Published on Tuesday, May 03, 2016 By Frogboy In Ashes Dev Journals

## Post 1.1 Micro updates ##
Since the 1.1 release we've had two micro-updates to the game. They've been content additions mostly in preparation for upcoming Steam sales.

Here is what has been added in the past 5 days:

+ New Mission: Rigel III (campaign mission between missions 1 and 2)
+ Nexus Armor increased from 12 to 16
+ Armor build time reduced from 45 seconds to 40 seconds
+ Quantum Relay radioactive cost reduced from 350 to 300
+ Nova bomb Armor piercing reduced from 16 to 8
+ Punisher Hedavy Plasma cannon Armor piercing reduce from total to 8
+ Call Probing Force rate increase changed from 10% to 20%
+ Sensor drone rate increased changed frfom 25% to 10%
+ Couple minor bug fixes
+ Balance update to the Slow and Steady map
+ Reduced creep HP slightly
+ Moved the planets around to fit the new campaign mission.
+ Sentinel Armor increased from 8 to 12
+ Repair Bay armor increased from 4 to 12
+ Drone bay HP increased from 1500 to 4000

These are all data changes so it's still 1.1.
## New Units Incoming ##
Both the PHC and the Substrate need more tools to execute more types of strategies.
The first two coming out will be the Athena and the Eradicator.
Right now, Substrate players end up massing Maulers. But Maulers are horrendously poor at the job they're being used for. Archers, which are cheap screened by some Brutes will wipe the floor with them. The problem is, the Substrate have limited options for trying to get through to deal with those Artemi and the odd Nemesis.
The Eradicator has a ranged beam weapon on it that is primarily there to take out at range Cruisers. It's not a sniper so it's not as good as the Nemesis for long range sniping. It is fairly poor against Frigates and its main weapon has no armor penetration so it's not great against Dreadnoughts either.
The Athena has a somewhat different purpose. It's short range but designed to deal with cruisers as well. If it can get up close to a Dreadnought it can do real harm but it's not so good against frigates.
The Athena has 3 different weapons but only one of which is accurate enough to target a frigate.
We expect these two guys to show up this Spring.
BTW, they'll be free.

## Building the Community ##
Steam reviews matter now. A lot.
They determine whether a given game will be promoted or shown to other gamers. If a game falls under 70%, it disappears from visibility on Steam unless you explicitly search for it.
If you read the negative reviews of Ashes they are mostly from people who feel Ashes isn't Supreme Commander. They are right. It's not. It's not supposed to be.
But, unlike Supreme Commander, Ashes is being actively developed and I hope people feel like we're listening to their input. Effectively trying to bury our game won't summon a new version of Supreme Commander. It just makes the game mostly likely to succeed it in the large scale RTS genre have a harder time.
That doesn't mean people should give the game a good review or refrain from giving it a bad review. Rather, it is to make sure people understand that on Steam, these reviews do matter and there are real consequences to them.
We had a game called Sorcerer King which has its fans. It's a good game. But some of our own fans who loved Fallen Enchantress nailed it because they wanted a Fallen Enchantress 2 not a different fantasy game. They got the game's review score under 70 and sales evaporated (because you couldn't find it). That was the end of that game. Now, some of those players have changed their review to positive (it's at 70% now) because they now see that SK could evolve into a bigger game than Fallen Enchantress given the time and resources. But it's too late. That ship has sailed.
Ashes is selling reasonably well and its daily player base is slowly creeping up. It'll probably take until the end of Summer for it to catch up and surpass the average player base of SupCom: FA provided that the SupCom fans give Ashes an opportunity and don't bury it before.
Even SupCom isn't SupCom after all. They aren't referring to SupCom 2 or SupCom 1. They're specifically referring to SupCom: FA which came out 6 months after SupCom shipped. Let's see where we are in 6 months.

## Overlord DLC given away coming to an end soon ##
In about a week the Overlord DLC and maps that come with it will no longer be free to new buyers.
Right now, when you buy Ashes, you get Overlord for free. It's added to your account.
In multiplayer, as long as the host has the DLC it'll be available to play. This is the plan for all future DLC and expansions. I.e. Someone who buys Ashes base and zero DLC should be able to hook up online with someone who has Ashes:Forged Void Alliance Wars or whatever and be able to play the game with them using all the units that the host has.
This will do two things: One, keep the multiplayer community from splintering and two, encourage people to play the game multiplayer.
## Single Player Content Discussion ##
Since release, we've added two new missions to the campaign.
When we see feedback on the game, particularly from those who just don't find the game fun, what would be your recommendation to win them over?
Please discuss in the comments. Thanks!

See you next week!

Ashes: Week 4 Dev status!

Published on Tuesday, April 26, 2016 By Frogboy In Ashes Dev Journals


Mauler_lp## Version 1.1 is out! ##

Version 1.1 is out!  We hope you like it.  Here's the change log.

We added some additional maps to this.  As much as I like Knife Fight, I'm ready for more maps.

Our main goals for 1.1 were:

* A couple of new difficulty levels between beginner and normal
* Get the new probing force ability in for PHC as a counter to the Avatar (sorry Substrate, the free ride is over. )
* Some new stats in the end game screen
* 3 cool new maps.
* Campaign and Scenario difficulty options
* Performance improvements on large maps (no more stuttering on lower end machines)
* PHC unit Sentry is in.

## The Postmortem is now available ##

So everything you wanted to know about the sausage factory is in there.

## Upcoming slipstream ##

We really want to get a new mission in that will take place between mission 1 and 2 that lets people see some of the frigates in battle and how they work without getting into the base building aspect.  That should show up "real soon now"

## The first premium DLC is coming ##

We're working on the first premium DLC.  It'll focus on large maps mainly as well as have some new scenarios.  It'll be $3.99.  The revenue from these DLCs is what  pays the artists who are in turn working on new units which is the next stopic.

