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Published on September 18, 2018 By Frogboy In PC Gaming

This week, Star Control: Origins will be released.  It is, by far, the biggest game we've ever done.  It's the first game we've ever made that might qualify as a AAA game in our 25 year history. 

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The first thing people will notice about Star Control: Origins is that it's unlike any game Stardock's ever made.  Not just in terms of genre, but in general production quality.

When you look at Sins of a Solar Empire, Galactic Civilizations, Offworld Trading Company, Ashes of the Singularity, Fallen Enchantress and even Elemental, they all have one thing in common: <$3 million budgets.  When you're dealing with such budgets, you are focusing on maximum gameplay per every dollar spent.  And it shows.  There is a certain level of polish that is a luxury at such budgets.

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In part 2, I'll be talking about some of the differences between making a AAA level game and the traditional games we've made here.  But suffice to say, Star Control has finally allowed Stardock to show off what it has always been capable of doing but couldn't, because the market size prohibited the time and budget to do so.

The Venn Diagram of Stardock's games

Without data, being told that something is a "niche" game is meaningless.  So let me share with you some numbers. 

  • The space 4X strategy market is about 2 million players.
  • The space real-time strategy market is about 11 million players.
  • The space action/adventure market is about 60 million players.

From here, it's just a matter of how much of it you can reach.  And make no mistake, reach is the key word. 

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Sales = Reach X Conversion. This is obvious. The marketing folks worry about Reach.  The product developers worry about Conversion.

Reach

Your reach isn't exactly market size.  It's how much of that market you can get to.

Reach is affected by things like:

  1. Advertising
  2. Partnerships
  3. Brand Awareness
  4. Hardware Requirements
  5. Localization

Stardock has traditionally stuck with the "niche" strategy game market because it is really good at reaching a high percentage of that market.  But on the flip side, it was also that we just weren't very well suited for setting up the necessary logistics to reach other markets effectively. 

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To solve Stardock's reach problem, we were able to bring on Kevin Unganst to head our worldwide marketing efforts.  Kevin Unangst was Microsoft's marketing director in charge of launching Halo, Forza, Fable, and Windows XP, to name a few.  Building reach is a logistical challenge.  Building up an organization and a network of partnerships was a prerequisite for Stardock in order to be able to justify making something as big as Star Control: Origins.

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Conversion

Conversion is the other X factor.  One bitter lesson many a young software developer learns is that there's no room for second place. In a given market segment, 80% goes to the top game. The remaining 20% goes to everyone else combined. Being the second-best fantasy RPG or the second-best MMO can be very tough.

As game developers, our job is to make sure we make a game that isn't second best.  We also pray that the people who selected the market for us to make a game for didn't choose one with entrenched competition (hey! let's make a MOBA/Battle Royale game! What could go wrong?).

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In the case of Star Control: Origins, our closest competitors are Mass Effect: Andromeda and maybe No Man's Sky.  In some respects, we're a bit of both combined.  But Star Control: Origins is practically it's own genre.   It's one of the reasons why it's so hard to make -- action / adventure / RPG.  Space Diablo? Skyrim in space?  Nothing quite fits.

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We knew that in order to compete at all, we had to deliver a game that wasn't even in the same league.  And that's one of the reasons so many Stardock fans are going to be, I suspect, surprised at the quality of Star Control: Origins.  This is a game that was, effectively, completed earlier this year and has been undergoing polish, enhancement, and iteration ever since.  You can't come in "hot" in this market.  It's too risky.

The Technical Opportunity

I've often liked games with cakes.  That is, a game is really just a piece of software cake with a very thin layer of game frosting on top.  Its future is heavily dependent on the underlying engine. 

Back in 2010, Stardock stumbled pretty hard with Elemental: War of Magic.  It was our first attempt at creating a 3rd generation engine.  It failed. 

From 2011 to now we were kind of in the technological wilderness.  We used the money we got from selling Impulse to invest in a series of start-ups including Oxide Interactive to develop the first 4th generation engine (4th gen = CPU core neutral). 

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Ashes of the Singularity was the first 4th generation game released and it is still, two years later, the go-to game to demonstrate state of the art hardware.  In aircraft terms Ashes of the Singularity is the F-117. The first of its generation. Star Control: Origins is more akin to the F-22.  The fully realized potential of a 4th generation engine. For us, this is really good news because it means Star Control: Origins in just at the beginning of its life. If it's successful, it'll just get better and better for many years to come (as opposed to the case where a game is "wringing the last juice of its engine").

