The Sorcerer King is a compelling strategy RPG

Published on Wednesday, July 01, 2015 By Frogboy In Sorcerer King Dev Journals

I’ll admit my bias here but Sorcerer King is extremely fun.

What is it? It’s a fantasy strategy game with a lot of role playing elements.  Or it’s an RPG with strategy elements.  You be the judge:

It’s a strategy game because

image

  1. You train units
  2. You found new cities
  3. You build up your cities
  4. You engage in diplomacy with rival civilizations
  5. You can terraform the map (using  magic)
  6. You harvest resources
  7. You can craft weapons, armor, etc.
  8. You research new “technologies” (skills)

It’s an RPG because

  1. You take on a specific role at the start of the game
  2. You go on quests
  3. There is a central villain (The Sorcerer King) who responds to you differently each game based on your actions
  4. You gain experience and go up a skill tree
  5. You learn new spells
  6. Your interactions and decisions in the world affect what quests you can go on

Fallen Enchantress vs. Sorcerer King

Our last game in the Elemental game universe was Fallen Enchantress and it was straight up a 4X strategy game.

Star Control vs. Sorcerer King

This may seem counter-intuitive but the game that inspired Sorcerer King the most was Star Control 2.

In Sorcerer King, the war is over. Your side lost.  Now, the Sorcerer King is looking to become a god which is a bit of a problem because it requires all living things in the world to die for him to do it. 

Now, you must go and unite former rivals, go on quests and build your characters up to confront him.  The game does have a campaign that provides a very curated experience (similar to the Star Control main story).  But Sorcerer King also supports a very sophisticated sandbox (which is we’ve had to spend 3 or so  years on this game). 

What character you start with determines the entire course of the game. Not just because each one has lots of different cool features (it does) but also because the story elements each character receives changes based on this as well.  On top of that, every quest feeds every other quest. The options and consequences of quests in the game mean that each game will be different – even the campaign.

Sorcerer King in images

image

You can choose between 6 entirely different sovereigns. Each has their own story and their own series of interactions with the world (which take many games to even experience most for just one character).

image

You can also choose your own rivals (or have them randomly chosen) that you’ll have to contend with (or win over).  They have their own baggage with each other as well.

image

You also can set up the backstory for each sovereign at the start of the game which changes your starting conditions.

 

image

Across the world there are elemental shards. By capturing them, you can invest their magic into lore (new spells), skill (which gives you new abilities), or mana (for casting spells).

image

Learning new spells

image

Your sovereign’s skill tree.

image

image

Sorcerer King’s quests, written by Chris Bucholz (a columnist at Cracked.com), both progress each game’s unique experience but are also enjoyable for themselves.

image

The Sorcerer King wants to be your friend. Or specifically, wants to keep you from meddling with his quest to become a god.  How he treats you depends on which character you’ve chosen to play as as well as what decisions you’ve already made.

image

Through the course of the game, you will be able to find recipes and craft new items for your units

image

If you antagonize the Sorcerer King too quickly, you will suffer his wrath as he starts out much more powerful than the player.

image

Every unit can be equipped

image

Mid game crafting gets especially powerful as you can create unique items without recipes.

image

Using your magic, you can raise mountains to protect your cities (or create land bridges across the water).

 

Your ultimate objective

You can win the game by either defeating the Sorcerer King through strength of arms or supplanting him by becoming a god yourself (capture shards to fuel your own spell of godhood).

How to get it

Sorcerer King will be released on July 16, 2015 at www.sorcererking.com.

GalCiv III AI: The challenges

Published on Wednesday, June 24, 2015 By Frogboy In GalCiv III AI Talk

Unlike GalCiv II, the GalCiv III AI and overall system is extremely moddable.  I'm glad they did that but I'm having a hard time making the AI play the game as well as I'd like.

Whether people like it or not, skill at a game is the result of knowing effective, specific, strategies. You can't procedurally generate a strategy. Some of it needs to be hard-coded and that's where we're struggling because GalCiv III is all about data mining and procedural design.  It is much more like a Chess AI than what I've done in the past.

