Random Elemental journal: December 2009

By on December 10, 2009 8:32:21 PM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

Frogboy

Join Date 03/2001
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One of Sid Meier’s rules of game design boils down to “Prototype, prototype, prototype”.

Forgive me for any unintentional hubris but as far as I’m aware, Elemental is the first commercial PC game that opened that phase of development to the public.

Just this week all kinds of changes have been made to the engine.  So let’s talk about that.

First, for those of you not in the game industry, the thing to remember is that 80% of a game’s development time is spent on engine and assets. The remaining 20% is the actual “game”.  That’s why we have the luxury to monkey around with different game mechanic ideas.

Star Emperor

15 years ago IBM came to me (I was in college) and wanted a “Galactic Civilizations” game but different for something called the IBM Family Funpak. I said “Oh…oh yea, I have a game called…Star Imp..er…I mean Star..Lor- er Star Empir…er Star Emperor. Yea, Star Emperor.”

IBM agreed to pay a pile of money for this game and over a weekend I took my GalCiv for OS/2 code, changed the game mechanics to Star Emperor and voila. A million licneses sold to IBM. 

GalCiv was basically Civilization in Space.  Star Emperor was basically Warlords in space. IBM was happy. Gamers liked it. And I decided I’d do this Stardock thing full time. It totally beat out doing “Truth in Lending” programs for Ford Credit.

Cool stuff in Elemental

image
Quickie concept of updated Diplomacy interaction

For Elemental, of course, we have more than a weekend to whip up our game mechanics.  But that’s half the fun.  We get to play around with all kinds of different idea.  Best of all, thanks to this Internet thing, we can get input from others.

So here’s stuff from this week:

  1. There will only be 1 type of mana. Mana.  Control of the elemental shards will be handled ala Magic the Gathering. A spell may cost N mana but also require control of M shards to cast. This way, players don’t have to sit there and hold shards for dozens of turns to cast a spell and creates a much more vibrant game.
  2. The battle system has been monkeyed with several times this week internally.  The current system has Attack along with a range for that attack.  There is also no longer “fire” or “frost” damage but instead simply Arcane damage and Arcane resistance.  It’s very similar to what Master of Magic except we have Combat speed in there too.
  3. Players will get a cue that the enemy player is about to cast a spell so that they have the opportunity to counter it when in a tactical battle.  If auto-resolve is on, players will be able to set a default amount of mana they’re willing to invest in a given battle. (we’re still playing with this and expect to for months to come  based on player feedback).
  4. Multiplayer diplomacy will get its own UI rather than sacrificing even an ounce of the SP diplomacy UI to support MP.
  5. The campaign is going to be much much more story driven than originally conceived. Cut-scenes between each chapter written by our friends at Del Rey.
  6. The map itself is going to get a lot more interesting stuff in it. This should start to show up in the next beta but basically, the map is too boring right now.  You’ll see.

Now, for those of you NOT in the beta, fear not. You’re not missing out on anything fun. These prototype betas are explicitly designed to be awful so that we can try out lots of different ideas cheaply. This is going to continue on through the entire prototype phase of the beta (which is beta 1 AND beta 2). 

For those of you in the beta, you’re hopefully starting to notice what makes our games a bit different in how they’re developed. We use our software tech like DesktopX and other goodies that allow us to make massive, easy changes to our game mechanics. This way, we can radically change things based on player feedback. 

We can re-do an entire screen in less than 15 minutes (for instance). If there’s anyone in the industry reading this, please feel free to run through the normal way a screen gets changed so that readers can see the contrast.

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December 10, 2009 8:58:42 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting ,

6.  The map itself is going to get a lot more interesting stuff in it. This should start to show up in the next beta but basically, the map is too boring right now.  You’ll see.

 

I thought that was the entire point of having it in the game. So that we wouldn't be entranced by anything except for the data we need.

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December 10, 2009 9:19:19 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I thought that was the entire point of having it in the game. So that we wouldn't be entranced by anything except for the data we need.

