Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
Published on February 6, 2017 By Draginol In Ashes Dev Journals

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Our story so far...

Stardock loves real-time strategy games.  Our customers love real-time strategy games (Sins of a Solar Empire remains our best selling game of all time).  And we want your opinion on something important to us.

When Stardock sold off its digital distribution business to GameStop in 2011, we took that capital to help found a number of new studios including Soren Johnson's Mohawk Games, Mothership Entertainment, Stardock Towson and Oxide Games.  Our goal was to build new technology and studios that would create innovative new games.

In short, we've been pretty busy.

Ashes of the Singularity: A background

Of these new games, the first to ship was Ashes of the Singularity.  It is the first game to use the new Nitrous engine developed by Oxide Games. 

Nitrous is an amazing engine and all our new games are standardizing on it.  What makes it special is that it is core-neutral. That is, the more CPU cores you have, the more it can do.  It scales almost linearly as you can more CPU cores.  This means we can do interesting things like object space lighting, handle thousands of light sources, do all kinds of interesting things with AI,  simulations, etc.

Since Ashes of the Singularity was the first engine to use it, we were cautious as to how much we would invest into the game itself.  Nitrous is amazing but it was new. And the things we were trying to do had never been done before.  There was no DirectX 12 or Vulkan when we started working on it.  We were building it based on the theory that such a graphics platform would have to be made and got super lucky that they were made before the game shipped. 

On DirectX 11, you need a pretty powerful machine to run Ashes of the Singularity (on DirectX 12 or later Vulkan, you can run it on a potato practically, that's how much better DX12/Vulkan are).

But, like I said, there was no DirectX 12 or Vulkan back then so we designed the game to appeal to as many people as possible while still showing off what the engine could do. If all went well, the game would sell around 50,000 units in its first year.  That would be a very respectable release for a game that could only run on a fraction of the PCs available at the time.

DirectX 12

I can't even begin to tell you how much of a game-changer DirectX 12 was.  Suddenly, this game that was going to require a monster machine to run could run on much more reasonable hardware.  That's because DirectX 12 lets every CPU core talk to the graphics card at the same time.  On DirectX 11, only 1 CPU core can talk to the GPU at once.   As some may recall, people were dubious about the game's benchmark results on DirectX 12.  But as people quickly saw, it was a massive difference.

 

Who is the target market?

During the early access program, there requests, often strident, for features that we felt would alienate the mainstream gamers.  While we personally liked the features they wanted (upgradeable defenses, strategic zoom, more unit progress, etc.) we felt that this would create a learning curve that would keep us from even getting to the mere 50,000 units we hoped to sell to break even.

Ashes-5K-Boom

Ashes delivered massive-scale warfare across a planet

Release

When the game shipped, it quickly reached a user base of over a hundred thousand players not counting the hundreds of thousands of players who got the game as part of their video card purchase. 

It also became apparent that many of them wanted an RTS a lot more depth where depth meant things like strategic zoom, upgradeable defenses, more resources, lots more unit classes, etc.  But doing so, we felt, would be a bait-and-switch.  I realize that some hard-core RTS fans can't imagine not wanting to have dozens of unit types but as someone who has tried and failed to get their friends to play FAF, learning curve matters.

So we decided to create a new SCU for those players who wanted a "bigger" RTS.  Escalation.

 

Esc_SS2

Escalation caters to the more dedicated RTS fan.  Strategic Zoom, Upgradeable defenses,  Specialized units

Divergence

Last fall, Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation was released.  It's a stand-alone game with an $20 upgrade price for people who have the base game.  It got universally favorable reviews (lowest review being a 75) in the media and has a 81 Steam score. 

Meanwhile, the base game didn't fare as well . A lot a lot of passionate RTS players who had lobbied for what was in Escalation felt they were being asked to pay again for the game they wanted in the first place. Thus, the base's games Steam score went from "Mostly Positive" to something like "This game will kill  your pets" on Steam even though the game has continued to get frequent updates, new units, etc.

image

One engine: Two games.  The base game for the mainstream and Escalation for the dedicated RTS fanbase. Which game do people want us to focus our energy on?

