Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion - Forging an Empire
4/7/2017 1:41:00 PM
Recently, Ironclad Games and Stardock released version 1.9 of Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion to players, marking the 5-year anniversary of the latest expansion. I've had the pleasure of working on Sins of a Solar Empire since we released the original title in 2008, and it's been great to see fans continue to play both the base game and the many mods that have been created for it.
If you're new to the series, or looking to join in the fun, what is Sins of a Solar Empire all about? For this journal, I'm going to focus on my favorite race: the Vasari Empire.
A Quick History
Some 10,000 years ago, a powerful race called the Vasari dominated their region of the galaxy. They were a true galactic superpower, bending thousands of worlds to their rule. Vasari supremacy came to an abrupt and shocking end, however; for many players, what happened is the true mystery of Sins of a Solar Empire. All that we know is that one world after another in the Vasari's domain vanished from contact and all ships sent to investigate never returned. Fearful of this unseen threat and powerless to stop it, the Vasari packed what was left of their civilization onto huge ships and fled - something they've done ever since...
For a more complete history of the Vasari, check the the Lore section.
As a Vasari player, you have a few key strategic advantages and disadvantages to work with in building your empire. For instance, you can field fewer ships, but they're a bit more powerfully than those of the other two races (TEC and Advent). The Vasari aren't very good traders, but they excel at collecting metal and crystal resources. Lastly, the Vasari are masters of phase space travel, which gives them the ability to move around the map practically at will late in the game.
In my game, I've started on the planet Peraga and 'liberated' the dwarf planet of Penza nearby. My scouts have detected two rival empires on my borders: the Trade Coalition and the Galian Rim Union. Both are TEC players attempting to encroach upon my space, but I've been careful to deploy defenses against them... or, so I thought.
Here's a great lesson to take from this diary: always scout ahead. I'll admit that I got arrogant because I thought the AI wasn't ready to deal with my fleet, so I decided to go on offense without looking. Having setup a forward base at the planet Charybdis, I made the decision to push on toward the Galian-held ice world of Sethos. Huge mistake. I ran right into a heavily upgraded TEC Argonov starbase and the Galian's new Ragnarov titan.
Turning tail to retreat, my fleet was all but annihilated; I nearly lost both of my capital ships, escaping with only 117 HP on one as it managed to enter phase jump with seconds to spare. Licking my wounds with only a few ships left, I look up to see the Trade Coalition attacking from my flank!
Penza is now under assault from a modest enemy force, but it's not heavily defended. Until I can marshal reinforcements from Charybdis, only the starbase Oraskal is available to keep Penza under my rightful authority. Luckily for me, Vasari starbases can move!
Another good lesson here is this: everything has a weakness and nothing is invulnerable (at least, not permanently). Vasari starbases are monsters; they have lots of firepower, lots of armor, and can even be upgraded to regenerate. Plus, I mentioned they're mobile, right? All for naught against an enemy with the right counterforce.
The Trade Coalition came prepared for my starbase with Ogrov torpedo cruisers. Equipped with high-yield warheads, the Oraskal fought well but didn't stand a chance. I couldn't help but cringe as I watched it explode into a million tiny fragments.
Things look grim for the Vasari at this point, but I did manage to rally a new fleet to save Penza. Unfortunately, Charybdis did not fare as well - the Galian Rim Union opted to take their new titan for a test drive and sacked my world. I'll recover though!
The above gameplay represents only about 45 minutes of playtime in my current game of Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion. Countless worlds await to conquer, subjugate or destroy as you forge your own empire amongst the stars. Join the hunt today!
Sins of a Solar Empire's Ironclad Games Sets New Legal Precedent for Video Game Trademarks
6/25/2014 1:12:45 PM
Sins of a Solar Empire's Ironclad Games Sets New Legal Precedent for Video Game Trademarks
Over two years ago we embarked on an adventure that led us to stand up against a much larger company, fight for freedom of expression and ultimately set a new legal precedent. We had hoped to never talk about this publicly however recent events have convinced us that it might help our ongoing business, other developers, and the community as a whole to share some of our experience.
Ironclad Games is a game development studio of 15 employees based in Canada and is best known for its Sins of a Solar Empire series. Rebellion Developments is a video game company of approximately 250 employees based in the United Kingdom and is best known for its Sniper Elite and Alien vs. Predator series (source).
In April of 2012 we received a cease and desist order from representatives of Rebellion Developments. They asserted that our use of the word "Rebellion" in the title of our game "Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion" was violating their trademark. Rebellion Developments made a number of demands including destroying all our existing promotional and marketing materials, paying them money and agreeing to never talk about it.
But from our perspective, the most influential portion of the cease and desist order was the following paragraph:
"There can be only one reason for choosing the name "REBELLION" as the name of this game, and that is that it is identical to our client's name. The choice of name for your game is designed to confuse members of the public into believing that this game emanated from our client or has been endorsed by our client. Alternatively, you have chosen REBELLION as the game's name to take unfair advantage of the reputation of our client or to dilute the distinctiveness of our client's reputation. All these actions are types of passing off that the choice of REBELLION by your company is intended to perpetrate on our client's goodwill. If you are allowed to misrepresent your game in the way indicated, it will cause damage to our client's goodwill".
We'll leave it to the reader to decide if that is the only reason we could have chosen the title "Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion", whether or not the gaming community is so easily confused and whether or not we would have benefited from associating with Rebellion Developments' reputation.
