“Blindness” Caused Elemental Release “Fail”

By John Walker on September 3rd, 2010 at 2:46 pm.

It looks quite nice from here.

Stardock’s Brad Wardell has given an extraordinary mea culpa in response to the furore surrounding the release of Elemental. Posting on the official Stardock forums, he explains that he doesn’t think people have yet to “fully realize the completeness of Stardock’s fail on Elemental’s launch.” He goes on to say that, “Elemental’s launch is the result of catastrophic poor judgment on my part.” The problem, he says, is not one of having released unfinished or buggy code, but of the development team having lost sight of the game, of “blindness”. It’s a fascinatingly honest comment, and one that must surely affect so many teams after years working on a game. Wardell has gone on to write more on the subject, while still on his holidays, here. In it he explains that there will be no new Stardock game next year – just more Elemental content. He promises more on this matter when he gets back to a proper internet connection.

You can read the original comment below. Don’t forget Kieron’s thoughts on the game, over here.

(I’m up north on vacation typing on an extremely slow connection so bear with me)

I don’t think people yet fully realize the completeness of Stardock’s fail on Elementa’s launch.

I’m going to write more about this but not only did we think v1.05 was ready for everyone but we felt v1.0 was too. That’s the level of disconnect/poor judgment on our part we’re talking about.

If the game had come out in February, it would still have been a disastrous launch because lack of time wasn’t the issue. It was blindness, sheer blindness. We felt the game was finished. And I speak of v1.0, not v1.05. Blindness.

There will be massive consequences for Stardock’s game studio. I’ll be talking more about this when I get back. But the game wasn’t released early. The game was released poorly. Head in the sand syndrome imo. I’ve read the reviews as much as possible given my hideous internet access up here and I agree with them. We just didn’t see what they were talking about. We thought any complaints would be about polish points or something.

The point is, the issue here is far far worse than many of you think it is. I wish it was an issue of the game being released too early. That’s an easy thing for a company to “fix”. Elemental’s launch is the result of catastrophic poor judgment on my part.

EVERY competent software developer knows that the programmer must never be the one deciding whether the program is done. Yet, my love of Elemental broke my self discipline and I began coding on the game itself in vast amounts and lost any sense of objectivity on where the game’s state was. I normally only program the AI on our games so I can keep a level of distance from the game itself to determine whether it’s “Ready”. On Elemental, I was in love with the world and the game and lost my impartiality.

We’ll do better.

__________________

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123 Comments »

  1. Skinlo says:

    Fair play, I can’t see many CEO’s admitting that.

    • bob_d says:

      Heck, most CEOs in the game industry aren’t aware enough to correctly analyze what’s happened, much less be honest about it.

    • Hallgrim says:

      Would be nice if he explained all this to his tech support/customer service department. I’m getting a complete run-around from them, trying to get even 75% of my money back.

    • Hallgrim says:

      If Wardell every talks to RPS to try to do some damage control, it would be nice if you asked him why his preorder customers are being held to the “Impulse credit only” refund policy since it has been > 90 days since the purchase was made, even thought the game has been out for less than a month.

    • Coillscath says:

      More to the point, he spoke in regular English rather than lawyer speak.

    • Colton says:

      This makes me love Stardock so much more then I’ve ever have. It takes a lot of courage to admit something like this to yourself, let alone your friends, co-workers and general public.

    • Hallgrim says:

      I don’t get it… how can you “love” a developer that 2 years ago lambasts other developers for releasing shoddy products, and then twice in a row releases multiplayer games that effectively have no multiplayer in them for substantial periods of time after the game is released? At least for Demigod the multiplayer was bugged, for Elemental it is DELIBERATELY missing, yet still mentioned in advertising.

    • Ignorant Texan says:

      You can ask the same question of a spouse on the receiving end of any abusive relationship.

    • BAReFOOt says:

      @Hallgrim & Ignorant Texan: You’re obviously not very wise people.
      There are two kinds of people. Those who admit their failures. And those who don’t.
      But all people make failures. No exceptions!
      I’d rather go with the person who at least admits and learns from them, than the sneaky ignorant sleazebag who thinks he’s an infallible god who can trick us all if he covers it up well enough.

      Maybe you will thank others sometime, when you’re the ones who did something wrong. Although, considering your nicknames and comments, I don’t think you’re grown-up enough for it.

