Star Control: November Update!

Published on Thursday, November 19, 2015 By Frogboy In Star Control


The logo

At last, the Founders Program is about to start and the basic website is now live!

First, read this:

Take the survey here:

We are desperately trying not to spoil anything about the game but at the same time we want Star Control fans to feel reassured that we’re on the right track. It’s a delicate balance.

So let me just put out information that is now publicly available:

#1 The Team

Stardock built a new studio, from scratch, in Towson Maryland specifically for Star Control.  We knew Star Control would require a veteran team to nail and for that reason decided that it was best to build the studio in Towson Maryland.

Why Towson? In one of the quirks of the game industry, Towson Maryland is ground zero of a good chunk of the PC game industry.  Firaxis is here. Bethesda is here. Big Huge Games is here. Zynga was here.  So much PC game history was made in this little town (Microprose and its successors). 

Stardock has a single office complex to house Stardock Towson, Mohawk Games, and Oxide Games.  This has had some really positive results that we didn’t consider at first.  For example, Soren’s team (Soren designed Civilization IV) working on Offworld Trading Company has had readily available early testers while we’ve ramped up while Andrew’s team (Star Control) has had readily available access to art and game design input from Soren’s team.  And of course, Oxide Games, the team making Ashes of the Singularity, is there to help with the engine.

#2 The Engine

So it’s using the Nitrous engine which is being developed for Ashes of the Singularity.  Star Control will be 64-bit and require at least DirectX 11.  This won’t be a big deal when it ships but it’s something to be aware of.

We’ve made some core design choices (Super Meelee will support up to 6 players in MP mode). While we’ve left other decisions (how many ships should be present in a Super Meelee battle) for the Founders to have input on.

The engine, of course, could support thousands of ships in a battle. That’s not the issue.  The issue will be the gameplay and what makes sense.

#3 The Art Style

If you’ve seen Inside Out you have a good idea of what the general art style will be like.  Mind you, we picked our art style before that movie came out, so we’re not basing ours on that movie, it just kind of worked out that way.

Here’s a screenshot of one of the new aliens:



#4 Planet exploration



When you explore the galaxy, the planets won’t look like realistic planets. They’ll look like the above.  That’s because when you land on a planet, there’s no transition. You are literally landing on THAT planet and exploring (obviously super zoomed in).  While it’ll be similar to what was in Star Control 2, it’s heavily expanded upon (first, because it’s 3D and you’re driving around on a sphere-ish thingy, secondly because you’ll find special items in addition to resources).


#5 The Modding

This is the piece we’ve really struggled with in terms of “spoilers”.  Other parts are easy to not mention because we don’t want to give away too much.  But we think this part is important to get out early on.

If you go back and play Star Control 2 the challenge has always been about replayability.  Now, you can always create “sequels” that continue a story but then that means you’re waiting until a sequel which isn’t super satisfying.

How do you solve this?

The answer: A multiverse. 

We toyed with this a bit with Stellar Frontier a long time ago with fantastic results.  The idea being that OUR story will take place in our dimension (Earth-1, 2085).  But the community will be able to create their own stories, aliens, ships, etc. with the tools we’re making.   This sort of thing has helped games like Skyrim and now Fallout 4 a great deal.  But what if a game was designed from the start with this in mind?  Imagine loading up the game and being able to choose to go to “Earth-76” or “Spazik Universe” or whatever dimension someone comes up with?

Obviously, this is a win-win for both us and the players. I’m not going to pretend that making these tools won’t sell a lot of copies of the game.  But it is also a no-brainer to do.  Players aren’t in the situation where they “finish” the main campaign and wait a year or two for our next edition. Instead, they logon and there’s a bunch of things.

Obviously, for the Super Melee enthusiasts, this won’t mean much. They’ll just be playing in their 1 on 1 up to 3 on 3 (or any combination in between) and competing in a quasi-MOBA style game.  Our Super Melee will be action oriented (so we might as well get that out of the way, it’s not going to be a strategy experience).  But we have the advantage of being designed where we can say you need broadband to play it online.

That’s all for now!

