blocking the most important tower
  •    When you kill a boss there is a contextual voice line about which laser you kill it with “Nothing a giant laser can’t handle”
  •    Lots of voice over lines to keep you engaged We should have lots of “Enemy Juggernaut detected”
  •    Blocking sight can actually work to the benefit of the laser towers
  •    Some towers can be built on different heights which allows some to fire over others.
  •    Some maps you can completely determine the flow of where they go, there’s multiple strategies you can play not only of directly flow but also tower composition
  •    Tesla towers that charge up should be placed at the end to get max damage.
  •    Having them go back and forwards instead of just through ads a lot more room for creative walling
  •    Some towers have long range with minimum range.
  •    Some maps have multiple entrance paths and air units.
  •    Coming from multiple directions keeps it interesting as you can’t just feel safe forever
  •    Always Show upgrade range
  •    Gives you lots of time at the start to prepare
  •    Auto check points that you can load back to.
  •    Interest, if players float resources they gain bonus.

 

Callum also wrote a review of it for Wayward Strategy.

 

I myself have a general preference for walling but at the same time, I don't like the idea of artificially preventing me from walling which is what most tower defense games seem to do.  

 

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