  2. nabeel says:

    Here’s some more from Brad up in his holiday shack.

  3. Max says:

    Perhaps someone actually taking responsibility for their poor judgment of a game’s quality is what Broussard’s cryptic flying pigs were foretelling?

  4. Ignorant Texan says:

    This should be given to bands as to why you shouldn’t be the one(S) tomix your music, writers as to why you be the one to edit/proof-read your writing, etc…

    I hope the ‘massive consequences’ don’t include sacking the entire staff for his admitted fuck-up, though.

    • Starky says:

      Indeed, as someone who spent a brief time working as a sound engineer (well a technician actually, 2 years on minimum wage while studying) it often shocked me how bands/singers could no hear how bad a mix sounded. Drummers always wanted to be “punchier” in the mix, and would start playing too hard to achieve this, ruining whole takes. Singers were the worst, very few had any sense of how loud they should be compared to the music – a point that is proven by almost every pub/club singer in the country, they are almost always too loud. Often to the point of feedback, clipping and distortion.

      Most of the time we ended up sending them out of the room.

      Those few that could listen objectively to their own work were amazing to work with, and more often than not the most talented because of it.

    • Ignorant Texan says:

      In rereading his mea culpa, I notice he sure uses ‘we’ a lot. Somehow I get the feeling that if you wanted to remain employed at Stardock you had to follow Keitel’s advice to Zeitzler “Never contradict the Fuhrer. Never remind him that once he may have thought differently of something. Never remind him that subsequent events have proved you right and him wrong’. Anybody who has worked for a tyrannical boss should be able to relate. So, it’s all their fault, his mistake was in listening to them. I imagine he is going to sack most, if not all, of them.

    • sneetch says:

      I don’t see it that way, I don’t see him going into a massive you screwed up cycle that results in the team being fired: he says “we” not “they” so he’s speaking of Stardock as a whole and not distancing himself from the decision, he even says “Elemental’s launch is the result of catastrophic poor judgment on my part.”

    • Ignorant Texan says:

      I hope you’re right. I just thought the ‘we’ looked suspiciously ‘magnanimous’.

    • Penzilla says:

      Actually, as a writer, you know about “Author’s blindness” pretty much from the first time you start to seriously write something. It’s one of the most basic levels of professionalism.

      Why this does not seem to apply to 99.9% of the gaming development cycles past the year 2000 ( also around the time people stopped taking risks and making nutty games like Giants, MDK, EWJ, etc pp ) is rather un-understandable to me.

    • Ignorant Texan says:

      Penzilla -

      You’re right, as my mom and a number of girl-friends have been professional writers(i.e. been able to support themselves by writing). I included writers to pad the original post, though the mention of musicians, while anecdotal, is on much firmer ground.

    • FunkyBadger says:

      Penzilli: the vast majority or writers – actually, make that people who write – have zero concept of critical distance, and take any criticism of the work as a personal affront. You’re right, it’s the first barrier to professionalism.

      (As an aside, the AAA studios are much better at project management than independants – at least the medium sized indies. The RPG world’s notorious for awful project management as well. Its not suprising that the few companies that do things properly make all the money)

  5. Bossman says:

    They should have just listened to the beta testers. Everyone said that the game wasn’t ready for launch.

    • Freud says:

      I think the whole beta testing process is for the most part broken these days, with too much of a focus on testers wanting to play a cool game early and developers trying to attract early adopters and create buzz.

      Ultimately, you get what you pay for.

    • Archonsod says:

      Not only were the beta testers never given a full version of the game to test, but simply because it has a few bugs doesn’t mean it’s not an enjoyable game.

      Daggerfall is the same, ridden with bugs and a lot of missed potential. Still ended up playing it for years.

  6. MeestaNob says:

    I’m convinced this guy is bipolar.

    He goes from telling everyone they’re wrong and should bugger off and never buy his games again, to admitting “Yeah, it’s shit aint it. My bad.” within a week.

    Save the company from him, someone.

    • Nilokey says:

      I woudln’t call that bipolar, unless you think every mistake someone makes then corrects themself is a sign of a mental disorder that is highly destructive and hurts you bad?

    • Snall says:

      Seriously, you’ve never yelled at someone who said some shit to you and then later realized YOU were the asshole? I applaud your luck in life.

