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

Exis_Render_Template_1080P_11

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 2)
on Feb 07, 2017

Orachin

- 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. 

 

I tried this for the first time recently. 

Strongly recommend it to everyone.

It is epicly fun.

 

I usually do the campaign and then focus on competitive ladder.

But coop against CPU in ashes was really quite good.

It's the huge team factor and "Smart" AI that makes it a lot of fun.

Probably the best game mode, in many respects.

 

 

on Feb 07, 2017

Orachin

If developers thinks that escalation is too difficult for majority of players

 

Og is dumb.

Og can't cope with too many Blinkies on screen.

Og will go bang rocks together instead.

 

Really.

Too difficult?

(Wonders what this says about RL.)

  

Frankly, unlike SD, I would recommend Ashes and Escalation to anyone.

... As long as they can bang the rocks together.

 

on Feb 07, 2017

I prefer Escalation because I really like complex challenging RTS games with lots of units, big maps and strategic zoom.

The base game as an entry level version for getting friends quicker into the genre would be nice, but after playing Sins, FAF and other games which have strategic zoom (including Escalation now), I couldn't get used to play it without strategic zoom and got quite frustrated trying it since I joined the founders program.

Also I have the feeling that by limiting itself the base game will be more exposed to competition from Star Craft and similar games with a relativley small scope.

So with the current feature sets of the base game and Escalation, I am only interested in Escalation.

on Feb 07, 2017

Merge the games!

Then when in multiplayer, people can select what they want to play, give them the options.

Singularity mode is the original game.

Escalation mode is with the extras.

Whatever next mode can be the game with the dlc and new races and naval tech dropped in.

 

Really thing a merge is the way to go, especially with bringing the player bases together. Seemed dumb to split them in the first place. Escalation seemed like an experiment gone awry. 

Bring everyone together, throw a season pass at em. See what the future then brings.

on Feb 07, 2017

firstly, thanks again for the gracious gesture. i appreciate it. next, isnt this thread a giant rheotorical question? u know escalation is directed at "hard core" RTS gamers.. and who are the majority of the players that come to these forums... so why would u ask the group of players, that escalation is directed at, which of the 2 is better? if u had asked this on steam (im assuming u have) this would make sense, but it does not make sense being asked on a forum that predominantly consists of players who would naturally prefer escalation over vanilla...

fantstc1
I usually do the campaign and then focus on competitive ladder.

someone sure does love the look of their own text.. maybe u should start ur own thread instead of hijacking someone else's...

on Feb 07, 2017

I certainly think the majority of forum users prefer Escalation.

What isn't obvious is whether people would prefer a $20 Ashes base game vs. a $40 Escalation game.

As others have pointed out, in the long-run, there can only be one if for no other reason is that you can't have the player bases split.

Thus, we can either continue to argue it endlessly on forums, or we can make sure people who were in early access for Ashes also have Escalation and then we can see what they actually play.

BTW, @Fantst, I don't think you know very much about Stardock.  Most of our money comes from software, not games.  And frankly, after we sold Impulse to GameStop, we have the luxury of doing pretty much anything we want including giving away millions of dollars in licenses to our early access customers as a gesture of good will.

I realize you weren't a Founder but anyone who was can tell you that yea, the base game was explicitly what we had intended down to every single unit and feature.  

Escalation came up because 1) the base game sold so well and 2) there was a lot of requests for features that were explicitly rejected for the base game.

As I have said regularly, there's a reason why Supreme Commander 2 went in a different direction.  It's because SupCom and SupCom:FA lost millions of dollars.  They were not profitable.  The market for hard-core RTS games is limited.  That was our thinking when designing Ashes.

But Escalation's popularity gives credence that the market might be large enough to make the hard-core RTS fan the target rather than the mainstream gaming market which, I assure you, is a different demographic.

 

 

 

 

on Feb 07, 2017

Frogboy

I certainly think the majority of forum users prefer Escalation.

What isn't obvious is whether people would prefer a $20 Ashes base game vs. a $40 Escalation game.

As others have pointed out, in the long-run, there can only be one if for no other reason is that you can't have the player bases split.

Thus, we can either continue to argue it endlessly on forums, or we can make sure people who were in early access for Ashes also have Escalation and then we can see what they actually play.

BTW, @Fantst, I don't think you know very much about Stardock.  Most of our money comes from software, not games.  And frankly, after we sold Impulse to GameStop, we have the luxury of doing pretty much anything we want including giving away millions of dollars in licenses to our early access customers as a gesture of good will.

