We are going to be lifting the NDA shortly on being able to talk about the game. The only thing we'll ask is to not post screenshots or videos as we still have a lot of "programmer art" in there.
We are going to be lifting the NDA shortly on being able to talk about the game. The only thing we'll ask is to not post screenshots or videos as we still have a lot of "programmer art" in there.
While Star Control is not officially announced, it's no secret we're working on it.
Here's a quick status report:
We are developing a prototype to start from using Oxide's Nitrous 3D engine. The prototype is very similar Star Control 2 but with a mini story.
We hired comedy writer Chris Bucholz (Cracked.com) as the lead writer for the series.
We are evaluating/discussing/debating/arguing/eating (okay maybe not eating) the different aspects of what makes a Star Control game:
These are all different components of what makes Star Control...Star Control.
None of this will be set in stone until we've hired a lead designer (which we haven't yet, we're interviewing). While Derek and I would love to design a new Star Control game, the game is being developed by Stardock East (Towson Maryland) so the designer would need to be physically there for best results. The team is made up of veterans from Big Huge Games, Firaxis and of course Stardock.
First Summer with the chickens. They seem to be having a good time. I’m late on harvesting honey though, too much time spent in the debugger.
Ah to be young again. I’m watching Twitter afire with different groups blaming each other for the death threats of different people. They’re all wrong. They’re not sending death threats. It’s the crazy lurkers who do and they are typically not particularly into the cause.
Death threats: A starter’s guide
Now, first, let’s define a death threat because I see a lot of people confusing “I hope you get cancer” with a death threat. I’ve had people write poems to me in which I die of cancer “bleeding out of every orifice.” That’s not a death threat. “I hope you die.” is not a death threat. It’s just rude.
So what exactly is a death threat?
So what is a death threat? I would think it obvious but apparently it isn’t. A death threat is when someone states or implies that they are going to kill you.
Not all death threats are created equal. If you’re a public person, you learn to distinguish between a credible threat and garden variety Internet jerks.
I’ve only called the police once in response to a death threat because the person was unusually specific. There was one other death threat that was borderline (because they called me on the phone and it was clear they had driven by my house based on their description).
If you’ve been in the public long enough, you start to have a different perspective on death threats. I’m not unique btw. It’s just that most people don’t publicize their death threats for the same reason people don’t publicize when they’re being DDOS’d or hacked or whatever. You don’t want to imply in any way that they’ve had any affect on you. I’m only bringing this up because the media seems to think it’s A. new that socially active game developers get death threats and B. it only happens to women (all other things being equal, it does happen more often to women than men so don’t think it’s a sex neutral issue). Of course, not all things are equal. Normally it’s men who get demonized and that has been the case for years. This is relatively easy to prove because when the opposite happens, it’s newsworthy.
Why death threats happen
There are crazy people out there.
You can’t empathize with them because they don’t think like you or me.
If you’ve ever met someone truly psychologically unstable (and I mean someone who probably should be locked up) you know what I mean. They’re a tiny tiny percent of the population. But they are out there. They have a lot of time on their hands. They are lurking on your forum right now. They’re on Twitter. They’re on Tumblr. And they get angry. Angry in a way that most people never experience. They see someone who has done a bad thing and they want that person to pay. They believe that person deserves to die.
Who are the death threat makers?
Back when I was younger, I offensively described the profile for one of these people: Lives alone, 42 to 55 years old, white, male, on some sort of disability, usually not directly involved with whatever “issue” that has set them off. They don’t post. They don’t tweet. They lurk. I called it the “Danger profile”. It was offensive mainly because it makes me guilty of demonizing a group that are nearly always perfectly reasonable (not to mention I was ignorant of the 19 to 25 group back then).
The crazies are NOT “SJW” or “MRA” or “Feminist” or “Tea Partier” or whatever. They live on the fringes of these groups. That’s why when one of these crazies are caught and rational people try to understand them that it turns out they didn’t really have an ideology. Again: You can’t empathize with them.
What saves the day 99.9% of the time is that they have a short attention span. I don’t mean that in the derogatory sense of the word, I mean literally, they have no attention span (it would be really awesome if someone who’s worked in mental health could comment to explain this better than I am).