    • qrter says:

      To be fair, that was just one comment and he was severely sleep-deprived at the time (working on the day zero patch). I’m not saying he shouldn’t have made that comment, it was stupid, certainly – but I’d focus more on the comments he now makes, after having had a bit of rest and some time has passed.

    • Shagittarius says:

      Only fools never change their minds.

    • JKjoker says:

      i doubt he is Bipolar, he probably just read the sales number of the week (cue the infamous “The Fall” clip), i guess its better than just ignoring it and keep playing stupid like other publishers

    • Nick says:

      I seriously think you don’t know what bipolar disorder is.

  7. Mr Chug says:

    What’s the point of beta testing if you’re going to ultimately ignore the cries of ‘unfinished’? Did nothing go wrong when they played it themselves? Did they not imply that they knew the shipped game was unfinished when they had a patch ready on day 1?

    Of course the developers alone cannot be the authority on whether their game is ready, any more than publishers eager to push the game out for a deadline. A responsible dev tests the crap out of their games before releasing them.

    • ascagnel says:

      Pride, hubris, and selection bias.

      Pride & hubris come from games like GalCiv II. GalCiv I had a pretty disastrous launch, and was plenty buggy and “off” on release. Stardock had too much hubris, and too much pride in their work, to believe that they’d ever do that again, believing they had learned their lesson.

      As for selection bias, this is a bit trickier. They had an open beta (open to all pre-orders). Having already put down money on the game, most of those playing the beta were more likely to rate the game high. Review readers and advertising also is based on this spin of selection bias — car ads are hugely expensive and have little overall impact on sales, but increase owner satisfaction substantially and help improve the number of repeat buyers; similarly, people often read reviews of games that reinforce their opinion (either of games they’ve played or they’re about to play) and cry bloody murder when a review is posted that doesn’t meet their standards (see: Jeff Gerstmann’s review of Twilight Princess).

    • FunkyBadger says:

      Just because a tester has an opionion doesn’t mean it should be followed.

      A lot of testers will come back with “make it blue” or “make it green”. The trick is then for the designer to interpret the feedback, not just blindly follow it.

  8. myros says:

    I have to say – based on the straight talk by Brad Ive put this game back on my buy list. Not quite yet, but once he works out the issues and improves the AI I think it will be worth the purchase.

    Normaly if a game launches and gets this much bad press/bad reviews its put on my ‘avoid at all costs’ list but I think I’ll break the tradition for Ele. If he follows through on these nice words of course :)

    • SanguineAngel says:

      Yeh ditto, he’s displayed a remarkable humilty and honesty and i find it an entirely honourable approach. provided he sticks to his guns here.

    • Archonsod says:

      Stardock generally do. Gal Civ II was a horrible mess at launch too, and they fixed that up a treat.

    • LionsPhil says:

      PR damage control: success!

    • Dlarit says:

      There is light at the end of the tunnel for anyone who has already jumped in too

      from his blog today:
      “Elemental’s original release schedule was to have the first release (War of Magic – Book 1: Relias) and 2 expansion packs (Book 2: Cerena and Book 3: Magesta).

      What we’re going to do is that for users who own the game by a certain date will get (at least) the first expansion pack for free as a token of our appreciation for hanging in there with us. As some long-time Stardock gamers can tell you, our expansion packs aren’t minor things”

  9. Chris says:

    Harsh, Meesta. One comment on an internet forum made under a lot of pressure and promptly apologised for is not “telling everyone they’re wrong.”

    Taking ownership of what everyone knows was a disaster rather than trying to spin it away takes some serious cojones. How many big developers would do the same? Cut the guy a break.

  10. Tei says:

    He need to rewrite parts of the gameplay, and make his mind about what the game will be, and fix all the brokenes towards that goal.

    He need to priorize what needs to be done, because there are work for years*. Elemental is now less complete, than the day the proyect started. He has to undo a lot of bad code and bad decisions.

    He needs to clean his forums from fanboys that troll people making critical or just tecnical problems.

    He needs to clean his own company, rebuilt it, use the amazing skills of his people in a better way. Maybe Elemental don’t deserve all the money that will be dedicated to it, but hell.. his is own company, so he sould know what he is doing.

    He needs to manage to transfer to the game, what he thinks he have in mind and supposedly is awesome. Even if that is make the game less like MoM. His is game.

