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Community Newsletter #5 - 06/21/2019

Published on Friday, June 21, 2019 By SchismNavigator In Stardock Community Newsletter

Star Control Settlement, Game Updates and Strategy Guides


Have a suggestion for articles or content submissions included in a future edition? Leave it in the comments below or as a direct message on Discord.


The Horizon


Star Control: Origins v1.4 Update Improves Visuals and Increases Performance



v1.4 is here with significant visual improvements, including updated planet visuals, adjustments to creature colors, and improvements to planet terrains.


Planets are now far more detailed than it was in the game’s previous versions thanks to enhanced terrain textures and lighting. Improvements to the terrain rendering system have also allowed for better frame rates and performance. Textures on props found on various planets like tentacle plants, mushrooms, bones, and more, have also been improved for more visual appeal.


Community requests have been addressed regarding bugs with the particle sorting and crashing. The game’s lore has also been updated. The aliens previously known as the Observers will now be canonically called the Arilou, and the ships they pilot will be renamed accordingly.


Read the full post for the changelog.


This latest update is available to all owners of Star Control: Origins for free!


New TEC Guide



With our last big update to Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion, we also tweaked some of the balancing in the game. It was only a matter of time until someone needed to make a new guide for players looking to gain the competitive edge.


Thanks to Zabik, one such guide has just come out on Steam for the TEC faction. Though this guide may not guarantee you a win, it will almost certainly help you improve your game in player versus player combat.


Check the TEC guide out on Steam.


Dawn of the Reapers Community Games

We have seen some great games being hosted by the guys over at the Dawn of the Reapers mod for Sins of a Solar Empire. These are often hosted late in the evening for Europeans and in the Afternoon for Americans.


Be aware though that they can be hosted a little suddenly with a short time to prepare. So the best way to stay informed is to hang out on their discord server.


We love it when we see people organizing stuff like this. If you have plans yourself, or know someone who is already doing something, please let us know in the comments below to be included in a future edition!


Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation v2.8 Update is here!



On June 11th we launched the latest and greatest update to Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation. This is another stepping stone as we continue to work on the future of Ashes of the Singularity and the wider universe of games that now includes Siege of Centauri.


This update primarily includes tweaks to some of the visuals, some balancing and bug fixes, as well as a scaling of units to make them generally larger and showing off the detail on the models. Please let us know what you think as we continue to support the game.


Read more and get ready to fight in the newest update.



The Uplink


#4 - Callum McCole


In our first interview with someone from Stardock, we sat down with Callum "GGTheMachine", a game designer who has worked on some our latest titles.


You can listen to the audio part on Podbean.


Questions & Answers


Q: In your own words, tell us a little about yourself and what you do here?


A: I work remotely from my living room in Perth, Australia. Basically as far as you can possibly get from the Stardock office in Michigan. Gaming is obviously a huge part of my life, not just for my work with Stardock, but I have a gaming YouTube channel where I do RTS shoutcasts and critique, I write about game design, and I play games for fun. I enjoy getting out of my comfort zone and trying new things: currently my non-gaming hobbies are Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Bouldering (rock climbing). I love listening to podcasts and reading about philosophy, psychology, and self-growth.


I’m a game designer at Stardock. I’m less creative and more very analytical; I think a lot about the player experience. What’s fun? Is this intuitive for new players? Is this balanced and strategically deep? Is this frustrating or gimmicky? What gameplay incentives are being created? Etc. I also do lots of the grunt work for mission scripting or hooking things up. For 2019 I’ve been mostly working on Siege of Centauri, our Tower Defense game coming out this year, and also the Earth Rising expansion for Star Control: Origins. One of the perks of working for a mid-sized studio is that I jump around a lot between different tasks and projects, which keeps it interesting. I also do lots of video and written content, such as overview videos when a new update for a game comes out, or my dev journals talking about game design, which sometimes get converted into video essays on YouTube. I’ve basically become the voice of Stardock.


Q: How did you first get involved with shoutcasting?


A: When StarCraft II first came out I got super into it and watched loads of shoutcasts. I always thought shoutcasters being able to deliver so much energy, passion and excitement about games was awesome. A couple of years later a group of my IRL friends got hugely into LAN’ing Command & Conquer: Generals – Zero Hour. My good friend Blake wasn’t very good at it as he was new, so I suggested that we watch some Zero Hour shoutcasts together so that we could learn from the pros and get the insight of the casters. We looked up some Zero Hour shoutcasts and found there wasn’t much out there, and the ones who were doing it felt quite amateur. It dawned on us, “We could do better than these guys!” So we did. Looking back our first casts were cringe and awful, but at the time we thought it was cool and we had so much fun. We also picked up a lot of traction early on getting 1000+ views on our very first video so we stuck with it and branched out into other RTS games over the months and years. Fed up with all the stale, mediocre RTS games coming out, I started doing reviews and analysing RTS design.


Q: How did you first get involved with Stardock?


