Summary: JCal talks to Stardock boss Brad Wardell about the upcoming expansion pack to their hit 4X strategy game.
FiringSquad: First, the critical and sales reactions to Galactic Civilizations II have been solid. Did you anticipate such a reaction when the game was first released?
Brad Wardell: Definitely not. Everything we had planned on was based on a projected linear increase from what happened during Galactic Civilizations I.
Way back when GalCiv I came out, Master of Orion 3 was new and a lot of people were anxious for space-based strategy games. So the success of the first game had taken us by surprise. With Galactic Civilizations II, there wasnít that situation so we did not think there would be the kind of mass-market demand for a space-based strategy game.
FiringSquad: The game has also been a champion of sorts against the modern copy protection schemes that most PC games have. Do you think the success of the game will get more publishers to rethink such copy protection programs?
Brad Wardell: Yes, I think weíve already seen some results from that, as game companies have started to move away from such draconian copy-protection methods.
I have always wondered who, specifically, makes the decision at the typical game publisher to include intrusive CD copy protection. Iím a greedy, evil, corporate bastard capitalist. The decision not to have CD copy protection was not based on some sort of kumbaya. It was based on being a gamer; every gamer I know uniformly will choose to pass on games that they are on the fence on if thereís CD copy protection.
Some games that I must have Iíd be willing to provide DNA for in order to play, but most games donít qualify for that. I know Iíll lose the CD at some point or damage it so unless I really must have the game, Iíll pass on it if it requires me to have the CD in the drive. And if the game is installing stuff onto my machine to make sure Iím not ďstealing,Ē that narrows what Iíll buy further.
But the bottom line is that we are certain that CD copy protection costs more sales than it gains through ďpreventing piracy.Ē Gamers ó particularly people who buy games ó resent being treated like criminals, and it affects their purchasing decisions.
If I thought that a retina scan would increase sales, then you can be assured that a GalCiv III would require it. Not having CD copy protection has definitely helped our sales.
FiringSquad: Dark Avatar has the player controlling the bad guy aliens this time out. Is it more fun playing the villain?
Brad Wardell: Villain? The Drengin are just misunderstood. If conquering and enslaving people is a sign of villainy well then I donít want to know what non-villainy is. In the Dark Avatar campaign, you take on a faction of the Drengin Empire, the Koranth, which is bent on not only enslaving the universe, but exterminating all of the races that inhabit it ó that desire to take it a step further puts the Koranth at odds with the rest of the Drengin Empire.
FiringSquad: What are some of the more interesting content additions in Dark Avatar?
Brad Wardell: Different parts of the team have their own favorites. Iím really into writing computer AI so my favorite parts have to do with allowing players to essentially design their own opponents. To me, being able to keep the computer opponents interesting and challenging over the long haul is absolutely crucial.
But other parts that people here are really into include the asteroid fields, which exist primarily for mining resources around planets. Another part that people like a lot here is that planets now have environment requirements, which means that you canít necessarily colonize all of the planets immediately, but instead may have to research a specific type of environment before colonizing.
Brad Wardell: The biggest lessons will probably be in the graphics area. The GalCiv II engine was so new that the graphics team was very conservative in what they did with it. With the expansion pack, theyíve started to make the most of the new engine and as a result the ships and such will look a lot better.
FiringSquad: Galactic Civilizations II just had a new patch which added more robust mod support. What sort of mods would you like to see people make for the game?
Brad Wardell: Iíd like to see people make mods that allow them to play the game in substantially different ways. Iím a big Civ 4 fan and Iíve seen mods for Civ 4 that let people do some amazing things. Iíd like to see mods where the game itself is significantly different to play.
FiringSquad: You are making a decision to make Dark Avatar an Internet only download purchase, despite solid retail sales of the main game. Why was this decision made?
Brad Wardell: The main reason was marketing; we wanted to keep our retail message very straightforward: get Galactic Civilizations II. We also felt that while the game has done great at retail, about half our actual revenue has come from digital downloads and when one adds in the cost of getting into retail and doing the appropriate market development for a strong retail push, digital downloads provided the best return.
FiringSquad: Will there be any chances of a beta for the expansion pack before its release?
Brad Wardell: Weíre still thinking about that.
FiringSquad: Overall what is the status of the expansion's progress and when will it be released?
Brad Wardell: Our goal is to have the game out this Fall Ė before Christmas. Things are moving along pretty well; I will have my work cut out on the AI. I am currently working on Galactic Civilizations II v1.3 which is a free update and then will move on to doing my part on the expansion (I code the computer AI). The ships and asteroids and other goodies are really pretty cool.
FiringSquad: After Dark Avatar, what are Stardock's upcoming plans? Will we finally learn more about your free MMO game Society?
Brad Wardell: I hope so. The biggest challenge at Stardock is building up the team size. We have the budget, we just donít have enough people. The GalCiv II team will be moving more to Society next year but we also have to get The Political Machine 2008 done in time for the next Presidential Election. We also have a fantasy turn-based strategy game we want to do, as well, so we have to figure out how many people we have to put on which projects and go from there. Society (www.societygame.com) is something we really want to make, but you can imagine the team sizes involved on that.
FiringSquad: Finally is there anything else you wish to say about Galactic Civilizations II: Dark Avatar?
Brad Wardell: Sure. One of our big goals for this expansion pack is to do things a bit differently than one usually sees with expansion packs. Itís not about adding some new units and the like; itís about really taking the gameplay to the next level. We want to introduce enough new gameplay concepts that will greatly extend the gameís lifespan for players. To put it another way, I didnít want to have to wait for a sequel or something to get this stuff in; some of the features are really exciting. Being able to design your opponents, for instance, seems so obvious in hindsight that there was no way we were going to wait until some future sequel to do that; itís too compelling. Hopefully gamers will feel the same way.
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