So now what?

So this week we'll see how we've done.  The market will decide whether we did our jobs and how well.  In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts!


Comments
on Sep 18, 2018

Interesting read. Probably going to get the game on thursday...alongside a pair of shiny RTX cards!  

Where are the reviews or some "campaign" gameplay vids, BTW? Wanted to check something recently in my free time, only to find out, aside of Gamescom trailer, there is nothing worthwhile to watch. It is hard to get excited for the game under such condition...

I know there is more to engine than visuals, but it does not really look like some advanced iteration of Ashes. At least from what i saw. Obviously its meant to look cartoony and i am not saying its not pretty, but still...if you did not write its Oxide based game, i would not really know. 

Anyway, make sure to give the same amount of attention and polish to Sins 2 too

on Sep 18, 2018

Is there a plan for a demo of the game? Either at launch or at some time later? Free weekend on Steam maybe at some point in the future?

Somehow, I've never played a Star Control game. (did play Starflight though, have heard that was a influence on the original Star Control games) Wouldn't mind taking a look, but I've just had a complete lack of desire for any space 4x recently, so not sure if that lack of desire in the 4x category would transfer over to another genre in space.

Most likely I'll watch some Let's Plays at launch, but I also want to be careful to not watch to much just in case it does tickle my fancy. Don't want any huge spoiler.

I am certainly interested right now, perhaps partially just to see the new polish of a Stardock game.

on Sep 18, 2018

I'm sort of confused by what you mean when you say AAA. A AAA quality game doesn't really have anything to do with budget, It has much more to do with execution. Its also surprising to me that you are calling basically all of your other projects out as not being AAA. I personally have been pretty underwhelmed by what has been shared of Star Control Origins so far. And then there is the lawsuit back and forth that has happened. It feels like this game is being rushed to market to beat any sort of trial that may take place due to all of the legal back and forth. I am happy to reserve judgement of the final game until it ships but so far the screen shots and videos of the game just don't look like a game that is 2 days from shipping. A lot of it is how basic a lot of the lighting looks in the game. You could put any of those same assets into a modern engine like unreal or unity and they would instantly look 10 times better. Could you talk some about the actual graphics technology of the game? It just seems strange for a modern game to look graphically like something that came out 10-15 years ago.

on Sep 18, 2018

BlackSmokeDMax

Is there a plan for a demo of the game? Either at launch or at some time later? Free weekend on Steam maybe at some point in the future?

Somehow, I've never played a Star Control game. (did play Starflight though, have heard that was a influence on the original Star Control games) Wouldn't mind taking a look, but I've just had a complete lack of desire for any space 4x recently, so not sure if that lack of desire in the 4x category would transfer over to another genre in space.

Most likely I'll watch some Let's Plays at launch, but I also want to be careful to not watch to much just in case it does tickle my fancy. Don't want any huge spoiler.

I am certainly interested right now, perhaps partially just to see the new polish of a Stardock game.

 

No.  Steam has a very generous refund policy though.

on Sep 18, 2018

professorunibro

I'm sort of confused by what you mean when you say AAA. A AAA quality game doesn't really have anything to do with budget, It has much more to do with execution. Its also surprising to me that you are calling basically all of your other projects out as not being AAA. I personally have been pretty underwhelmed by what has been shared of Star Control Origins so far. And then there is the lawsuit back and forth that has happened. It feels like this game is being rushed to market to beat any sort of trial that may take place due to all of the legal back and forth. I am happy to reserve judgement of the final game until it ships but so far the screen shots and videos of the game just don't look like a game that is 2 days from shipping. A lot of it is how basic a lot of the lighting looks in the game. You could put any of those same assets into a modern engine like unreal or unity and they would instantly look 10 times better. Could you talk some about the actual graphics technology of the game? It just seems strange for a modern game to look graphically like something that came out 10-15 years ago.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AAA_(video_game_industry) 

 

As for the rest, it sounds like this game isn't for you.  

on Sep 18, 2018

I for one am looking forward to our new Ur-Quan  Scryve masters.

While the tech engine and programing is looks good to my inept eyes, that was never Star Control's point.

