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Interview: We get Stardock's Brad Wardell and Derek "Kael" Paxton to talk about Elemental

When Elemental: War of Magic was released last August, it got a few solid reviews including one here at Big Download. However everyone was in agreement that the turn-based strategy game from Stardock was released too early and suffered from bugs (many of which were fixed in later patches). Stardock CEO Brad Wardell pledged that Elemental would be supported with more updates and expansion packs no matter the sales or reviews.

Today Stardock took one big step forward in its future support for Elemental with the announcement that Derek "Kael" Paxton would be joining the team as senior producer. Paxton is known as the leader behind the popular Fall from Heaven fantasy total conversion mod for Civilization IV. Big Download got both Paxton and Wardell to answer some questions about this latest development for the game,
Brad Wardell

First, the issues surrounding Elemental's release have been well documented by yourself and others. Why did you feel you needed to hire a new person to take over the game's overall development?


This past Spring I took over as interim Producer on Elemental once it became clear that our project management structure on the games side of the company wasn't sufficient to handle a game as ambitious as Elemental. Making a game with a half dozen developers like we did with Galactic Civilizations or The Political Machine is a very different animal than one that involves three times as many people.

Moreover, Stardock is a lot bigger than it was when Galactic Civilizations came out and it didn't take long to conclude that we really needed a seasoned project manager who also knew games.

Why did you decide that Derek was the person you wanted for the position?

The challenge was finding someone who was both qualified as an enterprise-grade project manager who was also a serious PC gamer. Luckily, I had been friends with Kael for awhile and he was the perfect candidate to succeed me. Many gamers know Kael's extraordinary design and development abilities from the Fall from Heaven mods. What they don't know is that he has years of enterprise project management experience.

You will still be be the AI programmer for Elemental. What will your main efforts be like in improving and adding to the AI in the game?

My particular programming expertise is writing multithreaded computer AI. Unfortunately, on Elemental's initial release I didn't get to spend as much time as I wanted to because I was spending so much of my time as the interim-Producer – tweaking text, doing code review, updating schedules, managing requirements, etc. Internally, I've already had the opportunity to largely rewrite the AI as a purely multithreaded construct – I have threads that go that are not turn dependent but the equivalent of the human player looking around thinking about things they should do. I would never have had the opportunity to delve into that if I was having to also be the Producer on the game. A fantasy strategy game has the unique potential of letting the AI be a sort of dungeon master type entity.

You have said in the past that Elemental is Stardock's prime focus for the rest of 2010 and into 2011. Does that mean there will be no other games released by Stardock in 2011 that won't be Elemental-related?

In the near-term, our plans are to roll out version 1.1 which make substantial changes to the way the economy works, the computer AI, combat, and the magic system.

Do you still plan to take a few months off to do some mod work for Elemental and Civilization V?

I still plan to take a sabbatical at some point. My first priority has to be to make sure that our customers are satisfied with what we create. Next year will be Stardock's 20th anniversary as a company and the reason we've done so well over the years is by sticking to things until we get them right.

Finally is there anything else you wish to say about Derek's appointment and plans for the future of Elemental and Stardock?


We're very excited to have Derek join us. I think we're going to be able to create some great games together.

Derek Paxton

First, for people who might not know you, can you give us a little about your background in gaming and mod making?

I'm a huge fan of turn based strategy games, so much so that I created the Fall from Heaven mod for Civilization IV. I was fortunate enough to gather a group of talented artists, writers and designers from the mod community to work on that game. Fall from Heaven is a dark fantasy strategy game and listed as #2 in PC Gamer Magazine's 'Top 200 Reasons to love PC gaming' (http://www.computerandvideogames.com/article.php?id=21399) and is the world's most popular mod for Civilization IV.

How did Stardock approach you on becoming a producer on Elemental?


Brad is a friend and a fan of my prior work. He invited me to meet with him and his staff at Stardock and we spent the day discussing gaming and Stardock's dedication to making Elemental great. It didn't take much to convince me to join the team, it's an incredible opportunity and excited to be able to work with the talented people at Stardock, and to help make Elemental great.

While Elemental has gotten some good reviews, everyone agrees that the initial version was released too early. Do you think your efforts as senior producer will be able to grow the game's audience and sales?

I think that Stardock is devoted to making Elemental great. I will contribute toward that goal, but I don't want to take anything away from the Elemental team that has been, and will continue to be, improving Elemental. My goal is to create a consistent vision for the final version of Elemental that is flexible enough to respond to feedback and ideas. Then to create an implementation plan that builds toward that vision while making sure the game remains playable and fun throughout.

As for growing the audience and sales, if you make a great game I believe everything else takes care of itself.

What can you tell us about your plans to update Elemental with free patches as well as expansion packs?


I will wait until I have the opportunity to start working with the team at Stardock before I make any plans along those lines.

Before being hired at Stardock, you announced plans for a stand alone game based on Fall from Heaven that was later put on hold. With your new position at Stardock is it possible that your Fall From Heaven game could be made at the developer?

While it's true that I do plan to develop a stand-alone version of Fall from Heaven, at this time I want to focus on making Elemental the best strategy game possible.

Finally is there anything else you wish to say about being hired by Stardock and working on Elemental?

I don't think many companies would continue to invest in and hire for released games like Stardock has. I'm excited to work on Elemental, I love the vision but we need to work on the implementation. But more importantly I'm excited to work with a company that isn't satisfied to release a game that they aren't 100% happy with. I think that is rare in the games industry, and as a designer and player, I'm excited to be associated with them.

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