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 28, 2010 5:56:51 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Mandelik,

Quoting lavabeing, reply 148Might I suggest a reworking of the that picture?
I take opportunity from this picture to add "Might I suggest getting rid of all decimals in this game?"

Use them if you want but hide them in the depths of the program!

Make 4.49 = 4 and 4.50 = 5 !

 

 

Heartily agreed.  Stats should be integers.  The easiest fix is to display 14, 15 instead of 1.4, 1.5.  How do I move 1.2 tiles?  It doesn't make sense to the player so it should be hidden.

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June 28, 2010 6:00:58 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

ITEM #1: Making the sovereigns distinct from one another

Heroes and Sovereigns have no skill-trees or abilities that can be learned upon leveling up. Right now the leveling system is rather bland. One of the things that made masters of magic so fun for me was the ability to customize and grow my heroes by selecting new abilities for them.

I never played MOM but I totally agree with the fact that the levelling system as it is now is not really exciting. If you want to play a game for months on a gigantic map, as Brad stated somewhere, that system need a serious revamp.

I came up with two ideas that could spice up the game a bit, in addition of the old: new level = new ability approach.

Dynamic traits (talents/weakness):

What I was thinking here was traits that are modified by your actions within the game.

Let's take for example "Cruel" there could be at sovereign creation a slider called karma, that goes from "cruel" +x pts to "kind" -x points. The level of karma could impact the moral of our troops and the likeliness of champion to join us, for example a "kind" sovereign should attract "kind" champion... and the moral of our demonic/dark troops could be lowered.

If we start the game with "Cruel" karma, during the course of the game we can then work our way up/down depending on our actions toward NPCs, helping people during quests...

Some other examples:

Brilliant / stupid (sanity) linked to the tech research bonus (+x)/minus (-x if stationed in city) and be modified depending on some achievements done during the game like build 5 study (+1sanity)...

Tracker / clumsy (logistic) could be linked to beast hunting achievements, or amount of the map explored... and impact movement points

Cowardly / intimidating depending if you have flown many battles or won many battle against all odds,

...

Dynamic abilities (profession tree):

The idea is simple but is as great potential ; you start as an "initiate" of your profession and then improve to "apprentice", "master", "grand master".

The easiest way may be to unlock a new rank every x levels, maybe after executing a set of quests as well ( for the higher tier ones).

Each mastery grads should withhold a certain set of skills linked with the profession, that could be used independently (like back-stab, set trap, infiltrate, poisons, etc. for assassin)

It really adds depth to the concept of profession I think.

 

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June 28, 2010 6:05:15 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Agreed on the tile movement, but otherwise, I am one of those players that likes to have all the details.  

Don't pull a City of Heroes on me and tell me that my super power punch does high damage instead of giving me real numbers.

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June 29, 2010 3:24:01 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Stats should be integers.

Why? What is the difference of having a value of 4.49 on a scale from 0 to 20 with having a value of 449 on a scale of 0 to 2000?

BTW, if stats are integers with the current scale, I see lots of people complaining that stats don't move when adding increment from levelling or items. There where lots of people complaining in beta 2A that movement stats wasn't increasing when it should be. The real fact was that all movements below 2.0 was rounded to 2.0. So if your base movement was 1.0, you need to add 1.2 points in order to see something. The tooltip was giving this information but I guess that tooltips aren't always used.

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September 1, 2010 9:36:18 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Istari,
Brad's pretty used to it. Once he sees people posting "game won't make date" he just starts ignoring all their posts and focusing on people with useful feedback.

 

This single quote from a Stardock employee pretty much sums up what went so very wrong with the initial release of Elemental.

 

People made some very well reasoned arguments late beta about why Elemental wasn't ready for release and seemed very unlikely to suddenly become polished and balanced in the space of a few weeks. All those wondering why the beta failed and how it got released in a bland, boring and buggy state now know.

 

Brad (and the rest of the Stardock team if you read the rest of Istari's post) deliberately ignored everyone who didn't think the game was ready for release and everything they had to say.

 

Clever. So very clever.