Hence, when I get a death threat, if it’s some stupid kid, I don’t take it nearly as seriously as I do when I find out it’s someone who I realize fits danger profile. The writing is very distinctive and eerily consistent when it’s in the danger profile. You get good at spotting the credible, the incredible and the fake death threats.
The reason I suspect it happens more to women is simply because the crazies tend, statistically, to be men. However, when it comes to demonizing individuals I definitely have my opinions of who does the majority of that.
How to reduce it
The biggest thing you and everyone else can do is to not demonize an individual. If you feel you must bash some group, bash that group. But never, ever try to stir up hatred towards an individual online. NEVER DEHUMANIZE an individual. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t criticize someone. Any intellectually honest person knows the difference between criticism and trying to paint someone as being subhuman.
To sum up, it’s not someone from “that group” that’s sending the death threats. It’s a lurker. You demonize someone enough on a forum thread, in the media, or on a social network and some lurker with the danger profile will pick it up and feel compelled to do something about it.
Have you been getting a bit frustrated in recent weeks about having your well crafted or well-intentioned point mischaracterized as something vile and disgusting? Maybe they just misunderstood right? Nope. You have just run into someone who intentionally chooses to misrepresent your position in order to cheaply gain the moral high ground.
Nearly every bit of PR trouble I’ve gotten into over the years has been the result of someone mischaracterizing something I’ve said or posted in order to make themselves appear to be better people. I used to think they just made an honest mistake or that other people had muddied the issue. Unfortunately, time has taught me that isn't the case. They do it on purpose and they do it because social media is fodder for them to build themselves up by portraying other people as troglites.
Shut up and die, you evil, human filth, why can’t you learn to be kind and caring like me?
For years, this sub-culture of gaming has pretty much had its way in doing this to others because it was always some minor incident and the silent majority just didn't notice. Unfortunately for them, these incidents add up and eventually you have enough people who have been affected by it reach a critical mass. Eventually people start to realize that “sensitive, caring” people aren’t really trying to help/solve anything. They just want to feel good about themselves and look good to their peer group and misrepresenting you as scum is very effective.
The accumulation of smears
Now recently, some of my blogs have been linked to and some of those people have been told “Well that guy is awful, didn’t you know he parks his sports car in handicap spots?” or “Didn’t you know he experiments on his employees with bees?” or “Didn’t he kill and eat someone?” comes up (well maybe not that last part - but rest assured, now someone will post that I kill and eat people).
A lot of this stuff I brought on myself because I thought people would appreciate self-deprecating humor. That was back when I didn't realize that so many people were invested in demonizing other people at any cost to feel better about themselves.
Let me give you an example of a video skit we did that got considerably coverage some years ago but,as recently as an hour ago, used by someone as an example as to why any opinion I have must be discarded.
Here’s there video:
What’s odd is that there is nearly a 100% overlap between the people who will mischaracterize obvious stuff like this and the people who will mischaracterize your well researched, rational argument about X as misogynist or racist or whatever the “shut up, I don’t want to hear you” tactic of the day is.
The bad news is that you can’t fix it. Their motivation is to look better to their peer group and feel better about themselves. They won’t stop. They can’t be persuaded because, for them, this is about their self-esteem. You exist as fuel for their self worth.
Update: When I googled the bee thing I found another thread which included someone alleging (out of whole cloth) that I asked someone to "dress sexy" AND has the bee thing on the same page. Which is another element some of you are probably running into when you try to talk to people you thought were well intentioned but unaware of the "whole story": They'll will make things up about you. Why? Because they're good people and for them to be good, you have to be bad.
The game industry as been ablaze for, really, the last couple of years about misogyny within its ranks. This really came to a head in the past couple weeks when an outspoken “indie” game developer was accused of some sordid activities in exchange for media coverage.
Online culture has a serious toxicity problem. It gets worse every year. Here are 3 things that are driving it:
#1 The tabloidiziation of the gaming media.
First, I want to emphasize that the gaming media isn’t some monolithic thing. There are a lot of good publications and journalists in the game industry. But at the same time, they, like you, know who and what I’m referring to, are often appalled by them, so I think they, and you, will forgive me if I simply describe the usual suspects as “the gaming media”.
It’s not just that the gaming media publicizes every tawdry rumor or speculation about the individuals involved in making games. It’s that they actively take sides and drive the narrative. This is extremely divisive and thus creates a constituency of people waiting “their turn” to air their grievances.
