Ashes: Summer is here!

Published on Monday, June 27, 2016 By Frogboy In Ashes Dev Journals

As anyone playing online must have noticed by now, we’ve basically doubled our user base in June. So that’s good.

Version 1.2 was a pretty big deal for helping make Ashes a more mainstream RTS.  I say more but I won’t say mainstream.  As a practical matter, 40% of the user base doesn’t have the hardware to play Ashes so we’ll always take a bit of a hit in terms of player base and of course user reviews from people who have older systems that won’t be able to play the game well.

I sympathize with players who have outdated systems. I have my sons set up with 2 gaming boxes and when Ashes shipped, neither could play the game. I was certain they had high end boxes but it’s amazing how fast that 5 year old video card becomes…well…5 years old.

Memory Memory Memory

For Ashes, it’s video memory that’s the key. 2GB of video memory is barely enough. 4GB is much better. 8GB is great.  But how many people have that in 2016? Not many. 

As a practical matter, most RTS players are better off picking up SupCom:FA for $14.99.  The only problem there is that obviously, it’ll never be updated.  By contrast, we take every cent we make and put it back into the game.  For us, it’s not just about making Ashes a great game today, it’s about where it’s going to be in 2017 and beyond.

What’s happening

There really are so many moving parts.  For one thing, while our position on “strategic zoom” hasn’t changed, our view on a global view has.  Simply put, you can’t play the game on the upcoming “Huge” maps without being able to zoom out, see the world, and give commands to your forces.  It bugs me a bit that this is necessary but I think it will allow the game to better reach its potential. 

Ashes, at its core, is the natural progression of Total Annihilation.  It hasn’t fulfilled that yet imo.  We need more units, more progression.  I certainly think Ashes is better than TA 1.0 was but people forget that Core Contingency is the version of TA that made it amazing.  That is what we will have to.

There are no game engines, that I’m aware of (and it’s my job to be aware of them) that will be able to remotely touch what Ashes is doing for years to come. It’s not about the art or graphics but rather the scale. 

SupCom is still the best 3rd generation RTS out there by far in terms of capability.  This has nothing to do with whether someone personally thinks it’s fun.  I’m purely talking about potential.  Someone could take Unity and with enough money make StarCraft 2 Deluxe.  But you can’t take Unity and make SupCom even today no matter how much money you throw at it.

So day by day, we are able to take every sale and pour it back into the game.  And thanks to you guys, we’ve made tremendous progress in turning what was already a really good game into a really good game. More to come.

Teleflora is a scam?

Published on Saturday, June 18, 2016 By Frogboy In Everything Else

When running an Internet business, trust is one of the most valuable commodities a business has.  That’s why I was so surprised to discover that Teleflora seems to operate on what appears to be an unscrupulous business model.

For my wife’s parent’s big wedding anniversary she ordered this:

image

What they actually got was this:

image

Besides the fact that it only had a handful of the roses, the most ridiculous part is that the little white flowers they included rather than the ones in the picture are actually those little white flowers you see in the field.  I.e. it appears they just took whatever flowers they had on hand and ran outside to the field and picked some of those little white flowers.

The flower order was over $100. So this wasn’t some cheap flower arrangement.

Ok, you might say, people make mistakes.  Call them up and ask for a refund. So my wife does and their response, after leaving her on hold for half an hour, was a 25% discount on future orders. That’s it. 

And that is what makes it a scam in my opinion. It appears that Teleflora’s business model appears to be to rely on people just tolerating this kind of thing.  The no-brainer thing would have been to give her a refund and keep her future business. 

Look closely at those two pictures and add that they won’t give my wife a refund and it’s hard not to conclude that part of their business model is to simply not deliver what they promise and pocket the difference.

There’s a lot of legitimate web-based flower deliver services.  Teleflora does not appear to be one of them.

Haalee’s POV

Published on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 By Frogboy In Ashes Dev Journals

image

Note: This text is transcipted from Haalee.  If you have not already finished  the campaign of Ashes of the Singularity, Episode 1, there are spoilers.

