Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
Published on November 3, 2016 By Draginol In Ashes Dev Journals

Sorry I haven't been as active lately. It's been Ashes of the Singularity 24/7 here at Stardock.



So let's do this:

## Escalation ##
We had to push the release date of Escalation from November 3 to November 10. This is my fault as I just wasn't comfortable with the balance in the campaign. It was a bit too hard on the default setting and we needed to adjust it.

Obviously, you can change the difficulty level (side note: In hindsight, it's pretty insane that the original game shipped without a campaign difficulty slider) but the default does matter a lot.

Escalation also has added more units to the mix to the point that our review guide is a bit out of date.

For example, the Charon cruiser is awesome. Any army it is apart of is able to teleport reinforcements to it instantly. But it will probably have a lot of threads about it because there's a unit that is very tough to balance. On a huge map with 20 factories going, a Charon is a roving nightmare unless you kill it quickly. So it has to be handled very carefully.

Back when I was a Total Annihilation nut playing in the PGL, I used all kinds of cheese tactics like com napping, jamming a flash into other people's factories (the destroyed hulk would block units from leaving the factory), giving metal generators (consume energy to give metal) and then gifting them to my opponent so that I could assassinate my opponent's commander without worrying about his Dgun. I'm not proud.

I bring up the above because as I play and balance Escalation, it's an endless challenge to find that right balance between what is fun and what is exploitable. Escalation includes a number of really interesting new units that are likely to create some new ways of playing the game that we can't imagine yet. So we'll have to pay very close attention to that.

## Flocking ##
Some of the negative Steam reviews talk about path finding problems in Ashes. But the problem they are experiencing isn't path finding, it's flocking. The units know how to get where they're going just fine. The challenge is what to do when you have hundreds of them trying to get past each other in the most efficient way possible. That requires a really sophisticated flocking algorithm and it's something we've been spending a lot of time on these past couple of months as it is a non-trivial programmatic challenge.

We think we have a suitable solution that should be ready to be made public next week. There are opt-ins that are starting to get pushed out that will test this and hopefully will make positioning armies much more enjoyable.

## Tournament Edition ##
Early next year we are going to create a Tournament Edition of the game. This version will initially be only available to Ashes players to share with 4 friends for free. Ashes of the Singularity: Tournament will be a multiplayer only version of the game to help encourage a bigger multiplayer community.

We still expect 90% of the player base to play the game exclusively single player but we do want to make sure there is a really strong multiplayer community as well.

## Vulkan ##
We have this most of the way completed and have test apps of it ready. The remaining issue is HLSL to Vulkan. One of our partners is working on an HLSL shader converter. Once we have that, we should be able to release a Vulkan version soon after.
Once there's a Vulkan version, we can take a look at SteamOS (Linux) support.

## Roadmap for Escalation vs. Ashes ##
It is important to remember that for us, there is ONLY Ashes of the Singularity. Escalation is an expansion to Ashes of the Singularity. When we are working on Escalation, we are also working on Ashes.


Ashes of the Singularity user interface



Escalation UI


Going forward, we will be differentiating Ashes and Escalation more distinctly and some of that means that certain elements of Escalation will come into the base game or be made available as DLC.

For example, here are some DLCs we are thinking of making available to Ashes players in the future that come with Escalation:

1. Crystaline worlds
2. Volcanic worlds
3. Maps with more players on them

There are also features that are probably going to back into Ashes (for free) that will debut in Escalation such as:

1. The UI update
2. The Substrate economy change
3. Upgrading the Smarty to a Barrager
4. Upgrading a Annihilator to a Deadly Annihilator
5. Adding a low level anti-air defense for the PHC and Substrate that upgrades to a better one.

But over time, you will see the distinction between the two grow.

## Philosphy on RTS game design ##
As some of our Founders can tell you, the design for Ashes of the Singularity was NOT to be like Supreme Commander. I once even posted on our forums that if you were hoping that Ashes would replace SupCom that you would be very disappointed.

So for example, I opposed, in Ashes, to have things like strategic zoom or more than 15 units per faction or lots of defensive buildings. I still am not sure having upgradeable buildings in the base game is a good idea but I feel like I've promised that to the community.