Merging

And so here we are with the debate unresolved.  Which kind of RTS do people want us to focus on?  In the long-run, we need to focus on one RTS.

So here is the plan: Let the market decide. 

What we want to do is give everyone who bought the game in early access or earlier a copy of Escalation (provided Steam and GOG are okay with this).   Everyone who bought the upgrade from Ashes to Escalation will get a season pass to the DLC we're adding to Escalation.

Then, with user bases a bit more equal, we can see which game people prefer.  Let the players choose which game they prefer based on what they actually play. 

EscalationChart

Feature difference between the two.

 

The Long-Term plan

The game's hardware requirements today (4 core CPU, 2GB of video memory, 1920x1080 resolution min) ensure that it won't be a mass market game either way for some time.  And we are fine with that.  In the not-so-distant future, these hardware requirements will be mainstream and by that point, both games will have evolved.

The base game will evolve so that it becomes easier to pick up and play. The price will continue to get reduced.  The unit mix will continue to evolve (i.e.  we may replace units with better, more interesting ones but keep the unit count reasonable).  It'll still get new races to play, new campaigns and so on.  But the game play will focus on being intuitive.

Escalation will evolve to have more depth. Naval units, additional resources, lots more units, more tech progression. 

There is a case to be made for both.  It'll be interesting to see which one becomes dominant.

 

Esc_SS1

Escalation provides many more types of units and defenses to craft ever more sophisticated strategies

The question for you:

Which game fits you the best? The base game or Escalation? And why?


Comments (Page 1)
on Feb 06, 2017

So if i bought Escalation on top of the original game i bought back around November 2015, which IIRC was at the time in Early Access,  am i going to get additional DLCs to Escalation now for free? Am i reading this right? Will naval units/gameplay be in one of these DLCs?

Regarding merging and whatnot, i think you are making it complicated to yourself for no reason. Escalation is superior game to the original the same way Rebellion is to original 2008 Sins.

IMO anyone who likes Ashes and plays it, will, if not budget constrained, buy Escalation, cause will be naturally curious about additions and wants to have the most complete experience possible and not to lose on something. People who bought Ashes and found out they did not like it that much, wont probably buy Escalation, but they are very likely not playing original game anymore anyway.

If you give Escalation to owners of original game for free, i would be extremely surprised if the original game would turn out to be the one played by more people down the road. 

on Feb 06, 2017

Timmaigh

So if i bought Escalation on top of the original game i bought back around November 2015, which IIRC was at the time in Early Access,  am i going to get additional DLCs to Escalation now for free? Am i reading this right? Will naval units/gameplay be in one of these DLCs?

Regarding merging and whatnot, i think you are making it complicated to yourself for no reason. Escalation is superior game to the original the same way Rebellion is to original 2008 Sins.

IMO anyone who likes Ashes and plays it, will, if not budget constrained, buy Escalation, cause will be naturally curious about additions and wants to have the most complete experience possible and not to lose on something. People who bought Ashes and found out they did not like it that much, wont probably buy Escalation, but they are very likely not playing original game anymore anyway.

If you give Escalation to owners of original game for free, i would be extremely surprised if the original game would turn out to be the one played by more people down the road. 

 

Yep.  You'll get Escalation DLC for free.

As for what will be in the DLC, naval units would be a DLC which you'd get.

on Feb 06, 2017

I personally believe Escalation as it was released was a mistake, and a big one at that.

Please don't get me wrong, it was a great addition to the game, BUT it shouldn't have been made a standalone expansion. It would have been far better to use it to improve upon the base game.

What exactly did you guys expect to happen if you make a standalone expansion with all kinds of fancy stuff like upgradeable defenses, etc. Of course people will facor the expansion and ignore the base game. Plus the expansion gives a contrast which makes the base game appear worse (in terms of features).

 

What I recommend is to show mercy and merge the main game and the expansion into one solid product and as suggested earlier, give those who got themselves both a season pass.

Advantages of this:

  • People who purchased only one will have no disadvantages any more (but won't have a season pass either)
  • People who purchased both are getting a season pass, so their investment in the expansion wouldn't have been for nothing
  • Less members of the community upset over the state of the game, which reduces the workload on the staff
  • Once merge is complete, the devs no longer need to divide their attention between both products, which takes the pressure off the dev staff
  • Steam reviews improving increases new purchases as ppl usually look at those before a purchase.

