Drama Cleansing Thread

By on September 5, 2010 7:59:23 PM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

Frogboy

Join Date 03/2001
+1478

Our story so far…

On August 24th, Stardock released the long-anticipated PC strategy game Elemental on schedule…

Except, of course, that’s not quite what happened. Stardock released the game a couple days early to beta testers and pre-order customers – the same version reviewers were given (v1.0) and the results were painful in two basic ways:

1. The new engine that Stardock developed turned out to have a lot of compatibility problems resulting in crashing and out of memory errors for a significant percentage (I’d go as far as to say as many as 30% of users – which is a gigantic number – anything over 5% is considered unacceptable).  It’s not commonly known but the engine in our previous games (GalCiv II, The Political Machine, etc.) was developed originally in 1997 and enhanced over the years.  Nowadays, most companies just license their engine from Gamebryo (Civilization V, Oblivion, Fallout 3) or the Unreal engine. You are now seeing why they do. 

2. The above ensured ruinous reviews but even without them, the game UI and some of the game mechanics just didn’t live up to people’s expectations, and AI issues.

The purpose of this blog is to help answer questions so that we can move forward.

So here are some of the questions / comments I’ve gotten in emails and private messages and on various forums that I’ll try to answer:

Q: What is Stardock’s plan for Elemental going forward?

A: For the immediate future we’re going to go down two paths. First, the v1.0x versions will continue to focus largely on compatibility (crashing or weird video issues) as well as bugs and turning on multiplayer.

Then, we will work on v1.1 which will serve as our answer to player feedback. Enhanced AI, improved UI, a tutorial, updated quest system, new magic system, numerous other tweaks. This version will serve as the basis to make a demo version of the game.

Beyond that, we will be looking at player feedback. That will work towards v1.2 (October) and v1.3 (November). Once we are satisfied that the game has met reasonable expectations, we can then focus on the first expansion pack: Elemental: War of Magic – Book 2, Cerena.

Unlike Book 1, which is fairly short because it’s only meant as a kind of introduction (the game is mean to be played in sandbox mode. GalCiv and Sins of a Solar Empire didn’t even include campaigns, we are generally not very pro-campaign-y people as you can gather, campaigns have limited replayability).

Book 2, Cerena is the excuse to introduce more far reaching game mechanic changes and begin to add in the multiplayer modes we have long been thinking of (from custom servers that yes, will work on your LAN that has no Internet connection) to tactical-only modes.

That first expansion pack will be free to everyone who owns the game at the point of v1.3.

Q: Stardock should just put out an expansion and re-release the game as a Director’s Cut.

A: NO. While we do intend to release future new versions of Elemental beyond the War of Magic series, we will not be re-submitting Elemental “patched and fixed” for re-review.

A lot of people seem to think that Stardock knowingly released the game “full of bugs”. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.  As people who have played through the various versions can attest, weird stuff is very machine specific. For instance, the illustrative outline on graphics causes no difference (not even 1 frame) on our test matrix machines and yet results in 20+ frames for others who have, on the surface, similar hardware configurations for us.  The PC Gamer UK reviewer ran into a white tactical battle screen that we had never encountered before (nor had it shown up during the public beta). 

The low metacritic score for Elemental (about 3 out of 5 average) needs to serve as a long-term reminder to us and anyone else who might think that you can simply put out a major retail game in 2010 with its own custom engine without a massive massive long-term beta program and a long-term QA process. If you can’t do that, then either license your engine or don’t expect people to shell out $50.

Put another way, the blistering feedback on Elemental: War of Magic should serve as a scarlet letter to make us “never forget”. So no, no re-launch of Elemental: War of Magic. It is, what it is.

For fans who are disheartened, look at on the bright side. We will be able to see how much effect word of mouth is. If we do a good job making the game live up to its potential and expectations, then we can see what effect that has on sales. And we plan to share those details with you.

As it stands today, Elemental has sold approximately 82,000 copies.

Q: I heard Stardock is laying off people, I thought your non-games revenue funded the games team.

A: It does. It funds ONE games team. But Stardock has been hiring up across the board to build a second studio. Only Elemental can fund that.  “Stardock” is made up of 3 groups: Enterprise software (our #1 revenue source), Consumer software (Object Desktop, Fences, etc.) and Consumer Entertainment (the games). That’s not counting Impulse which is a separate, profitable entity that doesn’t get affected one way or the other by the success of the games or the enterprise software.

Q: Brad Wardell: You should just kill yourself! [I actually did get this]

A: I’m sorry our recent entertainment product didn’t meet your expectations but I don’t think it would be helpful if I manually modified my date of expiration.