Games like Star Control and Starflight are much more about the story, the interaction with aliens, and the mysteries of the universe. For all I care, it could be 2d blitter objects.  (It is funny how different people want different things ...)

There is nothing like being tossed into a universe you know nothing about and told to survive. You learn about the universe and the past history. It has made the most memorable games for me.

If the platform it is built on is expandable, AND the story is also open ended enough with plot threads, AND Star Dock adds a few star clusters  a month, this game can be kept going a long time into the future.

For me the Star Dock team has done an amazing job and looks very good. I like the classic retro-y feel that I have seen. As for the lawsuit ... I just want a good game. It does not affect my purchasing choice one way or the other.

I am really counting down and cannot wait to play. And hey, if my home computer is running Workbench, I am all in.

on Sep 18, 2018

There seems to be some confusion between AAA, scale, and polish.

AAA games usually have enormous scale and enormous polish. Of the mentioned games Mass Effect and Skyrim reportedly had budgets around $100 million dollars or more, and I would guess that Diablo III cost more than $50 million. Obviously much of that cost is salaries as the teams in AAA studios are huge. I cannot speak as to what Star Control's budget is or Stardock's general operating budget, but I would be shocked if it was in those figures.

As for their scale, in addition to large crafted worlds; they also have complex combat, weapon, and inventory systems, which I would not expect in a space RPG, especially one following the Star Control series paradigm.

That said to have polished games,  does not require enormous scale or AAA budgets. There are many polished indie titles. The Witness is an extraordinary title where every object matters and the game design is incredibly precise and thought out. It cost around $5 million to make. INSIDE, a short sweet, acclaimed title is incredibly polished, despite the small team size and a budget of probably under $3 million.

"Ashes of the Singularity was the first 4th generation game released and it is still, two years later, the go-to game to demonstrate state of the art hardware."

I think Ashes showed an interested tech experiment in mass rendering assets, but I don't think it is the game that studios are using to show off hardware, unless this statement was meant to refer to internally. Modern engines have similar job systems and nowadays people want to show off lighting and ray tracing. These are the things that AAA titles are doing at a high level, mostly because they have insane budgets and thousands of people working on them. That said, none of these methods are requirements or prerequisites for a polished game.

I think trying to market this as a AAA game is a mistake. It isn't, and it tries to put it in a field where it cannot compete. AAA games market and show up on stage for years prior to release. They're put out by the largest developers in the games' sector: EA, Activision Blizzard, Microsoft, Bethesda, Sony, etc. Stardock is not in that league, and that's okay.

The best thing to do would be to show what is actually is and what charm it has. If it's really this unique thing, show that. Having seen SC:O at PAX and the last few forum posts, I am interested to know what exists beyond the game's intro. Many of the past posts have featured concept art of cut content. Images of forests, streams, snow storms, alien wildlife, cut for intentional reasons. The planet screenshots look barren and inorganic, yet there is a spoken of yet unseen universe outside of this. I'm curious why that was the intention or what remains to be seen if polish is the pride of this game.

Side note A: It seems really weird that there is concept art from SC, cover art from AAA games, screenshots from Ashes and Fortnite, but no in game screen shots of Star Control Origins in this post.

Side note B: In an article about polish, maybe don't mistype "Hardware" in a four phrase Venn Diagram.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

on Sep 18, 2018

I've read a few complaints about very few gameplay videos for SCO. For those who have played SC2 or dare I say, SC3... we greatly appreciate that you did not let any game reviewers get their hands on the game first and start posting tons of videos. SCO is not your typical game. Each play through is not unique. For that reason we want to experience how the story line unfolds for our self. We don't want to watch a video about it. For those who were expecting more videos, all I can say is you will thank stardock when you start playing the game on Thursday.

I totally understand what Stardock means by a AAA game. This was no doubt their biggest project and most expensive. For those who weren't around in the late 80's and early 90's, Star Control 2 was an AAA game. If it hadn't been for the blunder of SC3, I believe we would now be on SC 6 or 7 by now. But the hardcore SC2 fans prayed to the PC game gods for forgiveness for SC3 and asked for a worthy sequel. The gods were slow to answer, as they are sometimes (they were probably playing WOW or perhaps Civ 3-6), but answer they did.

