Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
Published on February 20, 2012 By Draginol In PC Gaming

A lot of people who read these posts don’t know me. This post comes from my blog site (http://draginol.joeuser.com) but gets syndicated out through Stardock’s various forums too.

I’m the President & CEO of Stardock. My day job handle on the forums is “Frogboy” (I post occasionally on WinCustomize.com and the other Stardock sites).  But I never intended Stardock to be my career.  I started this company to help pay for college at Western Michigan University, which was the cheapest university in the state at the time that offered engineering classes.

At the time, I had multiple jobs at once.  I taught Assembly language labs for the EE department (micro controller stuff), substituted for professors in freshman lecture classes for the EE department, was the assistant to a Geography professor, worked at Babbage’s (game store).  This was all until I could get a real job.  And when I finally graduated, it turned out Stardock was the best opportunity, so I stuck to it.

Most of the things I’ve worked on have been extremely cool but not necessarily commercially successful.  If we had patented our stuff, I suspect we’d be having a different discussion. Smile 

The thing about the technology industry, whether it be game related,  enterprise related or non-game related it is that it’s always changing. You hear that a lot but I mean seriously, it changes fast.

There’s been a lot of highs and lows over the years. The biggest professional heart breaks of my career were small projects (relative to the rest of Stardock) that mattered a lot to me personally. The most recent was a PC game called Elemental: War of Magic. 

I wasn’t that involved with that game until the end and at that point, my job was to salvage what I could.  It was that project that I discovered cognitive dissonance (technically, there was an incident with an Impulse released title called Warlords: Battlecry that gave me a taste of that).  I thought the game was really good at the time we released it.  But it wasn’t.  I lost a lot of confidence in my judgment on such things.  I was fortunate enough to be able to bring on incredibly talented people who I am proud to say have become good friends to direct these endeavors going forward.

Right now, the games group is concentrating on a new game, Fallen Enchantress. I think the new beta is pretty awesome. But then I remember War of Magic.  I’m a lot more distanced from FE than I was War of Magic so I feel a bit more confident.  But I also wonder whether I’m just becoming part of an increasingly smaller generation.  That is, gamers now expect to be hand-held.  Put a “!” above everything. Walk them through it all.  I really hate that. I liked Ultima IV where I had to question people in town, take notes, and put together the next steps myself. I seem to be a minority.

I don’t really have a theme to this blog post.  I just really hope people like what Derek and his team have done with Fallen Enchantress.  This week will be Beta 2 of that game.  I hope people like it.  I know I do. 


Comments (Page 1)
on Feb 20, 2012

I bet if Ultima IV had had a forum, it would have got a lot of similar feedback.  If people feel like they have a voice, they are likely to complain and demand things.

 

P.S. I liked the first Beta of FE, so I'm looking forward to Beta 2.

on Feb 20, 2012

As someone who's followed Stardock's rise from the GalCiv 2 days (now a surprisingly long time ago), I'd say the issues with Elemental:War of Magic were a temporary setback in a stellar company. Elemental:Fallen Enchantress' general direction and polish are much more in alignment with the ambition of an RPG/TBS hybrid, which are two genres that are difficult to satisfy and even more difficult to merge. I'm particularly excited to see much more of a polished "element" (get it?) to Fallen Enchantress than other games, which is a sign of Stardock as a company maturing.

Or tldr; Don't sweat it, Brad. You're on the right track!

on Feb 20, 2012

Congrats on your successes; shortcomings and failures are an aspect of humanity. It's all relative anyhow.

It may be that gamers increasingly seek simplicity. I don't want to believe it, but it may be so. But even if, it is clear a large population seeks otherwise. Not everything need be a blockbuster. And who wants to live in an homogenized world anyway. It gladdens me to see people do their own thing. Especially where the art and process is valued over product and sale. I value E:WOM. I've valued the whole of the process. It is bold, creative and unique. It's been different. I like that very much!   

on Feb 20, 2012

Not much I can say other than I'm enjoying beta 1 quite a lot. With the sneak peeks into beta 2 I know I'm going to enjoy the game even more.

on Feb 20, 2012

what they said...  AND I loved the untima series... and liked the 'detective' work needed.  Mirrorwind was, in some ways, far superior to Skyrim... So, Draingol, you are not alone.  Perhaps there are fewer gamers that perfer less handholding... whatever, congrats both on your teams succeses, and on the candor of your post.  Refreshing, it is.  Kudos!

on Feb 20, 2012

Unfortunately I too cannot tell is FE is going to be well received by the masses of new players. I have been too close to the game. But I can tell you that I like it. 

on Feb 20, 2012

I just read an article at arstechnica.com:

http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2012/02/should-games-offer-more-help-when-we-get-stuck.ars

I disagreed with the author. I feel similar to Draginol in that I like challenges. In my opinion, great games make you think, strategize, and make decisions that you can't easily unmake. That's one reason I like TBS games so much; they tend to require a level of thought and strategy that your average FPS doesn't. Not to go off topic, it's also why I like tabletop RPG's more than role playing video games: you can't replicate the quandries you face and original decision making required in tabletop with a program. At least not yet.

I like the beta so far. For that matter, I liked WOM when it didn't crash on me. From my viewpoint, FE is learning from its older sibling and is looking fantastic.

on Feb 20, 2012

I think I had Ultima IV on Nintendo, Quest of the Avatar or something.  That was a unique game.  Loved it.

on Feb 20, 2012

seanw3
Unfortunately I too cannot tell is FE is going to be well received by the masses of new players. I have been too close to the game. But I can tell you that I like it. 