For instance, in Starcraft, I'm a mid-level diamond league player. I have very specific build orders, very specific map control strategies that rely on timing and a very tight control of resources.  In GalCiv III, presently, I can't even make a ship focus on a particular type of defense.  Heck, getting the AI to not decide to build endless constructors is a lot harder than you'd think.

Anyway, you're not here to read me complain about our own game.  So let's roll up our sleeves, we've got years to do this.  What I can say is that the AI system in GalCiv III is on a much better foundation than GalCiv II.  There's much more we can do. But it's going to take time and frankly, a lot of community help.  

What I need form you guys are saved games with an explanation of a strategic error you see the AI making.  I don't need help in coding what the AI should do because I can assure you, all those functions are there. It's simply calculating that doing something else is a better idea.

GalCiv II way:

If (transportisnearmylanet)then (do specific bad things to that opponent)


GalCiv III way:

Go through and weight zillions of possible things you might do, sort those weights and execute various empire-wide build/movement decisions.

Much of the work on GalCiv III will be making decisions more locally.

Ashes: WHO should become a founder? PLEASE READ

Published on Wednesday, June 17, 2015 By Frogboy In Ashes of the Singularity

The Founder's program works around the ALPHA build of Ashes of the Singularity.  

If you are joining in the hopes of playing a fun game, don't.  It's NOT fun yet.   

So who should join and why?

We're mainly interested in these types of people to join:

(1) Power Users.  People who know tech and can give us a lot of feedback on the tech.

(2) RTS experts. Particularly Total Annihilation, Company of Heroes, Starcraft 2 and SupCom veterans.

In other words, not for casual players. 

What are we looking for from people?

There are a lot of important UI conventions that we will need to nail down. There will be a lot of balance.  We will ultimately be compared to Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void and SUpCom: FA and the latest CoH which have had years of balance and content added.  Through the right group of founders, we can shave years off the time it'll take to get the proper balance, AI strategies, and UI conventions nailed down.

Active founders will be given extra keys to give out to their friends (these keys will only work until the release of the game and only work multiplayer). We are going to be attempting a lot of meta game stuff with the multiplayer game.  We expect most people will play the game single player but multilayer is a major focus as well for us.

Helpful tools:

I recommend JING for taking screenshots and marking them up.  You can even submit your images to their site and then link to the images here.  

The Sausage Factory

Founders are going to see the down and dirty of game development.  That means, you'll be seeing us try out different ideas that we may throw out later.  When it comes to UI, balance, game rules, almost nothing is off the table.  Where we'll be constrained will be map features (like different types of forests) and units.

Spoilers

<spoilers below>

Those who get the lifetime edition get all the DLC plus the major expansions we have in mind which include:

Ashes: <Naval Units and Oceans expansion>

Ashes: <Aggressive neutrals - that's as vague as I can get, it'll be very exciting>

Ashes: <Third race>

The DLC will mostly be map stuff, more units, more campaign stuff.  

Who is making Ashes?

It's a join effort by Oxide Games and Stardock. More specifically, the team includes people who were major parts (as in leadership roles) on Sins of a Solar Empire, Galactic Civilizations, Civilization V, Demigod, Lord of the Rings RTS and more.

The basic schedule:

  • Founders Alpha Series (engine testing, UI arguments, MP is disabled): June/July 2015
  • Founders Alpha MP series (MP is enabled, UI and balance arguments): August/Sept 2015
  • Steam early access (tentative IF we think it's ready): 4Q2015
  • Release: 2016

In short, we have a long way to go still.

Modding:

As I've been doing with Sorcerer King, I may recruit people from the community to work with me on the game. Ashes is very moddable.  I should also mention, we'll be contracting people from the community (i.e. with Sorcerer King, I contracted people from the community for $$ to implement the quests in the game that we wrote up, was a wonderful experience and made some great new friends). 

To mod, you will need to get a good CSV editor as that is the format we're storing everything in. 

The GalCiv III wishlist thread

Published on Monday, June 15, 2015 By Frogboy In Galactic Civilizations III

Greetings!

We are so excited at the number of people playing GalCiv III. 

Now, the question is, what NEXT. Stardock's perspective is that your purchase doesn't just get you the game "as is" but rather is the beginning of what will be a multi-year journey of updates to the game.

