Getting back to Elemental

By on May 19, 2009 11:47:54 AM from JoeUser Forums JoeUser Forums

Frogboy

Join Date 03/2001
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Midleavel_Farm_Test2 As Elemental players know, I had been on Elemental since early this year. Then…Demigod was released and the online experience for that game has been a total cluster.  So I had to “assign myself” to Demigod to figure out what the deal was and make sure it got fixed.

In my view, too many moving parts. I’m not a huge fan of multiplayer-centric games in the first place. I’m particularly not a fan of peer to peer multiplayer-centric games on the PC because on the PC, unlike on the console, the developer is stuck writing this stuff – or in Demigod’s case, the publisher had to go out and license stuff which turned out to be a disaster. 

But now my time on Demigod is starting to come to an end – at least in terms of it dominating my life.  I’m looking forward to working on a game that we’re both developing and publishing so I don’t have to take a beating for things I can’t really do anything about.

Ramifications

I had to assign both Cari and Jesse (our two top game developers) to Demigod to largely rewrite the multiplayer system. This will have an impact on Elemental’s schedule. Sorry. People paid good money for Demigod and you know me, I am not about assigning blame or caring whose fault something is so my attitude is that the problem had to be solved quickly.

They’re still on Demigod this week working with developer Gas Powered Games on a slew of new APIs that will let the game be expanded well into the future. Then they can get back to Elemental next week.

Demigod’s impact on Elemental

The good news is that because we ended up having to develop our own multiplayer module to help with Demigod, we can use that on Elemental.  Now, to be crystal clear: Elemental is a single player centric game. It will have multiplayer but to be honest, I’m not willing to sacrifice a single feature of the game for multiplayer.  So if multiplayer is your main thing, you might as well stay away from Elemental.

That said, here are a few things that multiplayer in Elemental will have:

1. Multiplayer games will be hosted by us. Period. No peer to peer. Not even hosted on the user’s box. Our servers. No ports, no proxies, nothing. We’re hosting it.

2. I’m killing off the bots concept. People hate them. I thought they were cool but they’re too much work only to be hated. So there won’t be artificial players.

3. We will support empires (clans), scheduled games, and group join from the start since those features will get added (by us) to Demigod.

Fewer moving parts

We are revisiting the way the economy works in Elemental to simplify it.  There’s been some positive developments that I can’t talk about yet. The short version though is there will be likely be a lot lot lot more story to Elemental than anything we’ve done before.  Each sand box game should feel like an epic story if we do it right. We’ll see.

Release dates

I can say that Beta 0 is not going to happen in June now.  We might be able to do an Alpha then but that will only go out to a very tiny number of people (maybe 100 tops).  I’m reserving 10 places and the rest will come from the pre-order pool as a lottery with points given to those who have GalCiv II + Sins + Demigod.  Beta 0 would likely be July at this point but I’ll know more at the end of the week.

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May 19, 2009 11:56:04 AM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

I can say that Beta 0 is not going to happen in June now.
D'aww. I take it you're overruling Boogie's last journal?

Still, better to have things working better than released early.

 

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May 19, 2009 12:00:56 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I bow before the word of Brad...sorry folks, but ScottT never fights to have less time to work on a release.

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May 19, 2009 12:03:49 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Man, its sad that all of that stuff (demigod problems) had to happen. Especially since it is interfering with Elemental! Oh well, these things happen.

I for one am sorry to see the bots go. But, I am only one person, and you are definitely right, they would be a ton of work.  And it would be pointless to make them if lots of people don't like the idea.

About the fewer moving parts. Does this mean the system outlined in dev journal Concept: Understanding Unit Production is no longer in use? Or is it just the resource gaining part of the economy that is being simplified?

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May 19, 2009 12:07:30 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

2. I’m killing off the bots concept. People hate them. I thought they were cool but they’re too much work only to be hated. So there won’t be artificial players.

I would not kill them off completely, to be honest. People don't like them in Demigod because by nature Demigod is extremely competitive and the AI is a different beast there. As you well know from the early "Sins vs Gal Civ 2" AI debates on the forums and your own experience, turn-based AI can do many more things than real-time AI and it's just a different kind of game.

I actually thought the bot idea was really nifty, and it goes along with your earlier journal that players will be able to write AI routines and beam them up into the mod library. Wouldn't it be cool if bots using these routines could join MP games? More motivation to the modders!