In a nutshell: Merging both games leaves both sides happy

on Feb 06, 2017

Provided that the community is, hopefully, still allowed to speak its polite but honest mind in here, as much as on steam i mean, grant me the favor to put this the direct way this time :

 

Once again, the marketing discourses are evolving way quicker than the promises are kept or the content delivered. Believe me, less and less people are fooled.

 

Don't you think that your question is a bit convenient, in order to give the community the illusion of being in charge of a decision that has already been taken for us with Escalation? Is it easier to make people think that they allowed you to drop your previous, and still pending, engagements? What tomorrow? tricking us out into accepting to forget other promises again, or to pay happily, twice, for each one of them with a new season pass, then a micro DLC? And a last time at the end to obtain the ultimate "Champion Enhanced Edition" when you, as eloquently as today, will decide to sell us that all the rest has become "a background" as well?

 

Instead, why not beginning by telling us, reliably for once, what we can expect to obtain in the 2017 free season pass?

 

October 26 : Not particularly old. Just as a reminder about the notion of reliability :

"Q: So will the base game continue to receive updates?

Absolutely. We will be updating Ashes for years to come both in terms of new DLC and content for those who prefer its more streamlined game play. We will also evolve Escalation to be more sophisticated."

 

There is no choice behind your question. Not more than there are two different games when we compare base Ashes with Escalation. Just drop the act. The former was a Beta, and the latter is a step closer to a finished game. Some of the old promises for the base game were implemented in Escalation, in exchange for an almost mandatory fee, but that's all. Many more were meant to be fulfilled at the present time. And the whole thing still needs a solid pass of balance and polish.

 

You already know that Escalation is going to win all the votes. Of course. But you need us to validate this new process and bless the result. That's a bit insulting.

 

Believe me. I personally like the game, but, with all due respect, and as the time passes, less and less people are fooled.

on Feb 06, 2017

Escalation.

been RTS fan since 95 and i want more. the base game is that, a start.

i want more option, more unit. more map. 

give me map interaction, pts to capture that give me some advantage. make the map more a live. give some unit activable power.

cant wait for naval unit, more tech and more resources (hope they have a special harvesting mechanic).

But i agree, you should focus on one game not both. Escalation is the way to go. people will learn i dont see why people would want just the base game.

on Feb 06, 2017

Frogboy


Quoting Timmaigh,

So if i bought Escalation on top of the original game i bought back around November 2015, which IIRC was at the time in Early Access,  am i going to get additional DLCs to Escalation now for free? Am i reading this right? Will naval units/gameplay be in one of these DLCs?

Regarding merging and whatnot, i think you are making it complicated to yourself for no reason. Escalation is superior game to the original the same way Rebellion is to original 2008 Sins.

IMO anyone who likes Ashes and plays it, will, if not budget constrained, buy Escalation, cause will be naturally curious about additions and wants to have the most complete experience possible and not to lose on something. People who bought Ashes and found out they did not like it that much, wont probably buy Escalation, but they are very likely not playing original game anymore anyway.

If you give Escalation to owners of original game for free, i would be extremely surprised if the original game would turn out to be the one played by more people down the road. 



 

Yep.  You'll get Escalation DLC for free.

As for what will be in the DLC, naval units would be a DLC which you'd get.

 

Very nice, thank you, for both response and the gesture itself.

on Feb 06, 2017

Harbinger91


Advantages of this:

 

    • People who purchased only one will have no disadvantages any more (but won't have a season pass either)

 

    • People who purchased both are getting a season pass, so their investment in the expansion wouldn't have been for nothing

 

    • Less members of the community upset over the state of the game, which reduces the workload on the staff

 

    • Once merge is complete, the devs no longer need to divide their attention between both products, which takes the pressure off the dev staff

 

    • Steam reviews improving increases new purchases as ppl usually look at those before a purchase.

 


In a nutshell: Merging both games leaves both sides happy

This actually sounds like a good way to handle it, and I don't see any disadvantages by going this route...well, at least not from a consumer point of view.  Steam side, I am unsure how it would be handled.