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September 1, 2010 10:27:29 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

Wait for Sept's flame thread. 

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September 1, 2010 10:33:03 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

The game is ready for release when the devs say it is. You mightn't like what they release, but they tend to have more clout in the situation on account of it being them doing the releasing. It's like the argument I often have with my boss; my shift is over when I say it's over. They may disagree, but unless they redefine my duties to include leaving the building early they'll find I'm always right in the matter.

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September 2, 2010 4:46:30 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting ,
 

ITEM #4: The Environment is Boring


I still think this still sticks out as the biggest issue that is not on the current "Master List".

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September 2, 2010 4:48:46 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting onomastikon,

quoting post 

ITEM #4: The Environment is Boring




I still think this still sticks out as the biggest issue that is not on the current "Master List".

 

+1 even when it gets greener with kingdom it's pretty stale and unimaginative 

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September 2, 2010 4:56:25 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Hunh.  Mistwraithe, I can't think of any reason for you to dig this up from 2 months ago that doesn't begin with "neener, neener".  It's not helpful at all.  It implies you knew better than the industry veterans, and they just didn't listen to you.  If that's the case, I'm eager to play your mod.  When do you think you'll be releasing it?

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September 2, 2010 5:31:17 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Winnihym,
If that's the case, I'm eager to play your mod.  When do you think you'll be releasing it?

 

I think the best mod out there is http://forums.elementalgame.com/394060/ , over 20 XML fixes. "Implies" isn't the case here - and it isn't about features / wishlist from two months ago. Its a bug fix to a patch, not day 0.

 

+100 kudos to the author of that "mod" btw.

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September 2, 2010 6:16:24 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Winnihym,
Hunh.  Mistwraithe, I can't think of any reason for you to dig this up from 2 months ago that doesn't begin with "neener, neener".  It's not helpful at all.  It implies you knew better than the industry veterans, and they just didn't listen to you.  If that's the case, I'm eager to play your mod.  When do you think you'll be releasing it?

I found this thread because Nick-Danger linked to it from another recent thread. I agree it was probably a little provocative of me to raise it again BUT it does speak very strongly to the current drawn out discussion about why Elemental was released so early and unpolished despite many promises in the past that Stardock didn't need to push it out the door because they had plenty of money and were self publishing.

As for knowing better than the industry veterans, I wouldn't say that. However I do run a software development company and I am a software developer myself so I am moderately qualified to talk about what is required to polish software for sale. That doesn't extend to games,  but on that side my qualifications are simply 20 year devotion to playing strategy games. Combined I think that puts me in a reasonable position to comment - doesn't mean I am right but I don't see why I can't speculate.

In case you still think I am just jumping on a band wagon I would point you to my post way back in April 2009:

http://forums.elementalgame.com/338867/page/2/#2116857

To quote:

"My biggest fear is that they will release the game too early.

This is a huge undertaking for them. An epic game like this with such big expectations needs to be carefully put together and balanced. Then it probably needs to be ripped apart again, refined, put together again and rebalanced. And then probably all that again. And then when the game mechanics finally work smoothly it needs to be polished and fine tuned."

So it is hardly a new concern for me.

Of course the most important thing now is to get Elemental fixed. I still think this post is still relevant because I think getting Elemental fixed properly is going to require Stardock listening more seriously to the customers than they have to date on Elemental.

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September 2, 2010 6:20:11 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

If Brad thought these things where ugly or broken back in June, why didn't even half of them get fixed before release?

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September 2, 2010 8:16:13 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Just a thought, but maybe his definition of "fixed" differs from yours?

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September 2, 2010 8:24:47 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Dayuumn! *grabs popcorn*

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September 2, 2010 8:41:48 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Archonsod,
Just a thought, but maybe his definition of "fixed" differs from yours?

Considering that the issues I am refering to have not change at all in any way, then I think it is your definition of "fixed" that is different...

 

Seriously it is probably a priority issue, but still, it feels weird to read a 2 month critique of a beta by the publisher that matches my own critique of the released game

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September 2, 2010 9:03:13 AM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Thanks for the laugh by changing the name of this thread. I now need a new shirt and more coffee.

