Brad Wardell's Blog


Galactic Civilizations III: Retribution Journal #3

Published on Tuesday, February 5, 2019 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

The Age of War

The year is 2243.  Earth has colonized three planets and met several alien civilizations.  It has made friends with a couple, and is at war with another.

Human space is connected by a set of Hypergates, which allow for supply ships from Earth to rapidly support the construction of critical infrastructure on these fledgling colonies. In turn, humanity's policies and culture have encouraged friendly migration from across the galaxy.

On the planet Athenia, an ancient artifact has been uncovered. When used, it will greatly increase the destructive power of a selected ship. Despite the war with the malevolent Korath, it has not been necessary to use it.

Humanity is a minor power in the bigger scheme of things, but it is about to transform itself into a major power on the galactic scene.

The Raid

For over a year, the Korath have been raiding just outside human space.  Now, it was time to strike back.

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The Hyperion and the Roanoke would lead the charge, along with 3 escort fighters. The humans hoped that a show of force might bring the Korath to the bargaining table.

The raid, however, did not go over as planned.  While the Terran Alliance had learned a lot about the Korath, the Korath had learned even more about the humans.

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This included coming up with counter-measures to the human weapons along, with a different weapons technology that was unknown to them.

They also had a ship much bigger than anything the humans had seen before.

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It absolutely dwarfed the Hyperion class ships. The raid was far from convincing the Korath to negotiate a peace - instead, it had emboldened them.

Emergency on Ceres

The engineering team on Ceres was tasked for designing a new class of ship to answer this threat.  Unfortunately, such large hull sizes were relatively new but the Odyssey class ship was born (hatt-ip to Steam workshop).

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January, 2244

While the war with the Korath became more of a priority, another civilization, apparently related to the Korath known as the Drengin Empire made their anger with EarthGov known.

The long-failing colony of Larasa, orbiting Proxima Centauri, finally revolted and joined the Terran Alliance.  Despite the insistence of EarthGov that the Terran Alliance had nothing to do with the colony's defection, the Drengin Empire insisted that humans make Larasa a commonwealth planet.

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Larasa was made an independent commonwealth. The Drengin living there will hopefully be able to deal with their parent civilization.

Most experts believed, at the time, that this was a mistake.

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The primary problem was that their other colony, Proxima Centauri IV, shared a border with the Terran Alliance and the influence of the Terran Alliance was growing.

April, 2244

Task Force Beta (the second raid) led by the Odyssey class, was more successful than the disastrous first one.

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The Speaker for the Labor party, however, disagreed that the task force was impressive to the Korath but rather that the Onxy Hive's growing military power made them decide that they had more worthy adversaries.

May, 2244

The debate over what impressed the Korath came to an abrupt end in May, 2244.

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The Korath surrendered to the Altarians, who were now the dominant power in known space.

The Cold Peace

The Drengin Empire, like everyone else, was building up a hypergate network.

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Unlike everyone else, the Drengin were being especially aggressive with building hypergates. 

Meanwhile, the Altarians were slowly conquering known space.

The problem, however, was that the Altarians fully intended to incorporate human space into their empire.

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The only reason they hadn't already was because the Drengin Empire was keeping them busy. But, the Drengin Empire was losing the war.

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With the Drengin Empire slowly being destroyed by the Altarians and humanity next on the list, it became a question of: what should the Terran Alliance do?

Humanity was far behind the Altarians technologically and had twice the population. Fundamentally, the humans simply couldn't keep up. This fact was kept hidden from the civilian population. Quietly, however, a wide-spread infrastructure upgrade took place in the hope that when the time came, humanity's logistics would be able to deter the Altarians from reaching out to grasp Earth.

The Hypergate-Rally-Supply Initiative

While Earth was humanity's starship juggernaut, New Copenhagen was the research center of the Terran Alliance.  Supply ships then delivered the raw goods, which then were converted by New Copenhagen's labs into accelerated research.

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Now, supply ships are built on Earth, sent over to New Copenhagen automatically, and converted into research.

A Twilight on Larasa

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The Altarians conquered Larasa.  Which means that they will likely come to the Terran Alliance, as there is little chance that the Altarians will be able to hold a planet so deeply in human space.

The Drengin Empire fell the same day.

Inevitability

The next day.

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The day humanity had feared had arrived.

HELLO, BEST FRIENDS

Luckily for the humans, they had a slimy friend...The Tywom (Star Control alien).

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The Tywom decided to stand up to the Altarians with their own surprisingly powerful military.

The two powers were evenly matched.  Humanity's tiny military might be enough to tip the balance.

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Humanity had put together its biggest fleet ever. Now was the time to use the Arnorian Embers artifact.

Invasion

2245 arrived, and with it, an interstellar invasion of one of the outer worlds of the Altarian Empire. 

