Ascendancy was one of the earlier 4x strategy games released on the iOS, and was certainly no stranger to the community. For those gamers who are not in the know, Ascendancy was originally released in 1995 to much critical praise. However, they seem to have fallen off the face of the planet with no subsequent releases, and then with great surprise Ascendancy was unleashed unto the Apple App store.
The moment I had a chance to interview these mysterious legendary developers, I jumped on the chance. After a forewarning that they like to keep things close to the vest in terms of projects in development, I was able to coax a few tid bits of information out of the gracious Mr. Todd Templeman, Logic Factory’s CEO. Here is what he had to say…
SS: First of all congratulations on your excellent port of Ascendancy to the iOS market, which I hope has brought your team much success.
Todd: Thank you very much. We’ve been thrilled with the fan response, great press reviews, and being selected as a Staff Favorite by Apple. Things like that are just a fantastic boost for the team.
SS: According to my knowledge the Logic Factory is the only company in existence since the Golden Age of 4x strategy games, is the original team still intact or have there been some changes? Did you guys have to resort to other careers to support yourselves, or took really long vacations? =)
Todd: There have been many changes along the way, but the original designer, director, and lead programmer was and is my brother, Jason Templeman, and we’re still working hard and chasing some pretty long-held dreams. The truth is, we’ve been at work the entire time, but we made a promise to ourselves some years ago to not brag about work in development and stick to the truism that it will be done when it is done.
I will definitely admit to you that we expected to have more products out, built on our Hydra gaming engine, sooner, but we refused to accept any kind of circumstance that would compromise development quality, and we’ve held onto a kind of faith that it was the right call and will be born out in our products. Like many other developers, we knew that the business system was a wreck, totally broken, and we worked as hard and as long as we could while watching to see when it would change. There was absolutely no question that it would, and now it has.
SS: Ascendancy was released originally for PC back in 1995, why has there been no PC sequel in the 16 years between then and the iOS port? Then why did you decide to forgo pc development in favor of the iOS platform for your entry back into the market?
Todd: The answer to the first part of that question is pretty much the same. We have had a passion for games since the days even before we fell in love with computers on our Apple II+s. There are elements to gaming and game design that are timeless, but there are also things that only became possible over the last ten years. We’ve spent a long time in R&D and on design, and we had hoped much more of our work could have been released before now, but the encouraging thing is that we focused on those aspects of our game creation philosophy that could not go obsolete due to increasing performance benchmarks in the hardware.
As to moving to iOS, the truth is we have always been fans of Apple. There was just a long span of time there where the PC market was so dominant that developers had to make that, or consoles, their focus. But as Apple started releasing Intel based Macs, and then the first iPhone came out, you couldn’t walk through the studio without hearing our guys talking about what a dream these new devices were. They just loved the design, and then they loved the system they kept hearing about that Apple was providing developers, both in terms of working environment, tools, and organization, and for distribution and payments. It was a fair deal all around. At one point we knew that they had handed us the opportunity we had always asked for, right on the proverbial silver platter, and to not take advantage of it would have been insane.
SS: When do you generally believe that Ascendancy will be in the most complete state you feel it should be as a developer, and what is the most challenging aspect of getting Ascendancy to that point?
Todd: I can’t answer that question because it gets into specifics of what the team is working on right now. But I can tell you that we have had a long wish list, well, really, a set of individual wish lists, with Jason controlling the master one. There are features that will easily fit into this version of the game without changing it too fundamentally. Okay, I will share some examples. We have already added long-range ship ordering and a ship design library to this version.
These were features that, in hindsight, we would have liked to include in the original game, and we’re thrilled they are in the iOS version now. One feature we hoped might make it in to the most recent update was build queues. That and several other updates will make it into this version. But at one point we will say, “Okay, there may still be twenty things we’d love to do, but we also have taken it so far that those twenty things are better held for the real sequel.”
In fact, there has been some discussion that when this version reaches a form of completion, it might almost be fairly called Ascendancy II. But we aren’t going to do that. It will be what it is, and that might represent the perfect opportunity to port it to other platforms as it will be in a finished state. I’d say the most challenging aspect of getting there is really a matter of resources. The better this version of Ascendancy does in the market, the more quickly we can provide updates and put Ascendancy II into the completion and art phase of the pipeline.