[edit: Oops I think I mistook this for the "A quick note from Brad on Elemental" thread. Oh well it was good for my morning anyway. ]

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September 2, 2010 1:49:43 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting onomastikon,

quoting post 

ITEM #4: The Environment is Boring



I still think this still sticks out as the biggest issue that is not on the current "Master List".

 

I mentioned this in another thread and was shouted down by the fanboys.

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September 3, 2010 1:28:40 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Winnihym,
Hunh.  Mistwraithe, I can't think of any reason for you to dig this up from 2 months ago that doesn't begin with "neener, neener".  It's not helpful at all.  It implies you knew better than the industry veterans, and they just didn't listen to you.  If that's the case, I'm eager to play your mod.  When do you think you'll be releasing it?
As Mistwraithe said, I linked to this thread in another (several other, actually) threads.

If you wish to ascribe my motivations to some 'neener neener' instead of to positive reasons, that's fine with me.  Whatever floats yer boat...

Problems can't be fixed until their nature is identified and accepted.  Obviously this was a problem in need of fixing, and it wasn't being addressed at the time I linked and Mistwraithe posted (brad's statements in today's Why is everone upset... thread finally address this clearly).

Regarding your "It implies you knew better than the industry veterans, and they just didn't listen to you." -- obviously those that warned the game wasn't release-ready back all the way in June were correct.  The 'industry veterans' that thought the game was release-ready were not.  That their attitude towards the doubters was high-handed and in one case quite rude exacerbates the issue.

Your statement "If that's the case, I'm eager to play your mod.  When do you think you'll be releasing it?" is a cheap shot and in no way can be ascribed to a helpful motivation.  Basely done Sir, basely done...

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September 3, 2010 1:47:14 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Hmm ... now that I think about it, I care far less about battle animations and effects than I do actual Battle Mechanics.

 

I mean, I don't mind if the battles "look" dull as long as they play intelligently and fun. The reverse is not true.

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September 7, 2010 7:53:19 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Fair enough, Nick.  I'll tell you what.  I'll accede to probably being a little acrimonious about the "eager to play your mod" bit.  While I agree that identifying and accepting issues is part of the problem solving process, there's a wide gap between Stardock (and Frogboy personally) saying they understand that the game has problems; and on the other hand forcing them, though repeated posts, to see that people warned them about releasing too early and throwing it in their face.  I see this as over the top "search for the guilty" behavior, and stand by my original comment that I don't see it as particularly helpful.  So, I'm a bit of a jerk because I used passive agressive language that was inappropriate, and you're a bit of a jerk because this post, and ones like it, fall distinctly into the "I told you so" camp, whether that was your intention or not.

As to people warning that the game was not ready for release back in June being correct, well, prescience is a funny thing, and one that needs good statistics in order to correctly observe.  For myself personally, I took the folks at Stardock at their word that what we as testers were playing wasn't the game, it was the engine, and we were trying to help them bughunt that code.  The game that got overlaid onto that engine was on internal builds and other things.  It was never my supposition that, as a tester, I was playing a game, so it was hard for me to call whether or not the game was ready.

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September 7, 2010 8:26:30 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Winnihym,
...and you're a bit of a jerk because this post, and ones like it, fall distinctly into the "I told you so" camp, whether that was your intention or not.
I'm a bit of a jerk because you read something into my post that was neither there nor intended, and exists only in your imagination?

Okey dokie...

You may wish to consider the difference between 'imply' and 'infer'.

Or maybe not. 

Either way, it's fine with me.

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September 7, 2010 8:50:38 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Winnihym,

...
For myself personally, I took the folks at Stardock at their word that what we as testers were playing wasn't the game, it was the engine, and we were trying to help them bughunt that code.  The game that got overlaid onto that engine was on internal builds and other things.  It was never my supposition that, as a tester, I was playing a game, so it was hard for me to call whether or not the game was ready.

I take it your not familiar with all the 'magic' internal builds that most MMOs had during their betas?

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