Pitchforked Tongue: Davis On Sol Infernum

By Kieron Gillen on January 26th, 2010 at 2:13 pm.

I wish RPS had a sexy throne.

RPS’ War In Hell is over. The ruler has been decided. But the real ruler of hell remains – and he’s Vic Davis. He’s Cryptic Comet, and between Solium Infernum and his previous Armageddon Empires, he’s positioned himself as the most interesting strategy computer game designer in years. We thought it the perfect time to catch up, discover how Solium Infernum is doing, ask about the seemingly divisive pricing as well as uncover the first real details on his next game…

This dude really is very ugly.

RPS: Demons. Backstabbing. Open malice. Cruelty. How autobiographical is Solium Infernum?

You would need to talk to my wife. I probably rate a Lemure in the domestic hierarchy. She is a university professor and knows how to twist every rule, bend every word and go bare knuckles in the faculty meetings with the best of them. I always thought she would have made a good lawyer (barrister). And as Solium Infernum clearly demonstrates, Hell is all about rules. I’m a saint by the way.

RPS: Just as a general development question – how did you find making it. Armageddon Empires was the first game, so you carried experience to here. What were the major tripping points?

My inability to rein in the scope creep was probably the biggest hurdle. And I naively thought that I would have a head start by using a lot of the tools, techniques and design patterns that I had built for Armageddon Empires (AE). It was helpful of course to have AE as a base to work from but since Solium Infernum (SI) was such a different game in some respects, especially the multi-player aspects, I had to start from scratch in a lot of areas…or worse start over several times.

I love the design aspects as do most if not all indies. The problem is of course that you have to actually execute the design and that is a tremendous amount of drudge work….building architecture, building menus, hooking everything up, testing, failing, testing, etc. Sure there are pay offs as your “monster” comes to life but there is a lot of tedium…I hope I’m not coming off too negative. I’m still having a bit of postpartum depression obviously.

RPS: The theme – I remember when it was announced, there were a couple of people on forums saying they’d never play a game set in hell. I, of course, would only choose to play games set in hell, given the choice. Have you noticed anything along those lines when the game comes out.

I can’t honestly say that I have although I’m sure that there are some people who are going to take a pass because of the theme and I understand that completely. I wasn’t intending to offer any religious or theological commentary or subtext. As I said before my biggest influence was Milton’s Paradise Lost and the many hours I looked in wonderment at the Paladin in Hell picture in the old D & D player’s handbook. It was simply too cool a setting to pass up.

Oh, fuck off back to the abyss, Descarbi. You're bloody useless.

RPS: As Quinns always notes, Solium Infernum is packed full of ideas and novel approaches. What most pleased you, in terms of how it came out? My personal favourite is the simple divorcing of terrain from production, which works brilliantly.

Yes, that’s one of my favorites as well. I also quite like the way the diplomacy worked out. The whole genesis of that is quite interesting. I had been tinkering with a design for a grand strategy space conquest type game. I always thought that what was missing from games like Master of Orion and Galactic Civilizations was the idea of operational planning. Not that those games don’t have that but it always occurs as an internal monologue in the player’s mind. I wanted to make it explicit in the game play and have players have to create operational orders that took multiple turns to be completed and then when finally finished the designated forces could head off to their target planet for a raid, assault, etc. The idea was that you couldn’t just get it into your head one turn that fleet X should jump over to some neighboring empire’s planet and capture it…you had to plan and follow some set of rules to get that to happen and the intention and planning actually existed on the game board and not just in the player’s mind. And an added bonus was that opponents could discover this information and either act on it or try to disrupt it. So out of this was born the Conclave rules and threat order list for Solium Infernum.

RPS: Flipping that around, what’s your least favourite part of the design?

Err, I think its biggest flaw is that it just works too hard.

Seriously though, if I could do it again I think I would try to find a different way for the players to make their resource base decisions. Right now, you have to make a decision on just how high you want to raise your Diabolism power to determine the strength of your resource base. So when you go to determine your starting position by creating your Avatar you find that Charisma, which determines your base Diabolism power level, is not just like all the other attributes. This broken symmetry has tended to cause a lot of consternation among some players. They understandably want to be free to spend their points but they feel like they have to put some into Charisma….and they do of course. You have a choice of 0 (bad), 1 (not so good), 2 (pretty good) and 3 (nice and closer to really nice). You have to spend “Fiend Points” to make this decision on how strong your base should be at the start of the game so that means you can’t spend them on something else that you might like. You could make a decent argument that 2 is the best choice and that you have to go there to be competitive. Like the choose a rank dynamic I find this process interesting because the “value” of your choice really depends on what the other players do. If everybody picks 0 then there really isn’t a problem…as you are all what an outsider would consider gimped….but not really since you are all the same. But this type of game theory doesn’t go over well with players I have found. Many feel that you are being forced to spend the points. It’s a prisoner’s dilemma of a sort. I could raise all the choices up a notch in efficacy (and make them all go to 11) but then the middle choice would probably still appear to be the best choice/sweet spot and the game theory component still remains. No body wants to be the guy who didn’t defect and still holding the bag. And the illusion of no choice still remains to bother a lot of players.

Yes, he does indeed look somewhat like a glans.

RPS: How’s Solium Infernum actually doing, in terms of sales? Matching expectations? How is it different, it being primarily an MP game versus a only-SP process? Noticed any trends there?

It’s doing well and I’m hoping that it will eventually at least reach the same sales milestones that AE reached. The pace of sales is actually way ahead of AE but I’m certain that’s because I have built up a fan base of a sort and more people know about my games. I won’t know for a while how the MP vs. SP label works out. These games are niche though. I’m a boutique game company. Boutique probably describes me better than indie.

RPS: When we’re on the topic… the price. There’s been a trend across the last couple of years of Indie games’ being violently discounted, or even games released for a handful of dollars. Why have you gone the opposite way? My presumption was that you see yourself as a niche product more akin to hex-based wargames, who don’t traditionally alter prices in such a way. Am I on the right track?

Yes, that’s pretty much it. The economic calculus is pretty straight forward and rational. My games are complex and require a serious commitment to learn the rule set and intricacies of play. I don’t expect to get any business from casual players and my price probably drives away some of those who fall in the middle. But there are reasons you don’t see a lot of turn based strategy games rolling out on the PC every month. One of them is that there just isn’t the demand for them anymore at least compared to the demand for other genres. I do think that if you compare my price of $29.99 to what my competitors offer for similar experiences you will find that it is a pretty good deal.

The irrational side of the equation is that I value my work and have a huge emotional investment in it. I’ve spent years making these games and they are not just a commodity for me. I would honestly rather go out of business then see them in the digital bargain bin for $4.99. If you run a real company with employees then you can’t have that attitude.

RPS: Actually, one of the things I noticed was that it seemed to have birthed a disproportionate number of AARs (“After Action Reports”, like our game-write up – Ed) for an indie strategy game. I’d take it as evidence of the game provoking a rich internal dialogue in a player, which makes it easy to write about. And the theme helps. This has got to be satisfying, yes?

Yes, very satisfying actually. Undoubtedly Hell is an intriguing place that has a real hold on the human imagination. I think the fact that you can play against other humans really boosts the narrative as well. As much as you want to impute cognitive intent to the actions of an AI opponent, there is always a layer of detachment where you know it’s just a bunch of algorithms crunching away. I also think the game design with some of its euro-style mechanics makes for agonizing decision making in some cases and that’s the stuff that provides the grist for the narrative mill….the road not taken or the decision that led to disaster…that type of thing.

I wish I never got these guys killed. They were awesome. Sad face.

RPS: You’ve got magnificent things from Director, but I’ve seen people argue you should actually try and start with a more powerful language. Are you tempted to step back and give it a shot? If you did, what route would you take. If you don’t… well, what makes you decide that you won’t?

My plan right now is to see about getting another game or two out with the tech base that I have developed using Director and then go and explore learning another development environment. Director is really not that bad actually. Many of the problems are attributable to me and my lack of programming skills, imagination or initiative. You know how it is. You tend to get comfortable in certain ruts. I can’t compete with other gaming companies by offering great visuals and I’m a bit of a hermit so I’m probably not going to be hiring a programmer (which I couldn’t afford at this point anyway.) It would probably be best to rein expectations in by posting a picture of my home office on my website and saying something like “This is where Cryptic Comet games are made…adjust your expectations accordingly.”

RPS: You’ve talked about a mini-expansion for Solium Infernum. Any idea what it’ll include?