But why? The answer is that Ashes of the Singularity, at its heart, is supposed to be a next-generation RTS to introduce people to the RTS genre.

I read people saying that people should just buy "Supreme Commander: FA" or some other classic RTS. I'm obviously a big fan of Total Annihilation, SupCom, FAF, etc. but are you sure that's the game you really want to use to introduce someone to the genre?

The fact is, a lot of these great games do not work well (or at all) on modern hardware. The mouse cursor might not work or they crash if you're running at too high a resolution or they are no longer compatible with certain video cards and so on.

## Where Ashes will go and where Escalation will go ##
At a recent LAN party for core PC gamers who were NOT RTS players, I had to pick a game to introduce the RTS to them and that game was Company of Heroes. Not CoH 2 (or Ashes) but the original Company of Heroes (this is why marketing hates when I post, I'm recommending Company of Heroes as the best intro RTS game on the market <g>).

The only reason I didn't push Ashes was the hardware requirements. The 2GB video memory requirement was too much for a couple of them. If we could fix memory requirement that then Ashes would be a no-brainer. Alternatively, we can just wait until 2GB video cards are the norm.

If you take a fresh look at Ashes of the Singularity, not as a veteran RTS player but as someone looking to recommend an RTS to someone interested in the genre you'll (hopefully) note these things:

  1. It's pretty bullet proof. You install it on a new gaming PC and it just works.
  2. The game mechanics are straight forward. You capture regions and get their resources. You can then build up those regions and get more resources which lets you build more stuff.
  3. There is some action in the first few minutes (In TA or SupCom, it can be several minutes before you even get to see any boom boom boom).
  4. It's visually gorgeous (on a modern PC anyway).
  5. Losing isn't particularly frustrating. Losing due to a Turnium build up is not generally anger producing. Having someone finally beat you back to your base can actually be fun. By contrast, losing because someone nuked your commander or did a Reaper rush into your base or put barbed wire all over the map or having your entire army melt because you couldn't find your little unit with the right counter to activate its special EMP power and select the enemy unit that would be casting the melt army spell can be extremely frustrating to a new player.

That isn't to say Ashes is perfect. We should have had a mobile orbital nullifier unit in the game when it shipped. We didn't think of it at the time. But we will add that. But overall, Ashes is a really really good introduction to the genre.

By contrast...

Escalation is designed with RTS veterans in mind. We listened to the feedback and realized that Ashes couldn't be a one-size-fits all game.

I spend a lot of time reading RTS communities and the Ashes one is the best i've been apart of. You guys are amazing and your feedback has been extremely helpful. But we couldn't put those ideas and features into Ashes, the base game, even as DLC at any price because at that point, it's not Ashes of the Singularity anymore, it's a hard-core RTS game.

That's where Escalation came in. With Escalation, I am comfortable having strategic zoom (and in fact, it's layered strategic zoom like we did in Sins of a Solar Empire). I'm okay with having a lot more units and defenses.


Strategic Zoom in Escalation

That doesn't mean Ashes, the base game, won't eventually get naval units and more factions of course. None of our plans have changed with regards to the base game. We just want to be able to have a game that targets ALL PC gamers (Ashes) and a game that focuses on veteran RTS players (Escalation).

## How did Escalation get so much stuff so fast? ##
As the Founders know, our sales projection for Ashes of the Singularity were modest. As I posted in our Founders forum last year, our objective was to sell 50,000 units of Ashes of the Singularity before the end of 2016 (not counting OEM sales).

It's not that we didn't have confidence in our game. It's that the demographics are the demographics. 4 core CPUs + 2GB video memory as a base requirement cuts out most PC gamers. It's just that simple. Not many people can play Ashes of the Singularity.

When it became clear Ashes of the Singularity was going to more than double the projections, we beefed up the team. A lot.

  • Ashes of the Singularity = Oxide Games
  • Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation = Oxide Games + Stardock


So once we had a design down for Escalation we had a lot more people available to do stuff.
Anyway, I have more to say but can save it until later. This is already really long. Let me know if you have any questions.


on Nov 03, 2016

IMO nobody is at fault here. You made a difficult decision that we knew wouldn't go down well with some but it was stated a tentative release. I personally feel you made the correct decision so that on release we get a rock solid gaming experience, which I for one am very thankful for. 


