Stardock Interview Part 2: PAX, Demigod, and Details on the Company's Upcoming Fantasy Strategy Game

Yesterday saw the first part of my interview with Brad Wardell, in which the Stardock CEO thoroughly explained his stance on a number of PC gaming-related topics.

In the conclusion, Wardell and I discuss actual PC games--namely Gas Powered Games' Demigod, a game inspired by the Warcraft 3 mod Defense of the Ancients.

Demigod challenges players to control massive hero units on an RTS-like field of battle, capturing bases and upgrading their powerful gods between skirmishes. The game will support up to five on five multiplayer battles, with cooperative strategy becoming key to victory over the opposing team's hordes.

In addition to working closely with GPG on Demigod, Stardock is also plowing away on its own fantasy strategy game, which Wardell describes as "Civilization, with magic."

Read on for the full interview, and be sure to check out our recent Demigod preview for more details.

Shack: How was your time at PAX?

Brad Wardell: It was great. That was so fun. Because we were out there and we had the Gas Powered Games guys [Supreme Commander], and the Ironclad guys [Sins of a Solar Empire]. They got to hang out, and that was fun.

It was great to inter-mix the teams, because a lot of our Impulse stuff isn't developed purely by Stardock. Pieces come from GPG, pieces come from Ironclad. It's so informal. I mean we literally cross-pollinate on each other's projects now.

Shack: How much is Stardock involved in the development of Demigod? Seems like you guys have more than a few hands on it.

Brad Wardell: Yeah, we have the source code. We can check in and check out source code here. Typical publisher-developer relationship, there's a producer at the publisher and then there's a contact at the developer. And if the contract says anything, it might have some sort of source code in escrow, or something.

Whereas here, I was just down there [at GPG] and I literally was checking in and checking out source code. And I was in an office, I was down there in the bullpen. Me and [GPG designer] Mike Mar were sitting there brainstorming about ideas that we want to put in the game. We've changed the game pretty dramatically over the past few months. I mean, we're both DotA guys, but, and I don't know if you've ever played Defense of the Ancients--

Shack: Oh yeah, definitely.

Brad Wardell: Okay, good. Well then as good as DotA is, there's not enough to it to sustain a stand-alone game in our opinion. There has to be more to it. So we've been adding all kinds of stuff like that. We're having a persistent multiplayer universe. We'll have tournament modes, and have actual tournaments online. And then single-player, having these quests that your Demigods can go on.

And of course, once we did that, we said, "Well, DotA has 65 Demigods. We don't want people going on 65 quests, that would be obnoxious." So we were like, well, let's have fewer Demigods, but make them a lot more different. And make them a lot more customizable. So you know how in DotA one of the reasons why there are so many Demigods is because their inventory system in Warcraft 3 can only support, what is it, 12 items?

Shack: Something like that.

Brad Wardell: So you can't really customize your Demigod very much, because there's only 12 slots. Whereas we're making the game, so we can have as many slots as we want, to let people go crazy with their Demigod.

Shack: Has anything changed from the PAX build?

Brad Wardell: No, the beta's basically that build.

Shack: And the beta comes out today?

Brad Wardell: Yep, the beta's gone out right now actually. You want a copy?

[Brad enables my Impulse account for the beta.]

A lot of the good elements, and by a lot I mean most, aren't actually in this build. It's just to see if it blows up people's machines.

Shack: So there's no persistent stuff in the beta?

Brad Wardell: Oh no, not for the public stuff. The beta's boring to us. We find it very boring. But people at the show seem to like it. There's just not a lot to do. You have your guy, you go beat up the other guy, and you blow up his base.

And it's like, that's fun five times, but that's not going to sustain--that's a 3/5 game. Maybe. To get a 4/5 or 5/5, you've got to add a lot more strategic elements to the game for conquering a map, so it's not just me going over and killing a guy.

Shack: Can you elaborate on the strategic elements we'll see in the final version?

