Escalation: Fact sheet and FAQ

Published on Wednesday, October 26, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Ashes Dev Journals

The Basics

  • Massive-scale real-time PC strategy game
  • Requires Windows 7, 8, 10 with 2GB video memory, DirectX 11 or DirectX 12, 4 CPU cores.
  • Stand-alone expansion to Ashes of the Singularity. Includes everything from the base game plus Escalation.



The Specs



The Screenshots

 Esc_SS1 Esc_SS3 Esc_SS2

The Details

12 new missions further chronicle the story of Ashes of the Singularity:

  • Campaign 1: Memories- See the events of Imminent Crisis from Haalee’s perspective and understand why she gave birth to the Substrate.
  • Campaign 2: Escalation- The PHC struggles to to fight the Substrate threat while internal rebellions threaten to break them apart.


Wage wars with more than a dozen players at once.

Strategic Zoom: Zoom out and the map changes to a new strategic map that shows a holographic display of the entire battlefield.  This will allow you better control of large groups of armies across the map. 

The Substrate use a new economic system that keeps them from wasting resources. They have unlimited storage, so they can gather infinite amounts of Metal and Radioactives for when they need them.

Game Options allow you to configure the world you want to play on. Explore 9 new map option sliders in both multiplayer and single player games. Configure the game you want to play by fighting on worlds without the atmosphere to support aircraft, increasing resource production, granting bonuses to entrenched armies, and more.

New Orbital Abilities

  • Orbital Jam (Substrate / PHC): Protects a large radial area from orbital abilities for a short period of time.
  • Nano-Mesh Armor (Substrate/ PHC): Provides an armor bonus to targeted units.
  • Nano-Transport (Substrate): Reinforcements automatically teleport to the army when they are created.
  • Emergency Turret (PHC): Call down a temporary turret to defend a region.
  • Rush Build (PHC): Doubles rate of production to give you a burst of resources.
  • Serpentine Turret (Substrate): This construct can be placed anywhere you have vision, allowing you to deploy it behind enemy lines or to set a trap for incoming forces.
  • Sapper (PHC): The Sapper can be inserted anywhere you have vision.  It builds small turrets that can harass or entrap enemy forces. 
  • Saboteur (Substrate): The Saboteur can be inserted anywhere you have vision. It specializes in destroying buildings -- use it to target your enemy's defenses or cripple their economy.

New Worlds

  • Crystal Worlds: Explore alien worlds covered in massive crystals.
  • Lava Worlds: Fight battles over volcanic pits on these burning worlds.
  • Huge map size: Even larger maps to conquer.
  • Multi-tier terrain: Get the high ground advantage with more levels available on maps. The terrain might keep you from being able to get to your enemy, or might provide excellent places to bombard your enemy from.
  • Dynamic Weather: Clouds and storm fronts will occasionally travel across the landscapes.

New Structures & Defenses

Buildings can be upgraded into more powerful forms. For example, Smarties can be upgraded into the new Barrager building.

PHC Advanced Sky Factory and Substrate Aviary that build advanced aircraft.

New turrets that allow you to better hold territory, harass enemy lines, and strengthen your defenses: 

  • Barrager (PHC): This upgrade from the Smarty Launcher has armor penetrating rockets that are effective against both air and ground units.
  • Constable (PHC): A cheap anti-air gun useful for a rapid deployment to quickly build up your defensive line or respond to a sneak attack.
  • Eliminator (PHC): The Eliminator takes out enemy aircraft with a single shot. Great against Strategic Bombers and Harbingers. 
  • Oblivion (PHC): This upgrade to the Artillery Post fires a single depleted uranium round whose kinetic energy is absolutely devastating to single targets. 
  • Odin Artillery (PHC): A long range gun with AOE rounds, useful for shelling groups of enemies from afar. 
  • Exterminator (Substrate): This expensive weapon is great for attacking both air and ground units.
  • Starburst(Substrate): A flak cannon that sends out a pulse of energy above it to damage groups of enemy aircraft. 
  • Disruptor Cannon(Substrate): This nasty cannon will absolutely melt incoming swarms of frigates.
  • Deadly Annihilator(Substrate): This upgrade to the Annihilator shoots endless streams of superheated plasma that does even more damage to both air and ground units.
  • Pulverizer(Substrate): This nasty creature fires a steady, long beam that does massive damage to everything in its path. 
  • Serpentine (Substrate): This construct can be placed anywhere you have vision, allowing you to deploy it behind enemy lines or to set a trap for incoming forces.
  • Sky Ender(Substrate): An expensive anti-air defense cannon that is great at taking down squadrons of enemy aircraft. 