  11. Okami says:

    I’ll take Wardell over the legions of faceless and spineless corporate developers out there any time of the day. Glad to hear that he acknowlodges Elemental’s problems (which really are manyfold) and promises to work on them. I don’t regret paying full price for the game, eventhough I won’t play it again for some weeks and wait for some fixes.

    • Starky says:

      To be fair there are not many faceless spineless corporate developers at all…

      You’re thinking of faceless spineless public relations/marketing people.

      Most of the actual Dev’s for the big companies don’t get to say anything that isn’t pre-scripted by said marketing automatons, and if they do they risk losing their jobs.

    • FunkyBadger says:

      I bet the weasels manage the Halo launch better than good old boy Brad managed, mind.

  12. Rich says:

    “EVERY competent software developer knows that the programmer must never be the one deciding whether the program is done.”
    cough-Dwarf Fortress-cough

    • Jeremy says:

      Oh definitely, definitely yes. Bring in an objective source for DF, someone who is gifted in organization and streamlining, and DF will expand in quality 10 times over.

    • Enekk says:

      I know people love to hate on the way Dwarf Fortress is developed, but I honestly think that he does a remarkable job given his background, low budget, and lack of staffing. This would actually be an interesting conversation, how do Indie developers of all sorts fit into this framework and does the need for separation mean that all small time outfits can’t create quality work (I’m especially thinking of music here, does this mean that guy in basement can’t make good stuff)?

    • Rich says:

      One guy in a basement can make quality, but he has to show a lot of discipline. I’m not sure the guy making Dwarf Fortress is all that bothered at actually finishing the game. Or at least I hope he isn’t, because at this rate he’ll be dead before he even gets close.

    • Rich says:

      All it would take would be one other guy in the basement, who knows how to organise things in order to reach something resembling a first release. Iterative improvements are allowed, but perpetual alpha releases are just silly.

    • Jeremy says:

      @Enekk

      I don’t want to sound “hatey” about it, and the low budget thing is mostly a non-issue since gads of talented people have offered their service for free. It’s not about budget, it’s about him not wanting anyone else getting their grubby hands on his code. This is the issue I have with it, and if it was sincerely a matter of budget, I would be far more understanding. In the end it doesn’t matter what I think though, because he is doing something he loves, in the way that he loves, and getting paid to do it :)

    • Ignorant Texan says:

      That’s kind of the point of DF, isn’t it? That it will always be a work-in-progress?

      Reminds me of friends who’d spend years working on one album. I always was more of ‘Fuck it, it’s as likely to get worse then better, on to the next on’ type. Both extremes have their strengths and weaknesses.

    • Dozer says:

      DF isn’t like most games – it’s not being made for the benefit of the users, it’s being made for the benefit of the creator. If thousands of other people can enjoy it and talk about it on forums and click the ‘Donate’ button on his website then that’s a great byproduct but nonetheless a byproduct.

    • Ignorant Texan says:

      Dozer -

      You have done a much better job of making the point I was attempting to make. Just as the objects other artists make are just mile-markers in an artist’s proceeding through life, DF strikes me as a master-work. It will be finished when he stops working on it, whether by abandonment or death.

    • jaheira says:

      “DF will expand in quality 10 times over”

      10 x 0 = 0.

    • HYPERPOWERi says:

      @jaheira: http://bit.ly/950xPY

  13. qrter says:

    Looks like you day-one-purchasers will get a free expansion pack, according to mr. Wardell, in that same thread:

    I think, for starters, the first expansion pack for Elemental – Book 2, will have to be given away for free to the people who already bought the game.

    In my mind, that’s a START. So, anyone who sticks with is going to get at least one free expansion pack out of it. And it won’t be some piddly “look, it’s a new campaign”. Think Dark Avatar level expansion.

    • Delusibeta says:

      Actually, I read that as “We’re going to release the first expansion for free, for people who buys the game, regardless of when they bought it” (as in the TF2 updates).

    • qrter says:

      @Delusibate

      I think that’ll be the only realistic way to do it, actually. I mean, how is Stardock supposed to know about retail preorders, for example.

  14. Sobric says:

    Interesting stuff. Well done Brad, very open and honest. I’ll still wait on some sort of “gold” edition of Elemental though, somewhere down the line where it is more complete.