So in this thread please list FIVE things (no more, no less) that you would like to see in an upcoming free update (and by upcoming, I mean, by end of Summer). 

Preface that list with the understanding that these should not be expansion pack type things (i.e. "full blown interactive invasion" or sophisticated espionage system). 

To get the ball rolling here is my list:

#1 Steam Workshop support. That means, I want to be able to easily download other people's ships and custom civilizations.

#2 Massive, community driven AI update based on the expertise of all the players (rather than just internal devs playing it).

#3 Anti-Micromanagement UI improvements. That is, kill constructor spam, make managing a huge empire more interesting and fun.

#4 Better, more satisfying fleet battles (both visually and in terms of player decision making)

#5 Major diplomacy updates. Let me have full blown diplomatic discussions with the AI.

That's my list. What's yours?

 

Steam version here: http://steamcommunity.com/app/226860/discussions/1/598198173700392501/

 

Ashes of the Singularity: Founder’s Build coming next week

Published on Monday, June 08, 2015 By Frogboy In Ashes Dev Journals

image

 

Greetings!

I’m happy to report that the ALPHA build of Ashes of the Singularity is nearly ready to share with those who have joined the Founder’s program. We expect to make it available early next week.

What to expect?

We’ll have exciting features such as:

  • A buggy, nearly unplayable mess!
  • Unreliable multiplayer!
  • Crummy, inconsistent AI
  • Crashes, crashes and more crashes!
  • Terrible performance on many systems!
  • Got Windows 10? You can add DirectX 12 bugginess to your fun!
  • How about fun? None of that here! We promise!

What is the purpose?

This will be the first time Ashes of the Singularity is being made available “in the wild”. We want to see how the engine is working and start building a core community to work with as we begin to implement proper balance, UI, hardware compatibility, etc.

What should you report on the forums?

Everything. Visit the Founders and report everything you can. http://forums.ashesofthesingularity.com/forum/1112 

Is this Early Access?

No.  In fact, we won’t even contemplate early access until the game is much further along.

So who should join?

People who are looking for a next-generation RTS (real-time strategy game).  One that has been built from the ground up for modern PCs.

To join the Founder’s you will need at an absolute minimum:

  • A 64-bit PC
  • 8 GB of memory
  • A DirectX 11 video card with at least 2GB of memory on it (if you’re not certain, you don’t have it)
  • 1920x1080 minimum resolution
  • High-speed Internet

Here are the games we think Ashes of the Singularity will appeal to:

  1. People who liked Total Annihilation (this game is most similar to TA)
  2. People who like Company of Heroes (the maps are region based)
  3. People who like Kohan (you can combine your units into a single big unit that works together)
  4. People who like Sins of a Solar Empire (we have sometimes described this as Sins on a planet)

So why shouldn’t I become a Founder?

You almost certainly should not unless you are really really into this type of game. 

Is there a walkthrough?

Sure, right here:

image

Title music and themes are composed by Richard Gibbs who composed the music for Battlestar Galactica.

The Background

The year is 2178.  Humans, as we know them, have evolved.  They are now locked in a galaxy wide war amongst both themselves and a sentient AI race collectively called the Substrate.

The war is for control of planets that are suitable to be converted into a substance we are tentatively calling “Computronium” (during the founder’s program, we will be coming up with a different name).

When a planet is found, the claimant places a “Seed” structure on the planet from which they can construct engineers and and other units to begin the orderly conversion of the planet into that person’s ever expanding empire. 

Sometimes, however, a planet has multiple claimants resulting in conflict.  Your job is to either convert the planet first or annihilate your opponents.  Victory means adding that planet to your empire which in turn grows your power base.

Early Game

image

This is the Seed structure along with an engineer.  The seed is already quite powerful and not easily attacked. It can produce engineers.  Engineers can construct other buildings and claim resources (metal and radioactives).  You need metal as a base building material and you need radioactives for more advanced items.

 

image

I tend to use my first engineer to go around and build metal extractors and then have a second engineer build a factory.

 

image

You can speed up construction of units with an Engineer.

 

image

Each region has a power generator in it. You must capture it to gain control of that region. Once you do that, you can claim the resources as well as power buildings. Regions start out with guardians (creeps) that must be killed off before you can take it.

