Author Topic: AI War 2 v0.877 Released! "The Strikecraft Goldilocks Zone"  (Read 627 times)

Offline kmunoz

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Re: AI War 2 v0.877 Released! "The Strikecraft Goldilocks Zone"
« Reply #15 on: August 09, 2019, 02:09:58 PM »
The best example from maybe the first 2 minutes of the game is the AI's stationary posts. I think one of them is called a guardian...? It's shaped like a soccer ball, whatever it is. But it's tiny. I mean, really, really tiny. Probably less than 10% the size of one of the player's ship groups. And if it has an icon, I either couldn't find it or it was so far away from it that I thought it belonged to something else.

And when I say tiny, I can't articulate how tiny it is. It's so tiny that when my mouse hovered over it at a reasonable zoom level for tactical control, a yellow selection ring popped up over EMPTY SPACE. And the only reason I was hovering over there was because I kept seeing laser shots coming out of EMPTY SPACE and thought maybe there was a bug in the game that had made the model disappear. Then I zoomed in all the way and saw it, dark against a dark background, a little floating soccer ball.

That'd be just a normal Guard Post. The reason it's a tiny ball is because that's a temporary placeholder model. The selection area is larger to help in selecting these things.

I could probably find some unused model from the pre-pivot to put in them for now.

If that's the issue then I'll re-reserve judgment on that one. I'll keep trying it out with each update, because I really do want to fall in love with this game like I did with AIWC. The rest of my comment is unchanged; the lumpy rock is just the specific reason I ragequit last night. I probably wasn't going to last much longer anyway for the other reasons I stated.

Offline x4000

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Re: AI War 2 v0.877 Released! "The Strikecraft Goldilocks Zone"
« Reply #16 on: August 09, 2019, 02:28:34 PM »
It sounds like the lack of ship models for a lot of the stuff (the little soccer balls) is a big deal for you.  A lot of folks were relying on just icons anyway, and I only have so much time in the week, so I've been putting off the artwork stuff on that.  I didn't realize anyone was bouncing so hard off that particular thing, so it hasn't been a priority for me.

As far as any issues beyond that go... you are supposed to care about the ships you get, and their mixes, but it's giving you small "fleetballs" that are pre-configured for you and that you acquire more of.  It's not so much that you have a complete jigsaw puzzle... it's more that it's giving you a pre-made "starter deck" of pokemon cards, and you then get to add and change cards, get better decks, and play with like 5-10 decks at once instead of just the one basic one you start with.  That's the analogy I'd personally use; the starter fleet is very much a basic "here's your very first stuff" like you had in the first game, not the finality of what you're after or what you're capable of in the long-term.

I'd actually be really curious if the For Returning Players section of the How To Play section on the main menu answer your questions, or if you still have remaining ones.  If there are ones not covered, I'd like to get to them in there.  But beyond that, of course the tutorials themselves should aim to get people up to speed, anyhow..
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Offline kmunoz

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Re: AI War 2 v0.877 Released! "The Strikecraft Goldilocks Zone"
« Reply #17 on: August 09, 2019, 04:01:37 PM »
It sounds like the lack of ship models for a lot of the stuff (the little soccer balls) is a big deal for you.  A lot of folks were relying on just icons anyway, and I only have so much time in the week, so I've been putting off the artwork stuff on that.  I didn't realize anyone was bouncing so hard off that particular thing, so it hasn't been a priority for me.

As far as any issues beyond that go... you are supposed to care about the ships you get, and their mixes, but it's giving you small "fleetballs" that are pre-configured for you and that you acquire more of.  It's not so much that you have a complete jigsaw puzzle... it's more that it's giving you a pre-made "starter deck" of pokemon cards, and you then get to add and change cards, get better decks, and play with like 5-10 decks at once instead of just the one basic one you start with.  That's the analogy I'd personally use; the starter fleet is very much a basic "here's your very first stuff" like you had in the first game, not the finality of what you're after or what you're capable of in the long-term.

I'd actually be really curious if the For Returning Players section of the How To Play section on the main menu answer your questions, or if you still have remaining ones.  If there are ones not covered, I'd like to get to them in there.  But beyond that, of course the tutorials themselves should aim to get people up to speed, anyhow..