The gaming media likes to create heroes, villains and victims. I’ve been portrayed as all 3 even though I’ve never been any of the 3:
The problem is that the gaming media gets more hits from demonizing game makers which makes their audience angry and causes them to lash out at the appointed villain. So contextless articles are written designed to make you hate someone, usually people that the article writer already has a problem with. Those articles then live on via search engines perpetuating people being mad and going after the appointed villain. Toxicity is created, spread and maintained.
This is easy to demonstrate. Right now, Google my name. “Brad Wardell”.
On Google, you’ll find my Wiki entry, twitter and my blogs and probably linked in. But right after that? Slime.
Note that I’ve been in the tech/game industry for over 20 years. I’ve done a lot of stuff in that 20 years ranging from writing the first commercial 32bit computer game to designing Start8.
Now, Google search someone the media has exceptional…sympathy for. Go ahead. Look at the top entries there. Compare.
For me, the really frustrating parts is how out of context and biased the actual coverage can get depending on what is being covered. The media and the subsequent trolls loved to take snippets or something without any curiosity of the larger context (such as incredibly insubordinate comments from someone – “you need to make an appointment with me before coming to my office area”) in order to create the narrative they want to incite their readership.
The point is, the gaming media is perfectly happy to profit from spreading toxicity into Internet culture. The only difference now is that people are able to push back against the narratives being foisted.
#2 Professional Victims
The professional victim is an individual who takes advantage of good hearted people. This is particularly the case in the game industry. If someone’s media coverage / social media influence greatly outstrips their actual accomplishments, they might be a professional victim.
I’ve been getting death threats and online flames since the beginning. I didn’t go around complaining about it because, like most people, I know that the world is full of jerks and idiots and if they’ve heard of you, they will sometimes target you. The professional victim, by contrast, will convert trolling into media gold which just so happens to get coverage for their new game or new project.
The professional victim is purposely trying to ruffle feathers and then gain exposer for their project by the outpouring of abuse they take. But only some people are allowed to be victims. If some gruff man were to start critiquing the fashion industry, any complaints he had regarding the “harassment” he received due to the inevitable insults directed his way would be ignored.
Professional victims rely on the fact that we don’t condemn intolerance and abuse universally. Because of that, like issue #1, the culture becomes more divisive, more toxic. When people feel they haven’t gotten a fair shake or that their beliefs are being misrepresented, they get angry.
Lastly, a reminder: Trolls customize their insults just for you. They will pick what they think will upset you the most and use that. If you wear your grievances on your sleeve then it’s just that much easier.
The typical stereotype of the online “troll” is that they’re some kid. But the nastiest of the trolls tend to actually be people who actually work IN THE INDUSTRY (or close to it) posting anonymously.
Sometimes they post as themselves but because they have the correct “politics” they get a pass. One of the worst trolls I’ve had to deal with was the founding editor of Kotaku. He even made a YouTube video comparing me to Hitler (it’s still up if you search for it). Imagine if the former editor in chief of Kotaku posted a video comparing a female game developer with Hitler. What do you imagine the coverage would be? What does that tell you about the attitudes of some people in “activist” media?
The fact that Twitter and YouTube still allow anonymity for their users is [A] Not surprising but [B] a major reason why we have so much shit on the Internet. People are a lot more reasonable when they are posting as “themselves”.
No easy answers
I wish there was an easy answer. In a click-bait driven Internet, toxicity sells. I suspect we’ll be forced to live with that. But people don’t have to sit back like sheep and be manipulated by it. They can push back when some “journalist” posts a hit piece and call out hypocrisy on those who complain about “harassment” when in fact they’re part of the culture that cultivates and profits from it. In the meantime, grow a thick skin and try not to let it affect you.
So that’s my 2 cents anyway for what it’s worth.
The tabloid parts of the gaming media shit out a lot of toxicity that lives on forever via search engines. Unaccountable trolls read up on this and then perpetuate the original toxicity by keeping it alive, thus perpetuating the cycle. Meanwhile some cynical people capitalize on the gaming media bias to get career boosting publicity despite their meager real world accomplishments.
Well, my friends, there’s so much going on around here these days that I don’t even know where to start. Please forgive me for my rambling in advance.