 

image

To gain access to better tech, you build a research matrix. The more research matrices you build, the higher up the tech tree you can go.  However, research matrices consume a lot of power (all power comes from the power generators and they provide a finite amount of power).

Next week

We look forward to hearing from brave (and/or crazy) people looking to join us on this adventure.

Join us here: http://www.ashesofthesingularity.com/store

 

image

Hyperion approaching a power generator.

Introduction to GalCiv III AI Talk

Published on Saturday, June 06, 2015 By Frogboy In GalCiv III AI Talk

Greetings!

I've created a new sub-forum here dedicated to talking about GalCiv III AI.  Because of our forum system, active posts here will float up to the top so you can see this post from the main forum too.

A big welcome to GalCiv III fans or future AI game developers!

## AI Background ##

GalCiv III is the first of the GalCiv games where I didn't write the initial AI for.  This has turned out to be a good thing, something that we will all benefit from for years.  But in this section, we'll talk about what this means.

Unlike the previous GalCiv AI's, this one is data driven. That means most of its intelligence is derived from XML files in the game directory.  The team implemented the AI as a huge library of APIs that use this data and make very simple decisions with it.  Because the game is 64-bit and because each AI player gets its own thread, there is a huge amount of built in potential to do some amazing stuff.

In late March of 2015, I finished up my main work on Sorcerer King and began to look at the AI for GalCiv III.  The primary strengths in the AI are what I just described.  However, it has some weaknesses too which revolve mostly around not being very good at PLAYING the game.  

To use the Chess metaphor, the GalCiv III AI at the 0.80 level (March 2015) knew how to play the game. It just didn't know how to play it well yet.  That's where I came in.  My pre-release work consisted on making the AI more skilled in playing actual humans.  

If I were to rate the GalCiv AIs over the years, and this rating changes a bit based on how I"m feeling that day I'd rate them as follows where 1 is brain dead and 10 is the absolute best AI a game can have.

GalCiv OS/2: 8

GalCiv I for Windows: 7

GalCiv II: Dread Lords: 6

GalCiv II: Dark Avatar: 8

GalCiv II: Twilight 7

GalCiv III: 1.0: 6

 

## AI Expectations ##

Anyone who has had to deal with me on forums knows that I have very limited patience for arm-chair AI designers. I'm old and cranky.  If you're participating in these discussions, here are a few ground rules you need to understand:

1. Nearly all players play at either beginner or easy.  And by nearly all, I mean 90%.  This has always been the case and will always be the case.  So feedback or suggestions that involve affecting those players negatively or spending a vastly disproportional sum of money and time on some AI idea just isn't helpful 

2. Unless you've programmed AI, feedback suggesting new APIs isn't really helpful.  Every AI discussion always has people suggesting things like "The AI should be able to detect threats" or "The AI needs to build better fleets" or "The AI should reinforce planets that are endangered" as if these features weren't in the game before I showed up.  That's the most basic stuff.  The aI fails to do those things because something else happened and our job is to figure out what happened that kept it from doing those things.

3. Extreme exploits aren't going to be fixed. Most people who win the game are taking advantage of some level of exploit. That is fine and we can, on a case by case basis, determine which ones we should address.  I tend to fix exploits that are too tempting to ignore.  If the AI is making bad trades, for instance, that's something that should be fixed.  But if someone has figured out that they can kite some unit in tactical battle for 45 minutes doing 1 damage per turn until the monster is dead I"m not going to fix that kind of thing. Kite away, my friend.  

4. My near time objective is to get the GalCiv III AI up to a 7 and later an 8.  It is extremely unlikely I'll be able to get it to a 9 on my arbitrary scale because it's not commercially viable and I've never seen a game reach anywhere close to a 9 and only one commercial strategy game has reached an 8 besides Dark Avatar.  Most PC strategy games are less than a 6 and provide their challenge through actual cheating AI which is much cheaper and often more fun for players anyway.

