Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.

 

EscalationGradient

This is going to be long and go into both Escalation, the development of Ashes of the Singularity and discuss the technological singularity.

Our story so far…

imageThis past Spring Stardock released the real-time strategy game, Ashes of the Singularity.  It’s a game set in the post-technological singularity future in which humans have begun to expand to other planets.  In this future, a single individual is so powerful that they can manage entire armies of semi-autonomous machines called constructs.  In Ashes of the Singularity, the player is part of the PHC (The Post-Human Coalition) tasked with dealing with renegade humans as well as dealing with a new enemy: The Substrate.

The game received generally favorable reviews with gamers praising the adoption of modern hardware to deliver an unprecedented scale to the genre and gorgeous visuals (provided you had the hardware).  But the game was also criticized for having a campaign that felt tacked on, uninspired art direction and a tendency for those thousands of units to end up being a giant unmanageable blob late game due to the game’s insistence on keeping the camera relatively close to the action and a general feeling of missing strategic depth.

In November, we are releasing the first expansion pack, Escalation, which aims to address those criticisms and more. 

For Escalation to be successful, we first needed to think long and hard about some of the basic premises for the game.  And now for those thoughts…

Not a technology demo

image

Since Ashes of the Singularity was the first DirectX 12 game and includes a built in benchmark for testing DirectX 12 thoroughly, it naturally received a lot of coverage for its state-of the art engine, Nitrous.  This caused many people to conclude that the game itself was a technology demo.  And to be honest, while that wasn’t our intention, a pretty decent chunk of our time and budget was spent on the underlying technology to drive the game which naturally meant less time to think about the game itself.

With real-time strategy games, you can’t really escape addressing the technological requirements.  I’ll spare you the details here as I wrote about it, at length over at IGN. So it is true that a lot of our thought was going into how to build Ashes of the Singularity since, for us, Ashes of the Singularity is a long-term project for us.  We strongly believe that there is demand for real-time strategy games, the challenge is to make any new RTS compelling.

imageMisconceptions

It wasn’t until Ashes of the Singularity was released and we started talking to other RTS developers that we realized our market misconception on the genre became fully realized.

Here is the short version: In the age of digital distribution your game competes with every game that has ever been made.

When we released Sins of a Solar Empire in 2008 we were only competing with the other 38 SCUs at Walmart.  What some other RTS had in the past was irrelevant because it was not competing with us for sales.  Sins of a Solar Empire didn’t have to compete against a Homeworld: Ultimate Edition or really even Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance (other than at the beginning). 

Ashes of the Singularity was released fully realized. Every unit, map, etc. was planned from the start.  We added a campaign (something Sins didn’t have) a couple months before release because players wanted one.   So from our perspective, Ashes of the Singularity was the most mature new game we’d ever released.  Months of QA and testing along with great support from AMD, Microsoft, Intel and NVIDIA meant the game wasn’t buggy on release.  Both races came with about 15 units each, a strong AI and lots of maps.  So great right? Wrong.

Your game competes against every game ever

Game Price on Steam
Company of Heroes  $19.99
Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance $14.99
Age of Empires II HD $19.99
Ashes of the Singularity $49.99

One of these is not like the other.

The argument “But Ashes of the Singularity is new!” is not very compelling on its own. 

The player wants to know “Why should I pay $50 for your game when I can get these other games, that have a lot more stuff, have been vetted for years, have established communities are less than half the price?”

Ashes vs. The World

So what makes Ashes of the Singularity distinct?

  1. Ashes of the Singularity can support huge world-wide armies…But SupCom: FA supports pretty large armies and has strategic zoom so managing them is easy.
  2. Ashes of the Singularity has true line of sight…But Company of Heroes has that too and takes cover and position into consideration for calculation damage.
  3. Ashes of the Singularity has a really good single player sandbox with great AI…but Company of Heroes has pretty good AI too.

