The Stardock Game Roadmap 2011

By on February 1, 2011 12:38:38 PM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

Frogboy

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This week I’ve been presenting internally our company business plan for 2011. Part of this is the Stardock Customer Report 2011 (which we’ll be making available publicly soon) along with our road map on the studio games (this doesn’t count future titles from our partner Ironclad who developed Sins of a Solar Empire nor does it address next steps in the Demigod franchise.

This journal entry will likely only be of interest to either techies or biz types. So if you’re looking for interesting game feature stuff, you’ll probably want to skip this.

The Road Map

Essentially every studio has a road map. They just don’t make it public for obvious reasons.  Since we’re privately held, we can pretty much do whatever we’d like and one of the things we like is to keep our fans up to speed on what the heck is happening here.

So below is the road map for the studio developed (Stardock Entertainment’s studio) titles.

image

Kumquat

Kumquat is just our internal nickname for the engine. It was called this in honor of former Stardock developer Mike Duffy who created the predecessor “Pear” which we licensed from him after he left to start his own studio. Pear is what all Stardock games from 1997 through 2003 used (Entrepreneur, The Corporate Machine, LightWeight Ninja, Galactic Civilizations I).  It was a fantastic game engine for its day but was 3D.

Kumquat is a new engine that was developed originally for Society which is the free to play MMORTS that we’ve been slowly developing for the past hundred years or something like that.  We decided to have the first game that used Kumquat be a fantasy strategy game, namely, Elemental: War of Magic. 

Now, when War of Magic was being made, we obviously had very high hopes for how it would be received. So we pictured having Elemental: War of Magic – Expansion 1…2…3.  And then you’d have Elemental: War of Magic II and so on.  But when Elemental: War of Magic was released it was very buggy and even after the bugs were largely fixed, the gameplay wasn’t what we had envisioned it  being. We had cut or altered so many features from the original design to match what Kumquat could do – at the time – that we ended up with something that few were pleased with.

But work on Kumquat has continued non-stop and so in December it was decided that rather than continue the War of Magic line we would use the opportunity to create a new fantasy strategy game in the Elemental world that would succeed War of Magic and then just give that to everyone who bought War of Magic in 2010 it for free with steep discounts for anyone who buys it before it is released. That’s where Elemental: Fallen Enchantress comes in.

BG40_AirShrineElemental: Strategy Games

The effect of this is that we’ll eventually have War of Magic, Fallen Enchantress and <Untitled third branch>.   This isn’t really very different than what we did with Galactic Civilizations II with the exception of the intention to have them be stand-alone and thus allowing the separate entities to continue to be potentially developed on their own path based on what players ask for.  If the strategy games were primarily multiplayer games, we obviously couldn’t do this because you’d be fragmenting the player base. But these are primarily single player games that happen to have (fairly crummy) multiplayer support.

One nice thing about this is that it gives us, and players, a lot more design flexibility.  Fallen Enchantress is a pretty radical departure from War of Magic. Based on what I’m seeing, I suspect most people will prefer that by far to War of Magic but only time will tell. But in any event, we will be making a v1.3 of War of Magic that will be on its own code branch.

As a game developer, I can tell you that this is pretty exciting stuff.  Consider the challenges other strategy game franchises have. Some players would have liked to see Civilization V be more along the lines of Civilization IV. Others would have preferred it to be far more complex and others would have preferred to have it streamlined. 

Elemental: RPG games

Now, as some people may recall, after War of Magic’s difficult launch, we had to re-evaluate our staffing levels and reorganize. This meant some painful layoffs back last Fall which came from people slated for the RPG title.  After War of Magic, it was recognized that the game studio was being run like a hobby and not as an engineering process like our enterprise software unit. This meant we needed to bring in full-time designers and full-time project managers onto the studio.  Thus, the second studio team, designated for the Elemental: RPG, got largely zapped. This year we will begin to reconstitute this team as we bring in a lead studio developer and some senior developers to help ensure that we don’t have another War of Magic episode.

