How Lore made the factions fade to grey

By on August 27, 2010 5:26:36 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

the Gorgon

Join Date 09/2006
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I won’t go into any bugs or balance issues in this post. Instead I will address a point I haven’t really seen taken up yet, but which is certainly just waiting to surface. The factions – and why they are so bland.

If there was one clear message coming from the forum during the Beta it was to have factions in stark contrast to each other and that play differently so that you have to try different strategies depending on what faction you play. What most Beta testers wanted to avoid over all else was a set of bland, grey factions without much difference (only some pluses and minuses) playing more or less the same.  

If you ask me, this is exactly what we have in the versions to date (V. 1.06). So how did we end up here? It seems to make no sense for SD to put such bland factions in a game when you know most people (dreaming about a worthy MoM successor) want more colour, contrast and special abilities, etc. I suspect the reason is spelled: the Lore.

Indeed, the root to this evil (and many others in the current version, but that won’t go in this post) is: the Lore.

Yes, the big culprit seems to be the fact that there was already a “novel” written (in stone) before the game was put together. The idea was maybe to give backstory to make the game feel more involving, but it doesn’t work for several reasons (in addition to the questionable quality of the current lore itself by the way).

Elemental is mostly about sandbox. Lore could be used to greater effect in the campaign, I agree, but I won’t even go into that one, since it’s the most underwhelming part of the game of all.

For playing sandbox, hundreds of times, you need good concepts as a base and enough freedom and flexibility to keep the game varied and interesting for many games, for many different players, on many maps, of many sizes … That is why it is just plain inappropriate to present the player with an exclusive set of 10 factions that might fit perfectly in the story of the Elemental Novel but which don’t provide what’s needed for the game. This is a – sandbox - game after all.

I want to be concrete here: when choosing faction (as well as sovereign actually) you are first presented with a number of unintelligible names (i.e. meaning nothing to you if you’re not already familiar with the lore), so you have to click on history to check the detailed description of the faction. (N.B. a faction that was called “Vikings”, “Orcs” or “Orc-Vikings” would not be unintelligible.) But in Elemental you only find descriptions of either: the geographical location of the civ, based on the novel I guess – but, hey, we play with random maps here! Even with seeded maps these geographical descriptions better not make sense, otherwise you’ll always end up with the same neighbours, and the Exploration element is gone. Or the history sections provide you with: a few historical details from the novel’s backstory, but again which will have close to zero influence on your sandbox game. The only thing telling you much about the factions is their strengths and weaknesses. And these are bland to say the least.      

As for the races, the situation is just as dark and gloomy. But here it is even more confusing because the races are mixed up with the factions and it is difficult even to have an overview. Although you only get humans (or humanoids so close to humans that you might think it’s just the skin colour and clothes changing), what still shines through is the attempt to copy some classical races like dwarves. But then I’d rather play a dwarf looking like a dwarf, living in a mountain, and with dwarf abilities and with a description open enough so that it fits into your own sandbox stories and campaigns. Elemental tries to have it both ways – only humans, but still dwarf-inspired miners – and fails utterly.

How to improve on the bland factions:

A few very short suggestions (feel free to fill in more and better ones):

For the existing factions: make the factions more unique, put them in sharper contrast to each other. Give them special abilities really affecting the game, like powerful faction spells and abilities, special weapons for tactical combat, unique and powerful set of faction buildings etc. Also the visual aspects need more contrast. The AI needs to have a different “personality” for each faction (like in Galciv 2, hopefully even better).

For additional factions: hopefully more factions will come eventually. My advice would be to just look up the factions and their short backstories in the existing, great fantasy strategy games out there (even if old, it doesn’t matter here): Dominions, AoW, MoM. Dominions is a perfect example, because it has wonderful factions but suffers from horrible graphics (among other things). So why not use the rather impressive 3D graphics of Elemental on some of these great faction ideas? We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. It’s not about copying it down to every comma either. But just getting inspiration from these games will certainly give factions a zillion times more colourful than the current ones.  

Sorry for long, maybe wordy post, just my two cents. In fact, I'm pretty sure there are loads of suggestions and great faction ideas out among the players. Some of these could be quickly taken up for better, more colourful factions. Maybe SD could even launch a Faction Contest among the players – that would be creative, cool and constructive! 

 

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August 27, 2010 5:53:12 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I think you are right on the money here. It does appear that the cart is driving the horse in that the game has been restricted to fit the Lore. And the Lore has been restricted to fit the book.

Another point is the way there are only two 'factions' with five 'races' inside them. Personally I think the terms are arse about in as much I would expect factions to exist within races. In reality the 'factions' are to split the forces of good and evil, or life and death, so I would have preferred these to be called 'alignments'.

If we had the alignments (and possibly a neutral thrown in as well), with multiple races each with possible faction choices, it would have been a more expandable model. As it currently stands there is very little room for manoeuvre.

It leaves us with a number of questions:

1. Will future expansions and patches move away from the restrictions of the current Lore?

2. How will modders be able to change this aspect themselves and break the restriction of the whole racial tree?

3. How difficult will it be for modders to actually build their own races (not just colouring human skins different colours)? Will this be too difficult and stop the development of richer racial choices.

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August 27, 2010 10:38:32 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Yes, yes, and yes Gorgon, my thoughts exactly.  The lore has encumbered the game terribly and in many ways.  The game was made to give the player the feel as though they were playing in a new and exciting fantasy world each time... except that it is also supposed to make you feel as though you are specifically part of an unchangeable system of lore.  From the very start, you have a complete counterdiction.  

