For those of you who have been in a Stardock BETA, none of what I mention is going to be a surprise. But for everyone else, stand back!
See the screenshot? If you’re in the Elemental BETA, you won’t see anything remotely resembling that for MONTHS. That’s because BETA 1 of Elemental will exist only with the strategic map (aka the cloth map). Imagine playing Galactic Civilizations or Supreme Commander or Sins of a Solar Empire purely from the zoomed out strategic map.
Why are we doing this? Because we’re evil? Well, that probably does contribute. But the main reason is because if the game is good, it should be fun to play even with the crappiest graphics.
So BETA 1 will be fun then right? NO. It’s going to be HORRIBLE actually. At least, for the first month and a half it’ll be represent such a dense level of crapitude that it actually has its own detectable level of gravity.
The alpha testers could attest to this right now except they’ve all lost consciousness (the smart ones anyway) due to passing out from it.
Originally, I had argued internally that BETA 1 would be only X’s and O’s played at CGA resolution with 4 colors but the team made the case that we’d end up having to throw out that code so we settled on the strategic map (cloth map) since at least, if we did that, a player could actually play the game on a netbook or some really ancient laptop in pure cloth map mode.
Why Stardock? Why are you so cruel? Is it because chicks wouldn’t go out with you in highschool?
Sure, that’s a contributing, even possibly a majority factor, but a big part of the reason we do it this way, and again, GalCiv and Sins players can attest, is that it allows players to have a lot more input into the game.
A Stardock BETA isn’t a typical beta. It’s really not a beta by typical industry terms. Rather, it’s more of a prototype. GalCiv players, not us, came up with starbases. Hard to believe that isn’t it? But it’s true. For BETA 1, we’re not really looking for “bug” reports. We want to hear people telling us what they’d like to see, how they’d like the game work. And we’ll debate, discuss, argue, and have a lot of fun putting it all together over the next several months because, well, for us, the BETA process is a key part of the game’s (as opposed to the coding) evolution.
If we do things right, Elemental will be a game that will be evolving and improving and modded by players years from now. Everything from its game mechanics to its flexible graphics engine is being designed so that a person will be able to fire up the game 10 years from now and it’ll still seem like a “modern” game that is fun to play and has continued to evolve.
Case study: Master of Magic
Imagine if Master of Magic had been developed as a 3D based game instead of sprite based. That means, no fixed screen resolution. Now, imagine if all the assets in the game were designed to be potentially replaced using very well known, open standards and that a lot of the game specific coding was available in Python?
The result would have been a game where the graphics and other visual “assets” could slowly be updated and replaced with ever higher polygon and higher texture versions. The AI and the game mechanics could slowly evolve over time as players came up with interesting ideas and they could pick and choose which parts they wanted.
That’s one of our biggest goals with Elemental. We want to make a game that will keep getting better over time. So we have an engine with no practical limit on texture size or polygon limit. It can get both visually and programmatically better for years to come with our without our involvement.
But in the betas, well, they’re still going to be HOOOORRRIBLE!