The Mod Layer

As some people may remember, I was planning to take a sabbatical last year. Clearly that didn’t happen.  I am still planning to do this sometime early this year. With Kael and Jon Shafer here now, I am comfortable that the games unit won’t need me to intervene.  This will let me create what I’ve creatively named “Mod Layer”. The idea is to create a piece of middleware between Kumquat and future games that would allow people to make games using mostly Python.  I’ve started the planning part of this with our DesktopX lead developer so that we can use Expression Blend to create “objects”, and then manipulate them via Python and render them in Kumquat. This way, modders can easily create a wide assortment of games that are either 2D or 3D and potentially portable to (at the very least) Xbox Live Arcade and Windows Phone (though I’d like to also do iOS but Xcode is the devil still so I may ask some Stardockians to make that part for me <g>).

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February 1, 2011 12:46:40 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I would like to correct Xbox Live Arcade to Xbox Live Indie Games, to publish in Arcade you need a contract with MS, which is veeery hard

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February 1, 2011 12:47:54 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

This has me excited. And therefore i will follow this thread closely

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February 1, 2011 12:50:34 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Python? Damnit. I hate those whitespace fanatics with a burning passionfruit. Seriously, on what planet was whitespace considered an easier mechanism for ordering code than {}. 

Other than that element of OMGWTFBBQSAUCE, it's a nifty little language, and I'm excited to have a full engine to play with. 

 

You, uh, you wouldn't consider putting the Kumquat out there as open source, would you? I have a feeling you'd make a ton of easy money if you went the route of open source product + charging for support and corporate licensing. Plus, we'd get an assload of cool games from companies that want a professional quality engine without building their own or paying for one. And you'd also probably get some free developer talent pimping the engine out.

Seriously, consider it man.

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February 1, 2011 12:59:09 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Elemental RPG? Sounds interesting.

No galciv 3 on the map? ;(

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February 1, 2011 1:21:44 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I'm really confused here, can someone send me a link as to explain what is happening with Fallen Enchantress and Elemental?

I understand that Fallen Enchantress is a stand alone expansion, but it sounds like a whole new game. How does the expansion "expand" upon War of Magic? This is really bothering me. Am I switching between two games or what... To me it sounds stupid to play a game, and then to play a games expansion separately, since they use completely different features...

Some clarification would be appreciated

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February 1, 2011 1:32:23 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

FE was originally intended as an expansion, but it has since been re-dubbed its own standalone game. Previously, those who bought Elemental early on were promised free expansions due to the terrible state of the game at release. This promise has been carried over to the new standalone games.

As for what is actually different between FE and Elemental, very little has been announced. Frogboy has repeatedly stated that it will be a whole new game.

It sounds likely that you can get two different gameplay experiences from playing Elemental and playing FE, but that is the nature of any expansion/sequel. I would bet a lot of money on FE being the better experience.

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February 1, 2011 1:35:31 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Will wait here patiently for something clever to say...

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February 1, 2011 1:38:45 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

ed to have a full engine to play with.



You, uh, you wouldn't consider putting the Kumquat out there as open source, would you? I have a feeling you'd make a ton of easy money if you went the route of open source product + charging for support and corporate licensing. Plus, we'd get an assload of cool games from companies that want a professional quality engine without building their own or paying for one. And you'd also probably get some free developer talent pimping the engine out.

Seriously, consider it man.

 

That has to be either game 2013 or game 2014.  Other one is likely Society I believe.

 

 

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February 1, 2011 1:39:13 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Heavenfall,
... No galciv 3 on the map? ;(

Surely it will be the Game 2013 or 2014 branch?

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February 1, 2011 1:56:25 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

The Mod Layer

How will this interact with the various branches of Elemental?  Right now there is no good way for modders to create a "package" of mods and have them just work together easily for a non-tech user.  Sub-mods and bridge files work, but are more of a hobby than engineering answer, and there is no auto update to allow for patching issues and keeping mods current with the code base.  Any idea when more support for managing these might be available?

 

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February 1, 2011 2:07:41 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Can't seem to edit post, so I'll respond here.

