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 6, 2010 8:43:13 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting VR_IronMana,

Quoting awuffleablehedgie, reply 151
So, yes, Tridus has every reason to bitch and moan and say "I told you so!" At least until his concerns are fixed.
But what will it accomplish to say "I told you so"?

Not saying he "shouldn't" be allowed to or whatever - but what's the end goal of saying "I told you so" ?

I never actually said We told you so (I was far from the only one saying it at the time), but it was bound to be interpreted that way I guess.

If you're wondering, I brought it up because there's been no mention in any post since that they're going to change that. Look at the post by Istari at the time, they show something bordering on contempt for that kind of feedback. They figured we had no idea what we were talking about and were just whiny people who should be ignored. Look at how it turned out, and it's clear that these were people with significant experience with the game seeing that it needed more time to get the systems polished up and tweaked right.

The goal isn't to get someone to tell me I was right. I already know that, and quite frankly I'd have been a lot happier to have been proven wrong. The goal is to try and remind them that they ignored people who said what they didn't want to hear, and that if they don't do that next time (instead taking a critical look to see if that feedback has merit), then maybe the same thing won't happen again.

I've been in this process since beta 1 because I'm a fan. As a fan, what I want is SD to put out successful games. If that means pointing out unpleasantness now, it's only because it's something they need to keep in mind for next time.

When the time comes that I can gush about how great the game is to everybody I know, nobody will be happier about it then me.

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September 6, 2010 8:52:35 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Mtn_Man,

Quoting klaxton499, reply 159Stardock is it possible for you to segregate the Dev Journals to paying customers?  We are the ones who will be most interested in where the game is headed.
+1

I think this would eliminate 95% of the trolls.

I appreciate the problem you're trying to solve, but I don't think that's the right solution. I pre-ordered Elemental in Feb because of what I had read in the Dev Journals (and from an article that made me look into Elemental).

 

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September 6, 2010 9:25:54 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Well this was suggested in another thread and sounds like a solid plan.. Make them read only.

I apologize for forgetting the original posters name.

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September 6, 2010 9:37:09 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting klaxton499,
Well this was suggested in another thread and sounds like a solid plan.. Make them read only.

I apologize for forgetting the original posters name.

What problem are you trying to solve? Look back over all the dev journals, there's no problems until we get near release, and people start saying we're not ready for release. Then there's problems after release because... well what part of the forums didn't have problems after release?

For the vast majority of the time, the dev journals gave people an idea of what was going on and an easy thread to provide focused feedback on that idea. They work.

When we get back to talking about the game, they'll go back to working. Making them read only means someone will make a thread in General to talk about it instead, accomplishing absolutely nothing except forum clutter.

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September 6, 2010 9:46:36 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Stardock just needs to lower their nose and git her done.   I've been in this position before:  wide user base, very passionate users, users who will do anything they can to pressure you or manipulate you into what they want--and different users want conflicting things.    It's actually a GOOD sign:  it means you're a leader.    Going on the forums only gets you all defensive, and you wind up spending all your emotional and mental energy thinking of cogent rebuttals to all that is said.   That is energy better spent stepping through code.   No need to go out looking for feedback when there are known problems.  Just like there is no need to go bug-hunting when there are known bugs.

Stardock is facing layoffs, in Michigan, and a barbarian horde at the gates.   They get it.   What more do you all need?

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September 6, 2010 9:54:07 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I'm down with no Drama and looking forward to the future!  Can't wait to try every patch/update you have in store for elemental and us!

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September 6, 2010 9:56:27 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Kantok,
You don't think Brad's many "Mea Culpa" posts are recognition of their failure to listen to the beta crowd?
Specifically?  Obviously I don't, else I wouldn't make the point.

It comes off as beta testers wanting to be acknowledged that they were personally right when Brad was wrong.
My post you quote has my arguments why this is incorrect.

Why not focus more on improving the game and less on the "I told you so"s at this point?
First, you're incorrectly assuming such posts aren't focused on improving the game.