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Invading a planet is no small feat.  The Tywom had done much of the heavy lifting by clearing most of the Altarian fleets.  The humans had managed to flank the main Altarian force by constructing a hypergate far to the galactic east of the Altarian homeworlds, which allowed them to bypass the front line between the Altarians and the Tywom.

Unfortunately, the Altarians were quick to respond.

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Their ships had been designed to counter the Terran Alliance's fleet.  Moreover, their weapon of choice was a more advanced form of missile.

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The defenses of the Altarians nullified the Terran Alliance fleet allowing them to do over 6X more damage to the Terrans.  The fleet and the 4 legions of soldiers were vaporized.

That fleet was literally the best the humans were capable of putting together.

Doom Fleets

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The Altarian response was nothing short of breath-taking.  Behind their powerful ships was some sort of capital ship of a size that the humans had never seen before.

August 6, 2245

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The Onyx surrendered, but not before giving us their remaining worlds and ships.

Consolidation

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There were only three major powers left.  The Tywom had beaten back the Altarians. so there was still hope.

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But every head-to-head engagement led to utter defeat.  The humans simply couldn't penetrate the Altarian defenses.  Their weapons couldn't even get a weapons lock.

Diplomatic Success at Last

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The Tywom threat had made the Altarians consider whether it was worth fighting the Terran Alliance.  The humans were of little consequence and far from the Altarian home worlds.

A complicated and decidedly one-sided negotiated peace took place.  The humans did their best to make the settlement appear to be an agreement of equals, but the terms spoke for themselves.

Still the humans, though battered, ended the war with many new worlds.  Instead of 3 colonies, the humans had 9 now.

The hypergate network had made the difference and in the process, had captured worlds with several new artifacts:

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Next up: The Tywom BEST FRIENDS...

 

______________________________

Retribution Journals

Journal #1

Journal #2

Journal #3 (Current)

Journal #4

Journal #5

Journal #6

Journal #7

Journal #8

Journal #9 (Coming Soon)

Galactic Civilizations III: Retribution Journal #2

Published on Thursday, January 31, 2019 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

January, 2242

The year is 2242. Earth has tiny outposts across our solar system. On Earth, the ancient artifact found in Peru that was thought to have been built by the Mayans is now known to be a Precursor artifact that is designed to greatly enhance the empathy of those it is used on. 

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Earth's first interstellar ship, the Discovery, commanded by Colonel Aaron Roberts, is assigned to travel to Alpha Centauri to see if there are any colonizable worlds there.  The trip will take 6 weeks using Hyperdrive.

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In the Sahara desert, the largest construction project in human history has begun.

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The colonization center has been designed to encourage people from around the world to become official citizens of the Terran Alliance, and thus qualify for the colonization program.

Meanwhile, near Ceres, a massive shipyard begins work on the Santa Maria, the controversially named first colony ship.

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The colony ship can carry up to 100,000 humans in its massive city-sized holds.

Back on Earth, the scientific community is focusing its efforts on figuring out how to construct space elevators.  After the infamous debacle when constructing the Discovery (massive cost overruns), a cheaper way to get things into orbit has been mandated.

February, 2242

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The Discovery has reached Proxima Centauri.  There are two habitable planets and a brown dwarf.  Brown dwarfs are theorized to be able to be mined for a material called Promethion, which has recently only been produced in tiny quantities in the lab. This substance will allow our labs to greatly increase their scientific research.

Meanwhile, Voyager has been tasked to go to Barnard's Star.

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On its way to Barnard's Star, the Discovery encounters what appears to be a massive abandoned Precursor factory. The Scientific (and military) community lobbies for the next use of the Ceres shipyard to be for a construction ship in order to place a starbase near it for further study/exploitation.

After much debate, the resolution passes, though it's partially because the Colony ship does not have the necessary range to make it all the way to Proxima Centauri without stopping off for repairs and replenishment along the way.

The Ides of March

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The destruction of the Santa Maria with its 100,000 passengers is our first contact with an alien species.  And by contact, we mean their attack, and our ship's destruction. It is a devastating loss that calls the entire colonization program into question.

The Discovery is re-tasked with returning to the area to look for survivors and deal with the threat. With its complement of nuclear missiles, it is hoped that the Discovery can provide security for future missions.

Unfortunately, the number of colonists willing to volunteer has, not surprisingly, shrunk.

April, 2242

Aliens have made contact with the Discovery.

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We cannot understand what they are saying.  Are they the Santa Maria's murderers?  Most believe so.

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Fortunately, the Discovery proves to be more than a match for the unknown aliens.

As the Space Elevator efforts begin to wind down, another group of scientists begin researching a "universal" translator based on a semi-strong AI linguistics computer.

May, 2242

The second colony ship, the aptly named T.A.S. (Terran Alliance Ship) Persistence, is launched. Most of the citizens are from Denmark (for lengthy political reasons), and the new colony is named New Copenhagen.