The second problem with the lore is that it has ruthlessly constricted game development and the development of new ideas.  Want a broad range of exotic fantasy races?  Whoops, sorry, can't do that because the lore races have already been set in stone.  Want a dynasty system that is more than just a glamourized means of recruiting champions?  Whoops, can't do that either because, shucks, we established 2 years ago in the novel that channelers can't die. 

This might be a cruel thing to say and possibly even factually incorrect, but I think it's very likely that Froggy piggy backed his brain-child fantasy world into popular media using Elemental at the piggy.... at the expense of the game itself.  And by my own analysis, though without reading the novel, I can't say I'm all that impressed with the lore at all and I'm failing to find anything original.  Granted, I find WoW's lore a bit unremarkable too.       

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August 28, 2010 3:09:25 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I'm just going to pipe in that I agree with this post. It's a fun game, and I enjoy it greatly, but the lack of implemented and unique lore prevents me from building any sort of meaningful immersion or investment in the game beyond what I imagine myself. Yet, as it stands, when I run into other leaders or cultures during gameplay, it doesn't matter to me who they are, whether they are Empire or Kingdom, because they are in essence all painfully alike in what they will say and how they will act. Since this is game built to foster modding, the inevitable comparisons with Fall from Heaven need to be made: When I play FfH, and I see the Hippus on my border, I groan. I groan and I curse and I try to find any way to quickly (and safely) eject them from that border, or I begin to enact a grand plan to wipe them out utterly before the hateful horselords are in a position to rampage all over my lands. While that is also an AI at work, that AI is working along the pre-established lines of 'Hippus are jerks that like to ride horses and pillage your farms.' 

Now I'm sure that there are concepts at play in the Elemental backstory. The Empires, in particular, look different and unique from one another. Wraths are blue, and I'm assuming that, since their leader is an oracle, they are more bent towards study and dark magic. Magnar are red, and craggy, so I assume they like to rely more on brute force. That part I like, but it isn't enough, or isn't pronounced enough in the game. If each had some sort of unique traits/abilities/equipment, that could be improved -- Wraiths might be more prone to casting Imbue Essence on recruited heroes, creating a nightmare of caster heroes on the field (and perhaps even lore to the effect of them 'experimenting' on said heroes), while the Magnar might have special armor or weapons that lead to the creation of Magnar only troop types (say Juggernauts, which would be heavier armoured than other races/factions are capable of). Etc, etc.

I like the use of weaknesses on the one Empire (whose name I forget). Superstitious and Uneducated give me a clearer picture of what those people are like, but again, it could be taken further. Weaknesses in general seem like a good idea, especially on the Kingdoms side of the pond. Empires seem easier to make unique, but Kingdoms? I can't tell them apart either, beyond the peripheral cosmetics. 

My suggestion for rectifying the problem now, without changing the gameplay (although I still would like to see more unique features for each faction), is a fleshing out of the in-game 'Civliopedia' (I cannot, for the life of me, spell or remember the Elemental specific wikibook) to include brief leader stories/bios, core civilisation relations, myths about the lost libraries, and so forth. As it stands, the in-game book is rather lacking in the details that make the lore work.

Of course, another suggestion would be to improve what we know of the neutral factions. They honestly interest me, especially the one that used to have the awesome Drake leader (who begs for stories to be told of him and his human spouse/half-human children)...

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August 28, 2010 3:32:37 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

You know, I had aa similar problem with Galactic Civs 2 until the last expansion.  I really had little emotional investment in the races, they weren't that different, and I couldn't look at them and get a feel for how I should expect them to behave towards me.  I mean, Ascension was much worse with this as far as Space Sims, but it was really hard to be interested in the game without the drama of the different empires at play.

Then you get Civ 4 (even more with Civ 5 now).  You felt the leader personalities.  You knew that when Stalin hated you, he REALLY hated you, that Montezuma would declare war at the drop of a hat, and that the Mayan leader (forget his name) would just whine endlessly and never do anything about it.  The game animations, the text, the AI, everything about the leaders was designed to make what would otherwise be boring diplomacy interesting, fun and dramatic.  

Here, there's no drama.  The reason everybody uses the Archetypal fantasy races is that they save effort in giving the users an explanation.  You see an Orc, you know they aren't going to be coming at you with a fruit-basket generally.  It's not an nice element of human nature, but playing to the audience's prejudices and snap cosmetic judgments in these fictional situations allows them to fill in the gaps when they don't read the background info.  ANd that allows them to understand the game-play narrative.

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August 28, 2010 4:33:46 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

It doesn't help matters that these guys eventually end up being the Altarians, who we know are a human-a-like race.  Thus, for the sake of internal consistancy, the player factions must be human.

You doubt?  Go through the Magic and Advanture techs for the Kingdoms and Empire, go through many of the things unlocked by these.  Start from the premise "This is Altaria" and all else follows.

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August 29, 2010 12:12:19 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

If I'm not mistaken didn't they nerf something or other in favor of supposedly making "Deep and Meaningful" Factions? I can't remember what it was we lost in that argument but I remember a bunch of people being annoyed with the decision (I guess it wasn't that big a deal if I can't remember?). Either way, I have to agree the factions do seem rather bland when compared to what they "Could" be. I expected factions that played differently by excelling at certain aspects. Like Tarth could get extra food by fishing and extra income by sea trade routes, and one of the Empire factions would be warlike and get bonuses to making military units. Meaningful game-play differences like that.