  15. Burningpet says:

    As i already said in the game’s forum, shortly after the fiasco with Demigod, brad did exactly the same thing.

    He took the justified blame for the failure on his own, as he came to realise that the netcode StarDock programmed, not the pirates nor the broken street date, was the main responsible for the failed launch, and then promised to not only fix the game, but also to vastly expand on it.

    by admitting to the faults, he gaines the respect and credibility to actually fix the game, prevent alot of refunding applications and gains overall good P.R, and maybe even a few new buyers who thought that the game has potential that just needed some fixing.

    The first time i was impressed, but when the same thing happens twice, including the whole self enlightment thing, its stops to impress and starts being pathethic.

  16. rocketman71 says:

    Much much better this time, Brad. Congrats.

    Now give your customers what they need.

  17. riadsala says:

    Why can’t he be like this all the time?

    • Ignorant Texan says:

      I’m sure he is. Both the raging asshole and remorseful asshole. Like a dad who beats his kids in a drunken rage, then buys them ice-cream the next day to make things better.

    • Heliocentric says:

      Two scoops, one of free expansion and one of a year of free support. I’m still staying away until these things actually happen and meaningfully.

  18. Latro says:

    Brad seems to be, at the end, an OK guy, not perfect, but fundamentally not bad.

    And Elemental his clearly a very personal project for him, and he made several bad calls on this, probably related to that personal interest and stake.

    Not precisely the most professional (not in the bad sense, just in the “best practices on how to run your company projects”) way to act, but again, he sounds like… well, a passionate gamer and game developer, who makes mistakes due to that passion. Hope he learns to manage it, to keep the passion running under a cool head for steering it.

    • Jeremy says:

      Agreed, he is a very typical “passionate” personality type. In some ways though, I appreciate that aspect of what he does, because that means in the end, he won’t tolerate a bad game. He might get a little crabby about the criticism, he may fire off a few zingers here and there, but in the end, he seems to face the facts. Honesty, even the ugly parts of it, is way better than bs PR statements :)

    • Dawngreeter says:

      If you thought that bad words meant physical abuse and good words meant hugging, would you, on average, be a sane reader?

    • Latro says:

      I get carried over by rage and then have to apologize for being an asshole roughly every 2-3 years, some times worse and I think I’m an OK person. Not a saint, not Charlie Manson :-P

    • Archonsod says:

      I get overtaken by rage and simply kill all the witnesses. It’s quicker.

    • psyk says:

      “If you owned a tiger that was either biting your head off or purring like a kitten, would you say that, overall, it was an OK tiger?”

      Yes it’s a tiger

  19. panther says:

    Great to see a CEO take responsibility

  20. TCM says:

    TBH, I knew he’d do this, it was just a matter of him getting out of the studio and looking at his baby as it was.

    Still good to see I was right about that, though — dev blindness can be devastating to a game’s quality. Especially since, oddly, many devs aren’t all that in touch with the current state of the industry. The first step to curing it and avoiding it is to admit that you have it, I think.

  21. Kyle says:

    This kind of thing is, basically, why I will always buy Stardock games.

  22. Vinraith says:

    I’m glad to see Brad and Stardock taking responsibility, acting in humility, and promising (as I thought they would) to work on this one for a long time. Ultimately, this kind of thing is why I like Stardock and companies like it. I’ll take a company that releases an ambitious and complex broken game, admits that, fixes it for free, and goes on to add content and generally support the hell out of it to most of the AAA houses that release just-good-enough code and never touch it again any day of the week.

  23. RQH says:

    A bit melodramatic, eh?

    I just hope he means the “there will be massive consequences” bit as in “our actions have produced consequences and we will accept them and deal with them as needs be” and not as the self-flagellation it sounds like (“Look! To prove how sorry I am, I’ve chopped off my own hand! Will you forgive me now?”)

  24. Sorbicol says:

    If you’re gonna self flagellate yourself in public then don’t hold back will you Brad?

    Still at least he’s admitted it. Bet his wife wants to take his laptop and ram it up his arse though.

  25. Tom says:

    Well atleast this whole fiasco has reminded me to give Gal Civ 2 another spin, the great game that it is.