  • Hera (PHC): A giant tank sporting heavy armor and a really powerful gun. Useful for holding a defensive line against waves of enemies. 
  • Instigator (PHC): A fast unit that can harass and punish enemies that have spread out too quickly. 
  • Marauder (PHC): A large hovering gunship used to destroy enemy cruisers. 
  • Strategic Bomber (PHC): Send this bomber in to destroy your enemy's buildings with a single large explosion. 
  • Charon (PHC): Allows reinforcements to instantly teleport to whatever army it is part of.
  • Mobile Nullifier (PHC and Substrate): Late game unit that prevents enemy orbitals from acting on the army it is part of.
  • Caregiver (Substrate):  This unit boosts multiplies an army's strength by recharging its defenses.
  • Harbinger (Substrate): A flying unit specially designed to blow up your enemy's buildings.
  • Harvester (Substrate): A small unit that increases the amount of resources gathered, boosting your economy. 
  • Masochist (Substrate): Becomes more deadly the more it has been damaged. The perfect spoiler weapon. 
  • Rampager (Substrate): An evil looking thing that is great for destroy large numbers of small units. 




Q: Why is Escalation a stand-alone expansion? Does this mean you’re abandoning Ashes of the Singularity?

No.  We definitely did not intend to create confusion by having two different purchase options.  What we want to do is have an entry-level way to get into Ashes of the Singularity where we could keep the gameplay close to its core vision: an approachable RTS for newcomers to the genre as well as veterans, and then have Escalation be for power users.

Right now, we sell both Sins of a Solar Empire: Trinity ($19.99) and Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion ($39.99) with the same idea in mind.  When it came time to do Escalation, it didn’t occur to us to release it any other way.

Q: So will the base game continue to receive updates?

Absolutely.  We will be updating Ashes for years to come both in terms of new DLC and content for those who prefer its more streamlined game play. We will also evolve Escalation to be more sophisticated.

Q: Was it always your plan to have Escalation and Ashes take on different roles?

No.  When we released Ashes of the Singularity, the comparisons with Supreme Commander brought in a lot of Supreme Commander fans as well as RTS gamers who wanted to see Ashes of the Singularity have more depth in terms of units and strategic management.  As our beta testers can attest, we strongly resisted this as we did not want Ashes of the Singularity to become a hard-core only game.  But, the fan advocacy for depth became irresistible and Escalation was born.

Q: Were you surprised at how successful Ashes of the Singularity has been?

Very.  Technically speaking, only a minority of PC gamers can even play Ashes of the Singularity.   Only a really small percentage of PC gamers who play strategy games have the hardware that Ashes requires.  As we would regularly remind our founders during the beta, Ashes had a very small budget (1/9th of Supreme Commander not counting Forged Alliance).

The original projected sales goal for Ashes was 50,000 units in its first year from release when we budgeted it.  That would have covered the core game development costs which would in turn allow us, over a period of years, to roll out new content to the game (naval units, more races, etc.).

Selling 100,000 units by the 6-month point (not counting the hundreds of thousands of OEM buyers via video cards), combined with the overwhelming demand that we flesh out the game in terms of depth, led us to increase the team size dramatically after release.

This may come as a shock, but the base game had only 4 developers and 2 artists (along with some contract modelers).

Remember, when we started this project, there was no DirectX 12, no Mantle, no Vulkan.  So we had to plan on a game that would only run on DirectX 11 for people with the absolute extreme of hardware requirements.  Obviously, if we knew there was going to be a DirectX 12 and a Vulkan, we would have had a bigger budget.

For Escalation, there are now 6 developers and 8 artists.  Still a relatively small team, but that is why Escalation has so much more in it so quickly.

Q: What about the people who bought Ashes of the Singularity for $49.99 when it first released?

We are going to give early adopters of Ashes of the Singularity a “season pass” to Escalation DLC that will last until the end of 2017.  That is, all new DLC created for Escalation they get for free (provided they register with us, as we need to know when they got the game in order to give them the DLC).

The Patron and The Patriot

Published on Wednesday, October 26, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Offworld Dev Journals



We’re releasing the biggest DLC for Offworld Trading Company yet tomorrow (October 27, 2016).  It adds a lot of new content and is, btw, only $4.99.


The Campaign

The Patron and the Patriot is a DLC pack focused on enhancing the single player campaign mode within Offworld Trading Company.

