0.77 Development blog

By on January 29, 2012 9:30:57 PM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

Frogboy

Join Date 03/2001
+1495

Warning: If you’re not into game development, you will probably find this entry very boring.

While I wait for my items to sell on the Galactic Trade Market in SWTOR, I am also working on Elemental: Fallen Enchantress.

At this point, we have the largest beta group any Stardock game has ever had.  Tens of thousands of you now have in your hands the first beta of Fallen Enchantress.  The goal of this is to help us eliminate instability, identify late-game performance issues, find out how people play the game and evaluate balance, user interface quirks, and overall “fun”.

Introductions

To get started, I should introduce some of our key players. 

Myself, I’m Brad Wardell. My day job is President & CEO of Stardock Corp. which has two entities attached to it – Stardock Software (which makes our consumer software and enterprise software which has historically been what pays the bills) and Stardock Entertainment (Which makes the games).  A year ago, there was a third business unit called Impulse, Inc. which took care of digitally distributing our games and apps as well as those for third parties. We sold this unit to GameStop last year and as a result, I have enough available time to be talking to you and actually being involved in the game development process.  While Stardock has been actively looking to recruit a lead developer (hint hint), it was decided internally that as of November 1, 2011 I would step in to take on the role of Lead Developer on Fallen Enchantress.  My particular specialty is multithreaded software development. 

The true key to Fallen Enchantress’s fun factor has been Derek “Kael” Paxton. He was the author of the well known Fall From Heaven mod for Civilization IV.  He is the one that has brought design discipline to the team.  That means making choices. Fallen Enchantress is first and foremost a strategy game in which the world itself is your first enemy to be dealt with before you can even think of dealing with your other foes.  Besides being the designer, he is also the Project Manager (in game speak “Producer”). Nothing goes in without his approval and this disciplined approach is main reason that the beta you see before you is as good as it is.

We also have a number of Stardock veterans from Galactic Civilizations II on Fallen Enchantress.  My friends Jesse “CodeCritter” Brindle, Cari “Elf” Begle, and Paul “Mormegil” Boyer are all well known to our community.  Jesse and Cari didn’t get to have much time on War of Magic as they were mostly involved on Impulse related projects.  I’ve asked Jesse to take the lead on graphics performance and Cari is helping across the board on game play coding.  The amazing art you see in the game is a combination of Leo (no cool handle) and Mormegil.  They’ve been asked to enliven the world environment (i.e. eradicate the “blah” remnants from WOM).

That’s just a few of the people involved, there’s another dozen+ others but these are the people who get to hear my whining and complaining the most. Smile

Whining and complaining

My job is to try to execute as best I can on Derek’s design.  On some things, I take care of directly.  On other things, I have to complain to Jesse or Cari or Paul (mostly poor Paul). 

So what are some of the things we complain about?

Examples: Why do the mountains not look that distinct? The interface requires me to move my mouse too much around. It takes too many clicks to add improvements. The late game turn performance is slow. The AI needs better units to choose from. The land needs more variance. The world needs more distinction between things I care about and background. The quests need more hand holding. The sound effects are repetitive and horrible. The music doesn’t seem to progress in tempo. I need more spells. And on…and on….and on…

Which brings us to this blog

If you’ve managed to survive this long into this entry, today I’m going to play on a large map with a gazillion players. I am going to play at Normal difficulty and I’m going to try to make the game get as slow as I possibly can.  I am going to try to crash the game.  I am going to wreck this game. That’s my job.

And you, the victim of this blog, will get to see the crashes, the stupid mistakes I find in my code, and my griping on balance, user interface, music, etc.).

A word of caution

If you aren’t in the beta, please understand, my job here is to criticize the game.  My critique of Galactic Civilizations II, which I designed, was that it was essentially a soulless piece of crap with shoddy AI, terrible carpal-tunnel UI, mindless clickfest. And that’s a game that got a 93 metacritic score.  So you can imagine what my critiques of the beta of this game are.  