SS: For those not on the iOS platform, can you give any assurance as to which platform(s) you will support? Any additional enhancements or a direct port only of the complete iOS version?
Todd: I’m afraid I really can’t. Much of it depends on what happens in the global hardware markets. We may end up being exclusive on iOS for all time. But we have always wanted our games to run on every viable platform out there. If it makes sense and we can get a port done at top quality without eating up the development team’s time, then there’s no reason we couldn’t see Ascendancy and future products operating on PCs, Macs, Android devices, and even consoles for that matter. But that can only happen when port teams are truly a viable resource. We’ve heard too many nightmares about so-called simple ports, moving to a platform that is deeply fragmented in spite of lofty assurances, to take the risk of sending our core creative team down that black hole.
SS: Do you agree with critics of the original about the unchallenging AI, and excessive micromanagement especially with larger empires? If you do, how have you overcome them with the latest version and do you feel there is still room for improvement?
Todd: Well, the customer really is always right, because their honest opinion is what we need to know. But, no, we don’t agree with some of the way certain criticisms are put. At the time the original Ascendancy released our competitors were making AI challenging by doing one thing: allowing it to cheat obviously and outrageously, because it was too incapable competing with humans otherwise. What I will admit is that we did not accomplish everything we had originally intended for the original AI.
Our dream goal at that time was to develop a genetic algorithm based artificial intelligence within our breeder programs. I have since seen this darwinian AI operating in our test beds and am thrilled about it. We’ve been working for a long time on AI and cannot wait to show you what we’ve come up with, but that does not take away our pride in Ascendancy as it originally launched from day one. The game was never meant to be solely about total force and domination, although that is of course a perfectly valid way to play it.
There are multiple victory conditions and pathways to accomplishing things that have less to do with total domination and more to do with achieving a state that could be analogous to what we hope the galaxy may actually presents as an option some far off day. But I’m about to get way off into a tangent that tends to lead away from games, so I’ll just rein that in right now. As to micromanagement, that’s why we have the optional auto-manage feature for planets and for the tree of knowledge, and the optional auto manager for space combat, too.
You will do a better job than will some backwater governor you tap to handle management for you, but the job will still get done. We are going to improve the decision-making you can get from the auto-governor in some ways that will also fit fictionally, but one truly can set the vast majority of their planets in a large empire to either auto-manage, or to focus on one of the three planetary directions available (scientist takeover, endless party, or alien hospitality).
SS: What did you take as inspiration for the original idea of Ascendancy other than being SCIFI fans? Your company is basically the only one to remain during the golden age of 4x strategy games and was released around the same time as great classic like Master of Orion, Space Empires, etc.. yet delivered a product with its unique take on the genre.
Todd: And now your allowing me to let go of the reins completely! Thank you for that question. We do feel we have created a unique take on the genre. If you asked us what we could possibly hope the ideal customer reaction to our game would be, it would be that it was primarily fun, but also somehow a real game design that offered a glimpse into that desire we all have somewhere inside of us … a chance to truly explore and discover the universe, and all the impossible variety it likely holds.
One reason we didn’t put humans into the game is because we did not want our own judgments and preconceptions to influence the feel of mystery we hoped to achieve. And when I say real game design, I’m not trying to knock other genres, which are of course just as real. But RPGs and adventure games all have to struggle with meshing linear story lines into their game environments. In 4x gaming, unless you get into campaign design, it is wide open and up to the gamer to make the story of any given game unfold.
That’s the key thing about games that no other form of entertainment can offer. And some of our games in the future will have more adventure and story elements than we’ve shown so far, but we are committed to exploring that area of design that stays driven by the enjoyer. Beyond that, Ascendancy was very specifically influenced not only by our own gaming experiences and love of SciFi, but also by the wonder about other potential intelligent alien life out there. One example of several was Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.
He, better than any other astronomer, expressed to the broad public out there just what the scientific community thought about the possibilities. He explained the Drake Equation so young kids like us could understand it. He showed why – based on a brilliant set of episodes examining life on earth and what made it up – it was likely that other alien life could be so abnormal to our understanding we would have little hope of comprehending it’s thoughts and motivations. Unlike the tropes of SciFi, Sagan showed why aliens might not have two arms, two legs, and big lumpy foreheads, which was what we had become used to seeing on t.v.