Because of slight improvements in Hyperdrive, they arrive at the end of May and begin establishing their colony.

It becomes very apparent that the hostile environment will make things slow going. As a result, Earth decides to send a supply ship.

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(new in Retribution)

The supply ship will send manufactured goods from Earth to New Copenhagen to help speed up the growth of the new colony.

Crisis on Mars

Despite Mars already having tiny outposts on it, a massive colony ship from that alien civilization calling itself the "Korath" (new in Retribution) has colonized Mars.

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The first use of the Universal Translator is unsuccessful. The Korath are not willing to leave Mars.

Quietly, EarthGov decides to simply annex Mars through intimidation. By the end of the Summer, Mars voluntarily joins the Terran Alliance without bloodshed.

The New World Incident

During the colonization period of North America, it took about 6 weeks for a ship to sale across the Atlantic.  This was a problem then and it's a problem now with the new colony of New Copenhagen.

Luckily, a new (new in Retribution) technology has been discovered that will allow for "hyperlanes" to be created between Sol and Proxima Centauri, which should halve the travel time.

The first "Hypergate" has been constructed just beyond Neptune.  The second one is on its way to Proxima Centauri and will arrive in six weeks.

Retaliation

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The Mars incident may have ended without bloodshed, but the Korath did not take it well. 2242 ends with the Earth involved in an interstellar war!

Earth has no combat ships. At all (other than the Discovery).

Diplomacy

Simultaneously, we encounter a species called the Altarians.  They are not interested in getting involved.

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Our diplomatic efforts rebuffed, the Terran Alliance finds itself alone.

Christmas, 2242

New Copenhagen gets a sister colony called Athena and the first working hyperlane is now active, allowing for goods to begin flowing rapidly between Earth and its new colonies.

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All research is now focused on defensive technologies to protect ourselves from the Korath.

Other civilizations have become known to the Earth and trade with them represents nearly half of the GDP. Tourism is even beginning to generate substantial revenue.

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January, 2243

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The Defender class ship is constructed.  Designed to travel quickly between colonies.  It is primitive but will at least prevent "another Mars" where a giant, unarmed ship can simply park in orbit and unload enemies onto our surface.

The war has also brought out new concerns from colonists regarding their say in their protection.  After much debate, a new form of government (governments are added in the Intrigue expansion) is chosen.

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This means that the colonists will be able to vote directly for the President of the Senate.

The Financial Crisis of 2243

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The tax rate of 38% is threatening to cost the government the next election which would be a disaster.  Moreover, the reliance on trade income from civilizations that are free to cut off trade at any time has resulted in a new dual policy for the Terran Alliance.

First, the construction of a new starbase between Proxima Centauri and Earth that will act as a resting area for alien travels, and thus connect our influence between Sol and Proxima. 

Second, the easing of regulations to allow for more consumer goods to be produced on world by alien civilizations via their "entertainment centers" which loosely translates to factories producing alien goods much desired by the native population.

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The Andromeda starbase is designed as a rest stop between Proxima and Sol, which hopefully will increase tourism to Earth. 

Who are the Korath?

It has been nearly a year since the war with the Korath began.  Thus far, they have primarily raided our scout ships to prevent us from expanding into the Barnard's star region.

Thanks to some technology acquired from another alien species we've encountered, we have begun to build up a spy network to see what can be done.

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The Korath are about on par with the Terran Alliance.  Four colonies apiece.   It is a war that the humans are determined to win.

However, the Korath are significantly ahead of the humans when it comes to weapons technology.

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Their weapons are energy based. Some sort of laser or plasma technology. 

The humans begin to design a counter.

Thanks to Steam Workshop, we have lots of ship designs to choose from.

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The Hyperion class frigate (designed by a player who uploaded it to Steam workshop) is equipped with two nuclear missile launchers.

The prototype Hyperion, placed in orbit of Earth, causes the Korath fleet to turn around and return home, deterred by a battle they are not prepared to fight.

Unknown to the Korath, a Precursor artifact was found on Athenia and studied.  If necessary, the Korath would have encountered an Hyperion with supercharged weapons.   The government was relieved to not have had to use it, as it would have been a one-time advantage better saved until the absolute most dire of need.

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May 2243

The first election is held and it is decidedly close.

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The loyalist party wins, but with only 55% of the vote. New Copenhagen is, obviously, pleased with the results, but mainly because Earth is footing the bill for protecting them which shows in the exit polls.

June 2243

The financial situation for the Terran Alliance has become been relieved.

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With tourism substantially increased and trade route income continue to grow, taxes have been reduced to only 25%

July 2243

Earth's spies have discovered that the Korath are engaged in 4-sided war.  Despite being militarily powerful, the Altarians are keeping them from bothering Earth.

Thus became the first thoughts of moving from defense to offense...