## New Units coming up ##

Ideally before the end of Spring we have some new units and buildings going on.  They are:

The Athena which is a heavy but fairly slow T2 that is meant to take on ther T2s. It's not very good against T1s.

The Substrate Caregiver, this is a T2 that recharges Substrate shields in the field.

The PHC Field Gun.  This is a longer range artillery unit that does an area effect (not a lot of damage but a lot of area).

Substrate Eradicator.  This is a relatively slow moving but long ranged direct fire unit designed to deal with Artemis's and to a lesser degree, massed Archers.

## Usability and UI features ##

So coming up are a lot of little features just designed to make dealing with your forces easier.  Examples include F3 to select  your air units and updating the F1 key to select the nearest free Engineer and setting rally points from factories to armies and lots of other stuff.

Similarly, more info in the context area of a unit and on the map (Such as region icons changing based on their output) should, I hope, show up starting next week or soon after.

## The PHC Refinery ##

This is a new building that increases the output of the target region by a few percent for each one built.

## Observer Mode ##

This is a feature we're actively working on so that MP games can have a third party observer in it who can see the entire battle field and see how each player is doing for those who want to just watch.  Its sister feature, Replays, is still a work in progress but not as easy to do as you might think in a game with this many units (every drone is a unit too). But it's very high on our list.

## General Balance ##

We are starting to reach the point where everyone thinks the other faction is OP. This is a good sign.  We do expect to make a few additional balance tweaks based on changes in 1.1 as we're sure there will be unforeseen cheese.

## Status of the game ##
The multiplayer community has continued to grow nicely. This is due partially to the previously mentioned bundles the game is part of ensuring there's a constant set of new players.

One change we've seen to the market over the past 10 months has been the deluge of iOS ports which has definitely made it harder for new (as in, new IP) to get attention.  It has also put a downward pressure on pricing which developers  are having to adjust to. 

As one developer recently told me, the game's "release" is less important than the game's first big Steam sale.  It's a brave new world.

## Next up ##

So besides the things we mentioned here, the roadmap is still posted for those looking at our longer-term roadmap.

One area we're interested in exploring is having more base building than we currently have.  I don't mean more defensive weapons but more ways to build up your economy and technology than we currently have.

Feel free to comment below on your thoughts!

See you next week!

Gamespot’s disgraceful Ashes of the Singularity review

Published on Tuesday, April 26, 2016 By Frogboy In PC Gaming

A number of people online have asked me what I thought about the text of the GameSpot review. Maybe the reviewer didn’t have an axe to grind but rather just had legitimate, penetrating criticisms of the game.

Are his criticisms legitimate? The answer, sadly, is no.  This isn’t a matter of “he just doesn’t like it” but more a matter that he clearly has little familiarity with the game and, frankly, clearly doesn’t understand the genre.

Let’s cut to the case of his review:

You have three main resources to manage--metal, radiactives[sic], and turinium.

There are four resources: Metal, radioactives, Turinium and Quanta. Quanta being the most important one.

The first two are for constructing ships, but if you collect enough turinium you win the game. Because turinium is necessary for victory, Ashes of the Singularity encourages hapless and aggressive rushing.

By that argument, Company of Heroes is about hapless, aggressive rushing. Which is, of course, nonsense. In practice, the player that does hapless, aggressive rushing would be crushed by the player who spends quanta, the resource you apparently weren’t aware of, to insert forces behind your lines.

Your starting area will only have a couple resource nodes, and you can't stockpile resources as you can in most other strategy games.

What?! Yes you can. Not only do you store resources but you can research tech to increase your storage. 

So, playing cautiously isn't an option. You have to expand--and fast.

Which, again, is factually wrong.

This exacerbates some of Ashes of the Singularity's other problems. As I churned out endless streams of robotic warriors, I noticed that they all looked similar, especially when I pulled the camera all the way out and the battlefield melted together in the mélange of war machines. Pressing to gain more and more ground kept me from developing any familiarity with my units, which is unfortunate given you only have about a dozen unique types to work with. Each frigate looks indistinguishable from the last, making it hard to keep track of which units you have and which ones you still need.

This criticism could be applied to every game that lets you zoom out. Yes, if you zoom out far enough everything looks like little tiny ants.  Ashes has more than “a dozen” units.  As for units looking similar, this speaks more to unfamiliarity with the game.   The 3 main frigates: Archer, Brute, Medic look nothing alike.

You have the ability to organize your legions into "armies," which are supposed to be super-charged control groups. And this works, but only to a point. Forming armies reduced the need to constantly micromanage units, allowing me to focus on the larger plan: pinching off enemy supplies, flanking with the brutality of my dreadnoughts, and dropping strategic weapons of mass destruction. But Ashes of the Singularity still left me with scant few options to conduct my campaign.

Probably because you didn’t know or understand quanta. Which also means you never constructed any of the orbitals in the game.  This would be akin to someone in StarCraft never harvesting vespene gas and therefore claiming the entire game is about spamming out Marines.

Remember this for the rest of this review. Imagine how StarCraft would play if the player never used Vespene gas and the ramifications of that.

It's hard not to draw comparisons to earlier massive-scope strategy games, namely Supreme Commander. The parallels between the two run deep and cover everything from their approach to resource collection to their emphasis on massive battles. But, despite being a decade old, Supreme Commander still wears the crown. Rather than rest on the spectacle of massive battles alone, it crucially wove finer pieces into its formula to make those bouts interesting.

Fair enough. You like Supremee Commander more which you link to as being an 8.7.  That’s fine. It wears the crown then. What does not seizing the crown count as? 8.5 for Ashes? 8? 

Ashes of the Singularity doesn't have these flourishes; what you see is what you get.

Except clearly, you didn’t see the primary player resource: Quanta. The resource so important that it’s literally displayed inside your player box next to your avatar and necessary to use any of the player abilities that would be required to win the game above easy.

