Sniper Elite studio Rebellion Developments filed a lawsuit against Ironclad Games in 2012 over Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion, claiming that the title infringed on Rebellion's trademark. A judge dismissed the case more than a year ago, ruling that the title qualifies as "expressive speech" and is thus protected by the First Amendment, and if you're wondering why you didn't hear anything about it until now, it's because Ironclad opted to not to publicize the victory in an effort to "let bygones be bygones." But now Rebellion has launched new legal action against the game in Canada and the U.K., and that's prompted Ironclad to speak up.
In a blog post that went up last week, Ironclad Games Director Blair Fraser spoke in detail about the studio's First Amendment victory over Rebellion, explaining what led to the legal action, the nature of its defense and the potential impact of the decision on the gaming industry as a whole. What he didn't make clear is why the studio opted not to speak about the dismissal of the suit, which actually happened in May 2013, until now.
"We don't like to talk about the business side of things in public. The focus should be on the games themselves," Fraser told us. "We never brought up the cease and desist. We never talked about being served. We never commented when the story broke in the news. We never spoke when we won the case. We kept silent for over two years. However, last week we decided to break our silence."
Fraser said Ironclad decided to speak out now for two reasons: moral and strategic. "For years now there has been a growing sense in our company that trademark issues in the gaming industry were getting out of hand and that talking about our experience might help," he explained. "Our hope is that other developers will see this and be willing to explore, maintain and defend their freedom of expression without as much worry."
On the strategic side of the coin, he said that exposing this kind of behavior to the public can be a "powerful force" in its own right. "The gaming community is not simply content with buying the next cool widget regardless of who made it or how it was made," he continued. "Negative public response increases the cost of legal action to more than just legal fees - there is a public relations bill to pay on top. When we received confirmation last week that Rebellion Developments was taking this global we decided to direct attention to the facts and publicly available documents. We ll let the public decide how to interpret them."
Despite the decisive win in U.S. courts, differences in trademark law, precedents and various other factors means that a victory in Canada, the U.K. or anywhere else is far from a sure thing. Nonetheless, he has no interest in changing the name of Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion in order to suit Rebellion's demands.
"I don t know why Star Wars: Rebellion was renamed to Star Wars: Supremacy in the U.K. but I ll quit my job before I ever let there be a Sins of a Solar Empire: Supremacy or any other bastardization," he said. "Everything in Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion, including the gameplay, the lore, the cinematic, the logo, the factions, the research subjects, the capital ships, the Titans, and every single asset was designed to fit into the overarching theme of 'rebellion.' No other word in the English language comes even close."
But while he's not willing to give up the title, he is hopeful that something can be worked out. "The disappointing part is that if one of the Kingsley brothers had called us up on the phone from the start and discussed the matter in a polite and reasonable manner I think this would have turned out a lot different. As a means of introduction, having a third party send a letter containing threats, demands, and accusations can set things off on the wrong foot. I can see all the business hawks rolling their eyes at what they see as an overreaction to what I assume is par for the course, 'Lawyers will be lawyers and companies have to act aggressively to defend their trademarks or else risk losing them.' Well, that isn't how we do business," he said. "Surely, there is a better way to defend a trademark. Perhaps it s not too late to get back on the right foot."
If you've been looking for a reason to revisit 2011's SIns of a Solar Empire: Rebellion, might I tempt you with a fresh injection of Star Trek? Galaxy-class Federation starships? Borg Cubes? Klingon Vor'cha? Romulan... whatever it is Romulans drive? The Star Trek Armada III mod completely transforms Sins into Trek, with custom models, animations, effects, and technology.
The Armada 3 mod has been under space-construction for a couple of years, and recently went into beta. While there's still some tweaking and balancing happening behind the scenes, and plans for expansions in the future, version 1.0 already feels impressively polished. It can actually be a little hard to play sometimes because it's so much fun to just zoom in on ships and structures and admire the detail. When you do start to play, it actually feels less like a mod and more like a real Star Trek game.
Not everyone can drive the Enterprise! There are tons of other types of detailed spacecraft. Like this one!
The mod lets you play as one of four races. There's the Federation, the Klingons, the Romulans, and the Borg Collective. Not only does each side have its own UI theme (a nice touch) but they have their own strengths and weaknesses. The Federation can dominate the markets with their economic know-how, but their construction times (presumably due to Federation red-tape) can leave you short a few ships when the space-poop hits the fan. Klingons, meanwhile, have incredibly powerful weapons, but lag a bit behind in infrastructure and economy. The Borg, obviously, are efficient and powerful, but their weakness is... well, they don't actually have one. Watch out for those Borg. They're bad news. Romulans... well, they probably have some attributes, too!