Yeah that's why I'm waiting for the tutorials. I'm hoping they will help me make sense of what I should be paying attention to, at the start.

Honestly for me the problem isn't the LACK of ship models, it's that the ship models and the icons interfere with one another for attention. With fleetballs in AIWC you knew that 1 object = 1 ship, and at some zoom levels that object was a sprite and at others it was an icon. In AIW2, 2 objects = 1 ship, always. I could turn off icons, but at least right now and from what I've seen of the art style likely also in the future the ship models aren't sufficiently distinctive to immediately identify what they are. I could turn off ship models, but that undermines a good chunk of the visual consistency of the game.

It's an issue I identified back in October here:

https://forums.arcengames.com/ai-war-ii/initial-feedback-on-the-graphics-details-and-style/

At the time I was bouncing off the visual style but my comments downstream about the icon clutter are essentially the same ones I'm making now. The switch to fleet-based gameplay was a MASSIVE change that wiped out a whole lot of my concerns in that thread. In fact, the fleet solution is essentially what I thought would be the best way forward graphically. The problem is that the visuals didn't really change to fit the new gameplay model. Everything still clumps (and clumps double in AIW2) on the screen, making discernment difficult.

Maybe if I had to boil it all down to one over-arching mundane idea it's this:

The screen in front of me at the start of the game doesn't give me the information I need to know in order to determine which things to click.

That can be solved by tutorials, but it shouldn't have to be. What I see on the screen the moment my game starts should be sufficiently clear for me to be able to point to each thing and say, "I think I know what that does when I touch it."

I'll go back to the comparison I made back in that other thread. Sins of a Solar Empire gets the relationship between models and icons pretty much right:

https://www.gry-online.pl/galeria/html/pliki/209713267.jpg

It's uncluttered, even though each model has an icon and vice versa. Compare that to a selected fleet in AIW2:

https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=1829888544

The icons are too far away vertically from the models, such that the only way to be sure you're looking at the right ones is to play the game fully top-down. Look at where the cap ship's icon is - it's a fully 20% of the total screen distance away from the model. Also, the selection rings around each squad are bright and too dominant. Those are the two most jarring things I've noticed and that's within 30 seconds of opening a game. In the middle of a combat I imagine the visuals get even more confusing.

Offline RockyBst

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Re: AI War 2 v0.877 Released! "The Strikecraft Goldilocks Zone"
« Reply #18 on: August 09, 2019, 04:23:24 PM »
Here's the save from just before I started the superterminal hack on 'The Last'. I let it run until I was negative on HaP and well below the AIP floor, whether it'll be as easy two patches on I'm not sure.

Other things of note from this save:

- The random dark spire threat sitting around not going anywhere and padding out the threat stats (see 'Killing Time' for 135, for instance)
- As soon as I poke my head into 'Chronic Patheticism' next door (which has ~230 guard strength) I get a massive counter wave starting at about 120 threat and rapidly ramping up about 250/300. After  the very easy superterminal hack has left me well under the AIP floor of 39, and not seeing how I could possibly chew through the defences if it kept throwing that many ships at me, that pretty much made me rage quit this iteration.
- AIP calculations aren't quite as good as in AIWC. Far as I can see it doesn't display total reduction etc.

Offline x4000

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Re: AI War 2 v0.877 Released! "The Strikecraft Goldilocks Zone"
« Reply #19 on: August 09, 2019, 04:54:50 PM »
Yeah that's why I'm waiting for the tutorials. I'm hoping they will help me make sense of what I should be paying attention to, at the start.

Makes sense.  Although to be honest, I'm kind of nervous about the tutorials since it's a lot to potentially convey.  I'm better in a written format, hence the For Returning Players section, but I can't lean on that alone.  If you and other folks who are having trouble feeling lost are able to give me some pointers as I get further with the tutorials, that would be super duper helpful.

