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

IMG_2128
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 4, 2012 6:46:51 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

If you do another game in the FE universe I would ask you to consider a RPG game with turn based tactical combat; simialar to that offered in the TOEE, coupled with dramatic world changing consequences for player actions/inactions.

Example: Player learns of planned assault on a keep. If they avoid side quests and reach the keep in time they can assist in its defense. If they arrive late they encounter a keep controlled by the enemy with many friendly NPCs dead and others imprisoned.

 

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October 4, 2012 9:08:14 PM from Little Tiny Frogs Forums Little Tiny Frogs Forums

The new update is indeed out.  We haven't formally announced a release date.  Just to be safe, we will have another update tomorrow (probably) and another one next week (definitely).

We don't want to take any chances.  Thanks for your patience. We're just trying to make absolutely, positively certain that there are no issues on release.

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October 4, 2012 10:05:46 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Frogboy, I hate to sound like a broken record; but I suspect that most of us in the Beta testing group are  NOT  all that interested in seeing you rush, to the release, of the final Retail version. 

As I said in another thread, we get to play every day already, if we want to.  Of course, we welcome  ALL  of the updates, because they represent improvements.  But, for many of us, we are sufficiently concerned that the final Retail version be as close to perfect as possible (so that it will be a resounding success!), so that we are not focused on the  SPEED  of getting it out. 

Obviously, you are making Business Decisions (including sales/income decisions), so you have to do what you think is best.  You are the best overall judges of that.

But you  DON'T  have to apologize for taking your time, to get FE right ...  Many of us (most of us ?) will be happy to wait as long as it (reasonably) takes, to get it right ...            

 

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October 4, 2012 10:32:54 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums


I agree. I wish the game to be a super success because as you mentioned frogboy there is so much potential for this game and if it is a success I hope to see this exploraration of the vast potential for this platform.

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October 4, 2012 10:42:20 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I don't know what to say other than thank you. You guys are awesome.

 

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October 4, 2012 11:31:36 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Frogboy,
I don't know what to say other than thank you. You guys are awesome.

And this is why Stardock is so awesome. Of all of the attributes, it's the commitment and appreciation of customers: Listening to feedback, fixing problems, talking about the status of things, and doing your best to deliver an excellent product.

So thankful for you guys. It's a very refreshing mentality from the large game companies and also a much higher step above the small indies with 2-5 people. Stardock's in a solid middle ground of big enough to be awesome, but small enough to care and be nimble. I'm sure it doesn't feel like it at times, but you really have a great place in the market and are game changers in the industry. 

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October 5, 2012 7:43:57 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I love posts that give the people behind the scenes credit. God job and nice insights

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October 5, 2012 9:01:15 AM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

I've been a fan for almost 10 years now and posts like this are the main reason. Stardock is a gem - good luck on the final crunch!

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October 5, 2012 9:14:22 AM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Yes please...take all the time you need and/or consider...many of us have been awaiting for EFE for a long time. Playing betas not only calms the anxiety, but also allow us to find bugs and help polish it to get a better final game. We all want that.

For my part, I don't mind in waiting as many patches as necessary to get the great game it is already showing. Gameplay and balance tweeking is one thing, but having it free of bugs must be the main target. Playing for days to arrive to a point the game just crashes it is just something most of people will not accept.

Of course, last decision is yours...but if we are here, it is because you wanted to listen our opinion, isnt it?

 

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October 5, 2012 9:17:22 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Yes, take your time.  We want FE to do well, sell well, and then you can make us more games we like.  

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October 5, 2012 9:20:09 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Thx for these insights. Nice to see the people behind the scenes. I´m so jealous. I know you all work really hard, but at the same time you all look so relaxed and pleased.

Thx for giving me games that let me "travel out of this world". I´m a socialworker and let losing myself in gamesworlds helps me to relax. Your work is important.

 

As always... sry for my english.

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October 5, 2012 9:23:42 AM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

our valiant QA team, the support team and other team members
Represent!

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October 5, 2012 9:49:08 AM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Quoting Lantros,
I know you all work really hard, but at the same time you all look so relaxed and pleased.

What you don't see is Brad holding up a sign that says "Smile, or else", and making the finger-across-the-throat gesture behind the camera person.

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October 5, 2012 11:41:13 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting rebelito,

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

(just kidding... or am I?)

Civilization V with the Gods and Kings expansion is actually a pretty great game.  

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October 5, 2012 12:35:26 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Rosco_P,

Quoting Lantros, reply 87I know you all work really hard, but at the same time you all look so relaxed and pleased.

What you don't see is Brad holding up a sign that says "Smile, or else", and making the finger-across-the-throat gesture behind the camera person.


HAH!  

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October 5, 2012 1:48:58 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Rosco_P,

Quoting Lantros, reply 87I know you all work really hard, but at the same time you all look so relaxed and pleased.

What you don't see is Brad holding up a sign that says "Smile, or else", and making the finger-across-the-throat gesture behind the camera person.

I thought those smiles seemed a bit forced...

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October 5, 2012 1:54:04 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

If you look closely, Mormegil is making a map stamp that spells out HELP!

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October 5, 2012 2:10:20 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).

 

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

 

Just for the record, I loved Civ V.  Can you handle that?

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October 5, 2012 2:16:20 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting seanw3,
If you look closely, Mormegil is making a map stamp that spells out HELP!

 

 

There is a skeleton at Sarah's desk and nobody has said a word.  It's almost as if everyone is too scared to say anything.  Why? 

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October 5, 2012 2:16:23 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting seanw3,
If you look closely, Mormegil is making a map stamp that spells out HELP!

LOL!

I also noticed many people wearing headsets. Maybe that's to drown out Brad's voice repeated over the intercom every 5 minutes "GET TO WORK, MY SLAVELINGS!" Or would that be Derek?

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October 5, 2012 2:21:35 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums


Yes the game is looking good.  Please just take the time needed to get this released as bug free as you can. 

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October 5, 2012 3:07:55 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Please, please just fix the issues mentioned in http://forums.elementalgame.com/433265.

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October 5, 2012 3:09:45 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Release it soon and announce Galactic Civilization III. You know you want it.

It's destiny.

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October 5, 2012 3:58:10 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting t1it,
Release it soon and announce Galactic Civilization III. You know you want it.

It's destiny.

As far as I know, last person to say 'it is your destiny' was thrown down a very large and deep hole.

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October 5, 2012 3:59:20 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums


Still an awful lot of balance issues between champions and troops.

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