The campaign mode that shipped with the base game operates like a competitive tournament that lasts for seven games. There are nine characters to play, each with their own set of perks. While playing games, your character earns new perks through victory bonuses, events, and via accumulating income that can be spent on perks of your choice. Your strategy applies not just to each individual game, but to your character's perk progression, which lets you tailor your strengths and weaknesses for use in later games to be played. Elimination rounds begin at game three, removing the weakest competitor from the tournament each week, until only four remain to compete in the finale, where stock buyouts eliminate the rest, leaving a sole survivor with a monopoly over all of Mars.

Upon this foundation, we have crafted enhancements designed to improve Breadth, Depth, and Immersion for campaign players who purchase The Patron and the Patriot.

Patron_and_the_Patriot_10Day_Campaign (1)


  • Colony Class - Each colony now specializes in one area of the economy, altering local market conditions in a variety of ways.
  • Campaign Length - The campaign tournament can now last for 4, 7, or 10 games. Each length comes with its own balance tweaks and gameplay subtleties.
  • Wholesale Orders game mode - Not all colonies want you to build habitats and work modules for them. Now some instead want your company to supply a variety of wholesale goods.
  • Two new Characters - New CEOs with new gameplay perks.
  • Story-Driven Campaigns - Six interactive short stories about life on Mars, available to experience through playing the new characters on each different length of campaign.
  • New Staffing Perks & New Achievements



New Colony Classes

Early colonies on Mars had to be self-sufficient. They consisted only of generic habitat modules, which consume life support resources (and drive up prices on these resources), and workplace modules, which consume certain industrial resources.

Rapid colonization of the planet opens up opportunities for colonies to specialize, creating an interdependent web of trading partners amid a more sophisticated Martian economy. Now in addition to generic Habitat and Workplace modules, many colonies have customized module types, which consume different resources than the default types (driving up prices on a different set of commodities) and even in some cases producing resources (which actually drives prices down on those commodities). Custom module types require different materials for construction, which affects games where the colony desires companies to build more domes for them.

We have added 17 classes of colonies in The Patron and the Patriot. These now provide a wide field of localized market conditions, which you as player must anticipate and manage in order to succeed. There are also gameplay tweaks associated with each colony class, including local price controls on commodities produced by the colony and special rules unique to each class that may affect cost or availability of gameplay options.


Campaign Length

Changing the number of games played in the tournament affects perk progression. Since perks are the skeleton that gives shape to the body of a campaign, the new campaign lengths offer new opportunities for player strategy.

The shorter campaign length provides fewer opportunities to gain perks before the finale, so starting capital is increased. Players (and their AI opponents!) have the opportunity to make multiple staffing hires before the first game is played, allowing for a "jump right in" strategic experience that pays dividends quickly. With fewer elimination rounds, the number of opponents is reduced and opponents per game is reduced as well. There are fewer levels from which to choose, though, which may require you to play some more difficult scenarios.

The longer campaign length grants more opportunities for progression, but starts with a lot less cash to spend on perks and does not let you make permanent hires for the first couple of weeks. You must decide whether to spend heavily on temporary perks in the early going or try to save toward bigger purchases later. Any income earned from the early games will carry on longer, so this is no easy choice to make. Every game in the early going will pit you against three of your rivals, making for busier and more difficult games. There is more opportunity to recover from a bad game, though, and still press on toward ultimate victory. Near the end of the tournament, you must face more formidable opponents, who themselves have accumulated a high amount of perk progression and pose more threat to you.


Adding Depth

Game Modes: Colony Build vs Wholesale Orders

In Colony Build mode, you know what you're up against: need lots of Aluminum to build habitat domes and at least one construction resource for building workplace modules. In The Patron and the Patriot, colony class may affect which modules are available to construct, which can vary the resources you will need to provide. (Penal colonies, for instance, use Carbon instead of Aluminum for constructing their Prison modules.) So even for Colony Build mode, your company will need to become more versatile.

Wholesale Orders mode offers a much more dynamic challenge. The colony may request any of the commodity types. You will need to invest less cash than it takes to construct domes in Colony Build mode, but your material investments will be greater. The size of the orders grows throughout the game, requiring an ever-steeper resource cost. Some order types may be fixed, where the colony will want ever-larger orders for the same commodity. Other orders may be dynamic, where a randomly-chosen resource type will be needed for each successive order filled. Even the number of columns that will be fixed or dynamic changes from one game to the next, requiring your strategy to adapt to the individual market conditions of each game played.

Greater depth of strategy will be needed to succeed in this new, more dynamic Martian economy.

New Characters

In his youth, Doctor Mikhail Nekrasov discovered transparent aluminum, the first clear metal suitable for use in construction. Today he is rich beyond measure, but Mikhail is slowly losing his battle with ALS. A crime committed against him lured him to Mars. Fate may be what keeps him there.