In fact, if you were to make a table of features comparing recently released RTS games to the classic and the comparison chart looks pretty brutal right now.  It’s not that the RTS market has died, it’s that new RTS games don’t compare well against games with $20 million+ budgets from the past. 

What Ashes has going for it is technology.  It is a brand new, 64-bit, multi-core, 4th generation engine.  The first of its kind.   What it needs is time to build up the content and refinement of the classics.

Unfortunately, it was released under the old retail model. It’s a new, fully featured game and thus is $49.99 – the same price or less than other new RTS games when they were released at retail.  That model no longer works.

Finding your niche

The original plan for Ashes of the Singularity was that it would be a roughly 15 unit per faction game with DLC and expansions adding new races, maps, naval (add say 4 naval units) and stay very accessible as a strategy game.  In our PR for Ashes, we talked about Ashes being a “reintroduction” to the RTS genre for a new generation.  With hindsight, that’s breathtaking naiveté.  People interested in dipping their toes into the RTS market could try out Supreme Commander 2 for $5 during the next Steam sale.  Even if youdon’t like Supreme Commander 2, you must admit that it does a pretty decent job as a casual introduction to RTS games (92% review score on Steam btw).

For Ashes of the Singularity to succeed, it has to find a niche that can leverage its strengths that no other game has now or is likely to have in the near future:

  • No one can touch Ashes AI potential. The engine scales almost linearly today to 10 cores. We are not aware of any other RTS that scales beyond 2 cores. That means the AI can keep getting more sophisticated over time.
  • No one can touch Ashes potential for strategic depth. Potential being the operative word since it doesn’t have that today.  From a simulation point of view, Ashes can do crazy complex stuff.  The game needs to evolve in that direction.
  • No one can touch Ashes visual potential presently.  5K montiors? 8K monitors? Ashes loves them.  HDR color? Vulkan? Movie quality lighting? Ashes can do all of that and more. 
  • Ashes has amazing modding potential if we can get tools and exporters to the community.  With 64-bit memory and a data driven engine, modders could literally recreate every RTS they ever wanted. We just have to build the tools for modders to do this.

But the key takeaway is niche. It has to find its own niche.  You can’t be all things to all people when you’re competing against every game ever made.

Escalation vs. Ashes

By this Summer, we realized we had two different paths we wanted to take simultaneously.  We still wanted to have an RTS that acted as a good modern introduction to the genre.  One that was constantly supported with improvements and updates but also kept fairly approachable and inexpensive.  We also wanted an RTS with immense depth and detail that was most definitely niche in its demographic.  This game would target the experienced RTS gamer who has always wanted to run a world wide war against lots of opponents and deals with lots of resources and strategies and doesn’t feel rushed. 

From these two contrary visions we got:

Ashes of the Singularity (the base game)

and

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation

Supporting early adopters

The idea of pricing Ashes of the Singularity to compete on price at $19.99 sounds great on paper until you remember that a lot of people paid $49.99 for the base game.  They have to be made whole otherwise you are punishing your most loyal fans. How do address this?

Because we know the Founders and those who were in Early Access we can do something for them: Give them all the DLC for Escalation until they get enough DLC that it more than makes up for the price difference.  Whether that be a year or three years.

imageEscalation Design Premise

I’m going to be up front about this.  Escalation isn’t for everyone.  We are adding a lot more units. A lot more map types. We eventually will be adding more types of resources along with more units that will require those resources types.  There will be units you build that you will automate to go and do things for you.  In short, you will be building a machine. It’s an RTS with a lot more depth than the base game.  That’s another reason why the base game will continue to be developed and evolve too because some people will want a simpler, lighter RTS.

 

Next up: What’s new!


Comments (Page 2)
on Oct 18, 2016

ASADDF


Quoting Richy_Young,

Remember the meta function can play havok with unit movenents. Last thing you want is a group of t1 units running backwards across the map to group with a t2 to then move them alll back to where they where.