Maps are consistently dry and lack character. With the exception of modest changes in elevation, there aren't many features that lend themselves to strategic use.

Er what are you talking about? There are hills, mountains, plateaus, ravines, etc. And if that is insufficient then you have to hold that doubly true against Supreme Commander.

There are no towering mountains to hide your forces during an ambush,

What are you talking about? There are, literally, towering mountains to hide your forces. Because the game has true line of sight (as in, a mountain blocks the view of what’s behind it), it is a common player tactic to hide their forces behind towering mountains in order to ambush the enemy.  The AI actually is programmed to do just that.

no rare or unique resources to exploit,

Are we still talking about a real-time strategy game?

nor any obstacles to slow down foes.

Except you mean the ones you build which slow down your foes by half when a battle is engaged?  But let’s assume you mean something like swamps or mud. What RTS are we being compared to here? Neither StarCraft nor SupCom have any such thing either.

Every unit and building works the same regardless of placement on the map,

Compared to what game? What are we being compared to? What RTS ever would do this? You just gave Homeworld: DOK a 9 and Acts of Aggression a 7. What standard are we being held to?

and as you build out a network of resource nodes, you'll see the same desolate brown textures again and again.

I guess if you only played one game on a desert map I suppose. What about on a Terran map or alien world map or an ice world? You could level this same complaint at any game.

Instead of providing an intricate network of systems to work with, Ashes of the Singularity cuts itself down, leaving only the most basic elements of the genre intact. You have a handful of units

Roughly same number as StarCraft does.

, three resources,

Four resources – two more than StarCraft or SupCom.  And lest you think I am criticizing either of those classics, I am not of the opinion that more resources is better. I’m just pointing out how ridiculous this argument is.

and a basic goal.

Yes. Win.  Either through Annihilation or Victory points which is like every other game in the genre.

At no point can you leverage anything beyond those basic pieces in a meaningful way.

Clearly if you couldn’t be bothered to use the primary player resource, Quanta.

Without more resources,

Are you serious?

nuanced mechanics,

You mean like spending quanta to insert an engineer behind enemy lines to build a factory or spending quanta to temporarily boost a region’s resource production so that you can fast build a Dreadnought or  spend quanta to increase your radar range or spend quanta to place a Carving turret to take out a key enemy unit or spend quanta to get visibility on an enemy force that is hiding behind a mountain so that your artillery can hit them.  You mean like those things?

or a charming aesthetic to help carry the experience, Ashes of the Singularity struggles to hold your attention.

I am not sure what charming means in this context.

And ends giving us a 4 out of 10.  SupCom got an 8.7.  Planetary Annihilation 1.0 got a 7.  On the same site he gave Acts of Aggression a 7, Homeworld: DOK a 9.  The point being he has established a range and in this review listed criteria.  I'm not going to argue whether Ashes is great or not.  For me, personally, I think it is objectively awesome. But I am, naturally, biased for my game.  

My team and I spent 3 years on this game.  There were many long weekends, extended periods away from our families (I spent 2 months out in Maryland away from my wife and young children).  And we are proud of the game we have made. I bring this up because all too often, amateur reviewers don’t take their responsibility seriously.  As an independent game developer, I don’t expect perfect reviews but I do expect a fair review.

I know that our games won’t get the editorial scrutiny of an EA or Activision game. The kinds of errors in this absurd review would never have been allowed to see the light of day. But is it really too much to ask that you spend a little time to get to know about our game before you permanently diminish the perception of it?

Your colleagues at IGN, PC Gamer, PC GamesN, and Gaming Trend all liked it.  That in itself doesn’t make them right and you wrong. But at least their pros and cons were based on things that were actually part of (or not part of) the game. 

But then again, I suspect they actually played the game for a considerably longer period of time than you did.

Basic editorial standards in game reviews

Published on Monday, April 25, 2016 By Frogboy In Ashes Dev Journals

Gamergate & Reviews

Back in 2014, The Escapist interviewed me regarding my opinion regarding the #gamergate controversy.

Ashes-1My position could be summed up that I felt awful for those who had felt mobbed by jerks on the Internet but that the core issue – that the gaming media has some serious problems – is legitimate.  I was asked if I was concerned that our upcoming games would be retaliated against by social justice warrior (SJW) journalists and I said no. I wasn’t worried because professionals can separate their politics from their job.

The problem, however, is that since then, more and more game sites have stopped using staff writers and begun farming out their reviews to “freelancers” which I use scare quotes around because it increasingly means whoever is willing to put a few hours into a game and write something up for $200. 

There are still plenty of good game sites who either have staff writers who handle reviews or have a trusted set of reviewers that they work with to obtain reviews.  I have never liked how #gamergate proponents would lump all gaming journalists together without realizing that there is just as much of a gulf between the professionals and the SJW clique as there is between professional game developers and the “indie” clique that talks about social justice endlessly without producing much in the form of games.

Fast forward: 2016

So I said back in 2014 I wasn’t concerned that we’d be retaliated against due to having voice sympathy to some of the stated objectives of #gamergate which was, simply, getting gaming journalists to quit using their platform as a means to jam their personal politics down our throats. 

Clearly, I was mistaken.

This past month we released the highly anticipated massive-scale real-time strategy game Ashes of the Singularity.  The reviews have been all over the place with the general consensus of the professional reviewers that it’s good/very good with a smattering of low scores mostly by kids who happened to get the review gig for some site that still has a legacy metacritic position (as in, they literally let their forum users write the reviews and their scores are relatively meaningless).

Frankly, some no-name site giving us a 6 because it “didn’t grab him” doesn’t mean that much. It’s still bad because it affects our metacritic score but what can you do?

That brings us to GameSpot.

