Crunch time at Stardock–Fallen Enchantress nears completion

By on October 3, 2012 11:35:45 AM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

Frogboy

Join Date 03/2001
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(this is going to be long…but here we near the climax of the story of the making of Fallen Enchantress).

In the beginning…

imageSo as some of you know, my day job is President/CEO of Stardock.  I founded the company when I was in college to help pay for school – until I could get a “real” job.  Not surprisingly, I was unable to find a real job and so, I’ve been “stuck” here for the last 20 years. I’ve even put my resume on that fancy paper. You know, the textured kind? No luck. So here I am.

When we first got into the Windows market, the games part of our business was largely a hobby. Something we did for fun.  Even today, it’s the enterprise and consumer software I rely on to pay Stardock’s bills. This has allowed us to try some interesting things such as create a very liberal return policy (at the time) that centered around the Gamers Bill of Rights (i.e. if we make something you find buggy that you bought from us, you can return it for a full refund).  Nowadays, most of what’s in the GBOR is taken for granted (reasonable return policies, no CD copy protection, etc.). 

As an industry, we’ve come a long way.  I think the general improvement to the quality of PC games combined with the much much better customer service gamers get is one of the reasons the PC game industry is growing so well again (and yes, I read Internet forums too, don’t let the angry, gullible, or entitled fool you, a PC gamer in 2012 is vastly better off than a PC gamer in 2002 in terms of buying a game, downloading it and having it work and not being hassled with obnoxious copy protection schemes).

In short, it’s a great time to be in the PC game industry.

Beyond War of Magic

HighwayWe took a bruising for the state of War of Magic was released in. And we deserved it. Ultimately, my job is to make sure the stuff we make is really good and in that case, I failed. On the other hand, a lot of good came from it. Today, we make much much better games.

Why Fallen Enchantress is being “given away” to War of Magic early adopters

Giving away Fallen Enchantress to early adopters of War of Magic is a no-brainer.  First, it lets them know that our deeds match our words. It’s easy to say customer friendly things. It’s another thing to spend millions of dollars to back those words up. 

Putting the principle of the matter aside, it’s still good business. The people who bought WOM early on and were disappointed can see that we didn’t forget about them. Repeat customer are the life blood of businesses.  Making our WOM customers know that we stand by our words just makes good business sense.

Our “crunch” time

Our crunch times these days doesn’t mean working weekends or crazy hours. After War of Magic, we made it company policy that crunch times like that would be forbidden. If it looks like we’re going to “come in hot” then just move the date. Don’t debate it, just move the date.  We did that with Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion and we did it with Fallen Enchantress. Even now, I can’t promise you a specific release date.  I’ll wait for Thursday’s build, talk to the QA team, get together with Derek and others and pick a date.

Such a luxury in release flexibility would have been impossible for us just two years ago. Thank goodness for digital distribution.

Flight of the Indies

In the “old” days, there were lots of guys like me.  We weren’t called “CEOs” back then. We were called game developers.  Eventually, most of these companies either got bought up, disappeared or became work-for-hire studios. It’s a brutal business to be in. I’m not sure how many >50 employee, independent, self-funded game development studios are left (feel free in the comments section to list as many as you can think of).  The result is that we tend to mostly see games that are either huge ($10+ million budgets) or tiny (<$1 million budget).  We’re hoping that if Fallen Enchantress is successful that it will help validate that there is a market for so-called “niche” games of significant budget. It’s one of the reasons we’ve spent so much time making sure we get FE right.

Beyond Fallen Enchantress

imageFallen Enchantress paves the way for a lot of exciting and interesting expansions or sequels.  I do hope it does well enough to justify a third game in the Elemental universe (not counting expansions).  It’s a rich world that, thanks to you guys, we’ve been able to develop and mature over the last couple of years into something really special.