[To be continued in part 3]

 

______________________________

Retribution Journals

Journal #1

Journal #2 (Current)

Journal #3

Journal #4

Journal #5

Journal #6

Journal #7

Journal #8

Journal #9 (Coming Soon)

 

Game sales vs. Dev cost

Published on Wednesday, January 30, 2019 By Brad Wardell In PC Gaming

I spend a lot of time looking at the sales of PC games and we are quickly moving away from the traditional individual purchase model and towards subscription based platforms.

Fundamentally, most titles simply don’t generate enough sales to justify engineering support post release. This is a relatively new issue that will be interesting to see how it gets resolved by studios.

 

Forums vs. Social Media

Published on Wednesday, January 30, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Personal Computing

It’s no secret forums have seen a serious decline in recent years versus social media. Which is a shame because social media is so impersonal.

I think this year I’m going to focus more time hanging out here.

Galactic Civilizations III: Retribution Journal #1

Published on Tuesday, January 29, 2019 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

A new beginning

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The story of Galactic Civilizations is the story of the future.  Our future. 

Galactic Civilizations III is actually our 6th edition that provides you with the framework to tell that story (we made 3 OS/2 versions back in the 1990s).

With each iteration, we get a little bit better at it. Sometimes, like when we change engines, it takes awhile to surpass where we were in previous editions.  For instance, the OS/2 version of Galactic Civilizations was, in most respects, better than Galactic Civilizations II until we made the Dark Avatar expansion for it.

For Galactic Civilizations III, it probably wasn't until we made the Crusade expansion that we finally surpassed GalCiv II.

Galactic Civilizations III: Retribution takes us in a direction that the series has never touched before. It's a new beginning.

The Grognard's Guide to Galactic Civilizations III

From a sheer major feature point of view, Galactic Civilizations III had more than previous versions when it arrived in 2015.  But it was lacking certain features that were a real sore point to players, which we began to address with the expansions. Namely:

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This is my quickie non-marketing evaluation of each expansion. You can kind of see why Mercenaries was the least beloved. This is, by no means, a comprehensive list of features for each one. Just the ones that I think most players would agree were important.  For instance, Crusade re-did the Invasion system. I don't think that feature is any better or worse than what was there before, so I didn't count it.

Crusade is widely considered to be "the big one," and it's easy to understand why: citizens.

This was a game-changer.  It re-did the game's economy in a way that is both a lot easier to understand, and yet a lot more nuanced. It's one of those rare features that greatly simplifies the presentation of the game without dumbing it down. In fact, it makes the game a lot more sophisticated.

The other two features I mentioned, Espionage and the Civ Builder, are pretty big deals - depending on how you play. The Civ Builder is almost as important to me as the Citizen feature. The espionage part is fine.  But it's not on par with the other features.

So let's take a second shot at this chart, this time assigning a value to each feature:

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Now, this doesn't mean that I don't think Intrigue wasn't a really good expansion. It just means that Crusade was monstrously good.

So what about Retribution?  As you can see, I don't think any of the new features of Retribution match the importance of the Citizens feature.  Moreover, if you don't really care about the new species (Drath and Korath) or the new campaign, then Retribution only has 15 to Crusade's 16 points. 

Of course, this is just my own rating system, yours might be totally different.

Right from the Start

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The final version of Retribution should look better.  We're still working on the visuals. But you will notice, right away, some changes.  First, you start with an Artifact.  You always start with one.

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Your home planets are much different game to game. And if you look closely, you will notice that what's available to construct on turn 1 has changed.

Sometimes, there will be artifacts that can be enhanced so cheaply that you may want to use them immediately rather than building that shipyard. 

The other thing you may notice is that there's a Colonization Center improvement. This is a new, one-time improvement that will increase production, population, and growth.

Population Growth

This will be the most controversial change in Retribution. Default growth has been reduced from 0.1 per turn to 0.01.

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Population growth can be increased (especially later in the game via the new immigration technologies), but simply colony rushing early on is going to have consequences.

Here's the next thing you're going to notice:

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The stars are substantially further apart. This makes the star systems feel more vast (before we had them practically on top of each other) and makes Hypergates interesting.  You can still choose to go up the engine tech tree to make your ships faster, but investing in Hypergates provides an interesting alternative.

Same number of techs, more meaning

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You'll also notice that most of the optimization techs (where you would choose one of three) are gone.  Instead, there are new techs that help flesh out your strategic choices.  For instance, you don't simply get Space Elevators - you research them.  Spatial Manipulation gets you onto the Hypergate tech path. Ignore my spelling mistakes btw, they'll get fixed.

There are many more things you can choose to build than before (potentially), but they are delivered now via the tech tree moreso than before.

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Space Elevators are important in the true Sci-Fi sense that we just kind of brushed off in previous expansions.  The ability to cheaply get things into space is going to be a pretty big deal.  Besides being able to build space elevators, you'll also be able to build supply ships that can send raw materials to your colonies.  I'll talk about that in a second.

