We’re getting close
Elemental will be released on August 24th. Our “gold” date is August 4th. Our goal is to have the "game” basically done by July 16th. The remaining time will be spent polishing, balancing, tweaking and adding player suggested feedback. We’ll categorize that feedback on things that we think are fun or interesting enough to get into the “gold” version (the version that comes in the box) and then things we’ll make available on release date (the August 24th edition).
A game vs. a piece of software
What makes a game different from a piece of software is of course, the fun factor. So when I talk about things being “done” I am speaking of the software program known as Elemental. But that doesn’t make it a game. That just makes it a piece of software capable of performing the features of the game. Turning it into a game requires a lot of balancing, usability tweaking, polish and the injection of fun.
Our beta programs have focused largely on deciding what features and directions we need to take on the software so that the final game will be “fun”.
The transition from software to a game
Of course, beta testers, particularly ones who haven’t been involved in Stardock betas previously, are stuck in the situation of not knowing whether we “realize” the areas of the software that need to be changed in order to make it a “good game”. So this post is a partial tour of just some of the big issues that have to be addressed for the software to be a good game.
Below are some of the things on our list:
ITEM #1: Making the sovereigns distinct from one another
Making it so that each sovereign is very distinct in how they play is very important. The way we are going to do this is to make the Professions available and the Talents have far reaching (i.e. not simply “stat boosts”) effects. Thus far, we’ve struggled over which professions to have in the first place.
For instance, the Warlord starts the player off with 2 sentinels. But right now, the Bard only starts you with a stat boost to hero cost. Boring. The Adventurer gives you an extra move. A okay start but still boooring. This will be an area that we will be spending time on after the public beta endsd.
ITEM #2: Making the factions distinct
In a nutshell, The Kingdoms and The Empires are fighting over how the world should be organized. The Kingdoms are (by default) all races of MEN. The Empires are mostly Races of FALLEN. The Fallen are made up of many distinct races.
However, we must make sure each of these races plays differently enough and looks different enough that it is meaningful. This is an area we’re going to spend a lot of time on.
ITEM #3: Usability
There are all kinds of annoying UI issues that get in the way or make the game less intuitive than it should be.
Clicking outside the book should close it. There’s a ton of stuff like that. Beta 2-B users will get to see a LOT more stuff that is extremely annoying such as the way spells are managed in beta 2-B. The spell management will get overhauled during the public beta. It’s incredibly obnoxious.
ITEM #4: The Environment is Boring
Based on the plot, the world is decimated. Thus, the lands are barren. However, we are finding this to be oppressive.
Instead, what we are going to be moving towards is a system where the land is spotted with bits of grassland and Fallen land that players can build on without having to sacrifice essence.
In addition, building cities is going to require a Pioneer pack. The player will start with one and it is consumed on building a city. Additional cities will require building pioneers (who can only build on non-forsaken ground) or champions can buy pioneer packs in the shops (giving another early benefit to recruited NPCs).
This makes city building require a little more thought than presently and allows us to address the issue of why can only sovereigns found cities?
Moreover, the art and development teams are both working on a significant increase in the number of environments for the world (we haven’t enabled rivers in the public builds yet because they are cosmetically ugly still). The goal is to make sure the world is an interesting and exciting place.
ITEM #5 DETAILS AND EQUIPPING
In the public beta, the details and equipment screens are combined into a single horrible, usability nightmare.
“The best shareware game UI of 1997!”
During the polish phase, the equipping screen and the details screen will be different (you’ll be able to easily switch between them). This way, equipping units will be straight forward and efficient and the history of the unit and their details can be more easily handled. Plus, it’ll be a lot more intuitive to play.
ITEM #6: Battle Animations and effects
In the beta, all the battle stuff is really basic and dull. During the polish phase, we’ll be adding many many different combat animations, effects, etc. to make battles a lot more interesting.
ITEM #7: NOTIFICATIONS AND UI
This is going to be a big issue in Beta 2-B now that magic is enabled. Players can lose a lot of time because they filled up their spell points inventory and weren’t prompted to do anything about it.
ITEM #8: WHAT IS GOING ON?
This covers a whole lot of areas of the game. But basically there’s a huge lack of UI-driven explanation of what is happening or why something is the way it is. This is an area we will be concentrating a great deal on during the polish phase.
ITEMS #9: COSTS AND BENEFITS ARE CRAZY
How much an item should cost or how tough a monster should be or how hard a certain tech should be to get and so on, these are things that we are aware of and will be focusing a great deal on. Right now, a lot of the values in the “software” were put in by programmers. During the polish stage, the designers (myself included) get to take a crack at it.
Beta 2-A, for instance, changed the game from Beta 2 quite a bit by simply allowing a designer (me in this case) an afternoon to tweak the values.
ITEM #10: TECHNOLOGY RESEARCH UI
The research mechanism is so crummy that it deserves its own item. It’s something we’re very aware of and it’s on our list. I did ask it to be improved some during the public beta phase so that beta testers could at least have a decent idea of what’s going on.
Look at all these screens that tell you nothing about what you picked. HORRIBLE.
ITEM #11: QUESTS
The quests in the game will get better and better during the polish portion.
ITEM #12: Other Player interaction
The AI players still don’t do much. Without the challenge of other players, the game loses much of its potency in the beta. With the Imperial factions disabled, you only have 5 default players and we haven’t enabled creation your own factions yet the worlds tend to be relatively devoid of action.
ITEM #13: Diplomacy
Diplomacy is going to be a major element in the game. It shows up in Beta 3 but it’ll be pretty basic since the AI isn’t particularly intelligent yet.
ITEM #14: NPC and MONSTER AI
The monsters and NPCs just kind of randomly move around right now. This is an area we are going to be heavily polishing to make them be a lot more “alive” than they currently are.
The team has hooked in the ability for me to have these creatures (at least the sentient ones) pop up conversations with the players. This is something that we can have a lot of fun with.
BETA TESTER IMPACT
We very much welcome constructive feedback from players. We can’t promise that every idea will make it into the retail gold or even the day 0 release but if we like it, we can put it on our post-release update schedule. So definitely keep posting your ideas or suggestions.