5. Understand what cheating really is. If you get a handicap at bowling or golf you are not cheating.  If you get to walk up and kick down the pins you are.  People throw around the term "Cheating" so lazily now that it's having a negative impact on the incentive to actually make good AI.   The AI in GalCiv does't cheat with 1 exception: On the higher difficulties it doesn't have FOW (and even that is something I'm looking to get rid of).  Giving an AI a handicap (i.e. every credit it makes is matched by another 0.25 credits) is not cheating, it's a handicap.  If the community ever reached a consensus that giving the AI a handicap is cheating AND felt the AI was dumb then it would make more sense to just have the AI actually cheat (i.e. just give the AI whatever units, weapons, techs, etc. it needed based on the difficulty level, much easier to code).

## AI Weaknesses in 1.0 ##

The biggest problem I'm dealing with in the 0.80 to 1.03 AI of GalCiv III is that all its thinking is empire wide. I cannot control spending on a per planet basis. I do not have access the shipyard building a ship.  I am making decisions for an empire without any local knowledge. As a result, the bigger the map, the weaker the AI gets.  

The second biggest issue is related and has to do with the ships. The AI doesn't currently have access to the ships in a way that lets me work with them based on on their location.  I've alw2ays written the AIs in GalCiv as a gamer and less as a programmer. So, in my mind, I always thought of fleets as having a geographical duty. That isn't the case in GalCiv. As a reuslt, it has a lot tougher time coordinating ships into coherent local "Stuff.  The bigger the map, the worse it gets.  

Now, before someone says "How can you have crazy sized maps and an AI that can't 'handle' it" I'll bring you back to expectation #1. The AI handles it just fine for nearly all players. It's for people who are really good at strategy games that can overcome this and it's not an all or nothing thing (The AI, with enough handicaps, can overcome this weakness).

Nearly every weakness in the 1.0 AI boils down to a lack of local awareness (that is, letting planets, ships, shipyards, think locally instead of globally). The AI would do great as a federal politician...

 

## Rolling up our sleeves ##

I have a bunch of low hanging fruit that I intend to address in GalCiv 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3. Let's talk about those first:

1. Eliminate the AI's all seeing FOW vision.  This will actually make the AI substantially smarter on bigger maps.  This seems counter intuitive until you see the weaknesses I pointed out.  It's better for the AI to only "see" stuff that actually matters so that it's not sending ships across the map or building starbases where it has no business doing so.  

2. Making the AI more aware of ZOC.  Remember, the AI gets annoyed when units and starbases are in its ZOC.  The AI makes no distinction between meat and silicon.  As a result, the AI often ends up with war with each other because of this which reduces the AI's focused strength.

3. Pre-war build up.  This is something I'll be working with the Civ IV and Civ V AI developers on.  This is something they're good at that I haven't done as much on.  So I'll be implementing some of those systems (not source code of course, I'm just going to talk to them about it) into the AI.

4. Localized tactics.  This will be a major bit of work but we will start dividing up the galaxy into theaters and have the AI start thinking of its empire and strategically vital interests as theaters rather than the current system which defines 2 theaters: Theater of focus (where it is concentrating its forces) and everything else.

 

## How you can help ##

Helpful: Telling me dumb things you saw the AI do that made you able to beat it is helpful.  Very helpful in fact.  Any mistake that would allow you to win regardless of the handicap.

Not helpful: Things that could be addressed just as easily with a handicap.  The AI doesn't build up its planets well. This is on our list. But it's actually not that important since that can be addressed with handicaps. 

Really helpful: Saved LATE games with descriptions of what you are seeing.  Maybe the AI isn't defending its planets well. Maybe it's sending out crappy fleets. Maybe its fallen way behind militarily. Maybe its ships are crappy.  These are things that I'm interested in.

 

Thanks all and cheers!

So did GalCiv II have good AI or not?

Published on Friday, June 05, 2015 By Frogboy In Galactic Civilizations III

I occasionally see people post that the GalCiv II had "brain dead" AI.

This got me thinking regarding how much effort to put into the GalCiv III AI.  That is, with GalCiv II, many many engineering months were put into post-release AI updates to make them as good as I could realistically make them.

So my question is, do you guys who played GalCiv II consider that as having a good AI? And by good, I mean better than any other 4X game on the market.

Sorcerer King: June Update!

