Part 2 – Combat, factions, mod tools
FiringSquad: How did you come up with the idea of Kingdoms vs. Empires, and how do the two sides differ?
FiringSquad: How’s the combat? Do you just throw armies at each other and the biggest one wins, or is there some tactical depth?
Brad Wardell: There’s tactical [depth]. You can have auto-resolve if you like, if you don’t want to have tactical battles. You can have your army face another one and it’ll just do the calculations and figure out who should win. Or, if you want, you can zoom in on the map and actually take turns with each of your units versus their units casting spells, maneuvering for the better terrain, that sort of thing, and battle it out.
FiringSquad: The auto-resolve, is that more fair? Sometimes auto-resolve is not good option at all, resulting in a worse outcome than if you played the battle yourself.
Brad Wardell: Yeah, in our experience, it comes out pretty similar. It’s not exactly the same; sometimes the AI does a better job than the human would do because they can crunch a lot faster than a human does.
Typically, the reason why auto-resolve in other games falls apart is because the spell stuff opens up all kinds of cheat tactics, so we’ve been really trying to be careful about what kinds of spells that create, effectively, ways of playing the game that the computer never would have thought of.
If anything, we get complaints from people saying the auto-resolve does better than they do. It’s usually because players often don’t take advantage of the terrain as well as the computer does.
There’s always this tendency [in strategy games] to have one technology tree; we really wanted to have two really different ways of playing the game. And so, when you play as the Kingdoms, it feels more like you’re building up a government, whereas when you’re playing as an Empire, it’s really more about building up great people. I guess the best way to put it is that the Kingdoms are nations of laws and the Empires are nations of men, individuals. So the way they play comes across as fairly different.
FiringSquad: Do the individual races and factions have their own variations in gameplay beyond aesthetics?
Each one plays a little different; they get their own special abilities, some of them have their own special units, some of them have special city improvements and that sort of thing, and they do look different, too. They play about as differently as, say, the Drengins and Arceans in Galactic Civilization or the Mongols and the British in Civilization, that kind of thing. If they have the same allegiance, if they’re both Kingdoms, they play fairly similarly, but they have different twists on them.
FiringSquad: Elemental is shipping with a lot of integrated mod tools. What are they and what are they used for?
The game comes with interactive tile editors, which is the big thing. As far as I know, I’ve not seen a game that lets you literally create a tile. So, I can literally start with a blank piece of ground, and I have a pallet of buildings and rocks and trees and creatures and all kinds of stuff that I can put on there, and then save that tile. Then I can go make a map and use those tiles – the map [creator] is also built into the modding tools.
From within the game, using Impulse Reactor, I can go and trade these mods back and forth with other players. So they can also make their own quests, factions, technology trees, and in fact our campaign that comes with the game was made from the mod tools.
With Impulse Reactor I can, without even leaving the game, go through the catalog of mods people are playing and pick and choose which ones I want and put them on my machine.
FiringSquad: Are there any limitations with the mod tools, or could you basically create an entirely new game?
Well, with our included mod tools, you’re modding Elemental, but in terms of what people can do with modding in Elemental, oh yeah, you can totally do anything. I know that because I’ve been working on my own little Ultima IV remake for fun. *laughs* I won’t release it because I’ll get sued, but yeah, you can make a very different game without ever touching C++.