Brad Wardell's Blog


Star Control: Planet Brainstorming Thread!

Published on Monday, October 1, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Star Control

With the release of Star Control: Origins is at the beginning of its journey as we have many years of expansions planned.

We are taking notes on what things players would like to see added over time.

First up: Planets.

Please share your suggestions, ideas or requests for things you believe people would enjoy doing on planets for future expansions.

Examples (brainstorming): Air combat. (You bring aircraft with you) Invading Cities (You bring troop transports with you to invade)

Just remember: YOU are the Captain. Star Control: Origins is an adventure/RPG game, not a strategy game.

We are listening.

Mindfulness

Published on Monday, October 1, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Life, the Universe and Everything

One of the challenges I face in my role as the CEO of a company is that I always live in the future.  My job is to project things that will happen 1 year, 3 years, 5 years from now.  As a result, I tend to worry about things all the time.

Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, wrote a book I highly recommend called Only the Paranoid Survive. It's been a boon and a curse to me because I have learned a lot from it but at the same time, it has resulted in me constantly focusing on the future and not the present which is, frankly, not a very good way to live.

So what can be done? There is a concept called Mindfulness.  It is, in essence, about focusing on the here and now.  Many of us are aware of the advice to appreciate what you have today but that's easier said than done.  The question is...how?  Mindfulness is not advice, it is a series of techniques to try to focus more on the here and now to appreciate the moment, to live more in the moment in order to find a better balance between planning for the future and thinking of the present.

My question to you guys is, how many of you struggle with this as well and what techniques have you used to address it?

Star Control: Origins - Expansion plans

Published on Friday, September 28, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Journals

Greetings!  With Star Control: Origins out and having already sold nearly 50,000 copies after only a week of availability we are now ready to talk about...THE FUTURE.

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We will be making an official announcement after version 1.1 (the big modding release) is available but we didn't want fans, especially those who are starting to finish the Origins adventure, to have to wait to know what's next.

Needless to say, we've gone back and forth on the best way to deliver new stories, quests and features to players in a way that fits in.  Now, keep in mind, the base game will continue to be updated and improved for free.  But obviously, new adventures and content are a different thing.  So what's the best way?

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We looked at 4 options.  I'll list the 3 we rejected and why.

Option 1: Traditional expansion.  This is what we've done with our other games.  You make a single big expansion and release it.  Fans tend to like these in our strategy games.  However, the problem here is that this would mean waiting a year to continue the story in any meaningful way.

Option 2: DLCs.  DLCs make sense in many ways but they have a lot of issues too.  Many players will say that they feel "nickeled and dimed" when they see lots of little DLCs.  We ran into this with Galactic Civilizations III where we'd just release a few DLCs per year.  That sounds reasonable right? But after 3 years, there's now 12 of them and people get upset seeing all those DLCs.

Option 3: In-Game transactions.  Believe it or not, a lot of people do like these.  However, I personally don't like this.

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So what's left?  We look around at other adventure/rpg games and a Season Pass works the best.   I won't get into too many details but the plan is to release 6 mini-expansions for $19.99.  The micro-expansions will be released one at a time and they will add new missions, new characters, ships, stars, map areas, features, etc.  

I wouldn't call these mini-expansions "episodes" because much of the content doesn't require that you have completed the Origins mission (plenty of it does follow the end of the Origins mission).  

The first mini expansion would be made available in November and they'd continue on a set schedule with all of them and a general (non-spoilery) list of features that each one will bring. 

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When the first micro-expansion is installed, if you have finished the Origins story, the next stage in our multi-year story arc will continue.  So after the "credits roll" you get a new cut scene that introduces you to the new state of the universe.  On the other hand, if you have not finished the story or for those who have never played the game, they'll just see the galaxy a little more filled out.  New side-quests, just a bit more "stuff" to bring the universe alive.

What will effectively happen is that players will have more and more paths to choose from in deciding how best to help Earth and have a richer, deeper universe to play in.

Please let us know your thoughts.

[ German Version ]  [ Russian Version ]

Star Control: WEEK TWO news!