The main reason there is that I'm too close to it.  I can either explain the whole idea to you in detail, which is way too much detail and likely to be unclear from simply from being overwhelming.  Or I explain it at too high of a level, accidentally making assumptions that you'll connect certain dots but not everybody will.  Which isn't an insult, but rather is a matter of we all bring assumptions with us to any new game, and it's hard for me to distance myself enough to see what I'm not seeing there, for instance.  For example, coming off AIWC is actually probably one of the hardest ways to approach this game, because you think you know how things "should" work, but a lot is different.  But coming off of some other game series would give an entirely different set of assumptions that I have to account for, and that gets overwhelming for me fast when trying to be brief and find the common things that most people need to be told in less text than I just wrote here.

Honestly for me the problem isn't the LACK of ship models, it's that the ship models and the icons interfere with one another for attention. With fleetballs in AIWC you knew that 1 object = 1 ship, and at some zoom levels that object was a sprite and at others it was an icon. In AIW2, 2 objects = 1 ship, always. I could turn off icons, but at least right now and from what I've seen of the art style likely also in the future the ship models aren't sufficiently distinctive to immediately identify what they are. I could turn off ship models, but that undermines a good chunk of the visual consistency of the game.

Bear in mind we're out of artists, it's just me.  There is more art I can do here, but there's a limited amount.  And the fact that we have a million bajillion variants of ships means that even having a lot of semi-unique icons doesn't work the best.

I was really tempted to drop down to a much smaller number of types of icons, particularly for smaller ship types, like just having "small fast strikecraft" and "small slow strikecraft" and "medium strikecraft" or something.   Something where there's like 10 icons and no flair for all of the main strikecraft and frigates, and then still having unique icons for the capturables and whatnot.

I'm not sure about that approach, though.  It comes with its own cons.

It's an issue I identified back in October here:

https://forums.arcengames.com/ai-war-ii/initial-feedback-on-the-graphics-details-and-style/

At the time I was bouncing off the visual style but my comments downstream about the icon clutter are essentially the same ones I'm making now. The switch to fleet-based gameplay was a MASSIVE change that wiped out a whole lot of my concerns in that thread. In fact, the fleet solution is essentially what I thought would be the best way forward graphically. The problem is that the visuals didn't really change to fit the new gameplay model. Everything still clumps (and clumps double in AIW2) on the screen, making discernment difficult.

Glad that you're enjoying the new fleets concept, even if there are other problems that remain.  In terms of the ability to still see all the ships individually and control them, I think that's pretty key to this keeping on "feeling like AI War," which is a nebulous concept in general.  And AIWC tended to feel cluttered from the sheer amount of stuff.  Also pretty much the only valid way to strategically play it was from way zoomed out, straight top down, icons mode.  So that was... inherently limiting.  This sequel makes zooming in more valid to do, and you get something a bit more cinematic, but it comes at the cost of doubling all the things.

The screen in front of me at the start of the game doesn't give me the information I need to know in order to determine which things to click.

That can be solved by tutorials, but it shouldn't have to be. What I see on the screen the moment my game starts should be sufficiently clear for me to be able to point to each thing and say, "I think I know what that does when I touch it."

Yeah, I wish for that also, but I'm not really sure if it's possible.  By keeping all of the strikecraft icons to being really small and unobtrusive, and then focusing on the icons for the main unique ships and structures, that might help.  But I don't know that there's an easy solution given that then those become even harder to manage... though certainly you could stick to mainly fleet designs as your way of managing them.

I'll go back to the comparison I made back in that other thread. Sins of a Solar Empire gets the relationship between models and icons pretty much right:

https://www.gry-online.pl/galeria/html/pliki/209713267.jpg

It's uncluttered, even though each model has an icon and vice versa. Compare that to a selected fleet in AIW2:

https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=1829888544

Not really being a Sins player, I will note that I can't really grasp what is the significance of any ship there either, but I can tell which icon goes with which ship.

One choice that they clearly made, which I wrestled with, is that all icons are on top of all ships.  Right now we have ships mixed in with icons, if that makes sense.  A ship can be closer to the camera than some other ship's icon, and thus partially or fully occlude the icon of the other ship.  That gives a sense of depth to our scenes that is lacking in the Sins scene.  I think Sins is not even shrinking the size of the icons based on how far the ships are from the camera, which again has pros and cons.

