First of all, Happy New Years!
This is going to be rambling. So please bear with me.
This Winter I plan to do a series of articles for The Escapist on Ashes of the Singularity. We have a unique opportunity to talk about some of the things that makes this game unique. I’m going to touch on a few of those topics here. I’m no writer so please bear with me through this.
As Gamers, you’re getting ripped off
To a certain degree, gamers have always been getting ripped off. However, in the old days, the company making the game still owned the game.
Why does that matter?
Let’s use Supreme Commander as an example. Supreme Commander 1 was developed by Gas Powered Games. It was published by THQ. Back in those days, that was the business model. The publisher would front tens of millions of dollars and the studio would make thee game for a royalty (that was never fully recouped from the advances). The problem with that system is that sooner or later, it killed the game studio.
Supreme Commander 2 was bought by Square Enix but still developed by Gas Powered Games. This was one of the first games of the “new” model (the shitty model imo). That is, Square Enix would put millions of dollars into GPG to develop it but at the end of the day Square Enix, not the developer, owned the game.
And that, my friends, is how most games are made these days.
Think about that for a moment. Think of your favorite big games. Who “owns” them?
So no new Supreme Commander. Total Annihilation was bought by Wargaming.net (the World of Tanks guys) from Atari. They also bought GPG so there’s hope that they might be making a new Total Annihilation some day. On the other hand, they might just shop it around as a WFH.
Bottom line: As a gamer, you want the people making the game to own the game. As a greedy bastard business person, I want to own everything I can. In fact, you reading this means I own your eyes which I can then sell to a third world black market organ dealer. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Digital Distribution and the new model
So there’s been some good news lately. Digital Distribution + Kickstarter + etc. has opened the door for developers to also own the game they’re making. Again: This is what you, as a gamer, want.
Things like Rocket League, Kerbal and Undertale better than any cure for depression that an old guy like me can get.
Why you should care?
Because games owned by the ones funding it mean that the game can evolve forever. For those of you who are Supreme Commander fans, you know that if GPG still owned it and was still independent that we’d be on SupCom 4 by now. Just kills my heart just thinking about that.
Bottom line: When the one paying the bills is also the developer you can keep evolving the game for years.
What do you have to have to do this?
I’ve come up with 3 arbitrary but I think relevant pre-requisites for a game to continue to evolve:
- Capital. Obviously you have to have money to keep making it.
- Engine. You have to have a code-base that can still be extended. That’s why we had to make GalCiv III instead of continuing to expand on GalCiv II. The engine was ancient.
- Community. Games that evolve have to have a community of people who want the game to evolve. A built in audience who will want to buy future versions.
Pretty obvious right? And yet, how often do all 3 come together? Very rarely.
So let’s talk about Ashes of the Singularity and why (I hope) you should care a lot about it
Every developer wants people to care about their game. Some developers are arrogant enough to think their game is special…cough.
Hopefully I can lay out the case why you should care. But feel free to tell me how terribly wrong I am in the comments.
I can’t really start this without talking about Galactic Civilizations III and the nature of game engines. I’m going to be talking about this a lot because if anything scares me about our industry it is that we’ve largely given up on making our own tech which reduces the types of games we can make.
Today, pretty much everything is made with either:
- er need third bullet point here.
Rocket League uses Unreal. Kerbal uses Unity. and Undertale uses GameMaker.
Their insane, and arguably illegal levels of awesomeness (I am quite certain that Undertale’s awesomeness may be affecting our local galaxy cluster’s space-time gravitational constant, if you don’t have that game quit reading my crap and go get it) show that you don’t need to make your own engine to make a great game.
But engines do create the box around new types of games can be made in.
For example, we couldn’t have made Galactic Civilizations III with Unity or Unreal. Not that there’s anything wrong with those engines. We use Unity for Offworld Trading Company and use Unreal for other projects. We like them. And to be fair: We could have made GalCiv III as it shipped with either one. I am particularly in love with Unity because of their tools and a general love of C# but that’s personal preference.
The GalCiv III engine
This gets back to the importance of combining engine + capital + community. GalCiv is the oldest continuously updated space 4X series. It has a big community. After Stardock sold Impulse® to GameStop back some years ago, it had all the money it would ever need. As some of you know, Stardock is over 20 years old and has one founder: Me. I haven’t bothered to take a real salary from Stardock since 2009. I’m here literally for you guys. My income comes from my stock portfolios.
The reason I mention this stuff is because it means we can think really really long term.
GalCiv III is a really good game. But it’s nothing compared to what it’ll eventually be (this is why marketing wishes I didn’t post).
Consider this: GalCiv III is a native 64-bit, multi-core game engine. That means, eventually, with mods and expansions and such you’ll be able to finally stream the Star Trek galaxy vs. the Star Wars galaxy live with every unit and detail made by fans.