In Escalation that does not happen anymore, but at the same time its a problem, because when you create a Meta Unit and send it to a location the faster one will get there first, and if that happens you may loose the war if yuo meet another Meta unit that will destroy the smallest unit first while the slower one are still moving to get to that specific location.

So i am not sure how Stardock will optimize that when they release the game in a few weeks.

That's fine though, that's a player's call to make. It's better than trying to cutoff an area, only to have your army turn around and head backwards...

on Oct 18, 2016

Richy_Young

this is already in there if you select a meta group it has a build menu come up, any units you build from that menu will use a currently idle factory to build a unit and send it straight to your meta group.  I personally don't use it though because you can not see very easily what's in the que and no one likes queuing 50 units to build.  thats why someone invented repeat build ques.   It's much more predictAble to have your factorys doing Ques  simply group the factory's to ctrl group 1 and change the rally point in the fly. 

Thats not the case i was talking about. I know you can call for reinforcements for meta units. The problem im adressing is: you have 4-5 factories in point A (far end of the map, where you spawn in the beginning). You expand some more, you build some more factories at point B in the middle of the map. Lets say all of your factories are idle. Your meta unit is somewhere at the middle of the map. You order some reinforcements and guess what, there is a fair chance that reinforcements will begin building at point A, instead of point B (that is closer to meta unit and frontline). So your units loose time for traveling to your meta units.

What i am suggesting is directly assigning factories to a meta unit. For example i assign factories from point B to reinforce meta unit whenever that meta unit requests reinforcements OR directly producing units that automaticly are assigned for meta unit (order units in repeat queue and when units pop out of factory they go to the same command group as your meta unit). Factories at point A, for example can be left alone to work in standart mode or be assigned to a different meta unit that is closer to them or form a new army etc.  

Repeat queue that you pointed out, doesnt actually solve the problem i listed, cause you have to set a rally point for those units, you have to constantly control what units are built and it get a little bit complicated when you actually want to divide some of built units to be assigned to a meta group and other to be sent elsewhere (cause they stay at a "blob" of units at the rally point). There is also a problem with getting the right balanced comp of units to you meta unit. For example if you want a comp of 10 maulers 5 drone hives in your meta unit, but 2 maulers and 3 drone hives been shot down, but your factories provide more types of units on repeat queue, you would be required to manually seek and add to you meta units those 2 maulers and 3 drone hives. But when you actually have control of your meta unit and see what units are there currently present and what units should be assigned to it, you can easily order some needed units from the reinforcements tab.  

Less micro, less pointless manipulations, more effectiveness. 

on Oct 18, 2016

Nonsense.  Your memory on Sins is just plain wrong. 

Anyone could open up a scenario in notepad and make their own. It's easy.  

Sins is not that easy to mod. It's that modders took the time to take it apart.

 

You respond to a comment on how modding capabilities were discussed, or in the case of Ashes, not discussed, by saying a veteran Sins modder that pioneered ability design has a faulty memory about how easy it is to mod, and my reply is nonsense?

 

There were guides to gameplay modifications before Sins even released.  There were discussions on modding capabilities almost a year in advance.  Total conversions were being worked on when it was still an alpha.  Veteran modders from Homeworld and Empire at War were on that shit before it even got off the ground, note the complete and utter lack of any such things for Ashes.  No one shows up to a party that isn't even announced, modding has had the briefest of mentions to founders, and dick else beyond map editing.

on Oct 18, 2016

Frogboy

Sins is not that easy to mod. It's that modders took the time to take it apart.

I have to disagree here.

I have never modded a game before Sins, and between the Modding documentation and the huge modding community, it was extremely easy to learn, and was by far the biggest feature that drew me to Sins and kept me here since Entrenchment. 

Maps are feature me and my friends never bothered with in any RTS.

on Oct 18, 2016

myfist0


Quoting Frogboy,

Sins is not that easy to mod. It's that modders took the time to take it apart.



I have to disagree here.

I have never modded a game before Sins, and between the Modding documentation and the huge modding community, it was extremely easy to learn, and was by far the biggest feature that drew me to Sins and kept me here since Entrenchment. 