Brad Wardell: Oh sure. In the build you're going to get, there's a flag, and you capture that flag and it lets your creatures be a little better. So it's a proof of concept.

So on these maps, you'll have these other flags, that if you capture them, they might make your minions better, or your cool-downs go faster, or your Demigod a lot tougher. There's all kinds of game de-balancing. So if there's four of these things and you capture all four, you're going to mow over the other guy pretty quick.

What we don't is when people get serious about this game--let's say you and I are playing against two newbies. Nothing's more annoying than being forced to play 30 minutes against people who don't know what they're doing. Right now that's what would happen. It still takes a long time to even beat newbies. But if we know what we're doing, and we know, oh, if we capture these three flags, and we know where the special items on the maps are, we'll go get em and basically mow down these guys in four or five minutes and move on.

And then right now we don't have any unique items for the Demigods, it's just generic. So if I'm playing as the Rook, and you're playing as the Rook, we're basically going to be the same in this beta. But in the final game, we could really customize the way our Demigods play, even though they're the same one.

Because like I said, one of the things people who have played DotA say is, "Oh, there's only eight to ten Demigods?" And it's like, you don't understand: one guy's Rook is not going to play like another guy's Rook. It's not like DotA where the Dwarven Sniper is the same as the other guy's Dwarven Sniper.

Turn the page for more. _PAGE_BREAK_

Shack: Are the Demigods still broken into the Generals and Assassins categories? Where the Generals command units, and the Assassins are more straight combat?

Brad Wardell: Yep. And we don't have Generals in this beta. Basically what we want to do is--a lot of games, they ship and then they discover, oh, they don't work on ATI cards or whatever. That's the point of this particular beta: how are we doing on performance? Because it uses the Supreme Commander engine, but we've made a requirement that it has to run on low-end hardware, much lower than Supreme Commander did.

Shack: Just to make sure--you won't be supporting modding online, correct?

Brad Wardell: Yeah, we're not going to allow--because the game's so competitive online, you're not going to be able to use your mods in a multiplayer game. Which is kind of obvious in a way. If I create myself a mod that's going to make my guy better, that's probably not something you want to encourage.

But in the single-player game, we're not going to stop people from doing whatever. But the game's not going to include a map editor, because the maps in Demigod are arenas, and they're literally designed in 3D Studio. There's no map editor per se.

Shack: So how is work progressing on Stardock's fantasy/strategy game?

Brad Wardell: That's the one most of our developers are on. It's pretty far along, it's actually been in development for a while. We have two people working on Demigod right now, actually three if you count network. But the rest of the development team is on the fantasy strategy game.

Concept Board for Stardock's Upcoming Fantasy Title

Shack: Can you talk about it at all?

Brad Wardell: Sure. We're going to be formally announcing it--the team promises me in November, which means I can't promise that. But it's a turn-based fantasy strategy game. It's essentially--imagine Civilization with magic, in terms of general, broad play style. I mean, it's a lot more than that, because I'm a Civ fanatic--no pun intended, great site--but there's a really good mod for Civilization IV that lets you do magic and stuff. Obviously it's a lot more than just Civ with magic.

It has tactical battles. It has multiplayer. Modding is integrated into the game. I mean users can actually submit--I wish we had gotten this game out sooner, because it's going to seem like a Spore rip-off. I mean you can literally add in your own stuff--it goes into the game universe.

Shack: Spore didn't exactly invent that concept.

Brad Wardell: Yeah, but people are gonna say it's Spore-like, which I guess is good because it explains it. I mean people have already started talking about the Impulse store like it's the Apple app-store for Windows. But we're like, "Urggh, but we had it first." But in five years the Apple people will be saying how we ripped them off.

Shack: So November then?

Brad Wardell: That's when we should be announcing. It won't be out. The beta will start early next year, probably in the spring. And then it will come out basically when we're all happy with it. And it's going to be a public beta, so it's essentially [going to be released] when everyone thinks it's really good.

Shack: Thanks for talking with us Brad.

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