Brad’s June Elemental flame thread

By on June 25, 2010 2:04:36 PM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

Frogboy

Join Date 03/2001
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We’re getting close

Elemental will be released on August 24th. Our “gold” date is August 4th. Our goal is to have the "game” basically done by July 16th.  The remaining time will be spent polishing, balancing, tweaking and adding player suggested feedback.  We’ll categorize that feedback on things that we think are fun or interesting enough to get into the “gold” version (the version that comes in the box) and then things we’ll make available on release date (the August 24th edition).

A game vs. a piece of software

What makes a game different from a piece of software is of course, the fun factor. So when I talk about things being “done” I am speaking of the software program known as Elemental. But that doesn’t make it a game. That just makes it a piece of software capable of performing the features of the game. Turning it into a game requires a lot of balancing, usability tweaking, polish and the injection of fun. 

Our beta programs have focused largely on deciding what features and directions we need to take on the software so that the final game will be “fun”.

The transition from software to a game

Of course, beta testers, particularly ones who haven’t been involved in Stardock betas previously, are stuck in the situation of not knowing whether we “realize” the areas of the software that need to be changed in order to make it a “good game”. So this post is a partial tour of just some of the big issues that have to be addressed for the software to be a good game.

Below are some of the things on our list:

ITEM #1: Making the sovereigns distinct from one another

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Making it so that each sovereign is very distinct in how they play is very important.  The way we are going to do this is to make the Professions available and the Talents have far reaching (i.e. not simply “stat boosts”) effects. Thus far, we’ve struggled over which professions to have in the first place.

For instance, the Warlord starts the player off with 2 sentinels.  But right now, the Bard only starts you with a stat boost to hero cost. Boring. The Adventurer gives you an extra move. A okay start but still boooring. This will be an area that we will be spending time on after the public beta endsd.

ITEM #2: Making the factions distinct

In a nutshell, The Kingdoms and The Empires are fighting over how the world should be organized. The Kingdoms are (by default) all races of MEN. The Empires are mostly Races of FALLEN. The Fallen are made up of many distinct races.

However, we must make sure each of these races plays differently enough and looks different enough that it is meaningful.  This is an area we’re going to spend a lot of time on.

ITEM #3: Usability

There are all kinds of annoying UI issues that get in the way or make the game less intuitive than it should be. 

For instance…

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Clicking outside the book should close it. There’s a ton of stuff like that.  Beta 2-B users will get to see a LOT more stuff that is extremely annoying such as the way spells are managed in beta 2-B. The spell management will get overhauled during the public beta. It’s incredibly obnoxious.

 

ITEM #4: The Environment is Boring

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Based on the plot, the world is decimated. Thus, the lands are barren. However, we are finding this to be oppressive. 

Instead, what we are going to be moving towards is a system where the land is spotted with bits of grassland and Fallen land that players can build on without having to sacrifice essence.

image

In addition, building cities is going to require a Pioneer pack. The player will start with one and it is consumed on building a city. Additional cities will require building pioneers (who can only  build on non-forsaken ground) or champions can buy pioneer packs in the shops (giving another early benefit to recruited NPCs).

This makes city building require a little more thought than presently and allows us to address the issue of why can only sovereigns found cities?

Moreover, the art and development teams are both working on a significant increase in the number of environments for the world (we haven’t enabled rivers  in the public builds yet because they are cosmetically ugly still). The goal is to make sure the world is an interesting and exciting place.

ITEM #5 DETAILS AND EQUIPPING

In the public beta, the details and equipment screens are combined into a single horrible, usability nightmare.

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“The best shareware game UI of 1997!”

During the polish phase, the equipping screen and the details screen will be different (you’ll be able to easily switch between them).  This way, equipping units will be straight forward and efficient and the history of the unit and their details can be more easily handled. Plus, it’ll be a lot more intuitive to play.