With the rushed development cycle that happened at the end though I'm really not surprised things like that didn't make it in initially. Hopefully though it will be something they take into account for a update.

Great post Gorgon. You point out a lot of good things here my friend.

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September 1, 2010 1:19:58 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I could've sworn we were promised unique faction tech(trees) ala Twilight of the Arnor.

At the moment, everything looks the same. In Gal Civ we could take advantage of different ship designs to make the game interesting.

I also favor heraldries, standard-bearers and the like. A number of armies took advantage of symbols and unique designs to stand out. If we take a look at, say, Lord of the Rings...

Elven armor was sharp and elegant, usually with feather-like metal clasps. Often a gold or greenish gold, with cloaks. Weapons were usually marked with elven designs - leaves, vines, feathers, etc. - while favoring the same curving elegant design that easily favors slashing swords or silent, musical bows. Elven architecture was often graceful, even mystical, in appearance: tall buildings of white in high trees, with great arches and high ceilings, favoring a silvery glow to their homes that was almost ethereal.

Likewise, the armies of Gondor had silvery steel armor, some with a winged helmet. They favored platemail, and their cloaks, etc, were emblazoned with the White Tree. Their weapons were the 'norm', with broadswords, longswords, long pikes, etc. Gondorian structures were made with white stone, which glistened in the light. Even their ruins were graceful, showing off a sort of higher architecture of a higher civilization. Minas Tirith and, to a less extent, Minas Morgul, both favored a bit of an arrogant approach - as if saying, "here we are, come and try to break our walls"

Rohan was more drab, favoring bronze colors with some gold, and horses as their symbol. They had swords with smaller hilts and wide, flat blades that were better for hacking then stabbing. Shields were round, versus the kite shields of Gondor. Architecture was plain, simple, but efficient, almost brutally so: massive stone walls at Helm's Deep, in stark contrast to the hilly shacks highly reminiscent of Norse housing in Edoras.

Dwarven architecture was of defiance, shaping the chaotic stone into certain geometric designs that matched their runic writing. Extremely high halls with geometically square pillars, often designed with other shapes cleverly thrown in the mix. Based on Gimli's equipment, they favor dark armor and physically devastating weapons, most likely hammers as well as axes. Their armors are often made of mithril if they can get it, but if not, dark bands of immensely heavy steel work more then well.

In case - compare Gimli to Legolas to Boromir. Compare Lothlorien to Rivendell, compare them both to Moria, and compare all of that to Helm's Deep, Edoras, Osgiliath and Minas Tirith. Look at the imposing blast spire of Isengard, and the idyllic hobbit homes. Each race was totally unique in their architecture, and the races were even unique. Rivendell favored fall colors - reds and golds - while Lothlorien was filled with silver and gold, like the Mallorn trees.

Ahem. My point, after much rambling: Tarth buildings have no right to look like Pariden buildings. We need some variety there.

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September 2, 2010 9:47:56 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Bloodlyshiva,
It doesn't help matters that these guys eventually end up being the Altarians, who we know are a human-a-like race.  Thus, for the sake of internal consistancy, the player factions must be human.

You doubt?  Go through the Magic and Advanture techs for the Kingdoms and Empire, go through many of the things unlocked by these.  Start from the premise "This is Altaria" and all else follows.

heh

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September 2, 2010 10:00:20 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

There are significant issues with the setting, as outlined in the original post.

When months ago reading the website when the backstory and timeline were mentioned several things led to immediate groans. Namely the use of "Dread Lords" and "Arnor" as terms. Having two mythic civilizations clash is fine, but please don't recycle terms from your other franchise, and be consistent with what you call them. Instead of the "Dread Lord XXXX" or the (even worse as it sounds like something from a 13 year old's D&D setting) "Dred'Nir XXXX" come up with something that doesn't sound like it is from a draft using placeholder names.

Going into the factions themselves- there's no clear feel or distinction between any of the groups.

It also doesn't help that the Fallen factions are particularly bland at best, or poor 'homages' (to be kind) of other franchises. Pale blue/green 'Wraiths' with facial tattoos that eerily look like the villains from a deep space franchise?

Unfortunately, due to the novel and campaign we'll not see the sort of drastic reboot that the lore could surely use.

Regardless, each faction should have some clear rethinking to provide clear art direction that give each a unique feel. Altar might be a standard fantasy kingdom, Pariden could go for 'high magic' with things like floating gardens and towers. Other factions might drive home the 'highlander/viking' look, yet others might do a slightly Renaissance Italy appearance (maybe with a little steampunk thrown in for their higher tech  buildings to show their economic wealth and power).

The Fallen should similarly have unique looks for each faction based on their history and the idiosyncrasies of the Mage Lords that experimented on them.

When it comes to AI behaviors, one thing that could liven it up would be disposing of the good/evil dichotomy between Kingdoms and Empires that the lore focuses on.

Perhaps New Pariden are pacifists who focus primarily on magical research and tend to betray all other factions once having a strong enough economy and enough magic and mana. (like the Psilons in MOO)

Altar might be governed by a fanatic who strongly supports other Kingdoms, but believes in an ethic of racial purity, declaring war on Kingdoms who have dealings with any Empire or intermarry. Altar might be warmongers who have constantly driven the conflict between the Empires and Kingdoms since the Cataclysm despite efforts by states such as Capitar to end it.

