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:

 

IMG_2084
Derek “Kael” with Bailey. Derek is the lead designer and Project Manager (Producer)

 

IMG_2098

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

 

IMG_2097

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

 

IMG_2118

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

 

IMG_2119
Scott (Boogiebac) is our mad scientist, he does…a little bit of everything.

 

IMG_2099

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

IMG_2120
Akil manages the art team. He modeled a lot of the monsters and generally makes sure things are getting done.

 

IMG_2121
Paul (Mormegil) makes the map stamps and is our UI wizard along with a thousand other tasks

 

IMG_2116

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.

 

IMG_2115

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

 

IMG_2129

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 3, 2012 12:26:57 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

So those are the powers that be? I guess I thought everyone would be more Greek looking. 

 

And how come the paintings guy doesn't have a name? Those paintings are just awe inspiring. I used to get married just for the art. Now I Ctrl+N for it. 

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October 3, 2012 12:58:39 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums


I just hope that that parrot is not the same that coded Civilization 5...

 

(just kidding... or am I?)

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October 3, 2012 4:46:48 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I hope you polish the game a little more. I would be very sad if Fallen Enchantress fails just short of greatness.

 

And I would advise to wait a few weeks after the release of XCOM, at least.

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October 3, 2012 5:26:08 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Thanks for the writeup Frogboy. I know I been pretty critical in the past but it is only because I want this game to be the best it can be. 

And the game is way above what WoM was. Just squish as many bugs as you can and make the balance better and the game will be ready to go. 

 

It is already fun, not 90 or 85 metacritic fun, but it could get there.

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October 3, 2012 7:13:09 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

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

Isn't that what ceo's do?

~ K

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October 3, 2012 10:09:36 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums


Brad,

What is the current status of the FE modding tools?

At one time about 6 months ago I think you said they were going to be made available sometime around beta Release 5, when the game was much more stable/complete. Is this something that's going to be released at the same time the game is released now and not during beta? I don't recall seeing you post anything on the status of the modding tools lately so pardon me if I missed something.

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October 3, 2012 11:43:16 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

They are probably waiting till after release to give out the tools. There are alot of mod bugs that need to be fixed, so this would be more efficient. I am excited to see the mod community grow though.

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October 3, 2012 11:44:06 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Thanks everyone for the support and kind comments! (with the except of Rebelito and his lame civ 5 crack) It's been a lot of fun to work on.

 

-Kay

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October 3, 2012 12:37:12 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums


It's kinda bugging me that terms like "crunch time" and "home stretch" are being tossed about when issues like champ/troop balance, city usefulness, and the magic system are still receiving a lot of heated debate and community outcry.

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October 3, 2012 12:42:52 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

"It's crunch time for balancing troops and heroes. We are in the home stretch of perfecting city usefulness and the magic system." -Amphibious-American

All of this is done with an ear towards the community, their heated debates and wanton outcries. Probably even gonna listen to people who take things out of context and overreact to terms that they don't fully understand.

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October 3, 2012 12:47:15 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I for one don’t think they are real Stardock employees.  They are models hired by Frog for marketing purposes.  They are just all too good looking and not nerdy enough.  Where are the bandaids on eyeglasses?  Where are the pocket protectors?  It’s all lies I tell you! 

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October 3, 2012 1:14:27 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums


I voted with my wallet already, didn't I, so don't complain... that was half a joke, half a "warning"... I just don't want the parrot to ruin another game I like (and my children, for that matter). You should learn to take comments lightly (but the underlying content seriously).

 

Edit: that was @Kay, forgot to press the Quote button

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October 3, 2012 1:15:07 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting seanw3,
"It's crunch time for balancing troops and heroes. We are in the home stretch of perfecting city usefulness and the magic system." -Amphibious-American

All of this is done with an ear towards the community, their heated debates and wanton outcries. Probably even gonna listen to people who take things out of context and overreact to terms that they don't fully understand.

Ok, I'll eat my humble pie there, thanks. Still, why trot out the end-game metaphors at all?

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October 3, 2012 1:19:34 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Brad, I assume there are plans to continue updating FE with free patches (ala GalCiv 2) even after the 1.0 release, right?

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October 3, 2012 1:29:28 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

You would have to assume so, but I have a huge distaste for the mindset of "we'll release it and balance/fix it after". The game should be balanced and polished upon release and patches should be for content.

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October 3, 2012 1:37:24 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

There is going to be a ton of after release features added. They are only in feature lockdown until release. After that, we will get more stuff according to recent dev posts. I think they are probably waiting to see how well the game is received before making any concrete promises. 