Patron_and_the_Patriot_Character_ColonyOrders (1)

Dr. Nekrasov holds the patent for Transparent Aluminum, which permits him to substitute aluminum for glass in construction. As an indie developer, he can construct any HQ type. His company's mining, steel-making, and geothermal capabilities are unmatched, but his specializations leave weakness in other areas.

Manuel Valencia was the brightest star in a young group of investors helping to rebuild the global economy. His firm, Icarus Investments, was responsible for establishing Santiago as the financial center of South America. A failed gamble on his biggest trade cost Icarus a quarter of its assets. Clients fled and the firm was forced to shut its doors. Seeking a fresh start, Manuel has accepted an offer from Paulo Rubini to join Seneca and come to Mars.

Manny maintains good relations with many of his former clients. Some are willing to bet on his rise from the ashes, allowing him to maintain a strong bond rating and pay only half the cost (compared to others) for financing his short term debts. Manny has set up a Core Sampling division, which provides him one Core Sample perk per level of his local Headquarters. He has no staffing specializations, instead maintaining a versatile footing, from which he relies on his Core Samples to turn the resource tide in his favor at each colony.


Increasing Immersion

Story-Driven Campaigns

Six short stories have been written about life on Mars during the era of colonial expansion and economic diversification. The new colony class environment serves as the backdrop for these stories, while a fleet of colony ships sent from Earth to Mars during the optimum travel window (when the planets are near each other) explains why there will be a flurry of intense competition over the new colonies, which will culminate at a final game played at the last colony founded by the fleet.

The stories are driven in part by the player's choices. Interactivity is indirect: you will not face forks in the road where you choose the direct outcome of a story. Instead, the subplots and details of each story will mold themselves around the games that you play: your level selections, opponents faced, staffing perks, and victory or defeat in your games. You will journey with your character through playing the games, immersing yourself in life on Mars as you apply your strategies and struggle to obtain victory.

Patron_and_the_Patriot_Pirates (1)

Play the new CEOs to experience the stories. Each CEO has one story tied to each of the three campaign lengths, so you will need to win each campaign length twice (once for each new CEO) to experience all six stories to completion.

Replays of a story may yield new details not previously experienced, as different subplots or sections of background information are triggered by different player choices and game outcomes.


About the Designer

Bob Thomas, designer of The Patron and the Patriot, worked previously with lead designer Soren Johnson on Sid Meier's Civilization IV and other projects. Bob specializes in matters of game balance and replayability and has a background in writing. This talent set was well matched to the task of enhancing the campaign experience for our players.

The home page is    The Steam page is:


Let us know what you think.

DEV Diary: Some Escalation highlights

Published on Friday, October 21, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Ashes Dev Journals

For this journal, I’m going to, in story form, give you a guided tour of Escalation.



Escalation is the first expansion pack to Stardock’s massive-scale RTS, Ashes of the Singularity.  It is sold as a stand-alone expansion with its pricing determined based on whether you already have Ashes of the Singularity or not.  To learn more, visit


The year is 2180…

The human race is at an inflection point.  The technological singularity has given humans capabilities that a person form the 21st century could scarcely imagine.  A handful of humans have made the transition to becoming “Post-Humans”, beings whose very consciousness is spread across multiple worlds thanks to the breakthrough technology of “Quantum Streaming” which allows for instant communication across great distances.

The largest group of these Post-Humans have formed a group called the Post-Human Coalition, PHC.  Its goal is to map out suitable worlds to expand to ensure that no individual Post-Human comes to dominate the rest.  Unfortunately, some of the Post-Humans have taken a different path. These renegades, still ostensibly PHC members, look to claim worlds for themselves. They fight each other and they fight the PHC itself. 

Into this turmoil has come a new enemy: The Substrate. The strong AI that has evolved along side the Post-Humans has determined that the PHC and its members must be annihilated before their recklessness jeopardizes all.

The planet, Elysium

Escalation doubles the number of playable slots from 6 to 12.  Today on the planet Elysium, 12 factions will battle against each other for control of the world.  Elysium is a crystaline world, a planet class new to Escalation.



Setting up with 12 players.



Crystaline worlds have a violet hue to them.




Escalation adds some new very low-tier defenses that can be upgraded.




and further out


and further

Meanwhile on Pollux



The new PHC Instigator is constructed at the Nexus. It is expensive but is quite effective at taking lightly defended regions.



late game, it remains easy to manage vast forces across the world thanks to the strategic zoom.



From up here it seems peaceful. Sure, I’m red but having an enemy army in my base is so less scary from space. Winking smile




Deneb Revisited




More to come..

Who is Stardock?