In ending, I would really like to thank Stardock for taking on this enormous project, and doing what appears to be a great job. I am now counting down the hours instead of the years!

on Sep 19, 2018

"In the case of Star Control: Origins, our closest competitors are Mass Effect: Andromeda and maybe No Man's Sky".
wtf. Do you compare your game with a shooter?
I'm afraid to hire Kevin Unangst was a big mistake...
your closest competitor are Space Rangers (if your remember this old game)

on Sep 19, 2018

I 100% agree the game is not for me ......  someone who likes space games and Star Control, so who is it for?

I fully understand what a AAA game is. My point is that comparing star control origins to mass effect is a pretty huge stretch both in terms of scope and production value. No Mans sky is probably a closer comparison - but that is by definition an indie title and one that looks quite a bit better in my opinion. I just feel like its sort of a presumptuous statement to talk about being AAA for the first time ever. Doubling the budget of previous projects doesn't make the game AAA. 

I'm confused as why you dismissed my other questions with "As for the rest it sounds like this game isn't for you." I'm a huge Star Control II fan. The reason I care about this game and the decisions that were made for it is they don't seem to be backed by solid reasoning. Saying that the engine is the first and only 4th gen engine doesn't make the game any better to play.....or to look at for that matter. For me, seeing you compare origins to contemporary games that have a much higher degree of polish and visual fidelity is strange to say the least. It seems like you must have a very different view of what strong visuals and polish are.  Look at the following comparison below and I'm just trying to understand how you see them as being equal.

 

 

The other thing that strikes me as odd is that you started the article by saying Origins has the best production quality of any game Stardock has produced. But I feel like you have produced games that are much better looking as well.....Origins is not the best looking game in Stardock's portfolio by a long shot. My question before was a legitimate question about the graphics tech in the engine. You specifically called it out as a "4th gen engine", but the visuals seem to paint a different picture. 

 

on Sep 19, 2018

I'm a gamer from way back and SC2 has a place in my top 10 games of all time. With that said, I've tried to go back and play it and it was not what I remember. I definitely felt the nostalgia as my mind went back to the times I was playing them originally, but because I've played so many other games since then, my perspective has grown.

I still ended up buying Origins because of that nostalgia I felt. When a company takes a beloved property like Star Control and drives it to the place you use to live, it's important to pay attention to details. I'm seeing the details in these dev updates and feel like it's be a great adventure jumping into the universe again. 

The thing I remember most about SC2 is that it had personality. The dialogue, art, and music (the 3DO version at least)  were amazing and the theme for each race were unique and memorable. I got a sense that the universe was something alive and interesting and I was an important part to this universe. I can hope that SC:O gets this all right and hopefully it'll expand a bit upon it.

on Sep 19, 2018

Hey professorunibro, this comment is for you. 

I'm curious about what it is about SCO that you do not like? You say you're a hardcore SC2 fan, but I find that hard to believe. Your not even a founder, so you obviously have net yet played chapter 1 which was awesome by the way, as I did play it, several times in fact.

For most SC2 fans there were 4 basic game elements that made the game fantastic. Melee combat, planetary exploration, hyperdrive exploration and race communication/storyline.

Melee Combat

First is the melee combat. I've played the melee combat for SCO and it is better than SC2. Since the entire battle area is encircled by an asteroid belt, you can no longer just go as fast as you can with a fast ship and keep passing by your opponent as you could in SC2. The combat screen does NOT wrap around, which I love. It was always irritating to have a fast ship keep flying by you and you could not hit it. This made some of the melee battles last WAY to long.

I also love that there are powerups that can be found and collected to slightly increase things like your max crew, acceleration and so forth. Depending on the situation, I try to get as many of these powerups as I can. I also love the worm holes that you can enter which will transport you to the other end of it. The variety of ships and weapons are enormous. Keep in mind that in SC2 there was only one ship per race. It looks like SCO has at least some of the races with multiple ship classes. This is awesome!

Planetary Exploration

Since we have only been able to land on planets and moons within our own solar system, we have only seen a handful of planet type. And those have been fairly boring, but I suspect that once we get outside of our solar system, we will be greeted with many awesome planets that are lush with vegetation and life forms.

At first I wasn't sure about how I liked the planet exploration, but once I was able to play it, I fell in love with it. I like that there is a distinction between the actual planetary conditions and the atmospheric conditions. You may find a planet where the planetary conditions are ideal, but because of the atmospheric conditions, getting your planet lander down there is a task in itself.