 

I'm not really a fan of continuing EWOM at least, and/or making the 2nd XP a seperate game also (unless FE bombs)

 

Let's face it, people don't like EWOM all that much.  I can see backporting engine changes and/or other things to EWOM, but it shouldn't be any different then GC2 DL patches that you did once the expansions came out.  Anything else is a waste of resources, that needs to be spent on (what bette be) a better game.

 

 

And that's the entire source of my criticism of this plan- that you're wasting resources on EWOM, that could be spent on the future Elemental games, which is what people will be playing instead.  This is doubly true with you guys giving away FE for free/cheap to most people.  I just can't see a good scenario where people would still be playing EWOM enough to warrant resources being spent specifically to make that game better.

 

Note: engine improvements like the 1.2 patch, those are still great ideas.  They are applicable to future titles, and will make work easier.  Improving the gameplay until FE comes out also makes sense.  I'm not criticizing the current patch strategy, just what you're planning to do post-FE.  The mod layer is also an excellent idea.

 

I just don't want to see you waste resources on what I think many of us will consider to be, at best, an irrelevant game after FE comes out.  I just don't see the business logic in doing so.

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February 1, 2011 2:08:45 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Your.... wording about Elemental expansion packs is about to make some people explode (again). Just saying.

Elemental: RPG. Now. Please? Who must I kill? Which country must I conquer? Knowing about it has been the best news I have had in the last weeks! (weeks in which the best thing has been to learn some Python 3.1.3 during breaks in the office so go figure)

The Mod Layer sounds very interesting too.

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February 1, 2011 2:12:01 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I'm curious over the type of RPG Stardock would make.    What sort of RPGs do the Stardock team like?  I'd like to see a spiritual successor to FF tactics/Ogre Battle/ that type of game.  With Brad's AI capabilities I could Stardock making a very good game of that type.

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February 1, 2011 2:13:57 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Following!

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February 1, 2011 2:15:10 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Alstein,
Can't seem to edit post, so I'll respond here.

 

I'm not really a fan of continuing EWOM at least, and/or making the 2nd XP a seperate game also (unless FE bombs)

 

Let's face it, people don't like EWOM all that much.  I can see backporting engine changes and/or other things to EWOM, but it shouldn't be any different then GC2 DL patches that you did once the expansions came out.  Anything else is a waste of resources, that needs to be spent on (what bette be) a better game.

 

Stardock doesn't just cut their losses, pack up and leave. Doing that would be extremely damaging to their brand, especially as they've repeatedly said that this is what they won't do.

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February 1, 2011 2:40:17 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Alstein,
I'm curious over the type of RPG Stardock would make.    What sort of RPGs do the Stardock team like?  I'd like to see a spiritual successor to FF tactics/Ogre Battle/ that type of game.  With Brad's AI capabilities I could Stardock making a very good game of that type.
Oh my... please, lets stay far far far far far away of any declaration that involves "spiritual successor of" and similars.

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February 1, 2011 2:44:44 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Stardock already is staying the course, by providing FE for free.  They don't need to be wasting money on a game that (if SD delivers on FE, which they need to) no one will want to play once FE is out.

 

 

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February 1, 2011 2:47:58 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

They do, because they said they would. I don't expect their commitment to EWOM to match the budget for FE or something like that, not even close. But what they've said, they'll do.

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February 1, 2011 3:00:48 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I'll add them all to my buy list... (hopes for GalCiv3 sooner but I will be distracted anyway). Yes I keep saying it but damn IT JIM!, I am a sci fi nut!

Mod layers sounds interesting. Can't wait to read the SD report.

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February 1, 2011 3:01:49 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting chanter45,
I'm really confused here, can someone send me a link as to explain what is happening with Fallen Enchantress and Elemental?

I understand that Fallen Enchantress is a stand alone expansion, but it sounds like a whole new game. How does the expansion "expand" upon War of Magic? This is really bothering me. Am I switching between two games or what... To me it sounds stupid to play a game, and then to play a games expansion separately, since they use completely different features...