A key lesson learned from WOM is that if you get too close to the project to the point you’re playing it non-stop and making a lot of the content is that you lose objectivity. I actually thought WOM was a great game when it shipped. Then I took a short vacation, came back, played it and went “Oh, Dear, God. What hath we done?”  Lesson learned, don’t do 100+ hours a week for 3 months and don’t confuse the fun you have making the game with the fun playing the game.

Anyway, point being: I’m going to be flaming the game throughout this journal. The goal is to make the BETA version better so that when people get the final version it is the awesome game people are looking for.

Let the Butchering Begin…

First, I’m going to see if I can cheese up a custom sovereign and faction…

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Like all good hearted people, I wish that all races were Smurf-Like…

I’m going to play 18 other players…

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Expert Tip:

Fallen Enchantress defaults to running at your desktop resolution. If you are going to be playing a long game, I recommend lowering your desktop resolution to maximize performance.

The Game Starts

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I am already regretting choosing deep blue as my color.

Complaint 1: Champions vs. Everyone else

It’s a fine line. You want champions to matter but you don’t want to make it about collecting champions and steam rolling. The basic problem I see is that champions have too much base HP imo.  We used to have it a lot less but then they were pointless. So it’s something we’re placing with.

Complaint 2: UI of the research window

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If you don’t actually click on the graphic, it won’t switch tabs. This creates a little fatigue after several hours.  The graphic itself is transparent so I go code hunting…

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Complaint 3: Long end game turn lengths

There is an inncoulous check for city contiguity that gets very expensive late game which I’ve changed to only care about if it’s humans since the AI just uses the auto place system anyway. This little tweak just reduced the turn times by 75%.

Complaint 4: Frame rate when lots of stuff on screen

This might as well be a complaint about reality. You want to see lots of stuff but you don’t want to pay the price.  Well, I don’t want to pay the price but I still want to see lots of stuff.

But the human eye is easily tricked.  It’s just a matter of giving the illusion that the player is seeing the same lots of stuff as they zoom out.  Unfortunately, I know zilch on DirectX programming. So I’m just kind of going through the code and trying to learn it on the fly to see if I can help in this area.

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My first attempt at reducing the number of things being painted.  On the one hand, the frame rate is really high…

Too extreme. Now, I’m learning this with you right now (on a weekday, I’d just bug Jesse or someone).

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So there is our start. 25fps.

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Reducing the number of children to 1 gives us..1fps. A dead end. Oh and I lost my UI.

Trying to crash the game: Tips and tricks

Under the covers, the game revolves around having a ton of things going on at once. I hate “Please wait…” screens. To eliminate that, we use threads. Lots and lots of threads. And it can be tricky with so many different hardware configs. 

The best way to get the game to crash is to have it autosave every turn and try clicking on the UI everywhere. That’ll expose if someone accidentally tried to directly update the UI rather than sending a message request to update the UI.

That is, you can’t just say MySoldier->SetMovesLeft(defaultamount) and in that call have it update the UI right there. It needs to send a message to the UI and then be processed.

The best testers for this are people with crappy computers and terrible OSes (single core, Windows XP users).  We don’t officially support single core CPU’s because they’re so old but their terrible performance helps us find bugs.

Complaint 5: The world needs more…umph

This is one of my main gripes.  A long time ago, the goal of the look of the game was a kind of cell-shaded look. This evolved into Illustrated look. But illustrated doesn’t need to mean desaturated and brown.

Now, mind you, I’m no artist. But just playing around with Photoshop I got this (barren land):

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So in the above picture, I took the dullest looking area and tweaked it.  Tell me what you think. I don’t have an artistic eye.

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Here’s a starting location.

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Desert

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Fallen lands

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Like I said, I’m not an artist so I just messed with the textures. But I’ll pass these ideas on to the art team to see what they think.

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Here I messed with the color of the water.

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Sunday

I went through the comments. My work on FE revolves around coding, not game design – other than making suggestions. I did pass on ideas to Derek.

I kind of went off track by playing around with the art stuff for fun.

I rewrote one of the city functions to hopefully improve performance. There is that little…stutter I see when I place an improvement.  I also made it so that you can double click on an improvement in the build menu and have it auto place it.

Champion Stacking

One of the things humans do in the game is they just toss all their champions in one stack. This isn’t surprising, it is a good strategy with the way the game is currently set up.