Good point. Not only have I followed it very closely, I've discovered my taste in videogames do not necessarily reflect the population.

on Feb 20, 2012

Ooh, you can get Ultima IV for free at GOG.com.

on Feb 20, 2012

One thing that helped Ultima IV was that it was a living world.

In Morrowind, even if it was stuck in a static image of itself, was very much a living world, or rather a living lore  perhaps.

 

I perfer Morrowind to Oblivion (haven't tried Skyrim) and I prefer Fallen Enchantress to E:WoM.

on Feb 21, 2012

I think Ultima IV was the first Ultima I played back on the Commodore 64.  I remember enjoying it quite a bit, and yes it is quite different than most games today.  It was a non-linear play style for one.  You could pretty much just go anywhere in the world (as long as you survived the monsters of course).  You had an ultimate goal, but how you got there was totally up to you.  And the conversation mechanics were pretty cool.   You'd have to ask people questions and they'd answer you on those topics.  And sometimes you'd have to go back and re-interrogate people after finding clues somewhere else in the world.  These days I don' think people would have the patience for an Ultima IV style game.  Or the fact that on the commodore you had to wait 5 minutes every time you'd enter or exit a city, encounter monsters, etc...

 

Anybody play Pool of Radiance or Wasteland?  Those were other fun games back from that time.  I wasted a lot of my youth on those game...

on Feb 21, 2012

Walk them through it all.  I really hate that. I liked Ultima IV where I had to question people in town, take notes, and put together the next steps myself. I seem to be a minority.
It's not exactly a minority. It's a smaller audience than Call of Duty, but there's still plenty of folks who prefer a complicated game. Of course, good interface is better than bad interface, things like the exclamation points can be helpful regardless of depth preference. But we also see games like Dwarf Fortress doing well and making money (despite being given away totally free with no charge for anything) so clearly interface concerns like that aren't the biggest thing for a lot of people.

on Feb 21, 2012

I am optimistic about FE, as I enjoyed BETA1 and played it as it was already released. You are in the final phase here Stardock, and if you got the stamina to finish the game with style, it will be a great game.

That said, its harder to tell if it will be a commercial success. Always difficult to predict. I will be mentioning the game on other forums if its good, so I will do my thing. One example of a small gem with hardly any attention is the swedish game warbarons (on warbarons.com), which is based on the warlords games. Its quality, hardcore, played in webbrowser and should really be a huge success. Yet it is not. There is a group of very dedicated gamers, but the numbers seem fairly stable.

 

All hail FE. It will be good!

on Feb 21, 2012

I didn't play Elemental. One of the reasons being, the very bad reviews. And I even posted about it in my blog (twice), because it was Stardock's, fantasy and turn-based strategy. As I never played it I'll give you my feedback on other things you did GREAT (I'm sure you know, but it's always good to receive extra praise I think). I'll also give you a couple of personal advices on how to increase your game's quality.

What you did great and how to improve it further

The Galactic Civilizations series is/was the space 4X reference of the beginning of the millennium. No need to elaborate further. Congratulations, and THANK YOU for a series of great and memorable games.

The Sins of a Solar Empires series is one of best space 3D RTS experiences there is. Period. People crave and flock for news on Rebellion (I know it by experience in my blog).

I know this may sound a bit simplistic, and perhaps not very helpful but, if you want to understand what you need to do in Elemental to make it better just look at Sins and GalCiv2. Now a few humble pieces of advice from a veteran gamer and games critic (and remember I never played Elemental). There are obviously many more factors that need to be considered and made well to make a great game but I think these 2 are probably the most important ones.

Is your game fun to play? Does it offer enough problems for the player to solve?

1. I have come realize over the years, by experience and literature that the single most important factor in a game is the "fun factor" (pretty obvious alright). But what isn't so obvious is what makes a game fun. Well, the equation (for me) is simple: Pleasure + Surprises. Pleasure being sensory stuff, eye candy and sounds/music (no smell, tact and taste yet, but we'll get there ) Surprises are the key though, and that's why you can have completely unappealing games to the eye and hear and still have a ball playing. And in my experience there are no good or bad surprises, all surprises are equally good in catching the player's attention and force him to react and be curious.

2. What's the "problem" your game needs players to solve? Whatever your game offers, to be qualified as such it needs to offer a problem (or collection of problems) for the player to solve. It doesn't need to be only puzzle-type of problems, maybe your game aims on dominance? (eliminate all opposition) Is it a quest system (need to figure out what you need to know and do?). Need to solve a mystery? Players need a reason to play, they need to feel they are progressing towards some resolve, because that's what we humans do, we like (or need) to solve problems.

Conclusion 

Didn't play Elemental due to the very bad reviews (among other personal reasons). GalCiv and Sins are outstanding products (never question that for a second). Look at those again, and again to understand what you did well. Does your game offers enough surprises? Is the player curious on going some place or do something? Does your game offer enough problems for the player to solve? Riddles, quests, objectives?

Good luck on this new Elemental installment. I'll give it a shot when it comes out.

PS: Since it's obvious that you liked Master of Magic, Civilization, Master of Orion and developed Galactic Civilizations, Sins of a Solar Empire and Elemental I think one of the natural games for you to do next is a Master of Orion sequel. You know it, we know it, it's the natural thing to do.

Thanks for your time.

Adam