Q: Brad Wardell – you have a martyr complex! You always take personal blame for everyone! Get off your cross! [yes, got this too]

A: That is my job. If you’re going to spend years railing about CEOs not taking responsibility when something goes wrong, it would be the height of hypocrisy for me not to take responsibility when things go badly on a launch.

In addition, some of the issues are directly related to my specific decisions.

Q: Your act is getting old. Fool me once on Demigod, fool me twice, shame on me! [got this too in various forms]

A: The Demigod debacle ultimately resulted from a fundamental communication failure between the publisher (Stardock) and the developer (Gas Powered Games). It took us a long time to figure out exactly how the connectivity issue occurred (i.e. many months). Ultimately, and sadly, it boiled down to a miscommunication. When you host a game in Demigod (even now), you are given a dialog for your port #. It was believed by the Stardock team that Demigod handled direct IP connections and thus its raknet  based port system would only be used when that failed.  GPG, by contrast, thought Stardock was handling direct connections too. It turned out that that port # part (even now) doesn’t have a function and so 100% of connections attempts when to the Raknet system which overwhelmed it.

The reason why Stardock rightly took the blame is because, as the publisher, we should have looked at the beta tester connectivity logs and seen that 100% of connections were being passed to Raknet for the socket rather than the 10% anticipated. Add tens of thousands of users quickly and bam. A different system had to be developed. 

But Demigod didn’t suffer from compatibility issues. It was very solid right out of the gate (for pretty much everyone) and was an excellent game on day 1. GPG did a great job making a great game. And Stardock did do a good job making a good backend. But one miscommunication between developers resulted in disaster.  Only a much larger beta test would have discovered the problem. The system wasn’t “buggy”. Not that it does anyone any good now, but at least people can see and learn from what happened.

Point being, the situations are not similar.

With Elemental, the issue is the game itself.  With Elemental’s MP, the system works because from day 1, Elemental’s servers are just hosted by Stardock. No P2P.

Q: What do YOU think of Elemental?

A: Elemental is the finest game we’ve ever released. Ever. At least, that's what I thought on the day we released it.  However, I have come to the painful conclusion that we will have to dedicate more effort to making the game live up to the expectations of our customers as a whole. You'd be surprised how easy it is to confuse the enjoyment of making a game to the enjoyment of playing it.

Q: My post was hidden on the forums! I have a right to post my anger!

A: No. No you don’t.  Believe me when I say I speak from first hand experience, there are entire forums dedicated to letting people post about their anger about something.  The Stardock forums have never ever been some forum of free speech. And they never will be. If you’re looking for that, you should go elsewhere.  I’ve been moderating “forums” since my Commodore 64 days as a “Sysop” and “Subop”. A few toxic users can wreck a community. 

If someone needs/wants technical support, has a question, has a suggestion, wants to interact with the community, that’s great. Go for it.  But if your purpose is to vent your rage on other users, us, the game, small animals, what have you, the moderates are instructed to take a very dim view of that. 

After the release of v1.08 (this week) I intend to instruct moderators to be even more stringent on that sort of thing because we (as a community) need the Stardock developers themselves to participate on the forums. 

While I have two decades of people telling me that I should kill myself or that <product X> is a “piece of shit” as well as various wishes that I get cancer and die “bleeding from every orifice) (yes, there are people out there that post these things) my development team are just normal people who are excited to talk to gamers who have cool ideas and we’re not going to subject them to haters (and most haters don’t have any idea they’re being hateful).  Rule of thumb: Just treat people as if they’re right in front of you.

Q: You’re getting screwed in the reviews! I can’t believe <website X> wrote <Y>

A: NO. We’re not getting screwed. While some of the review scores do have a bit of “dogpiling” to them (relative to review scores given to other games) I have yet to read a single review that I felt was unfair in terms of the text.

If anything, I feel bad about putting some of my friends through this.  It’s no secret that Tom Chick and Troy Goodfellow are friends of mine.  The question isn’t how I feel about them criticizing or giving negative reviews of the release version of Elemental. The question is how they felt having to give a negative review of a game of someone who’s their friend? It’s called integrity.  I’ll take a 1 friend who will tell it like it is over a 100 yes men.  

So when I read the reviews, my first reaction isn’t anger but sorrow at having put people I respect through having to give something I know they were inclined to like and wanted to like through that. It’s also the reason I will not be re-submitting some “patched” version for review.

It also redoubles our collective efforts to live up to the standards we have set.  We will be working on Elemental for a long time. We love it. We live it. And together, we will make it awesome.

 

Now, let’s move past the drama. Let’s do the things that need to be done going forward to have fun and create something that will stand the test of time.

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September 7, 2010 5:27:02 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I wish my country's leaders would take the same level of responsibility like the OP.  

Regardless, it's very refreshing to see someone upstairs taking full responsibility for a change.  Why?  Because nobody does.

