The Past, Present and Future of Elemental

By on January 30, 2013 6:11:21 PM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

Frogboy

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After we complete upcoming expansion pack for Elemental: Fallen Enchantress (which we expect to announce NEXT WEEK) we have to do some hard thinking.  Specifically, what do we do next? After some trials and tribulations we’ve put together what is, in effect, a Master of Magic style engine (and before someone flips out, I’m not saying FE is just like MOM, I am saying that at this stage, our *game engine* is finally capable of actually making that game which is obviously was not capable of in 2010).

But first, let’s look at the history…

Once upon a time…

After Galactic Civilizations II I wanted to do a fantasy strategy game.  I wrote up a brief treatment and had our lead artist draw a mockup of what it should look like:

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Basically, I wanted Master of Magic with updated graphics and multiplayer. 

During this time, Stardock had the opportunity to publish two games – Sins of a Solar Empire and Demigod. Two opportunities we couldn’t pass up. Meanwhile, Impulse was starting to really take off too.

Now, we’re a small company. REALLY small. People are always shocked at how tiny Stardock is. We might possibly be the oldest independent game studio left (20 years old this year) that still regularly produces new games but the entire enterprise is less than 60 people and that includes our main business – consumer software (Multiplicity, Start8, WindowBlinds, Fences, etc.). 

What that meant,  back in 2008 is that the team that made Galactic Civilizations had to be spread out to help out on Sins, Demigod and Impulse. To do Elemental, we hired up.

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Elemental (and at this point, it was just called Elemental) was going to be a pretty straight forward game. Build cities, capture shards, learn magic, research tech and conquer the world.

Now, Stardock’s game studio didn’t run like a normal game studio. That is, there was really no such thing as a producer or a designer. You either coded or you did art. We had titles but they had no real meaning.  Design was handled by the person who was implementing an “area” of the game (for example, GalCiv II did not have a visual tactical battle display in its design, the person who was assigned to code “resolution outcome” wrote that).

And we had a lot of ideas.  Why stop with Master of Magic’s design elements when you can also throw in Magic the Gathering concepts, Total War, Civilization IV, Ultima, etc.

Slowly, things began to morph as people had more and more ideas get presented.

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The spell system got more sophisticated.

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The tactical combat design scope grew.

And the reality was that all this stuff just didn’t mesh together.  At one point, we even had underground dungeons.

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So when Elemental came out, it was extremely buggy (we had spread ourselves too thin – we had no redundancy) and the individual components just didn’t flow together.

Fall From Heaven

When we looked at what went wrong with Elemental it became clear that we were just wearing too many hats. No one owned the design. No one owned the look of it. No one owned the engine design. We needed to bring someone in who would own the project and enforce their will.

That’s what Kael, the designer of Fall From Heaven was able to do.

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Kael (Derek Paxton) didn’t just have great game design skills, he was a senior project manager at Novell.

Originally, we had planned to do two expansion packs:

War of Magic – Fallen Enchantress and War of Magic – Forge of the Overlord.  But it was decided that we should do a more ambitious overhaul to the base game and this became Elemental: Fallen Enchantress.

Fallen Enchantress

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So with Fallen Enchantress, we ended up with a pretty good fantasy strategy game (if you don’t already have it, GET IT!). We have lots of ideas on how to improve it but the important thing is that we now have a fantasy strategy game engine that is capable of doing whatever type of game we’d like.

And that’s where we’re at. What do we do next? I can tell you one thing, it will not have the word “Elemental” in it.  Why? Check this out:  [Google Search Results]

That isn’t to say we’d scrap all our work and start over with a brand new design and recreate the millions of dollars in art assets.  But it’s not going to be tied to Elemental. But this assumes that our players want us to continue making this style of strategy game at all.

After all, there are some exciting fantasy strategy games in the offing – Age of Wonders 3 I suspect will be announced soon and Eador: Masters of the Broken World looks excellent. Are there enough people who want Stardock to keep making fantasy strategy games of this type to justify that effort?

[Quick aside: What do I mean by “this type of strategy game”?]

Personally, there are two key differentiators in fantasy strategy games that help me define what sub-genre they belong to:

  1. Am I building an empire via starting new cities on a largely empty world (ala Master of Magic)
  2. Am I fighting battles strategically (Fall from Heaven) or fighting them tactically (ala Master of Magic)

And specifically, the question is: Making fantasy strategy games that involve tactical battles, city building and RPG elements? That’s the niche I think we have here. I don’t think we’ve nailed down the perfect blend yet but that’s what time and experience exist for.

And that is what we’d like to hear from you.  Do you like what we’re doing enough to keep Should we continue it forward (and don’t answer “Make Fall From Heaven” its future isn’t tied to this). Also, before someone screams GalCiv III the future of GalCiv is not tied to anything we do here.