What I would do is just make a toggle like you're doing for Demigod, just put it in-game rather than as a command line parameter. Everyone can select if they want bots or not to join their games. I would make a semi-educated guess that bots in Elemental will not get anywhere near the same amount of trashing as bots in Demigod for a great many reasons - not least of which is the player demographic. Elemental isn't going to be the super-competitive Multiplayer game where an AI can't even come close to matching a human. It's going to be a much more casual MP experience where having an AI doesn't really hurt.

I realize of course every time someone says "make it an option" you have to do extra work. It's a lot easier to just say no bots at all than to put in the infrastructure and code to allow it and then risk that work being (mostly) wasted if the majority of the players toggle it off. But it's still early enough in development when this choice can be made. I personally don't think doing it will be a waste, but as you said if the timeline doesn't work out I would agree that not spending time on MP-bot system to make sure single player is perfected is a necessary cut.

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May 19, 2009 12:08:51 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

I’m reserving 10 places and the rest will come from the pre-order pool as a lottery with points given to those who have GalCiv II + Sins + Demigod. Beta 0 would likely be July at this point but I’ll know more at the end of the week.

 

Well, that gives me lots'n'lots of points!

 

How can I earn some more?

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May 19, 2009 12:09:26 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

Also, I'm crossing my fingers and toes for an alpha spot.

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May 19, 2009 12:15:49 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

wasn't sure i was going to beta this till

"with points given to those who have GalCiv II + Sins + Demigod."

damn my insatiable hunger for shiny new things.

and damns to Frogboy for playing so pimp.

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May 19, 2009 12:39:32 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Gal Civ II? check, Sins and entrenchment? Check, Demigod?  Meh! Not my thing

 

Elemental pre-order? Check!

 

Sorry to see that the bot's are going to go, You seemed to like them a lot.  As long as we have some type of AI to play against that's good then I'll be happy.  Gal Civ II and Sins AI's are really good so I have faith

 

Any idea on how the simplification is going to be?  I liked the idea of the moving parts but I'm one of those empire builders who has no problems with complicated!

 

Rawr!

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May 19, 2009 12:48:24 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Couple of questions/comments:

1. Are you concerned that hosting every game could turn really expensive in the future? I mean that is a never ending expense, unless you expect the multiplayer pool to be so small that it won't be noticable. For those of us who have computers that are capable of hosting a game (being the server in a client/server setup), making your servers do the work seems unnecessary.

2. I agree with Annatar about the bots. They seem to make more sense in a game like Elemental then in Demigod, I hope they don't really go away. Presumably some kind of AI has to be written anyway since it's primarily a single player game, and the concept of letting modders tweak the AI and then play against those tweaked ones was really interesting. Please rethink this decision.

3. Don't sweat it about the delay. I know you all put in a ton of effort on the Demigod situation, so that's just how it goes.

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May 19, 2009 12:50:48 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Brad,

Thanks for the update, it really helps to know what's going on even if it isn't completely positive.

Personally, I didn't purchase Demigod because it's just not my genre (the demo may change my mind), but I am very impressed by what I've seen.  Particularly I'm impressed by your commitment to put all reasonable (and perhaps unreasonable) effort into making that project a success.  As a publisher, you've put more blood, sweat, and tears into resolving the multiplayer emergency than many (most?) _developers_ have in similar circumstances.  We salute you, sir.  I just hope y'all aren't hurting health-wise from all the all-nighters and stress.

Elemental, on the other hand, is very much my genre.  On the off-chance that you can actually consider such input, I would like to shamelessly promote myself for the alpha:
1) I understand it be tremendously incomplete and not fun as a game.  I'd have a ton of fun just knowing that I was helping in some small way on what could be the best fantasy 4x for years to come.
2) I've done software engineering professionally for over 4 years, and as a hobby for many more.  Everything from web-based budget systems to LOTR-Risk simulators.  Notably, for a few months I helped code and test a client-server multiplayer MoM-clone.
3) If you would prefer, I will commit in writing to a certain number of hours of testing per week and/or NDAs (though I don't know of y'all doing NDAs in the past)

I could go into more detail but my shamelessness ran out.  Either way, see you in the beta at least.

Thanks again,
Keith

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May 19, 2009 12:53:13 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Can I add another request to reconsider bots? Even if not in version 1.0, it would be nice if you exposed hooks so that modders could create their own bots to play against other people, even if you never write any of your own beyond trivial ones that demonstrate the AI API.