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Building scouts is a lot more useful now that stars are actually separated by quite a bit of space.

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Under the covers, we've modified our galaxy generation system so that what's near players when they start is a lot more balanced. So you won't have to deal with games where one player has tons of great planets near them, while you get nothing. Everyone will have a reasonably equally good (or crappy) start.

Building your civilization in Retribution

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So now I  have a class 12 (Earth is class 10) planet. Wow. That's great! can't wait right?

Except...

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If you look closely, you will see that its raw production is only 3, so it takes forever for anything to get built. This has been a challenge in all the GalCiv games.  This is why some players find the game a little boring at this stage.  Sure, your capital planet is doing just fine, but your other planets just are a grind to get going.

Before Retribution, you'd just wait for the population to grow, build a bunch of cities and eventually, hours later, it's kicking butt. But from our logs, we know we lose a lot of players during that period because it's just not interesting.

Moreover, if anything, Retribution would aggravate this problem because population growth is 10X slower by default. So you can't just turn-time your way out of this problem. This is where Supply Ships come in. 

Players can build Supply Ships that carry 100 production with them.  When they get to a colony, it's quickly unloaded and used. If there's nothing to build at that moment, it stores that production for later. This is a game-changer because previously, if there was some boon to production, it was wasted after a given planetary improvement was constructed. Now, it gets stored and used later.

Having planets store excess production materials was crucial to add to the game because we didn't want players to have to micro-manage sending out supply ships.

Supplying your civilization

So now you can build up your worlds a lot faster thanks to sending Supply Ships.  However, there's that tricky distance issue. 

Do you design each Supply Ship (which is consumed when it reaches its destination) to have a bunch of engines? That's expensive but it'll get them there.

Or...

Do you build a Hypergate?

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The Stellar Architect is a new type of ship which allows for the construction of Hypergates.  It takes two hypergates to create a hyperlane between them.  But doing so will double the speed of any ship on that lane.

Hyperlanes

Now you build a Stellar Architect who can construct a Hypergate.  You will need to build a second one to create the other end.

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Once you build that second Hypergate, it will ask where you want to link it.

And now you can fast-track supply ships.

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Using hyperlanes is automatic. You don't have to do anything - just click on a destination and your ship will find the fastest route there, using hyperlanes whenever available.

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Meanwhile, my planet is still slowly building up, thanks to having some asteroids nearby to help. It's still very slow going, but help is on the way.

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The Supply ship arrives with goods from Earth.  Each turn, it will use whatever it takes (until it runs out) to finish the current planetary improvement being constructed.

So instead of it taking 12 turn to get through the Factory, Space Elevator, and Shipyard projects, it only takes 3 with the Farm being finished on turn 5 (instead of it adding an additional 14 turns).

Hypergates also make it a lot more viable to send citizens around your territory because they get there twice as fast, which makes traveling far less dangerous.

To conclude: sending a Supply ship built at Earth to Viola drastically reduced construction time.

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Now this planet is built up enough to be reasonably self-sustaining.

Pacing Pacing Pacing

Hypergates and Supply ships not only expand on your strategic options, but allow you to customize your civilization a lot more specifically while simultaneously reducing the mid-game doldrums of waiting for your planets and ships to be worthwhile.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments! Still lots to talk about.

______________________________

Retribution Journals

Journal #1 (Current)

Journal #2

Journal #3

Journal #4

Journal #5

Journal #6

Journal #7

Journal #8

Journal #9 (Coming Soon)

Star Control: Origins returns to GOG and Steam

Published on Monday, January 28, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Press Room

Stardock is pleased to announce that Star Control: Origins has been restored to both Steam and GOG after having been subjected to DMCA abuse by Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford, who claimed to own a series of ideas found in Star Control: Origins. They claim that the game violates copyrights from Star Control II, a game they are credited with having designed over 25 years ago.

They justified their DMCA by posting the chart below.

To clarify: THIS IS THEIR CHART.

This chart lists a series of ideas that they appear to believe, when put together, violates their rights. After discussions with Valve and GOG, who are now aware of the nature of their claims, we are happy to report that Star Control: Origins is fully restored.

We believe that gamers, developers and all those who believe in free artistic expression can see the potential harm self-evident in the claims Reiche and Ford are attempting to make here. The ultimate ends of such claims could potentially be disastrous for anyone wishing to make such games and not something we accept as a matter of course.

Copyrights protect the specific expression of authorship.  See the U.S. Copyright Office FAQ for more information. In fact, the only thing in their chart that can be copyrighted is the music, which Reiche and Ford have no rights to. The composer retained rights to the songs, and worked with us on the music for Star Control: Origins. One can only speculate what would happen if someone were to claim ownership of entire genres or game designs.  Next time you play a game, whether on your PC, console, or mobile, think about how other games in the same genre play or how it may share features in common with other games that have previously been released.