Yeah, I have been exploring a couple of avenues for adding some new features and mechanics. It’s pretty fluid right now as I have some ideas that need to really be tested out before I commit to them and some others that aren’t revolutionary but will hopefully add some additional ways for players to interact.

One idea that I am toying with is the idea of “Curses” which would directly affect different prestige aspects of the game. For example you could “Curse” a player’s Place of Power or Relic and instead of granting prestige each turn it would actually subtract it for a set duration of turns.

I’ll most likely have some additional relics, artifacts and praetors to play around with.

RPS: In your plans for 2010, you’ve mentioned “Project Rogue Expedition: I am designing a strategy adventure game. My core design goals are to foster a fun sense of exploration and push your luck decision making”. Any chance of teasing anything else about in that? Presumably, this is returning to a single-player focus of Solium Infernum, but… well, it seems very different. Am I wrong by looking at those sentance and thinking that it’ll be a non-traditional representation of adventuring? More management than close-tactical-control? Or am I just desperately grasping?

You’re pretty close on target. You will have a map and a mission (you will be able to select from several) and the goal will be to explore the map (randomly generated paths) and manage your risk vs. your reward and push yourself at the same time to complete your mission. As you travel over the map you will have to overcome “challenges” which require you to use your stats, items, allies, special move type cards etc. I’m working on some neat mechanics here that are sort of like a card game in that you have a base set of rules and then look for ways to change and manipulate the rules. You will have to make hard choices on how you want to approach the challenges given your strategic situation on the map and the status of your mission. It will be single player primarily. I’m exploring some ways to make a meta game component but my primary focus is on single player. As I was working on SI, I found that I really missed the exploration aspect of Armageddon Empires. It just didn’t fit in with the design of SI and my idea was that new things showing up in the “Bazaar” would compensate a little for that “What is behind door #1” feeling that I like in my games.

But with Rogue Expedition I have the chance to play around with a lot of the rogue-like concepts and see what I can do. So a big part of the game will be exploration. I want it to play like a board game as well…so although you have a “character” with stats and an inventory I am going to keep those aspects tight and focused. Hopefully it will force tough “push your luck” type decisions on the player. I’m also hoping that players will get the sense of a “creating their own story” type of experience. I don’t want to talk about the theme quite yet but it might include a fedora hat.

I can't remember what Quinns did with these.

RPS: Just to ask – the AI. Could you explain why it’s so tricky to get working in Solium Infernum as opposed to another strategy game?

I think there are a bunch of reasons. Some of them have to do with the complexity of the rule set and some of them have to do with player psychology…and some have to do with the approach that I took.

The rules are fairly complex and the AI has to follow the same rules that the players do…it has to bid on legions and manage its resources and decide when to demand tribute and what to pick based on the goals it is pursuing. The structured diplomatic system despite seeming like it might help the AI actually makes it more difficult because you can’t just hammer away at a chosen opponent…..you have to be smart about the diplomatic dance and track who you want to engage and plan for that…and planning is really hard for an AI….tracking past and present states and then trying to select the best goals to satisfy the desired diplomatic moves is tough….at least for me when I approached it. I also used a roulette wheel approach to picking goals in many cases….some special cases mean automatic selection like responding to a Vendetta but in general there is a stochastic element to selecting goals based on what is in a pool of possibilities and the weights assigned to each candidate in the pool…getting that all to work right isn’t easy.

The psychological aspects are even more daunting. Just how should an AI actually play?

The initial AI was perceived as being very passive. Many of the archetypes that determine how the AI plays were what I call “turtles” which focused on doing their own thing to get to a win condition and were not really interested in demanding and insulting all the time. I found out that human players pretty much expect all opponents to hassle them. If they are just sitting there trying to assemble a Machine from tribute cards then that isn’t very entertaining. I’ve had to completely rethink how I thought an AI should play.

I got an email from a tester in one of the PBEM games that I am running from the original beta testers…it’s been going on since November since I am so slow as a host primarily due to my focus on fixing bugs and improving the game…errr, actually I’m a lousy host. But the email was asking whether one of the players was actually an AI since he had made some pretty inconsistent choices over the course of the game and he had a name that an AI might have. I had to explain that the player was a human since the game was human only. I’d been very passive myself in the game as well and was trying a turtle/steal from the leaders type of strategy and also trying to sabotage them during their Vendettas to keep myself in the prestige game…that wasn’t going to well needless to say. I’d wager that if I hadn’t chosen an unusual name that he would have thought I was an AI as well.

So the short of it is that it’s a tough problem to solve and expectations are difficult to manage. Is it Deep Blue and you might as well concede on your opening move? No hardly. It does make some goofy mistakes and it still has big areas for improvement especially in dealing with things like excommunicated players and blood feuds and secret objectives, and well you get the point. But I would argue that it is still entertaining for a good chunk of players and that was my goal.

If in doubt, blast 'em from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

RPS: You mentioned you read the diary series. Was there any particular bit you wanted to grab a player and say DO THIS? YOU’RE GOING TO SCREW UP? MAN! DO IT PROPERLY?

I thought you guys did a great job of groking the rules pretty quickly and caught on to the nuances as well….like if you have bunch of Kleptos who have gone Deceit then the vault is your friend and you need to move your artifacts and praetors out only when you need to.

I did get a good laugh though when you guys would write stuff like this:

Seeing everyone get in a fight with Scrofula, I throw a mild insult at him. Surely he won’t want to fight me too?

This proves to be a misreading of Scrofula’s character.

And This:

So I write a mail to Quinns, explaining this. Don’t crush me. I’m the only one who can kill Speedo. You’re risking a win on revenge, man. Yeah, I almost engineered your destruction with a few well-chosen e-mails. Yes, I’m your mortal enemy. But I’m the only person who can help you win. I send it off and sigh. Scrofula and I sit discussing it. Will he accept? He’s got to. I mean, I would.

Misdjudging character is really what this game is all about….and I could almost hear the reading audience groan collectively when you guys would go….”Surely, he wouldn’t do X, which would really screw me over….” or “Surely he would do X, I mean that’s what I would do….well I mean not in the past but I would do that now.” Those were some of the best parts of the diaries.

RPS: I like the bits where Quinns doesn’t have any Iron. But that’s a different diary. Thanks for your time.

Solium Infernum can be bought from Cryptic Comet’s site. There’s also an available demo. As previously reported, at the time of writing, Vic has an offer on for RPS readers. The discount code is BNEO000B9 which will save five dollars off the RRP and is valid until the 29th of January. If you take the plunge, there’s a busy forum at Cryptic Comet for arranging games or an RPS Steam Group – Rock Paper Satan – if you fancy playing RPS’ community.

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138 Comments »

  1. Rinox says:

    Dammit Kieron, lunch is already over. Now I’ll be reduced to repeated frantic alt-tabbing as soon as something moves in the corner of my eye.

  2. Ian says:

    He should introduce an iron resource so that Quinns doesn’t get any.

  3. Rinox says:

    Vic, what do you mean with “euro-style mechanics”? Rough negotiations?

    • Baboonanza says:

      I assume he means european style board games. You can see the influence both in AE and SI.

    • brog says:

      Euro board games are typically strongly themed (tick), accessible (cross), low on conflict and player elimination (big fat red cross), and have elegant mechanics (tick). SI is blatantly not a euro overall, but he’s taken indirect inspiration for some of the mechanics from them.

    • Turin Turambar says:

      There is a (unknown for most people) very interesting and active board game niche market, with small companies and indies doing great and imaginative games.

      Some of the novel stuff from Vic games clearly comes from other board games, or he takes inspiration. Some part of the greatness of their games comes from that. But also part of the bad side of their games, which imo they are too much a digital version of a board game, with over-reliance of randomizers, decks, etc, which have less place to be in a videogame.

    • Edgar the Peaceful says:

      Yep – Check out http://www.boardgamegeek.com – wonderful site. I’d like RPS to do a bit on boardgames. I know KG & Quinns & Alec boardgame (judging from the podcasts) and I’d be interested in their opinions.

    • JonFitt says:

      Fucking Ludo.

  4. neothoron says:

    For me, the part that would need some design work in Solium Infernum (though difficult to fix now that it is finished) is the UI. More specifically:
    - I would love to have a minimap – but I suspect that it would not be easy to have a good one.
    - I would like not to have to go to the four corners of the screen to access the Bazaar/Ministerium/End Turn/Main Menu buttons – Keyboard shortcuts to open (and to close) these screens would be handy.

    • Quinns says:

      There are keyboard shortcuts, actually. Took me about 20 hours of play to find them myself. Check the manual!

