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A brief history of the Elemental games

Posted on Sunday, October 5, 2014 by Frogboy

Once upon a time there was Master of Magic

Back in 2008, Stardock was just finishing up its work on Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor.  We had been in negotiations with Atari to acquire the Master of Magic rights (to the point that we actually own the domain www.masterofmagic.com).  We had a game design all planned out for it complete with Halfings, Gnolls, High Elves, the works.  To be safe, we were not going to stray very far from the original design other than to add multiplayer and updates the units to modern 3D. 

When negotiations with Atari didn’t work out, it was decided we would create our own fantasy world that we called Elemental.  Early on we had a fairly straight forward conversion table:

  • Klackons = Quendar
  • Ironeers = Dwarves
  • Resoln = Nomads
  • Urxen = Orcs
  • Altar = High Men
  • Pariden = High Elves

Cities had 8 classes of buildings (Infrastructure, Industry, Commerce, Military,  Religious, Academic, Husbandry, and Naval).  And each race would have its own unique buildings in each category along with different bonuses to Workers, Farmers and Rebels.

Naming Convention

The game was to be called WAR of MAGIC.  But for trademark concerns, it was decided we would put the name “Elemental” in front.  This would prove to be ironic because in the long-term, people remember War of Magic as “Elemental” and not War of Magic.  As had been said in forums over the years, there would never have been a Elemental II. It would have been War of Magic II.

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The original mockup for War of Magic

Design Divergence

War of Magic started getting the scope creep to end all scope creep.  We decided we would have huge, real-time battles.  We decided to have player designed units. The city improvements would be player designed as well, expanding out onto the map and having an editor where players could design their own very unique improvements.  Spells too would be designed by players in game.

This probably seems insane now but a game called Spore was coming out and we were enthralled about the idea of handing over the content creation to players.

Unfortunately, our engineering/art ambitions were beyond our ability to deliver, especially on the hardware of the time.

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War of Magic

We tried all kinds of things to reduce the hardware scope which resulted in an art-style that was, unique but not necessarily appealing.  Player unit design required us to give up on the dramatically different race differentiation and the city design concept ended up completely changing the way the cities were made.

In the end, War of Magic ended up nothing like Master of Magic.

War of Magic is released

When War of Magic came out, people were very disappointed that it was buggy, bland, and nothing like Master of Magic.  It is a disappointment that haunts us to this day.

It ended up getting “meh” (3/5) reviews and we were so disappointed with it that we decided to give the two planned expansion packs to it for free to early adopters.

 

The expansions that never happened

Originally, we had two expansion packs planned.

  • War of Magic: Fallen Enchantress
  • War of Magic: Legendary Heroes

We would later then make a game called War of Magic II: Empire of Sorcery (and we have the domain to this too www.empireofsorcery.com).

One of the outcomes of War of Magic was that we brought on Derek Paxton (Kael) who had made the popular Civilization mod, Fall from Heaven to re-design War of Magic.  Not surprisingly, he didn’t want this new game associated too strongly with War of Magic so it would become a stand-alone game with a much bigger scope.

Branding confusion

Unfortunately, everyone knew the game as Elemental.  We learned a valuable lesson on branding – people will refer to your game based on the most unique word in it.  We ourselves referred to War of Magic as Elemental all the time just like we call Sins of a Solar Empire “Sins”.    So most people just think of the game as Elemental and not War of Magic.

So what would we call future games?

We looked at the branding debacle Star Wars had come into: Star Wars: Episode 3 – Attack of the Clones.  We didn’t want that.

Otherwise we’d have Elemental: War of Magic – Fallen Enchantress.

This is a problem we still have.

It was decided, ultimately, that it would be referred to as Fallen Enchantress.

Fallen Enchantress

With Fallen Enchantress, we looked at what the underlying engine we had built could do well and what parts it couldn’t do well. Derek Paxton designed a fantasy game that would satisfy most players.  We were still learning the ropes of what makes a good fantasy 4X title with this one. Fallen Enchantress was given away to all the early adopters of War of Magic.

 

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Fallen Enchantress greatly tightened up the design and made it a generally well received game.

Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes

We took what we learned from Fallen Enchantress and made an expansion pack called Legendary Heroes.  Like Fallen Enchantress, it was free for early adopters of War of Magic. It was also sold as a steep discount to those who had bought Fallen Enchantress.

One thing that I wish we had done differently was not release it as a “expand-a-lone”.  Stand-alone expansions are an ugly hold-over of the retail days and not something we plan on revisiting any time soon. 

 

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Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes took a pretty decent game and made it into a really good game

After Fallen Enchantress

In June of 2013, we had a hit.  FE:LH was well received. People really liked it. It was, by any standard, a really good game.  So what do we do? This is where branding gets in.

The name, for instance, is a problem for us.  We had already decided to name it Fallen Enchantress long before Derek “Fall from Heaven” Paxton joined us.  What if he someday wanted to make a Fall from  Heaven game? Having two series with “Fall” in the name was problematic.  This is an issue we haven’t resolved.

As a practical matter, Stardock wants to keep the good will and success of Legendary Heroes going.  I.e. a strong 4X builder with player designed units, vast worlds, wild lands, etc.  For all of 2013 and 2014 Stardock has continued to update Legendary Heroes with new DLC and new free updates.

Sorcerer King

In 2013, Stardock acquired the publishing rights to the Star Control (www.starcontrol.com) series.  What we really liked about Star Control (2) was the story and interaction with the different aliens while working against a powerful enemy.  It had been a long time since anyone tried to do something like that.

At the same time, a lot of really interesting 4X fantasy games had come out from other publishers. This would mean that a lot of gamers would already be familiar with the basics of a 4X fantasy. 

Thus, the idea for Sorcerer King was born: Let’s make a 4X game where the bad guy had already won and was now trying to become a god. Only you could stop him and to do so you would need to gather up the defeated remnants that you had previously competed with to stop him. 

For replayability, we would make sure that there was a lot of complex, unscripted interaction between the various players, random maps, random quests, and all manner of other content that would make sure each game was a new 4X adventure.  We had played a lot of game called FTL and saw how each game does feel very different based on the way it does its quests.

Ironically, the design is adhering a lot more closely to some of our original designs. Each faction is very different. Each unit has lots and lots of special abilities.  And ironically, the UI design is much more similar to the original concept we had all those years ago.

 

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Star Control: Isn’t he cute?

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Have you played FTL? If not, get it! Great game!

Quests

Sorcerer King: How do you make quests entertaining? Why, hire writers from Cracked.com to write them.

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Sorcerer King in action

 

The Elemental Relationship

So how are all these games related?  War of Magic, Fallen Enchantress and Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes all follow a pretty straight forward path.  You could call Fallen Enchantress a sequel to War of Magic even though it is dramatically different (but then again, Star Control 2 is very different from Star Control 1).

I can’t answer the branding questions.  What I can say is that the War of Magic series (however they’re branded) will continue its own path (War of Magic – > Fallen Enchantress –> Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes –> X?) and Sorcerer King will have its own path. 

Knowing that the word “Fall” or “Fallen” is out of the question for future titles in the War of Magic path, feel free to make your own suggestions. Smile

35 Comments

Sorcerer King FAQ

Posted on Thursday, October 2, 2014 by Frogboy

Q: What's the deal? There's a ton of awesome 4X fantasy strategy games to play. How is your game different?
A: This game assumes you’ve already played those games. And lost.

Q: Wait, what? I already lost? I haven’t even loaded up your game.
A: Yea, sorry about that.


Q: What the hell happened?
A: So to recap, in games like Fallen Enchantress, Age of Wonders, Worlds of Magic, Master of Magic, Warlock, Endless Legends, etc. you are trying to build an empire from the ground up. You compete against multiple kingdoms trying to do the same thing and win through a variety of means. Right?

Q: Right. And you’re saying Sorcerer King isn’t about that?
A: Exactly. All those things happened *before* Sorcerer King. And I have some bad news. The Sorcerer King won.


Q: So I don’t play as the Sorcerer King?
A: No. The Sorcerer King was the guy who won the previous game. He already conquered everyone.

Q: So what’s the object of your game then?
A: Well, having already built his empire and defeated everyone, the Sorcerer King wants outright Godhood and to do that, he must destroy the handful of remaining magical shards to capture their essence so that he can cast the Spell of Making.