 

ITEM #6: Battle Animations and effects

In the beta, all the battle stuff is really basic and dull.  During the polish phase, we’ll be adding many many different combat animations, effects, etc. to make battles a lot more interesting.

ITEM #7: NOTIFICATIONS AND UI

This is going to be a big issue in Beta 2-B now that magic is enabled. Players can lose a lot of time because they filled up their spell points inventory and weren’t prompted to do anything about it.

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ITEM #8: WHAT IS GOING ON?

This covers a whole lot of areas of the game. But basically there’s a huge lack of UI-driven explanation of what is happening or why something is the way it is. This is an area we will be concentrating a great deal on during the polish phase.

ITEMS #9: COSTS AND BENEFITS ARE CRAZY

How much an item should cost or how tough a monster should be or how hard a certain tech should be to get and so on, these are things that we are aware of and will be focusing a great deal on. Right now, a lot of the values in the “software” were put in by programmers. During the polish stage, the designers (myself included) get to take a crack at it.

Beta 2-A, for instance, changed the game from Beta 2 quite a bit by simply allowing a designer (me in this case) an afternoon to tweak the values.

ITEM #10: TECHNOLOGY RESEARCH UI

The research mechanism is so crummy that it deserves its own item. It’s something we’re very aware of and it’s on our list. I did ask it to be improved some during the public beta phase so that beta testers could at least have a decent idea of what’s going on.

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Look at all these screens that tell you nothing about what you picked. HORRIBLE.

ITEM #11: QUESTS

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The quests in the game will get better and better during the polish portion.

ITEM #12: Other Player interaction

The AI players still don’t do much. Without the challenge of other players, the game loses much of its potency in the beta. With the Imperial factions disabled, you only have 5 default players and we haven’t enabled creation your own factions yet the worlds tend to be relatively devoid of action.

ITEM #13: Diplomacy

Diplomacy is going to be a major element in the game. It shows up in Beta 3 but it’ll be pretty basic since the AI isn’t particularly intelligent yet.

ITEM #14: NPC and MONSTER AI

The monsters and NPCs just kind of randomly move around right now. This is an area we are going to be heavily polishing to make them be a lot more “alive” than they currently are.

The team has hooked in the ability for me to have these creatures (at least the sentient ones) pop up conversations with the players. This is something that we can have a lot of fun with.

 

BETA TESTER IMPACT

We very much welcome constructive feedback from players. We can’t promise that every idea will make it into the retail gold or even the day 0 release but if we like it, we can put it on our post-release update schedule.  So definitely keep posting your ideas or suggestions.

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June 25, 2010 2:12:52 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

 

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June 25, 2010 2:16:32 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Well, I don't think the research screen is actually all that bad, although information displayed ought to be a lot more comprehensive.

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June 25, 2010 2:18:40 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting ,


ITEM #4: The Environment is Boring

Based on the plot, the world is decimated. Thus, the lands are barren. However, we are finding this to be oppressive. 
Instead, what we are going to be moving towards is a system where the land is spotted with bits of grassland and Fallen land that players can build on without having to sacrifice essence.

In addition, building cities is going to require a Pioneer pack. The player will start with one and it is consumed on building a city. Additional cities will require building pioneers (who can only  build on non-forsaken ground) or champions can buy pioneer packs in the shops (giving another early benefit to recruited NPCs).
This makes city building require a little more thought than presently and allows us to address the issue of why can only sovereigns found cities?
Moreover, the art and development teams are both working on a significant increase in the number of environments for the world (we haven’t enabled rivers  in the public builds yet because they are cosmetically ugly still). The goal is to make sure the world is an interesting and exciting place.

So if you want to build a second city in a spot that requires essence, will you need to use a champion to do it? Or can you just buy the Sovereign another pioneer pack?

 

ITEM #10: TECHNOLOGY RESEARCH UI
The research mechanism is so crummy that it deserves its own item. It’s something we’re very aware of and it’s on our list. I did ask it to be improved some during the public beta phase so that beta testers could at least have a decent idea of what’s going on.