GameSpot: You’re supposed to be an actual real site

This past Winter we released our first expansion pack for Galactic Civilizations III.  I wasn’t that involved on it but the reviews for it were decent with one exception: GameSpot gave it a 4.  Not many people agreed with that review and I’ll touch on the Mercenaries expansion pack briefly here:

GalCiv III: Mercenaries is a $20 expansion pack that introduces 2 new civilizations with their own unique tech trees, space ship styles, parts, along with several dozen Mercenaries that can be hired, each with its own unique ship and set of abilities.  It also included a mini-campaign regarding it. 


Dozens of unique ships? Lots of fun? New campaign? 2 alien civilizations each with their own tech tree? Only $20? 4/10.


Now, we can quibble over whether that’s worth $20 or not.  But as an expansion, it’s pretty decent. It’s not buggy. It adds some new gameplay elements and provides some content.  Traditionally (as in, from 1989 to 2015) a 4/10 means a game has fundamentally failed in whatever it was trying to accomplish either due to bugginess or just general awfulness.

When I looked into who had reviewed it I noticed that this guy had blocked me on Twitter sometime after GalCiv III was released (which he gave an 8) and this Mercenaries expansion (which received the ridiculous 4/10). A little more research showed he’s one of those “aGG” people (anti-GamerGate). 

Mind you, my crime isn’t that I’ve gone around and harassed people on the Internet or done anything particularly awful. Rather it is, based on my personal experience, that these freelance journalists sometimes use the platforms they write for to push their personal agenda.

When I found out this guy was also assigned to review Ashes of the Singularity I sent this off:


with this image


Gamespot never responded. 

Instead they put up this garbage:

A 4/10.  And this from someone who rated Goat Simulator a 6.

Can I prove that he has an axe to grind? Of course not.  But it is my professional opinion, having been working with the gaming media on game releases longer than,well, anyone you’re likely to encounter (over 20 years) that it doesn’t pass the smell test.

A couple things I want to add here:

#1 Does the review have legitimate criticisms of the game? The answer is, no.  You can read my dissection of it here.  That isn't to say there aren't lots of legitimate criticisms to be had of the game.  The consensus criticism is that there's not enough content and the campaign is too short and has low production values. Fair enough.  By contrast, the Gamespot review doesn't realize how many resources the game has, complains about missing features that are not just in there but couldn't have been missed if the campaign had been completed or having played a few different maps.   

#2 What about other reviews? The major game sites have given it almost universally positive reviews.  There are some no-name sites I've never heard of that gave it a mixed score. GI gave it a 7/10 which was disappointing.

#3 When you read the dissection, replace our game with say Supreme Commander or Starcraft or Homeworld and do any of his criticisms stop being true? 

#4 This same review normally gives RTS games 7s, 8s, and 9s.  I couldn't find any RTS games he gave less than a 7.  Act of Aggression? 7. HW: DOK? A 9.  Say what you will about Ashes but everywhere else, Ashes scores in the same ballpark.


Ashes of the Singularity: What is it?

Let’s go through a check list of Ashes of the Singularity and what it is.   Remember, I don’t have to prove it’s amazing (even though yes, I think it’s pretty amazing). I only have to make the case that it isn’t the worst game to be released this year (as GameSpot has not, to my knowledge, given anything less than a 4 and only our other title, Mercenaries, got a 4):

Ashes of the Singularity feature list:

  • Gorgeous visuals
  • Rock solid (not a single review has had technical issues)
  • 12+ campaign missions
  • Strong, highly replayable skirmish game
  • Built in, active multiplayer community
  • Built in ranked multiplayer system with thousands of active players
  • Multiple single player scenarios
  • Dozens of single player maps on release
  • Combines game mechanics of Total Annihilation (streaming economy) with Company of Heroes (region based territory control)

Even people who criticize Ashes of the Singularity usually admit that it’s the best real time strategy game since Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance (2007). 

We can quibble on a long list of faults that can be pointed out (the campaign is too short or the maps trade detail for variety or there should be more units, etc.).  But none of that even comes close to a 6 let alone a 4.


Do we even need a Gaming Media at this point?

The best-selling PC strategy game right now is called Factorio which has received virtually no coverage from the gaming media.  Which begs the question, why even deal with these guys anymore?  My kids go to YouTube to find out if they want a game (or Twitch).  And no wonder.

If you’re a game reviewer you got one job: Tell your audience whether a given game is any good or not.  If you have some hard-on against the people who made it then disclose it or recuse yourself.  But don’t piss the the work of professional game developers who spent 3 years making a ground-breaking new game so that you can do your little part to get back at “the man”.

The problem: Yes, Metacritic still matters

So these drive-by reviews will hurt us. A lot. You, reading this, may not care about Metacritic but thousands of others do. They look at whether to get a game or not and now we’ll have a sub-70 Metacritic score.  It’s hard to come back from a 4 out of 10.  It will affect sales negatively.

For us, we make games for a living. It takes years to make a game.   If you have some problem with the people who make it, recuse  yourself if you can’t separate your personal politics from your subject.

I’ve heard every argument on reviews over the past couple decades. It’s just one guy’s opinion, he’s entitled to his own view.  Here’s my two cents: If you’re a gaming site you have editorial standards. You have rated game X an N and game Y an M.  That’s how it works.   If you want to post your half-baked idiotic review on your Word Press blog knock yourself out. But when you write for a real publication, be a professional.

I was very outspoken some years ago when we released a bad game: Elemental: War of Magic.   That’s a game with a nearly 60 metacritic score.  I bring this up because I am notoriously open when we mess up and make a bad game.  When War of Magic wasn’t good, I gave away its sequel and expansion to everyone who bought War of Magic for free.  That’s how serious I am on the issue of integrity in gaming.  I put my money (millions of dollars) where my mouth was. 

By contrast, Ashes of the Singularity is a very good game, easily the best RTS that has come out in years.  Usually the only debate I see is whether it is better than Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance or not.  You’d be hard pressed to find a lot of people who think the game deserves a 4. That’s insane.