    • neothoron says:

      Thank you Quinn, I had skipped that appendix.

    • Drexer says:

      I don’t see the need for a minimap per se, but perhaps a bigger zoom out factor? A minimap could be useful if only for when you open a menu, it to pop up on one side, with the territories signaled in different colors(like that screenshot map made for the RPS write up). Actually, a way to toggle color-differentiation for each player would be much welcomed.

  5. Alexander Norris says:

    I won’t pretend to be an SI veteran (I only have a couple of solo games and one spectacularly failed PBeM one under my belt), but I must confess I’m somewhat confused/baffled by the confusion/bafflement expressed in this:

    Right now, you have to make a decision on just how high you want to raise your Diabolism power to determine the strength of your resource base. So when you go to determine your starting position by creating your Avatar you find that Charisma, which determines your base Diabolism power level, is not just like all the other attributes. This broken symmetry has tended to cause a lot of consternation among some players. They understandably want to be free to spend their points but they feel like they have to put some into Charisma.

    So when you go to determine your starting position by creating your Avatar you find that Charisma, which determines your base Diabolism power level, is not just like all the other attributes. This broken symmetry has tended to cause a lot of consternation among some players.

    Obviously, I’m not Vic Davis, but the solution to this seems very simple: since the mechanic of resource-gathering is so integral to SI (and not necessarily in a good way), it would make sense to “decentralise” it, so to speak. As it stands, Charisma is, as Vic stated, far too important not to make it at least a II (preferably III) when creating an avatar, meaning that you’re severely limited in how “heavy” you can make your Martial/Intellect/etc.-heavy avatar if you want to stand any kind of chance against human players. This is obviously somewhat counterbalanced by the fact that Charisma provides no extra order slot unlike Intellect/Cunning/Wickedness (and at V rather than IV, Martial Skill, which could probably have been called “Prowess” instead just to fit in with the names of the other stats, but I digress), yes; the problem is that the pre-eminence of Charisma reduces the amount of viable builds, since all of them need Charisma II+ to function.

    By contrast, if resource-gathering (a key mechanic, but one that is rather boring since tribute is random and you can’t know the result of a tribute roll in advance – unlike, say, limited order slots, which are a key mechanic with strategic value because it’s up to you to decide how you best spend your orders) is made to depend on an average of all the stats, all builds become equally viable and the problem goes away. As far as the in-setting reasoning goes, it still makes perfect sense – the more powerful a fiend is, the more tribute his vassals and minions will bring him; it’s just that a Charisma-heavy fiend will inspire loyalty or might be more persuasive when asking. Viewed like that, it actually makes less sense, thematically-speaking, to have tribute depend on a single stat.

    However, if you do that (making tribute depend on an average of all stats rather than Charisma alone), the you then run into the issue of what to do with the now-useless Charisma stat. Again, I’m not Vic Davis and therefore don’t have the whole picture, but it seems to me that there’s a host of options available:
    - the real problem with Charisma/tribute as it is is the number of cards offered/that you can pick. Charisma could still have an impact on the tribute roll and thus tribute quality;
    - Charisma could have an effect on diplomatic effort, much like rank does but in addition to it, so that a high-Charisma, low-rank fiend can’t have as much demanded of them by a Prince and can demand more of them (although that does impinge on Rank);
    - the various luck bonuses involved in combat could be attributed to leadership and thus be pinned on Charisma or Rank, whichever needs more of an effect, allowing said stat to very slightly influence the luck roll.
    - this also opens up the way for Charisma-based rituals in a later patch or expansion, since Charisma would be roughly as important as all the other stats and thus deserving of having its own rituals (and order slot at level IV or V).

    Just my two pennies, anyway.

    Edit: added quote back in; it seems to have gone missing.

    • Sam says:

      I’d be inclined to reward people for choosing more interesting (re: asymmetrically balanced) builds by depending resource gathering on the highest of your stats – which also fits the narrative espoused by you.

    • Taillefer says:

      Alexander, with your changes, or similar. And the fact Charisma also does things like modify the chance of finding manuscripts. There’s an argument here to just replace “Charisma” with “Luck”. It could have modifiers on all sorts of things. Maybe only the upper range should increase, i.e. starts with a 0-1 modifier, ends with a 0-6 modifier (for whatever), so it becomes a risky and chaotic stat. And well, reliant on luck.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      @Logo: your second table would work and involve less effort, yeah. The only thing I can think of in favour of mine after that is it’s slightly more interesting.

  6. mbp says:

    Whats an AAR when it is not coming out of the mouth of a pirate?

    Translate please for a layman.

  7. tekDragon says:

    So essentially he’s never going to drop his price which means neither I or my friends will ever buy his game. Looking interesting, and the demo shows some promise, but it’s time to move on.

    I can understan the emotional reason he describes for his price point, but the “calculus” portion of his argument seems remarkably obtuse.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Tek: I’m not sure “It’s what everyone else who makes this kind of game charges” is that obtuse, man.

      KG

    • tekDragon says:

      Well it shows a surprising lack of vision. He’s clearly achieved the ability to make something different and interesting. Then, rather than making the game affordable to the “middle” group and possibly casual players he takes the road of saying this is an elite game for eilte players and I shall price it accordingly, tough titties to the rest of the market.

      It’s pretty much sounding like he wants this game to be only for people who thinks it’s $30 cool upfront. That seems like a poor stance to me.

    • brog says:

      Dude, one time, I went to buy a mainstream game, but it cost like more than twice that. Those guys totally lack vision.

    • tekDragon says:

      @Blorg: Right on, and I just made a pretty awesome painting that I’m gonna sell for a few million dollars, afterall that’s what other top artists charge for their work (see Voice of Fire).

      “I do think that if you compare my price of $29.99 to what my competitors offer for similar experiences you will find that it is a pretty good deal. ”

      I think he’s just mistaken about who his competitors are. His competitors are other real board games that cost a whole lot less for 5-6 people to play, and other indie developers who routinely price their games well below the $20-$30 dollar range.

    • mbp says:

      I am a complete skinflint when it comes to buying games but I totally understand his argument. Solium infernum does not have mass appeal. Dropping the price is not going to turn it into a mass market product and the extra sales he makes will never compensate him for the lower price point. Enthusiasts will buy the game anyway at full price. The mass market wouldn’t buy it at any price.

      This is not the same at a ll as a game like “World of Goo” which has mass appeal. Those guys can drop their price in a STEAM sale and sell many thousands of extra copies which more than compensates for the lower sales price.

    • tekDragon says:

      You’re perfectly right that the game wont appeal to the world of goo crowd, but it will appeal to the probably pretty large crowd of people who like to play board games but also own a PC, but never at the suggested price.

    • Jeremy says:

      I’m just not sure how $30 has become such a terrible price point for a game. Most newly released games cost at least $40, and Xbox games are $60 regardless of any other factors. This is hardly a game of Clue either.

    • Funky Badger says:

      wondering why “generic bloke on internets” knows more about Vic’s economics than, well, Vic…

    • AVarotsis says:

      I can pretty much guarantee that at $10, 90% of RPS readers would buy it. And yes, I just pulled that out of my arse, but I doubt it’s far off. At this price, I doubt 10% will.

      I understand having this price for now, but I don’t see any huge point in not discounting it in the future.

    • Vinraith says:

      Some of Vic’s competitors, for price comparisons and some badly needed perspective:

      http://www.digitalriver.com/dr/v2/ec_Main.Entry17c?SID=45905&SP=10023&CID=0&PID=643897&PN=1&V1=643897&CUR=840&DSP=&PGRP=0&ABCODE=&CACHE_ID=0

      http://www.shrapnelgames.com/Illwinter/DOM3/DOM3_page.html

      Both of those are much older than SI, by the way.

      In fact, a general browse around Matrix or Shrapnel’s sites would be helpful for those of you that think $30 is expensive for an indie strategy game. Branch out a bit, not everything worth playing is sold on Steam for $5.

    • tekDragon says:

      Agreed, not everything worth playing is sold on steam for $5, but if you think you’re selling video games and you’re not competing against those $5 steam games, think again.

    • Vinraith says:

      @tekDragon

      Trying to sell a deep strategy game to people who think it should be priced the same as a 3-hour long 2d platformer is a losing proposition. That, in fact, is what “niche” means in this context.

    • Pod says:

      @Funky Badger

      wondering why “generic bloke on internets” knows more about Vic’s economics than, well, Vic…

      Becuase generic bloke on the internet is the person who’s meant to be buying this game? I’m a generic bloke on the internet, I want to buy this game, but I don’t like the price, and now it seems I don’t like his attitude.