The people who helped make Fallen Enchantress

For a modern PC game, Fallen Enchantress has a remarkably small team.  My personal role on the game has been lead developer and AI programmer.  It’s the first time since the OS/2 days that I’ve been the “lead” developer on anything.  We’ll write up a “post mortem” like we did with Galactic Civilizations II.  But broadly speaking, a few developers, a few artists, Derek, Jon, Toby and a few others are the team that made this game.

Here is a sampling of pictures of the team in action:

 

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Derek “Kael” with Bailey. Derek is the lead designer and Project Manager (Producer)

 

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Jon Shafer with his parrot. Jon Shafer designed and implemented the Fallen Enchantress campaign while working on another, unannounced game

 

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Kay (with Jon’s parrot) did all the game icons (like spell icons) and many of the higher quality monster textures

 

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Love all that cool art painting in FE, Leo. Is. The. Man.

 

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Scott (Boogiebac) is our mad scientist, he does…a little bit of everything.

 

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Sarah is my executive planner and keeps me on track between the many different projects going on around here

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Akil manages the art team. He modeled a lot of the monsters and generally makes sure things are getting done.

 

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Paul (Mormegil) makes the map stamps and is our UI wizard along with a thousand other tasks

 

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Emily helps ensure we get our paychecks!

 

IMG_2117

Marketing meeting, Angie, Derek, Skittles, Sarah, Nakor, Brian (Yarlen), and Chris making plans

 

IMG_2123

Toby is the Associate Producer, he is the one who helps Derek with UI design, balance tweaking, and produced the tutorials

 

IMG_2126
Sarah is our go-to person on game system implementation (i.e. implementing new features to the game engine)

 

IMG_2131
Jesse, by contrast, is the 3D engine guru. At a normal PC game company, there’d be a 3D engine team. At Stardock, Jesse IS that team.

 

IMG_2127
Jonny & Ari handle graphics engine work and animation rigging respectively. Ari’s the one who made those cool Mite animations.

 

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Kim, our controller, is the one who makes sure I don’t spend all the money on candy.

 

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Cari (Elf) is Stardock’s senior game developer (lead developer of Galactic Civilizations II).

IMG_2130
Alan is our up and coming engine architect

 

IMG_2125
Kay making icons

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Charles is the go-to guy for integrating XML and the game code along with a million other things.

 

Of course, this is only a partial list, the credits video is shown at the end of the game which includes our valiant QA team, the support team and other team members who ducked out when they say me coming around with the camera. Winking smile

…and now back to work.

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October 2, 2012 4:50:54 PM from Little Tiny Frogs Forums Little Tiny Frogs Forums

It's always nice to see the people behind the scenes!

 

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October 2, 2012 5:10:16 PM from Little Tiny Frogs Forums Little Tiny Frogs Forums

It still amazes me how full the office is...GC1 was mostly Brad, Cari, myself, and one other artist  (thought we did staff up later with 1 more artist)  

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October 2, 2012 5:18:19 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

It's good to connect faces to the names we see on the forums. Hopefully that will make posting somewhat more civil, knowing there's an actual person on the other end.

Thank you for making FE and giving it to me and the others who preordered WoM. I really do appreciate it. I'll dig out my pewter dragon from the collector's box to watch me play FE on the release day. High time he got out of his prison

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October 2, 2012 5:24:14 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

good work everyone.  keep it coming.

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October 2, 2012 5:25:56 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Looks like a fun group and work environment, am jealous.

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October 2, 2012 5:28:09 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

You guys must keep the air conditioning turned way down. I noticed in most of these pictures and ones posted in the past, people are always wearing jackets or long sleeves  .

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October 2, 2012 5:28:24 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

The land of big monitors... I like
PS didn't know Derek was a dog, and what does bailey in the blue shirt work with?

Sincerely
~ Kongdej

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October 2, 2012 5:48:17 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums


 Thanks to all of you guys -n- gals for working so hard on such an amazing game!