Capitar might try to build strong relations with the Empires, have a strong conventional army and focus on trade routes.

Tensions between the kingdoms would be good in the lore as well. Perhaps Capitar's trade empire has resulted in colonialism against the Tarth and some of the weaker Empires? Tarth raiders might be typical, and they might balance their wars with Capitar by giving Altar unwavering support in genocidal crusades against the Fallen while convincing Altar that Capitar is 'unpure?'

With the Empires, Krax might be viewed as a traitor by Altar but perhaps initially tried to make strong inroads with the other Empires to bring them back into the fold? As a nation they incorporated a huge population of Fallen and became a defacto human empire minority attempting to govern the others with a hierarchy. The falling out between Altar and Krax might be a matter of being viewed as 'going native.' They might have old human architectural styles (Roman/Byzantine influence), and a very mixed and cosmopolitan population. The current Kraxian leader, taking over due to a power vacuum from the last Altar 'crusade' might be a somewhat shadowy figure (perhaps one of the Mage Lords who made the Fallen reborn) who may be tipping them into a crueler direction.

Magnar might be an Empire where ranking is done based on the amount of dragon blood. Footsoldiers being human, and governors and princes being full dragons and/or the most draconian lines of humans magically modified by the Mage Lord that founded their empire. This would encourage unique buildings (palaces being the lairs of the resident dragon lord), and units. They may be undergoing continuous magical experiments with dragons as there are fears that the bloodlines are running thin.

Resolin could perhaps be revamped into a nation-state of individuals that were engineered into being magically sensitive. The end result being strong ties with other planes of existence, summoning, and seeing. They may have strong notions of predestination and a strong theocracy governed based on the optimal paths seen in the future. A very slow moving and conservative group that keeps to themselves except for high level powerplays they know they will win. Their AI might emphasize inter-marriage with other groups and long term investments. Perhaps they're a matriarchy of seers and males generally serve roles as foot soldiers and traders?

Pretty much, questions need to be asked about how did the Mage Lords that founded the empires try to re-engineer humans with their experiments, and the unforeseen repercussions of how it would shape their societies? Likely there would be difficulties in maintaining the Empires as originally seen, the natural order starts creeping in and many of the Fallen are trying to take on their own experiments to stay alive. Similarly, the Lords that created them might not be viewed in the best light and there might be conflict over some who want to research a 'cure' or overthrow/exterminate the bloodlines of modified individuals. (extreme nations like Altar finding support among the lower classes)

Overall, a lot of thought needs to be put into the Empires and Kingdoms to add depth so it's no longer 'east v.s. west' 'good v.s. evil' or... more horrifically as some critiques of the book have suggested: 'brown people v.s. border wall.'

Of course, the best thing to happen to the franchise would be Big Bang #2- another cataclysm that wipes out most of the planet and collides it with another universe inhabited by Orcs, Lizardmen, Elves, Dwarves, Minotaurs, and 'traditional' fantasy races and killing 75% of the Kingdoms and Empires. (which let's face it, most want to mod in and are clamouring for) Something bland, but fun, and not just bland. ...and somehow this cataclysm erases the Dreadlords and Arnor. Hrmm... speaking of Dwarves and fun, quirky, creative lore perhaps Arnok the Blood God causes it?...) There's a reason that the modified Tolkein mythology works- people have those built in archetypes and doing things like "Our Orcs are actually a massive cosmopolitan empire that fights off the human barbarians!" could earn a  lot of brownie points.

Ah, here we go Cataclysm #2: A world of civilized Orcs who learned everything from the fading and falling Dwarven kingdoms, besieged by cannibalistic elves who worship death magic. These Elves in order to wipe out the noble Orcs slammed their world into Elemental!

Also, everyone starts calling Gildar Gold and Hieroganomicons Encyclopedias after learning proper words from the Orcs.

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September 3, 2010 4:17:31 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Really need more Races... Not just  Darker Looking Human ... ect...  Where are the beast Man  ...  and why can dragons not fly? 

The Minor races of each faction seem like there just a little diffrent from one another...    Where are my Death Worshiping, cannibalistic  Religious  Theocracy...?  

But we really need more unique units 

 

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September 3, 2010 5:23:03 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

and by unique units ... we mean unique tech trees with unique Weapons/Armor. Primarily nothing big, but a few major differences (and also, some nations having their ENTIRE equipment tree be vastly different from the pack)

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September 3, 2010 5:28:30 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums
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September 3, 2010 6:58:45 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

A lot of good comments and ideas in the replies above. I try here to sum up a few points that Stardock can hopefully take into consideration in the future development of Elemental on this important topic:

-          We can’t get away from the factions and races immediately, so instead they should be seriously revamped in order to make them more unique and play differently. This can be done (hopefully rather quickly) through coming patches. I think AdamRorabaugh gives some interesting ideas for the current factions (e.g. “Pariden could go for 'high magic' with things like floating gardens and towers”.) 

 

-          The solution for fleshing out the existing factions is not to add more background (text) material. Fleshing out the factions in the Hiergamemnon (sp?) will not do anything to rectify this situation. Instead, the faction specificities and personality have to come through in the actual game: through abilities, visuals, sound, and AI (notably).