    • R3D says:

      quoting that the price will never drop then raging is funny, because there is curently a code for a discount witch makes it $25.
      im in australia and new games at the shops for me are $80, non reagon priced on steam $50,i have bought wors games for more cash. i bought 4 copies because i wanted to be able to host a game with my friends and i just email them the code to play. so this is a steal at $30 and better at $25.
      i would love to see this on steam and i think it would go along way at expanding the audiance.

  8. disperse says:

    You will have a map and a mission (you will be able to select from several) and the goal will be to explore the map (randomly generated paths) and manage your risk vs. your reward and push yourself at the same time to complete your mission. As you travel over the map you will have to overcome “challenges” which require you to use your stats, items, allies, special move type cards etc.

    OK, I may be the only person who makes this connection, but this reminds me of the 1970s Avalon Hill board game Magic Realm:

    http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/22/magic-realm

    @Vic Davis: Have you played this game?

    For those who missed this out of print game and want to check it out there is a Java-based version of it that is really quite extraordinary called RealmSpeak:

    http://magicrealm.dewkid.com/rspeak/realmspeak.htm

    Oh, and don’t forget the (122 page) 3rd edition rule book:

    http://www.nand.it/mr/index.html

  9. Lambchops says:

    while I’ve finally decided against buying Solium Infernum (not so much due to the price as due to the fact I doubt I’d be able to get enough of my friends to buy it as well!) I have to say I’m intrigued by Project Rogue Expedition – it sounds like it could well be my type of thing.

  10. ShaunCG says:

    @tekDragon:
    “I don’t expect to get any business from casual players and my price probably drives away some of those who fall in the middle.”

    Seems to me you’re proving Vic’s point here?

    I am still um’ing and ah’ing about this. I definitely want it, but over the next few weeks I’ll be picking up Mass Effect 2, BioShock 2 and AvP; that’s not to mention the half-finished Witcher, barely-started The Void and substantially untouched Dragon Age I have sitting about making puppy eyes at me.

    On the other hand, it’s PBEM multiplayer… oh my.

    Does anyone know if PBEM works fine with two separate installs of the game? E.g. if I wanted to receive/send turns both from home and at work?

    • brog says:

      ShaunCG: Yeah, it works. (I think it goes by serial number, so it won’t work if you buy two separate copies, or (more likely) try to have a turn on a friend’s copy.)

    • tekDragon says:

      @ ShaunCG: Yes. Knowingly pricing your game out of a market that “could” be 2x – 10x (just guessing, who the hell knows) bigger than the elite core you know and love seems like a clear lack of vision to me.

    • brog says:

      tekDragon: “2x-10x” is very optimistic. Right now he’s making enough to live on and to keep on making games – if that was me, I’d be pretty happy. For a creative person, being able to afford to just keep on creating is enough for complete satisfaction. And that’s where he is right now. He could do risky moves like dropping his price because it might increase his profits, but if he, say, cuts the price in half, he’d have to sell twice as many copies just to stay where he is now, and it’s not at all clear that he would; that’s an approach that works for mass market games (although, as I said earlier, mainstream games tend to start at more than twice what he’s charging anyway), but not necessarily for niche product like turn-based pbem strategy games.

    • ShaunCG says:

      @brog – excellent news, thank you!

      @tekDragon – one supposes that those sitting on the fence could try the demo and decide for themselves if the game is marked at a fair price (demo downloads might indicate a wider market more accurately than the pure supposition of your 2x-10x figure). Or are you arguing that a lower price-point could encourage casual buyers who’d pick it up on a whim and subsequently not play it very much? This, too, is a point addressed in the interview:

      “The irrational side of the equation is that I value my work and have a huge emotional investment in it. I’ve spent years making these games and they are not just a commodity for me.”

      You might disagree but it seems rather pointless to be making arguments that have already been addressed and dismissed.

    • tekDragon says:

      @Shaun: As I’ve said I understand his emotion in terms of pricing the game and I have to admit calling his rational stance obtuse is a slight exageration.

      He’s essentially telling everyone “If you and 5 of your friends are not a priori enthusiasts and sold on this game, I’m not interested in you as a customer.” It’s not clear to me how this could be improved in terms of pricing but it just doesnt seem right now does it?

    • ShaunCG says:

      @tek: Ah, well, the question of a bundle is a different one! I can understand the rationale behind not offering a bulk discount, although I agree that would be nice.

      However, eCurtz has a good idea downthread – a “host” version that costs, say, 250% the regular price but which allows players who do not own the game to play against a host who does. It’s open to abuse, I suppose, but it’s a nice idea.

    • Pod says:

      AE is still $30 as well.

      Perhaps he should try an expiriment? Drop AE to $10 and aggressivley market it (ie RPS, reddit etc) and see how much he makes overall.

  11. Ginger Yellow says:

    You will have a map and a mission (you will be able to select from several) and the goal will be to explore the map (randomly generated paths) and manage your risk vs. your reward and push yourself at the same time to complete your mission.

    Sounds a bit Strange Adventures in Infinite Space. Which is a good thing.

    As for the price, I read Vic as saying basically: “It’s the sort of game people with either love, hate or never even hear about. So I might as well get as much money from the people who will love it as I can.” Obviously I’d like it to be cheaper, but I can see his point. He’s got a tiny pool of potential buyers, but those people are the hardest of the hardcore. I can’t imagine he’s discouraging that many people with the pricing. The only thing that’s putting me off is that I only have one friend who would be into it.

    • Jesse says:

      Yeah, I want to see this exploration game very much. That’s my genre!

      I think there’s an opening there for an exploration game that involves more long-term strategy to survive than we usually see. On the one hand we have the little indie games, like Knytt, that are ‘exploration platformers’, which are generally relaxing with some difficult jumping challenges, and on the triple-A side we have ‘exploration RPGs’ like Oblivion and Fallout 3, and ‘exploration shooters’ like Farcry 2 I suppose…I wish I could play Stalker to be able to compare it to these others… But what I would like to play next is something with more depth in the survival aspect. Those tough choices – what to take, when to press on in difficult situations – that’s what I want!

      “You will have a map and a mission (you will be able to select from several) and the goal will be to explore the map (randomly generated paths) and manage your risk vs. your reward and push yourself at the same time to complete your mission.”

      There is no element in this sentence that doesn’t make my wallet tingle in the anticipation of happily shelling out, oh, say, $30? :)

    • malkav11 says:

      I really do hope it doesn’t turn out like Strange Adventures in Infinite Space. That’s definitely the association that description brought to mind as well, but SAIS has no substance to it whatsoever. There’s no real decision-making because you have virtually no information. There’s a bit of trading, sometimes, but because it’s always straight one-for-one swaps there’s no reason whatsoever not to simply trade up when it comes to items you do know are better (drives, mostly, iirc). The only thing that resembles gameplay is combat, and that’s essentially a throw of the dice as well because you have no information to work with about, for example, the capabilities of your weaponry.

      On the other hand, based on AE and SI, I can’t imagine Vic putting out something that shallow. So we’ll see.

    • Hypocee says:

      Right on, Malkav11. I am continually baffled by people who describe SAIS as a game. Here are the decisions you make over the course of a game of SAIS:

      Roll d6. Is it over 4? You win!

  12. ecurtz says:

    I know Vic said that multiplayer packs weren’t possible in his store setup, but here’s my suggestion anyway.

    I have no problem with the $30, but I also have no interest in playing a game like this with anybody but my friends, and 6 x $30 is out of the question for something we probably won’t play too often.

    I WILL however sometimes buy $75 board games (err, $100 if you count the new Space Hulk). If there was a more expensive “host” version and a dirt cheap or free “client” version which had no AI and could only PBEM with a host version and not the regular version I’d feel a lot better about trying to rope in friends or enemies.

    • Bruce Rambo says:

      @ecurtz

      I think Vic said that the reason he wasn’t able to do a group discount was that he wouldn’t be able to provide support to the people who were gifted a copy as he wouldn’t have their contact details to verify? I don’t see why the store front can’t just ask for “x” e-mail addresses when making a purchase, instead of just the one. I suppose it might be a restriction of the third party store itself though… Alternatively, if it’s in the purchasing agreement, having all requests for support go through one person doesn’t seem TOO bad.

      I agree about not wanting to pay £150+ to play with my (currently unemployed) friends for ten hours. If I could do it for £60, or about the price of 2-3 nights out…

  13. Baboonanza says:

    @Turin
    I was thinking earlier about how you could make SI work as an actual board game, but when you think about it you just *couldn’t*. The hidden information aspect is just impossible to have in a board game. For instance paying to increase a stat or buidding in the bazaar.