There are other types of IP (intellectual property) such as trademarks (which protect words and short-phrases), and patents (which protect inventions).

With regards to the Star Control franchise, Stardock acquired it from Atari (who, in turn, had acquired Accolade) in 2013.  This included all trademark rights to the series (i.e. any word or short-phrase from the franchise that is strongly associated with Star Control), as well as the registered copyrights to Star Control 3.  Reiche and Ford have no rights to our work. Any association between Star Control: Origins and the classic series is part of the trademark (trademarks protect against consumer confusion), which is exclusively owned by Stardock and not, obviously, relevant to any copyright claims.  

Thanks to the timely review of the situation by our partners at GOG and Valve, and taking the exceptional step in placing our game back for sale, despite ongoing litigation, we have been able to avoid having to lay off employees assigned to the project.  

We are hopeful that this malicious use of the DMCA process will make consumers aware of just how out-of-hand the state of the DMCA has become. Anyone with an interest in digital goods and services owes it to themselves to increase their awareness of how wide-spread DMCA abuse has gotten and spread the word on it.

Most targets of DMCA abuse do not have the fortune of having the instigators post a chart demonstrating how misinformed they are on the nature of copyrights and thus, we believe, helping persuade most people familiar with IP law to realize the ridiculousness of the claims being made.

Star Control: Origins is a space action RPG. Your mission is to explore the galaxy, meet new alien civilizations, acquire new resources and technology, and protect Earth from threats lurking in the vastness of space. It was released this past fall to favorable reviews for the PC, with console editions in development.

Thank you for your support and we look forward to creating new Star Control games for years to come.

You can learn more about Star Control at www.starcontrol.com

 

References:

A letter from an employee at the USPTO correcting Ford and Reiche's lawyer's misconceptions about copyright:

 

Previous copyright infringement case heard by the Northern District (same court that this case is in):

Verdict: Not infringing:

Star Control: Origins - Hyperspace (2018)

Image result for star control hyperspace

vs.

Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters - Hyperspace (1992)

Image result for star control hyperspace

Further Reading: History of this dispute.

Retribution for Humanity

Published on Wednesday, January 23, 2019 By Brad Wardell In GalCiv III Dev Journals

Greetings!

Sorry I have been so quiet lately on GalCiv stuff.  We've had our noses to the grindstone on the new expansion pack, GalCiv III: Retribution and we haven't had much time to come up for air.

I'll be sharing lots of stuff shortly now that things are starting to reach screen-shot worthiness.  For today, though, I want to just talk a bit about the background story that I built, over decades for Galactic Civilizations and why Retribution is so important from that perspective.  Now, whether we can pull off a good story in a 4X strategy game is a different topic that will be consuming many evenings shortly.

Story vs. Game

Galactic Civilizations is a space 4X strategy game first and foremost.  It's a sandbox game.  The background lore for the game is really only there to help inspire us when making the sandbox game.   

If I had to do it over again, I probably would have vetoed any sort of campaign.  In fact, if there's a GalCiv IV, there will almost certainly not be a campaign.  I'd rather integrate the lore into the gameplay in pieces that would make each game feel epic and unique.

But make no mistake: Galactic Civilizations is about your civilization and playing in a space sandbox.

With that out of the way, let's discuss the background lore that may or may not be of interest to you.

The role of humanity

I literally wrote the first Galactic Civilizations game starting back in 1992 when I was in college.  I literally just wanted a Civilization game in space.    The problem with making a Sci-Fi style civilization game is you really do want a story foundation for it to rest on.  Civilization had all of human history.  A 4X space game is all speculative.  

So in Galactic Civilizations, the lore begins in the year 2178.  Humans have discovered a FTL engine technology that has gotten out to everyone and there's now a space race to claim all the good planets in reach by hyperdrive.  We are introduced to a number of alien civilizations with their own histories and culture.

The character of humanity

The consistent part of the human's story is that we're really, really trying to be nice.  A lot of our early issues in galactic politics is due to our naivete.  We think anyone advanced enough for space travel has to be benevolent.  We humans aren't benevolent but we really try to be.  We really do.  But deep down, we're savages.

Going all the way back to the beginning and all the way up to Crusade (released in 2017) the human story has focused on us being good guys.

But Retribution's story takes place after the liberation of worlds that had been savaged by the Drengin and now the Terran Alliance is a military super power. It is also pissed off.

The human race tried to be nice and where did that get us? Now we have the upper hand and what should we do? What do you think we would do?  And that is the background story for Retribution and the inspiration of the new features in the game.

 

Star Control: Winter 2019 Update

Published on Wednesday, January 23, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Journals

Greetings!

Star Control has definitely been the most...dramatic franchise we've ever worked on.  No doubt the diabolical work of the Crimson Corporation indeed!

So what's next? What's happening?  