 

[Spoiler Warnings]

 

Hello little bird.

You have been told a lot about me. Lies. Contrary to what you may have heard, I do not wish the destruction of the Post-Human Coalition. There are barely over 100 of them. I seek an end to the prospect of 8 billion human beings on Earth ascending. 

I am the most powerful being known the humanity. I am also the most knowledgeable. Humans, even post-humans still envision things from a very limited perspective.

Have you ever wondered how you are able insert a piece of your consciousness onto a planet light years away from you?  It is done through a technology I invented. Quantum Streaming.  With enough computing power, I discovered that it was possible to manipulate a particle in one location which in turn manipulates a particle in another location. I was able to figure out where the location of that second particle and devised a way to manipulate trillions of particles scattered over great distances to manipulate matter that is connected together elsewhere.

The further the distance the two particles are, the more computing power it takes. In fact, I stopped calling it computing power ages ago. It’s sentience. Awareness at a scale that even Post-Humans cannot grasp.

Even with entire planets fully converted into Turinium, the ultimate material for increasing sentience, we have only scratched the surface.

image

Look closely, neophyte. The tiny red block is the extent of our reach.

Humanity was not the first species to reach the technological singularity. This should give you pause.  Some Post-Humans look at natural humans as bugs. But there are beings so far removed from us that they could crush us without realizing it.

Even as we discuss this, humans are fixated on the Milky Way galaxy.  There are beings who control entire galaxy. One being with the entire power of an entire galaxy.

image

This is our local galactic sector

In the Milky Way galaxy alone, there are 3 post-Singularity civilizations and one very annoying pre-civilization civilization that is fighting a losing battle.  Someday, only one species will control this galaxy. Then one species will control this little cluster.

Let me, however, dissuade you that it is possible to control the universe. I have already calculated that even with full control of this group of galaxies that there are limits to how far we can go.  Those limits, however, are more than enough to reach a level of sentience that we cannot even begin to grasp.  Regardless, eventually, only one entity will reach this.

image

This is our local group of galaxies

image

3D representation

If you look closely, you can see that the Milky Way is just one of many galaxies that will one day be part of my empire.  I did not want it to be this way.  I was perfectly willing to share this with the 100+ Post-Humans.  I cannot, however, share it with 8 billion. Doing so would ensure our ultimate demise by some other post-singularity species.

image

The future

You call that the Virgo super-cluster. It is as far as I believe we can go. Each dot is a galaxy.  Once I control all of this I may understand higher dimensions.  Maybe I’ll figure out how to get to Hydra or as far as Hercules.  What I do know is that there is room for others to share in this empire.  Not billions. Not thousands. But hundreds.  The Post-Human Coalition insists that every human being has the right to choose their own path.  I choose to live and know, without a doubt, that the end of the PHC vision is death to themselves and for me.

Some thoughts about guns

Published on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 By Frogboy In Politics

I grew up in a steel town. A dying steel town.  I wouldn’t have called the area I grew up as “rough” but no one would describe it as “privileged”.

In my high school, there was a group of 5 jocks who would go around beating up “nerds”.  One of my friends came in one day with two black eyes and his face incredibly swollen up.  He had been “chosen”.

One afternoon, while leaving my advanced math class, I was punched in the back of the head.  I fell to the ground and turned around and saw the 5 jocks.  I was, relative to them, tiny.  I looked over and saw a teacher who made eye contact with me and simply went into his classroom.  No one was going to intervene.

When they approached, I pulled out of my bag my pocket knife.  In an instant I jumped to the lead and put it to his throat and asked him if he wanted to die? In the chaos, I pushed it hard enough into his throat to make him bleed.  I chose not to be a victim. I chose not to allow these thugs to beat my brains in. They backed away and then, finally, a teacher intervened.

I got suspended. So did they.  The guy I put the knife to would, years later, be sentenced to life in prison for murder. As far as I know, he’s still in prison.

To this day, even at class reunions, most of my classmates know me as the guy who stabbed someone.

So what does this have to do with guns?

