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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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