The icons are too far away vertically from the models, such that the only way to be sure you're looking at the right ones is to play the game fully top-down. Look at where the cap ship's icon is - it's a fully 20% of the total screen distance away from the model.

The reason for this, for good or for ill, is because of the thing I just mentioned about ships and icons being in the same physical space.  Ships would sometimes occlude their own icons, or otherwise get in the way of other ships' icons (when small ships are near a giant one), which is because the icons aren't drawn in a layer over everything else.

Drawing the icons in a layer over everything else would be easy, and is how the game originally worked.  But it can be... well, very jarring.  Particularly in very side-on views.

Having icons disappear when you get to a certain shallow pitch angle or zoomed in a certain amount would solve the problem to some extent, and moving the icons down to literally the position of the ships would make sense and be easy (all icons are on top of all ships at all times and thus no bad clipping ever happens), and would be more like AIWC.  But it would also take away your ability to see things like health for the ships and thus your ability to on-screen manage much -- again, more or less like the same problem AIWC had.

If the sidebar were more useful, showing ships in groups and with health percentages kind of like the selected window does, then that might not matter anymore and the main view can just be either cinematic or icons depending on your zoom level.  I've considered this, and it might feel a lot more natural, but it's a kind of big change.  It's where I've been leaning lately.

Also, the selection rings around each squad are bright and too dominant. Those are the two most jarring things I've noticed and that's within 30 seconds of opening a game. In the middle of a combat I imagine the visuals get even more confusing.

The selection rings thing is definitely easy to tone down, although I've been trying to think if there's a way to make them also portray more info (like health in a ring or something, but the math on that gets tricky and it could quickly look like a circus.
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Offline RocketAssistedPuffin

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Re: AI War 2 v0.877 Released! "The Strikecraft Goldilocks Zone"
« Reply #20 on: August 09, 2019, 05:18:44 PM »
Trying that save with the current changes - AIP reduction is 47 before the total force from the Terminal (that's still alive anyhow) is greater in strength than you, and when it starts to get going.
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Offline kmunoz

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Re: AI War 2 v0.877 Released! "The Strikecraft Goldilocks Zone"
« Reply #21 on: August 09, 2019, 05:59:41 PM »
Quote
One choice that they clearly made, which I wrestled with, is that all icons are on top of all ships.  Right now we have ships mixed in with icons, if that makes sense.  A ship can be closer to the camera than some other ship's icon, and thus partially or fully occlude the icon of the other ship.  That gives a sense of depth to our scenes that is lacking in the Sins scene.  I think Sins is not even shrinking the size of the icons based on how far the ships are from the camera, which again has pros and cons.

...

The reason for this, for good or for ill, is because of the thing I just mentioned about ships and icons being in the same physical space.  Ships would sometimes occlude their own icons, or otherwise get in the way of other ships' icons (when small ships are near a giant one), which is because the icons aren't drawn in a layer over everything else.

Drawing the icons in a layer over everything else would be easy, and is how the game originally worked.  But it can be... well, very jarring.  Particularly in very side-on views.

Having icons disappear when you get to a certain shallow pitch angle or zoomed in a certain amount would solve the problem to some extent, and moving the icons down to literally the position of the ships would make sense and be easy (all icons are on top of all ships at all times and thus no bad clipping ever happens), and would be more like AIWC.  But it would also take away your ability to see things like health for the ships and thus your ability to on-screen manage much -- again, more or less like the same problem AIWC had.

I think the distinction stems from what the function of the icons is. It seems like you want the icons to be the main point of interaction, or at least be "present" in the scene as objects with depth and distance from the viewer. That to me feels counter-intuitive. They're icons, not objects, and since you already have objects, the icons should be abstracted out as part of the interface, not as part of the map.

In very side-on views right now, the icons are so far away from their associated models that it's basically like you have two separate layers of units. As far as the interface goes, that's ... ok, I guess. And top-down, icons and models are at the same spot, so this also works great for the interface.

But I have a strong feeling that most non-grognard players are going to want to play at roughly a 45 degree angle. Maybe between 30 and 60. And when you do that, the icons tangle everything up. You've now got icons sitting on top of unrelated models - and so the question is begged, visually, how is that any different from having icons sitting on top of their own models?