Go here to answer:

http://www.elementalgame.com/journals

Discuss in the comments.

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January 30, 2013 6:22:47 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

well that was full of all sorts of goodness  

Fall from heaven and a new space game AND an expansion pack  

I voted MoM2 style.  And by that I take it to mean: 

  • high fantasy world, with different races and a rich world (as opposed to FE's post apocalyptic barren landscape and various colored humans)
  • traditional turn based
  • an underworld/myrrorworld.
  • boats and islands

And keep or evolve the heroes and quests, city building , combat, and tech from FE. 

and no multiplayer it's tradition at this point, let's keep it that way.

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January 30, 2013 6:55:58 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

A very tough choice between evolving FE and going for MoM2, my vote is on evolving FE. I think if FE had crafting, interesting sieges, dynamic quests and more appealing/devastating end-game spells it'd be a truly great game. But mostly I don't want to lose the greatest unique feature we have in FE: the ability to fully customize our units and heroes, both with stats and appearance. I really can't see myself going back to playing a game where equipping a Doomhammer of Total Destruction and Glowing Redness means my assassin with a dagger in each hand gets +13 attack. Nor can I see myself playing a game with only a bunch of pre-made unit designs. I mean... that's been done. In every game ever. Move on, evolve not just FE but the genre.

We've got Eador: Masters of a broken world coming up, and Heroes Might and Magic 6 just out last year. If AoW3 gets announced, I want a game that has its own features rather than heavily resembling the others in the genre (no matter which comes first).

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January 30, 2013 6:56:20 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I really think that FE hasn't realized its full potential yet. We'll see what happens with the expansion, of course, but I would really like things like item creation, flying units, more complex tactical battles, a more fleshed-out city-leveling system, even an underworld (if you must), put into FE. And, more importantly, have the AI be able to use them intelligently. Or, at least, put up enough of a fight that the player is required to use them intelligently.

 

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January 30, 2013 6:57:02 PM from Little Tiny Frogs Forums Little Tiny Frogs Forums

You know, I'd still love to see the original vision Stardock had for a game called 'Society', to come to life. A blending of RTS and RPG in an MMO environment with a high fantasy style.

 

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January 30, 2013 7:00:32 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting pomalley,
I really think that FE hasn't realized its full potential yet. We'll see what happens with the expansion, of course, but I would really like things like item creation, flying units, more complex tactical battles, a more fleshed-out city-leveling system, even an underworld (if you must), put into FE. And, more importantly, have the AI be able to use them intelligently. Or, at least, put up enough of a fight that the player is required to use them intelligently.

 

I completely forgot about tactical battles! YES. More complex, definitely wanted.

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January 30, 2013 7:19:50 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I would be happy with either heading closer to MoM 2 or evolving FE further. FE is a good game, it just isn't the great game it could be yet. I think that if enough effort is put into getting the tension between the big strategic choices right (eg expansion vs vertical growth, economic vs military focus, etc) from the start then the next iteration could be the biz!

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January 30, 2013 7:20:30 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Evolving FE.  I still enjoy MoM a lot, but doing a newer version of what's been done before is only the thing to do when you don't feel you can do better.  Your team has plenty of skill, the memory capabilities of computers are far greater, and you have different ideas.  Go for it.

 

...But fix diplomacy before you do.

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January 30, 2013 7:20:52 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

When you evolve FE it will eventually embrace some concepts of MoM, like crafting and races. Dont need to be MoM2, but there are good ideas there. Go for better FE, it has a lot of potential.

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January 30, 2013 7:35:31 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Spore/Populace/SimEarth remake with a fantasy world theme

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January 30, 2013 7:42:00 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

My vote is to develop the richness of Fallen Enchantress:  Corsairs and Carracks and Delves and Mercenary Companies on the make!  This game gives you God's plenty within a tight & elegant structure:  hallmark of canonical design.  It's achieved the philosopher's stone of "wild variety in a logical framework" -- the profusion almost of life, but abstracted, highly organized.  See my post of Jan. 28 ("Brilliant Game..."), which is in the main a paean to the game and explains my enthusiasm (shared by many, it seems).  The game has

  • Tactical Battles
  • Customizable Units and Henchmen (great feature, agree with Heavenfall, hard to go back from this)
  • Empire Building & City Development (leveling cities another great idea, agree with Tom Chick's praise entirely)
  • Random Maps (with no narrative imposed from above, thank the gods)
  • Magic, both tactical & strategic

That's the niche you have.  It's powerful, and I can't play anything else right now.  Don't even care about winning:  the experience of this game makes it a classic.

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January 30, 2013 8:27:05 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

My vote was to expand on FE.   FE has its own unique things that no other fantasy game does that could be expanded upon, there are things that could be added, and the gameplay isn't entirely there yet.