Nah. As it is, even if you replaced the current map with the full 3D version, it would still be boring. It'd look nice, but it'd be fairly boring nonetheless. There just isn't very much there. Some mountains, some trees, the occasional resource or goody hut. Some rivers. I suppose this is what you get in most games, but somehow the Elemental world as it stands feels very empty. Nice graphics will alleviate that somewhat, but I think it'd still feel like a pretty empty world. It should feel barren, desolate, destroyed - but not empty.

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December 10, 2009 9:52:22 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

 

It should feel barren, desolate, destroyed - but not empty.

I totally agree here, I like how we've been able to see new things show up on the map after each update to the beta, it's fun to watch it grow  

And I really like points one and two, and three would be cool too if i knew how countering worked 

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December 10, 2009 9:57:52 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

It sounds pretty good. It does raise a few questions though. Will having just "Arcane" magical damage limit spell creativity in any way? And, how will customization fit into a scripted story line? The story will have to be handled creatively so that any character the player might make can be inserted into the story.

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December 10, 2009 9:59:58 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Um... why is the title "December 2008" Has anyone else noticed that?

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December 10, 2009 11:38:22 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Yay on points 1, 2a, 3, 4, 5, and 6. 1 and 6 are particularly awesome.

Now for the criticism

I don't like swapping out Fire and Frost for "Arcane" (what is "Arcane anyways?). Are we going to have Arcane and Mystic for two "What is that" magic powers?

Fire and Frost fit in well with the Elemental theme of ... Elemental. It also fits in well with environmental effects of a 4x map game with fiery desert and lava regions. Frosty frozen tundras and mountains. Arcane regions? doesn't do it for me.

So if we have flaming arrows what kind of damage do they do? Will they have better or worse damage against a summoned Ice Elemental? Personally I thought the whole point of simplyifing the physical damage was so that different magical damage types could be focused on (And the physical would use special advantages similar to MoM).

 

P.S. - Will there be another game update before Stardock's Christmas vacation?

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December 10, 2009 11:43:41 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Yay! The title has been fixed!

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December 10, 2009 11:46:17 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I'm really liking how this game is going so far, except for the combat system. If you remove any unique distinctions spread amongst several damage types, than it becomes even more bland and simplified.

I would love if you could explain why you broken it down to simply one magic type. Like someone mentioned in an earlier Journal or something, in Master of Magic, every magic tree wasn't the same. One focused on primarily summoning, Chaos was primarily the greatest damage dealing one, cetera. I think y'all really need to make the game more complex and tactically expanded by introducing spears, swords, and shields that will have an actual effect in game instead of just graphic props.

Heroes of Might and Magic is more complex than Elemental at this stage right now. Doesn't it seem boring?I don't want to say it, but I'm glad the game is being planned as being extremely moddable, because I'd love to see a modification introduce multiple weapon types and innotative, risk-taking game mechanics for the combat system. I would prefer to just see the vanilla game take a step forward from Galactic Civilizations instead of one step back from GalCiv, which, really surprsies me...

It truly feels like you designers of Elemental are afraid of introducing a unique combat system that has even a little rock-paper-scissors. If you just have Arcane, than whats the point of the elements fire, water, air, earth? Why don't y'all keep the multiple elements for damage and allow one to do good against another while being more vulnerable to another element? The game is even called Elemental: War of Magic.

Please reconsider.

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December 10, 2009 11:57:21 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

"There is also no longer “fire” or “frost” damage but instead simply Arcane damage and Arcane resistance."

I don't like it.  No elemental damage in Elemental seems mental to me.

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December 11, 2009 12:11:50 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Cutscenes! Rejoice!

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December 11, 2009 12:36:51 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting ,

The campaign is going to be much much more story driven than originally conceived. Cut-scenes between each chapter written by our friends at Del Rey.

This, imho, is by far the most promising bit.

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December 11, 2009 1:11:29 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Grimgravy,
"There is also no longer “fire” or “frost” damage but instead simply Arcane damage and Arcane resistance."

I don't like it.  No elemental damage in Elemental seems mental to me.