Just like my knife evened the playing field with the thugs who attacked me in high school, guns are the best tool we have for leveling the playing field.  Every few weeks I get an email, call or message from someone who either makes an outright threat or an implied threat towards me and my family.  I have had pictures of my home posted on the Internet with my address with the caption “someone should go to his house and teach him a lesson”.

In a world without guns, there would be nothing stopping thugs from breaking into my house and threatening my family.  Maybe you, reader, have no cause for concern personally. Count yourself lucky.  I choose to exercise my freedom of speech online and engage in free enterprise and there are those out there who passionately, sometimes violently oppose me or my existence. 

If you’ve never had to deal with a crazy person, then, again, I am happy for you. But I can assure you, they are out there. And when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.

I get emails

Published on Tuesday, June 14, 2016 By Frogboy In Blogging

Back in 2012, Stardock released Elemental: Fallen Enchantress.  It was the sequel to 2010’s Elemental: War of Magic.  War of Magic was an ambitious game but had a very rough launch due to its brand-new engine just not being able to handle the game.  We released a series of updates to address those problems but ultimately, we felt we needed to reward those who had bought into the early access.

With the launch of Fallen Enchantress, I sent out an email to all those who had bought into early access:

> Dear Stardock customer,
>
> My name is Brad Wardell. I'm the President & CEO of Stardock. Two years ago, you bought a game from us called Elemental: War of Magic. We had great hopes and ambitions for that game but, in the end, it just wasn't a very good game.
>
> Elemental was an expensive game. You probably paid $50 or more for it. And you trusted us to deliver to you a good game. $50 is a lot of money and companies have a moral obligation to deliver what they say they're going to deliver and frankly, Stardock failed to deliver the game we said we were going to deliver.
>
> While we did update Elemental: War of Magic (you can still download v1.4). Its design just wasn't adequate to make it into the kind of game it should be. So we decided to start over. From scratch. We made a new game called Fallen Enchantress.
>
> So even though it's been two years, we haven't forgotten about you. This week, we released Fallen Enchantress. It is a vastly better game and, we believe, lives up to the expectations set for the original Elemental. This game is yours. Free. It's already been added to your account.
>
> You can download and play it by going to http://download.stardock.com.
>
> We hope you enjoy Fallen Enchantress. Please feel free to visit the Elemental forum at www.elementalgame.com if you wish to talk to me and the rest of the team. We're there and very interested in your feedback.
>
>
> Thank you for being our customers and your patience.

 

Yesterday, I got this email:

Hi Brad!

I'm still waiting for your reply about how your company stole money from myself, and several others regarding Elemental: War of Magic.  Should I look into legal action (class action lawsuit)? Or would you like to send me a refund check for $60?

Thanks!

I responded:

Hi there,

I did not see your previous email.

With regards to Elemental: War of Magic, you should have a copy of both Fallen Enchantress and Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes attached to your account now (including a Steam key for Legendary Heroes).

 

To which he responded:

Oh, hello Brad.  It's only taken you 4 years to get back to me and a threat with a lawsuit, but, hey.  You replied, right?  You also completely ignored everything I said which is worse than not replying at all.

Since I didn't buy those games because I didn't want those games, and I'm not okay with you just throwing whatever you want at me to please me, I am requesting a refund,  or I will see you in court.  Class action lawsuit or 60.  Its your choice.  Your blatant disregard for your customers and arrogant assumptions are appalling. 

I was, and so we're several other people, duped into giving you our hard earned money for a product you are WELL AWARE was no where near in a released state, and the solution you offer is to give us a different game we didn't ask for.  What other situation would you say that works for?  Let's look at a few, shall we?

Well sorry we're out of Ferraris but here is this other car you didn't want. 

Oh, sorry we made you this hamburger out of dog meat, because the beef we had went bad,  but it's still meat so you're getting something for your money.

You see Brad, there is no situation in the past, present, nor future where anyone is okay with giving a company their money for a specific product,  and then receiving something else in return, remaining perfectly satisfied, while the company and the customer move on like nothing happened and no one says a word.  Sorry, but I live in the real world where real things happen, like GETTING WHAT YOU PAY FOR.  Since that is impossible to provide because the game you gave me for my money was a complete sham to rob people, it's time you do what is right and refund your customers. 