I can’t even begin to express how disgusted I am. I’ve been doing it a very long time, arguably longer than any gaming journalist and I’ve never seen it as bad as it is now. Get your shit together. I was here before you and I can assure you I’ll be here long after you.



Multiple factions, thousands of units, fun gameplay, rock solid



Includes a campaign and scenarios for single player



Single player skirmish with the first multi-core RTS AI that makes it arguably gives it most challenging and intelligent player computer players ever seen in a real time strategy game



Lots of different maps, right out of the “box” gives lots of replayability


Includes a world-wide ranked multiplayer system with intelligent match making that is robust, fast, and well populated with players


Score: 4/10 apparently…


Then again, it’s not Goat Simulator


6/10 (from same reviewer)

I’m sure there’s no bias…

Taking Ashes of the Singularity from HERE to THERE

Published on Tuesday, April 19, 2016 By Frogboy In Ashes Dev Journals

With Ashes of the Singularity now officially released, it’s time to think about where to take the game next.

This is going to be long and rambling so please bear with me. Smile

Topic #1: The Reviews

The game seems to have been reviewed by 3 types of reviewers so far with their scores reflecting opposing views on what a PC game in 2016 should deliver.

The Story Reviewer

The most common reviewer has been the ones who consider the campaign as the primary single player experience.  These are the reviewers who give say Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak a 9/10 because of its engaging story while giving Ashes a lower score (sometimes much lower) because its campaign is relatively bare bones.

While I personally object to that criteria in a strategy game. Who am I to argue with their opinion?  Plenty of people feel this way now. 

The RTS Reviewer

The second most common reviewer is the one who actually plays RTS games on a regular basis.  They’re the ones who usually like Ashes of the Singularity and give us a 9/10.   What matters to them is that the game, on day 1, has a smart AI, lots of skirmish maps, a built-in ability to easily add more scenarios, strong modding support, a future proof engine for expansion and a good set of initial units (16 right off the bat). 

The Nostalgia Reviewer

These are the reviewers that I have relatively little use for.   They’re the guy who played strategy games way back when but nowadays is mostly messing with Dota 2 or Overwatch and thus really has no business reviewing the game in the first place but got assigned to do it because no staff writers had the minimum GPU to run the game.  They’re the ones who don’t actually play Supreme Commander: FA or Total Annihilation anymore but remember thinking how cool they were back in the day and how weak Ashes seems, to them.

My problem with this reviewer boils down to this: As good as SupCom is, it’s never going to be updated again. Ever.  So unless you are personally playing one of these games, and they’re not, it’s a disservice to compare to a 1.0 game to an older game that has had years of updates but isn’t, as a practical matter, something someone is going to go and play.  Now, if that person is actually playing SupCom: FA (and they’re not, they should be playing FAF and FAF players are not in this category) that would be one thing. But they’re not and we know because they would be instead talking about FAF.

All in all, I’m annoyed with the relatively low quality in game reviews these days.  Getting a review from a metacritic site where they played .4 hours (yes, we know who you are) is exactly why people have trust issues.

Topic #2: What makes games last?

Well, as I write this, Sins of a Solar Empire has climbed over the years to having typically around 800 to 1000 people playing.   But it didn’t happen over night. And don’t even get me started on GalCiv I for Windows.  I still wonder what would have happened if Master of Orion 3 hadn’t crashed and burned.  GalCiv I was not..shall we say, initially great (no campaign). So what matters?

  1. Replayability
  2. New Content
  3. Modding

Those are the 3 pillars.  Miss any one of them and your strategy game better be super strong in one of the other categories to survive long-term.

  • Replayability can be achieved in many ways, none of them easy.  Good AI, a good multiplayer community, Every game feeling new and different. These are crucial.
  • New Content has to keep coming in.  When Sins of a Solar Empire shipped, it had a total of 11 units per faction.  Today is has 21. Almost twice as many.  Sins had no diplomacy, starbases or Titans originally. That all came later.  People also forget (or don’t realize) how rough Supreme Commander 1.0 was.  When People talk about SupCom they really mean Supreme Commander: FA not Supreme Commander 1 or even Supreme Commander 2.
  • Modding no developer can keep extending a game forever.  The best games foster a strong modding community over time.  Modding doesn’t come initially. You have to have a good, strong player base first.


Topic #3: What makes a “good” RTS?


Click to enlarge

My chart here is, by no means, objective.  It’s my personal opinion on the matter. It doesn’t represent Stardock or some consortium. It’s just my 2 cents.  I have highlighted the areas in which I think a particular game is the best.  So for instance, even though SupCom has 4 factions now, I feel StarCraft’s faction diversity is superior even though it only has 3 factions. Similarly, I personally prefer the balanced resource design in Company of Heroes to anything currently released.


Ashes of the Singularity (Arumba playing)

But you look at the above chart and even by my own standards, my other favorite RTS’s are “better”. 

But better doesn’t equate to me wanting to necessarily play them anymore. Let me walk you through my rationale and please comment below with your own thoughts:

As much as I like StarCraft, it’s gameplay has moved away from the style I enjoy. It is far too twitchy for me.  I have an 88 apm and that used to be enough to put me into Diamond.  But Legacy of the Void put the game out of anything I would enjoy.  It’s an action game now for me.


StarCraft: LOV

As much as I like Supreme Commander (more specifically, FAF) I have played it out.  I am not as big of a fan as some of its die-hards that insist on review bombing Ashes (which hasn’t improved my opinion of some elements of that community, come on guys, Ashes’ success will eventually let you bring your entire game to it).  For me, Supreme Commander is hopelessly over-engineered for a new player and as anyone who watches Gyle’s streams (which I do) knows that nearly every game ends in Nuke duels or Experimentals.  That’s only fun (for me) so many times.  Ashes, btw, would have the exact same problems if development for it stopped. 