The two top things that need improving here IMO are that the different techs need better explanations of what they do (and when they unlock a building, an explanation of what the building does), and when there are prerequisites we need a way to be able to see them.

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June 25, 2010 2:20:59 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Thank you for the update - awesome stuff. You guys definitely need a time machine that can stop time and let you work on the game for another year - looks like there's a lot of stuff that still needs to be done.

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June 25, 2010 2:34:42 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Another thing I would add to this list is the Very Important Empire Tree. The Empire Tree itself is a great concept, but it's the implementation that makes its addition good or bad. The Empire Tree in Sins was pretty fantastic, even for all its technical limitations, because the user was allowed a high degree of control over it. Same needs to be true for Elemental.

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June 25, 2010 2:38:56 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting ,

We’re getting close Elemental will be released on August 24th. Our “gold” date is August 4th. Our goal is to have the "game” basically done by July 16th.

 

well with all due respect i dont see how the "game" can be done in 3 weeks with all the stuff to do and test but i hope to be wrong

 

for the rest i agree with your points, and im looking forward to see that stuff in game

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June 25, 2010 2:42:40 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Nice thread. But I'm a little bit terrified of your stated goal of the game being finished in 3 weeks, with another 2 1/2 weeks for minor little tweaks... The game does not seem that complete to me. Not to mention we haven't even seen tactical combat yet, and there is essentially no AI in the game... And it still crashes enough (for me) to be really annoying. Is that really enough time?

 

Also, one unrelated question that I keep forgetting to ask but always try to figure out in the game... Is there a way to move items between champions (and the sovereign)?

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June 25, 2010 2:44:34 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Excellent read, nearly every concern i have is on this page.  good to know it will be given attention.

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June 25, 2010 2:45:38 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I say this a 25 year technology veteran and current CIO.

Brad, the company that you founded and stear is a very rare gem in the IT world.  I know of no other company in any market space that is this in touch with it's consumer or is as visibly interested in their feedback. And believe me Ihave met with alot of them...

I back my respect with my dollar, I own very game Stardock has brought to life and will continue to do so.

The love for your craft does shine through, all the best sir.

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June 25, 2010 2:48:10 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Frogboy is troll, always attacking Stardock's products and pointing out their faults. Mods, please ban him.

 

 

The research IS my number 1 fix wanted though.

 

Number 2 would be more sovereign customization options. And you can't even properly equip a female sovereign right now. Also, items cost too much, when you can just find them in goodie huts.

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June 25, 2010 2:48:19 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

The 2D art looks awesome in the Sovereign portraits. Better than the 3D ones in fact. More of those, please.

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June 25, 2010 2:54:47 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Also, one unrelated question that I keep forgetting to ask but always try to figure out in the game... Is there a way to move items between champions (and the sovereign)?

Drag item from the items list at the bottom over the portrait of who you want to get it.

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June 25, 2010 2:56:06 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting pigeonpigeon,
Also, one unrelated question that I keep forgetting to ask but always try to figure out in the game... Is there a way to move items between champions (and the sovereign)?

2 ways.

1) Group a SoV and Champion. Select the Stack (I hate that word btw) then select the SoV, open his/her Item tab, click and drag an item to the champions icon, and drop. It should show up in their Item Tab for equipping.

2) Same drag and drop for the SoV's Item list but to the champion Icon, under the SoV's in the Upper Left of the screen. That list can be open and closed to save visual space btw.

Ninja'd

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June 25, 2010 2:56:54 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

With all due respect, I have to agree with some of the posters in this thread. I understand that lot of the balance/gameplay tweaks are relatively easy to actually implement, but they are much more of a crapshoot than the "software" portion of the game. You really need to iterate and try many things out and get tester feedback on them before you finish this game. I mean if you look at Blizzard and Starcraft 2 (which I know you're a huge fan of) you can see they spent over a year in a phase you want to condense to 3 weeks.