A: One day I woke up to an email from a guy called Brad Wardell, CEO and President of Stardock. He said he’d been watching my videos for a while and loved my shoutcasts, Offworld Trading Company review, and “What Makes RTS Games Fun” video essay series. He sent me some Steam keys to this new game coming out called Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation. I asked him if he’d be interested in sponsoring my channel and he was! So over the next few months I worked my way up from doing sponsored videos and pre-roll ads for Stardock games, to being a design consultant offering detailed feedback on Escalation, and later was offered a full-time position as a designer on Escalation.


Q: What in your opinion are the cardinal rules of video game design?


A: I’m definitely not qualified to talk about video game design generally, but I can talk about what I think is key in RTS design! The short answer is Interaction and Decisions.


What’s the difference between a city builder and an RTS? Interaction - how the actions of your enemy (human or AI) shape what you do. It can be the small-scale tactics of micro and positioning such as flanking for rear armor, or it can be the wide strategy such as scouting a Dark Shrine and then building Missile Turrets for detection.

Decisions is about strategic depth and player agency. You should always think about what you’re doing and why, there should be meaningful trade-offs and opportunity cost to everything you do instead of just going through the same repetitive motions without thinking.

The caveat is that players enjoy RTS for different reasons. Some just want to sit back, relax, and turtle up like in a sandbox, and they should be able to do that in single player and co-op. But I think the best approach is designing around maximizing player interaction and decisions.

Q: To date in your career what has been the greatest challenge you have had to overcome?


A: No one thing in particular, but overall it’s been how much I have had to learn. My background is not an indie dev and I never studied game design, so having to learn (and still needing to) all about the game design process, technical things and what terms such as LOD, Fem, mipping, Ray-Tracing, masks, stamps etc., all mean. Having to learn the game files for everything and what to tweak in order to change something, getting stuck, and wondering why the thing isn’t working!


Q: Any heroes who have either helped you personally or just inspired you?


A: From a YouTube perspective, Total Biscuit. From a game design perspective, Greg Black. Red Alert 3, which Greg was Lead Designer of, is one of my favourite games of all time and it’s teeming with examples of amazing RTS design. Red Alert 3 emphasizes interaction more than any other RTS I can think of, such as Cryoshot freezing units that need to be shattered by enemy attacks before they thaw out again.


Q: Favourite RTS unit?

A: I’m going to go against the grain here because everyone answers this by saying something big and flashy like the Kirov, Baneblade, or Galactic Colossus. Mine is the Nuclear Battlemaster tank from Generals – Zero Hour because it fully embodies the design philosophy of interaction and decisions.


The Nuke General gets a variant of the Battlemaster that’s faster and with more damage but detonates with a wide nuclear explosion when the tank is destroyed. This explosion does friendly-fire and can cause devastating chain reactions where an entire cluster of your own tanks get knocked out. The detonation can also be used aggressively against the enemy so incredibly exciting micro potential created around how players position their Nuke Battlemasters and how they focus fire, retreat and flank around with it.


There’s also an interesting trade-off of wanting to get 5 Battlemasters together for the attack speed Horde Bonus but then also wanting to avoid that to prevent the mass detonations. Nuke Battlemasters have an interesting sidegrade called Isotope which prevents Nuke Battlemasters from detonating, which is either good if you use it conventionally or bad if you want to use it to dive the enemy lines for big damage.  Nuke Battlemasters are such a flexible unit and generate so much frenzy and tension.


Q: Any advice for others either looking to start a YouTube career or getting into the video game industry?

A: Trying to start a YouTube “Career” in 2019 is something I would advise against, it’s so over-saturated, and trying to stand out and gain enough traction to make a live-able income is just unrealistic. That being said, YouTube is an incredibly rewarding and fun hobby as a creative outlet for whatever your passions are. Don’t go in with grandiose expectations, do something fun that you generally enjoy so it’s sustainable and that you don’t get burnt out. You never know who’s watching (or reading) your content, so it very well may open doors in the future!


As for the games industry, it’s also very over-saturated and competitive, so you have to be unique and stand out. Being prolific in creating or doing something to get noticed is the best approach. Find what you would want to do and do it. If you’re lucky, someone may notice and offer you something. Or you can get in touch with companies showing off your awesome portfolio. Showing your character, productivity, and industriousness is just as important as showing off your skill. If an employer sees that you’re passionate and motivated enough to do something without money as the motivator (making your own videos, games, mods, or managing your own community), then they’ll think you’re likely to do it diligently on behalf of them. Work a normal job to get by, and focus on your passion project/s on the side. Don’t dive into the deep-end.


I think that kind of advice is going to vary depending on your location. If you live near game-dev hubs than a traditional approach of getting a degree and doing internships is good too. But that’s definitely not the case for Australia!






Sins of a Solar Empire Map Making Tutorial



Wretch Plays Star Control: Origins



Ashes of the Singularity Escalation Gameplay Trips and Tricks