 

on Feb 06, 2017

Here it comes:

Galactic Star Control of the Offworld Singularity III 

... an early access beta for alpha founding founders who may, or who may not, have purchased some previous DLC, on a Tuesday, when the moon was full

... and who will therefore receive...

... harrumph.

 

Sounds to me like SD is making acquisitions and building-up tech, marching gradually and and methodically towards the simiest sim ever.

We're talking uber-ur-simulation with everything from ship building, to economy, to warfare, to tech trees, cultural development, starbases, diplomacy, dozens of resources, trade, micro, macro... oh goodness, I think I just popped.

 

Funny OP, really.

Implies a lot, and doesn't seem to know where it is going.

Starts with concept of "merge" ... and talks about "one game" ... but then also addresses the long term plan for BOTH games, and how they will evolve.

There is a bit in the middle that makes sense, though -- where the OP talks about giving away lots of copies of the game.

 

Click bait, you say?

I'm dubious.

I'm thinking OP had other motivations...

Maybe...

Or not...

Meh... who knows... or cares...

 

Just keep working on Escalation, guys.

 

 

As to which will survive:

You guys must think we're very silly.

No doubt, you already know the plan.

Stardock is really good at making games where you can config the options...

One game, lots of options.

Duhh.....

 

(go ahead, call me nuts, but let's just see what happens in the so-called "long run")

 

ONE GAME TO RULE THEM ALL...

[something noteworthy about darkness here]

on Feb 06, 2017

ADDITIONAL:

 

Harbinger91

What exactly did you guys expect to happen if you make a standalone expansion with all kinds of fancy stuff like upgradeable defenses, etc.

 

Yeah, I think the market has already spoken on this point.

 

A lot a lot of passionate RTS players who had lobbied for what was in Escalation felt they were being asked to pay again for the game they wanted in the first place. Thus, the base's games Steam score went from "Mostly Positive" to something like "This game will kill  your pets" on Steam even though the game has continued to get frequent updates, new units, etc.

 

Hint hint.. maybe something important in preceding observation?

 

Obvious conclusion, in case no one is sure:

 

I guess this means the market overwhelmingly wants the base game, really.

 

SERIOUSLY????!!!!

 

COULD ANYONE AT SD POSSIBLY BE CONFUSED ON THIS POINT???!!!

on Feb 06, 2017

The question for you:
Which game fits you the best? The base game or Escalation? And why?
 
Here what I think
first of all working on the games that are in a way the same its really stupid, Stardock spend time, money, engineers, and who knows, just to keep AOTS alive while most of the players moved to Escalation, the the players that did not it was because they did not wanted to pay more.
 
The best that you can do is merge both games into just one.
Put all you have into working on 1 game, Escalation. and start over, think that Escalation will be ver:1.0 and start from there.
the ones who have ashes of the Singularity give them a free copy of escalation, the players who got AOTS and then bought Escalation give them the Free DLC...
And the ones Who did pay for a Lifetime copy then I don't know give them everything. lol
 
Yu already know, escalation is the base game + more things to it, every player will be fine with it.
 
Why Stardock  think its hard to play Escalation? and Escalation should not be for new players.. this is so wrong and incorrect.
 
 
 
on Feb 07, 2017

The market chose Escalation over the base game, that is pretty obvious. This entire blog seems rhetorical in nature.

But what I really want to have is a roadmap for Escalation. Something that has been lacking for the last few months now. There are features and updates that were promised, some all the way since the base game, that we are still not sure when and how they are arriving:

  • Steam Workshop Support
  • Modding Tools
  • Juggernauts
  • T5s
  • Vulkan Support
  • "Tournament" Ashes
  • Replays + Enhanced Observer Mode (I know this is in testing by other users)
  • New Factions

I and most others realise that things aren't so simple in development. We know that one of the devs took ill over the holidays for instance. But you were doing so well with updating a roadmap for Ashes before and have since just stopped doing it. These marketing strategy posts are not what the players want to see right now and gamers generally aren't business strategists anyway. What we do want to hear, see and talk about is the actual game and what is being added to it.