Published on Tuesday, October 18, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Journals

With Star Control: Origins announced, people are wondering who Stardock is and what we’re all about.  Many of you are already familiar with us but for those who aren’t, here’s a background.

Game History


When you read the comments on Stardock’s history we’re best known for our work on Galactic Civilizations and Sins of a Solar Empire.  You will also see some people mention Elemental which had a rough launch but came back with its sequel and expansion (which were given to Elemental early adopters owners for free).

For Star Control: Origins, we have created a new studio.  It is made up by industry veterans from Firaxis, Big Huge Games, Relic and of course Stardock.  Because of the size of the project, Stardock has teamed its partner studios together: Stardock’s new Towson Maryland studio + Soren Johnson’s Mohawk Games (helping with the art direction, networking and design support) + Oxide Games (Nitrous game engine).  It’s an amazing team of people who know Star Control inside and out.

Our general development philosophy has been to work with gamers to make sure the final game is really good.  It’s probably for this reason that Stardock, as a publisher, has one of the highest metacritic averages in the industry.  You are not just a customer, you’re part of the team and we’re very excited to have you here.

Stardock Announces Star Control: Origins

Published on Tuesday, October 18, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Press Releases (Star Control)

October 18, 2016 – Plymouth Michigan - Stardock announced Star Control: Origins today.  Star Control: Origins is a sci-fi action/adventure game with many RPG elements set in the future where the player is the captain of Earth’s first interstellar starship that explores a procedurally created galaxy, makes contact with various alien races, explores unique worlds, and engages in action packed battles, all while trying to unravel the complex intrigue that has the galaxy on the brink of chaos.

"We Earthlings are the newcomers to the galactic scene," said Brad Wardell, Executive Producer. "The dozen plus space-faring species have been hatching their schemes since before we got out of trees. Now, suddenly, they have to deal with those meddling apes from Sol 3 who threaten to upset the plot."

The game starts in the year 2086 with the unaware humans receiving a distress call from an alien ship that has crashed on the moon of Triton, leading to the formation of Star Control, an international space agency dedicated to protecting the Earth.  The player takes on the role of The Captain of Earth’s first interstellar ship whose first mission is to investigate the distress signal.

Star Control: Origins represents a new start for the beloved franchise.  Stardock acquired the rights to Star Control 1/2/3 from Atari and since then has launched a new game studio in Towson Maryland specifically to create the new Star Control title. The classic series is available for sale on Stardock's newly launched website with players also able to pre-order Star Control: Origins and join the Founder’s Program.

"Star Control is ultimately about us Earthlings exploring the galaxy, finding and talking to strange alien civilizations, and hopefully living to tell the tale," said Wardell. "We are hopeful those who remember the original trilogy will like the direction we’re taking here while at the same time introducing a whole new generation to the awesomeness of a game that combined action, adventure, and roleplaying in a sci-fi game simultaneously."

Star Control: Origins is scheduled for release on PC and consoles with the PC release scheduled for 2017. 

Players interested in joining the Founder's program for $35 will gain access to the upcoming beta program as well as access to the Founder’s Vault, mod tools, private journals and more.

Visit to join or get more details.


Ars Technica takes a first look at Star Control: Origins

Published on Tuesday, October 18, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Star Control News

Lee Hutchinson at Ars Technica got a sneak peek of Stardock's new Star Control: Origins game.  The first short video of gameplay is with the article.

You can see it all here:

It's a great primer on the original series (learn more here: and the challenges of making a new Star Control game.

Lee talks about the much decried Star Control 3 that was released back in 1996. Star Control 3 should be a warning to those who would meddle with someone else's lore. 

Last year, we started the Founders Precursor program. A handful of die hard Star Control fans were invited so that we could discuss both gameplay and how to deal with the lore of Star Control.

On the one hand, we didn't want to retcon any aliens out of existence.  But on the other hand, what do you with Star Control 3 which took the lore of Star Control 1/2 and took it in a...different direction than what most fans would have expected.  We wanted to leave the door open for players to still encounter the Orz or the Spathi or the Ur-Quan potentially in the future in a Star Control game while at the same time ensuring the Origins could stand on its own.

To that end, the Founders and us eventually came to the consensus that Star Control is a multiverse. The first two games revolve around teh Ur-Quan conflict. The third one is a game in a parallel universe that has its own history.  

For most gamers, it doesn't really matter. Most gamers today weren't alive when Star Control 1/2/3 were made.  But we wanted to create a satisfying foundation for those, like us, revere the classic series while at the same time, opening up the pathway to have future adventures with new casts of aliens and adventures created by fans and successors.