Sending the fleet into warp, you even get the blue-flashy-light-wink. I'm sure it has a technical name.
You can also summon some of the heroes from the Star Trek universe. Sisko, Picard, and Janeway can pilot your federation ships in a pinch, if you've unlocked the ability to call on them through your research tree. Klingon heroes include Kurn, whose brother was Worf, and Chancellor Gowron, who was killed by Worf. Wait. Is Star Trek implying that all Klingons know each other, or am I imagining things? I didn't play as the Borg, so I'm not sure who their heroes are, but they're probably some terrifying robot monsters. And, as is probably clear by now, I don't give a single hot toot about the Romulans.
Photon torpedoes, disruptor beams, shield effects... it all looks great and true to the fiction.
Being able to call in actual Star Trek characters is cool, but it's even cooler to hear their actual voices in the game, provided by sound snippets from the TV shows. I know it sounds cheesy, but it fits in amazingly well. Speaking of sound, the mod has a great soundtrack consisting of remastered tracks from Armada 1 and 2, as well as from Starfleet Command 3. And, the ships, the weapons, and the rest of the game's sound effects go a long way to transforming Sins into an authentic-feeling Trek universe.
Smooth head or lumpy head? The choice is yours.
The small touches are nice, too. Resources consist of credits, dilithium, and tritanium, which, as Wikipedia tells me, are things you would like to have a lot of in the Star Trek universe. The menus, the UI, even the tiniest of icons and emblems look great. As I said above, it doesn't feel like a mod as much as an actual Star Trek game. Even random pirate ships are modeled after space vessels from the show. It's pretty clear the team behind the mod are fans who really want to get the details right.
Research means more Star Trek ships, and the ability to summons Star Trek heroes.
I played a few rounds as the Federation, and a couple as the Klingons. In terms of balance, I'll just say that I lost no matter which side I was playing, so at least it's fair (I am pretty terrible at strategy). I definitely recommend it if you have Sins: Rebellion, and if you don't, it's only $40 on Steam. Wait, $40? Still? Well, wishlist it, then, and snap it up in a sale. If you're a strategy fan and Trekkie, this mod is your jam.
There's even a little custom intro movie. For you to watch once and then skip forever.
Installation: Grab the latest version (and hotfix, where applicable) here. It's self-installing. When it's done, just boot the game up and you'll be ready to make it so.
It s been a long time since we heard from Ironclad s MOBA Sins of a Dark Age, but it s still alive and kicking and has just landed on Steam Early Access for $5. That s a steal compared to the $25 you had to pay previously for a founder edition and access to the closed beta. However, when it s ready, Sins of a Dark Age will be free-to-play. Ironclad is known mostly for Sins of a Solar Empire, which is one of our favorite strategy games ever. When Ironclad first revealed Sins of a Dark Age it billed it as a MOBA and real-time strategy hybrid, but has since dropped the game s commander role. Last we heard, Sins of a Dark Age was leaning more in the role-playing game direction by giving players PvE quests, which can trigger special events, earn special rewards, or harm the enemy team. Judging by the most recent trailer, it seems that Ironclad is sticking to that direction, though Dark Age is described as an action strategy game on its Steam page. Buying the game will get you one of three bundles which contains a rare skin, uncommon piece of Hero Gear, Rare Skin Recipe, Uncommon Materials, and Common Materials. Ironclad says Sins of a Dark Age will be in Early Access for months, not years, but for now it comes with the usual warnings about missing content, bugs, and so on, so proceed with caution.
Ironclad Games' Sins of a Solar Empire came out in 2008, and the space-faring real-time strategy game has since had three expansions—the last of which was Rebellion in 2012. Its newest DLC is a much smaller affair, but still adds new content for only a little bit of money.
The Stellar Phenomena pack adds six new deep space anomalies and 11 random events to the existing game. According to Ironclad's news post, the DLC lets players "exploit what resources remain in these dangerous sectors while you can," which sounds like it's priming the game's player base for a future in unsustainable oil-drilling. The anomalies include starship graveyards and antimatter fountains—a bite-sized bit of content that will only set you back $5.
Earlier in the year, Ironclad's Blair Fraser lamented the status of the RTS as a niche, going so far as to call it "done." But Ironclad still supports its five year-old RTS and Civilization IV lead designer Soren Johnson just announced a new studio dedicated to RTSs. "Niche?" Maybe. But that's not stopping developers from succeeding as RTS-only developers. Nor is it stopping them from starting fresh in 2013.