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June 25, 2010 2:57:49 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Are the NPC's out there that are acting on their own going to behave based on class (ie merchants trade, mercenaries work for nations for contract, adventurers adventure, sages invent, ect)?  Are new level 1 NPC's going to spawn from population centers as the game goes on?

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June 25, 2010 2:59:33 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I agree that most every major concern I have wtih the game right now was addressed in this dev journal, so was encouraging.

However, I also agree that the release date seems incredibly soon given the current state of the game as perceived by beta-testers.  I realize beta-testers are getting a purposefully nerfed version of the game but it does seem like a huge leap in a really short period of time.

I'm excited, the next few weeks should be great to watch as this masterpiece comes together.

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June 25, 2010 3:06:20 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Ah, I was just about to complain about inventory-related UI. Good to see that Stardock doesn't need an amateur like me to see that it's kind of terrible right now.

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June 25, 2010 3:07:20 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Well, it's also not uncommon to have a day0 patch these days, either. The Gold build would be a fully playable game of course, but they'd also get 3 extra weeks after that on additional polish for day0. Sort of a necessary evil trend because the manufacturing time necessitates something being on disk that far out from actual release.

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June 25, 2010 3:30:16 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting pigeonpigeon,
Nice thread. But I'm a little bit terrified of your stated goal of the game being finished in 3 weeks, with another 2 1/2 weeks for minor little tweaks... The game does not seem that complete to me. Not to mention we haven't even seen tactical combat yet, and there is essentially no AI in the game...

The date doesn't terrify me so much as vex me sorely. It seems oddly hasty given the very generous beta time allowed for earlier phases of the process. I understand that the engine has been the bulk of the dev work, but I don't understand why we must suddenly shift to fire-drill mode just when we're finally starting to see the full game and have a chance to really shake down the draft UI.

Leaving fine-tuning and 'balance' stuff to patches seems perfectly reasonable. But I'm bewildered by the fact that we've been testing for almost a year but we'll apparently have just a couple of weeks to try out the magic mechanics. Seems like you're limiting this final phase a beta input to folks who are able to pour in many hours on short notice, which will likely leave many folks with families, jobs, etc., unable to really participate.

Also, the lack of time with larger maps is especially vexing because those are where some of the UI weaknesses of GC2 show clearly.

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June 25, 2010 3:35:20 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Can I make a suggestion?  The in-game font is a little ... blah.  It's very "Times New Roman".  Look (for example) at the font used for Civ V, or even the font Brad uses in his screen shot notations - very smooth, nice looking, easy to read.  I'd like to see a font like that used in the game, the one used now is a little ugly.  

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June 25, 2010 3:39:20 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Also, the lack of time with larger maps is especially vexing because those are where some of the UI weaknesses of GC2 show clearly.

A very good point. After plugging the Empire Tree in this thread I went and made a suggestion post on improving the tree to make it easy to manage as the number of units/cities increases dramatically on the really big maps, since it will be our means of quickly finding stuff without scrolling around everywhere.

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June 25, 2010 3:46:37 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I think this is fantastic news!  The aspects of the game we've been permitted to play thusfar are enough to commend Elemental as a first-rate title.  I look forward to the finished product and am overjoyed to see the die finally cast! 

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June 25, 2010 3:48:35 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

As a preorderer (is that even a word?), Stardock-fan and software developer, I'd just like to add to the respectful choir that sings 'Take some more time to make this a real juvel, please'. As noted by other posters, we haven't seen the whole package, and you may be holding much back on us ... but based on your notes above, Frogboy, it seems that a little extra time may be valuable.

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June 25, 2010 3:52:09 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Wait!! So does this mean we are getting Beta-2B today or not...I'm so confused and a lil frightened.  

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June 25, 2010 4:02:30 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Based on what I've seen this game needs a lot more than just 21 days (assuming people are working on weekends - which I doubt they will be doing) of additional work. There is of course the possibility that the beta testers haven't seen a lot of the content though I suppose.

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