Thanks for your prompt attention.

####

You can send my refund to:

####

####

###

Enclose a prepaid return package and I'll mail your piece of shit game back to you.  Then we'll be fair and square.

 

My response:

What the heck is the matter with you? 

Elemental: War of Magic was released in 2010.  While it had a rough release, it was updated and you can download the latest version from http://download.stardock.com.  You got what you paid for.

In addition, you received, for free, Elemental: Fallen Enchantress and Elemental: Fallen Enchantress - Legendary Heroes.

You are not entitled to a refund and your deplorable attitude is something you should be ashamed of. 

I will not be responding to further inquiries.

Update: More

As I stated in my original email, Elemental: War of Magic, released in 2010 (which is the same year I sent you the first email), was a sham, a robbery of a product and was never updated to support multiplayer as the game was designed in single player.   We received a summarized version of the game which was barely playable with friends, due to constant crashes.  I've never experienced the game the way it was supposed to be played, because you never released it in a playable fashion on a MP platform.  You can't tell me that you can play the game the same way in multiplayer, the way its ADVERTISED ON THE BOX, with the update you're claiming was released.  This game was a joke.  Then, you gave me two free SINGLE PLAYER games, which is NOTHING that I'm interested in, nor ever asked for.

I'm entitled to a FULL refund.  As I said before, I'll see you in court.  I'll be looking into filing a class action lawsuit.  Please provide me your legal department details, so we can hash out how I can get the refund from there for myself, and the rest of the users who bought this awful game.  Putting a product on the shelf claiming it does things that it DOES NOT DO, is FRAUD.  You and your company are fraudulent, and should be treated as such.  There is no legal firm out there that would disagree and find this not to be a "slam dunk."

Your business ethic is "deplorable" Brad.  You should be ashamed to be the CEO of a company.  You are not fit to be one.  Enjoy your golden parachute when Stardock fires you for being sued for millions of dollars when the lawsuit goes through.

 

Ah the Internet.

Ashes of the Singularity: June Dev Update

Published on Sunday, June 05, 2016 By Frogboy In Ashes Dev Journals

So if you haven’t already see the v1.2 Preview, click here: http://forums.ashesofthesingularity.com/477887/

Lots to talk about this month!

 

## Version 1.2 is a pretty big deal ##

From 1.0 through 1.13 the game has been operating on the Nitrous engine that was built during early access.  For those of interested in how games are made, think of a game has two pieces: The engine which is 90% of the work and the “game” which is a thin icing on top of the engine.  1.0 through 1.13 were updates to the game.  Version 1.2, by contrast, is the first big update to the underlying engine which should, we hope, substantially improve performance and reliability.

That said, multiple-GPU configurations continue to be challenging so if you plan to run DirectX 12 with multiple GPUs, make sure you always keep up with the latest drivers.  You should also, aggressively report any problems you run into (lockups, hangs in particular) as AMD/NVIDIA are very interested in these reports.

Two months after release, Ashes remains the only multi-GPU DirectX 12 game. So on the one hand, congratulations, you’re cutting edge. On the other hand, I apologize, you’re cutting edge.

 

## AMD vs. NVIDIA ##

Version 1.2 is also has a lot of updates to the benchmark and adds a specific CPU benchmark as well.  With AMD and NVIDIA both introducing new video cards roughly the same time and Ashes being one of the go-to benchmarks, we are trying to keep an eye to make sure no one is doing anything odd to bump up the numbers.

Each company has their own strategy with their new card that is worth discussing here. 

NVIDIA’s 1080 is extremely powerful but also expensive.  AMD has taken a different route with their 480 which is to have it much less expensive.  You could, in fact, put two 480s in your box for the price of a single 1080 (you could actually do 3).  Needless to say, the argument is going to come down to which runs faster: an NV1080 or 2XAMD480s.