Only time will tell if we made the right decision.

Star Control: Origins–Founders Program Phase II

Published on Tuesday, October 18, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Star Control Journals



Today we are opening up the Founder’s Program to Phase II in preparation for alpha testing (Fall) and beta testing (Winter). 

If you haven’t seen the gameplay teaser, you can check it out here:

We’re still very early in development as you can see.  The creatures and other cool stuff on the planets weren’t quite ready to show yet and we’re saving the best parts for a later reveal.

Feature status


Founders will get access to The Vault.  This is where our internal development blogs are kept, lots of not ready for prime time assets and screenshots are shown and the forum where Founders give feedback on what they like and don’t like what we’re doing. 

To join us, visit here.

Sorcerer King: Rivals the October update

Published on Monday, October 17, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Sorcerer King Dev Journals



The first significant update to Sorcerer King: Rivals it out.  Most of it had to do with making the neutrals behave more intelligently (attacking enemies, building things better, etc.).  We also update the UI to make the Ascension spell much more accessible to players.

We also had a pretty major improvement to late game performance thanks to a customer who sent me a saved game who was running into this.  The result is that late game should be much much faster.

We don’t have any immediate DLC plans but we do have some free updates in the works for Rivals including a series of new campaigns we are going to start releasing (along with documentation on how we made them so that people can share their own).  They’re really fun to make and based on feedback, people seem to really like the campaigns.

Stay tuned.

DEV DIARY: Your game competes against all games from all time

Published on Monday, October 17, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Ashes Dev Journals



This is going to be long and go into both Escalation, the development of Ashes of the Singularity and discuss the technological singularity.

Our story so far…

imageThis past Spring Stardock released the real-time strategy game, Ashes of the Singularity.  It’s a game set in the post-technological singularity future in which humans have begun to expand to other planets.  In this future, a single individual is so powerful that they can manage entire armies of semi-autonomous machines called constructs.  In Ashes of the Singularity, the player is part of the PHC (The Post-Human Coalition) tasked with dealing with renegade humans as well as dealing with a new enemy: The Substrate.

The game received generally favorable reviews with gamers praising the adoption of modern hardware to deliver an unprecedented scale to the genre and gorgeous visuals (provided you had the hardware).  But the game was also criticized for having a campaign that felt tacked on, uninspired art direction and a tendency for those thousands of units to end up being a giant unmanageable blob late game due to the game’s insistence on keeping the camera relatively close to the action and a general feeling of missing strategic depth.

In November, we are releasing the first expansion pack, Escalation, which aims to address those criticisms and more. 

For Escalation to be successful, we first needed to think long and hard about some of the basic premises for the game.  And now for those thoughts…

Not a technology demo


Since Ashes of the Singularity was the first DirectX 12 game and includes a built in benchmark for testing DirectX 12 thoroughly, it naturally received a lot of coverage for its state-of the art engine, Nitrous.  This caused many people to conclude that the game itself was a technology demo.  And to be honest, while that wasn’t our intention, a pretty decent chunk of our time and budget was spent on the underlying technology to drive the game which naturally meant less time to think about the game itself.

With real-time strategy games, you can’t really escape addressing the technological requirements.  I’ll spare you the details here as I wrote about it, at length over at IGN. So it is true that a lot of our thought was going into how to build Ashes of the Singularity since, for us, Ashes of the Singularity is a long-term project for us.  We strongly believe that there is demand for real-time strategy games, the challenge is to make any new RTS compelling.


It wasn’t until Ashes of the Singularity was released and we started talking to other RTS developers that we realized our market misconception on the genre became fully realized.

Here is the short version: In the age of digital distribution your game competes with every game that has ever been made.

When we released Sins of a Solar Empire in 2008 we were only competing with the other 38 SCUs at Walmart.  What some other RTS had in the past was irrelevant because it was not competing with us for sales.  Sins of a Solar Empire didn’t have to compete against a Homeworld: Ultimate Edition or really even Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance (other than at the beginning). 

Ashes of the Singularity was released fully realized. Every unit, map, etc. was planned from the start.  We added a campaign (something Sins didn’t have) a couple months before release because players wanted one.   So from our perspective, Ashes of the Singularity was the most mature new game we’d ever released.  Months of QA and testing along with great support from AMD, Microsoft, Intel and NVIDIA meant the game wasn’t buggy on release.  Both races came with about 15 units each, a strong AI and lots of maps.  So great right? Wrong.

Your game competes against every game ever

Game Price on Steam
Company of Heroes  $19.99
Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance $14.99
Age of Empires II HD $19.99
Ashes of the Singularity $49.99

One of these is not like the other.