Rebellion Developments' full complaint was issued in June and can be found here. You'll notice that the complaint is filed against Ironclad Games and Stardock. However, as we (Ironclad Games) are the owners of the Sins of a Solar Empire intellectual property we are responsible for the defense of it.
Just a month prior to receiving our cease and desist order we witnessed a high profile settlement between Mojang and Bethesda over the use of the word "Scrolls". Strongly influenced by this we decided that reaching a settlement was the best course of action. During the settlement discussions we were brought up to speed on U.S. trademark law and became convinced of the validity of our position even though there was no legal precedent set for video games. Additionally, over the course of this process the story broke and spread to various news outlets. Hundreds of posts across dozens of websites vocalized support for our case and against Rebellion Developments' actions. This further emboldened our resolve to seek favorable settlement terms despite the risk.
Our research suggested that it was very likely that Rebellion Developments would take further action against us if a settlement wasn't reached. Rebellion Developments and its founders (Chris and Jason Kingsley) have aggressively opposed or petitioned to cancel trademarks containing the word "Rebellion" and have been very successful in preventing third party use of the word "Rebellion" in conjunction with video-games in the U.S. and Europe. A quick search on the public U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website will reveal the surface of their activity within the U.S. alone.
Ultimately, the settlement discussions bore no fruit and we were soon served. For the better part of a year we moved through the legal process. While we had multiple arguments to support our case we decided to focus on a First Amendment defense. Our U.S. legal representatives at Nixon Peabody successfully argued on our behalf and obtained the following judgement best said in the judge's own words:
"...Defendants’ use of REBELLION is expressive speech and is protected under the First Amendment. Plaintiffs cannot satisfy the Rogers test; they cannot establish that REBELLION has no artistic relevance to Defendants’ computer game, or that it is explicitly misleading as to source or content. Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED."
The full judgement can be found here and a summary analysis of the judgement can be found here.
This judgement is an important result for anyone developing games and for the gaming community as a whole. First, it reaffirms that video games are protected by the First Amendment. Second, it establishes that artistically relevant video game names are also protected by the First Amendment so long as the name isn't explicitly misleading about the content of the game or who created it. Finally, it demonstrates that a First Amendment defense of a video game can be successfully applied to a motion to dismiss thus "preventing a chilling effect on speech". This last point is particularly important to smaller developers who cannot afford to enter a lengthy and expensive court battle. We are very proud that this judgement could help others in the future.
With this case resolved, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has recently allowed us to move forward on trademarking the name "Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion" and our Certification of Registration is forthcoming.
Finally, we wish this story had a happy ending. Last week we received notice that Rebellion Developments and the Kingsley brothers have submitted evidence in opposition to our trademark application in Canada and we have unconfirmed reports that they issued a cease and desist order to our partner in the United Kingdom. We fully expect they will continue this worldwide but so long as the countries they choose to oppose us in protect freedom of expression, we intend to continue fighting.
Creating Stellar Phenomena
11/6/2013 11:45:53 AM
I haven't written a developer journal in ages, but with the release of the Stellar Phenomena DLC for Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion today, I thought I'd give it a go. This DLC adds a number of elements to Sins that I've long thought of, so seeing it come into being has been a blast. As with everything Sins, I worked closely with Ironclad in designing Stellar Phenomena, as did the rest of the team in creating it. I love getting to work with Ironclad on this stuff, so the past couple months have been pretty sweet. ;)
When we made Forbidden Worlds, our goals were pretty simple: we wanted to add a little more specialization to planets, increase the types of planets in the game, and add in some more planet bonuses. Revising the planet textures during this process was a bonus, as was being able to more than double the number of planet bonuses available as a way to flesh out the Sins universe. Did you know that if you select a planet with a bonus and then hover your mouse over the slot in the lower left center of the UI that an Infocard will give you lore info on it? Honestly, I didn't for a long time, but there's some cool stuff in there!
After the success of Forbidden Worlds, we started to think a lot on what we could do next in the Sins universe and we went back and forth brainstorming with Ironclad. As many Sins players know, we're very limited in what will safely 'fit' into what's left of our 32-bit (2 GB) memory limit, plus what will overtax the simulation and what we can actually accomplish with the time we have. It's actually the #1 consideration we face right next to making sure we stay true to the Sins universe.
One thing that we've always felt Sins needed more of were special, non-habitable gravity wells that had some kind of strategic significance on gameplay. To address this, we went in two directions by adding three new types of stars (Black Hole, Pulsar, and Neutron Star) and six new types of gravity well in the DLC (Comet, Antimatter Fountain, Radiation Storm, Ship Graveyard, Shattered Dwarf, and Ice Field). Each of these new areas has some kind of effect on passing vessels, or in the case of the Ship Graveyard, is a resource rich area to hold via its special outpost.
Another new feature we added in the DLC was random events. This is a feature that we've talked about for years as a way to force players to deal with situations they couldn't entirely foresee. Of course, since these events are potentially very...shall we say...disruptive, we've made this a gameplay option (enabled by default). Some of the events you may encounter are quite beneficial like the Economic Upturn that gives all players a big boost to income and trade; however, others may bite you if you're not careful. One of my favorites is Partisans, so you'd better watch out if you're going to lose a planet to culture! ;) Not all events are global or stationary either - some may move around the map, forcing you to re-evaluate your strategies.
I and everyone at Stardock and Ironclad hope you enjoy Stellar Phenomena!