    As for Elemental, Kieran summed it up for me: “I can’t tell if I’m doing well”

  26. abhishek says:

    All this tells me is that I should not buy this game any time soon. They screwed up once with Demigod and I gave them the benefit of the doubt back then and kept the game instead of returning it. Turned out the game died very soon afterward. But now that they’ve gone and done it again, I know better.

    As sincere as he sounds, it seems to me that the game was rushed out to beat Civ 5 to the market, and not because they mistakenly thought it was ready for release.

  27. The Sombrero Kid says:

    I always try to take comments like this at face value, especially knowing how this blindness can manifest itself, everyone experiences it a bit but in some people it can be hugely destructive.

  28. Freud says:

    With this out of the way, hopefully everyones lust for blood is satisfied and Stardock can focus on trying to get the game into shape.

    I am going to let others be guinea pigs on this one, but my interest in this game is still there. It’s just hibernating.

  29. Nobody Important says:

    Man, at least it will get fixed. I’m STILL bitter over the broken mess that was Killzone 1 on the Playstation 2. The online got a patch, but the studio never owned up to that sodden mess of a game and the single player to this day is still a buggy, blurry, half-finished travesty.

    It’s a shame, too, because there’s a fun game in there somewhere.

    I’m glad someone owned up to their mistakes. It’s far too rare in gaming.

    • jonfitt says:

      For me it’s Wipeout 1 on PC. I saw this great game on PSX and wanted to play it on my PC. However it was the worst of ports: textures popped up from nowhere, there were gaps in the tracks, and it was no fun at all.

      Oh that and Frontier: First Encounters.

  30. Farewell says:

    I’ve spent a lot of time with Elemental since it’s release and I’ve had fun. The biggest issues I have with it currently is that hero units are too weak, the spells are dull and you’re given little incentive to maintain large cities. But these are issues the developers are aware of and I have no doubt they will do something about it. Even if they can’t do something, it should still be possible to change most of them with the modding tools.

    The game might be too incomplete to recommend right now, but it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on future updates.

  31. jonfitt says:

    I’m glad that Brad is the type of guy to realise his mistakes and take the time to rectify them.

    I still like Stardock, and am confident that one day Elemental will be the game it should be. I’ll buy it then.

    On another note, it’s great that the current online games press managed to save many people from buying a not finished game. If this had been a few years ago, most people would have found out about the state of the game when a magazine came out a month later, and many people would have bought it in the mean time. Thanks Tom, and thanks RPS.

  32. Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox says:

    Well, I’m glad none of MY games shipped like that!

  33. pkt-zer0 says:

    “In my mind, anything less than “game of the year” (in a year with Starcraft 2 and Civ V in it) means we totally screwed up.”

    Uhh… yeah. That still doesn’t sound all that grounded in reality.

  34. SiSenor says:

    1. Someone put up skyscraper sized letters, namely O R L Y and a ?

    2. Isn’t the whole point of having a normal user base exposed to the beta-product to avoid this very idiocy?

    Then again, looking at how little user suggestions were taken and how many hindrances were left in games like HOI 2 even after 5+ patches and not modified until a third party went and actually looked at the crap that went wrong and released their own standalone modified take on it.

    Maybe someone should realize that you need a lot more player connect in the development process.
    Any average human being that won’t put up with an interface that makes him click more than a monkey on crack cocain would help reduce most of the last 10 years’ biggest blunders in terms of interface, and anyone with less than 9 dio’s eyesight would have told the devs of stuff like Kane&Lynch 1+2 to f*ck off.

    Users, gamers, players, CUSTOMERS. Maybe ask these people what they actually want and think of the stuff you’re trying to sell them.
    It’s a nutty, over the top idea, I know, but hey. Maybe indulge the crazy, just for once.

  35. raskolnik says:

    I’m very impressed by this. It was the previous attitude, that those of us who were pissed at its state on release were seeing things that weren’t there, that led me to get a refund (and I can’t recall ever doing that on a game before).

    Still, this amount of contrition is all the more significant because of it’s rarity. This restores my faith in Stardock, so while Elemental may not ever live up to its potential, at least they’re learning from their mistakes, so hopefully the next one will.

  36. sneetch says:

    I was hugely enthusiastic about this game when I first heard about it (the article had the words “spiritual”, “sequel” and “Master of Magic” in it) but terribly disappointed in the “finished” product. Not just in the bugs and the lack-lustre AI but the general lack of fun and the absence of a feeling that this game is something special. When it’s working fine it’s just kinda dull. The combat is dull, the factions are very samey, the spells are samey, the technologies don’t seem to really give you anything all that amazing.