64-bit matters because you have, effectively unlimited (for the next decade anyway) memory to work with. That 32-bit game you want to play has to stay with 2GB. 2GB is about what an iPhone has in it now. It’s nothing. In 5 years, it’ll be tragic.
The Ashes engine
Nitrous, the engine used for Ashes of the Singularity, Star Control and…other games I can’t yet talk about is, frankly, sick. For you developers out there, it is a core-neutral (meaning the more cores you add, the faster it gets), GPU neutral (similarly, can jam 4 video cards in there? Go for it, it just gets faster), 64-bit, REAL-TIME engine. Nitrous is basically Pixar’s renderman in realtime.
And now… the mechanics of the game
As I’ll be going into detail in upcoming articles, Ashes is 1/3 brand-new 1/3 taken from existing genres and 1/3 expansion on existing concepts.
Baby-daddy #1: Total Annihilation
Baby-daddy #2: Company of Heroes
Baby-daddy #3: Sins of a Solar Empire
This will be presented during deposition no doubt
Having thousands of units sounds exciting but it could also be a total mess. Thus the concept of a META unit (join army in game) was born and is central to the game design of Ashes of the Singularity
From way up here, they all look like little tiny ants
You could argue that Kohan introduced the concept of a Meta unit. Here’s the basic premise (it’s pretty obvious):
You select a bunch of units and form an army with them. That army becomes a single unit that works together. This can be tough to get used to because you’re allowing the AI to make some decisions that you might not always agree with (for people who really want to micro 7,305 units they can still do that…) but the the army then tries to accomplish your objective as if each sub-unit is an individual unit or arm or whatever of a single unit.
Programmatically it’s not even that complicated. For you coders out there:
You create a vector of units that you spin through and look at what the meta unit has been ordered to do. You then go through the tree and see if the medic should go and help someone being attacked or if the artillery u nit should back off or whether the melee unit should run out in front and defend.
The idea is easy. So why don’t games do this?
The answer: Multi-Core. If you want your precious 60 frames per second it means the draw calls have to respond in…wait for it…1000ms in a second. I want 60 frames in that time. In other words, the AI has to do everything in less than 20ms which is basically not possible unless you can spread it across multiple cores. That’s why Ashes requires a minimum of 4 cores.
How good will this be at release? Meh. Decent. Engine power does not equal strategic skill. Every time I play I find a new tweak I want to do to improve the meta unit. CPU power isn’t magic. Time is magic. Or something.
Only many many games of us playing you online and entering secret hidden cheat codes to beat you will allow us to learn the strategies necessary to incorporate into the game. Sure, you might think “Hey, that’s bullshit that he somehow spawned a dreadnought in my base when I was about to win.” but I can assure you, on my mother’s non-existing grave, that this was necessary from a research point of view…
This is just another example of why the evolution of these games matter. For a lot of things, there’s no substitute for time.
Anyway, that’s my example of the something new. There’s tons of other stuff but they’re a little too dry and technical. Let’s go to the things enhanced on…
One of my favorite aspects of Ashes is the concept of Orbitals. It’s the one thing I wish Total Annihilation had. In TA, many end games boiled down to endless nuke races (or worse, Big Bertha races). SupCom has a similar thing where one side is trying to get nukes or shields faster than the other side.
What we wanted was the idea that we could have an endless (well not endless but however much we can cram into our UI) number of buildings that you can build that require you to sacrifice short-term gain for long-term benefit by giving you global abilities.
In Ashes of the Singularity, every single shot is a light source. As in, not 3 light sources ala DirectX 9 games but rather one for each shot (as in thousands). Even if you don’t consciously notice this, your brain does.
When I play Starcraft, I often feel like my oldness in being able to get to the ghost or the now horrendously nerfed Raven’s special abilities were just too slow. Which one is the unit? What hot key is it? Is he in this group? I don’t like key clicks being what determines victory or not.
Company of Heroes had global abilities. Ashes has something similar but you can build up an economy just to use them (they’re not tied to what regions you own, they’re the energy equivalent in SupCom).
Example of some of the oribtals/abilities we’re working on
To have a game like Ashes succeed you need the engine (Which we have) plus the capital (which we have) but we also have to have a good community. So far, it’s pretty good. It’s a delicate balance at times. I get pretty annoyed with SupCom super fans who literally want Ashes to be SupCom 3. But overall, it’s gone well.
Modding will become a big deal over time as we find ways to let people create their own units and maps and UI improvements to the game. The AI is already very moddable (I’ve made it my business to wreck it many times…for science).
One of the key things about being an independent developer that self-funds is that you can keep people on a given project. The GalCiv III project continues development as if it were never released. Ashes will be the same way.
Right now, as I type this, we have 4 game teams. One is on GalCiv III, one is on Ashes, one is on Star Control and another is on a brand-new unannounced game (and won’t be for another year). It’s not like the old days where games were released and the teams went on to the next thing provided that the 3 criteria area met (funds, engine, community).
So that’s all for now.
Post your thoughts below.