This would probably require the creation of special bot accounts, so that people know what they're going up against, and weak players can't just boost their online ratings by having a bot play for them for a while.

Then again, I like the idea of things like Robocode, and think it would be interesting for people to pit their AIs against one-another in bot-vs-bot tournaments. Or perhaps where a bot and its creator are on the same side. Actually, collaboration would be the best reason not to allow user-made bots. When a bot can recognize its master, and he or she is your opponent...

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May 19, 2009 12:58:15 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Bot vs. Bot is a must.  Brad, I know you got to watch the AI play itself in GalCiv, and we won't let you keep that fun to yourself this time around

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May 19, 2009 12:59:12 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting ,

2. I’m killing off the bots concept. People hate them. I thought they were cool but they’re too much work only to be hated. So there won’t be artificial players.


To be clear, the bots were just a multiplayer concept to fill open slots in games, yes? The single player notion of providing a variety of AI "personalities" a la Gal Civ remains in the plans? All the factions won't play exactly like each other in single player, will they?


We are revisiting the way the economy works in Elemental to simplify it.

Lacking specifics, it is not really possible to respond to this. I will say that I generally prefer simple and elegant to complex and convoluted, so this sounds like a good idea to me.


I can say that Beta 0 is not going to happen in June now.

Shucks. And I was just starting to get myself enthused about that, too. Oh well - I'll go back to lurking and checking in once a week or so (barring a lucky invitation to the possible Alpha) until we get close to July, then. I'd certainly rather you take the time you need than rush through things.

Thanks for the update!

- Ash

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May 19, 2009 1:11:20 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

To be clear, the bots were just a multiplayer concept to fill open slots in games, yes?

More or less. The bots were going to be like virtual players that would exist on SD's servers and would behave like a player would, joining games and such rather than being set by the player.

That's why I think it would go really well with people modding AI and uploading into the library. When you set a bot, after a while you know all the AI tricks and how it behaves. There's no surprise, even setting "random" will be random among the types you know.

Having these bots, though, would allow for much more interesting scenarios where you have absolutely no idea what the AI does and in that sense it's not that dissimilar from playing a human. Now *that* would be fun.

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May 19, 2009 1:17:06 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

More dev shops need to be reasonable about slipping schedules when they need to slip. I'm a regular pest on these forums, but I'm entirely OK with seeing the beta 0 date move. And I'm also very happy to see a reaffirmation of the singleplayer experience as the center of the Elemental project.

The only possible 'bad' news I see in the post is this business of simplifying the economy. I'm all for providing a simple top-level UI, but I had high hopes that the underlying mechanics would be both rich and accessible via 'advanced' UI layers for folks who want that level of peeking and poking in their TBS sagas.

In particular, I believe that providing at least options for 'complex' game economics could do a lot to follow up on what Scott said in his Countdown journal about wanting to "...make it exciting to play the peaceful magician."

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May 19, 2009 1:20:51 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Lottery? With my luck, I'm already out!!!

Now seriously,  I must say that I totally agree with KeithLamothe about your commitment. If I could afford it (or when I can...) I'd buy all your products just for it. With people like ye, it's a pleasure to spend money.

One thing about multiplayer. I'm not into it but that only Stardock can host the games makes me wonder something. What if Stardock banishes? Will it be ready for a patch, made before the banishment, that enable people to host games in their computer? No more multiplayer for Elemental? Get ready for the worst and hope for the best, I suppose.

No bots... well, as long as I get my keen AI single players enemies to make me suffer while I struggle to dominate the game, I'm fine. But I agree with the comments about this game not being the same as Demigod. But if to develop those bots is going to cost single player stuff to be lost in any way... no way!

And no problem about the beta 0 being in july, It worries me more the Stardock team. For selfish reasons, eh? How are you going to make the best TBS is you are so tired that you cannot even blink?

Now call Obama and tell him that your team deserves some kind of medal, dammit.

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May 19, 2009 1:24:53 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums
I agree with Annatar11.  I would still like to see bots as an option in multiplayer.  They are needed in turn-based games.  My favorite online mode is me and friend(s) vs the AI.  Frogboy, I'd like you to consider putting bots in MP still.

 

 

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May 19, 2009 1:25:22 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

More dev shops need to be reasonable about slipping schedules when they need to slip. I'm a regular pest on these forums, but I'm entirely OK with seeing the beta 0 date move. And I'm also very happy to see a reaffirmation of the singleplayer experience as the center of the Elemental project.