Can you guys imagine that? A game where the galaxy is alive with hundreds of empires (not counting minor races)? That’s one of the benefits of GalCiv III.
The new crazy sized galaxies are really in contrast to the new super-tiny Arena sized maps that we’re working on for multiplayer and quick games. I’ve always wanted to be able to balance a game for both tiny and insane but in the days before Steam Early Access, that wasn’t really doable.
One of the new things we’re doing for GalCiv III to make the universe more interesting is we are developing an XML based diplomacy schema. This is important because we’ll want modders to be able to share their own diplomacy extensions of the game so that these amazing maps really do feel alive.
Making the galaxy alive
You can’t just make a really big map and call it a day. To make it believeable you need a really sophisticated AI combined with a helluva lot of content. “We laugh at your pitiful civilization, give us gold or we will destroy you!” would get pretty old after the 97th time. That’s why we need the diplomacy development language. We have to be able to hand it off to writers and modders to create a ton of interesting and unique potential scenarios that have specific and relevant results.
A lot of the AI design has to do with the idea that you’re building a relationship with a particular race. As some people recall, GalCiv is NOT that game where everyone gangs up on the most powerful player automatically. The smart player builds long lasting friendships with other players.
The difference with GalCiv III is that instead of me hard coding this, this is being made extensible via XML. So players will be able to extend whatever I come up with.
Now, mind you, I don’t even start writing code on GalCiv III until October. That’s when the party will really start. Hehe.
The marketing people hate when I refer to something involving Elemental. That’s because every press article seems focus on the original Elemental:War of Magic (which did suck unfortunately). Elemental remains the most enjoyable programming experience I ever had. It’s a good reminder that you can’t mix up fun working on and fun playing.
Anyway, we just released an update to Legendary Heroes last month and we’re working on the next game in that fantasy universe. It’s going to be incredibly sweet. We’ve decided to embrace its single player style and really focus the game about you. So we have some real RPG-ish stuff coming.
Soren Johnson, designer of Civilization IV, has a new game in development called Offworld Trading Company. It won’t be out for awhile (Early Access next year). But it’s crazy addictive already. Multiplayer works too well. Think of it is MULE but designed for today and with a lot of bastard features. I won’t say who let the air our of Soren’s tires. I’m just saying that maybe he should let others win more often. That’s all I’m saying.
Yes. We are working on this. But don’t expect to hear much for a long time. We are aggressively hiring developers/artists for working on it in Maryland. Right now, we’re working on the prototype which is, not surprisingly, based on Star Control 2. The biggest areas open to changing are the land based parts (exploring a planet), some of the camera work for Melee and letting making the customization of your main ship be something much more open ended.
Our biggest, most ambitious project ever is not announced yet. It’ll likely be announced as CES 2015. This team is a combo of people who worked on Sins of a Solar Empire, Galactic Civilizations, Civilization V and LOTR: Battle for Middle Earth. It’ll require 64-bit and need Mantle/DirectX 12 to really shine. We haven’t even hinted about this game yet in any form so don’t bother to try to guess. It’s something completely new.
Been posting pics of stuff we're working on.
Awhile back I wrote about depression. I wasn’t really intending to revisit the topic despite the apparent suicide of actor/comedienne Robin Williams but some of the analysis I’ve seen about depression written by people who clearly have no personal experience with it has motivated me to talk about it a bit.
Depression is a physiological disease. Its severity is different from person to person who suffers it. It is not about being in a bad mood. When one is suffering from an “episode” which can last hours or months being alive is painful.
If you haven’t experienced try to imagine some life event that made you feel utter despair and anguish. Now, imagine that feeling lasting months and not having a specific origin. That is what depression is.
Depression is treatable but anyone saying it can be “Beaten” has no idea what they’re talking about. It can be managed but it isn’t beaten. People with severe depressive disorder tend to have a variety of tried and true personal techniques they use to mitigate the worst of the effects. In my experience, hope for better days is a key tool in our arsenal.
When things are particularly dark, the inevitable question arises, “Why go on?" It becomes particularly dicey when it gets hard to convince oneself that it isn’t going to get better.
Robin Williams related that he was unhappy having to do roles like Mrs. Doubtfire II in order to “Get a paycheck”. He also had been recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. This combination can be devastating to someone who’s day to day life is already agony.