One of the things on Derek’s list has been to split experience up amongst the units in the group (rather than all the units simply getting all of it). It was supposed to be in Beta 1 but just didn’t get done. In hindsight, I wish I had gotten this in sooner because the champion stacking combined with this creates a real imbalance.

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It’s in now though.

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More playing around with the art.

Trying to figure out why sounds cut out.  The state of sound drivers on the PC is deplorable (outside the really mainstream brands – that is what you’re really paying for, quality drivers).  But we can program things to work around driver issues.

Debugging

Why does god hate me?

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Yea, I know how that feels.

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January 29, 2012 9:16:49 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Morkleb,
I think that rebalancing heroes/regular troops are needed in order to get a better feel for this game and providing input for the beta. Right now the beginning of every game is fun but then all you need is really 2 heroes to win the game. Regular units is a waste of time and resources and upgrading them is just impossible. If the goal is to have regular units alongside heroes then this should be a priority in order to get feedback on how the game plays and if it is fun when it plays as intended.

 

Currently I like the game and I enjoy it until my heroes are level 5, then it goes down hill from there. I tried using regular units and cut back on hero use but it just doesn't work and the cost for upgrading units is either a bug or unrealistic. Right now regular units are bad and drain your resources.

 

I would suggest lowering the hp for heroes and tuning down the magic just abit while making upgrades for units cost a lot less and abit more effective. This way outfitting a veteran unit will make it useful and something you care about.

Exactly, simple changes that could work and don't require massive overhauls of the system.

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January 29, 2012 9:36:00 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Totally pro the new water color

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January 29, 2012 9:47:37 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting OneLion,
Totally pro the new water color

 

Yes it's much better.

 

 

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January 29, 2012 10:24:43 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting StevenAus,




Exactly, simple changes that could work and don't require massive overhauls of the system.

i thought the bradster wanted a super awesome game. i'm sure it's possible to get this game into the 6/10-5/10 realm with balancing and decent AI but it's not going to be what brad is hoping for. i must admit i always found it a bit odd that galactic civilizations 2 got 93%, it's more like a 75% game in my mind. perhaps it was released during a particularly dire time for strategy gaming.

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January 29, 2012 12:06:27 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Not really sure strong Champions are an issue, unless you are going to serious early lvl units that can rival them. I also thought Champions were the thing the game hinges on. Was I mistaken? Shouldn't they feel a bit overpowered? As Blizzard says (paraphrasing) "we want the player to feel overpowered, 'broken' even, but keep the game itself to be balanced". I understand it's a very fine line, but a good game always creates that illusion. 

This was one reason the original MoM(Master of Magic) was so popular.  Once you had Champions you could dominate the game and they were 'broken' no doubt, but they couldn't be everywhere. So other units had to fill the planar towers, cities, and other choke points.

 

Three biggest gripes about the game so far:

1. Navy/Boats - why is this still not in the game? If strategy games from as far back as Empire, have naval units why can't we? 

2. Races and Units - they still feel generic. It's a fantasy game, and I'm not trying to be flip, but use your imagination. Magic only races, Flying races, Snakemen, Beastmen, Races that start with ranged combat units, non-humanoid races, firebreathing dragon races. This makes your normal units exciting to play, and gives the player the incentive to go to battle with them. 

3. Game presentation: love the new color palette, but the game still feels really messy and frankly doesn't feel 'epic' in scale. I don't the city sprawl works very will, and I never zoom into my cities.  Smaller cities would make the map itself feel bigger in proportion. Also really thinking about it, in game I'm a magic user, shouldn't my Cities float, or be drilled into a mountain, or make a beautiful Spiral Ivory tower?