Who would've thought you could buy entire new planets for $5? Ah, video games. Today you can do just that with Forbidden Worlds, the first expansion pack to Sins of a Solar Empire's excellent expandalone addition to the franchise, Rebellion.
This time around, that war between loyalists and rebels is still waging—but who has time for drama when there are four new planet types to ruthlessly exploit for resources? There's also a new planet specialization system, giving you the option to expand your planets' social or industrial output. Would you rather a cultured planet, or one that basically exists as a production line for new ships? Additionally, 15 new research subjects and 40 discoverable planet bonuses are added to Rebellion's already-sprawling galaxy.
Forbidden Planets is available through Sins of a Solar Empire's own website, as well as via Steam—because the galaxy can only go without a fresh supply of sin for so long.
Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion, the standalone expansion to Stardock's RTS/4X released almost a year ago, is getting a small, $5 DLC out of the black. Dubbed Forbidden Worlds, the new content will include new planet types, new steam achievements, and a planet specialization system.
Here's the features list from the official press release:
Four new planet types to colonize and exploit (Barren, Ferrus, Greenhouse, Oceanic), each created with beautiful high-res textures. New Planet Specialization System: Dedicate your worlds to either social or industrial output. Devoting your planet to social improvements will increase its population and culture, at the cost of trade income and ship production. Choosing an industrial path will limit your growth and culture, but make your planet a trading and ship building powerhouse. 15 new research subjects allow the races to conquer and expand onto the forbidden worlds. Discover 40 new planet bonuses during your exploration of the galaxy, unlocking the dark past of the Sins’ universe. Unlock five new Steam Achievements and display your mastery of forbidden space!
The DLC releases June 5, just a week off from Rebellion's one year anniversary. While you're checking out the DLC, you might as well check out the Mass Effect conversion mod. It's still in alpha, but has been lauded by friends looking over my shoulder as "pretty slick."
It's a little-known fact that CEOs love writing reports. The whole reason that many companies become publicly traded is so their CEOs can spend their time writing endless reports for shareholders. For Stardock boss Brad Wardell, this poses a problem: as the head of a private company, there's no-one to report to. Rather than forlornly wandering the corridors of Stardock HQ, bothering staff with pie charts, he's instead decided to scratch that report itch by drafting a frank and honest address to their customers. In it, he talks about the company's performance over the last year, and hints at what they're planning next.
Wardell claims that 2012 was Stardock's biggest year financially, although points out that it's likely because they released more games than in any other year. He reveals that Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion, Ironclad and Stardock's 4X expandalone, enjoyed far more success than either team anticipated. "I suspect there will be more news on this front as we go forward," Wardell teased.
Previewing the company's upcoming plans, Wardell says "I suspect we will have at least, two new game announcements in 2013." He also mentions Soren Johnson's (designer on Civ IV) role at Stardock - saying that he'll be working as a designer on their games over the next few months. "The emphasis on dedicated game design has resulted in greater confidence that new franchises will not have to go through the rocky experience that Elemental: War of Magic went through."
Wardell addresses the sale of Impulse, Stardock's digital distribution platform, to Gamespot, saying, "We suddenly had enough capital to do essentially anything we wanted." Rather than expand the company, Stardock will instead be creating an investment fund, designed to help game developers, found new studios, and enable new software ventures. "Over the next couple of years, some of these new ventures will start to become known. Hopefully, their success will help spawn new opportunities for the next generation software and game developers out there."
The report also included Stardock's 2012 Customer Survey, which provides and interesting statistic on the rapid growth of digital consumption. Of the surveyed customers, 82% said they preferred to buy their software digitally. This is compared to Stardock's 2008 survey response, in which only 42% expressed a digital preference.
For more stats and info, you can read the full report here.
I knew the moment the tide had turned. It was 15 hours into my first XCOM: Enemy Unknown campaign, and I’d just outfitted my squad’s psychic soldier with psi armour. I’d only discovered Major Tom’s latent mindbending abilities a few missions before, but he’d already proved himself a devastating anti-alien defence in the field. Kitted out in this gear, he was near unstoppable.