There was a post last month which made it seem like the Juggernauts were only weeks away from being released and that was the closest we got to any indication of the progress of upcoming updates to Escalation. I feels like half of the communication recently has been about the base game and throwing strategies up for making people happy, from giving free copies of it, free DLC, tournament edition and now this. Brad, please, focus on the game and not this damage control for something that happened last year. This is not helping people see a future in Ashes and just opening old wounds.

on Feb 07, 2017

ASADDF

first of all working on the games that are in a way the same its really stupid, Stardock spend time, money, engineers, and who knows, just to keep AOTS alive while most of the players moved to Escalation, the the players that did not it was because they did not wanted to pay more.

This.

PM: "We're out of $$."

Boss: "We'll have to sell the work we have been doing."

PM: "Seems fair... But the community is complaining."

Boss: "Just explain to them that this was always the plan. They'll understand."

PM: "Uh, they aren't buying that line of thinking. And steam score is suffering."

Boss: "Persevere..."

PM: "But we now have to maintain two codebases. This could get even more expensive."

Boss: "Oh yeah... good point... Darnit.... it was really one game all along anyhow."

[laugh track]

 

SchismNavigator

The market chose Escalation over the base game, that is pretty obvious. This entire blog seems rhetorical in nature.

 

I. So. Agree.

WTF.

Feels a little insulting, in a certain sense.

 

I think we just funded the christmas bonus, boys.

Banks aren't the only ones giving credit loans these days, if you play your cards right.

If you're a smart CEO, you don't even need kickstarter.

You just tell the community they need to buy a new game, and then subsequently reveal that that everyone actually contributed funds for one-in-the-same game...

And once you finish all the upgrades, everyone feels like they were made whole.

on Feb 07, 2017

SchismNavigator

Steam Workshop Support
Modding Tools
Juggernauts
T5s
Vulkan Support
"Tournament" Ashes
Replays + Enhanced Observer Mode (I know this is in testing by other users)
New Factions

 

Hrm.

 

Some of these were NOT always promised.

 

on Feb 07, 2017

fantstc1


Quoting SchismNavigator,

Steam Workshop Support
Modding Tools
Juggernauts
T5s
Vulkan Support
"Tournament" Ashes
Replays + Enhanced Observer Mode (I know this is in testing by other users)
New Factions



 

Hrm.

 

Some of these were NOT always promised.

 

I never said they were always promised. But all of these have either been on a roadmap, promised or cited when discussing future plans (like the factions and T5s). I could add more things but those are enough examples for my point of needing a new roadmap. We only hear about these things from random comments now.

on Feb 07, 2017

Greetings!

I dont actually think that making escalation a standalone game or a separate game was a good idea originaly. Dont get me wrong, escalation is a good game. From what i understand Stardock wanted to not only create a game for the most hardcore RTS players out there (but yeah, who else plays RTS nowadays ), but also attract some new players and help them adapt to "the wonderfull world of RTS". And i see some major problems in this scenario:

- Escalation is not that complicated, so that only hardcore players can get into it. It actually is very new player friendly. So we dont actually need a "light" version of game;

- Dividing ashes from escalation also divides the playerbase, which is not that big atm to support two similar games;

- Casual players are not getting attracted by ashes, because ashes doesnt have anything that casual players like in a game. And before you go all like "what do you want from a RTS", lets look at sc2 for example. Sc2 had introduced that allied commander mode, that attracts a lot of softcore/casual players by putting "achievs", dailies, rpg elements and so on. That actually helps people that doesnt like pvp or competetive MP, to get into a game and have some fun roflstomping some bots. And the fun part is - it is all automated. Sure even in ashes or escalation we can manually set up a custom game and invite players to play against AI. But i dont actually think many actually do it. 

- If developers thinks that escalation is too difficult for majority of players why not make an ingame option to select "rule sets" via presets. For example "ashes rules" where only ashes units and mechanics are availible. Make a few divisions of ranked games - ashes version, escalation version. But i dont think that it is actually a good idea. We need to further increase our playerbase not divide it. 

 

So im not the one to give suggestions to devs, but i do think you should focus on merging the games together and further develop the game based on escalation version of the game, thats what Haalee would do!

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