Some clarification would be appreciated

 

"

Now, when War of Magic was being made, we obviously had very high hopes for how it would be received. So we pictured having Elemental: War of Magic – Expansion 1…2…3.  And then you’d have Elemental: War of Magic II and so on.  But when Elemental: War of Magic was released it was very buggy and even after the bugs were largely fixed, the gameplay wasn’t what we had envisioned it  being. We had cut or altered so many features from the original design to match what Kumquat could do – at the time – that we ended up with something that few were pleased with.

But work on Kumquat has continued non-stop and so in December it was decided that rather than continue the War of Magic line we would use the opportunity to create a new fantasy strategy game in the Elemental world that would succeed War of Magic and then just give that to everyone who bought War of Magic in 2010 it for free with steep discounts for anyone who buys it before it is released. That’s where Elemental: Fallen Enchantress comes in.

 

"

 

They were originally planning expansions, but now they're doing entirely new games, so it's not technically dubbed an expansion from this point on.

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February 1, 2011 3:07:07 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Wintersong,
Your.... wording about Elemental expansion packs is about to make some people explode (again). Just saying.

Elemental: RPG. Now. Please? Who must I kill? Which country must I conquer? Knowing about it has been the best news I have had in the last weeks! (weeks in which the best thing has been to learn some Python 3.1.3 during breaks in the office so go figure)

The Mod Layer sounds very interesting too.

I'm not sure how popular our concept of an RPG would be. We're talking pretty old school stuff. No first person. Just old third person, party (Baldur's Gate / older Ultima). Very niche.

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February 1, 2011 3:11:14 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Alstein,
Can't seem to edit post, so I'll respond here.

 

I'm not really a fan of continuing EWOM at least, and/or making the 2nd XP a seperate game also (unless FE bombs)

 

Let's face it, people don't like EWOM all that much.  I can see backporting engine changes and/or other things to EWOM, but it shouldn't be any different then GC2 DL patches that you did once the expansions came out.  Anything else is a waste of resources, that needs to be spent on (what bette be) a better game.

 

And that's the entire source of my criticism of this plan- that you're wasting resources on EWOM, that could be spent on the future Elemental games, which is what people will be playing instead.  This is doubly true with you guys giving away FE for free/cheap to most people.  I just can't see a good scenario where people would still be playing EWOM enough to warrant resources being spent specifically to make that game better.

Oh I agree it's financially dumb to do v1.3 and so forth of War of Magic. But we don't make games for pure profit reasons in the first place (come on guys, new turn based strategy games for the PC in 2011?).

Stardock. Never. Abandons. Its. Games. We make the games because we love them. 

If I could be working on GalCiv II right now I would be. (unfortunately, huge pain in the butt because it uses Visual Studio 2003 which isn't supported on Win 7 but that's another topic).

Players will decide what their favorites are and play those.  I.e. it'll ultimately settle itself. 

 

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February 1, 2011 3:13:04 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Frogboy,

I'm not sure how popular our concept of an RPG would be. We're talking pretty old school stuff. No first person. Just old third person, party (Baldur's Gate / older Ultima). Very niche.

As long as it features a grue.

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February 1, 2011 3:17:54 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Frogboy,

Quoting Wintersong, reply 12Your.... wording about Elemental expansion packs is about to make some people explode (again). Just saying.

Elemental: RPG. Now. Please? Who must I kill? Which country must I conquer? Knowing about it has been the best news I have had in the last weeks! (weeks in which the best thing has been to learn some Python 3.1.3 during breaks in the office so go figure)

The Mod Layer sounds very interesting too.

I'm not sure how popular our concept of an RPG would be. We're talking pretty old school stuff. No first person. Just old third person, party (Baldur's Gate / older Ultima). Very niche.

 

Tradtional, no FPS, RPG? Niche? PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, GET TOP MEN ON IT NOW. So sick of these modern day "RPGs"

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February 1, 2011 3:27:52 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

One request - If you're continuing EWOM and simultaneously developing EFE, please keep the current XML tags in tact even if you use entirely new ones that do the same thing in the new game so that people that spend a lot of time on mods for EWOM don't have to completely redo the mods for EFE. It's hard enough to mod right now while waiting for each consecutive patch. I know you said you wanted to do a mod layer between games and Kumquat, but for now this is my request.

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