I realize you weren't a Founder but anyone who was can tell you that yea, the base game was explicitly what we had intended down to every single unit and feature.  

Escalation came up because 1) the base game sold so well and 2) there was a lot of requests for features that were explicitly rejected for the base game.

As I have said regularly, there's a reason why Supreme Commander 2 went in a different direction.  It's because SupCom and SupCom:FA lost millions of dollars.  They were not profitable.  The market for hard-core RTS games is limited.  That was our thinking when designing Ashes.

But Escalation's popularity gives credence that the market might be large enough to make the hard-core RTS fan the target rather than the mainstream gaming market which, I assure you, is a different demographic.

 

 

 

 

My only thing I'd add is this: RTS by its very nature, is a niche market. So keeping a "mainstream" attitude on it is pointless (Grey Goo got obliterated, Command and Conquer disappeared after it tried to be simpler, etc). Cater to the niche. Starcraft is obnoxiously difficult for new players, and yet still stands as the most successful RTS around. Supreme Commander might not have made a ton of money, but I can promise you it did better than Supreme Commander 2. On top of that, while a casual player might pick up a game, continuing to sell to them is a hit-or-miss preposition. A player who has their niche catered to won't hesitate to spend money on expansions, and continue to follow new releases from a company.

So, my own not-an-expert opinion would be: Focus on Escalation. It's what your players want, and they'll be happy to reward you if they get what they want.

on Feb 07, 2017

Frogboy


SupCom and SupCom:FA lost millions of dollars.  They were not profitable.  The market for hard-core RTS games is limited.  That was our thinking when designing Ashes.
 

Thats true but SupCom FA lost millions but players just love it.

So the lession we take from it is that players wont have any great RTS game in next years like FA ,PA, Ashes and Escalation and thats what we have to understand.

We hardcore RTS gamers know very well that rts games are pass the worst time ever, because what we knew has rts games now dont sell and thats really a problem....

 

I fear that most dev afraid risk because that, and i kind understand, to make a good oldschool RTS in this days a company, cant worry about losing money. 

And thats almost impossible....

on Feb 07, 2017

TAG_Utter


Quoting Frogboy,


SupCom and SupCom:FA lost millions of dollars.  They were not profitable.  The market for hard-core RTS games is limited.  That was our thinking when designing Ashes.
 



Thats true but SupCom FA lost millions but players just love it.

So the lession we take from it is that players wont have any great RTS game in next years like FA ,PA, Ashes and Escalation and thats what we have to understand.

We hardcore RTS gamers know very well that rts games are pass the worst time ever, because what we knew has rts games now dont sell and thats really a problem....

 

I fear that most dev afraid risk because that, and i kind understand, to make a good oldschool RTS in this days a company, cant worry about losing money. 

And thats almost impossible....

 

In Stardock's case, since Ashes had a budget of around 1/9th of SupCom it was profitable within its first month of release.  

Thus, we suddenly found ourselves with the option to explore the question: Did the people who bought Ashes sight unseen do so in the hope of having a new, next-generation RTS engine to be introduced to.  OR was it mostly RTS veterans looking for something that would take the existing RTS genre to the next level?

If you read the reviews of Ashes and the news stories about it, our goal was pretty clear: We wanted to build an "old school" RTS but with modern tech.

Escalation, by contrast, was designed around taking the RTS genre to the next step.

I see people assuming that the bulk of the early access players would have preferred Escalation.  But I don't see a lot of evidence for that.  Otherwise, they would have mostly upgraded to it already.  The only way to really tell will be to give early access players copies of Escalation and see which game, in the long-run, has a bigger player base.

 

on Feb 07, 2017

As a relative noob and single-player only, my humble 2 cents is that Ecalation is not too complex. It's easy to outgrow the base Ashes. It's ironic that the people I see asking for the base game to continue are multiplayers, who are no doubt the most skilled.

But - there may be a market for the base game and Stardock really wants to have a low-$$ offering.

So...

You could have one product with both "Ashes Classic" and "Ashes Escalation" choices on the intro screen. For $20 only Classic is available. Pay $40, or upgrade, and the Escalation option opens up. If a player has both, either can be set as the default i.e. optional to skip the intro screen entirely.

Within, the Classic would merely be a restricted version of Escalation... some units and campaign scenarios not available. This will create some balance issues in Classic (assuming Escalation values rule).  You could have two separate template sets, but the goal is to keep as much as possible the same and not be maintaining distinct games in the future, so Classic must take a back seat in this scheme.  I think 90% of those who buy the base game and play it much at all will want to upgrade anyway.  It's soon apparent that the the engine is just too good to miss out on what it can do.