 

Sounds fine to me, to be honest.  It makes sense to have them seperate if they're caused by different effects, but if they both are going to be caused by spell and magic related effects only, then why not have them together?  If they're caused by physical effects, like say a dragon breathing on you, then that would make sense for a fire type of damage.  It's just a label in any case.

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December 11, 2009 1:19:58 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

It only makes sense if fire/water/earth/wind will add "effects".

Like a lightning strom will stun, and a fireball will ignate. Then a simple "Arcane" damage would be a good idea.

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December 11, 2009 2:16:13 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Far from limiting creativity, I think that having just "arcane" damage will force spell creativity. If everything does the same kind of damage, then spells have to have very different effects. No "fireball" and "lightning bolt" doing equal damage but with different elements, for instance.

Not that I'm against having fire and frost magic, by any means, but I'd like that kind of "rock-paper-scissors" strategy to be secondary. If you don't have fire arrows to fight the ice elementals, you've got to try something more creative.

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December 11, 2009 2:23:03 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

hmm, I kind of like that there is only "arcane damage." I mean, at first it sounded strange, but the way I figure it, you can specialize in X type of shards for X type of spell (wether that is buff/debuffs, or Large Area Attack/low damage, or Narrow Area Attack/High Damage, or super Life/Death craziness .... or even SUPER LARGE Area Attack/very low damag/chance for freezing (blizzard))

also, it makes people less likely to complain about spells causing physical damage rather than arcane, because there is actually only 2 damage types instead of ambiguous damage types like Wind and Earth. For instance, most Earth and Wind spells can cause all physical damage, while Fire, Lightning, and Ice can cause equal parts physical and arcane, and Death magic can cause all arcane damage. Meanwhile specifically Water spells (same element as Ice, but yea ....) can be stricly buff/debuff spells, your essential "body magic/entropy" spells.

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December 11, 2009 2:23:31 AM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

As usual, the updates are great.  But I must agree, just having "Arcane" damage, well, it sounds bland, generic, and does not inspire all the great enchantments/counters I had invisioned making my armies with.  I liked MoM, but it is a very old game, and this simplified system sounds even less strategic than Age of Wonders so far.  But, it's a beta, so I guess I'll wait and see.

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December 11, 2009 2:36:53 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting SpoonGod,
Far from limiting creativity, I think that having just "arcane" damage will force spell creativity. If everything does the same kind of damage, then spells have to have very different effects. No "fireball" and "lightning bolt" doing equal damage but with different elements, for instance.

Not that I'm against having fire and frost magic, by any means, but I'd like that kind of "rock-paper-scissors" strategy to be secondary. If you don't have fire arrows to fight the ice elementals, you've got to try something more creative.

On the other hand, frying fire elementals by lobbing fireballs at them feels bloody stupid. "Hey, being of the very essence of fire! Fear me as I... burn... you... Uh, never mind." "Never fear those water elementals, my men! My new Drown spell shall drown them like all the other foes you've faced! They'll... just... drown... Uh, on second thought, why don't we turn our front 180 degrees and charge again, whaddya say?"

If they want depth to the combat of the game, they are going to have to include some degree of complexity and different variables. Weapon reach, damage types (physical, elemental and magical alike), flanking modifiers, morale, terrain modifiers... Not perhaps every possible modifier one could think of (though I personally don't see much harm in that - unless every modifier is utterly game-changing, it's not even necessary to for the player to account for every single detail that isn't vital) but certainly more than seems to be the direction I'm getting from the dev diaries so far. For example...

Morale is crucial because without it battles feel more like chess than armies battling for life and death.

Damage types are crucial because a game called Elemental that has fire elementals hurt by fire magic and water elementals drown is, pardon my frankness, bloody stupid.

Flanking is crucial because otherwise movement in combat is restricted to two options: If you have more ranged combat ability than they do, you keep distance up, if you have more melee combat ability than they do, you close distance up. There's not much basis for fancy tactics there.

