Elemental: Fallen Enchantress Interview


posted 5/3/2011 by Charles Husemann
other articles by Charles Husemann
One Page Platforms: PC
We talked to Derek Paxton late last year when he joined Stardock.  We decided to follow up with him to see how things were going with his new job and to see what info we could get on his upcoming game.

Could you introduce yourself and talk about your role at Stardock?
I am Derek Paxton, lead producer and lead designer for Fallen Enchantress. Professionally I was a project manager for a business software company, and in my spare time I created a dark fantasy mod for Civilization IV called Fall from Heaven. I contacted Stardock as I was looking into my next fun project and they offered me a job that allowed me to combine my career and my love for strategy games. I joined Stardock in November 2010, and started immediately on Fallen Enchantress.

So how have things been since you started at Stardock? What kinds of changes have you implemented since you got there?
The biggest change has been in formalizing processes around production. Previously Stardock's games team was a small but successful part of Stardock's total business. Although Stardock had excellent management of the business side, the games side was less defined. Now everyone understands the end goal, and that goal doesn't change. Everyone understands the schedule and what part of the puzzle they are responsible for.

I love working at Stardock. There are great and talented people here, and we get to make the games we want to play. We don't have to hit specific timeframes in order to meet quarterly revenue goals. We don't have to make a game that will appeal to everyone.

Have you made any changes to the way games are made at Stardock? Are you using any Agile techniques (Scrum)?
I don't believe that there are miracles to be found in any of the software development methods, especially in teams our size (about 12 members). Management is determined by the project and we borrow from any methodology (or make up our own) to improve it.

We do have 10 minute morning meetings every day. And they are 10 minutes. I was fairly rude about cutting off tangents in the beginning (sorry team) but now we meet, we go through the days plans and we are on our way. So that's a piece stolen from the Agile method.

But overall I would say that the waterfall method best describes us. We have our fixed phases, and people understand that what is acceptable in one phase (for example pitching system change ideas) can't happen in another.

Stardock recently sold off their Impulse digital distribution system, has that had any impact on your development team at all in the form of additional resources and focus yet or not?
Derek: Nothing right now. The games team has been independent of the impulse side except for an occasional borrowing of a game developer to help with some code. The biggest impact of the sale is yet to come and I'm excited that Stardock's focus will be more on the games team. We are growing the games team, we have the budget to do so and it allows us to take the time to make great games.

With the issues that plagued the launch of the last game do you feel like you have to meet a higher set of expectations than you would with a normal launch? What do you say to those who might feel burned by their experience with the launch of the last game?
The highest expectations I have to deal with are from Brad. At GDC he was targeting an 82 metacritic score for Fallen Enchantress. Every day that number went up one. Last I heard Brad talking about it he was somewhere in the 90's.

To those that feel burned on War of Magic I love that Stardock has committed to giving them a free copy of Fallen Enchantress (if they bought before 12/31/2010) and both expansions if they bought before October 31st, 2010. Stardock also kept the full games team on War of Magic for months after the games release. It was this commitment to doing the right thing for their fans that convinced me to come to Stardock.
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