Gamasutra is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
October 27, 2021
arrowPress Releases
If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

Stardock's Wardell On  Elemental 's Strategy Game Engine Power

Stardock's Wardell On Elemental's Strategy Game Engine Power Exclusive

September 1, 2009 | By Chris Remo

September 1, 2009 | By Chris Remo
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

Stardock's 2010 release Elemental: War of Magic is a turn-based "4X" strategy game in a fantasy setting, a spiritual successor to Simtex's 1994 cult classic Master of Magic.

But the Michigan-based developer has a secondary goal with the title, beyond the main game event: an entire engine specifically built around the strategy genre, aimed at allowing modders or even other developers to create full-scale strategy games of their own.

"Most games in the past few years have been developed with engines like Unreal or Gamebryo. But there aren't a lot of game engines made for strategy games, which have very different requirements," Stardock CEO Brad Wardell told Gamasutra.

"There's a real difference between a 3D engine made for a first-person shooter and a game that is made for strategic zoom," he continued.

Strategic zoom refers to the feature that allows players to smoothly zoom in and out between enormously varying levels of scale. According to Wardell, the feature, which first appeared in Stardock's Galactic Civilization 2 and Gas Powered Games' Supreme Commander, is "not just cosmetic."

"Our engine couldn't be used for first-person shooters, but isometric-type maps in 3D -- that's what it's made for," he explained. "It's specifically designed for level of detail."

Elemental makes use of a level of detail system paired to its zoom feature that swaps out different models and textures as the player moves from examining individual workers at ground level up to viewing whole continents, at which point the perspective blends into a flat 2D "cloth map."

That will be available to modders, who can import their own custom 3D models from 3ds Max or Maya to make their own strategy games. They can create all the intermediary versions of the models and allow for a game scalable across a broad variety of system specs -- or bypass the scaling system entirely if they don't have the development bandwidth to make all those extra assets.

(To drive the performance issue home, Wardell was demonstrating the remarkably smooth scrolling on an aged IBM laptop with an integrated graphics solution. "And it's not even optimized yet," he noted.)

Every level of the game -- with the exception of the core engine code itself -- is moddable, including all of the game's units, assets, and particle effects, as well as the Python scripting that drives the game logic.

"The game mechanics are done with Python, so if you're a Python guy, you can actually make a total conversion. Someone could make Civilization V with this," Wardell said, then laughed and added, "Hopefully not."

Players can even create high-resolution PNG files from their maps and dungeons to print out and use for tabletop strategy games or RPGs, a feature inspired by the Campaign Cartographer software Wardell used to use in his Dungeons & Dragons-playing days.

Similar to Spore, players' custom creations can be uploaded to the cloud and accessed by other players, although in the case of Elemental, such content is selected by players from a shared community rather than being randomly seeded into their games.

"Stardock's development schedule is kind of tapped for the next several years, so even if this game is a huge hit, we're probably not going to get to do a sequel of it right away. So what we want is to make it so that the players can make it keep going," said the CEO.

"My gut tells me Elemental is going to be bigger than anything we've ever done," he went on. "But I could be wrong. Who knows, right?"

Related Jobs

Sanzaru Games
Sanzaru Games — Foster City, California, United States

Senior UI Artist
Sanzaru Games
Sanzaru Games — Foster City, California, United States

Tools Programmer
Monomi Park
Monomi Park — San Mateo, California, United States

Senior Game Engineer
Iron Galaxy Studios
Iron Galaxy Studios — Chicago, Illinois, United States

Senior Software Engineer

Loading Comments

loader image