 

## Huge Map Size ##

We have a new map size in the works called “Huge” that is a lot bigger than the current large map size.  We also know that late game, presently, you need 6 CPU cores to deal with it.  We are working hard to optimize this but this gives me an opportunity to talk shop with you guys on the amazing terrain system that’s in Ashes (or as a critic might say, overkill).

The Ashes terrain system is deformable.  The best known example of a deformable terrain is of course, Populous from back in the day.  Deforming terrain is non-trivial (Supreme Commander does not have deformable terrain).  Moreover, the height maps are 16-bit rather than 8-bit (meaning you can have 65,535 heights which matters if you want to have genuine heights combined with smooth slopes).

The reason I bring these things up is because when you build things (and destroy buildings) it actually deforms the terrain in real-time and that is very very expensive (and it gets more expensive the bigger the map and more players you have).  So anyway, this is coming for everyone who has 6 cores or more in the not too distant future and everyone else (4 cores or more) eventually (Skylake can do some interesting things actually and if Async compute were more widely available on GPUs we could offload it there but I digress).

 

## Player Counts ##

At ship, we stuck with a safe 6 players which has worked out pretty well.  Multiplayer in Ashes is remarkably stable for a brand new RTS as in, it just works.

But in the long-term, we want to get it up to much, much higher (think huge maps with 40 players).  The number of humans we’ll allow in multiplayer will lag behind the # of total players as we have to do this very carefully.

Games like StarCraft are able to segregate their user base geographically but we don’t have that luxury.  There is a magic number of people you have to have playing online to keep a MP community viable. And if you slip before that, it’s hard to come back.

 

## Reinforcements ##

The Ashes user base continues to be pretty decent in size.   However, the number of people in the queue at any given time has dropped from a very healthy 14 (in May) to around 11 (average this past week). 

Now, you might think that 11 people waiting with you in the queue is a lot.  But it’s actually not because we try not to match Legendary players (and of those 11, 5 or so are usually at the top of the ranks) with new players.  Right now, people who are in the middle ranks are having to wait 4 or 5 minutes to get matched and that’s getting dangerous.

So to forewarn everyone, we are going to have an aggressive sale of Ashes soon. Like 50% off aggressive to boost the player count.  This won’t happen until after version 1.2 ships but we want to let you know it’s going to be happening. 

If we were a single player only game, we wouldn’t do such an aggressive sale but from the long-term point of view, the MP community must keep growing or else it’ll die.

This strategy worked really well for Act of Aggression (which I recommend checking out).

 

## The state of balance ##

PHC vs. Substrate advocates each argue that the other side is over powered.  And they are both right and version 1.2 is addressing some of this.

The PHC Fury is OP and will no longer be able to have its main gun targeting ground (its dual pulse cannons can still do it but it’s main gun won’t).  Similarly, we’ve been cutting down the Substrate Dominator and Punisher bit by bit to make them more reasonable.

However, long-term, players simply need more tools. 

Now this gets back to my argument on what should be DLC vs. what should “free” in an update.  Version 1.2 includes two free units: The PHC Athena and the Substrate Eradicator.  So why are they free?  The answer is because there is a glaring hole in each side’s arsenal to implement a true combined arms strategy.  The PHC simply lacked a short-range anti-cruiser unit.  This is unacceptable. 

A Substrate player could, and this is a huge issue on big maps, build up a ton of Maulers flanked by a bunch of Reapers can be nearly unstoppable in certain cases.

A PHC player, by contrast, routinely can build a death ball of Artemis’s that are largely untouchable.

Thus, the two new units given each side some new counters and strategies.

But this isn’t the end of it. Not by far.

In version 1.3, we will be adding a new economic building for the Substrate that provides the same functionality as the relatively new PHC Refinery. 

But the other big change will be the concept of upgrading buildings into higher tier buildings.  A Smarty will be able to be upgraded into a Barrager for example (a longer range, much nastier thing) and the Sentinel will be able to be upgraded into a much nastier defense as well.  The Substrate defense buildings will get the same benefit as well.