SupCom: FAF

However, it wasn’t Ashes that killed SupCom for me.  It was Company of Heroes.  After seeing the elegant hard counters in CoH, it’s really hard to go back to a game in which people tend to build masses of the same unit.  I never enjoyed on a map like Open Palms building up a dozen plus tech-1 land factories.  And ironically, Ashes has some of the same problems which I’ll talk about in a minute.

Sins of a Solar Empire on the other hand is just a game I’ve played so much over the years. There’s nothing wrong with it per se. But I’ve just played it too much.  It also is single threaded which keeps its future expandability tough.  I look forward to a Nitrous Sins game. Winking smile


Sins of a Solar Empire (prophets mod)

I still play Company of Heroes 2. But it is a fundamentally different game for me than Ashes.


But as my chart above makes clear, Ashes still has a ways to go.  And yet, I also think it is the definite RTS game people should be buying today.  Why?

Ashes next steps

When I look at the things that I think Ashes needs work on, they are all doable things that simply need time (and money).  People will ultimately vote with their wallets on what they want so consider this: If not Ashes, then what? 

There are 3 things I think Ashes needs:

  1. More Content
  2. More Community Features (modding, sharing, etc.)
  3. Time

Content isn’t just in the form of “more stuff”.  It means things like upping the little details that are expensive but necessary.  In no particular order:

  • A Third race that is fundamentally different (i.e. different technology base, so no anti-gravity based units like PHC/Substrate)
  • More Units
    • 1 more T1
    • 3 more T2s
    • 2 more T3s
    • 1 T4
    • 3 more Air
    • Naval
    • More defense structures
    • More economic structures
  • More story-driven scenarios and missions to flesh out the world and make sure single player remains a growing and interesting experience


image image 


PHC Instigator, War Hog, Marauder and Havok


One trend we want to continue is that these units aren’t simply “Better versions” of the previous tier. You can always tell someone who doesn’t know the game very well when they say it’s about building the biggest swarm.  A single Zeus or Avenger will make short work of swaths of Brutes for instance.  Each of these units will be very strong at certain things but also be very vulnerable.

In Ashes, units are intended to be tools. They’re not different sized hammers.

Community features comes in the form of modding.  You have to make it so that people can create and share scenarios and map that work both in single player and multiplayer with friends.  The ability to add new units and expand the game from the community (you want your FAF total conversion, then go ahead).  Similarly, replays, observer modes, 64 player mega maps, etc. These are all things that will need to get into the game.

Time is just something we can’t do anything about.  Half the market can’t play the game because of the 4-CPU core, 2GB of video memory requirement.  This was a decision we made and we debated on whether we’d be better off sitting on the game for another year and polishing it or releasing it so that the early adopters could get a start on growing things.  As is, we had to limit things to 6 players to get the performance fidelity we wanted on our minimum spec (and even then, minimum spec players make 6 player MP games very unreliable imo).  As we develop better ways to test performance we will eventually be able to open up much bigger maps with specific hardware requirements.

Obviously, how fast we can go down the path depends really on player demand which is measured in sales.  It’ll be a long time before Ashes is a top-seller for no other reason that you can’t chop off half the market with hardware and get there.  But hopefully, those with the hardware to play the game will give it a shot and get their friends to.

Ashes v1.1 Changelog

Published on Monday, April 18, 2016 By Frogboy In Ashes Dev Journals




  • New PHC Unit: Sentry
  • New PHC Orbital Ability: Probing Force
  • New Map: Fast & Furious
  • New Map: Slow & Steady
  • New Map: Dread Valley
  • Difficulty Levels for Ascendancy Wars!
  • Two new difficulty levels: Novice and Intermediate
  • Existing Campaign updates to support new difficulty levels
  • Tachyon better tracks difficulty levels for future Hall of Fame handling
  • Radar stations show their range when being placed
  • AI updated to use new features
  • AI army handling improved
  • Matchmaking algorithm changes to reduce wait time when there are lots of players in the queue
  • End screens now display Quanta production graph and stats
  • Military power and overall power now broken into two graphcs on end screen
  • More stat reportinG
  • New Scripting commands for modders
  • Beam weapons now display an impact effect
  • General polish pass on missions
  • Improved edge scrolling
  • Certain third-party apps that do process injection blocked for stability
  • Auto-reporting of detected potential cheaters
  • Avenger primary weapon improved to deal with large numbers of weak units. 
  • Tier 1 units HP/shields slightly reduced
  • Call Avatar cost increased from 30 to 35 quanta
  • Avatar velocity reduced (less cheesy)
  • Creeps will sometimes spawn anti-air creeps

Ashes of the Singularity: Week 3

Published on Monday, April 18, 2016 By Frogboy In Ashes Dev Journals

If you're new here, you may have noticed how awesome our community is. We have gathered here some of the most experienced RTS players around and together, we are making sure Ashes of the Singularity evolves into the go-to strategy game.


We just sent in our Gamasutra postmortem with all the good/bad/ugly details of a project like this. We'll post a link when it shows up. We think you'll like it.


We're starting to ramp up on the content creation side of things. People want more units. More maps. More scenarios. More missions. Most of this we can give away for free. Speaking of free.

## Version 1.1 ##

The first big update is scheduled to show up within the next week or so. We just released v1.02 ( mixed up the strategy mix some.

== The New Unit ==
But version 1.1 is the first update that adds a new unit - the Sentry. If you played the campaign, you saw it. It comes via a new global ability called a Probe which is much like a very small incursion. Similarly, it is very inexpensive as well. 

Sentries are pretty good against buildings, not so great against units. But if you want to mess with your opponent's rapid expansion or find ways to tactically insert a flank, the Sentry is the one to do the job. A single Sentry squad can take out most early creeps.

The Substrate Avatar already got its balance update in 1.02 in preparation for this. So for now, the Avatar had an advantage the PHC doesn't have but 1.1 will catch the PHC up.