    So although SI is very much a computer board game it relies on the computer bit for it’s essential character. And in many ways that balance is perfect, and is pretty unique to Vic’s games.

  14. Dylan says:

    My issue with the price is that It’ll cost me $180 to get a full game going with my friends because none of them will pay for it (they are all on the fence). If Vic allowed a single license to host games for a few satellite licenses (like Starcraft did back in the day), then I could afford it. Maybe the $30 license lets you host up to 3 or 4 players with 6 players costing $60? I havent done the maths but I’m sure theres a happy middle ground. Maybe Director makes it hard to do this kind of thing though.

    I don’t think $30 is expensive for what it is. A niche should expect to have to pay more for products aimed at them, that’s just the way it goes. The market is smaller, but the game takes just as long to make as other indie games. To make money you need to charge more, its just a fact of life. Selling to a niche means there is usually less competition as well, so people in the niche are happy that someone is catering to them.

    • alseT says:

      @Dylan
      Exactly what I was thinking: If one licence could spawn 2 others that could only play together, then it would cost 60$ to get a full game of 6 going, which sounds reasonable to me.

  15. Jesse says:

    It may be hard to tell quite how the game will work for you based on the demo alone; that I can sympathize with. After RPS’s epic play journal, we can all see, I think, how the GAME works quite well (and thank you RPS so much once again) and how it feels to play it – that’s not the issue. The issue for me is that I don’t play strategy games. I’m convinced this would be a fantastic game if I were able to play it; but I suspect I don’t have the guts to learn the rules and commit to being a long-term evil mastermind.

    However, whether I buy it or not, I feel there’s clearly $30 of value in this game. On the verge of buying it the other day, before more closely examining my own character (I need this money for Just Cause 2 – is anything more different from SI than JC 2?), I had decided not to use the discount code because hey, it’s five bucks, Vic Davis has made something unique here and he deserves it. I don’t know what’s best for your business, but I hope you never have to lower that price, Mr. Davis!

  16. ManicMiner says:

    Jeff Minter nearly bankrupted himself on Tek’s logic when he released Space Giraffe onto XBLA at a 400 points. Turns out nearly everyone who bought it would have paid 1200, and no one who wasn’t going to buy it at 1200 was going to change their mind just cos it was 400

    Halving the price of SI is not going to DOUBLE the sales, and for the price drop to not actually reduce the money he is making, it would need to increase the sales by at least double.

    The maths of “lower price = more sales” just don’t work… you need the lower price to generate unbelievably massive sales increases before it’s not actively damaging your income.

    • tekDragon says:

      Ah… Logo said it better than I could.

      In any case, 1200 points is roughly $15, and I will pay good money for decent, engaging single player games of all kins (Giraffe is single player no?).

      I have absolutely no interest in playing SI against the AI (almost no one does)

      I have absolutely no interest in playing SI against strangers (maybe some people do)

      SI is NOT a $30 game it’s a $150-$180 game, strictly multiplayer.

      The problem is that people who are on the fence about this game arent on the fence because of the gameplay/graphics or whatever, they’re on the fence because of the price and price burden on their friends.

  17. Jesse says:

    Anybody have anything to say about the Vic Davis INTERVIEW? My God, I’ll go to Gamasutra if I want frigging price-point analysis.

    • tekDragon says:

      Right… it’s not like if he had discussed his pricing philosophy in the interview or anything.

    • ShaunCG says:

      Post your discussion points if you have any! Evidently the pricing is a major issue for a fair few people, hence the resultant arguments.

      FWIW I found the interview interesting and uncontroversial, have briefly played the demo of SI and will probably pick it up in the near future, and will follow Vic’s future work.

  18. Kieron Gillen says:

    God, I’m tempted to do a total Devil’s advocate here.

    Comparing it to a boardgame is totally off, because boardgames don’t allow you to play in six places simultaneously. With its hotseat option, *it’s actually identical to a boardgame*, but actually at a lower price. If you’re talking about a direct comparison, you’re talking about 6 people playing it all over the world and phoning their turns to one another. So any boardgame would cost the actual price of the game multiplied by the number of players.

    And most fundamentally, its sales have been on par with Armageddon Empires – a single-player online pseudo-boardgame. In other words, it’s not hurting him.

    KG

    • Hentzau says:

      Also if anyone on here had actually bought a boardgame that wasn’t Mouse Trap recently they’d know that they cost a little bit more than thirty bucks.

    • tekDragon says:

      I understand this argument and fundametally I agree. SI is slightly more than just a board game in it’s native multiuplayer format. Just not gimmie $180 please more.

      Bordgames have all kinds of other tangibles that at least nominally increase their costs (boards, boxes, game pieces, shipping, manuals) which Vic(?) doesnt need to concern himself with from now on. All he needs to concern himself with is getting the right string of 1s abd 0s transmitted to me which costs significantly less.

      It’s a sticky situation and tricky comparison, but still.

    • tekDragon says:

      @Henta: The last good boardgame I bough was Agricola and it cost me $70 canadian. I’ve played that one game with atcually 8-9 different people (besides me) over a couple of gaming sessions and you know what, after playing with the first 4 people I bough the game to play with, the others didnt have to ante up $20-$30 to join me in a game. Crazy isnt it.

      I know the comparison between SI and a board game isnt perfect but it’s still very apt.

    • SheffieldSteel says:

      If you want to play, say, chess against an opponent on the other side of the world, you each buy a chess set. If you want to play against someone in the same house, you can share one set.

      Nobody thinks this is unfair in any way.

      It’s only the fact that this game is deliverable as a collection of 1′s and 0′s that seems to confuse the issue. It is certainly possible to e.g. share registration keys and otherwise cheat the author out of money; that doesn’t make it right.

    • tekDragon says:

      @SheffieldSteel: I’ve already agreed that the advantage of playing from mutliple locations is points in favour of the game, but once again I dont feel it adds up to to $150-$180 total investment worth.

      Also, your chess example is valid (i.e., I understand what you’re trying to communicate) but somewhat poorly chosen if only for the fact that there are dozens of free digital chess clients, and that a passable real chessboard can be purchased for < $10 pretty much anywhere.

      The best idea brough up would be for a host license and thin client release. The host can be priced higher than $30 and the thin clients could be either free or dirt cheap (no single play or any other capacity). Aint going to happen but one can dream I suppose.

      What it all adds up to is that for people who dont mind playing againt random stangers then the price appears fine as it is. For people such as me who are only interested in playing with friends it seems way too expensive.

    • ecurtz says:

      I don’t think it’s that simple. As several people have pointed out there are huge numbers of board games with online clients. Solium Infernum clearly shares more with Puerto Rico than it does with Left 4 Dead.

      Is Chess no longer a board game if you play it online?
      Is the computer version of Blood Bowl a board game? Should it cost £75 because that’s what the regular version costs?
      Should I be able to buy a single copy of Solium Infernum and install it on a machine with VNC, so everyone can play in hot seat mode? Is that ethically different from playing a board game using a single copy and video conferencing?

      The nice thing about digital distribution is that he could choose to sell it both to those of us who think it IS a board game using that model, i.e. expensive to “own”, free to play along, AND still sell to those expecting the computer game model of medium price to every player. Just because he’s doing as well as the last game doesn’t mean the lack of flexibility isn’t hurting him. I’m clearly interested in the game, but I’m not buying it.

    • admanb says:

      Nearly every board game that can be played online can be played completely free. People clearly pay for board games because it lets them play with groups of people they know, in person. That supports TekDragon’s argument that host/client versions would fit the boardgame style of the game.

    • Pod says:

      Hentzau says:
      Also if anyone on here had actually bought a boardgame that wasn’t Mouse Trap recently they’d know that they cost a little bit more than thirty bucks.

      The last 3 I bought, Chaos in the Old World, Hour of Glory, Fury of Dracula, all cost around £40 each.

    • freepower says:

      Well, this argument has sprawled all over the place but I think it’s at it’s neatest in reply to Kieron’s post with the best points made both ways. I hope to add to the discussion in a intelligent manner and hope to anger nobody.

      I’d like to point out that there is a “cost” that isn’t immediately noticeable here – Vic’s long term commitment to the game. For more than a year Vic was actively adding content, rebalancing and in generally improving AE.

      From my dealings with Vic (submitting bug reports, asking him various questions about the game and trying to help with the AI) – he has been prompt, polite and genuinely helpful. I’ve had a savegame fixed (within hours, and an update that fixed that problem permanently within the week), and the AI has improved VASTLY since the release.