The argument “But Ashes of the Singularity is new!” is not very compelling on its own. 

The player wants to know “Why should I pay $50 for your game when I can get these other games, that have a lot more stuff, have been vetted for years, have established communities are less than half the price?”

Ashes vs. The World

So what makes Ashes of the Singularity distinct?

  1. Ashes of the Singularity can support huge world-wide armies…But SupCom: FA supports pretty large armies and has strategic zoom so managing them is easy.
  2. Ashes of the Singularity has true line of sight…But Company of Heroes has that too and takes cover and position into consideration for calculation damage.
  3. Ashes of the Singularity has a really good single player sandbox with great AI…but Company of Heroes has pretty good AI too.

In fact, if you were to make a table of features comparing recently released RTS games to the classic and the comparison chart looks pretty brutal right now.  It’s not that the RTS market has died, it’s that new RTS games don’t compare well against games with $20 million+ budgets from the past. 

What Ashes has going for it is technology.  It is a brand new, 64-bit, multi-core, 4th generation engine.  The first of its kind.   What it needs is time to build up the content and refinement of the classics.

Unfortunately, it was released under the old retail model. It’s a new, fully featured game and thus is $49.99 – the same price or less than other new RTS games when they were released at retail.  That model no longer works.

Finding your niche

The original plan for Ashes of the Singularity was that it would be a roughly 15 unit per faction game with DLC and expansions adding new races, maps, naval (add say 4 naval units) and stay very accessible as a strategy game.  In our PR for Ashes, we talked about Ashes being a “reintroduction” to the RTS genre for a new generation.  With hindsight, that’s breathtaking naiveté.  People interested in dipping their toes into the RTS market could try out Supreme Commander 2 for $5 during the next Steam sale.  Even if youdon’t like Supreme Commander 2, you must admit that it does a pretty decent job as a casual introduction to RTS games (92% review score on Steam btw).

For Ashes of the Singularity to succeed, it has to find a niche that can leverage its strengths that no other game has now or is likely to have in the near future:

  • No one can touch Ashes AI potential. The engine scales almost linearly today to 10 cores. We are not aware of any other RTS that scales beyond 2 cores. That means the AI can keep getting more sophisticated over time.
  • No one can touch Ashes potential for strategic depth. Potential being the operative word since it doesn’t have that today.  From a simulation point of view, Ashes can do crazy complex stuff.  The game needs to evolve in that direction.
  • No one can touch Ashes visual potential presently.  5K montiors? 8K monitors? Ashes loves them.  HDR color? Vulkan? Movie quality lighting? Ashes can do all of that and more. 
  • Ashes has amazing modding potential if we can get tools and exporters to the community.  With 64-bit memory and a data driven engine, modders could literally recreate every RTS they ever wanted. We just have to build the tools for modders to do this.

But the key takeaway is niche. It has to find its own niche.  You can’t be all things to all people when you’re competing against every game ever made.

Escalation vs. Ashes

By this Summer, we realized we had two different paths we wanted to take simultaneously.  We still wanted to have an RTS that acted as a good modern introduction to the genre.  One that was constantly supported with improvements and updates but also kept fairly approachable and inexpensive.  We also wanted an RTS with immense depth and detail that was most definitely niche in its demographic.  This game would target the experienced RTS gamer who has always wanted to run a world wide war against lots of opponents and deals with lots of resources and strategies and doesn’t feel rushed. 

From these two contrary visions we got:

Ashes of the Singularity (the base game)


Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation

Supporting early adopters

The idea of pricing Ashes of the Singularity to compete on price at $19.99 sounds great on paper until you remember that a lot of people paid $49.99 for the base game.  They have to be made whole otherwise you are punishing your most loyal fans. How do address this?

Because we know the Founders and those who were in Early Access we can do something for them: Give them all the DLC for Escalation until they get enough DLC that it more than makes up for the price difference.  Whether that be a year or three years.

imageEscalation Design Premise

I’m going to be up front about this.  Escalation isn’t for everyone.  We are adding a lot more units. A lot more map types. We eventually will be adding more types of resources along with more units that will require those resources types.  There will be units you build that you will automate to go and do things for you.  In short, you will be building a machine. It’s an RTS with a lot more depth than the base game.  That’s another reason why the base game will continue to be developed and evolve too because some people will want a simpler, lighter RTS.


Next up: What’s new!

DEV DIARY: Escalating the RTS

Published on Tuesday, October 11, 2016 By Brad Wardell In Ashes Dev Journals


On November 3, Ashes of the Singularity gets its first expansion pack: Escalation.  It’s a stand-alone expansion which means that if you don’t already have Ashes of the Singularity, you can just buy Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation and get everything that’s in the base game too.