 

My other choice would be to use the Elemental assets to make a Kohan-style RTS, but you've ruled that one out already.   I really could see Elemental assets fitting well in that style of game.

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January 30, 2013 8:33:26 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

And specifically, the question is: Making fantasy strategy games that involve tactical battles, city building and RPG elements? That’s the niche I think we have here. I don’t think we’ve nailed down the perfect blend yet but that’s what time and experience exist for.

And that is what we’d like to hear from you.  Do you like what we’re doing enough to keep Should we continue it forward (and don’t answer “Make Fall From Heaven” its future isn’t tied to this). Also, before someone screams GalCiv III the future of GalCiv is not tied to anything we do here.

I think that in general the game is pretty well thought-out as it is right now, and I agree with your critical assessment. One idea which I do think might be worth considering is along the lines of the RPG elements: a whole lot of RPGing tends to follow the quest-gain-levels format popularized by Dungeons & Dragons. But what really made D&D great was not the questing/leveling system, but that the D&D system provided a consistent framework for people to enact make-believe lives for their characters, and this seems to get lost a lot. So, my idea is that if you want to enrich the RPG element of this game, think of ways that the game might simulate the heroes actually living out their lives rather than just hacking and slashing or sleeping in cities. Give them things to do in cities and on the terrain that don't involve combat. The marriage idea that was scrapped from the original Elemental game IMHO was an interesting start to this, and justifiably scrapped in favor of making the game more cohesive, but in terms of enriching the RPG elements of the game, it had (still has) potential. I'd much rather see this aspect of RPGing further developed than the more traditional hack-and-slash or dungeon-delving RPGing. Make me care about my heroes.

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January 30, 2013 8:40:34 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Holy wow.  Seems like you've hit a winner with where Fallen Enchantress has ended up  67% when I just voted, were for improving FE

One option I'd love to see would be a remake of the original Master of Orion with multiplayer  Leave everything as is, just update the graphics and add multiplayer  Then the icing on the cake would be to have Frogboy's AI pulling the universe onto you and I'd be having sooo much fun

Back to FE.  It is great, and I will be playing it for a long time to come.

 

Thanks Brad and the Stardock team  

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January 30, 2013 9:55:51 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I find that there are very few good RPG games, few strategy games, and almost no games that combine the two. For me, that's why I bought into Elemental because you tried to merge those two systems. Maybe it wasn't a perfect mold but you tried ^$&*$@! And that's more than most other games can say.

That's what I love about Stardock games. When I play them I can feel like I own a part of them either by making a unit in an Elemental game, building a space station or ship in Gal Civ II, or creating a new race and sovereign in Elemental. I own it, it's my creation, and I can live or die by that creation. Please continue doing games with those elements at the core because, quite frankly, you guys do it better than all the others in the industry and is severely lacking in modern games where everything is cookie cutter and pre-designed for you. I love games that give players input and creativity in them.

I'd love to see more done with the "Elemental" core but you could profit from a Fall from Heaven game and, lastly, you know another Gal Civ game would be incredible (not sure why it's not tied to here). Any one of those would be a great project! My only comment on a FfH game would be to allow more player input like you do with the Elemental games. Let us create our own heroes or something... I always enjoyed that mod much more when I gave me and my friends adventurer characters to start off with and level up.

Lastly, the guy above me suggest Master of Orion... I can pass on agreeing with such a comment as that. More MOO is always great.

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January 30, 2013 9:57:42 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I very strongly that the right direction is to continue developing the EFE game system.    At this point it is already and lot of fun.    It's not MOM or AOWSM - its different and very, very good.

I think adding to the richness of he EFE system by DLC, expansions, and perhaps even sequals is the right route.   

I am sure others will have many great ideas but here a few that imho would be good:

For DLC alone we need more varied loot, monsters, champions, and quests.   

For expansions we need

1. added nations

2. added races.  

3. More options are needed in the monsters in the world such as:respawn some type of tougher monster lairs after X number of turns of the original ones being cleared.  i.e. no part of the map would ever become completely safe.

Also have an option in game set up to have true "wandering" monsters in the game in addition to the ones in lairs.  If the player enabled this option:   No lair.  They would just wander around and destroy things until killed.   The higher the monster level of difficulty the tougher these monsters would be.

4. Unique Mercanary units (crossbowmen, slingers, etc) would offer themselves for hire from time to time.

5. More complex dungeon type quests.

6. Armor and weapon sets that would add more bonuses when all are equiped.

7.  XL and XXL map generation.

8. An option for a late game attack by the EFE equivalent of the hordes of barbarians like the ones that pulled down the Roman empire.

I have no idea at this time what a sequal would need to be.

EFE is already so rich but the way it is built leaves a lot of room for new ideas and a lot of fun.


Thanks for creating and supporting such a great game system.