Seconded.  This may be the only fantasy TBS game of significance for the next 10 years, since most developers are piling on the RTS bandwagon.  I want Elemental to be as good as possible, no matter how long it takes.  There simply aren't any comparable games out there (Dominions is a different beast).  For fans of the genre, you're our last best hope, Stardock!

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May 19, 2009 1:29:12 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I'm not into it but that only Stardock can host the games makes me wonder something. What if Stardock banishes? Will it be ready for a patch, made before the banishment, that enable people to host games in their computer?

When this has happened to other companies, they've simply released the server code publicly.  Then people can run their own servers.  I doubt Stardock is disappearing any time soon though.

I would still like to see bots as an option in multiplayer. They are needed in turn-based games. My favorite online mode is me and friend(s) vs the AI.

I think 'bots' are different than AI players.  They were a fancy concept of persistent AIs that joined games just like players, and so on.  I'm guessing MP AI opponents will still be available, but I may be wrong.

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May 19, 2009 1:30:04 PM from Demigod Forums Demigod Forums

Quoting Windisch,
I agree with Annatar11.  I would still like to see bots as an option in multiplayer.  They are needed in turn-based games.  My favorite online mode is me and friend(s) vs the AI.  Frogboy, I'd like you to consider putting bots in MP still.

Don't confuse AI with bots, they're two different things The bots were going to be virtual players that could actually join your games, which isn't the same thing as selecting an AI player on the game setup screen.

I didn't read Frogboy's post as saying there will be no AI in MP at all, I understood it as these bots just won't exist but you'd still be able to set AI for your game.

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May 19, 2009 1:38:45 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Awesome Brad.  This post reminded me that I need to pre-order Elemental.   I support all Stardock games and Elemental is right up my alley as my fav genre.

GalCiv 1 and 2:  Check.  My core gaming love along with the Civ series

Sins + Entrentchment: Check.  Wasn't really my thing but I gave it a try.  Was a lot of fun but it's fallen out of favor with me for some reason.  But I still play from time to time.

Demigod:  Check.  I don't like RTS games.  I really don't.  But this game is a TON of fun and I haven't even got online yet (MP is just not my thing).  DG will certainly be a top 5 game of mine in the long run because I love the fact that I can sit down, jump in and play a high intense game for just 20 minutes.

Elemental:  Pre-order coming this week  I want this to be the best game it can be and I'm all over it.

 

Frogboy rules!

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May 19, 2009 1:38:54 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting ,


2. I’m killing off the bots concept. People hate them. I thought they were cool but they’re too much work only to be hated. So there won’t be artificial players.

I'm actually very dissapointed to hear this, aside from the economics information revealed previous to this post, this was probably the most exciting thing that i'd heard about elemental so far.  Lets face it, the gaming community in general doesn't suffer from a lack of overly intelligent AI when it comes to games.  I think that personally Galciv II has some of the most intelligent AI out there, and half the time when I play that game I find the best way to win is to beg/borrow/murder/suck-up to the most powerful AI in the game because they are often able to crush me, so I often end up riding their coattails to victory. 

I was very excited to hear of a developer that got into gaming to code AI.  I'm very interested in seeing what a motivated developer along those lines could turn out, and if said developer could actually code AI well enough to imitate an actual person, it would be a tremendous leap forward, and a genuine benchmarks for games to come.

The other thing i'd like to respond to is the notation in the post about simplifying the economy.  I know that there aren't any details, but i'd like to say that i'm all in favor of simplifying the interface so long as you don't remove the nuts and bolts that make it sound so fantastic.  I'm talking specifically about how it's been stated before that the economy relies on connections, i.e. must own horses/mine/armory etc to train a mounted soldier.  Excess production can be shipped to other towns etc.  All of this sounds fantastic and adds an incredible amount of breadth to the game, and I would hate to see it glossed over and just become intrinsic to the game with no player control whatsoever.  Tweaking the economy is such an inherent staple of 4x games that i'd hate to lose it. 

Otherwise this game is something that I and many other MOM fans have been hoping for for such a long time, thanks Brad/Stardock

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May 19, 2009 1:54:48 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

Don't confuse AI with bots, they're two different things The bots were going to be virtual players that could actually join your games, which isn't the same thing as selecting an AI player on the game setup screen.