== New Difficulty Levels ==
Version 1.1 also will add two new difficulty levels: Novice and Intermediate.

Most of our readers here won't use this that much but slightly more than 60% of players are losing against EASY (as in, they start the game, play more than 5 minutes, and leave). Only 10% of players lose against BEGINNER and we suspect most of this are people who just run out of time and have to go do something else.

We are also very close to having difficulty levels for the Campaign and scenarios done but I can't promise it for 1.1. It might have to wait until 1.11. 

## The Reviews ##

We've had a lot of good reviews in the media and some lousy ones. I won't comment on my opinions of the reviews other than to say: People, especially reviewers, really value a story-driven campaign. 

While we can argue whether we should have had a campaign at all, what is done is done. 

Right now, we are implementing a way to stream audio from the missions so that we can record voice overs and such as well as make the character box be modeless (meaning it won't interfere with game play). 

Since we're doing VO, there will be a lot more dialog in than there was initially. Our original campaign script was much longer but we realized that reading text was not super fun so we kept cutting and cutting.

## Review bombing ## 

Speaking of reviews, I can tell you that user reviews matter. A lot. They are a primary mechanism for Steam to determine what gets featured where. Hence, if a game becomes "mixed" it's basically dead from a discoverability and if a game becomes overwhelmingly positive (80%) it becomes much easier for people to find it.

We've had some reports (unconfirmed) that Ashes has been user review bombed and here (via purchasing, reviewing the game, returning the game). 

To those communities that might be doing this, please don't. We are not trying to "steal" your players. Our goal is to introduce a new generation of gamers to real-time strategy. Getting more people to play RTS games means that all RTS's will benefit.

I won't claim that Ashes is perfect. Far from it. We need to add more content and, simply put, it will take time to give the game the various niceties based on player feedback. As much as you may love Supreme Commander, remember, SupCom 1.0 didn't have a lot of units or maps. FA added 32 (thirty-two) new units/buildings. 

Also, as a reminder: Ashes is not setting out to be a successor to Supreme Commander. It is a different game within the same genre with its own gameplay philosophies (global abilities, territorial control). 

## Game Design thoughts ##

One of the areas of the game that we are trying to flesh out this Spring is the balance between rush-boom-turtle.

If you're not familiar with the term, rush-boom-turtle are the 3 pillars of RTS thinking. Rush = Get out there fast and kill the enemy. Boom is where you build up your economy and win through overwhelming force. Turtle is where you take a small area, hold and fortify. Take a little more. Hold and fortify. Etc.

In Ashes 1.0, Rushing was definitely over powered. With 1.02, we've given players more tools to counter rushers as well as made booming a bit better with the way economies are built up.

In v1.11, we expect to release two changes to make turtling and booming a bit stronger. For the PHC, this will come in the form of the Refinery, a building that magnifies your economy and stacks if you keep building it. Thus, someone with less territory could, in time, out produce someone with more. The Substrate Boost ability will also get..well, boosted so that players can keep improving their generators.

Several new buildings are in production but they won't be ready before the end of Spring. We don't intend to have any long-range (map crossing) artillery. That isn't the type of game we want to make. But we do intend to create more siege/counter siege artillery (defined as ballistic weapons).

Beyond that gets speculative on scheduling.

That's all for now! 


Ashes of the Singularity: Post-Humans Ships of the Line

Published on Tuesday, April 12, 2016 By Frogboy In Blogging



PHC Frigates

To enforce the PHC charter, several prominent Post-Humans formed the “PHC Weapons consortium” in which they pooled their collective ideas into producing weaponized constructs.

The first results from this cooperative effort came in the form of what the PHC now classifies as “frigates”.

These early militarized constructs lack both the lethality and refinement of their more advanced cousins now classified as “Cruisers”.

For the first two years of PHC versus the assorted claim jumpers saw purely Frigate on frigate action where each side’s crude weaponry was hamstrung by a variety of issues ranging from cost of remote production to reliability in the field.

The first generation frigates were mostly tracked vehicles.  The problem with tracked vehicles came down to the number of moving parts.  Fortunately, the Haalee AI led the way in gravity channeling gave the PHC a substantial technological advantage by allowing the production of frigates that hovered.

Below is a list of the current Frigates of the line as of 2178.  Even at the time of this writing, the PHC Weapons Consortium is working on a series of more sophisticated frigates due out by 2180.


Construct Description Mission
PHC_Scout_Web_layers The Hermes class Frigate integrates the PHC 1st generation sensor technology and is armed with the -rotating Melera light rail gun.  It is an effective scouting construct with limited combat engagement ability. Scout
PHC_Brute_Web_Layers The BR-T3 construct, affectionately called “The Brute” was rushed into production as a replacement to the N-1 Sentry platform proved too cumbersome to command.

The Brute’s primary strength is that it can be produced in squads of 6 as cheaply as its more sophisticated cohorts. Their primary purpose is to keep an enemy engaged in battle while more lethal constructs move in for the kill.
Good for creating pickets, denying enemy progress to areas.  Weak weapons but hard to kill.
PHC_Indirect_Fin The AR-105 “Archer” was the first generation of PHC constructs to feature chemically propelled rockets that can be constructed without the use of radioactives. This technology was later used to create the SM-AR-105 Smarty defense platform.  It is very effective at damaging enemy units but is relatively fragile. Moreover,  the Toxotes rocket platform it uses has limited range in exchange for not relying on radioactivies. Anti-Cruiser, fragile but inexpensive way to deal with massed cruisers.


KV-1 nano-reconstitutor, referred to as “the medic” by its users shoots a beam of programmable matter into damaged constructs that re-activates that construct’s original blue printing system to do self-repair.  Due to the on-going patent dispute between its designer “Mozart” and the PHC military consortium, the KV-1 technology has not been widely disseminated into the PHC. Heals friendly units.