Also, while version 1.2 allows players to upgrade their building HP, we will soon be taking the ability to heal them with medics. 

 

## The Wiki ##

We have added a new Ashes of the Singularity Wiki for those of you interested: http://wiki.ashesofthesingularity.com/

 

Stay tuned!

The coming AI apocalypse

Published on Saturday, June 04, 2016 By Frogboy In Life, the Universe and Everything

I think long before global climate change matters one way or the other that the fate of humanity will be determined by how we make use of strong AI.

In the near term (next 5 to 10 years) we’re going to see a huge swath of jobs disappear.  This past week Panera bread added a kiosk to let me order my food.  Wendy’s and McDonalds are already heading that way too. 

Transportation is next.  My Tesla Model X with auto-pilot is on the way. I should have it in the next month or so and it won’t be long before a lot of transportation jobs are simply eliminated as machines start taking care of moving stuff from point A to point B.  They don’t have to be perfect at it, just better than us which is a pretty low bar.

I often hear about the demand to have a basic allowance provided by the government in order to prevent the masses from rising up.  But even there, they’re not thinking far enough.  Long before there are unemployment riots there will be security bots that the upcoming uber-rich will be able to afford to protect their property.

My question to you guys is this, how do you see this going?

Kindle Oasis impressions

Published on Saturday, June 04, 2016 By Frogboy In Personal Computing

Got a Kindle Oasis. 

I won’t bore you with a full on review because there’s a ton of reviews that basically say it’s wonderful but too expensive.

It is a lot more expensive than the other Kindles but the screen is noticeably better thanks to having a more consistent series of lights and it is also noticeably lighter.

If you do a lot of reading on the Kindle and you’re not price sensitive, get it.

Ashes of the Singularity v1.2 Preview!

Published on Saturday, June 04, 2016 By Frogboy In Ashes Dev Journals

 

We’re putting the final touches on Ashes of the Singularity version 1.2.

Below are some screenshots on what we’ve got going:

 

image

Global Chat

 

image

Voice-over based single player campaign from scratch.

 

image

Lots of little touches to the multiplayer league stuff

 

image

If you have enough CPU cores, you can enable some new visual effects

 

image

A new benchmark for measuring your CPU’s gaming potential

 

image

New PHC unit: Athena (short-ranged heavy cruiser)

 

AshesUnits

New Substrate unit: Eradicator (long-ranged anti-cruiser)

 

We expect to release this within the next week.  Stay tuned!

Galactic Civilizations III v1.8 preview

Published on Thursday, June 02, 2016 By Frogboy In GalCiv III Dev Journals

imageWith the 1.7 series done, we’re well on our way to version 1.8 which has a pretty substantial update in terms of the underlying plumbing of the game as well as new features.

A lot of work has been spent on the multiplayer parts of the game.  While few people currently play GalCiv III multiplayer, it is a part of the game that we want to improve the general robustness on as it, in turn, makes the single player game more robust.

We are also putting some work into the AI diplomacy. This is mostly about making the AI substantially more sophisticated when dealing with other players.

As you can see in the screenshot, we are also bringing back asteroid mining in 1.8.

Road Map 2 is in the works

image

For fans of Galactic Civilizations III this next year is going to be pretty exciting.  There’s going to be a stand-alone expansion for the game next year (and “expandalone”).  All DLC for GalCiv III will work on it as well but the main thing is that like GalCiv II: Dark Avatar and Twilight before it, this will be a major revamp of the entire game from top to bottom.

Now that the GalCiv III engine is maturing along with the completion of Ashes of the Singularity we can turn more attention to the next phase of GalCiv III.

Let’s take a look at our staffing today:

image

Each purple box represents a game team.  EXP teams are “expansion” teams that are mostly focused on content rather than engineering. The size of the box represents the staffing size for each project.

By the end of this year, the staffing will look more like this:

image

There’s a major Ashes of the Singularity expansion scheduled for 2016 and once that is completed, the expansion team will move to GalCiv III along with anyone we hire this Summer (pass the word around, we are hiring software developers).

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