Published on Thursday, June 04, 2015 By Frogboy In Sorcerer King Dev Journals

Sorcerer King continues to get polished up.  I suspect it’s the most polished game we’ve ever made as we’ve had so much extra time to work on it.

So what’s been happening?

Originally, we were going to release Sorcerer King in April.  But we talked to our friends at other studios and realized that the Age of Wonders expansion and Pillars of Eternity were coming out during the same month.  That’s a lot of fantasy in a short amount of time.  With Galactic Civilizations coming out in May and E3 in June, we decided that July would be a good date.

As a result, the team has just kept working on Sorcerer King throughout all that time with the game getting increasingly fun and polished as a result.

What have you done with that extra time?

Asked someone. I dunno who. Someone. You there. The one reading this. You asked right?

Anyway…

When GalCiv III got released we learned a lot. For one thing, we learned that the initial impression is made in the first 6 minutes of play through.  If you’re a game developer, make note of that time. that’s 360 seconds from the time they get to the main menu to the time they’ve largely decided whether they think the game is “good” or not.

A big part of that time is making sure the game has a coherent narrative.  You have to explain to the player, immediately, what the game is about. And I can tell you, Asynchronous 4X doesn’t cut it.

Now, you guys and us know we have a fun game. But we have certain aspects of the game that have been a challenge.  So let’s talk about that.

Fantasy Star Control

Sorcerer King is, in essence, fantasy Star Control at its root.  You have a main bad guy who has already conquered everyone who is about to do some very bad stuff.  You are the heroic leader trying to assemble a ragtag force to go deal with the main bad guy while along the way picking up allies.

There’s a big problem with this idea: Replayability.  Sorcerer King has been trapped half-way between Star Control and a sandbox 4X.  

While Sorcerer King has a pretty good campaign, it’s no where near as involved as what’s in Star Control.  On the other hand, while Star Control doesn’t have a lot of replayability, it could live on its amazing story-driven campaign while Sorcerer King has been trying to have a much shorter (maybe 30 hour) campaign with the main meat of the game being the sandbox.

The problem with the sandbox, however, is that you can only beat the Sorcerer King so many times before you’ve “played the game” to its conclusion.

How do you solve a problem like Mirdoth?

So to succinctly recap:

Sorcerer King was envisioned as a sort of fantasy Star Control except where the maps are randomly generated each time. The player builds up a force, makes alliances and goes and confronts the main bad guy. 

The strength of this is that the game is extremely fun the first several times you play. But eventually, you’ve played it.

How we’re addressing this

In an open sandbox game like Galactic Civilizations III or Civilization V, the solution is that every game is totally different. You have no idea, at the start, who are going to be your friends and enemies. You have no idea what resources you will be bargaining or how the placement of other civilizations will affect your game.

Sorcerer King, by contrast, isn’t an open sandbox.  That’s because the Sorcerer King, by design, is a lot more powerful than the player up until the end (assuming you survive).

So how do you make such a game as replayable as say Galactic Civilizations?

Here’s how:

  1. You create additional victory conditions
  2. You turn those minor civilizations into actual rivals
  3. You make sure that each sovereign you choose is really different

Additional Victory Conditions

Originally the only way to win was to confront and defeat the Sorcerer King in his fortress.  However, we are going to add additional victory conditions including:

  • Victory: The Tower of Sorcery (you build a tower and begin racing the Sorcerer King to gather enough magical might to throw throw him down (this is actually what happened in the book)
  • Victory: Alliance.  Gain the trust of all your rivals and you win.  Easier said than done of course (easier on small maps with 1 opponent).

Rivals

So the once minor factions are now full-blown Rivals who you can pick and choose in the game setup and give a difficulty level.  If you conquer their city, they will start producing their specific unit for your use (you don’t have to manage conquered cities).

They now will try to found new cities as well and will go to war with each other.

You can trade and negotiate with them (though it’s not like the Trade screen but rather an RPG-like trade system instead – conversational).

Unique Sovereigns

From here on out, only Galor is the son of Relias. The others each have their own backstory and the way you interact with the world and with the Sorcerer King depends on which sovereign you have. 

So there’s your update!

Cheers!

677 pages 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Next