Published on Sunday, September 23, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Journals

Greetings!

Wow! What a fantastic week! Like many of you, we weren't sure what the reception would be. How many people are into space adventure/RPG games? I've even seen debates on what exactly is an RPG?

Here's what we have planned for this week:

Translation (Перевод)

Russia is the #2 market for this game. With German a close #3. The translations came in a lot hotter than we expected due to the star and planet names.

We are hoping very much to have a package from Moscow waiting in our inbox with the final translations so that we can get those up. We will also be updating the other languages as people find issues. Humor...is not always easy to translate.

Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese are also supposed to get in but they might slip to the v1.01 update to get more QA time. Finnish and Norwegian are also currently in QA. 

Stability

Overall stability is looking pretty good. But we have definitely encountered a few really baffling things and we know some of you are into this sort of thing like we are so we'll keep you up to date on the detective work. But here are the biggies:

1. Some people have reported not being able to load and save games. That's obviously a huge issue. But it dies immediately upon trying to open that dialog. 

2. Crash on start up. This is, so far, 95% because people have altered their page file size to be smaller or fixed. Don't do that (I used to do it too). Windows 10 commits memory based on your core size if the game loads assets via that core. So yes, no matter what, if you play long enough even though the game might only be using 2G, it will commit 16Gigs. It's not leaking, the OS is caching it. So you an imagine what happens if you have a fixed page file.

3. Random locks/pauses. So far, this is largely due to CPU or GPU throttling (mainly GPU throttling). Your NVIDIA or AMD GPU can get very hot playing this game because the engine will use multiple CPU cores to send data to your GPU. You might need to make your GPU fans more aggressive.

For the update, we're going to put a tiny throttle to prevent this issue (don't worry it won't slow things down).

Usability and buglets

1. Fix for SUPER-ULTRA wide monitors. (32x9). You crazy people! We love ya, BEST FRIENDS!

2. Some of the alien meeting achievements aren't working right depending on timing. Fixed.

3. The game will let you know that you don't need to land on every crummy planet if you're landing on a bunch of crummy planets. #1 negative review source has been people landing on thousands of planets and thinking that's the way to make money. SC doesn't have a sand based (silicon) based economy.

4. Improved AI for the fleet controller module.

5. Updated UI for turning on and off the fleet controller module during battle.

6. Mappable E for interact.

7. Talk to MS (again) about whitelisting Star Control from Windows Defender so that it quits scanning all our files (for those experiencing load time pain).

8. Auto-Pilot will warn player that their destination is beyond their fuel range.

9. Typos. (removing them, not adding them).

10. Option to remove movie subtitles.

More to come!

Thank you everyone for your support! And as always, we would appreciate it a lot if you would review the game on Steam (good, bad, ugly). We read all the reviews and your posts.

Cheers!

Star Control release party pictures!

Published on Thursday, September 20, 2018 By Brad Wardell In PC Gaming

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!

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Derek (GM of Stardock Entertainment) and Amy (Director of Operations).

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QA and SUpport team with the marketing team!

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Sarah and Leo

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Chris Kowal (VP of BizDev), me, and Kevin Unangst (VP of Marketing & Partnerships)

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Engineers!

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Me and my lovely wife Debbie.

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Lou and Pat (technology)

I'll add more as I get them.

Welcome to Mission Help!

Published on Wednesday, September 19, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Mission Help

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!

Oh...

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.

Star Control: Origins - A Pre-Mortem Part 1

Published on Tuesday, September 18, 2018 By Brad Wardell In PC Gaming

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. 

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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.

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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. 

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Sales = Reach X Conversion. This is obvious. The marketing folks worry about Reach.  The product developers worry about Conversion.

Reach

Your reach isn't exactly market size.  It's how much of that market you can get to.

Reach is affected by things like:

  1. Advertising
  2. Partnerships
  3. Brand Awareness
  4. Hardware Requirements
  5. Localization

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. 

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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.

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Conversion

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?).

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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.

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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). 

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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!

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