 

-          The next Expansion should turn a page and leave this lore straightjacket to the basic version of the game. It might seem like a big change, but it’s the only way of dealing with the problem. And believe me, this is a serious problem because a lot of people are (as already shown on the forum) dreaming of MoM and will never get anything near it if Elemental never leaves this corner it has painted itself into. (We shouldn’t forget either that as long as there is ONE human faction in the game it is easy to make a huge number of human factions even without modding, while it is a completely different story for introducing new races (=creatures, not another skin colour) to the game. If there are no templates for say lizardmen, flying draconians or elves, then only deep modding can hope to do anything.) So the Expansion should be a real fest for both sand-box and fantasy (races, creatures and magic/abilities), complete with open doors for modders to go crazy and improve upon everything new delivered by Stardock. There is nothing extreme in this: all the most successful fantasy strategy games had a huge variety of races and creatures (MoM, AoW, Dominions, to start). This is not a coincidence, and overlooking it would be a bad, bad mistake. To deny Elemental more races and factions would be like smothering the baby in the cradle IMPOV.

-          If possible, the Expansion should also get rid of the current set up where “race” is hidden within various factions - it’s not intuitive and people don’t get it. It just doesn’t work. Like proposed by Das123 above, it would be much better and more flexible (in-game and for future modding and expansion), to use a D&D-like set up: alignment (good, neutral and evil) to be chosen separately for each faction, followed by the Race (what type of creature, not skin colour), followed by the specific Faction. Again, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Look at how Elemental handles race and faction today with open eyes: it is confusing and doesn’t serve the game’s purpose. Flexibility to play many games, make your own sand-box games, and mod should be the leading star for this game. So the set-up has to change. With a D&D model it would be so much easier to make your own creations. You want to play against a civilization of evil dark elves hiding deep in the forests? Just tick Evil alignment, choose Elf as race and then custom-make the faction with abilities, names etc. To finalise, choose an AI personality that makes it unique and maybe very untraditional for an elven faction (maybe these dark elves spend all their time researching horrible death magics to unleash on the world from within their protected forests … ) This way you can easily create factions that feel unique and play differently. You can also recreate your D&D and other RPG campaigns, which would be a huge plus.  

-          It would be good if the races and factions are fleshed out not only by traditional traits like higher strength etc, but by incorporating innovative links to the various parts of the game mechanics themselves: the dynasty system, research system, tactical combat, strategic actions on the cloth map, etc. For example, a faction could have harems instead of traditional marriages (like proposed elsewhere by RavenX). Or this idea: a faction could start weak but be built on strong bloodlines, meaning their offspring get better stats and special abilities when born and grown up (think really powerful magic). Imagine a race on the verge of extinction, weak and poor and tragic - but with the hope of putting new offspring to the world that will grow strong and revenge them. Now, that would play differently and be a unique challenge, having to survive as the weakest in the early game, getting as much offspring as possible and keeping them alive long enough so that they can inherit the world in the end! We don’t get such challenges at present with factions like New Pariden or Altar. It's not about a few abilities, it's about gameplay.

-          These changes to the game would also help making the game feel more like a unique story is told each time you play. Correctly done it could help Elemental attain the “personality” it needs to become a really great game. Infusing the game with more colour will be crucial for keeping the game alive, not over a few years, but over a few decades.

 

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September 3, 2010 7:01:16 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting searro,
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMPC8QJF6sI&ob=av3n

 

Lore made this ??

Lol, if only current lore in Elemental had been that creative! It's a classic! 

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September 3, 2010 7:20:38 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting the Gorgon,
A lot of good comments and ideas in the replies above. I try here to sum up a few points that Stardock can hopefully take into consideration in the future development of Elemental on this important topic:

-          We can’t get away from the factions and races immediately, so instead they should be seriously revamped in order to make them more unique and play differently. This can be done (hopefully rather quickly) through coming patches. I think AdamRorabaugh gives some interesting ideas for the current factions (e.g. “Pariden could go for 'high magic' with things like floating gardens and towers”.) 

 

-          The solution for fleshing out the existing factions is not to add more background (text) material. Fleshing out the factions in the Hiergamemnon (sp?) will not do anything to rectify this situation. Instead, the faction specificities and personality have to come through in the actual game: through abilities, visuals, sound, and AI (notably).

 

-          The next Expansion should turn a page and leave this lore straightjacket to the basic version of the game. It might seem like a big change, but it’s the only way of dealing with the problem. And believe me, this is a serious problem because a lot of people are (as already shown on the forum) dreaming of MoM and will never get anything near it if Elemental never leaves this corner it has painted itself into. (We shouldn’t forget either that as long as there is ONE human faction in the game it is easy to make a huge number of human factions even without modding, while it is a completely different story for introducing new races (=creatures, not another skin colour) to the game. If there are no templates for say lizardmen, flying draconians or elves, then only deep modding can hope to do anything.) So the Expansion should be a real fest for both sand-box and fantasy (races, creatures and magic/abilities), complete with open doors for modders to go crazy and improve upon everything new delivered by Stardock. There is nothing extreme in this: all the most successful fantasy strategy games had a huge variety of races and creatures (MoM, AoW, Dominions, to start). This is not a coincidence, and overlooking it would be a bad, bad mistake. To deny Elemental more races and factions would be like smothering the baby in the cradle IMPOV.