 

 

 

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January 29, 2012 12:15:59 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting VonAgrippa,
Three biggest gripes about the game so far:
1. Navy/Boats - why is this still not in the game? If strategy games from as far back as Empire, have naval units why can't we?
2. Races and Units - they still feel generic. It's a fantasy game, and I'm not trying to be flip, but use your imagination. Magic only races, Flying races, Snakemen, Beastmen, Races that start with ranged combat units, non-humanoid races, firebreathing dragon races. This makes your normal units exciting to play, and gives the player the incentive to go to battle with them.
3. Game presentation: love the new color palette, but the game still feels really messy and frankly doesn't feel 'epic' in scale. I don't the city sprawl works very will, and I never zoom into my cities. Smaller cities would make the map itself feel bigger in proportion. Also really thinking about it, in game I'm a magic user, shouldn't my Cities float, or be drilled into a mountain, or make a beautiful Spiral Ivory tower?

 

What he said..

 

 

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January 29, 2012 12:28:48 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

i'm sure it's possible to get this game into the 6/10-5/10 realm with balancing and decent AI but it's not going to be what brad is hoping for. i must admit i always found it a bit odd that galactic civilizations 2 got 93%, it's more like a 75% game in my mind. perhaps it was released during a particularly dire time for strategy gaming.

so your opinions are worthless in other words.

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January 29, 2012 12:44:23 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

you should get behind my ideas instead. help me help you.

 

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January 29, 2012 1:09:44 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Yay for XP changes! 

 

I was starting to think that you wanted to incentivize large stacks to reward good strategy. This is a cleaner system than that. Glad things like this are being addressed. 

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January 29, 2012 2:23:19 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I don't suppose you could get into what changes are planned or considered for tactical combat could you brad? The current area of the game that still has the most room to improve is tactical combat in my opinion. It just doesn't feel very visceral or "war like". Alot of the problems in other areas of the game seem to be polish issues but tactical combat is a major area of concern since it hasn't change in what seems to me any meaningful way from the lackluster combat of WOM.

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January 29, 2012 2:42:01 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting scifi1950,
Quoting Das123, reply 9Interesting read, Brad. Love how after WOM all your posts start with a disclaimer.

I believe the best solution would be to find a way to encourage spreading champions around rather than just nerfing the champions themselves

Maybe the champions could have bonuses that only buff the non-Champion units they are stacked with?

 

I second this wholeheartedly.

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January 29, 2012 2:51:16 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums


Frogboy, when you say "it's in now" relative to a new experience distribution system - what does that mean?

1. There is a new update out already beyone .77?

or

2. That change is part of the changes that you get when you launch the beta with an internet connection?

or

3. That change is in for the next update whenever it is available?

or

4. Something else I have not thought of above?

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January 29, 2012 2:56:00 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting xaltotun,
3. That change is in for the next update whenever it is available?

This is by far the most likely.

The xp splitting will help a lot but I hope champions get a little nerf as well. They really shouldn't out hp basic units. It is also to easy to get mass champions. They need to cost more gold and they should have upkeep. I have never not had enough gold to get a champion and there is no tradeoff to purchasing them. A crystal or quest cost would work as well. Basic units could use a hp boost as well.

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January 29, 2012 3:05:44 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Thanks.     That makes sense.   Now all we have to do is wait for the next patch.

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January 29, 2012 4:37:17 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting DsRaider,

Quoting xaltotun, reply 623. That change is in for the next update whenever it is available?

This is by far the most likely.

The xp splitting will help a lot but I hope champions get a little nerf as well. They really shouldn't out hp basic units. It is also to easy to get mass champions. They need to cost more gold and they should have upkeep. I have never not had enough gold to get a champion and there is no tradeoff to purchasing them. A crystal or quest cost would work as well. Basic units could use a hp boost as well.

 

The XP nerf will nerf their HP's as is, as they'll be lower level.

 

Other changes I'd make:

- I agree with buffing normal hp troops up some, maybe troops should be 4/6/8/10 instead of 3/5/7/9?

- magical equipment, there needs to be a way to make more of it earlier, provided you have the right shards and enough crystals.

 

-fire/ice/water shards produce elemental weapons

-earth shards better weapons (can be +damage, +armor, -weight)

 

 

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January 29, 2012 4:43:54 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

New water color is wrong. It looks like someone put blue food coloring in milk. Old color was better, but a still better color would be one that emulates actual water colors rather than just being blue.