There are a lot of reasons we decided to separate the base game from Escalation.  Much of this came from how the game developed during the beta period.  For those of you who weren’t part of the early access program, we had very heated debates regarding the direction the game should go. 

To oversimplify things, there were two camps: The Total Annihilation camp and the Supreme Commander camp.  Now, you might think these camps would be the same but they’re not.  As good as Total Annihilation is, it is a lot simpler than Supreme Commander.  There’s no strategic zoom, there are no upgradeable defenses and it has limited progression as part of its strategy.  

I was part of the Total Annihilation camp and Ashes of the Singularity 1.0 reflects this.  We wanted Ashes to be a more approachable game than Supreme Commander was and felt that features such as Strategic Zoom and complex economic interactions would be a turn-off the wider RTS community. 



Strategic Zoom in Escalation (full zoom out). Courtesy of PC Gamer


The problem with that approach is that it results in a game that doesn’t feel featured enough to justify a $39.99 price tag in 2016.  While Ashes shipped with a lot more content than Sins of a Solar Empire did back in 2008, the market has vastly changed since then.  In 2008, Sins was only competing against the other 37 SCUs on retail shelves at Walmart.  In 2016, Ashes is competing against every RTS that has ever been released.  If the only obvious innovation in Ashes is that it can handle thousands of units easily that’s just not sufficient in a full priced PC game now when a player can choose from all the RTS’s of all time.

So how do we adapt to that?

The answer, we had to rethink the game’s design. It has to evolve to be obviously different than anything that has come before.  It has to find its own niche.


Now, one path we considered was making Escalation a DLC for Ashes of the Singularity.  The problem with that idea is that a year from now, Escalation and the base are going to evolve in very different directions.  We are going to continue to develop and enhance the base game for years to come with our original vision in mind: A modern Total Annihilation style game.  The base game will be priced to address that.

Escalation, by contrast, will evolve to become substantially more sophisticated.  We are looking at adding more resources to the game, a tech tree, resource refinement.  This will allow for a lot more strategies and a lot more variance based on map and resource placement.

Now, you reading this may look at these features and think “yay!” but I can assure you, there are plenty of players who will find greater base building, more resources and a tech tree to be overwhelming.  But the business reality is that when a new RTS is competing against every RTS that has ever been made, you either have to price your game to compete with them or you have to develop something that has never been done before.



Volcanic Worlds in Escalation. Courtesy of Gameranx



Now, all this might sound great unless you’re an early adopter.  A lot of people bought the original game for $49.99.  It’s pretty crappy for those people to then have to pay $20 (a total of $69.99) while newcomers get it for $39.99.  So how do we support them?

In the old days, all our games came with activation. A user would enter their email address and enter our database.  Some users would post angrily about this and we would explain to them that by associating their game with an account, we could offer more discounts.  Ultimately, we eliminated the activation on our newer games so the problem is, unless you bought it from us, we don’t know when you bought the game or how much you paid. 

But we’re not totally out of luck, we do know these things:

  1. We know who was a Lifetime Founder (they already get all this automatically)
  2. We know who was a standard Founder
  3. We know who was part of the Early Access program
  4. We may know those who bought the game shortly after release

That means we can give those 4 groups the first several new DLC for Escalation for free.  So we will.



Episode I x    
Post-Human Coalition x    
Substrate x    
Gen 1 Units x    
Gen 1 Defenses x    
Temperate environment x    
Desert environment x    
Arctic environment x    
Single Player Sandbox x    
Custom Multiplayer x    
Ranked Multiplayer x    
Single Player Scenarios x    
Map Editor x    
Gen 1A Units x   Added in 1.2
Observer Mode x   Added in 1.3
Scenario Editor Fall 2016 Fall 2016 Planned for Version 1.5
Multiplayer replays Fall 2016 Fall 2016 Planned for Version 1.5
Multiplayer Scenarios Future Future  
Gen 1B Units Future x Planned for Version 1.5 of base game
Episode II   x  
Gen 2 Units   x  
Gen 2 Defenses   x  
Volcanic environment   x  
Crystaline environment   x  
Strategic Zoom   x  
96KM maps   x  
Multi-tier terrain   x  
Additional Resources   Future  
Gen 2A Units   Future  
Gen 2B Units   Future  
Gen 2C Units   Future These units wouldn't hover
Gen 2D Units   Future These units would be legged
Tech Tree   Future  
Naval   Future (DLC)  
Third Race   Future (DLC)  
Fourth Race   Future (DLC)  


Let us know what you think!



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