Regarding AOTS multiplayer that ashes owners can give away or allow more players is a nice move but your relying on those to dish those out. I would strongly suggest that you make the multiplayer game free to all so that people can just install it off the bat and chances are you will get a much higher player base and customers. I know this may seem out of the ordinary but I honestly feel you would gain a higher return in customers flocking to the game once they see how indepth the game is. 

What I did notice and I haven't got official stats to back this up but I did notice that people were too focused to try the game within the 2 hour steam refund window so they never really gave the game a chance, how could they? It took me a while to get to know what units did what, what buildings were best placed first. it's a RTS that requires full focus and from what I seen, the 2 hours steam refund window for some was something they didn't want to surpass which is a shame had they took the time to learn the game they would have seen how indepth and exciting those battles can be. Just a food for thought. 


Perhaps I'm wrong in thinking that but I did regularly see people just play the tutorial or play the game for under 2 hours not giving the game a chance. 


Are there other little treats that you've thrown in that you can tell us about? Eitherway, thanks for the info and keep up the excellent work Devs. 



on Nov 03, 2016

Just want to say, i've been a fan of stardock from galciv and will be for as long as your keep the company as it is.

i like Ashes, but i'm very eager to get escalation. i love the way you react to the feedback even if it mean working on two similar game. You made the choice to go for it and thats why i will keep supporting you.


on Nov 03, 2016

thank you Brad for the update, we needed to hear from you.

About the Charon cruiser, I do have an idea why not lock the Charon cruiser to teleport a Unit every 10 sec, that may help by giving it a teleportation timer.

So if you need to teleport more units faster, then you will need to add more than 1 Charon cruisers in the each Meta-Unit or Group to get more units in.

on Nov 03, 2016

I'm very happy with my recent Ashes purchase and that's even before seeing Escalation.  You guys have created an amazing engine and an excellent game.  I do have a couple UI betterments (IMHO) which I'll post elsewhere, but clearly this game is evolving and you're listening to your users.  The really encouraging thing - besides the stunning technology - is your engagement with your community, frankness and depth of communication.  I look forward to a long and pleasant engagement with this game which I personally am content to just watch develop.

on Nov 04, 2016

First of all I wanted to post to say good work guys, i'm liking what i'm hearing with the direction that escalation is taking. 

If anyone here has seen my posts on other forums it is likely clear that I was never a massive fan of ashes due to many factors such as repeating techs, lack of tactical zoom, no form of transport (either through teleporters or other craft) and so on(The whole units taking a while to start moving properly thing also got me), but it sounds like escalation is taking a direction that sounds pretty nice to me as an RTS veteran. As I always say whether I like an RTS or not I am always happy to see more on the market in this day and age where the RTS genre appears to be limited. I hope that the upcoming expansion works out for you guys at oxide and stardock, and here's hoping that I can enjoy the expansion more than the original

on Nov 04, 2016


About the Charon cruiser, I do have an idea why not lock the Charon cruiser to teleport a Unit every 10 sec, that may help by giving it a teleportation timer.

So if you need to teleport more units faster, then you will need to add more than 1 Charon cruisers in the each Meta-Unit or Group to get more units in.


A kind of disadvantage or condition sounds right in order to keep this unit useful, but not overpowered. Also, we could think about another thing : for example, when this unit is destroyed, it could generate a solid aoe explosion damaging all units, friendly or foes, in a given radius. Making it a rewarding but risky unit at the same time, and offering many ways to play with it, offensively in the frontline, or in a more careful way in the middle of a meta unit, or even safely behind the troops, to ensure the reinforcement task.


To be perfectly honest i haven't digested yet Stardock's price and commercial policy about Escalation, notably for the people who bought Ashes since the beginning. Offering a price discount and future, uncertain DLCs does not occult the fact that we will have to pay a second time for almost the same game. Even if we have a new strategic zoom, some units, some maps and a pass of polish. It will take some time to process that.


That being said, it had to imo, i keep supporting the game cause it has plenty of qualities and will certainly take Escalation. Keep up the good work.