Ashes of the Singularity: November Status Report

Published on Tuesday, November 17, 2015 By Frogboy In Ashes Dev Journals


We are just about ready to release 0.64 which has a lot of small improvements to it from last week’s build as well as a pretty big new feature: The power amplifier.  Your engineer can build this onto your power generators to double the resource output of a region.

Now, let’s talk about upcoming changes for the beta.

Early Game Decisions

It is important that the game provide players with multiple early game decisions that are viable.  Below are some decision matrices we are working toward:


Game Start

  Cost Pro Con Verdict
Use Engineers to capture region Time Rapidly gain resources Not teching, not building up army, not building defenses. Viable
Build Frigate Factory Metal Quick build army Slower economic growth Viable
Build Extractors by Nexus Time Slight increase in resources Same problem with capturing region but less pay off. Not Viable
NEW: Build Orbital Fabricator Metal, Time Can call down an engineer or an incursion force Not teching, not building production, slower economic growth Viable


Around 1:30

  Cost Pro Con Verdict
Build Frigate Factory Metal Build up army Not teching, weaker units Viable
NEW: Build Cruiser Factory Metal, Rads Build higher quality army Slower army build up, not teching Viable
Build Quantum Relay Metal, Rads, Time Teching Not building up production Viable
Build Advanced Factory Metal, Rads, Time Get T3 out fast Hurts economy a lot. Not viable
NEW: Build Orbital Fabricator Metal, Time Get incursion force or engineer out Not building up production or teching Viable
NEW: Build Power amplifier Metal, Rads, Time Doubles region output Not teching, not building up Not viable on most maps


Hopefully, there will be a lot of viable strategies along with suggestions for more viable strategies.  But what we want to do as designers is make sure there are multiple viable strategies that we can think of and make sure they’re balanced.

Next Ashes update just about done. 0.63!

Published on Saturday, November 07, 2015 By Frogboy In Ashes of the Singularity

What? Another update? It's only been like a few days since the last big update right?

The Ashes team is on fire. Not literally. Well, maybe. That's an issue for the courts to work out.

Anyway here's what we're looking at delivering EARLY this next week:

* A new HUGE map with lots of open spaces. Anthys.

* We got some big performance improvements going in thanks to some new memory compression techniques that have made it in.

* First pass at ground damage. The boom boom is going to start doing visual changes to the environment with this build.

* F2 key should do cycle through idle factories.

* When you hit the pause key, an overlay will show up displaying all the hot keys.

* The first nearly finalized unit: The Brute finally gets in.

* Lots of balance changes including:

a. The scout unit is now a lone unit, not a group of 3.
b. Brutes come out in a squad of 4.
c. Bigger difference in cost/damage between the tiers

* Updated empire tree

* New music added from composer Geoff Knorr (Civilization V) and Richard Gibbs (Battlestar Galactica)

* Lots of bug fixes.

Ashes Performance and balance tuning

Published on Thursday, November 05, 2015 By Frogboy In Ashes Dev Journals


What will become 0.63


We continue to make rapid progress on all fronts as we head towards BETA.  We hope to have the beta ready by November 19.  Before then, we’ll have an interim update called 0.63 which will update the balance a bit and allows players to zoom out to 25,000 feet (as seen here).

On the performance end, we continue to work towards more frames per second on lower end hardware.  We’re making a lot of progress there (enough that we can zoom out without having to turn things into icons). 


Speaking of zooming out, throughout the development process we have looked at how far we should zoom out.  Some people want to zoom out to see the entire map. That won’t be happening.  If you hit the space-bar you can get a strategic view of the entire map but we are looking at ways to zoom further out while ensuring people can still identify friend/foe units.

In the longer view, we’d like to make it so that people with multiple monitors can have a situation map always visible on the second monitor that will be a wire frame version of the world that lets them see the hot spots.  But even minus that, we have seen some great mockups on the forums on how we might be able to make units more visible when zoomed out.

TIP:HIT THE SPACE BAR to bring up the situation map.

Unit Tiers

The units in Ashes are not designed to be replaced by higher tiers.  That said, we have begun to put more emphasis on making those purposes more self-evident to the player.  For example, in 0.63, the Scout will come out as a single, very fast unit that comes out of the factory in 4 seconds.  By contrast, the Archers will come out in groups of 3 that take 12 seconds and the Brute will come out in groups of 4.  This will make them a bit easier to identify and help us visually communicate their roles a little better when they’re in battle.