Maps are feature me and my friends never bothered with in any RTS.

When did you start modding Sins? Was it 6 months after release or after thousands of people had already figured out how to do things?

One of my personal pet peeves is that many people who call themselves "modders" are not really modders. They're just looking for more custom game setup options.

I've been modding games since the 90s and back then, it involved hex editing and decompiling code.  If you wanted a map editor, you'd write a VB app that read in the binary code and figure out how to display it.  

Now, people won't even make scenarios for a game unless there's a friendly GUI tool to do it for them.  The scenarios in Ashes I wrote with a text editor. I had a couple samples to work from and went from there.

on Oct 18, 2016

Frogboy

When did you start modding Sins? Was it 6 months after release or after thousands of people had already figured out how to do things?

Like I said I didnt come into Sins until ENT, but the forge tools was all I needed to make my 1st mod

First I downloaded the tool pack and read and tested the tutorials

Then I made my 1st mod using nothing but the tools released.

It wasnt until I started to model that I needed lots of advice as I have never done it before and your tutorial pdfs while helpful, were lacking.

 

Frogboy

Now, people won't even make scenarios for a game unless there's a friendly GUI tool to do it for them.  The scenarios in Ashes I wrote with a text editor. I had a couple samples to work from and went from there.

Typically, that is all people need for scenario building, but I dont think that is what modders want. They want to change stats, sounds, music, graphics etc. If they need a UI to do it, they don't deserve it. EDIT: except for maybe something like Particle Forge

 

on Oct 19, 2016

Re Modding:

There are TWO areas I find Ashes lacking in the modding area right now.

#1 no particle editor

#2 No built in way to convert fbx files to oxfiles.  

Both ARE coming.  But the lack of this wouldn't keep a dedicated modder from figuring it out. It just makes it harder.

Since all our games are using Nitrous from here on out, we'll release these tools as they mature so it's not a long-term issue.

on Oct 19, 2016

Re Modding: 

 

Using the nitrous engine, is it technically feasible to mod the AI? Especially for future games using the nitrous?

on Oct 19, 2016

Frogboy


Quoting Frogboy,


 

One of my personal pet peeves is that many people who call themselves "modders" are not really modders. They're just looking for more custom game setup options.


 

Exacly.

Personaly i dont need call me a modder because its the way i live in games long time.

By now most of you people that play online in public servers must of at least once encountered a modder.

Modding refers to the act of modifying hardware, software, or virtually anything else, to perform a function not originally conceived or intended by the designer.


What is a MOD:

Mod, short for modification is a term generally applied to a customised (or altered) computer game made by the general public.

A mod can range from a total conversion with new gameplay, look and feel through to minor alterations which could include new models, weapons, maps etc. There are plenty of types and tons of styles, a mod can be anything the creators want it to be.

Purpose :

The purpose of a mod is to change the game and add an extra dimension of replay ability and excitement.

Mods have even being known to outshine the original game, and playing such a mod may become even more common than playing the unmodded original.

They increase the lifecycle and sales of games, benefiting both the players and the publishers who both get more bang for their buck!

 

I have wast about 5 months to understand all Ashes game, just for scenarios was 2 months and to understand every scrip funtion was 1 month + 2 months for assets and organize all has i like thinking in future modding team ,with units design by us so when we can make units ( we already can ) every balance can be made exacly like the ashes team do.

 

You can make a unit and build , but for you make them work in the game with the right balance thinking in both factions, you must know the game so you can make your assets to that particule unit or build, and that belive me makes you wast lot time so you really must like it .

 

I have several Scenarios to Escalation that i will have to work them again when comes out with WorkSteam with + 3k lines Brad knows that can be possible , and you guys will have really lucky and im glad with scenario editor .

So you can imagine that be a modder its not always fun.

 

You want make units you have to make them think in the game and players style and thats not always easy or no one will use your units.