I’ve talked to a few other people who suffer depression and a very common thread is that when they have an depressive episode (think of depression as being related to epilepsy or migraines, these episodes are often random) they remind themselves that “Well, when A, B and C happen then I can rest for a bit..” But Robin Williams got news that indicated that there was no light at end of the tunnel. That, for himself, agony was here today and agony was going to be there tomorrow.
Thankfully medication really is getting better. Treatments are getting better. But anyone suggesting that depression can be “beaten” has no idea what they’re talking about. Maybe sometime they’ll figure out the physiological cause of it (that would be wonderful). But for now, drug treatment and learning coping techniques (like mindfulness) are the best we’ve got.
For most of my adult life, I’ve suffered from what I euphemistically have described as melancholy. And like most people, I mistakenly considered it to be a “mood” as opposed to a serious physiological issue. If I just did X, then I’d feel better.
When the issue began to seriously affect my life, I readily accepted “advice” that included “appreciate what you have”, “look on the bright side”, “try to reduce stress from your life”, “don’t sweat the small stuff”, etc.
However, that type of advice is about as relevant as telling someone who suffers from severe migraines or epilepsy that they can “cure it” by changing their attitude about it.
Understanding what depression actually is
Depression isn’t caused by external events. Not the type I’m talking about anyway. Obviously if enough bad things happen to you, you can be pretty down. But major depressive disorder is an event that occurs in the brain where your serotonin levels drop very low. Because the symptom of it is simply being in an extremely “down mood”. Unfortunately, people who suffer this are inclined to try to just push themselves through it which only serves to exacerbate it.
In video game terms, if one’s mental well-being can be described as mana, then everything we do each day results in actions that give or take a bit of that mana. A bad event, like a death or a divorce will take away a lot of mana. What makes MDD so serious is that it is a largely random event that essentially drops your mana to near zero. Suddenly, those day to day events that might not be that big of a deal become potentially life threatening (or sanity threatening).
For example, some people talk about seasonal depressive disorder. I think a better way to think of it is that during certain times of the year, the conditions result in a steady trickle of mana. For most people, this might be no big deal or maybe a mild case of be somber. On the other hand, if you are unlucky enough to have an MDD event around this time, that steady mana trickle can take you to a very very dark place.
There is no cure, there is only management
Being an engineer, I tend to focus on solutions. The idea I couldn’t “solve” depression seemed ludicrous. Throughout my 20s I had a mantra: “The cure for the blues is achievement.” I made an ambitious bucket list to work towards by the time I was 40.
And so 40 hit and I had done everything I had hoped to do by then. My family life was wonderful. I had beautiful, wonderful wife of nearly 20 years. 3 healthy, happy children. A beautiful home. More money than I could ever need. My book had been published by Random House and was at every book store I went to. Good physical health. Lots of friends. Good support network. Awesome job.
But accomplishment has nothing to do with depression. Depression doesn’t care. It’s a physical disorder. It’s like suggesting that someone with diabetes just needs to get a big promotion at work and suddenly they’ll be cured.
Depression doesn’t make people any more sensitive
Having talked to other people who are in a similar situation, one of the most frustrating aspects is that many people think that those with depression are just more sensitive or that you need to be careful what you say around them. Again: Depression is NOT caused by external factors.
Just as depression can’t be cured by good events, it can’t be caused by bad events. It is not caused by some relative saying something rude or getting a mean email or some Facebook argument.
The only time external factors become an issue is right after an MDD event has occurred that has brought your mana down to zero. Then it matters and the onus is on us to understand that and manage it.
How to manage it
Once I began thinking of depression as a physical issue, I was able to start effectively researching ways of managing it. Here are the techniques I’ve learned over the past 3 years (I’m 43 now, it was 40 when I finally accepted that there was no magic accomplishment bullet).
None of these things will “cure” it. This is simply managing it so that you don’t go into “negative mana”:
I hope this helps others. It has taken me some years to get to this point. Until recently, I’ve really not talked about this outside my family and a few very close friends. But I’ve come to the conclusion that there are a lot of people out there facing these same challenges.
Most people who know me know me to be a pretty happy person. That’s because I am a happy person much of the time. Just like people can be very healthy until they have the flu, I am happy until I have an MDD event that requires me to have some care in how I manage it.