But since I don't work for them, we will get:

-Multiplayer!

-Boats!

-Lord Xia's Pony

-Lots of new mod capabilities (The Workshop, FE XML Editor, Mod Bugs Fixed)

-More balancing

-More content

 

It all comes down to the metascore though. If the score is ridiculously low, the after release content might be cut and added to the expansion.

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October 3, 2012 2:30:41 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting rebelito,

I voted with my wallet already, didn't I, so don't complain... that was half a joke, half a "warning"... I just don't want the parrot to ruin another game I like (and my children, for that matter). You should learn to take comments lightly (but the underlying content seriously).

 

How would I know what youve purchased or not?

Take comments lightly/seriously. Gotcha.

Either way, you're kindof being an ass though yeah? And I just don't feel like tolerating a stupid and rude troll civ5 jab, the likes of which by the way, are super old now. Civ 5 came out 2 years ago - get over it. You and your lovely kiddies can still play civ 4 you know, so no one has ruined your game.

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October 3, 2012 2:37:51 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Did Zebrafox work on Civ 5?

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October 3, 2012 2:42:09 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting seanw3,
Did Zebrafox work on Civ 5?

 

I did not

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October 3, 2012 2:42:20 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Zebrafox,

Quoting rebelito, reply 38
I voted with my wallet already, didn't I, so don't complain... that was half a joke, half a "warning"... I just don't want the parrot to ruin another game I like (and my children, for that matter). You should learn to take comments lightly (but the underlying content seriously).



 

How would I know what youve purchased or not?

Take comments lightly/seriously. Gotcha.

Either way, you're kindof being an ass though yeah? And I just don't feel like tolerating a stupid and rude troll civ5 jab, the likes of which by the way, are super old now. Civ 5 came out 2 years ago - get over it. You and your lovely kiddies can still play civ 4 you know, so no one has ruined your game.

 

Couldn't agree more.  

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October 3, 2012 3:09:34 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Zebrafox,
Quoting rebelito, reply 38
I voted with my wallet already, didn't I, so don't complain... that was half a joke, half a "warning"... I just don't want the parrot to ruin another game I like (and my children, for that matter). You should learn to take comments lightly (but the underlying content seriously).



 

How would I know what youve purchased or not?

Take comments lightly/seriously. Gotcha.

Either way, you're kindof being an ass though yeah? And I just don't feel like tolerating a stupid and rude troll civ5 jab, the likes of which by the way, are super old now. Civ 5 came out 2 years ago - get over it. You and your lovely kiddies can still play civ 4 you know, so no one has ruined your game.

 

hmmm... interesting. I hope that indeed the final game's quality is the complete opposite of the company's treatment of long term customers... assuming you are a true representation of the company, which I hope you are not, given answers like the above. Anyways, I stand my ground; please do not let the parrot code anything for FE.

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October 3, 2012 3:20:54 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Rebelito, you are insulting his coworker and team member, and being an ass.  Stand your ground?  You have no ground to stand on.  Who do you think you are?  A long term customer.  Well golly. That's a big pile of nothing. I will say as a medium time customer, I hope they have Jon do a lot more and I look forward to see what he does at Stardock.  If don't like Civ V, so what?  Obtuse people like you can't accept that a game can be good and not made to your exact taste at the same time.  Grow the fuck up.  And not everyone has your opinion, so don't assume it is anyway right or correct, it's just your opinion   And it didn't need to be stated here, that game came out years ago form a different company.  

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October 3, 2012 3:22:49 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I liked civ 5 in all its glory (as did my wife). I think FE is a great game beyond that which I have hoped for in a 4x game. This company has treated all of its customers greatly and I have yet to have any problem with anybody with the company, including zebrafox. I enjoy all of the models and artwork, because it truely makes it look like a picture come to life. I say great job to all and to all the pets (props for a parrot there) that the company has at the place.

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October 3, 2012 3:25:02 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting rebelito,
hmmm... interesting. I hope that indeed the final game's quality is the complete opposite of the company's treatment of long term customers... assuming you are a true representation of the company, which I hope you are not, given answers like the above. Anyways, I stand my ground; please do not let the parrot code anything for FE.

Funny you should mention "stand my ground", just before this post of yours I gave ZebraFox Karma for standing his/her ground. You are being an ass and are expecting what, people to grovel to you?

A shame there is no ignore function on these boards. /facepalm

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October 3, 2012 3:26:06 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

How bout all yall haters go find your own thread to hate in? I don't think it's polite to throw dirt in a thread that is meant to mark a big occasion for Stardock. If you want to discuss game balance or even other games there are much better places and threads to do that.

 

 

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