Then you have only one product overall. This is like the traditional "base" and "pro" versions of software utilities.

on Feb 07, 2017

Frogboy


Quoting TAG_Utter,


Quoting Frogboy,


Escalation, by contrast, was designed around taking the RTS genre to the next step.

I see people assuming that the bulk of the early access players would have preferred Escalation.  But I don't see a lot of evidence for that.  Otherwise, they would have mostly upgraded to it already.  The only way to really tell will be to give early access players copies of Escalation and see which game, in the long-run, has a bigger player base.

Or maybe they feel that Escalation, although superior to the original, does not bring enough to warrant spending money on it. Its mostly the strategic zoom and handful of new units - at least from my POV. I would have probably not bought it myself if it was not discounted due to Christmas sale (on top of the original game owner discount).

On other hand, if all that upcoming DLC content (Juggernauts, naval units) were already part of it, i would feel about it different for sure. Maybe those people share the same mindset.

on Feb 07, 2017

Frogboy

I see people assuming that the bulk of the early access players would have preferred Escalation.  But I don't see a lot of evidence for that.  Otherwise, they would have mostly upgraded to it already.  The only way to really tell will be to give early access players copies of Escalation and see which game, in the long-run, has a bigger player base.

I dunno, there are a ton of fence sitters with just the base game (that they don't play anymore), and are not willing to pay more for whatever reason, the question there is why.

Since it was already mentioned that Escalation will be given away to "early access" players, we will indeed know* if they move & stay with Escalation, or go back to the AotS, or pick none of the above.

*BTW, in talking to a few friends that already have AotS, what exactly is meant by "early access players"?  Are those the ones that got the game before XYZ date, or, is this ONLY for the kickstarter people?

on Feb 07, 2017

I'm a founder, I didn't buy escalation (until a couple of days ago) simply because it put a sour taste in my mouth.  Escalation looked like what I wanted from Ashes since the day I received the email that stardock was working on 2 new RTS games but I felt like it was cash grabby (similiar to Ark Scorched Earth.)  

I finally purchased escalation because it seems that Oxide/Stardock realized their mistake and is trying to correct it (more than I can say for the Ark Devs with scorched earth...) Please no more micro DLC either, release an expansion every year after launch if you want but don't release one in under 12mo from the previous games launch (EA not included)

Right now I feel that Ashes base is V0.5 and current escalation is V0.8.  I want a V1.0 and I'm cautiously optimistic about the future.  (naval will be huge, T5s and continued fleshing out of the tiers will be great, a more traditional faction (aesthetics wise) will be awesome, and continued UI improvements will help (how about the OPTION to see icons in full strat zoom instead of squares?)

Anyways, I think Ashes could capture the RTS market in time but it really needs to become one complete package and gain back the good graces of the RTS fanbase.

Just my .02c

on Feb 07, 2017

Wall of text, yet I still don't see proper merge, but another bla bla about dead RTS for "new players" and half dead RTS for "veterans". (by "dead" i defiantly mean multiplayer, not game development, since devs do make something.... )

As for game performance... let's be honest it's unjustifiably low even with DirectX 12. I don't see anything impressive here for it to be at 35 FPS on i7 2600k with RX470. Why game needs 2GB of VRAM is also beyond me considering that shaders and texture have nothing impressive and maps almost empty even for RTS.


 

on Feb 08, 2017

Frogboy
I see people assuming that the bulk of the early access players would have preferred Escalation.  But I don't see a lot of evidence for that.  Otherwise, they would have mostly upgraded to it already.  The only way to really tell will be to give early access players copies of Escalation and see which game, in the long-run, has a bigger player base.


 


Not to sound like a jerk, but for quite a few, you likely lost them due to either:

  • Not having enough money to pay again.
  • Frustrating them by releasing what most consider to be the "real" version of the game so close to release.
  • Losing some due to them not having been a hardcore fan of the original game, so they didn't bother buying an expansion for it.

I would suspect that if everyone has a copy of both, you'll see almost no one on the "base" version of the game. Looking at the reviews almost assures you of this. Now that Escalation is out, the original feels like half a game. As a result, Escalation is doing great in reviews, and the base game is getting absolutely lit up.

Meta
Views
» 12629
Comments
» 39
Sponsored Links