-          If possible, the Expansion should also get rid of the current set up where “race” is hidden within various factions - it’s not intuitive and people don’t get it. It just doesn’t work. Like proposed by Das123 above, it would be much better and more flexible (in-game and for future modding and expansion), to use a D&D-like set up: alignment (good, neutral and evil) to be chosen separately for each faction, followed by the Race (what type of creature, not skin colour), followed by the specific Faction. Again, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Look at how Elemental handles race and faction today with open eyes: it is confusing and doesn’t serve the game’s purpose. Flexibility to play many games, make your own sand-box games, and mod should be the leading star for this game. So the set-up has to change. With a D&D model it would be so much easier to make your own creations. You want to play against a civilization of evil dark elves hiding deep in the forests? Just tick Evil alignment, choose Elf as race and then custom-make the faction with abilities, names etc. To finalise, choose an AI personality that makes it unique and maybe very untraditional for an elven faction (maybe these dark elves spend all their time researching horrible death magics to unleash on the world from within their protected forests … ) This way you can easily create factions that feel unique and play differently. You can also recreate your D&D and other RPG campaigns, which would be a huge plus.  

-          It would be good if the races and factions are fleshed out not only by traditional traits like higher strength etc, but by incorporating innovative links to the various parts of the game mechanics themselves: the dynasty system, research system, tactical combat, strategic actions on the cloth map, etc. For example, a faction could have harems instead of traditional marriages (like proposed elsewhere by RavenX). Or this idea: a faction could start weak but be built on strong bloodlines, meaning their offspring get better stats and special abilities when born and grown up (think really powerful magic). Imagine a race on the verge of extinction, weak and poor and tragic - but with the hope of putting new offspring to the world that will grow strong and revenge them. Now, that would play differently and be a unique challenge, having to survive as the weakest in the early game, getting as much offspring as possible and keeping them alive long enough so that they can inherit the world in the end! We don’t get such challenges at present with factions like New Pariden or Altar. It's not about a few abilities, it's about gameplay.

-          These changes to the game would also help making the game feel more like a unique story is told each time you play. Correctly done it could help Elemental attain the “personality” it needs to become a really great game. Infusing the game with more colour will be crucial for keeping the game alive, not over a few years, but over a few decades.

Excellent post Gorgon. This is EXACTLY what needs to be done to differentiate the races. Great stuff, now lets just hope they LISTEN to it.

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September 3, 2010 8:09:23 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Well I guess I'll chime a bit here.  I think we need to take notice of some points though.  First off the book I think is about 1000 years after the Cataclysm.  Our games are supposed to take place right after the Cataclysm.  I think that's part of the reason one can justify a random map every time and not necessarily the, "Lore Map."  Basically the Cataclyms in each person's game tore up the planet radically so a game doesn't have to follow the game map.  It's just one story in the making.

The second thing I think we need to note is that the way the book tells it, though it doesn't really give a lot of examples, the races are fairly different.  The one impression I got was that the fallen are a lot more, "magical."  One could even say in Elemental, they are much more unnatural.  The book as comments on a lot of different and strange things were created by the Titansa and the betrayer Morrigan.  So, there is potential for a lot more things to appear.  The Hiergamenon even points out that when the Fallen were made, they weren't created with some essential things humans have.  The book keeps it mysterious so I am not sure what it is other than the Fallen are none to happy about it.

The funny thing is, there is a great deal of antagonism between the Empires races too due to the different way they even live.  The book says that all Sion are raised in creches.  Then again, the book generally only gives glimses and doesn't go into detail.  So the lore shows that there are differences, at that some of these differences should be significant.  One item that is hinted at is that the Fallen are essentially alien to Elemental.  It was also hinted at that the Fallen are much more brutish and less tactical in warfare.

In my opinion, the lore give a good foundation for differences.  Saying the lore locks things in I do believe is inaccurate.  The problem stems from the fact that the game doesn't reflect this.  If you really wanted to get picky about it, any race created, whether part of a book or not becomes part of the game lore.  Some of you described leaders or races from other games that are based off the lore of that universe.  The difference is that those other games have attempted to craft personalities based off their their into their race.  Elemental has been luke warm in this endeavor.

The book even covers what I'd call the elves of Elemental, which were the Iru.  It also describes ecosystems brougth over from the titan's home realm and established in Empires.  So it could be said that many thing could be added, especially for the Fallen to make their side of the hill unique.  Oh, and the book makes it a point that the Fallen are essentially evil.  Also remember Brad likes his Tolkein.  So basically it is a similar situation in Elemental.

Now, all the gunk being said, the differences between factions might be a toughy.  In Civ, since every one is a human, they are all essentailly equal.  The leaders bring forth the personality and force a game play style.  The techs chosen determine every thing else.  Before long, every one is a democracy with a free market economy.  Some times this changes up in times of war.  As a matter of fact, the only real differences I see in Civ are in dealing with the leaders and their quirks.  In MOO, the races have their personalities and lack leaders with personalities.  It's kind of a the reverse, but ends up with the same result.  This does not include play style for humans though.  The starting advantages for each race, such as tech research bonuses, etc. seems to result in a play style for human players than AI.

I guess what it seems is that the Elemental races lack personality.  Do the Kingdoms have advantages in civics research?  Do any of the races have advantages in any research categories?  Isn' this one of the basic differences used in games, besides money production or industry.  How many different races are in Civ?  I guess what if boils down for me is that the races differences are minimal and more importantly, there are not enough of them.  This is aside of leader personality.  I think the Montezuma versus Napoleon versus Cleopatra is another flavor that Elemental could take advantage of.