Tier 2s are getting some pretty big buffs both in terms of how powerful they are, relatively, and their cost.  In the balance area, we’re trying to make the stream economy now be full of “newbie traps”.  Hence, a T2 will require about 1.5X more metal per second than a T1 and a T3 will require about 3X more metal per second than a T1.  They’ll take a lot longer to build but that can be compensated by adding engineers which can aid in the construction.


Right now, we feel like players get to all the “stuff” pretty quickly.  This is particularly true of defensive structures where repair bays and drone bays are quite rapidly acquired.  We plan to tie a number of units/buildings to having at least a Quantum Relay built.  This will also address another “newbie trap” where people don’t realize that need to upgrade their logistics or else they get stuck at a mere 100 units.

Power Amplifiers

Ashes currently has a two-tier economy:

Tier 1: Capture region, gain +1 from every resource in that region

Tier 2: Place an extractor on those resources to get another +1 from each resource

But we plan to add a third tier for late game:

Tie 3: Power amplifiers. Build a power amplifer to double the output of a region.

This will work by clicking on a power generator and upgrading it.  We want this to be in the Beta but we’re running very tight.


We plan to have a lot of orbitals in the game eventually.  But in the near-term we are focusing on these 4:

  1. Engineering Drop Down
  2. Incursion
  3. Orbital Strike
  4. Orbital Nullify

When players build the corresponding orbital, a global ability is enabled. Orbital Relays provide the generic resource, “quanta” which are moments in time of access to your off-world empire’s resources. You use this resource to upgrade your tech and to spend on these global abilities.

The Engineering drop down will instantly place an engineer anywhere on the map.  The Incursion will place a small but ever more powerful (the more you use it, the more powerful it gets) force in a target location for behind the lines work.  This small force won’t be enough to take out a serious force but it’ll be enough to punish players who have spread themselves too thin and not guarded their supply lines.

The orbital strike is Ashes’s nuke equivalent.  You spend quanta and target a location.  The mini-map will display the large area that is about to get nuked.  The opposing player, if they have built the Nuliffier orbital and have enough quanta held back can nullify the strike.

We have others in the works but these will be the 4 that will let us balance the give and take between players building units versus using special abilities.

Gaining Levels

The other area we have a lot of work to do is on Dreadnoughts gaining levels. The plan is for these units to gain special abilities that the player can choose.  These probably won’t be ready by the beta however.

We hope you’re having fun!

The Early Access program is doing well. We’re glad to see so many people liking the direction we’re going.  It’s a definite challenge to make a new RTS that will appeal to the very different tastes of the RTS market.

Let us know what you think.


Zooming out to 100,000 feet

Published on Wednesday, November 04, 2015 By Frogboy In Ashes of the Singularity

Zoomed out to the edge of the lower atmosphere (about 100,000 feet in the air)

Realistically, the game just isn't meant to be played this far zoomed out.  And this isn't even covering the full map and isn't the largest map we even support.

We will be doing a lot more to make the strategic situation map provide more information for players to make good strategic decisions.  


Star Control: October 2015 update

Published on Saturday, October 31, 2015 By Frogboy In Star Control


Another month has come and gone and here is the monthly update -- just in a nick of time.

The Star Control team has continued to staff up as we've hired more animators and artists. 

Here are the topics to lead us into November:

Topic #1: The Founder's Program

Yes. The Founder's Program will get going within the next month or so.

If you are interested in joining, please fill out this survey:


Topic #2: The Tech

The game will be using the same graphics engine as Ashes of the Singularity.  That means it'll be both state of the art but also (Because we're not having to deal with 30,000+ units at once) be able to run on relatively modest hardware (it'll still require a 64-bit OS, DirectX 11 or later but you should be able to run it fine on an Ultrabook). 

The visuals are already quite stunning. Remember,. Nitrous's claim to fame (the engine)_ is that it renders similar to how CGI in movies is done except in real-time.  You can see that already in Ashes despite it having relatively simple 3D models.  Wait till you see what we can do with the aliens. 