Other astronomers talked about it, and came before Sagan, of course, but Jason and I would wait in agony for the next episode of Cosmos to come out on PBS the following week, and our whole family would watch, glued to the screen in total silence and hate that it was over. I haven’t checked in awhile to see if it’s still available, but about a year ago I re-watched every episode of Cosmos, streaming on Netflix, and it holds up extremely well. There were several other influences too, including the novel, Ender’s Game, and of course, Sid Meier’s Civilization, but then it came down to the team designing and writing together.
I’m not only proud of the overall philosophy behind the game, but the specific character and personality of the species and their ships, and the creativity and humor that the team showed in all of the named gizmos, devices, inventions, and other projects the player can discover and build. I do think what we accomplished is unique, and makes Ascendancy have a different flavor while still fitting within the 4x motif.
SS: You mention on your web site that Ascendancy II is definitely a long term goal for LF, can you provide any more details than provided on the site other than it is coming? Since you starting from scratch on the sequel, is it safe to assume cross platform support from the get go?
It’s never safe to assume anything. Whoops. Sorry. My inner Polonius has a way of sneaking out. No, I really cannot give more details about Ascendancy II right now. We’ve worked many years on what is to come from Logic Factory, but we just have this desire that has become something like a physical requirement for us to see our games get a chance to show what they are before we blab about work in development.
SS: Since we are talking about the sequel, do you have any plans to incorporate multiplayer support?
Todd: Okay. I will go that far. As I’ve alluded to above, we’ve spent quite a few years on R&D and one big part of that has been a multiverse environment allowing for a kind of multiplayer that we think would be great for an Ascendancy-style game. I’m not saying that’s precisely what Ascendancy II will be, but yes, we think that not only will our genetic AI allow for a great deal of variety in ship design and combat choices, but other human intelligence will really show how well the multitude of gizmos in such a game can be used in combination to clever and original effect. In fact, we think that dynamic is already fully within the current version of Ascendancy, if the player is motivated to try to find new and diabolical ways to combine their gizmos on their larger ships.
SS: Considering that the Apple app store was dominated by casual games, with the thinking that phone and tablet gamers only play in 15 minute chunks, was this a concern for developing Ascendancy on the iOS platform?
Not at all. We just knew that we would absolutely love to play big games on these devices, as long as the interface allowed it. I knew we were onto something when the team had me testing early beta versions. I’d be up ’til four in the morning, my wife asleep beside me, playing on my iPhone with one hand, just using my thumb to get everything done on-screen that I needed to. It was better than sitting up at the pc. I had my headphones on and enjoyed the music. And, by the way, that’s one reason we chose portrait mode. It just wouldn’t have been possible in landscape to be able to relax that much and still get the full experience of the game. A person could relax on an international flight with Ascendancy for company the whole way.
SS: Now the question of the day is one that many readers seem to be interested in, and that of course are sales figures. Are you at liberty to disclose any details regarding the success of Ascendancy on the iOS and contrast that to the PC release?
Todd: I’m afraid not. We’re very happy with our placement on the charts, especially when Apple rotates us through on the home page in the Staff Favorites feature! But we are a private business and, as much as we love talking to fans and the press about our games, the business side is different. But I can say from experience that the charts are a great indicator. We often can’t help it, we have to stop ourselves from spending too much time checking out the charts on App Stores all over the world. Today, for example, we’re in Staff Favorites in a ton of new Spanish speaking countries, which has me dying to get localizations done. If they like it that much in English, wait until the get to know the 21 species in their own languages! And that reminds me I have about fourteen more things to get done today! Thanks very much for the interest in Ascendancy. We really appreciate it.
I would like to thank Mr. Todd Templeman from Logic Factory for allowing us the fans a brief glimpse into your world, and I think I speak for everyone that we really do appreciate the gem you have provided in the form of Ascendancy. You truly have fulfilled your goals of providing a unique game, and perspective in the 4x genre.Subscribe RSS
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