Terrain effects of some kind are crucial because otherwise it's all just fighting on an endless plane of squares rather than a dramatic fantasy landscape. Plus, unless the cavalry is at a disadvantage in some terrain, it's probably going to be just simply better than infantry in everything besides cost rather than different unit types serving a different purpose.

These are the sorts of things why I don't care much for the simplification angle Stardock seems to be going for, both tactically and strategically. Tactics and strategy are born from multiple aspects of a situation that have to be considered and weighed against each other to arrive at a decision. Sure, game mechanics may provide some choice even in the absence of modifiers of any sort, but those choices are going to be, well, mechanical. Once you understand how the overall game mechanics work, in the absence of at least a moderate number of modifying elements at play, a player will always know the optimal course of action to take and thus any tactical and strategic depth is lost for good.

And that does not do much good for the longevity of the game.

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December 11, 2009 3:11:23 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

@Thanaeon

You could make a fireball like:

category: fire

damage: 10 arcane damage

 

and fire-elementals would simply be immune to category fire and vurnable to water / frost.

You still have only 1 magic damage type, while retaining tactical depth. I like the sound of "only" arcane damage, what i do not like is that you have to controll x-amount of certain shards just to cast a spell from x-category. why?

because when i like to play a chaneler who focuses on fire magic (for example) and i spawn on a map with no fire shards next to me i am forced to play something completely different.

my suggestion: instead of being a prequisite for a certain spell it should amplify the spell, so when i don't find fire shards i can still cast fire spells they are just weaker or have missing effects (like knockdown, flame dot ect.)

 

 

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December 11, 2009 3:16:02 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

even if they don't have damage types, im sure Spells will have their own by-element catagory.

aka, Water Spell, or Fire Spell, or Earth Spell, or Air Spell

a fire elemental could be immune to all Fire spells, ect.

 

also, if diff spells require diff number of shards, then there coudl be fire 1 spells, fire 2 spells, fire 3 spells, and the Uber fire 4 spells.

In this case, you could have 4 different levels of fire resistance as well. A fire-resistant leather might have Fire-1 resistance, while a Rock-solid golem might have natural fire-3 resistance, a Fire Protection Amulet, or a Fire Shield, could grant Fire-3 resistance, and a Fire elemental would have fire 4 resistance, as well as fire 3 immunity.

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December 11, 2009 5:04:55 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Wieke,




quoting post

The campaign is going to be much much more story driven than originally conceived. Cut-scenes between each chapter written by our friends at Del Rey.



This, imho, is by far the most promising bit.

Agreed, this one was a surprise The other points are very nice too.

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December 11, 2009 5:55:55 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Nice with a update, but not a big fan of everything I must admit.My own thoughts in blue.

  1. There will only be 1 type of mana.... Not sure, could probably work ok, a bunch of different mana could get tedious.
  2. The battle system has been monkeyed with several times this week internally... Not a fan. As said before me, different damages againts different enemies is a big part of posible tatics.
  3. Players will get a cue that the enemy player is about to cast a spell so that they have the opportunity to counter it when in a tactical battle.... Sounds great. We could perhaps pic one or two offencive spells to cast during combat + a mana amount for countering.
  4. Multiplayer diplomacy will get its own UI rather than sacrificing even an ounce of the SP diplomacy UI to support MP. Great!
  5. The campaign is going to be much much more story driven than originally conceived. Cut-scenes between each chapter written by our friends at Del Rey. Sounds like lots of fun. Love cut sences, and it puts alot of presure on the story to be meaningfull, which is always fun.
  6. The map itself is going to get a lot more interesting stuff in it. This should start to show up in the next beta but basically, the map is too boring right now.  You’ll see. Thought this was given, but sounds good.
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December 11, 2009 6:54:10 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums
For tactical battles, one thing I'd like to see is general tactics you can set before the fight- like trying to kill their best units, trying to kill as many units as possible, assassinatting the channeler, trying to win the fight, etc... Think Ogre Battle. As for fire/frost vulns, I'd suggest leaving that in or putting it in, even if you don't use it in the core game (which makes sense given the nature of the core game). It will get used/wanted heavily in modding. Guaranteed. as for different damage types- how about slashing/impaling/blunt/magical? Chainmail would suck vs impaling attacks, Platemail would lower speed heavily, etc...
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December 11, 2009 6:57:29 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I think that those changes to magic types are just placeholders while developing the beast. If can make it work, shouldn't be so difficult to add extras, right? Is it not what some modders will want to do anyways?