Second, yours is the fallacious False Choice -- even if you don't think these post are focused on improving, you're claiming that posting them means we're not focusing more on game improvements in other posts.  The former does not preclude the latter.

Generally, to fix a problem it first has to be acknowledged.  While generally acknowledgments regarding mistakes made have been made, at the time of posting of these points, it's not been clear these points have been among said acknowledgments.

If you disagree, that's fine, but that doesn't mean bringing this up is unreasonable, as there's room for disagreement on that.

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September 6, 2010 10:01:09 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Cryptomancer,
* > With the reservation that I would replace his word "disdain" by the other word which he uses later on : "resistance".
You're right, 'resistance' is a much better choice, and I should not have used 'disdain', as it's too negatively connotative.

Thanks for pointing this out

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September 6, 2010 10:37:05 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Nick-Danger,
[... Stardock's] 'resistance' [to some beta-tester recommendations] is a much better choice [of word], and I should not have used 'disdain', as it's too negatively connotative.  

Very gracious and generous of you to overtly recognize your hyperbolic faux pas. 

 

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September 6, 2010 10:42:43 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting StarReaper,
Bad idea. The more input the better.

Input from people who have never played the game and/or don't have access to the game in its current state is worthless.

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September 6, 2010 10:43:05 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Nick-Danger,

Generally, to fix a problem it first has to be acknowledged.  While generally acknowledgments regarding mistakes made have been made, at the time of posting of these points, it's not been clear these points have been among said acknowledgments.

If you disagree, that's fine, but that doesn't mean bringing this up is unreasonable, as there's room for disagreement on that.

Here it is.

What many people don't realize is that most of the time, the "forum people" out there are wrong. It's easy to cherry pick forum posts that were right because statistically, there will always be people who are totally right just like they were totally right in the case of Warlords Battlecry. By 9 times out of 10, the forum criticism is nonsense or overblown.

The challenge is always in being able to figure out when "Internet guy" is making an absolutely true, valid point and that has been a continuing problem with me.  In Elemental, it was doubly the case because I wasn't spending that much time on the forums.  Stardock had grown to a 60+ person company so I was, as you can imagine, doing a lot of other things besides Elemental. So even if I saw some of the posts, I didn't "know" the people making them and didn't correctly discern which people's warnings or suggestions were viable and which ones were not.

 

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September 6, 2010 10:44:25 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Shame thanks to the various bitchers and whiners now we will get less info since frogs decided to stop doing as many dev journals. All come some asshats had to jump all over him in the latest ones. And people wonder why the majority of businesses NEVER respond to you on their forums...

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September 6, 2010 10:56:42 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Tridus,
Here it is.
He made that post at September 6, 2010 17:02:30

My post on that topic was at September 6, 2010 16:52:47, preceeding his.
That's why my latest post included the qualifier "...at the time of posting of these points...".

 

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September 6, 2010 11:25:22 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

Shame thanks to the various bitchers and whiners now we will get less info since frogs decided to stop doing as many dev journals.

Froggy will be back soon.  We've seen this sort of thing with Demigod in the past - people cause a ruckus, Brad stops posting for a bit.  I'd stop posting too if I just made a simple AI post and people started tearing me a new one.  I'm pretty sure you can be confident that other SD staff will be posting dev journals and keeping everyone informed on the latest patches in the meantime.  Best wishes for elemental in the future. 

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September 6, 2010 11:29:48 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Frogboy did still do the same thing with Demigod. It got flamed, he retreated from the forums. He came back a few weeks later... :shrug:

I do think that the emotionally, Frogboy is much more invested in this game than Demigod. I guess that makes the poor release that much worse. However, I'm pretty sure that Frogboy/Stardock know the current state of the game as it is and telling them more isn't helping. Though the initial firm reminder WAS a good thing.

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September 6, 2010 11:30:53 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Well... nice that you took some responsibility, but oddly, you focused almost entirely on the crashing issues, and little or not at all on the UI and balance issues. I believe you said something like "didn't live up to customer expectations".