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January 29, 2012 5:09:38 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I rewrote one of the city functions to hopefully improve performance. There is that little…stutter I see when I place an improvement.  I also made it so that you can double click on an improvement in the build menu and have it auto place it.

Sweet! I can't wait to double-click my way to improvements. Thanks for another annoyance fix.

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January 29, 2012 5:20:21 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Wonder that the other game they are working on is (:

Didn't something about an rpg get talked about awhile ago? That would be awesome

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January 29, 2012 5:41:29 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

"I'm no artist, but I..."

"I know nothing of DirectX, but I..."

 

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January 29, 2012 5:45:15 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting TheProgress,
"I'm no artist, but I..."

"I know nothing of DirectX, but I..."

 

...and? The forum is full of game design opinions and I doubt there's a professional game designer amongst them.

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January 29, 2012 5:54:57 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Mmrnmhrm,

Quoting TheProgress, reply 69"I'm no artist, but I..."

"I know nothing of DirectX, but I..."

...and? The forum is full of game design opinions and I doubt there's a professional game designer amongst them.

So you'd have no problem letting an artist service your engine and letting a mechanic dictate your interior design? There's a vast difference between giving an opinion and acting.

Brad's free to do what he wants obviously, those comments just made me shiver.

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January 29, 2012 6:26:45 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting TheProgress,

Quoting Mmrnmhrm, reply 70
Quoting TheProgress, reply 69"I'm no artist, but I..."

"I know nothing of DirectX, but I..."

...and? The forum is full of game design opinions and I doubt there's a professional game designer amongst them.

So you'd have no problem letting an artist service your engine and letting a mechanic dictate your interior design? There's a vast difference between giving an opinion and acting.

Brad's free to do what he wants obviously, those comments just made me shiver.

Except Brad is a game developer. A better analogy would be would you want a jet engine mechanic to look at your car engine to see if they might be able to see what's wrong?

He already said he'd be using what he finds as input back to the team. 

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January 29, 2012 7:22:27 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I have some suggestions and comments that I didn't notice anyone else making when I did a quick scan of replies:

The Spellbook needs to have the combat spells in it. Just a tab in the spellbook to view tactical and combat spells would be good.

How do you learn spells? How can I get knew ones? How do I know if I learned new ones? I don't see any messages or dialogues celebrating the use of new spells. I see it's done right now maybe through the traits for champions. This works for giving everyone the basic spells of what they choose to practice. Is there no other way to learn new spells?

Champions. I've played a full game without building an army and just moving the champion stack of doom from tile to tile. Give Champions roles.

If I am an archer or rogue-like champion, my traits and stats should make me efficient at dispatching enemy champions. If I am a mage champion, I should be efficient at controlling the battle with magic (wiping out troops, buffs, debuffs). If I am a warrior champion, I should be efficient at handling large monsters and magical creatures that your standard knight can't handle. Finally, there's the governor or politician who stations themselves in a city and hangs out there all game, giving bonuses to stationed units and production.

Doing that, you have a need for each different champion type and what they can accomplish. Use traits to make them better at what they do and worse at the rest. The rogues could have a trait that make them go unnoticed by troops, allowing them to get to the enemy mage behind the lines. Armies should be pretty near necessary, imo.

 

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January 29, 2012 8:20:04 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Wizard1200,

Quoting scifi1950, reply 10Maybe the champions could have bonuses that only buff the non-Champion units they are stacked with?

Yep, perhaps the sovereign and every champion should get one talent (+ 5 attack if only one hero is in the party, + 5 defense if only one hero is in the party, + 2 initiative if only one hero is in the party or + 2 move if only one hero is in the party) for free.


How about based on which champion is the leader of the army? There can be only one leader, and that champion's bonus is the one that carries to the rest of the army.

 

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January 29, 2012 9:21:32 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Alstein,
- I agree with buffing normal hp troops up some, maybe troops should be 4/6/8/10 instead of 3/5/7/9?

That would boost their cost, and dmg as well. Their damage is fine. A base unit health boost is what is needed. They also lose too much dmg when they lose hp. Instead of splitting hp between every unit in a squad so even a scratch reduces their dmg, squads should have to lose %35-50 of their health before they start to lose members.

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