So, the lore is not the problem.  I don't think it's any more constraining that how a the Psilons are described versus the Klackons in MOO.  Either way, the lore describes a race and presents them with their games stats according to that lore.  Elemental is not doing this.  The random map is just part of the story the player is creating after their Cataclysm.  Whether that follows the book or not isn't relavent.  How races are described and act is.  It's just not happening in the game.

Solutions to this I would guess would be to make more abilities, which means they'd have to toss the watered down mentality currently needed for the game and shift the game mechanics.  Perhaps they could even craft more faction specific quests that would reinforce the differences.

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September 3, 2010 8:58:53 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

@ Eisenhound: thanks for explaining a lot more in-depth on the lore and background. As regards the factions needing to be more diverse we are in full agreement. I'll commnet a few specific points

"The second thing I think we need to note is that the way the book tells it, though it doesn't really give a lot of examples, the races are fairly different."   

- That may be, but many players have not and will not read the book. I think this was actually part of the problem, that Frogboy had worked out so many details in the book that in the end Stardock did not see that these differences didn't come through in the actual game. And I think the game should stand on its own feet (and in no case be used as a way of selling a book). You should be able to grasp the factions without having read the novel.  

 

"In my opinion, the lore give a good foundation for differences.  Saying the lore locks things in I do believe is inaccurate.  The problem stems from the fact that the game doesn't reflect this.  If you really wanted to get picky about it, any race created, whether part of a book or not becomes part of the game lore."

- You are fully right that any game has it's own "lore" (that can be more or less generic as well as open or closed). The races included in a game can be said to constitute part of its lore and impose limitations. But on the rest I have to disagree. Just think about it practically: what many players asked for in beta was a more differentiated setup with factions closer to say MoM. But since Elemental's lore is so humanocentric and races already decided upon (at least those we know about) it can't be included (without a new cataclysm bigger than the last). That is de facto a limitation as grave as any I can think about. When SD decided upon the lore and style of the game they chose to do something very specific in the hope it would translate into involvement. Maybe the patches can improve the situation, but I think they made a huge mistake in not seeing that a sandbox game must have a more open basis than just these 10 factions with predetermined relationshpis. It's not necessarily about going generic, you can do it in a unique way, while leaving the world open and flexible enough for expansions, additions and player creations. It is as much knowing what NOT to detail as what to detail. By giving us a whole novel, in a way they are just limiting the setting even more, because they are describing all parts of the setting (leaving fewer blanks to fill in later), meaning it would feel contrived if they suddenly add in a huge range of factions out of nowhere. Also, I don't like the style they ceate when mixing this fantasy game with Galciv. In sum, the current Elemental setting does not feel like fantasy à la MoM or AoW, and that was unfortunately not said as a compliment on the setting. 

The lore could instead have been more open, like: we present you with this campaign as a start (with say 5 factions) but the game already also support an additional 5 (or why not 15) factions that you can use in your own games, with or without the campaign-based factions. Among these factions you have some classics (elves) and some never before seen inventions. - That would have been a lore well chosen to suit such a strategy game. (And yes, that recommendation was made already during beta.)

So the lore as of today is indeed a problem, for anyone wanting to, say, play with orcs and elves and undead and rakshasa.  

The thread on what MoM has that currently lacks in Elemetnal is also a further good read in this respect.

If SD opens up the setting though Expansions they could still go beyond these limitations.   

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September 3, 2010 9:17:21 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Well, going with the current lore:

Why is the game set after the cataclysm?

Shouldn't *we* be playing as the Titans who came from another dimension and are reshaping the world? That sounds like a much funner game to me, being the invading Titans (some good, some evil) waging wars and warping the land.

As a campaign, it'd also be much more entertaining playing as the sole human channeler fighting this extra dimensional threat and playing these mythic forces, gods walking the earth, against each other.

It's a game franchise, the fun events shouldn't be in the backstory, they should be part of the active game narrative. When playing I shouldn't be thinking "hrmm it'd be fun if instead this was set during those wars."

While the current lore isn't being reflected in the game, some of the issues of blandness just come out of it.

The corrupted human factions having to be evil. Why not have the 'beautiful' human factions be some of the most horrific ones? Sacrificing those they viewed as flawed for magical power, on the surface appearing perfect but under the surface being utterly reprehensible. The Fallen could easily be victims, some of them fighting against the nature forced on them.

The very 'good human v.s. evil fallen' concept renders the factions redundant and unnecessary. Conflicting interests, different societal goals, etc. are all needed to help differentiate art styles, faction behaviors, etc. in meaningful ways that everyone can grasp when starting a game. "Oh, Resolin doesn't use slaves and is trying to restore the land they're in and trying to restore their humanity!" "The Urxen were an enslaved underclass and would sooner die than let a city be occupied!" etc.

Personally I want to see archetypal races with a slant put on them by Stardock. Elves, Orcs, Lizardmen, Dwarves, Dragonkin, unspeakable horrors from beyond time and space, etc.

The tileset system is flexible, what about amphibious races with undersea kingdoms? Flying races? etc. (obviously either would be a very costly attribute)

Constructs? A race of sapient golems with high magic resistance?