      It’s not challenging yet but it it’s showing signs of life – especially its use of event cards against the prestige leader. I’m willing to put my cards on the table and say in a years time it’s going to be good – it’s going to be an enjoyable challenge to (usually) beat the AI, just like AE. Not to mention we can probably expect a good, genuinely free DLC pack that adds real content and longevity to the game. Cue arguments on paying for it now and not in a years time, etc etc.

      Finally, the argument that it “costs” a group $180…

      Aside from the obvious hotseat (which is nice to see and a perfect way, imho to introduce friends to the game), the equally obvious prerogatives on Vic and the buyers behalf, why has no-one pointed out that it’s actually $30 per player which entitles them to join ANY group?

      I’m playing many games of SI simultaneously, as I assume almost everyone does. Obviously, I don’t mind playing strangers, but I’m MAKING friends who I want to play SI with by… well, playing SI. If you have some gaming buddies (who all don’t like to play games with strangers, which I find improbable but possible), then sure, invite them to join SI, but if they aren’t too keen to shell out, try the demo, read the RPS AAE to see how the mid- and endgames go in an average-ish game…

      and if at the end of all that, they don’t want to pay the full price, then that’s fair enough. But I don’t think you can honestly say that this is Vic’s “fault” – if you have friends who aren’t interested in playing the game except with you and vice versa, then many good games will be passed over due to disagreements on the mechanics, price or theme – but as an individual within the group denied playing the game that you desire, it’s as much due to your friends tastes as the bare price.

      And am I completely mental or is 20 quid of real money still not too bad a price for a game?

  19. Yargh says:

    Project Rogue Expedition looks terribly interesting even though there have been a few games in that vein fairly recently (the Infinite Space Adventures in particular).

    So far, not very far at all really, I’m really enjoying Solium Infernum.

  20. tka says:

    If Vic made a real SI board game I would buy that too, even with double price.

  21. Wichtel says:

    I would buy a 60$ board game too! I could invite my friends over and actually play it with them…

    • Funky Badger says:

      In an online world, like this one, the friends I want to play with could easily be based in London, Sheffield, Quebec and Wellington.

      Fat chance of organising a meeting in any of those more than once a year. What with my terrible rickerts and all…

  22. ACS says:

    Actually, I’d like to see a number of different resource mechanics based on different stats. In particular, embezzlement (for deceit), extortion (for destruction), and pillaging. Embezzlement would give you a number of resource cards based on the number of resource cards drawn by all your opponents extortion would cause some mild supernatural consequences to your opponents if they chose not to turn over cards on their turn. Pillaging would grant you resource cards for stolen hexes at the end of a vendetta. Some associated mechanic for Intelligence — like gaining cards for successfully wagering on the outcome of an in-game event like a vendetta might also be appropriate.

    That would make Charisma simply the most reliable, effective way of gaining tribute cards: your bread-and-butter resource gathering ability, with other skills merely relying on a tribute roll (still increased by Charisma) to pick up potentially large number ofcards.

  23. kalidanthepalidan says:

    All the price point moaning needs to stop. Vic obviously understands the market he is in, as AE was a success. Comparing him to other indie developers is silly. As he stated, he develops boutique games for a very limited market. You can’t compare him to other indie developers. The “lower price point = larger volume of sales” may be true, but that doesn’t mean “lower price point = larger volume of sales = more profit” is true at all. That kind of thinking drives many small businesses (which is what Vic is running) into the ground. If anything, you should compare him to other wargame developers. Many of which charge more than $30 for similar (and I would argue less creative and thoughtful) content. They don’t rake in huge profits, but they make enough to have game development be their livelihood.

    Also, comparing SI to a boardgame and boardgame pricing is foolish. Just because you only want to play with your friends, and therefore consider it a “boardgame” does NOT mean that’s what SI is. SI is a PBEM game, which, you can play with people all over the world, and with your friends if they happen to have a copy. I mean hell, I may only want to play “INSERT ANY MULTIPLAYER PC GAME EVER HERE” with my friends but that doesn’t mean I expect to only need one copy of the game. Maybe back in 1992, but not today.

    • Kakksakkamaddafakka says:

      The “lower price point = larger volume of sales” may be true, but that doesn’t mean “lower price point = larger volume of sales = more profit” is true at all.

      It also might just be true, but that’s besides the point. Most people are complaining about it being slightly expensive, not massively. I don’t think the integrity of anything would be comprimised as long as we’re talking just a few dollars less.

      I don’t get why anyone would defend the price if it’s indeed hampering the sales. If he could sell more, and still have the same kind of profit, everybody wins. After all, both us, the players, and Vic, should be interested in a larger community, for a multitude of reasons. Yes, there is the possibility of a smaller profit, but shaving a few bucks off and watching the stats would make that a pretty safe move (not to mention he probably got stats of the RPS discount code sales, and considering how small this community actually is, the exposure the game has gotten here, I’d say he can ballpark the effect quite nicely). It would at least be something to consider. If he’s done the math and thinks this is the best way to do it, then ok, but it’s plain silly to not consider it.

    • Funky Badger says:

      There is a $5 discount, you knows?

    • SheffieldSteel says:

      If Vic wanted to do some experiments to determine the price elasticity of demand, he would be better off increasing the price temporarily rather than decreasing it. Worst case: some people delay their purchases. No gross income is lost (in contrast with the price decrease experiment).

      Of coruse, most of this discussion assumes that Vic is treating this as an exercise in maximising his profit. Ther may well be other issues, such as the number of tech support requests, that might affect how many sales are desirable.

    • Hattered says:

      @SheffieldSteel:

      Indeed. As Vic stated, he’s a boutique studio catering to a niche market. He likely wants to keep the size of his customer base manageable so he doesn’t have to hire additional employees. Expansion isn’t an inherently healthy move. More people, more problems.

      There is a hotseat multiplayer mode. You could invite your friends over (say, once a week), each play a turn or so of SI, then play some other board game. It might fit the early party atmosphere well: people arrive, get a drink, one player goes off to the computer to play their turn, the rest converse (possibly scheme), someone starts setting up the night’s board game, the final SI turn of the week is submitted, everyone gathers in the main room to play the board game. If you have SI installed to a laptop, you could even bring it to your friends’ homes. That multiple copies need to be bought to play against friends online is a bit like most computer games (e.g., Borderlands, Bloodbowl, Civ4). If the price is a barrier to online play, then treat it like a board game.

  24. Kakksakkamaddafakka says:

    Basically, I think the game is pretty damn good as it is, but a few things should be added: A proper index for the manual (and some quick sheets for reference), and the most important thing of all, moar numbers (and more information in general)! I find I always have to cross-reference with this game. There are a few pop-ups here and there, but not nearly enough. There should be pop-ups and numbers everywhere, both in the game and in the manual. Don’t worry about cluttering the interface, I’m sure 99% of the people playing this game are total number whores in any case. Numbers and huge intrusive pop-ups are beautiful. If it can be communicated with numbers, they should be in your face whenever you need them, this goes doubly for even more essential information.

    An example: if you draw an event card without having any previous, why doesn’t it say which one? It means I have to make a faux order just to find out what card I got. I think annoyances like that could easily be patched out without much work.

    Also, I somewhat agree with the diabolism debate, it should be nerfed. I suggest just moving the “keep 3″ addition one step up (to level 4). However, I’m not even sure I agree with myself, because quite frankly, I never go for a lot of points in charisma (usually it’s one point). My first builds naturally went for this (the geek in me always sets the first order of business, namely trying to figure out the most probable points of imbalance, and charisma is the obvious one). They weren’t all that useful, though. Having an extra order slot starting out (or being one point away from one) is simply superiour. At least in terms of builds based on cunning. Balanced it might be, but I think the luck idea that Taillefer came up with was pretty good, there is something about charisma that just isn’t quite right.

    There are also other UI issues, but they’re getting less and less annoying the more I play (not sure if me decreasingly caring means it’s a good design, though). For instance, some sort of auto-sorting of the tribute cards was on the top of my wish-list the first couple of rounds I played, now, I’m a lot faster identifying the cards, and remembering where I put them; still, a big shiny auto-sort button would be most excellent.

    And yeah, I’ve said this before, but I just want to say it again: TCP/IP would be heaven. And yes, I’m aware that Vic is one guy, yes, he’s no programming guru, and yes, I’m sure Adobe Director is shite at integrating net code, but it really would help the game tremendously.