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October 2, 2012 6:00:55 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I guess everyone here but me knows Frogboy's real name, but I would still like to know which picture is his.

But! If that's a collared frog in Derek's lap, I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW.

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October 2, 2012 6:08:12 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

i

Quoting Tuidjy,
I guess everyone here but me knows Frogboy's real name, but I would still like to know which picture is his.
.

It's Brad, and his picture's not up here (he's very shy).

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October 2, 2012 6:28:17 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums


Nice to see the behind the scenes people. Also good to know that a parrot is on the job

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October 2, 2012 6:35:12 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Truly awesome work ladies and gents, thank you.

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October 2, 2012 6:45:03 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums


Thank you all so much from the Keystone State - Pennsylvania   All your hard work is so greatly appreciated!!

 I am really enjoying your game!

 

Thanks again

 

Basher

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October 2, 2012 7:05:27 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting ,

Even now, I can’t promise you a specific release date.  I’ll wait for Thursday’s build, talk to the QA team, get together with Derek and others and pick a date.

Derek and QA Team please hold strong.  Don't let Brad persuade you into releasing a buggy game.  I know.  I know.  Developers don't write any bugs.  Just trust us on this one.  We're not ready yet.  I know that games are never truly finished.  Just a little longer please.

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October 2, 2012 8:29:51 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Trojasmic,

Derek and QA Team please hold strong.  Don't let Brad persuade you into releasing a buggy game.  I know.  I know.  Developers don't write any bugs.  Just trust us on this one.  We're not ready yet.  I know that games are never truly finished.  Just a little longer please.

Ditto.

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October 2, 2012 8:58:53 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I would absolutely go out and buy a pet baboon if I were Derek just so's he could upstage Jon's damn parrot.  You know those two probably have some weird inner office pet rivalry.  And not just any baboon, but the kind that have those weird red buttocks just for the annoyance factor. 

 

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October 2, 2012 9:07:53 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Trojasmic,

quoting post
Even now, I can’t promise you a specific release date.  I’ll wait for Thursday’s build, talk to the QA team, get together with Derek and others and pick a date.


Derek and QA Team please hold strong.  Don't let Brad persuade you into releasing a buggy game.  I know.  I know.  Developers don't write any bugs.  Just trust us on this one.  We're not ready yet.  I know that games are never truly finished.  Just a little longer please.

Sheesh. Thanks a lot.  Since *I* am the one who gets the blame when something goes wrong, why would I want a buggy game?

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October 2, 2012 9:21:50 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Thanks for all the hard work! Why do I hear "The Final Lap" from F Zero in my head... 

 

Working on that other game... (must keep quiet... stay strong) 

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October 2, 2012 9:23:22 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I never got the need to rush on non-retail projects due to how Stardock handles pre-release.  The folks who are upset and want the game, are already playing it for the most part.

 

 

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October 2, 2012 9:41:34 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I do hope you read the forums to read the couple encouraging rare words that I write :/

More, I do hope you transmit my words to the people who don't frequent the forums ! I'll hold you responsible for this !!!

EDIT: I consider that I paid FE enough for my compliments to be told to the team (and especially during an important meeting with them)

Anyway, great team great game that will get better ! When can we pay you guys for extensions ?

We do tend to forget there are accountant, controller and other guys and gals who do not touch the game (or even play it?) and they are just as important as the rest of the team ! 

Well thanks to all of you and with such a studio and the way you get money (I mean sometimes I wonder how can a game studio live with the few but hopefully huge benefits that you get... I mean ok there's a lot coming at once and pay employees (and bills) for a while but isn't that economic model stressing to be in ?)

Well thank you to the entire star dock team (let's include the guys behind SOASE in that) and please, post more pictures and info about the team !

Theres a post above mentioning that makes you more human... Maybe players / forumers should do the same so we don't seem like complaining monstersmonsters to them ? Lol

They probably see us like vampires who spilt blood on them and are deadly thirsty to get more on their dead and cold bodies ! (well, it's halloween soon isn't it ?)