Q: I’m familiar with that fantasy trope. So he’s capturing—
A: No, he’s destroying the shards. He’s not playing the same game you’re playing. We call that Asymmetrical 4X.


Q: Asymmetrical 4X? Is that even a thing? Sounds like a marketing thing.
A: Yea, probably. But it means that the player’s goals are very different than that of the other players.


Q: So in this game it’s not about a bunch of players building empires?
A: Right. Everyone already had their shot to build their empire. This game is what happens after the bad guy won.


Q: So what are you, the player, supposed to do?
A: Keep the Sorcerer King from destroying the shards and becoming a god.


Q: How do you do that?
A: First, you must build up and fortify your last remaining city.

Second, train new units to go out and protect the shards.

Third, you need to build up new cities to ensure you have the logistical capability of even taking on the Sorcerer King.

Fourth, find the remnants of the empires that were already defeated by the Sorcerer King and see if they can help you or at least keep them from totally surrendering to the Sorcerer King.

Fifth, go on quests, kill monsters to gather ingredients and items to use for crafting.


Q: Well that sounds like a 4X to me.
A: It is a 4X. It’s an asymmetrical one. The other players aren’t building up empires, going up some tech tree, negotiating treaties. They are all doing different things. Some are just trying to survive. Others want revenge. Some are just jerks. Seriously. Hate those guys. And the Sorcerer King himself wants to be a god. He’s already got an empire. Your job is to stop him by trying to convince the remnant empires that there’s still hope, building new cities, going on quests, finding ingredients for crafting, etc.


Q: Ah, so this game has crafting?
A: Sure does. You possess the Forge of the Overlord and can use recipes and ingredients to craft powerful equipment to give to your units.


Q: So what are the victory conditions?
A: Kill the Sorcerer King.


Q: And…?
A: That’s it. The fun is in how you go about doing that. Your means and strategy will differ from game to game based on map size, which quests come up, which minor factions are in there, what environments are available, which of the 6 different sovereigns you choose, which heroes you find, what resources are available, what spells the Sorcerer King learns, etc.


Q: What about Diplomacy? Can’t you ally with the other players and win that way?
A: Allying is indeed a victory condition – for the Sorcerer King. He will try to get you to ally with him.


Q: Wait? You can ally with the Sorcerer King?
A: Sure! Remember, he’s the one playing the traditional 4X game. He’s the one sending out settlers and building cities and conquering and trying to cast the spell of making or allying with the other races to win.


Q: What happens if you do ally with him?
A: You die.


Q: So why would I do that?
A: I don’t know. People like victory conditions.


Q: But it’s a victory condition for the Sorcerer King!
A: Well yea, it’s his game. I mean, it’s his name on the box. It’s not like the game is called Bob’s game.


Q: My name isn’t Bob.
A: And it never will be with that attitude.

37 Comments

On vacation: Don't burn the place down!

Posted on Saturday, July 19, 2014 by Frogboy

Okay guys! I'm out at the lake for the next couple weeks. I only plan to be on working when the weather is crummy.  I just checked out source code for E2015 and will be working on that during the rainy days.

While I'm out. please DO NOT burn down the place. I know it's tempting. I realize now that leaving the ammo dump and the fuel depot together in the same area of the forum were mistakes but resist! Just resist.

Thank you!

;-)

29 Comments

FE: Legendary Heroes v1.7 this month

Posted on Wednesday, July 9, 2014 by Frogboy

It looks like, with any luck, LH v1.7 will be going out a week from this Thursday (July 17th).

This is possibly the biggest update we’ve done to Legendary Heroes since its release.

You can read up on what’s new in it here: http://forums.elementalgame.com/455808/

Besides a ton of tweaks to the game itself, new features, new content and improved AI we were able to diagnose some crash bugs and fix them as well. So not only should it be the funnest update we’ve done but the most stable as well.

These updates are thanks to you guys.  Your purchases of DLC allow us to hire more developers to either work on LH or on other projects which free other developers to work on LH.

The next DLC is going to focus around tactical battles and new map stamps.

10 Comments
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