    I should have just played Master of Magic (again).

    I’m quite willing to forget all about this and pretend the game is still in development for a couple of months. I’ll check back after they bring out a major patch or two and just ignore it for now. I hope they can deliver something special in the future.

    • Zenicetus says:

      “The combat is dull, the factions are very samey, the spells are samey, the technologies don’t seem to really give you anything all that amazing. ”

      In fairness, the same could be said about GalCiv2, which turned out to be a well-respected game in spite of a very generic sci-fi setting that didn’t really perk up until the last expansion. Tech trees where the only three lines are lasers, missiles, and mass drivers, isn’t exactly the height of creativity in game design. Nor was the very generic design of the alien factions (reptile bad guys! evil robots!), or the impenetrable origin story for the factions, and the way Humans got involved. Wardell just isn’t a creative person on that level. He’s even worse as a writer. For example see reviews like this one posted earlier, for the companion book to Elemental: http://www.unamommer.com/?p=109

      On the plus side, GalCiv2 ended up being a good series anyway, especially after the tech trees were differentiated in Twilight of the Arnor. Wardell should really be hiring good writers and staying out of everything but AI programming. And wasn’t there talk they were doing that? What happened?

      If Elemental actually has a good core game engine…. which I’m still not sure about, vs. ideas thrown together and hoping they’ll stick… then there is at least some hope that the modding community can eventually brighten up the game world, and make it more interesting. It’s the strategy mechanics that will ultimately make or break the game.

    • Sarlix Wester says:

      I just clicked the link and the first quote from the book I saw was:

      ‘His hair had been styled as well; it sat high and magnificent on his head’

      rofl

      Some of these quotes are gold, I’m having a riot.

  37. Sören Höglund says:

    I don’t think the “massive consequences” will be lay-offs. Given that he acknowledges the problem is “blindness”, it sounds more like an overhaul of the development process.

  38. Peterkopf says:

    Even with all the glaring flaws, I’m still having fun with Elemental.

    There’s no doubt that it’s a mess all the way from citybuilding, to combat, to the world generator, and especially the total lack of any kind of tutorial, but the concept is still furiously great. I get annoyed when a map doesn’t lend me any sort of opportunity, or I can’t divorce my dead wife, or when a battle just glitches out and kills my megaton army, but when you aren’t running into those things, it’s still very enjoyable.

    I haven’t come across anything so broken that it couldn’t be fixed thus far, it’s just gonna take a lot of time and effort to get it together. Obviously Wardell completely dropped the ball, and should’ve kept it in the oven for a year, but I haven’t regretted my purchase.

    I have faith.

  39. Kurt Lennon says:

    Lucky he managed to get a big pile of money before admitting his game is an epic failboat.

    I bet it’s easy to be humble when you’re vacationing on questionably obtained income.

  40. jalf says:

    The reactions here are amazing.

    Gotta give Wardell one thing: the man is clearly a genius at PR.

    Not many people could get away with releasing a game in such a ridiculously messed-up state, and then through a single forum post, have everyone not only forgive it, but actually praise him and express their confidence that the game is totally worth buying.

    Wow…

    It doesn’t occur to anyone else that he might be saying these things *because it’s better PR than doing nothing*, and not because he’s goddamn Jesus come to save the games industry?

    • Sorbicol says:

      Actually I think you’ll find the man is a total dufus at PR – I suspect his PR people are probably getting ready to hand in their notices en mass. The initial post that RPS commented on – him telling someone to F off and not buy his games if he didn’t like it – isn’t the mark of a PR savvy person, more like a “passionate” individual who cares what people think of him and his games, but hasn’t got the common sense not to react to it in a public forum.

      Fair play to realising that they totally screwed this game up and promising to sort it out though. Something EA, Ubisoft, activision, THQ etc wouldn’t do even if hell froze over and the deveil entertained them in a ra-ra skirt.

      I think you’ll find most people will probably buy the game once the fixes are out. Not before. Personally I’ll be using Civ V to good effect to see me through it.