Thank you for posting this clarification Frogboy.

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September 7, 2010 5:59:57 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

-yawn-

Still on this? Sad. Attention internet, Elemental wasn't everything it was cracked up to be. It's being fixed, Stardock isn't about to abandon it or their customers, so move on already. It'll be fine, whining accomplishes nothing.

Have a nice day,

-N

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September 7, 2010 10:03:57 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I really doubt you can possibly make this game fun for the people that don't like it now.  Most reviews (with the exception of 1UP) were incredibly nice to the game based on some type of apparent respect for Stardock (so much for objectivity), although Gamespot I think has hit the mark closest so far. 

Well, anyway, everyone makes mistakes.  It's too bad, like most I was looking forward to seeing what you could do, given that GalCivII was pretty nice.

Sigh... guess I'll have to wait and see what MM6:Heroes is like, and play Civ5 in the meantime.

 

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September 7, 2010 10:22:35 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting solidsmooky,
Wait a second people got upset because Brad likes Avatar: The last Airbender? That show owns holy crap you nerds will complain about everything. Hahahaha.

Yeah. I just saw that thread recently and the way it went was downright baffling. Not only is it a good show, but it was only being used as an example as part of a point. I mean, WTF?

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September 7, 2010 10:55:19 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

No one got "upset" that Brad likes Avatar. The thread in question had nothing to do with Avatar specifically; it was the content of Brad's dev journals that some posters took an issue with. This whole business is driving me crazy. Valid, constructive criticism is being drowned out by frothing at the mouth forum members. With the amount of emotion going around this place feels more like a Tupperware party for middle-aged-women than a forum for gamers.

 

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September 7, 2010 11:03:14 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Brad likes Avatar?   Dammit.   I want a refund now.  Both for Elemental and my Avatar Blu-Ray.

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September 8, 2010 1:34:12 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

On top of all of it he was refering to the idea of battling back in forth (im assuming with different elements as well? ).

Which makes perfect sense.

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September 8, 2010 6:39:26 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting dirtforker,
I really doubt you can possibly make this game fun for the people that don't like it now.

You're probably right, but probably for reasons other than what you suspect.

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September 8, 2010 6:41:48 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting marlowwe,
Valid, constructive criticism is being drowned out by frothing at the mouth forum members.

Except that a lot of the so-called "valid constructive criticism" is nothing but snarky cheap shots at Brad and Stardock.  That's why new dev journals are now read only.

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September 8, 2010 7:07:53 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting RogueCaptain,
I wish my country's leaders would take the same level of responsibility like the OP.  
That would be a sweet fantasy world to live in. Even sweeter if that applied to every single human being (alive).

Damn bitter reality.

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September 8, 2010 7:12:41 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I think this was called communism. I mean the original idea, Soviet Union and such countries never had communism even if they are referred as communist countries.  Unfortunately people do not function that way.

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September 8, 2010 9:14:02 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Socialism and communism depend on a level of altruism that is foreign to most human beings.

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September 8, 2010 9:20:49 AM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

It concerns me that someone, anyone, would wish death on a husband and father over a GAME.

Hang in there Stardock and Brad!  I have every confidence you'll not only fix the problems, but do so in such an innovative way...all the haters will try to copy it.

Best wishes.

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September 8, 2010 9:23:41 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

All can be rectified by adding squirrel archers to the next patch.

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September 8, 2010 9:24:44 AM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

Quoting Tova7,
It concerns me that someone, anyone, would wish death on a husband and father over a GAME.

 

shhhh, games; they're a way of life!

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September 8, 2010 9:58:31 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

OMFG this thread isnt dead yet ?

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September 8, 2010 11:22:38 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Windexglow,
I hope you die after bleeding out of every oriface in your body for taking all the blame and letting the team go gosh

 

 

 

Like I've said many time before, I've gotten my money paid over in it's worth with elemental.  Amazing game, can't wait to see what it'll be like in 2 years.

Death is too good for ye Brad. We should tie ye to a chair and make you watch Thin Red Line over and over for a week. That'll teach ye.

On second thought that may be too cruel, hell watching Thin Red Line (worst movie in exsitance) once is worst than death.

Well I know that Stardock will eventually get the game to the point where it is playable and fun. Currently Amazing is not a word I would use for the game (no where near yet) however I can see it will be .....IT WILL BE.

 

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September 8, 2010 2:31:36 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Alrighty.

I'll say this - You did manage to fix the crashes i was having. The game is quite stable now.

(Quite impressive imo. So, i was whining about crashes on #elemental at stardocks IRC when a dev told me to send them my crash-reports so they could fix them. I did so. After the next patch said crashes stopped. Hats off to the programmers.)