PHC Cruisers


The “Olympus” project was a direct result of the Typhon incident.  The PHC renegade, Typhon had claim jumped two worlds and had managed to devastate PHC frigate forces by fielding substantially more sophisticated constructs.

Most of the PHC cruisers are modeled after the constructs that Typhon originated after he was ultimately defeated due to the development of the Hyperion class Dreadnought.

Below is a list of the current state-of-the-art PHC cruisers that first debuted in 2177.



Construct Description Mission
PHC_Apollo_Fin The Apollo is the most recent of the “Olympus” project.  Designed to counter the proliferation of the Hades bomber into the hands of the Renegades, the Apollo is absolutely devastating against both aircraft as well as drones thanks to its high precision targeting system and the NT-301 flak cannon. Eliminates enemy air and drones.
PHC_Artemis_Web_Fin The Artemis has become a favorite of the PHC due to its unique long-range artillery capabilities.  Because of its ability to self-produce the long-range Avalon missile, no other force has yet to match it in the field.   Slow fragile mobile rocket grenade launcher. Very effective against massed frigates.
PHC_Zeus_Web1 The Zeus is directly inspired by the Typhon Rage Warrior cruiser.  First encountered on CT-941 when the claim jumper, Typhon used several of them to annihilate the entire PHC Brute force sent to the system, the “Zeus” was the first of the Greek God cruisers to be produced.  Its primary weapon, the “God of Thunder” is devastating to any units within its short-range thus making it particularly effective against massed frigates.  It also has dual laser cannons that provide additional, though limited, defense against longer ranged units such as the Archer. Heavy anti-frigate unit capable of destroying large swaths of frigates at close range.


The Nemesis was the PHC’s answer to Typhon’s “Assassin” cruiser. Like the Assassin, the Nemesis fires a single high energy slug that pierces all armor and does massive kinetic damage to its target.  Because of the thermal energy produced with each shot, its rate of fire is severely restricted.   The Nemesis remains the ultimate “sniper” construct on the field. Fragile but deadly anti-cruiser unit. When massed, can also destroy Dreadnoughts.




PHC Dreadnoughs


The Olympus Titan project immediately followed the Olympus project.  Considered unnecessary by most members of the PHC, the seriousness of the Typhon war and the increasing cooperation of other PHC renegades spurred the PHC weapons consortium into action.

Prominent PHC leader, William “Mac” MacBride led the effort to create the first Greek Titan known as the Hyperion.  Designed as an area superiority weapons platform, the Hyperion, like all Dreadnoughts, is a marvel of PHC technology.  It utilizes the most obvious advantage the PHC has over any Post-Human renegades – superior quantum access to a given world.   The more sophisticated the construct, the higher the connection requirements to a given world are. 

Because virtually all Post-Humans are still substantially located on Earth, very few are capable of the quality of connection needed to field a Dreadnought on the frontier.  However, of those that can, all of them are part of the PHC.


Construct Description Mission
PHC_Hercules_Fin_Layers The Hyperion was the first, and for awhile, the only, Dreadnought.  It is an area superiority platform.  Its array of weaponry will destroy virtually any army of any size on a given world largely without backup.

When first launched it was simply referred to as “The Titan”. A doomsday weapon designed to make clear to any PHC renegades that their defiance and law breaking was futile.

The Hyperion remains the master of the battlefield but is now vulnerable to the new PHC Prometheus which has been designed specifically to kill a Hyperion.
General assault Dreadnought. Very good against massed frigates.
Relatively weak against other Dreadnoughts or massed cruisers.
Prometheus_Finished_Layers The Prometheus remains highly controversal within the PHC since its entire existence is justified on its ability to kill the Hyperion.  The Promethesus is very vulnerable to both frigates and cruisers thus making it largely unsuited on the battlefield unless the opponent is fielding Hyperions. 

Since only the PHC is capable of fielding Dreadnoughts, the obvious question is, why would someone design a Dreadnought for the PHC whose mission is to destroy the PHC’s primary weapon’s Herplatform?

The controversy continues.
Destroys other Dreadnoughts. Can also be used to quickly destroy a relatively undefended base.
PHC_Centaur_Web_Layers The PHC Cronus Dreadnought is brand new as of March 31, 2178.

Designed to address a recent setback in CL-17548 in which a Hyperion was severely damaged due to a renegade having “dug in” around a Turinium generator, the Cronus is the ultimate siege platform.

With multiple missile arrays, the Cronus can absolutely devastate the fixed defenses of any known foe without having to move within range of any known weapons system.
Siege Dreadnought. Designed to stand off and destroy enemy buildings and forces from afar.



PHC Combat Aircraft

The PHC have fielded aircraft on new worlds since the beginning.  The “Pan” remains the primary PHC air platform both for its onboard sensor array as well as the vision it gives other PHC constructs.

More recently, however, the PHC has had to deploy militarized aircraft to supplement its ground forces.  Because the PHC has only recently begun weaponizing its aircraft, it has routinely found holes for its air missions that it hopes to fill in the future with new aircraft such as the upcoming “Ares” project.


Construct Description
PHC_Fury_Fin The Fury air superiority fighter is the latest “shiny toy” of the PHC.  While equipped with modest surface to ground weaponry, the Fury is absolutely devastating to aircraft looking to invade its space.
PHC_Hades_Web_Layers The Hades bomber is a design that has, unfortunately, proliferated well beyond the PHC military arsenal and is now commonly utilized by renegades engaging in claim jumping.  Armed with the Nova bomb, its violet disassembling nanites make its presence on the battlefield readily apparent.  Used to destroy enemy formations or enemy structures, the Hades is one of the most lethal (and expensive) constructs one is likely to see.


By 2178, The Post-Human Coalition has assembled what it considered a reasonably full-fledged combat mix to deal with the rising threat of renegade Post-Humans.

Unfortunately, in March of 2178, the PHC encountered a completely new threat which will be the topic of our next analysis.

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