Fallen Enchantress has been a long road, but rewarding road for us. A year and a half after the release of War of Magic, Fallen Enchantress is Stardock’s largest game endeavor in its history. My part in its tale includes the new computer AI and complaining – my traditional role on game development here.
In recent years, the number of hours I could dedicate to those endeavors got smaller and smaller. That changed when we sold Impulse to Gamestop this year. Impulse had slowly come to take most of my day to day time in recent years.
And so, Fallen Enchantress has been a real joy to work on. And I apologize to all of you for the long wait as we have…indulged ourselves a bit with it. Free from any sort of economic constraints, we’ve been able to do things that, from a business point of view, ridiculous from a turn-based PC strategy game point of view. But the end result is that we’ve made something that we’re really proud of. I hope players see what we see – a strategy game unlike any other.
That said, you should assume it’ll be horrible. Keep those expectations low. LOW I say!
A general overview: Bringing Game Design to Stardock
Lead Designer and Producer Derek Paxton has combined both his Fall from Heaven experience and his years of professional project management experience into our game design philosophy – starting with having a game design philosophy.
Designing games is something that I always disliked quite intensely. I much prefer to work with other people’s designs and take them to what (to me anyway) seems to be their logical conclusion.
The basic requirements of Fallen Enchantress are as follows:
- It is a strategy game that takes place in a very very hostile magical world
- That magical world has a rich history but also wants to kill you.
- There are several other factions who want to dominate this world but are also struggling against the world.
- Your tools are magic, technology, diplomacy, and questing.
Derek’s leadership on the project has ensured that the team has been focused on these 4 things.
To support Derek’s mission, I have been helping enforce 4 engineering requirements:
- Stability. At all times, the game must be rock solid. No “fixing later”. Beta != crashy.
- Performance. Games that are slow aren’t fun. Coding should be looking at being as efficient as possible.
- Memory. Where is every byte of memory going? Can those running 64-bit get more? (answer: Yes)
Now, these points are a gross over simplification but they cover many logical sub-components to make these things work (game balance, good AI, lots of in-game lore, an interesting campaign, a tutorial, etc.).
With that out of the way, let me show you where things stand today. Below you will see what would have been in the public beta had it gone out as originally planned as well as some discussion of what will be changed prior to Beta 1 in January.
Part 1: The Tutorial
Besides a campaign and the sandbox mode, there is an interactive tutorial. Having a tutorial allows us to justify having a bit more depth to the game since not all of it can be “self explanatory” and not everyone will read the manual.
The tutorial also includes optional video demos for each step of the way.
Part 2: Character Creation
When you create a sovereign, you can either assign it over to an existing faction or create your own custom faction on the spot.
Your character has magical proficiencies that set them on the path to become more powerful in a particular path of magic.
Look out for Tar-Froglar. In future games, I can play against him too which is kind of fun.
I don’t know what the limit is on the number of players. I do know it’s enjoyable putting a dozen or so on a tiny map and watching mayhem. The maps do have a default # of suggested players. But we don’t force people to abide by that.
Part 3: Early Game & Economics
When you enter the world of Elemental, a backstory is generated based on your sovereign and faction choices.
The economics are deceptively simple. There are only two local resources: Grain and Materials. Grain becomes food. Materials aid in production. People need food and provide taxes, research, and to a lesser extent, some production.
You can set your tax rate which in turn will affect your tax income at the expense of productivity in the form of unrest:
Tax rate set to none:
Unrest is only 10% so I’m getting 1.1 research per turn, 138 food and 37 production (but no gildar).
Set taxes to oppressive and you get this:
Ouch. But I’m making money.
Part 4: Other players
This is where fantasy author Dave Stern has come in. Woe be it to anyone who wants to translate this game. There’s a book’s worth of material stuffed in here with combinations for every faction vs. every faction with multiple displays based on game states.
Diplomacy comes in the form of treaties and trade. The trading part is fairly straight forward. The treaties, by contrast, is something we’re hoping to keep adding lots of because they’re pretty cool. A treaty is just a contract. A treaty can be that for N gold Umber will attack Capitar. Or for both parties to share 1% of their research or to have a N% chance that loot will be shared – basically they’d get a copy of the same loot, these aren’t zero sum treaties). How many we’ll get in by the beta versus release versus 3 years from now remains to be seen.
Part 5: Champions
Champions are central to success in Fallen Enchantress. By late game, a Champion is an army unto themselves.
Champions can be found in their own encampments. They’ve already allied themselves either with the Kingdom or the Empire. The only question left is which faction of the Kingdom or Empire they’ll sign on with. The more powerful the champion, the higher your recruiting ability must be.
Champions almost never die, even when they fall in battle. If they are defeated, they are brought back to the nearest city where they recover and typically have a permanent effect placed on them (limp, lost eye, fear, etc.) that will haunt them for the rest of the game. It is not uncommon – and in fact typical – for a late game champion to have several scars and old wounds from battle.