Earlier in the game, I’d hung back. I’d waited it out, luring aliens into laser crossfire, overlapping vision cones and overwatch orders, patiently, eventually clearing out XCOM’s alien infestations. Now, I could sprint psychic Tom out into the open, call out those unknown enemies in droves, and melt their puny brains. I revelled in it. I started talking at the screen. “You think you can run, you horrible bug? I’ll make you eat your friends. I’ll make you stand in the open, rip your disgusting body open with hot plasma. I’ll make you die. I’ll make all of you die.” Then I’d start cackling.
I’d invented a fiction. My soldiers were my action figures, I’d made them run and hide and shoot and watch their friends die, and I imbued them with the heroism and pathos of those events. Graham Smith had been impetuous and aggressive. He died when he strayed too close to a burning – later exploding – car. Owen Hill, once carefree and cheerful, was calcified by his death. He became a dead-eye sniper, silent and stoic, and able to lance a Muton through the eyes with a snapshot from half a map away.
Marsh Davies was relentlessly helpful. My team medic never missed a mission, and reinvigorated everyone else when their resolve slipped or their blood drained out. He never once panicked. Richard Cobbett was insane: a close-range monster, he’d hurtle into combat, heavy alloy cannon acting as far-future shotgun and drawing enemies out for easy shooting. He somehow survived the entire campaign.
Until the turning point, I imagined my women and men daunted by the task of saving humanity. After, with the psychic in their midst, I imagined them standing in XCOM’s home base, grinning. They had it in the bag. They were too powerful, too well-equipped, knew too much about their enemy. Enemy known, now.
I’d led them all the way, but I didn’t feel like it was my victory. It was theirs as much as mine. These action figures were alive. XCOM: Enemy Unknown seduces players with attachment, making you know and care for your soldiers. When they die, a tiny part of me dies. Sometimes they live. I love it when they live. Without that attachment, XCOM is merely a mechanically superb turn-based strategy game that I’d suggest everyone plays. With it, XCOM elevates itself even further, forging player memories that’ll live as long as you play and care about games.
At the end of each year we hand out awards to honor the experiences that live in our best memories of the preceding months—the games that moved us with their ambition, quality, and pioneering spirit. None of the decisions are ever easy, and there's no secret formula: we pit opinion against opinion with straightforward, old-fashioned arguing until one winner is left standing in the GOTY battle cage. Look below for the first landmark of that exciting week-long debate: a list of our eligible winners in 11 categories, including Game of the Year.
Beyond recognizing what games we loved most this year, though, it’s crucial to call attention to a truth that connects them all: PC gaming is exploding. Our hobby is many-tentacled and unbridled—practically every niche, genre, and business model mutated in a meaningful way this year. Two shooters built on new, PC-only technology released (PlanetSide 2 and Natural Selection 2). Dota 2 grew into its adolescence. League of Legends’ Season 2 Championship drew an audience of 8.2 million—the most ever for an eSports event. Modders resurrected content that was thought to be lost. So many remakes and spiritual successors to old school PC games got crowdfunded that we're sure we’d miss some if we tried to list them all.
That said, the following list marks the peaks of this mountainous year, and you'll find out which games won in the next issue of PC Gamer, and here on the web soon.
Dota 2 Dishonored Mass Effect 3 PlanetSide 2 The Walking Dead Tribes: Ascend XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Crusader Kings II FTL: Faster Than Light Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Guild Wars 2 PlanetSide 2 Rift: Storm Legion World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria
Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition Diablo III Mass Effect 3 Torchlight II
Borderlands 2 Dishonored Far Cry 3 Max Payne 3 Spec Ops: The Line
Spaceborn mega-RTS Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion has just released its 1.1 patch. The update adds a massive amount of changes, including over forty new maps. No that was not a typo, I really meant forty, four-zero. Given the average length of a Sins game, I estimate the time it would take you to learn all these new maps as slightly longer than than the lifespan of the universe.
Many of the new maps are balanced for competitive play, meaning that resources and starting locations are mirrored, making sure no-one has an unfair advantage. Perhaps Sins is attempting to become the world's slowest e-sport? I can imagine it as the test match cricket of the internet world, where tournaments take two weeks to complete and the audience spends most of their time having a nice picnic.
There's also big changes to the role of corvettes, who had previously found themselves as a ship without a role. Now they're immune to many of the nasty effects that the enormous Titan class ships can deploy, turning them into the game's designated giant killers. Now instead of responding to a Titan with one of your own, you'll be able to send a fleet of plucky corvettes to pop a torpedo down its exhaust pipe, making guarding your biggest vessels far more important.
You can find the full patch notes on the Sins of a Solar Empire forums. If you don't yet own the game, you can find out why you should in our Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion review.