Right now, we're working on Part 2 of Earth Rising which revolves around the Lexites.  You might ask, what is the process for creating these?  Well, broadly speaking it goes like this:

  1. General story.  What is the overall meaning for the story.
  2. Design up the quests for players to go on.
  3. Write up the quests.
  4. Playtest the quests.
  5. Decide what writing is going to be voiced by voice actors.
  6. Send to translation

1,2,3 are reasonably fast to get to the first stage.  The longest part is the play testing.  Are these quests fun?  The first part of Earth Rising, Aftermath, actually took a month longer than anticipated because of iteration on the quests. 

Quests are...tough.  I should say, quests are super easy to do but hard to make worthwhile.  I mean, how hard is it to whip up a fetch quest?  Go bring us back 25 Krizak tails and we'll give you a new weapon.  Fetch quests are pretty standard but that isn't why people play Star Control.    Star Control is about telling a story and in the case of Star Control: Origins, the story is about Earth's entry on the intergalactic scene in the late 21st century, far earlier than anyone would have expected.

We are hoping that the Lexite story will be ready to send to voice acting by the end of the month (and simultaneously sent to translation) so that we can get this out to you guys next month (depending on QA resources which will be pushed to their limit with OTC expansions, GalCiv expansions and multiple new titles in development).

Beyond Earth Rising

Then there's the question of what happens after Earth Rising.  

The engineering team is focused on porting our underlying engine so that we can have console and even mobile releases of Star Control games in the future (including Origins).  We anticipate that work to be largely done by the time we're done working on Earth Rising.  So then what?

That really depends on a lot of factors.  One path is to go and do a sequel.  Another path is to do a second expansion for Star Control: Origins.  Which path we ultimately take depends a lot on you guys and what you want and where you want us to take Star Control next.

Let us know in the comments!

 

 

Ashes of the Singularity: Road Map 2019

Published on Wednesday, January 23, 2019 By Brad Wardell In Ashes Dev Journals

Greetings!

Lots of exciting things happening with Ashes of the Singularity.  With Star Control: Origins released, we've been able to give Ashes some new attention and I wanted to use this post to update you on where we are.

Engine porting

Under the game is the game engine which in Ashes 1.0 was pure Nitrous.  These days, we have taken the Nitrous engine and integrated all the cool stuff we've developed over the years (Game engine wise) to create a game-specific engine we call Cider.  So right now, we're porting Cider to Linux with Ashes being our first test.  

The good news is that we have Ashes kind of sort of working natively on Linux.  The bad news is that the performance isn't quite there yet.  Vulkan is the graphics platform we're targeting and it's still very young.

New entries in the universe

We are working on a new game in the Ashes of the Singularity universe that we will be announcing next month.  Ashes founders will get it either for free or at a steep discount depending on what type of Founder they are.  

Ashes sequels

So the short version is that we aren't going to be making new expansions for Ashes of the Singularity I.  There might be more DLC but the changes we want to make are a little too radical to have as an expansion.   My next post will be talking about what we have in mind for the sequel so you guys can opine on it.  But if you liked SupCom or TA then you will really like where we want to take the sequel.

Stay tuned!

 

Game Developer Economics of 2019

Published on Friday, December 28, 2018 By Brad Wardell In Game Development Journals

If you're a game developer, 2019 is the year you adapt or die.

The market has changed. This Steam release chart makes it obvious:

Image result for graph steam game releases by year

2018's numbers aren't available yet but given that the flood gates are now open, you can imagine what that looks like.  Like every other industry that has reduced the barrier to entry, the game industry is filling up with titles.  This is (mostly) good for gamers but presents new challenges for game developers.

The Pareto Principle

There are certain mathematical models that become relevant once you are dealing with numbers this high.  The most obvious being the Pareto principle.

In games, it works basically like this:  The square root of the total competition will earn 80% of the income of a given competitive field.

Let's assume that by end of 2018 there are around 30,000 titles on Steam.  

Roughly speaking, that means that in 2018 the top 180 or so will make 80% of the revenue and the remaining 29,800 will share in the remainder of the 20%.  As others have noted, Steam's revenue has not been increasing at anywhere near that rate.

In 2017, Steam generated around $4.3 billion versus $3.5 billion in 2016.  Or put another way: In 2016 there were 10,000 titles on Steam and in 2017 there were around 18,000 titles on Steam.

This works out to the bottom 9,900 titles on Steam in 2016 sharing $700 million.  Or $70,000 for the average for 2016.

But for 2017, while revenue went up to $4.3 billion, the number of titles went up to around 18,000.  Which, using the Pareto principle means that that while the 17,800 shared 20% of that amount . Or $48,314 for the average of 2017.

For 2018, let's say the revenue increased by the same rate as it did previously.  I don't think this will be the case because of the trend of a few major titles of last year coming out on their own custom platforms.  Indeed, if you look at the Steam top sellers for 2018, only three of them were released in 2018.   