  25. AS says:

    Those looking for a more accessible source of information than the manual: http://www.cyberstratege.net/wiki/solium/index.php/Main_Page
    It’s gone up recently so it’s not completely filled out, but we’re working on it as much as we can.

  26. Tim Ward says:

    Re: the AI, I was actually pretty impressed with it. It’s probably one of the better ones out there for turn based strategy games. Not that it’s exactly up against stiff competition.

    The fact that SI is so structured probably helps.

    • Kakksakkamaddafakka says:

      I think the main problem with the AI is that it’s not very good at understanding what kind of build you’re using.

      If you’re a high ranking fiend or even just an aggressive fiend, you’re bound to win, it’s as simple as that. The AI isn’t smart enough in the early game (capturing places of power and movement planning), or just can’t handle aggressiveness very well (at least not in my experience). I’ve played something like ten single player games, and I won every single one of them with ease (the last couple of games I didn’t even finish as I constantly had three to five times more prestige than fiend number two).

    • Tim Ward says:

      Yes. That has been my experience. An aggressive fiend is a walkover, a deceit one is a rich and challenging experience.

      The solution, of course, is not to take a fiend with a high rank or martial skill and enjoy the game.

    • Kakksakkamaddafakka says:

      Well, I never play martial builds, so that’s out, and to be frank, not using points on your rank is silly (so is purposely not going after cantons or places of power in the beginning).

      The solution, in any case, is playing with other people.

    • Tim Ward says:

      It is no more silly than not taking combat picks against the AI.

    • Shon says:

      In the game I finished today against all-AI opponents, I was ahead by 50 prestige at one point. The next turn the other demons had a vote on whether to excommunicate me. That became a challenging game real fast when I was made an outcast.

      Oh my devil, I had no idea right-clicking organized your tribute. Cripes.

      I did hit some sort of tribute cap today where they said I had too much tribute and couldn’t have any more. oops.

      I tried the demo and wasn’t crazy about it. It was the AAR reports here on RPS that showed me how the game could be played. Arena fights and stealing items completely slipped by me with the demo. Once I realized how freaking deep this game is, it has become one of my favorites.

  27. Phil says:

    I really enjoyed the demo of SI, despite its limited scope, and went to buy the full game, expecting it to be $15-$20. When I saw it was $30 I was genuinely shocked, and cancelled my purchase.

    I disagree that this is a niche game because it’s a complex turn based strategy game. The Total War series is, at least in part, a complex turn based strategy game and I haven’t heard anyone describe that as niche. I picked Empire up for $25 three months after release. The Total War games are much prettier than SI too, and while graphics aren’t everything, they do help to convey an impression of quality (to me anyway).

    • Funky Badger says:

      Maybe that $5 discount voucher Vic so kindly presented will now allow you to put your money where your mouth is…

      …$30 is what, £15 in real money – that’s less than a decent feed for 2 in Burger King…

    • Phil says:

      @Funky Badger. I’m not saying I can’t afford $30. I’m saying it’s more than I’ve paid for similar, more professional games, so feels overpriced to me. You may have a different opinion, that’s fine.

      $5 off $30 is $25. That’s still at least $5 more than this game feels worth to me. And yes, it feels a bit silly to be still holding out on the game for an amount as small as $5. But that’s how I feel.

      I did revisit the demo of Armageddon Empires last night as it’s primarily a single-player experience I’m looking for and I was hoping that might be a better bet for me than SI. But despite reading the manual first to ensure I had a good feel for the rules, I didn’t feel that that was a $25 game (let alone a $30 game) either.

      I agree with the commenter above who said he thinks Vic misunderstands who his competition is. I enjoy turn based wargames with complex rules and the way SI and AE play appeals to me. But I enjoy other games too. The competition for SI and AE is not just other games in the same genre, it’s all other games.

    • Mikeuk_3 says:

      @Funky Badger. $30 is not £15 in real money.
      Even with the $5 discount, once you add VAT and use bmtmicro’s punitive exchange rate, you get to £19.66.

  28. Alex says:

    Ya weird. Why the animosity? $30 is not much to spend for most people. He’s smart to hold on his price and stay with the niche that wants to pay that. Why should shiny graphics = value?

  29. Tim Ward says:

    The fuss about the price is quite an interesting demonstration of perceived value. Solium Infernum is twice as good as most games currently sitting on a shelf for full price, yet people seem uncomfortable paying half or two thirds that ?

    Of course, the real problem is what it doesn’t have is expensive production values, thus it seems ‘cheaper’ than some EA title.

    Maybe Vic should get an animated and unskippable Cryptic Comet logo which plays when the game starts? That’s gotta add at least £5 to the value, right? Then, a CGI into which features a demon looking out from his tower, cut to a CGI battle where some monsters hack each other up and incinerate each other with magic fire, then cut again to a ritual being performed, then again to a scene in the Infernal Conclave where people argue generically, then a big animated SOLIUM INFERNUM logo. That’s gotta make it worth at least £10 more. Then make the menu animated, another £5 and get ride of those unprofessional concessions to user friendless like the windowed mode. The game’s not even “indie” any more, and you can spend £30 knowing you’ve made a quality purchase.

    • AVarotsis says:

      I think you severely underestimate how cheap RPS readers are. I suspect most of us abuse Steam sales, and thus, get our games for under ten GBP. Also, if I want any chance of enjoying SI, I need to assure at least 2-3 of my friends buy it.

    • Chiller says:

      @Tim: Utterly brilliant! You, sir, should look into getting a job in the games industry, since you understand how everything works already. I applaud thee.
      Also don’t forget size, the above mentioned CGIs won’t do NEARLY as much good if they don’t bring the game up to the industry standard of 4 to 8GB.

  30. Chris D says:

    I may not have studied economics but I’m pretty sure it’s Vic’s prerogative to charge whatever the hell he likes for something he made. It’s your prerogative not to buy it if you don’t want to.

    • tekDragon says:

      Here 1 point to you, Captain Obvious.

      Is it OK with you if I explain why I dont want to pay the price he wants to charge and clarify my position if there are misunderstandings. Post your e-mail so I can contact you the next time. FFS.

    • Chris D says:

      I think there’s a difference between saying “I don’t want to pay this much and here’s why” and what some people were saying which was essentially “Vic is being selfish/unreasonable/stupid for not dropping the price to a level I want to pay.” Some people seem to have a sense of entitlement that they should be able to pay whatever they want for any game.

    • Mikeuk_3 says:

      I want to buy this game, and although £20 is a little more than I usually cough up for something like this, I’m prepared to pay it.

      However, I only want to play this with people I know in real life, and the majority of my friends balked at even the discounted price. As a result, there’s no point me getting it on my own.

    • Kakksakkamaddafakka says:

      Did anyone actually say that Vic was any of those things?

      I think a lot of the people most active in the SI-comments has already bought it (hell, I tried the demo for a whole twenty minutes before I caved in). What most people are talking about is having other people to play with. See, not everyone instantly falls in love with SI, and no matter how many excuses people come up with, $30 simply is steep. Yes, we, the people who already own the game, knows it’s worth $30, but that’s not the point. The problem is that it doesn’t look or feel like a $30 game from the outside (unless you’re a seasoned strategy player) , and that means fewer players, and pretty much no luring friends or non-hardcore players in. As it is now, I’ve recommended the game to everyone I know (that have a certain chance of being interested), and every single person has been very enthusiastic until I mention the price. Suddenly they’re not even interested in trying the demo.

      It is not about what the game is worth or what Vic deserves. It’s about getting other/more people to play the game, no more, no less. Of course, nobody wants this to be a problem for Vic economically, all we’re saying is that if there’s a possibility for the same income, but with a bigger player-base, then go for it, because to be frank, I think both Vic and most people here have a limited view of how big SI potentially could be. It’s not that obscure. Not by a longshot.

  31. Exonomist says:

    I blame Steam weekend sales for this mentality.

    Oh, and something of substance from another indie developer, Jeff Vogel:

    How Many Games I Sell
    Indie Games Should Cost More, 1
    Indie Games Should Cost More, 2

    • tekDragon says:

      @Exonomist: Agreed that steam sales in general have probably altered the thinking of many prospective game buyers.

      Perfect example, Psychonauts went on sale for $2 today. At that price I pick it up for a rainy day without thinking about it.

      Those blog posts are great, and very interesting… however it’s dificult to make the transition to this game because the poster writes involved single player RPGs. Great. I buy it at $28 and I get FULL value. In the case of SI, I buy it at $30, and I *have to* convince 4-5 additional friends to do the same to get full value. It’s that extra effort/cost that make people balk or hesitate at the $30 price tag.