Topic #3: Lore Update

Since this is a reboot, the game will take place before the events of the original Star Control 1. Without giving too much away, something happens in 2085 leading the Humans to form Star Control to begin exploring space and making contact with alien worlds.  The story will unfold from there.


Topic #4: Core elements

The founders will get a lot more information on all of this but below are the essential elements in the new Star Control.

  • Super Melee.  Without spoiling it, Super Melee will take place within a solar system, not around a single planet. It will support Internet multiplayer and will likely be the first component released to Founders (2016).
  • Planet Exploration.  This part is actually pretty far along and one of the coolest looking things I've ever seen and, after you see, it, it's "duh, of course that's how it should be done".
  • Encounters.  This is the most complex part of the game (or at least expensive).  Combining Nitrous with real-time emoting (not just lip syincing) is definitely proving worth it.  For the record, I was originally against this because I thought it would be cheesy. I've now seen it in action and it's really amazing.
  • Ship Customizer.  You wlll have a flag ship which will also pick up fleets of ally ships.  However, this time around, you'll be able to visually customize the ship such that everyone's ship will look different (which should prove fun in multiplayer and when exploring the multiverses created by others).  Think GalCiv III level customization combined with Nitrous fidelity.  This part of the game is already working (though primitively).
  • Exploration.  This part is working minus non-programmer art. 
  • Music.  We scored a real win getting Riku back after 25 years to score the new Star Control music. It's part of the charm of the original series.
  • Writing.  Chris Bucholz of is in charge of the writing.  The aliens are, well, pretty awesomely insane and ridiculous already.  There are already some catchy memes that have spread across the office.  It'll be interesting whether they spread once others are exposed to them.
We're basically moving at full force.  We are still looking to hire more engineers though. Must be willing to locate to Towson Maryland.
Topic #5: Road Map
Here's the near-term road map:
  1. Founders Program begins (4Q2015). This will be access to our vault and a private forum where we can bounce ideas off those passionate, like us, about the Star Control reboot.
  2. Founders Prototype (1Q2016): Founders under NDA will start to be able to give feedback and try out some of our tools and early prototypes of what we're working on to give feedback and suggestions.
  3. Founders Alpha (2Q2016): Founders, under NDA, start getting Alpha builds.
  4. Early Access (4Q2016).
  5. 2017: 25th anniversary of Star Control 2.

Topic #6: Bonus Topic
Because of the heavy emphasis on player created universes (hence all the work on tools and editors), we'll be using the term "Multiverse" a lot going forward.
Broadly speaking, if someone uses the tools to create a Star Trek universe that players visit in the game that is full of Klingon and Federation ships (obviously, WE won't be releasing that but the tools will let people create any universe they want with their own ships, stories, aliens, etc. of varying qualities) that universe will have an Earth also. Similarly, if someone creates a Babylon 5 universe, that one has Earth in it too.  And needless to say, I suspect many people will use the tools to recreate Star Control 2 based stories with their ships and aliens -- and Earth is in that too.
So we can't obviously call these mods different galaxies or different parts of the milky way galaxy. They're different dimensions.  Hence, the multiverse concept. 
That there are other dimensions is not news to Star Control *campers* of course.
Once people have completed our main story-arc, they will have endless different stories to go to without having to wait for us to create sequels.  They just pop into their ship and choose a dimension to visit.
Let me know what questions you have.   There's already plenty of spoilers in this post but we'll be reserving most of the details for the Founder's vault.


GalCiv III: Economics, Command Economies and Citizens

Published on Saturday, October 31, 2015 By Frogboy In GalCiv III Dev Journals

With GalCiv III v1.4, we’ve removed the per planet production wheel.   You can read more about that here.

This has sparked a lively debate on just how much control a player should have on their economy. 

Planet Specialization

Planets in Galactic Civilizations III can be specialized much more than in previous versions.  An industrial world, through adjacencies, can result in massive bonus manufacturing.  However, on top of that, players can direct their citizens to work more in those factories via the global production wheel (and previously the local production wheel).

So let’s talk about what that actually means.

Command Economies

By default, your citizens work at whatever jobs are available on your planets. 

If you live in the West (USA, Europe, Japan, etc.) you are free to choose the job you want.


By default, your citizens work the jobs they want.



