About 16 minutes...
Brad Wardell's Blog
The most important game release in Stardock's long, 25-year history was celebrated with a party!
Here are a few pictures to give faces to match the names!
Derek (GM of Stardock Entertainment) and Amy (Director of Operations).
QA and SUpport team with the marketing team!
Sarah and Leo
Chris Kowal (VP of BizDev), me, and Kevin Unangst (VP of Marketing & Partnerships)
Me and my lovely wife Debbie.
Lou and Pat (technology)
I'll add more as I get them.
Star Control: Origins is an action adventure game that has a fair bit of role playing in it.
It does not, however, have any randomness. This is by design and will become increasingly obvious.
Instead, you, the player, are the random number generator.
Every single player will play the game slightly differently. It's an open universe. You can go wherever you want, whenever you want (though you may get you and your crew killed doing so!)
However, the good news is that you are all playing within a shared universe. That means if you do X, and Y, and then Z in that order at the same time under the same circumstances, it will happen for someone else too. This is important because you don't have to worry about "random drops" or "random quests". This has allowed us to create some missions (quests) that are very, very hard and, as time goes on, we will be adding even harder missions (optional) as players start to get used to the freedom, the horrible, horrible freedom of the Star Control universe.
The Mission Help forum has been set up so that players can talk to each other about where to go, what to ask, and so on. Note that spoilers are obvious so don't peruse posts casually from this sub-forum.
We do ask that players use brackets to make it clear to others what they are asking:
[MISSION] Where do I find the Tilarian Urlon Horn?
[MISSION] Who do I need to talk to to find the Ixes?
And so on.
Good luck and have fun!
One other thing to be aware of...
The map you see above... Only stars that have been mapped by various civilizations to the hyperspace navicomputer are present at the beginning of the game (think Babylon 5 style hyperspace). The stars we know of come from a finding in caves on Ceres. But you'll learn more about that soon enough.
This week, Star Control: Origins will be released. It is, by far, the biggest game we've ever done. It's the first game we've ever made that might qualify as a AAA game in our 25 year history.
The first thing people will notice about Star Control: Origins is that it's unlike any game Stardock's ever made. Not just in terms of genre, but in general production quality.
When you look at Sins of a Solar Empire, Galactic Civilizations, Offworld Trading Company, Ashes of the Singularity, Fallen Enchantress and even Elemental, they all have one thing in common: <$3 million budgets. When you're dealing with such budgets, you are focusing on maximum gameplay per every dollar spent. And it shows. There is a certain level of polish that is a luxury at such budgets.
In part 2, I'll be talking about some of the differences between making a AAA level game and the traditional games we've made here. But suffice to say, Star Control has finally allowed Stardock to show off what it has always been capable of doing but couldn't, because the market size prohibited the time and budget to do so.
The Venn Diagram of Stardock's games
Without data, being told that something is a "niche" game is meaningless. So let me share with you some numbers.
- The space 4X strategy market is about 2 million players.
- The space real-time strategy market is about 11 million players.
- The space action/adventure market is about 60 million players.
From here, it's just a matter of how much of it you can reach. And make no mistake, reach is the key word.
Sales = Reach X Conversion. This is obvious. The marketing folks worry about Reach. The product developers worry about Conversion.
Your reach isn't exactly market size. It's how much of that market you can get to.
Reach is affected by things like:
- Brand Awareness
- Hardware Requirements
Stardock has traditionally stuck with the "niche" strategy game market because it is really good at reaching a high percentage of that market. But on the flip side, it was also that we just weren't very well suited for setting up the necessary logistics to reach other markets effectively.
To solve Stardock's reach problem, we were able to bring on Kevin Unganst to head our worldwide marketing efforts. Kevin Unangst was Microsoft's marketing director in charge of launching Halo, Forza, Fable, and Windows XP, to name a few. Building reach is a logistical challenge. Building up an organization and a network of partnerships was a prerequisite for Stardock in order to be able to justify making something as big as Star Control: Origins.
Conversion is the other X factor. One bitter lesson many a young software developer learns is that there's no room for second place. In a given market segment, 80% goes to the top game. The remaining 20% goes to everyone else combined. Being the second-best fantasy RPG or the second-best MMO can be very tough.
As game developers, our job is to make sure we make a game that isn't second best. We also pray that the people who selected the market for us to make a game for didn't choose one with entrenched competition (hey! let's make a MOBA/Battle Royale game! What could go wrong?).
In the case of Star Control: Origins, our closest competitors are Mass Effect: Andromeda and maybe No Man's Sky. In some respects, we're a bit of both combined. But Star Control: Origins is practically it's own genre. It's one of the reasons why it's so hard to make -- action / adventure / RPG. Space Diablo? Skyrim in space? Nothing quite fits.
We knew that in order to compete at all, we had to deliver a game that wasn't even in the same league. And that's one of the reasons so many Stardock fans are going to be, I suspect, surprised at the quality of Star Control: Origins. This is a game that was, effectively, completed earlier this year and has been undergoing polish, enhancement, and iteration ever since. You can't come in "hot" in this market. It's too risky.
