During the past couple weeks of heavy *playing* Elemental (as opposed to just coding) I’ve come to the conclusion that Elemental is very different than any strategy game I’ve played before. It’s different in a very very good way. But that is going to be a challenge for “marketing”.
The Technical Game play Difference
In my view, Elemental is simply the natural evolution of PC strategy gaming IF PC games were being made explicitly for the PC still as opposed to cross platform. Nearly every new title that comes out these days either is made to be cross platform (i.e. for consoles) or it’s using a licensed engine (that is cross platform).
Being a PC-exclusive game with a PC-exclusive engine means that we can assume that we have at least 1 gigabyte of memory to play with (the Xbox 360 tops out at 512MB and it has to share that with video textures).
So for this discussion, toss out the debates on the latest video cards versus what’s on a console and all that. Let’s consider the ramifications of having a gigabyte of memory to play with. What does that mean in terms of GAME PLAY?
- It means that I can have lots of unique looking units. This matters because the player, at a glance, can distinguish one unit from another.
- It means I can upgrade units in game and have them visually look different. This matters again because, players need to be able to see that this unit is different from that unit without having to click on something.
- It means you can have a much wider range of creatures in the game. Think about that for a moment. Consider any recent games you’ve played. How many different types of creatures were there in it? Even in an RPG. How many? Not many right? That’s because it requires a lot of memory to juggle lots of different creatures.
- It means you can have a lot of different types of buildings that are visually different. How many times in recent years have you played an RPG and entered a building or dungeon that was identical in nearly every way to every other dungeon or Inn or whatever? Why was that? Were they lazy? Was it budget? No. That’s not the question. The question was, was that game ALSO available for a console? Yes. It was memory.
BTW, none of this should be considered console bashing. I love my Xbox 360. It’s wonderful for many types of games. But you could not make Elemental for it. Even if you had a $20 million budget you couldn’t make Elemental for the console. It’s not technically possible on the current generation of consoles.
If I made a game that required a touch screen, that wouldn’t make the iPad a better gaming platform than the console or PC. It just means that particularly game really needed a touch screen. Elemental requires a PC because of its inherent design. That might change some day but not right now.
The effect on strategy games
In every 4X game I’ve played, the start is pretty much the same. You start building cities/colonies/whatever, harvest resources, build stuff, then exterminate stuff to get more resources and repeat as you explore and expand out. (4X).
Elemental is a fantasy strategy game. In it, you’re in that D&D world you and your friends used to play in. You’re in the land of the Elder Scrolls. You’re playing in Britania, Middle Earth, etc. But with ONE big difference: You’re not an adventurer anymore. You’re the King (or queen). Your attitude towards adventurers (who are IN Elemental btw) may change forever once you see them accidentally unleash a greater demon to rampage across the land.
Now, as a hook (the marketing guys love “hooks”), this is cool but it’s meaningless without players feeling like they’re playing in an RPG world. An RPG world is not simply generic strategy game X with magical units. It should feel like a fantasy RPG world.
At the start of Elemental, like the start of any great RPG (imo) it’s about YOU. Not some abstract kingdom but you are in the game. Beta testers know this. What beta testers haven’t got to see yet is the importance of recruiting, especially early on, people (i.e. individuals) who have their own backgrounds and histories and most importantly, skills.
Similarly, players have quests they can go on, can get married, have children, arrange marriages, etc. Now, in an RPG, this is not unheard of. In Fable, my character got married, had children. The difference here is that these children will grow up and be able to lead armies or go on adventures on their own.
NOT innovation, just the logical evolution of strategy games
Being able to have a rich fantasy kingdom (or empire) with interesting unique characters, armies, dragons, economics, diplomacy, quests, etc. isn’t some “new” idea. This is where PC strategy games were already heading to or would have if “cross platform” design hadn’t started coming into play.
Starting in Beta 2, beta testers will begin to help us mold the game towards its public release and then, over the next year, two, or three, let is continue to evolve as new concepts and ideas are considered.