    • Psychopomp says:

      You do not have to convince friends to buy it anymore than you do with TF2 or L4D. Hell, unlike those, it has a hotseat option.

      I feel I should point out that the cost of a “full” game of Dominions 3 is $1,260.

    • tekDragon says:

      I have no interest in playing this game with strangers. How is that not clear. I’m not the only one for who the idea of playing an extended PBEM session with random dudes is completely unappealing. Seriously, it’s not rocket surgery.

  32. FunkyBadger says:

    Phil: completely your perogative to pay what you think a game is worth and no more (£50 was too much for MW2 for me, for example, but was happy with £30) . I tried the demo, liked it, wanted to find out more so bought it. Don’t mind if I never get round to multiplayering, happy enough with my purchase. I’m not going to try and argue the developer into the poor house on the basis of my valuing though (not that you were, but others were).

    As an aside of little interest, I thought Solium was MUCH easier to pick up than AE – I suspect this is mostly due to the excellence of the Collective’s work.

    Mike: give it a week or 2. ;-) (Point is, for a more mature audience – presumably where the game is aimed – £20 is not a lot of money)

  33. Muzman says:

    I don’t know much about these sorts of games , but the mechanics of insults/demands and respect for rules amid bastardry seem nicely ripped from feudal history.

    There might be a few like this with all different sorts of settings for all I know. But does the setting of SI liberate players from any need to be nice or honourable that they might feel if they were playing people instead of demons, d’ya think?

  34. sendmark says:

    Yes it’s his right to charge what he wants, but also the right of others to comment on that price. I objected to the price at first but eventually folded with the $5 dollar discount and the RPS diaries which completely sold it.

    After playing it I do still feel it’s priced too high, unless there’s going to be more free expansions and content added I would avoid buying another at this price point. It’s difficult as on the other hand, I wouldn’t want the designer to feel forced to churn out more stuff for free like a content factory or to chop his price when he’s invested so much into it himself.

    • FunkyBadger says:

      “..but also the right of others to comment on that price….”

      This, I think, should be up for debate.

      I guess the “too rich for my blood” type comments are perfectly fine, its the “yeah, he should totally take up *this* arbitrary pricing structure I just thought of” type that are a bit annoying.

  35. Psychopomp says:

    Let’s take this to the logical extreme

    TF2 isn’t worth $480

    L4D isn’t worth $400

    Raiding isn’t worth $150 a month, minimum

    Quake wars isn’t worth $640

  36. Eldoop says:

    How is it that the hotseat option has escaped so many people’s notice?

  37. Anthony Damiani says:

    I’m disappointed, because it looks interesting and worth checking out, but a game with those production values simply is not worth $30 to me. Thus I feel disappointment and frustration; I want to play the game, but, on the other hand, many many other games that reflect far greater amounts of work and creative energy are available for considerably less.

  38. G Morgan says:

    I’ve read, carefully and with interest, those comments which claim that 30 dollars for SI is not a good deal, and I still cannot understand the arguments. It’s a good game. It’s fun. And, as a strategy game, it will provide more “fun hours” than just about any other game genre you could hope to spend money on.

    So what’s the objection? $ per Fun Hour seems to be the only real measure of a game’s worth, and SI (like most strategy games) is a steal. All of this hand-wringing about ‘art budgets’ and ‘indie-ness’ just misses the point entirely.

  39. theleif says:

    It might be of interest to point out that for a European (Swedish) this game doesn’t cost 30$. After VAT and exchange rates it costs 40$ without the discount. I only have one friend that i could convince to buy the game at that price. And this game needs friends. Preferably 5 of them.

    And i agree with people saying that the size of the niche for these games are underrated, and that sales would increase a lot if the price was lower (say 20-25$). That is, of course, just based on my own preferences. But i know i would buy it straight away at that price range. That goes for other “niche” strategy games as well. I would have bought the whole Matrix catalog by now if their prices where in that area. As it it now, I’ve only bought 2 games from them.

  40. hart says:

    This thread makes me angry. I’m not sure why, but it does.

    Unfortunately for Vic, he has most certainly made a game that is worth $30 USD.

    The problem is that a fair amount of people aren’t willing to pay that much for any game, let alone an indie/niche dev thing like SI.

    It isn’t a matter of “worth” or “value”. It’s just the bizarre perceptions people have of what they can afford to spend – on anything.

  41. origo says:

    Well, 30$ seems a fair price for me, but this everlasting disscusion made me remember game diablo, whitch had and option of installing ‘spawn’ version of the game – to join hosted mp games.
    Basically here comes a thought – why not make and try selling mp e-mail only versions for 10$, with option to upgrade it at some point later.

  42. Mr.Vandal says:

    OMG I only got through about half of the thread but this is starting to piss me the fuck off. Seriously everybody always bitches and moans about how video game companies have become corporate and how nothing good comes out anymore cause companies are too scared to take chances and how everything is always geared towards the masses. Than a guy makes an amazing game that is anything but a safe bet and you bitch about the $30. You even go to attach his character for fuck sakes go program a game half as complex as SI and see what you would want to charge for it. And if video game companies get away with charging $60 for pieces of shit like far cry 2 or any other number of shitty games that have come out in the past why the hell should he not get $30 for something that is actually good. Seriously people listen to yourself and stop being such fucking wankers.

    • kalidanthepalidan says:

      This.

    • brog says:

      Vic also gives awesome customer service. Last time I emailed him about a (fairly minor) bug, he replied within half an hour, and released a patch which fixed the issue the next day.

    • Johnny Go-Time says:

      Absolutely agreed with Mr. Vandal. I didn’t know who Vic was 2 weeks ago, but now I admire the hell out of him and hope that Cryptic Comet becomes wildly successful.

      Alas, I can’t afford the $30. I have to live within my budget in order to guarantee continued food and lodging for my 2 kids and wife; I didn’t buy MW2, Dragon Age, or a PS3 for the same reason.

      I don’t resent Vic for setting SI’s price point beyond my reach any more than I resent Rolls Royce for pricing the Silver Ghost out of my range. Having said that, if either of these products comes down to $10, I will certainly pick one up (and probably bully 5 friends into it as well.)

  43. Hentzau says:

    Anonymous Coward said:
    The last 3 I bought, Chaos in the Old World, Hour of Glory, Fury of Dracula, all cost around £40 each.

    Sorry, are you trying to confirm or refute what I said? Because when you factor in little things like “different currencies” and “the exchange rate” £40 works out to $65 – more than double the price of SI.

    Incidentally, boardgames are ruinously expensive for what they are, but I’m prepared to pay that price because I understand they’re a niche product that can’t defray the expenses of production over millions of purchases. Much the same principle applies here.

  44. undead dolphin hacker says:

    I love Vic, bought the game sight-unseen, and while I didn’t regret giving him the money (I’m definitely looking forward to his Roguelike-whatever), I don’t like the game in the least.

    The game seemed like one that’d only be fun if you played with (friendly) rivals. The AI can’t do that, so single player sucks. Signing up for random matches doesn’t really make it much fun either.

    IN SHORT, it’s a board game that, imo, picked the wrong medium for its design. It really should have been a physical board.

  45. Mark says:

    Have to agree with tek on the price issue. I’m itching to play the game with friends but the price is too high for several of them to take a punt to find out if we can actually all afford the time to play it or if it’ll really be fun. I have it myself but I feel it’s probably not the same playing against randoms and i’m missing out on the fun described in the battle-reports here on rps.

    Really needs to be a group discount somehow. It is very hard to get people to tip over the fence and buy it at $30 a pop. These people aren’t going to buy it at that price point and only know about it because of their mates, if they got it cheaper it is not like they would have bought it at full price anyway. I’d ask Vic to look at the sales pulled in from weekend steam sales, these are great for getting cheapasses and fence sitters or i’ll-take-a-punt-on-this-’ers to cough up. Anyone who is willing to pay more who comes into contact with the game afterwards will still pay a higher price.

    I see both sides of the argument here but things are being swayed off course from the real issue (i.e. would more people be able to enjoy the game and Vic make more money if it was priced differently?) by a gang of people that like to feel they are leet and hardcore cus they paid $30 for an “indie” game. You’re not cool and hardcore for buying it and neither am I – Stop trying to bully people because you don’t like the idea of others being able to buy into the same leet club for less than you paid.

    The $30 entitles you to play the game, it’s not the membership fee to a holier than thou indie game nerd society.

  46. Yen Zambarano says:

    Superb design I have been looking for something like this, amazing work chaps.

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