    • Sorbicol says:

      Actually I think you’ll find the man is a total dufus at PR – I suspect his PR people are probably getting ready to hand in their notices en mass. The initial post that RPS commented on – him telling someone to F off and not buy his games if he didn’t like it – isn’t the mark of a PR savvy person, more like a “passionate” individual who cares what people think of him and his games, but hasn’t got the common sense not to react to it in a public forum.

      Fair play to realising that they totally screwed this game up and promising to sort it out though. Something EA, Ubisoft, activision, THQ etc wouldn’t do even if hell froze over and the devil entertained them in a ra-ra skirt.

      I think you’ll find most people will probably buy the game once the fixes are out. Not before. Personally I’ll be using Civ V to good effect to see me through it.

  41. Jimbo says:

    Countless games have been killed by the developers being too close to their own project. More often than not the problems with these games are very simple and immediately obvious to anybody who plays games. You don’t need to be a developer to see them or to offer a possible solution, and the only reason the developers themselves often don’t see them is because -as he says – they have been blinded by being so close to their own project.

    I think that some studios should consider having a small group (10-20) of unpaid, independent gamers involved with their project from early on in development right through to release. I’m sure there’d be no shortage of volunteers, and let’s face it, there are plenty of us who have at least as much game experience as your average developer – the only difference is that they can turn an idea into reality and we can’t.

    The problem with not getting any outside input until beta is that by that stage it’s generally far too late to go back and change core mechanics – see APB, CXL etc. etc. A lot of the major problems with these games could have been picked up far earlier in development – even when they were still on paper – just by running them past a group of gamers who have no vested interest in pretending everything is fine when it isn’t.

  42. MadTinkerer says:

    What surprises me is that he did programming for the game. Most CEOs don’t, and I used to think that was a bad thing. Having worked on a couple (student) projects myself, I understand all too well how knowing all the details of the machine behind the curtains can blind you to what’s actually happening on stage.

    Evidently what Stardock needs is constant playtesting by outsiders, the way Valve does it.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      To those who are still hating: Guys, it’s not like this hasn’t happened before. It was basically the downfall of Bullfrog and Origin Systems, two of my favorite developers who have now long been vivisected and the organs integrated into the Faceless EA Machine like that one Doctor Who episode where the spaceship decided the crew was appropriate replacement parts.

      The ego thing? That happens in game development. It happens to the people with the best intentions, and in fact the better intentions the worse it can be. I managed to avoid such a pitfall by keeping my own ego firmly in check and keeping various industry horror stories in mind. But I’ve seen it happen to whole teams and it’s essentially a byproduct of Wanting To Make The Best Game Ever, rather than a particular character flaw. Too much early success will do this to anyone.

      That Stardock have a chance to turn this around is a good thing. They just need to change their development style to one where people who have an objective viewpoint can give feedback before it’s too late. I look forward to (maybe) grabbing Elemental when they fix it.

  43. Biz says:

    lol

    rushing to release before civ 5 launches is the real reason

  44. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    It’s good he’s spoken out and admitted it wasn’t ready. And, well, at least it’ll be less likely to happen next time, right?

  45. Trin says:

    I sort of want to buy the game now – it’s hard to imagine any other studio head saying this, let alone pulicly.

  46. Freud says:

    Shacknews claims layoffs have started at Stardock. Shame to see it.

    • Archonsod says:

      Hmm, According to Brad they wanted to run a second games development team. Gal Civ III delayed for a year then?

  47. b0rsuk says:

    It would be interesting if someone would try a new approach to (free) beta testing. Preorders apparently don’t work – selection bias, you won’t get many objective people that way. So I have another idea:

    1. You pay for beta access, then
    2. You get your money back at the end of the beta provided you act like a decent beta-tester: provide feedback, reports, test also unfun stuff instead of just playing. You could even get more than you paid if you were good.

    • JKjoker says:

      how about they hire proper testers instead of going to fanboys (the ones more likely to be willing to waste time and money in an unfinished game and preorder before reading opinions) who will not give them an unbiased view and stop using beta testing as a marketing gimmick ?

    • b0rsuk says:

      JKJoker:

      I don’t know how you can say hired beta-testers would be unbiased. They’d be on the paycheck.

  48. Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox says:

    Well, there might have been a couple of launch issues with the Rome one. And EU3. And HOI3. But I basically learned my lesson after that – oh right, right, Vicky 2. The thing is, we are well on our way towards learning our lesson on this one.