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January 30, 2013 10:25:49 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

FE still has a lot of untapped potential even if the newest expansion better integrates the rpg and 4X gameplay. Why start over when you can build FE into a real classic? 

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January 30, 2013 10:52:47 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I've been playing, critiquing, and enjoying since the EWOM beta.  I've put hundreds of hours into this game & expect the expansion to keep my interest going for a long time.  You have a winning combination here which you can keep coming back to for years. 

I think the real question here is - does the team still have the desire to keep this game going?  As long as you guys are having fun it'll show up in your games & that's what drives ggod games.  It sounds like you have several projects already on the drawing board (GalCiv 3 and Fall from Heaven?) so don't spread yourself too thin or try to expand the team too fast & lose that magic.   

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January 30, 2013 11:20:23 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Regardless of your decision, be it to expand upon Elemental, make a new IP, make GalCivIII, or whatever, the one thing I always look for in empire building games, and rarely get is the feeling that my cities are not only glorified troop factories, like in Sword of the Stars, which is TOO focused on the war side, I want to build, just like in GalCiv and FE, I had the option to make war, but I was perfectly able to be peaceful and stay that way.

(Sins was more war oriented, but I still liked it, specially when I managed to get my starting system in lock down with 4 starbases around the star, filled with bombers. )

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January 31, 2013 12:23:16 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums


I would like to see FE become more Tactical and RPG oriented within a strategic world. What do I mean by this?

More Tactical

Moving across the map is okay, building cities is okay, but the tactical battles is what really grabs me. They could be improved with more diverse maps, LOS, city improvements, terrain and tactics that would require more strategy to win and challenge the player.

Diverse Maps - i.e. forest maze, river barriers, fighting in a small town or village or castle

City Improvements - moat adds a water barrier, city gates channel an attack and shield defenders within the walls

Terrain - blocks Line of Sight, elevated terrain gives a bonus, swampy terrain blocks heavily encumbered units

Tactics - flank attacks, more spells, move units outside the LOS of the enemy to surprise them with a flank attack, etc.

Crafted Encounters that take strategy to solve, not brute force.

RPG Oriented

I would like to see the option for your sovereigns and champions to enter dungeons or ruins unaccompanied by their large armies. For champions to be able to switch weapons in combat or take advantage or more special maneuvers attacks. I would like to see time oriented quests that can have a major affect on game play at the strategic level if they are not completed. I would like to see quests that can affect your relations with other sovereigns.

 

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January 31, 2013 12:54:03 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Glazunov1,
Evolving FE.  I still enjoy MoM a lot, but doing a newer version of what's been done before is only the thing to do when you don't feel you can do better.  Your team has plenty of skill, the memory capabilities of computers are far greater, and you have different ideas.  Go for it.

 

...But fix diplomacy before you do.

 

 

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January 31, 2013 12:54:25 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

GalCiv III!  You know it has its own subreddit, right?

Also, please keep working on FE as is. That is keep patching it, keep releasing DLC and expansions, and please make expansions matter, like they did in GalCiv. The game has a lot of potential and you guys can make it into something really really great. But you have to invest time in it.

PS:

Quoting cugeldaclever,
...But fix diplomacy before you do.

Please do this!

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January 31, 2013 1:13:40 AM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

If you can't make Fall From Heaven III, make something really similar.  Fall From Heaven got just about everything right for a 4X Fantasy game except AI (godawful) and balance (nonexistent).  

 

 

Playing FE, the best parts of the game are when I'm exploring lairs, completing quests, gradually building the strongest champions and armies possible and taking on wildlands.   The worst elements are the standard civ-building stuff (bare-bones and soulless) and dealing with the AI.  FFH had the excellent empire-creating engine from CIV IV, where cities themselves were characters as much (and often more) than an hero unit, and an AI which was at least be semi-sensible in diplomacy.  

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January 31, 2013 2:35:56 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I agree with what has already been said before, keep on polishing FE. I have found one of the more interesting things is the story thread between the Elemental and Galactic Civilizations universes.

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January 31, 2013 2:48:14 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

It is sometimes hard to understand what your words mean Frogboy! I remember you talking about "only balancing" during the beta's while core functionality (in form of code) still has been added.

So - this time - if "evolving Fallen Enchantress's game play" includes lots of new code (not only XML-Tweaks that work around the inherent blandness of some core functionalities) - go for it and tie the game together to feel of one piece. Also please don't forget how essential good single player balancing is to this niche you are trying to fulfil, so if there is a scissor always try to have rock and paper as alternative paths (or at least decisions should mean sacrificing one path in favor of the other - fight no-brainers).

 

 

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January 31, 2013 2:59:14 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

F#@( MoM!! 

Be Stardock in the here and now and build on the great foundation you've already laid.  You have a great thing going.

What exactly are you asking, Frogboy?

Why F#@( with it?

(Pardon my French)

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