Earth in 2251. M:23, R:15, W:9: Total of 47

So in this model, Earth is producing 23.7 quadrillion tons of manufactured goods, 15.1 units of research, and is generating taxable income of 8.7T credits (for GalCiv III we’ve gotten rid of the units of measurement).

However, new to GalCiv III is the concept of being able to FORCE people to work certain jobs.   That is, I can draft people to go work in the factories or in the labs or raise their taxes:


Through the production wheel, I can make people to  work in the factories, raise their taxes or help out in the labs.

In every previous GalCiv, if you raised taxes, there was a corresponding morale penalty.  We don’t have that here because it was decided it was too convoluted to have it just for taxes.  However, what we really should have considered is that it’s not that people hate taxes per se, they had COERCION.  They don’t like their government controlling their activity.  If my taxes are 50%, for instance, that means 50% of the time I’m working FOR the government.

When I move my wheel to 100% manufacturing I’m conscripting my citizens to work in the factory and I get a corresponding boost to manufacturing:


Now, I get 70.8, 0, –3.6.  You’ll note that this number if much MUCH higher. Total: 67.

Note that in this example, my morale is still 78%.  In GalCiv II, if you raised your taxes to 100%, your morale would plummet unless you invested heavily into things to keep them happy.  But in GalCiv III, there’s no penalty at all for setting manufacturing to 100%. 

I understand why people like the production wheel

Imagine if in GalCIv II we let people set their taxes to 100% and there was no downside to this.  Now, imagine if we put out GalCiv II v1.4 and we made it so you couldn’t change taxes.  People would have been ticked off.  Understandably.  But I hope also that people would understand that such a system is broken.  There’s no such thing a a free lunch.

Ending the Free Lunch

I’ve had a lot of time to think about the production wheel.  By reading the forums, at length, I’ve gotten a much better idea of what the issue really is.  It’s the free lunch aspect of the production wheel I don’t like.  In the real world, command economies don’t do well against free markets in the long-run.  But in GalCiv III, they’re absolutely the way to go.  The problem ISN’T the wheel on its own (I don’t like the micro management but I have no issue with people voluntarily choosing to play that way).  The problem is that you get to coerce people without any downside.

How I’d like to solve this

First, the Terran Alliance won’t support the command economy.  That is, you won’t be able to set tax policy on a per planet basis as the Terran Alliance.  However, a new racial trait called “Command Economy” can be added that will be part of the Yor.  The Yor aren’t mindless robots but unlike humans, they can be micro-managed in ways that humans can’t.

Second, we will introduce the concept of COERCION into the system.

How Coercion would work

Let’s say your planet is producing 11 units of goods and services (as seen in the screenshot below). 

What coercion would do is that for every point above 33 your maximum focus is, you’d diminish those goods by a percent. 

Example: Let’s say I set Manufacturing to 100%.  That’s 67% above the 33% natural rate.  Your goods and services would then be multiplied by (1 – 0.67).  Thus, I would suddenly only get 4 goods and services and I would thus take an overall production penalty.  In this example, instead of getting 70.8 manufacturing I’d only get around 50 and my planet’s population would grow slower.  But it’s still massively above  the 23 that is the default.


Right now, your approval is based on the goods you provide per citizen.



Random example explaining coercion.


How the UI would communicate this

Similarly, civilizations with a command economy could set it on a per planet basis but it would work the same, you could just micro it on a per planet basis if you wanted.

NOW, let’s talk about the future

Eventually, GalCiv III is going to have a bunch of different types of governments to choose from.  The reason the Economy tab is done the way it is is because it’s been designed with the idea that eventually the type of government you have will determine what shows up in that tab.   So one type of government might have a bunch of sliders, another might have almost no controls, another might have players choosing a series of subsidy policies and so on.  For now, we just have the production wheel. But it’s never been intended to be the end-all be all.  

So when?

I’d like to see this change put into 1.5 or sooner.   It’ll take a little balancing to make sure pacing isn’t hosed. But ultimately, it will result in a much more balanced, less…arbitrary economy and allow us to justify more types of planetary improvements, super projects and other goodies that offset this.

Oh, and we can get rid of the large empire penalty too since it won’t be needed under this system.