I didn't read Frogboy's post as saying there will be no AI in MP at all, I understood it as these bots just won't exist but you'd still be able to set AI for your game.

I forgot about that feature.  Although, I would still like to see the bots.  We'll just have to wait and see I guess.  Not worried about Beta 0 being pushed back.

 

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May 19, 2009 1:59:59 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting ,
1. Multiplayer games will be hosted by us. Period. No peer to peer. Not even hosted on the user’s box. Our servers. No ports, no proxies, nothing. We’re hosting it.

Thank god.  I have no idea what happened between beta and release but I have only been able to play 2 multiplayer games since release (Out of over 100 attempts).

Quoting ,
2. I’m killing off the bots concept. People hate them. I thought they were cool but they’re too much work only to be hated. So there won’t be artificial players.

The problem with the Demigod bots is how dumb they are (Were?  This week they seem to have stopped running back and forth in a line in combat and instead attack me).  I am all for a smart bot that I can't tell from a player.


Quoting ,

We might be able to do an Alpha then but that will only go out to a very tiny number of people (maybe 100 tops).  I’m reserving 10 places and the rest will come from the pre-order pool as a lottery with points given to those who have GalCiv II + Sins + Demigod.  Beta 0 would likely be July at this point but I’ll know more at the end of the week.

The lotto w/ bonus points sounds good to me. (Pre-order + GalCiv II + Sins + Demigod owner)

 

Sammual

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May 19, 2009 2:51:18 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Ashain,

2. I’m killing off the bots concept. People hate them. I thought they were cool but they’re too much work only to be hated. So there won’t be artificial players.


I'm actually very dissapointed to hear this, aside from the economics information revealed previous to this post, this was probably the most exciting thing that i'd heard about elemental so far.  Lets face it, the gaming community in general doesn't suffer from a lack of overly intelligent AI when it comes to games.  I think that personally Galciv II has some of the most intelligent AI out there, and half the time when I play that game I find the best way to win is to beg/borrow/murder/suck-up to the most powerful AI in the game because they are often able to crush me, so I often end up riding their coattails to victory. 

I was very excited to hear of a developer that got into gaming to code AI.  I'm very interested in seeing what a motivated developer along those lines could turn out, and if said developer could actually code AI well enough to imitate an actual person, it would be a tremendous leap forward, and a genuine benchmarks for games to come.

The other thing i'd like to respond to is the notation in the post about simplifying the economy.  I know that there aren't any details, but i'd like to say that i'm all in favor of simplifying the interface so long as you don't remove the nuts and bolts that make it sound so fantastic.  I'm talking specifically about how it's been stated before that the economy relies on connections, i.e. must own horses/mine/armory etc to train a mounted soldier.  Excess production can be shipped to other towns etc.  All of this sounds fantastic and adds an incredible amount of breadth to the game, and I would hate to see it glossed over and just become intrinsic to the game with no player control whatsoever.  Tweaking the economy is such an inherent staple of 4x games that i'd hate to lose it. 

Otherwise this game is something that I and many other MOM fans have been hoping for for such a long time, thanks Brad/Stardock

 

Quoting Alfedenzo,
Can I add another request to reconsider bots? Even if not in version 1.0, it would be nice if you exposed hooks so that modders could create their own bots to play against other people, even if you never write any of your own beyond trivial ones that demonstrate the AI API.

This would probably require the creation of special bot accounts, so that people know what they're going up against, and weak players can't just boost their online ratings by having a bot play for them for a while.

Then again, I like the idea of things like Robocode, and think it would be interesting for people to pit their AIs against one-another in bot-vs-bot tournaments. Or perhaps where a bot and its creator are on the same side. Actually, collaboration would be the best reason not to allow user-made bots. When a bot can recognize its master, and he or she is your opponent...

I agree, to be honest the whole server-based A.I. thing sounded awesome, Its a shame to see these ideas cut especially seening as how A.I. is your speciality. Even if there are only a few personalities that are constantly updated and added to (and can engage in multiple games at a time or something) It would be good.

                      Recently,In most games there is tendancy to have really shitty A.I. that has to have an income boost to be anywhere near your level. Its a real shame and I sympathise with you since I actually chose Computer Science at Uni to go into A.I. Programming.

Don't let those mean Patheneon A.I. bashing Demigod players get you down, after all it is a different genre. I'm sorry you had to make such a harsh decision

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