Ok, next time I'll keep my analogies / metaphors for myself You get my idea, do you?

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October 2, 2012 9:58:32 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Vallu751,
It's good to connect faces to the names we see on the forums. Hopefully that will make posting somewhat more civil, knowing there's an actual person on the other end.

Thank you for making FE and giving it to me and the others who preordered WoM. I really do appreciate it. I'll dig out my pewter dragon from the collector's box to watch me play FE on the release day. High time he got out of his prison

DITTO THAT!

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October 2, 2012 10:59:12 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I preordered WoM way back when precisely because it was a Stardock game. I felt confident that even if it was not all that was promised on release, it would be eventually. Of course I didn't anticipate it taking as long as a sequel, but I can't think of another company aside from Blizzard that would actually say "well, that didn't work. Let's start over."

The transparency of Stardock's development I think buys a lot of goodwill and patience as well. Being able to communicate with the actual developers, and even reading their critical and sometimes negative views on their work is so refreshing.

As for the game itself, you've all come a long way since WoM 1.0. Back then it felt like a full blown 3D game from a company that wasn't equipped for it. A lot of textures were bland, animations were stiff and lacked variety, the particle effects were boring. FE is like a whole other game visually, and rather than looking dated, it's settling into the coveted slot of "looking like it's supposed to look." I find, especially in 3D, that there are games that push the envelope and are doomed to look dated in a few years time when the envelope leaves them behind, and then there are games that look like what they look like. They have a particular style that has nothing to do with technological capabilities. Nintendo has been doing this for decades, producing vibrant, colorful worlds and characters that make use of available technology, but are never defined by it. Katamari Damacy lives and breathes it. Perhaps it doesn't grab as many initial sales, but it makes for games that age well.

It's also nice to know that there's a "real" credits video coming. I actually completed my first game of FE a few nights ago - sad yes, but between bugs, untenable situations, and new beta versions, I just never got all the way through - and the silent text scroll overlaying the main menu seemed a very poor "reward."

 

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October 2, 2012 11:07:33 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Alstein,
I never got the need to rush on non-retail projects due to how Stardock handles pre-release.  The folks who are upset and want the game, are already playing it for the most part.

 

Well said.  The main limiting factor is just people wanting to start working on other stuff.  I'd love to polish indefinitely. But at some point, it's time to let the baby go. I don't think we're there yet.  There's still too many rough spots.  But C++ wise, it's just about there.

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October 2, 2012 11:31:03 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Good luck on the release! I haven't really touched the beta so I'll be looking at FE from a fresh perspective. Hope you guys are successful and some day add multiplayer back in, for the niche of the niche!

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October 3, 2012 12:10:35 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Vallu751,
It's good to connect faces to the names we see on the forums. Hopefully that will make posting somewhat more civil, knowing there's an actual person on the other end.
 

Good Point !  ... I hope (I think) that I have repeatedly said on these forums that I am very impressed with the efforts of your whole E:FE Design team.  I really do think that you have been doing an amazing job; and I am really happy with the result (the Beta 5C) already!   I  know  that I have (more than once) saluted Paul Boyer (and the Art Direction Team) on the unique, immersive, and compelling visual universe that they have created with this game.  It really is a beauty.

Thanks for sharing!  I also agree with what Alstein suggested in his Reply #20 -- that the way that Stardock has involved so many Beta testers (the folks who really wanted to participate, and to watch the evolution of this game) for so many months, means that I am in no greatl hurry to get to the finished Retail version.  I can "play" every day as it is! 

Well ... not much Original Content in my Reply here ... but I am happy to echo the folks here who are thanking you, for all of this Magical, Mystical, Armchair-Adventurous, and Brain-boggling  *FUN*  that you have been delivering here.   

This really has been some  Major Fun!      

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