The game is not as deep as i was hoping. There is not much "stuff", magic doesnt feel impressive and the AI is not an effective opponent. Getting married and having kids is interesting but very abstract. Its not a bad game as such but its not very good either.

On the other hand you seem to be working on it still and it seems you intend to add more "stuff". I'll keep an interested eye on the game and try it again sometime patch 1.1X-ish. No drama involved.

 

Peace and love

/Bahoxu

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September 8, 2010 2:37:21 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

 

All can be rectified by adding squirrel archers to the next patch.

FTW!

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September 8, 2010 2:47:28 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Frogboy,



Quoting solidsmooky,
reply 14

Quoting Infernal Lupine, reply 8Ever since the release of WOW, its become common place that release day + 1 year is the time to look at the state of a game and review it then after its birthing pains are done and over. Instant review policies of magazines and forums have never adapted to the 2000 era means of production and customer support fixes. They are the ones needing an overhaul and one of the reasons I abandoned subscription based review games nearly a decade ago.


I cant wait to see the state of the game in 6 months.


This isn't true and should never be at all. The game should be fine and fun at the time of its release. You have a right to have fun with a working product when you purchase it. Don't be a bad customer that accepts anything someone puts out because you have some nonsensical loyalty to a brand name.


I agree, in an ideal world that is indeed the case.

I've read all kinds of (sorry) moronic conspiracy theories on people saying "Stardock HAD to know...". To which I say, nonsense. Not a single person internally felt (or at least suggested) we extend the release date. And until the end of July, we had that option. We simply thought the game was ready. It really aggravates me when people say I or Stardock "knew" the game wasn't ready and just released it.  We worked on this for 3 years. We thought it was ready. We were wrong. It's easy, with the benefit of hindsight for someone to talk about how company X is horrible.

Look at Apple and the iPhone 4 antenna debacle. There's people out there claiming that Steve Jobs *knew* there was an issue with it before shipping.  I say again, nonsense.

Stardock has multiple former game reviewers (including former editors of Gamespot/IGN and Avault). If either one of them had said "This isn't ready to go, we need to delay till February." I would have in a heart beat. It would still have resulted in lay-offs but it would have been preferable to the hellstorm we caught.  And I'm not blaming anyone but myself because I thought the game was ready. Not v1.05 but v1.0.  

Over the coming weeks and months we'll do a lot of hard looking to see how the rough start happened. Maybe I create an environment where people are afraid to tell me the "hard truths". Maybe our QA setup just isn't broad enough. Maybe we had just gotten too close to the project and didn't see things. I don't know. In time, we'll find out. 

I don't mean to sound harsh but when I hear this I can only that you are not playing the same game we are.  I mean besides the bugs which can be missed how did you not see the problems with game play unless you did not play a game more that 30 turns or so and you did not play the Empire which is grossly over powered. 

It's like when you go and see a bad movie like (Battlefield Earth) and after the movie you shake your head and wonder if the Director watch the same movie you did and if so why did he still release it.  Now I'm not saying Elemental is this bad but it was sufficaently lacking in many departments that it would be hard to miss if you play it for any lenth of time.

But as I said before I have faith that you guys will pull through and get the Beta off the ground to be a top notch game in a few months.

 

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September 8, 2010 4:17:42 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I hope the next project is Sci-Fi. Fantasy games are way too common.

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September 8, 2010 5:23:20 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

*peeks head in* Are we done with the drama yet? No? Okay. *walks out and closes door slowly behind him*

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September 8, 2010 5:52:54 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting solidsmooky,
*peeks head in* Are we done with the drama yet? No? Okay. *walks out and closes door slowly behind him*

 

the drama has been exorcised <cough> cleansed I mean - come on guys let it all out....you will feel better

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September 8, 2010 8:05:17 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting solidsmooky,
*peeks head in* Are we done with the drama yet? No? Okay. *walks out and closes door slowly behind him*

You mean have we all been transformed into uncritical fanbois?

No, no we have not, and we won't.

 

Frogboy's post really doesn't address all the issues here. As Bellack, myself, and others have said, the problems with Elemental go well beyond those of mere compatibility. It would be more reassuring if Frogboy admitted this as well, that really the level of polish and gameplay development is not at the level of a game ready to be released. However, the game does still have plenty of potential, and hopefully that potential will be realized.

 

If criticism, even blunt criticism, is stated in a constructive and respectful manner, it should be accepted. If it still makes you angry, then the problem doesn't lie with the person being critical.

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September 8, 2010 8:15:13 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting scyldSCHEFING,

You mean have we all been transformed into uncritical fanbois?

No, no we have not, and we won't.

 

Well, I don't think everyone has to be a "fanboi" to not have drama.

There's plenty of threads criticizing the combat mechanics, for example, and there's no "troll" vs "fanboi" or whatever going on.

 

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