From this, I assume that having a UI where a lone sov comes into my territory when we are at war and destroys his entire empire when I attack him with a small stack is up to YOUR expectations.

Ironically, I had little or no problems with any actually released version of elemental as far as crashing. Yes, archery didn't work at all for me, due to the "not enough actions" issue, but the game played solidly.

For me, the game was, and is, still a bust due to it providing me zero challenge on any difficulty level, due to poor balance of units, extremely poor AI, and such.

I like the game well enough to hope for these things to get drastically improved, and believe that you'll do just that in time.

However, to be perfectly honest, the fact that you skimmead over what I see the biggest issue with Elemental in this mea culpa of yours, makes me feel like it is less a mea culpa, and more of a diversion of responsibility on to the engine problems.

Here's to playing a great elemental by the start of next year! I'm sure it will happen.

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September 6, 2010 11:32:06 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Sorry, change UI to AI in prior post, although I wanted to write about the UI issues also, as that was mentioned a lot in the poor reviews but not covered in your post.

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September 7, 2010 1:08:48 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

All I can say at this point is that I'm not regretting my $80 down for the limited edition yet. If the game is more playable in 6 months, so be it. I've got other games I can play until then.

 

You guys are a great company. Thanks again for all the support and hard work. Hope the future goes better for you.

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September 7, 2010 1:37:41 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I preordered as soon as I heard of that game. I played all the beta. And I'm still thin,king I'm in a beta. But I don't ever regret my purchase. Yes, the game isn't good, and we all know why (UI, AI, combat system, too few interactions between systems) but I want to let dev know that I support them. Evryone can make mistakes (even if that mistake of releasing is so early was a big one) and I'm fairly confident that the gam ewill truely be awesome in 6 months. For development they need money and I'm glad to help them craft a good game.

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September 7, 2010 2:10:53 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

You guys ever think that Frogboy didn't respond today because... you know.. it's Labor Day here in America and he's probably with his family? Stop being so dramatic.

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September 7, 2010 2:37:17 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting solidsmooky,
You guys ever think that Frogboy didn't respond today because... you know.. it's Labor Day here in America and he's probably with his family? Stop being so dramatic.
actually genius, he created an AI dev journal today, got ripped a new one and said he was done doing Journals for awhile and then locked that journal thread...

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September 7, 2010 3:19:01 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I preordered as soon as I heard of that game, me too. I envoyed basics mecanics on the beta.

Now, i wait for multiplayer and a decent & balance version, and it's not a problem for me.

"I'm fairly confident that the game will truely be awesome in 6 months." +1

 

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September 7, 2010 3:24:27 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

After reading the state of things I have to respect Stardock and taking a stand admitting things aren't as planned and they are going to do everything they can to make it right to everyone.  I originally held off buying the game because I started reading all the issues it has, but after reading this I think I am going to take my chances with it and it will let me see how things improve as they go.  I've enjoyed Stardock's work in the past and am confident they will bring it up to the quality of game they are known for.  If they come through with putting their work where their mouths are they will have some bonus points with me for potential future games they put out.

 

Good luck Stardock with the planned improvements!  It's good to see a game company stand behind their products like this.

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September 7, 2010 4:17:07 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Again I will reiterate that I think Elemental was (mostly) worth the price of admission thus far.  The CTD's are probably the only real irritant but I digress.   Brad as the voice of Stardock has taken responsibility, and even if you're not happy with Elemental you have to respect that.  In all the years I have been gaming I can think of only a few instances that anyone (let alone the CEO) made an official "we fucked up" statement. Thus far I have bought GalCiv2 / SoaSE and all their expansions, and have been happy with everything I have experienced as a result.  Thanks Brad for not going to Corporate America Douche route.  To a lot of us that means a ton.  P.S.  Don't do it again!

 

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September 7, 2010 4:32:56 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Also be aware that if people are not happy with the setup and balance of the game, that after the crashes have been fixed the game is fully modifiable..

 

So stop complaining then and build what you want,,,,,,

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