Part 6: Combat
The combat system in Fallen Enchantress centers around the concept of initiative. Initiative determines how often that unit will be able to take a turn. In tactical battles, the left side of the screen shows what’s coming up (a unit or a spell to be cast). A really really fast unit may get to take several turns before a slow unit gets to take a turn. As a result, few units get to “Retaliate” when hit (though some units do have this ability, it’s exceedingly rare).
Magic duels come in the form of both sides trying their best to overcome the other with spells and counter spells flung back and forth. The more powerful spells may take 3 turns for that unit to cast giving ample time for their opponent to cast a counter on it.
Ranged units are also very crucial (as well as countering them) since they can do a great deal of damage from afar. The typical counter here is Cavalry who move fast and are hard for archers to hit.
Part 7: User Interface
Often unappreciated, a good UI is crucial to this type of game. This was an area where myself, Derek (Fall from Heaven), and Jon Shafer (Civilization V) spent a lot of time thinking about. A good UI is a gateway to having greater depth in the game because it lets us explain the game to players in bite sized chunks.
Players can manage their kingdom from a single screen if they want to.
Everything here has a friendly tooltip.
Example of a tool tip.
And another tooltip.
When players zoom out, a cloth map is displayed. Players can optionally display the HUD icons on here or not.
Part 8: Magic
Magic is arguably the most potent tool at a player’s disposal to win the game. Generally speaking, you don’t learn spells from spell books (though there are spell books out there that you can get from quests, notable locations, and loot from monsters). You learn them as your characters level up. There is only one master spell book for your kingdom and it is the composite of all your spell casting units combined (strategically).
There are enough spells hidden away that even I haven’t seen all of them yet. Each time I play, I find a new one depending on who I’m playing as, what strategy I took, what quests I found, what technologies I researched, what proficiencies I chose and what perks I chose when I leveled up.
Part 9: Technology
One of the challenges in a fantasy, turn-based, civilization-style strategy game is the tech tree. First, we wanted there to be two very different tech trees – one for the Empires and one for the Kingdoms. And we wanted players to very easily see the difference in them and this led to some…interesting choices that I would never have thought of without Derek and Jon.
Anyone who’s ever played GalCiv knows my view on techs: More is more. In FE, however, Derek and Jon showed that less is more. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of techs here. But each one gives you a lot of stuff but they also take a long time to get to.
The number to the right of a tech is how many turns it would take your current kingdom to research. The result is that players come to really appreciate the tech they have rather than blowing through techs to get to the ultimate. The other effect, which was what Derek and Jon were going for, was to make “mop up” for whoever was winning much easier. The players who can get good stuff will wipe the floor with those who simply can’t.
Part 10: AI
Nobody talks about AI stuff anymore. I challenge you – find a game where the media (or most players even) talk about AI. It’s like our industry has given up on it.
AI coding is a bit of an arcane art. It’s the part of the game I care about the most. But I don’t usually get to spend much time on it because I am supposed to be running a business allegedly. On GalCiv for OS/2, I got months and months to write AI. It was great. Each AI player got multiple background threads. One dedicated to near term issues and one for long-term strategy along with writing data to the drive that would let it learn from human players.
But as Stardock grew, the number of hours I could put on a single product declined. By the time of Elemental, I got about 30 days of AI coding in (for GalCiv II I got almost 4 months until Twilight when I handed it off to others).
For FE, I’ll get almost 4 months of AI time. That means I get to write both the strategic and the tactical AI. This has had the secondary effect of making the game much for multithreaded. There is no “Turn” screen in Fallen Enchantress. There is no stop in the action between turns because all the work is happening in the background.
Look closely at the moves left. I’m going to hit the turn button.
While the player is doing their thing, the AI and the general data work of the game happens in the background. So when you hit turn, it’s really just a matter of resetting the UI. Now, if you sit there and pound on the turn button, you’ll have to wait (though it’ll still be smooth UI-wise) but generally, the AI will move faster than you.
In early January, every person who bought Elemental: War of Magic will be getting an email from us telling them about the beta.
If they bought War of Magic in 2010, they get Fallen Enchantress for free. War of Magic had great potential and I think most people would agree that v1.4 of War of Magic is a pretty good game. But it is still not the game we had planned on making and frankly, it was not acceptable at release. It was too ambitious for us at the time to make and combine that with a health dose of cogitative dissonance and you have a real problem. We just didn’t have the project management process down to make such a large game (and by project management, I mean we didn’t actually have project management, we were just a bunch of guys/gals making games – that doesn’t scale well). Now, for people who bought WOM this year, you will still get a discount on FE. We just haven’t come up with a specific policy yet.
The BETA of FE will be released on January 19th to those who were part of the original WOM beta and January 26 to everyone else (we’re doing a tiered release because we’ve never rolled out this many betas at once before – you should assume that the process will cause your PC to catch fire and your pets to suffer).
See ya next year!
So that’s all for now. Hopefully you found this information helpful!