You know... imagination! ...and before saying that these races aren't original, we currently have the Wraith from Stargate: Atlantis as a playable faction.

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September 4, 2010 7:04:59 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting AdamRorabaugh,
Well, going with the current lore:

Why is the game set after the cataclysm?


Why'd we start after the cataclysm?  Well, from my perspective it's because they follow what 75 percent of D&D or several fantasy games or books do, and this is the clean slate.  This allows the hero, this being you - good or bad - to go out and make the world yours.  You won't bump into borders or restrictions from many existing kingdoms.  You get to build things from scratch.  You can go out and explore all of the land.  There isn't any well discovered and documented areas any more.  It allows you to find loot. All the past devices and items created throughout history are now lost or hidden.  You got to now go find all those +12 Swords of Gnome slaying.  Unless some settlement is on a border, an outpost close to unknown lands or you have access to unknown lands, you some what confined into what you can do.  This is the same reason the Civ's start in the stone age, though you can start at later dates.  You still have to build up from nothing.  It's part of the fun.  A cataclysm helps promote this concept.  It's the whole idea about erasing all present establishments so the player can explore and build with less restrictions while providing a mythology to explore.  It's just that Elmental doesn't quite deliver on this, other than creating a fresh slate.

Quoting AdamRorabaugh,
Shouldn't *we* be playing as the Titans who came from another dimension and are reshaping the world? That sounds like a much funner game to me, being the invading Titans (some good, some evil) waging wars and warping the land.

This I'd say makes it more RPG than strategy game then.  There is also the problem of being an established power house, where do you build your character from?  The titans are supposed to be immensely powerful beings, this is inherent as to what they are.  Squashing an entire army by sneezing doesn't make for fun for me.  Also, where is the building?  Unless you're pulling a Black & White game with a race making aspect instead.

Quoting AdamRorabaugh,
As a campaign, it'd also be much more entertaining playing as the sole human channeler fighting this extra dimensional threat and playing these mythic forces, gods walking the earth, against each other.

It's a game franchise, the fun events shouldn't be in the backstory, they should be part of the active game narrative. When playing I shouldn't be thinking "hrmm it'd be fun if instead this was set during those wars.".

This could be a possible scenerio.  The Titans power level though would require some odd footwork limiting why the titan is such a spud when you start out and just doesn't wander of and crush you, unless you're playing as an established power which would then just make a war game; Kingdom against the titans.  I think I'd like to see a titan appearing as an event that causes a pucker factor of 9.9. 

Quoting AdamRorabaugh,
The corrupted human factions having to be evil. Why not have the 'beautiful' human factions be some of the most horrific ones? Sacrificing those they viewed as flawed for magical power, on the surface appearing perfect but under the surface being utterly reprehensible. The Fallen could easily be victims, some of them fighting against the nature forced on them.

Well, first off the Fallen aren't just corrupted humans.  Supposedly some are outright created abominitions.  Then there always seems folks want to play the bad guy with the, "No really, I'm good.  I'm just misunderstood."  Whether victim or not, and many their forefathers were, they lost some thing vital to their people when the lost their humanity.  Note, they lost their humanity.  In my opinion, if you want to play an ugly, strange, misuderstood race, mod in your own faction or use the Forge to create your own.  Even with that, the game is so open and doesn't follow the mystos so much that you could do this any way.  With the current state, the only way to do this is to rewrite the lore.  It boils down to being very Tolkieneque.  There are the orcs and non-human races are essentially the spawn of Morgoth.  I guess Sauron would be that Morrigan. 

That said though, in the lore, there is some mention of some of the Fallen as being against the titans and their ways.  It's namely from a revenge standpoint, though their might be some preservation in it as well.  They are tired of bing tinked with by the titans.  There are also some races living in the Empire that aren't native to Elemental, but native to the titan's home (should titan be capitalized?  I can't make up my mind).  I'm surprised they aren't in the game, though they could be a minor race.  I don't eve bother with minor races though.  I just let them be since they are currently a bit meaningless in the curernt build.


Quoting AdamRorabaugh,
The very 'good human v.s. evil fallen' concept renders the factions redundant and unnecessary. Conflicting interests, different societal goals, etc. are all needed to help differentiate art styles, faction behaviors, etc. in meaningful ways that everyone can grasp when starting a game. "Oh, Resolin doesn't use slaves and is trying to restore the land they're in and trying to restore their humanity!" "The Urxen were an enslaved underclass and would sooner die than let a city be occupied!" etc.

I removed my initial writing here because it got way to philosophical and dealt with human nature and how most current society views evil and what they often see as the down trodden.  No sense in being more of an @ss than necessary.

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September 4, 2010 6:22:59 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I honestly don't see how anyone can defend the lore, especially taking a philosophical slant that clearly marks your putting more interest in it than the developers.

 

Yes, that's a brutal comment, but when I go through menus for the quest display and read "goodies" I can't take any of the plot efforts seriously. The same applies for, as mentioning earlier, recycling the Dread Lords and Arnor as terms used.

 

If it's supposed to be a sandbox with a paper-thin plot, then embrace it instead of taking effort to make a singleplayer campaign and making new races that are unintuitive.

 

Despite the financial issues Stardock is in, they would be well served to hire a dedicated writer who's sole role is to make the plot and backstory and give that person full and complete creative control to take it into a new direction and retcon (or utterly ignore all pre-existing lore) as necessary.

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