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 3)
on Feb 08, 2017

Frogboy

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.

@Frogboy: This is probably true. I don't know much about your company, just what I see in the posts. I don't read everything, and generally am focused on other things, aside from games.

But I do love Ashes. 

I think what you might be responding to was my commentary in reply #12 above. You may be in a position to give licenses away -- which is great -- but I do distinctly remember some posts about "needing to charge for strategic zoom, because too much work went in." 

I also seem to recall more than a few posts from SD insisting that this was always the plan -- in fact you more or less did it again in your comments to me:

Frogboy

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.  

Maybe you were rather responding to the "same game all along" notion ...  but... isn't it a very close codebase.... which is why you can merge up? 

I mean, the comparison charts look pretty similar, and there are plenty of people who seems to feel:

Timmaigh

Its mostly the strategic zoom and handful of new units 
 

(Although I'd add the graphics in escalation are better, but it sounds like those improvements are being back-ported.) 

I dunno. I don't think that reply #12 was that unfair or far off. Read it again.

 

Anyhoo, while I do not know your company very well, you'll be pleased to know I have been playing your games for a looong time.

In fact, yours are the only games I play outside of Bliz at this point. 

And I am an active proselytizer on SD's behalf.

 

on Feb 08, 2017

As I stated elsewhere, Escalation is much more refined, fluid and joy to play. There should be no question about it. Escalation is the way to go. The free keys should make it apparent that nearly everybody prefers Escalation. The key giveaway action is honorable I would like to point out. You noticed that your decision p###ed off a lot of people so you did something about it. Great job.

By the way I don't agree that Ashes can run on a potato if DX 12 is at work. I wouldn't say my AMD FX8350+16GB RAM+Radeon HD7870 is a potato but I have to choose low settings in order to have good framerates with a lot of units on the screen. I have to say, though, that the game is looking quite nice on low settings.

Once again I want to say that Escalation brought me back to Ashes because it's a very nice game experience. You did a great job all along and I hope you will continue to do so for a while.

 

on Feb 09, 2017

Jungleelf

As I stated elsewhere, Escalation is much more refined, fluid and joy to play. There should be no question about it. Escalation is the way to go. The free keys should make it apparent that nearly everybody prefers Escalation. The key giveaway action is honorable I would like to point out. You noticed that your decision p###ed off a lot of people so you did something about it. Great job.

By the way I don't agree that Ashes can run on a potato if DX 12 is at work. I wouldn't say my AMD FX8350+16GB RAM+Radeon HD7870 is a potato but I have to choose low settings in order to have good framerates with a lot of units on the screen. I have to say, though, that the game is looking quite nice on low settings.

Once again I want to say that Escalation brought me back to Ashes because it's a very nice game experience. You did a great job all along and I hope you will continue to do so for a while.

 

What resolution are you running? Because I have an FX-4170 @ 5.0GHz (Way weaker CPU), also 16GB of RAM @ 2,400MHz (Same) and a pair of R9 280Xs (Which is the same card as yours), and I can do a little better than Medium running just the one card (Pushing most things to their highest if I force the pair to run, though that causes flickering) at 1080p on Windows 7.

Maybe there's an airflow problem with your case? Or the room is too hot?

on Feb 09, 2017

RomeoReject


Quoting Jungleelf,

As I stated elsewhere, Escalation is much more refined, fluid and joy to play. There should be no question about it. Escalation is the way to go. The free keys should make it apparent that nearly everybody prefers Escalation. The key giveaway action is honorable I would like to point out. You noticed that your decision p###ed off a lot of people so you did something about it. Great job.

By the way I don't agree that Ashes can run on a potato if DX 12 is at work. I wouldn't say my AMD FX8350+16GB RAM+Radeon HD7870 is a potato but I have to choose low settings in order to have good framerates with a lot of units on the screen. I have to say, though, that the game is looking quite nice on low settings.

Once again I want to say that Escalation brought me back to Ashes because it's a very nice game experience. You did a great job all along and I hope you will continue to do so for a while.

 



What resolution are you running? Because I have an FX-4170 @ 5.0GHz (Way weaker CPU), also 16GB of RAM @ 2,400MHz (Same) and a pair of R9 280Xs (Which is the same card as yours), and I can do a little better than Medium running just the one card (Pushing most things to their highest if I force the pair to run, though that causes flickering) at 1080p on Windows 7.

Maybe there's an airflow problem with your case? Or the room is too hot?

 

280x is rebranded 7970. 

on Feb 10, 2017

Timmaigh


Quoting RomeoReject,






What resolution are you running? Because I have an FX-4170 @ 5.0GHz (Way weaker CPU), also 16GB of RAM @ 2,400MHz (Same) and a pair of R9 280Xs (Which is the same card as yours), and I can do a little better than Medium running just the one card (Pushing most things to their highest if I force the pair to run, though that causes flickering) at 1080p on Windows 7.

Maybe there's an airflow problem with your case? Or the room is too hot?



 

280x is rebranded 7970. 


I'm aware. That's why I said The R9 280X is the same card as their 7970. 

on Feb 10, 2017

RomeoReject


Quoting Timmaigh,






Quoting RomeoReject,











What resolution are you running? Because I have an FX-4170 @ 5.0GHz (Way weaker CPU), also 16GB of RAM @ 2,400MHz (Same) and a pair of R9 280Xs (Which is the same card as yours), and I can do a little better than Medium running just the one card (Pushing most things to their highest if I force the pair to run, though that causes flickering) at 1080p on Windows 7.


Maybe there's an airflow problem with your case? Or the room is too hot?




 

280x is rebranded 7970. 


I'm aware. That's why I said The R9 280X is the same card as their 7970. 

Except he said he owns 7870. 

on Feb 12, 2017

There is something about RTS that I like. The base game is significant because it allowed me time to bring my skills up to speed. Escalation is complex but with time on task that next level is always that much closer. If new players have a beginners game to play they can come up to speed until they get intrigued with the Escalation and other versions that will hopefully come out. I do not mind paying for a good game so long as there is some interaction with other players.

 

Stardock - thank you for your work thus far.

on Feb 16, 2017

I too can’t see the point of developing two games, in fact I cannot think of another studio business model that works like that.  From what I have seen studios release a game then release expansions and if the game goes really well and has a fan base release the next version which is not compatible with the previous due to major improvements in computing technology and processing power and the cycle starts again.

I came late to the party with AotS, I have always been on the lookout for a modern equivalent of my favorite RTS (FAF), AotS did not entice me; but Escalation did.   To answer the opening question why, it was the strategic zoom and extra choices as well as the higher ratings by professional reviewers who, going by their reviews appreciated these enhancements too.

What I find odd though is why development cannot be fully focused on Escalation and maybe build in game modes/filters which disable certain features of the game.  I have seen in FAF a few games with less experienced players hosting that have unit restrictions turned on like no air units or no nukes. I would have thought you could have done the same with units and economy simple/normal.

On a different note I would like to say thank you for the developer journal, in my experience you don’t normally see this unless the game was crowd funded.  It also gives confidence that a game the public is buying into is being actively developed.

Edit: Just seen this thread: http://forums.ashesofthesingularity.com/481856/page/1/#3667550 strike-through text that is now irrelevant.

on Feb 16, 2017

ComradeSunbeam

considering that shaders and texture have nothing impressive and maps almost empty even for RTS.

I do feel the maps are Empty too, many of us do, but so far Stardock have done a great job with the Engine and their making it better and better by the day.

Its a New Engine, what do expect? new Engines need powerful PC's and who has that?....5% of all gamers?

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