The Technical Opportunity
I've often liked games with cakes. That is, a game is really just a piece of software cake with a very thin layer of game frosting on top. Its future is heavily dependent on the underlying engine.
Back in 2010, Stardock stumbled pretty hard with Elemental: War of Magic. It was our first attempt at creating a 3rd generation engine. It failed.
From 2011 to now we were kind of in the technological wilderness. We used the money we got from selling Impulse to invest in a series of start-ups including Oxide Interactive to develop the first 4th generation engine (4th gen = CPU core neutral).
Ashes of the Singularity was the first 4th generation game released and it is still, two years later, the go-to game to demonstrate state of the art hardware. In aircraft terms Ashes of the Singularity is the F-117. The first of its generation. Star Control: Origins is more akin to the F-22. The fully realized potential of a 4th generation engine. For us, this is really good news because it means Star Control: Origins in just at the beginning of its life. If it's successful, it'll just get better and better for many years to come (as opposed to the case where a game is "wringing the last juice of its engine").
So now what?
So this week we'll see how we've done. The market will decide whether we did our jobs and how well. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts!
In the previous Prelude, I mentioned that, early on, there was an expectation that a lot more time was going to be spent exploring planets than we ultimately chose to execute on.
Today, let's take a look at the menagerie of creatures we had considered back when we believed that the planets would be where players would spend most of their time.
Star Control: Origins is a space action/adventure RPG game set in the year 2088. It's been designed so that your character will continue forward for years to come (you won't have to keep your saved game safe). So as new adventures and such become available, you can be assured that your decisions and actions of the past mattered in some small way.
So how do we do that? The answer is, data-mining.
In Star Control: Origins, there are many dialog choices that might seem to to be innocuous, but most of them do increment some variable somewhere for later use. Don't panic; you don't have to worry about some minor dialog choice resulting in an extra-dimensional alien invasion force arriving later. That's where the data mining comes in.
On its own, if your character finishes the game with, say, a Cagey = 11 value, what does that mean? It means nothing. And for that reason, we don't show any of this stuff (though no doubt some hacker will figure it all out someday). What matters is how it compares to the millions of other people who ultimately play the game and where everyone ends up on the distribution curve for the hundreds (literally) of variables that your answers feed.
The closest analogy I can think of is "The Sims" where you see your character gets little +'s and -'s based on what it does. On their own, those choices don't have much effect. It is the accumulation that matters.
This way, five years from now, on your 27th adventure, your character will be well developed in hundreds of different areas and we can use this data to have options that match up to your, by that point unique, character. There is no "good" or "bad" path here. Rather, we are aiming for a nuanced path. One with many shades of gray that will result in some often subtle but meaningful and enjoyable gameplay consequences.
Below is a screenshot from Adventure Studio. This is the application Stardock Software (the non-game side of the company) developed to allow writers (instead of techies) to craft dynamic stories.
This is a relatively minor conversation with another character in the game. But as you can see, we implement a couple of variables here based on your answers. Neither of these choices, on their own, will affect anything at all in the game. It's just data that the system will be able to use to eventually allow you to have dialog options that match your character's style.
Creating a character based on your responses is not entirely new. In the classic RPG Ultima IV, the player was given a series of questions in which their responses would determine what their character class was.
Star Control: Origins starts the player as the captain of Earth's first interstellar ship. You have a pretty blank canvas to build a character on, but there are certain assumptions that are built in since, after all, you are a Captain in Star Control entrusted with such an important mission. But as time goes on, your choices gradually result in more and more dialog options which begin to affect the way that not just Origins will play out, but how your future adventures will play out as well.
This is the LAST screenshot Friday my friends!
That's because next week at this time, Star Control: Origins will be in your hands. I'll be obsolete.
Here is one shot from the Multiverse feature that will be added in v1.1. So now I can keep my job.
The best laid plans...
Let's talk about the environments of Star Control...
Sorry this is a bit late! Here we go!
The importance of knowing what type of a planet is without landing on it has made us emphasize more time on improving the visuals on the different planet classes.
Why are resources presented as objects on the screen? What is the science behind that? The Codex explains all.
Your sector map lets you apply markers and name them. This way you can keep track of things you may want to return to (or not).
If you're landing on every planet, you should ask yourself...why. It would be like breaking into every house in Skyrim.
Most planets in the universe are either rocks, gas giants or ice balls. In time, you'll know what the good planets are just by looking at them and they are understandably uncommon. You can then see which resources are worth your time or not.
Want to collect resources faster and easier? Thanks to alien tech, we can extend our gravity channeling to grab concentrated resources from further away.
There are, literally, hundreds of ship types we know of so far. Each civilization has its own set of ship classes and then there are the one-off ships you will find with their own unique weapons and designs to deal with (or capture).
A view of Saturn.
You can use the mouse wheel to zoom in and out on the solar system or the surface of planets. Or use 1,2,3,4 to switch cameras (or whatever your game controllers equivalent is).