The Galactic Civilizations III road-map thread

Published on Friday, October 30, 2015 By Frogboy In Galactic Civilizations III

I'll write a fancier version of this soon but here is our near-term schedule:

  • GalCiv 1.2: Random Events added (August)
  • GalCiv 1.3: The UI update (September)
  • GalCiv 1.4: The big AI update (October)
  • GalCiv 1.5: Diplomacy update (December)
  • GalCiv 1.6: New invasion system, New starbase system (February)

Obviously that's an extreme over simplification but hope this helps.


February will be the Expansion pack. I won't yet reveal what's in it. Major new feature (one that's never been in a GalCiv game before but it's awesome) + 2 new major races + corresponding content to go along with the new feature + mini-campaign introducing the new feature. Will be $19.99.   The feature and content will, in hindsight, be ridiculously obvious and fun.

Other features on our roadmap:

  1. New espionage system (both for learning insider data for trading, sabotage, manipulating civilizations more effectively)
  2. New trade system (think galactic trading network with stock markets and commodity pricing)
  3. Political parties + Domestic politics (dealing with the senate, building a cabinet, etc.).
  4. Mod packs.  This is essentially a system that allows players to virtualize a GalCiv install to make "full conversions" easier. This is non-trivial to do but it required if we want to do serious Steamworks integration of more sophisticated mods.
It'll be DLC that funds these features but most of what I mention above I intend to have in the base game for the most part.  
So for you techies, want I want to avoid is having players having to choose multiple EXE's. I want there to be a single EXE for the game.  Thus DLC will be content that is optional while the base game is the canon version of the game.


Reinventing the Wheel

Published on Friday, October 30, 2015 By Frogboy In GalCiv III Dev Journals

imageYesterday was the long-waited big update to Galactic Civilizations III.  Version 1.4 added many many AI and UI updates to the game based on months of player feedback.

You can see the news here:



We’re pretty happy with the response overall.  But there is one change I’d like to discuss with you guys: THE WHEEL.

Who am I?

I’m Brad Wardell. I wrote the original GalCiv for OS/2 and much of GalCiv I and GalCiv II.  I also designed those games and wrote their AIs.  On GalCiv III I’ve been more of an executive consultant thus far as I’ve been focusing on Ashes of the Singularity for the past couple of years.  But GalCiv remains my baby. I’ve spent over 20 years with it. So it matters a lot to me.


In GalCiv III 1.0 through 1.3 players could go to the planetary governor and override the global spending priorities on a planetary basis.  This made micro-managers very happy and people who don’t like to micro manage very sad.

Planetary Wheel: Love & Hate

I am in the camp of hating it. HATING it.  Not because of the micromanagement because it completely violates what GalCiv has always been about: You are running a galactic civilization.  It’s supposed to be half simulation, half strategy game.  The wheel is totally gamey.  No civilization functions where last being can be assigned a job by the government. 

I have tried to stay reasonably hands off on GalCiv III but the planetary wheel had to go.  I wanted it out for 1.1, then 1.2, then 1.3 but other things took priority and it was finally killed in 1.4.

It has NOTHING to do with the AI

I read the forums and I see people talking about the change being made to make the AI easier.  That’s a ridiculous argument. Not to be mean but only a non-programmer would say that.  Micro-managing is what AIs do best.  I could write up an AI that could tweak planetary wheels every turn to a level that would make most micro managers weep. 

Put another way: computers are faster and better at math than humans and the planetary wheel was all about math. 

The reason the AI didn’t use the planetary wheel in previous versions is because it was supposed to be eliminated long ago.  So there was no point writing AI for this if the feature was going to go away.

It is my game but it is also YOUR game

Now, that said, I write games for you guys. That’s what motivates me.  I see people who really liked the planetary wheel.  So we need some sort of solution that will make both groups happy.

What I’m going to ask is that a prefs.ini setting called planetarywheel=on be added.  If that’s on, you’ll get your wheel.  However, that won’t be the official version of the game. There will be no in-game UI option to turn it on.  People who are passionate about this feature can still turn it on without everyone else feeling like they have to use this feature in order to micro-manage their empire to the nth degree.

I know that solution won’t make everyone happy. No solution will.  But hopefully this will be a reasonable compromise for most people.

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