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December 11, 2009 7:55:47 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting tesb,
@Thanaeon

You could make a fireball like:

category: fire

damage: 10 arcane damage

 

and fire-elementals would simply be immune to category fire and vurnable to water / frost.

You still have only 1 magic damage type, while retaining tactical depth. ... 

 

I am in favour of that, its a good, easy to grasp middleground.

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December 11, 2009 8:42:43 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Grimgravy,
"There is also no longer “fire” or “frost” damage but instead simply Arcane damage and Arcane resistance."

I don't like it.  No elemental damage in Elemental seems mental to me.

Quoting Rishkith,

Now for the criticism

I don't like swapping out Fire and Frost for "Arcane" (what is "Arcane anyways?). Are we going to have Arcane and Mystic for two "What is that" magic powers?

Fire and Frost fit in well with the Elemental theme of ... Elemental. It also fits in well with environmental effects of a 4x map game with fiery desert and lava regions. Frosty frozen tundras and mountains. Arcane regions? doesn't do it for me.

So if we have flaming arrows what kind of damage do they do? Will they have better or worse damage against a summoned Ice Elemental? Personally I thought the whole point of simplyifing the physical damage was so that different magical damage types could be focused on (And the physical would use special advantages similar to MoM).

 

Yeah...what the hell?

So we won't have elemental dmg types? It makes no sense if a flaming longsword will do arcane dmg, instead of additional fire damage. Also, this means, that we won't have fire/ice etc. resistances & immunities at all....this is kinda weird in a game like this. I don't like it. This was a horrible decision.  This is a very dumbed down dmg system. I thought that Elemental will be a serious fantasy strategy game. Maybe I was wrong.

That being said....hopefully we can mod in new dmg types & resistances & immunities...if we cannot, bleh!

 

Quoting Thanaeon,


If they want depth to the combat of the game, they are going to have to include some degree of complexity and different variables. Weapon reach, damage types (physical, elemental and magical alike), flanking modifiers, morale, terrain modifiers... Not perhaps every possible modifier one could think of (though I personally don't see much harm in that - unless every modifier is utterly game-changing, it's not even necessary to for the player to account for every single detail that isn't vital) but certainly more than seems to be the direction I'm getting from the dev diaries so far. For example...

Morale is crucial because without it battles feel more like chess than armies battling for life and death.

Damage types are crucial because a game called Elemental that has fire elementals hurt by fire magic and water elementals drown is, pardon my frankness, bloody stupid.

Flanking is crucial because otherwise movement in combat is restricted to two options: If you have more ranged combat ability than they do, you keep distance up, if you have more melee combat ability than they do, you close distance up. There's not much basis for fancy tactics there.

Terrain effects of some kind are crucial because otherwise it's all just fighting on an endless plane of squares rather than a dramatic fantasy landscape. Plus, unless the cavalry is at a disadvantage in some terrain, it's probably going to be just simply better than infantry in everything besides cost rather than different unit types serving a different purpose.

These are the sorts of things why I don't care much for the simplification angle Stardock seems to be going for, both tactically and strategically. Tactics and strategy are born from multiple aspects of a situation that have to be considered and weighed against each other to arrive at a decision. Sure, game mechanics may provide some choice even in the absence of modifiers of any sort, but those choices are going to be, well, mechanical. Once you understand how the overall game mechanics work, in the absence of at least a moderate number of modifying elements at play, a player will always know the optimal course of action to take and thus any tactical and strategic depth is lost for good.

And that does not do much good for the longevity of the game.

Well said...well said. It looks like that the dev team is dumbing down the game. I am clueless that why.

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