Most planets can be explored in just a few minutes, which seems about the right time. Some planets will require several trips down to get all the resources, but that's why you want to upgrade you planet lander, right? More cargo, better weapons, faster speed, shields and so forth.

So I think that Stardock has done an excellent job on this part of the game too. I remember several years ago when the planetary exploration was different. They then got feedback from those of us who were smart enough to become founders. We ALL helped mold the game into what it is today.

Hyperdrive Exploration

Since we have not yet been able to leave the current star system, this one is tougher to judge. But based on the starmap, the universe is at least the same size, if not larger than SC2. And there are star systems that you can discover that are not even on the starmap. The fact that it took so long to fly your fleet from one end of the starmap to the other, made the universe feel so large, and it appears to be the same with SCO. So I'm expecting it to be at least as good as SC2, if not better.

Race Communication/StoryLine

I put these in the same category since they are essentially related to each other. While we have only seen a handful of races, I am very pleased with how the races look. I was very stoked that they kept the humor of SC2, as that was one of the things in the Storyline that made SC2 so good. Each of the races I have seen all seem to have their own personality, which is awesome.

While I have only seen a very small portion of the storyline, I like what I've seen so far. I do know that Stardock hired some of the best scifi writers to develop the storyline, so I am expecting some great things from them.

It also appears that SCO will have more secondary storylines that you can follow as compared to SC2. This is great. It will enable players to immerse themselves into many more sub storylines if they choose to do so. While these will have less of an impact on the main storyline, it still gives players more choices.

 

Ok, so which of these are you not happy with? 

 

And what about the awesome editors that Stardock is making available to the general public? 

Dialogue Editor: Create your own dialogue and story lines.

Ship Editor: Create your own ships.

Structure Editor: Create your own planetary structures.

Planet Editor: Create your own planets.

Multiverse Editor: Create your own universe and share it with others.

 

If I missed any editors I apologize.

And we get all of that for just $34.99, which is pretty much what I paid for SC2 26 years ago?

 

So please let us know, what exactly is your issue with SCO? Are you unhappy with the new awesome melee combat? Do you feel the starmap is too small and hyperdrive exploration will not feel a 'Big' as it was in SC2? Do you not like the planetary exploration, which is different but still very good? Do you not like the races and dialogue, which both seem to be awesome too?

There is an old saying. Cutting off your nose to spit your face. I fear that may be what you are doing. I would really hate for you to miss out on this awesome game, since you say you are a hardcore SC2 fan. Tomorrow, while you are sitting at home playing one of the older games in your library, me and the other hardcore SC2 fans will be playing SCO, and loving it!

Here's my suggestion to you. When you have time to devote to playing the game, buy it and try it. If you don't like it, return it immediately. What do you have to lose?

May the Star Control Force be with you.

on Sep 19, 2018

Hey grahag,

I ran into the same thing last month when I started to play SC2. Some of the things that I really liked back then, seemed a bit tedious now. The biggest being the resource gathering and trying to visit all the planets. I was glad to hear that in SCO the planetary exploration is not the driving force behind the game. It's seems to be more about overall exploration and following the main and secondary storylines. 

I think that since people have so many great games to choose from now, they are less likely to spend a huge amount of time on a single game. Our perspectives have really changed since those days.

I am really stoked to be playing SCO in less then 24 hours. I am also stoked that in the next few years we will have many more great Space Games coming out. We already know about Starflight 3. I do hope they meet their fig funding. We may still see a SC game by Fred and Paul. And we also have Starfield, which I just found out about yesterday. So many Space Games, and so little time!

Have fun playing SCO tomorrow. 

on Sep 19, 2018

In all fairness, I am a pretty hardcore Star Control fan as well, but just heard of SC:O in August. I have been out of the gaming world for so long, and I finally put together my first PC in 15 years. (I went Mac for professional video editing, but Apple slowly left me.) 

I have not played the Demo yet besides melee and the shipbuilder. (I was able to get the Inamorata in like 2 days after I got the game, then I took a work trip for 3 weeks and the game's beta was taken away.)

On the other hand I can't wait for it to be released.

on Sep 20, 2018

So I bought the game...... and then I was going online to see what other people thought of the game and to see if there were any review links or anything so naturally I went to 

http://www.starcontrolorigins.com 

To my surprise It perfectly summed up my feelings on playing it. Well done star control origins website

Brad was right the game is not for me.

I am partaking in "steam's generous return policy"