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Interview: Stardock's Wardell On  Elemental: War of Magic
Interview: Stardock's Wardell On Elemental: War of Magic Exclusive
November 4, 2008 | By Chris Remo

November 4, 2008 | By Chris Remo
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

After last month's teasing of an untitled turn-based fantasy strategy game referred to as "Not Master of Magic," developer and publisher Stardock has announced Elemental: War of Magic, planned for release on PC in February 2010.

Elemental is developed by the team behind Galactic Civilizations II, and consists of a single-player campaign component, matchmade online games, and a "persistent universe mode."

During a visit to Gamasutra's offices in advance of the announcement, Stardock CEO Brad Wardell pointed to numerous other PC titles that have had an influence on Elemental.

"There's stuff in Civilization that we've taken; there's stuff from Master of Magic, Heroes of Might & Magic, Risk, Populous -- you name it," he said. "I have no shame when it comes to borrowing and being inspired by other games."

Despite the range of influences, however, the game owes perhaps the most to the Simtex-developed 1995 cult classic Master of Magic, whose official rights Stardock repeatedly tried to acquire from owner Atari.

"Some years ago, Atari approached us because we had talked about doing a fantasy strategy [game]," Wardell recalled. "We made an agreement, then their legal people killed the deal in terms of everything that was required."

"They wanted to own everything we made -- well, we're not going to do that. But we still wanted to make our own fantasy strategy game. We had our own ideas of what we wanted to see in there."

That game became Elemental, which Wardell would only specify has been in development for "a long time" -- in fact, it also has roots in the company's long-in-development massively multiplayer RTS Society, first announced in 2005.

Wardell told Gamasutra that Society is still in the works, but it is years away; Stardock adjusted its schedule for the game considerably after determining the amount of infrastructure necessary for such a title. In the meantime, its engine is helping to power Elemenental.

That engine allows the game to ship with native support for both 32-bit and 64-bit systems, taking full advantage of the latter. As with all of Stardock's games, it is targeting low system requirements, but also features an engine that dynamically scales performance to the number of CPU cores on a given machine.

As more cores are available, says Wardell, "the world just becomes richer. In the most extreme sense, this engine's been designed as such that at the lowest end with a really old machine, you can play almost with icons. But at the high end, you can zoom in and see squirrels running around in the trees. It all depends on your hardware."

Stardock is even toying with the idea of taking advantage of 64-bit machines, which allow in excess of 2 gigabytes of RAM, to support "huge, epic maps -- I mean, truly epic," Wardell noted.

"People play campaigns in Dungeons & Dragons in the real world that last for years. We could do that with 64-bit. We couldn't do it with 32-bit because you can't make the landmass that big -- that's been a big memory limitation," he claimed. "If someone wants to play a game that lasts for three years, who are we to stop them?"

The game also integrates mod support directly into the main interface, meaning users can easily upload their own custom maps, races, technologies, and buildings; those mods will then be added to a central server to be seeded into users' games. "We ourselves use the same system [as the users]," Wardell said.

"After Spore, it probably seems a lot less original," he added, laughing. "But we had the idea before Spore."

Stardock hopes to open a public beta for Elemental, for which initial screenshots are now available, by June 2009.

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Trent Polack
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Matt D
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Hah, I too learned many things from Master of Magic. It's a shame that legal rights to old classics ruin their chance for revival.

Vicente Cartas Espinel
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This made my day. I have been waiting for Stardock to take over MoM forever!

Sean Parton
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"If someone wants to play a game that lasts for three years, who are we to stop them?"

That worries me. I hope it'll be possible to play the game in a shorter span of time without the game feeling neutered.

Brad Kavanagh
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If Sins of A Solar empire is any indication, I don't think Stardock would abandon or overlook the importance of supporting the short-game, too. I can't say much about their other titles as I haven't played much of them, but with Sins, they give you the option to play with 7 planets or 700.

Obviously there are hardware limitations that cap the player's freedom eventually, but Stardock gives the player total control in creating the game they want to play. If someone wants to have a 6-month game with 4 of their friends, it's possible to do so. Playing a shorter game obviously limits the amount of units, technology, and space you will aquire, but it never felt neutered; you just have to use different strategies.

Trent Polack
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A three year game is by no means a requirement. We're making this game to be as customizable as possible as far as how a player approaches the game. We're designing this game to work as both as a single-player and multiplayer title and, in most cases, people will want to play a multiplayer match in one less-than-three-years-long sitting.

So, no, we're not going to force gamers to sit through decade-long games. Unless someone wants to do such a thing.