 

But when you see your work really be use and players enjoy its really a pleasure to any modder like im see players use my mod themes ( already have more 4 diferent themes 2 for main base game + 2 thinked for escaltion ) ..

I decided over with Webpage and use only this one. Click

 

Just a note, buy escalation because its a awsome upgrade to main base game.

And we are the best community around so nothing to loose

on Oct 20, 2016

This dev diary inspires great confidence. They agree that their first objective was in fact to build the tech of the game (which, to be perfectly honest, was pretty apparent) and left relatively little energy to build the actual gameplay. That is fair, but it does make Ashes a relatively weak RTS entry as of right now.

Having big plans to make Ashes the greatest RTS game ever, now that the tech is there and they can focus on the gameplay itself, seems very reasonable. I also like how they wanted to build a massive, incredibly detailed and ambitious strategy game, but could not reconcile that with wanting to make an approachable strategy game. Splitting it into two is one way possibly to do this, but it seems to me this actually makes the whole endeavor even more difficult and larger in scale and complexity to make it happen.

The most important thing they need to do is make the gameplay strategically interesting. Instead of just assembling the largest possible army and smashing them together, there needs to be strategic decisionmaking. There are endless numbers of possible ways to do this, but they all involve imposing limitations and creating options.

For example, one thing which I believe they should do is limit air power by firmly attaching aircraft to airbase structures, but make the aircraft very fast and very powerful. Seizing territory for the purpose of constructing an airbase, for air staging there, will allow players to project power quickly around the airbase using planes. Naturally this can be counteracted using anti-air, including air superiority from your own airbases. This creates an interesting dimension of gameplay in the skies which requires taking and holding ground, as well as choosing when and where is an opportune moment to risk exposing your planes for a bombing mission on a suitably important target.

Artillery and reconnaissance also need a great deal of development. Bases, garrisons, sieges, and assaults also need a lot of work in order to be more of a decision than just to drive into close quarters with everything you've got.

Ashes has the unique potential to be such a large scale that, for the first time, players can be put into the position of giving complex orders to large groups of units. And the player's high-level orders can be executed by a fairly capable subservient AI. Such as directing a large army to lay siege to a target base, causing the player's army to perform a very different series of actions than if the player orders the army to remain at standoff, or orders an immediate direct assault.

on Oct 20, 2016

StormingKiwi

Re Modding: 

 

Using the nitrous engine, is it technically feasible to mod the AI? Especially for future games using the nitrous?

AI is on a per game basis.  In Ashes, you can build your own AI personalities by modifying the AI XML.

on Oct 23, 2016

Oh lovely I had seen that we could alter the personalities so thank you for opening that up. Is it also possible to mod the AI itself?  E.g. Topware Interactive, the developers behind Earth 2150, released a tool called Earthc that allowed modders to write scripts for unit AI. I guess what I'm really asking is whether modders will be able to write code for the unit, tactical and strategic AI in Ashes.

on Oct 23, 2016

StormingKiwi

I guess what I'm really asking is whether modders will be able to write code for the unit, tactical and strategic AI in Ashes.

 

Yes we can do that.

We can create a unit from scratch and change everything to our own taste.

In the AI we can change everything and make it as we want.

on Oct 23, 2016

TAG_Utter


Quoting StormingKiwi,


I guess what I'm really asking is whether modders will be able to write code for the unit, tactical and strategic AI in Ashes.



 

Yes we can do that.

We can create a unit from scratch and change everything to our own taste.

In the AI we can change everything and make it as we want.

Really? Excuse my incredulity, I haven't figured out how to do that yet. How?

on Oct 28, 2016

I dont know, to me it feels like Ashes does not lack sophisticated content yet, the game has all the things it needs to become great lieing in front of it, the problem lies for the most part in the pathfinding of armies. I am not kidding - if you want to add really high-end content, the game needs to get the basics right first. I dont think anybody would care about True line of sight in CoH if the squads would need roughly 15 seconds to start moving to the new position when you give them an order.