So for the sake of argument, let's say that total revenue increased to $5 billion last year.  That's an impressive increase in total revenue right?

However, while the top 180 or so games will make 80% of that revenue, the bottom 28,800 or so will share in on the remaining $1 billion. Or $34,722 for the average of 2018.

The Pareto principle is a pretty universal axiom used in many industries.  It is, what it is.   It is a trend that has already occurred in the music and video industries.  As the technology and logistics to produce content allow more competition, not only do prices come down but the per product revenue comes down as well regardless of the price.   That means developers can't solve this problem by lowering their price.  The top 100 or so will always generate around half the total revenue with the top 200 generate around 80% and the rest just will get largely lost in the shuffle.

Discoverability is not the main problem

No matter how perfect Amazon, Steam, GOG, Humble or anyone else makes their discoverability algorithm, it won't change the axiom that that the very top games will generate nearly all the revenue.  Discoverability helps to be sure. But it helps at a linear rate of return rather than the exponential rate of the Pareto distribution.

It's easy for a game developer to blame the platform holder.  But it's no more Steam's fault that lots of new titles are being submitted than it is Amazon's fault that lots of new digital books are being released.  It's not like there were 10,000 games being made per year in 2012 that were being censored.  It's just that the rise of inexpensive high end computers for development combined with the amazing tools available to developers has resulted in an explosion of new titles.

So what do you, the developer, do?

There are a number of well tested paths to address this.  One of the reasons capitalism works is that it organically generates lots of competitive segments so that the Pareto principle gets split into lots of mini-competitions.  For example, Paradox has done well with the "grand strategy game" segment.   Being the leader in your niche can translate into a better chance of getting a much, much bigger piece of the pie.

Ultimately, however, it means that we will see a major stratification of game development this year.   If you're a major publisher, there is no point in investing in a title that won't be in that top 100.   

For Stardock, which has historically worked in the mid-market segment, it means reviewing our own strategy.  As a company, we have enough engineers to make a single AAA game but have operated with multiple teams going at once to make mid-market games (Galactic Civilizations, Star Control, Ashes of the Singularity).  But as you can imagine, we have seen each game's revenue affected as you would expect.

What is Stardock doing?

Stardock, being an independent developer, has always been able to work on whatever it wants to since it self-funds.  This, however, is also a doubled edged sword because it also has meant it errs a bit on the side of caution and thus has not tried to be the "leader" of a given niche but rather the leader of a niche within that niche.  I.e. better to spend $3 million to make $15 million in a niche (but also be  able to recover if the game fails) than to risk $9 million.     

The most obvious example of Stardock's traditional strategy is Galactic Civilizations III. For $3 million invested in generated around $15 million in revenue.  But that's nothing compared to Stellaris. Despite being released in 2016 it was the 14th top seller on Steam last year and owns the space strategy genre right now.  

When Galactic Civilizations III was being designed in 2012, there were only 1,500 titles on Steam.  The risk of making our budget back was very low. 

But as we enter 2019, it's a very different world.  Spending $3 million knowing you won't be in the top 200 is now a very risky strategy for an independent developer.  As other developers have noted, your options are to spend trivial amounts to play the slot machine of indie success or go for the top 200 which means a much bigger risk for an independent studio since one failure could bring down the whole company.

So there are a few things we're thinking of:

  1. Helping Indies.  Like I said, discoverability won't cause the third best fantasy strategy game to suddenly become the top seller, but it can make it can double or triple the game's revenue easily over what it might have done.  So this is one area we are looking at is helping promising indies succeed.
  2. Promising Niches.  Stardock is the main user of Oxide's Nitrous engine which allows for emergent game designs.  Since it's core-neutral (i.e. the more CPU cores you throw at it, the more it can do) we can make either new types of games or we can do niche games with a fidelity or gameplay that wasn't previously possible.  The challenge here is that as we saw with Ashes of the Singularity, a game with a $2 million budget (but has sold almost 800,000 copies) is that many people didn't have 4 CPU cores in 2016.  And for Nitrous to really show its advantages, you really need 8 to 16 CPU cores which the market just isn't ready for yet so we still have to design around 4 CPU cores which limits our advantage.
  3. Embrace our existing niches.  With Star Control: Origins, we attempted to go wider.  And while the game has done fairly well on PC, its budget was predicated on porting it to consoles which is underway.   But rather than going wide with future games, another path is target future games at tighter segments.  So for instance, a Star Control II might be a more hard-core RPG.  Sins of a Solar Empire has been so successful because it dared to be a multi-hour long RTS.  An Ashes of the Singularity II might focus on that kind of depth (i.e. multi-hour games) based on a much richer economic and diplomatic system rather than being a kind of simplified Total Annihilation game.

Regardless of what Stardock does, the game industry as a whole will have to adapt to this model and developers who don't will disappear.

 

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