The best example of the disconnect is in the screenshot I posted above. Look at the squad unit just below the cap ship - the one with the icon sitting on top of it.

That icon doesn't go with that ship. That icon goes with the ship three ships below it. Whatever excellent reasons there may be for having the icons behave the way they currently do, this ONE CASE is the precise reason why it just isn't a good idea. Current early access players and testers may have developed an awareness of the way the game is laid out, but new players and players like myself will not have done so. That icon sitting over that unrelated ship is a solid brick wall. Bounce right off.

If I were to take the existing icon method and do one minor tweak to fix it as much as possible, I would take inspiration from tabletop games like Canvas Eagles. In a game like that, you have a unit base that sits on the tabletop map, and then a thin metal rod that goes up to a plane model. The actual unit is the base - that's the object that is used to determine distances, etc. The plane model is visual fluff. Viewed at a 30 to 60 degree angle (the way a tabletop game is usually viewed), the metal rods make it possible to relate the model to the base.

So the one minor tweak would be to put in the "metal rod." A thin line connecting the icon to the model. It's not an ideal solution (it adds even more clutter), but it's really the only way forward that I can see that retains the current separation of icon and model while adding clarity to the relationship.

Offline RocketAssistedPuffin

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Re: AI War 2 v0.877 Released! "The Strikecraft Goldilocks Zone"
« Reply #22 on: August 09, 2019, 06:44:45 PM »
AIWar2 -> GameData -> Configuration -> ExternalVisualConstants

extra_y_offset_to_all_icons="45" on line 86 is what was used to raise them up. They should all be fine and mostly not clipping into their models if you reduce that back to 0. Some have their icons fairly high up even with it on 0 though, but in the case of something like a Transport it's...hopefully rather clear what it is.

Perhaps that should be a setting in an Option menu?
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Offline BadgerBadger

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Re: AI War 2 v0.877 Released! "The Strikecraft Goldilocks Zone"
« Reply #23 on: August 09, 2019, 08:02:58 PM »
It's worth noting that you can turn off the ship models, under the Display Settings

Offline PokerChen

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Re: AI War 2 v0.877 Released! "The Strikecraft Goldilocks Zone"
« Reply #24 on: August 09, 2019, 09:00:10 PM »
I'm closer to kmunoz' position on the issue with iconography and visual clutter. Restricting myself to just the selection indicator, here are a set of ideas that may or may not be implementable within time constraints:
1. Only one selection indicator, preferably on the icon to leave the 3D model clear.
2. Team color the 3D models a bit more. Can team colors be on the textures? Simplistically, Homeworld just gives all strikecraft TC'd engine trails, and all capital ships TC'd racing stripes.
3. Drop the vertical separation of icons by half for fleet leaders. Double their icon size.
4. Drop the vertical separation of icons to ~30% for strikecraft.
5. If it is possible to have a triangle with gradient transparency, point a triangle from the icon in the direction of the 3D model, but only cover 25% of the remaining separation. A line is... okay, but I wouldn't do it without gradient transparency.
6. NB: Part of the visual cluster is that the selection edges are too sharp.

Would you like me to run a photoshop of several visual variations to choose from? Will start another thread if so, maybe tomorrow.


The selection rings thing
Quick brainstorm of ideas:
  • Transparent grey circle at full health. As health decreases, turn into a ring. Advantage: no color clash with faction color. Disadvantage: Not same intuition as standard RTS. Full grey circle obscures the model.
  • Sins style. Transparent grey circle on icon only. Glow red only when receiving damage (not HP bar). Advantage: 3D models have no additional visual clutter. Disadvantage: No health indicator, just indicator of being hit. Potential refinement is to differentiate if the damage has one of theos 10x bonuses or not, which is one important part about "do I retreat my ship?". Or, make it glow more angrily red when the remaining HP decreases.
  • Green radial health bar. Disadvantage: As you said, will probably make a mess.
  • Double icon size for fleet leaders.


Offline kmunoz

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Re: AI War 2 v0.877 Released! "The Strikecraft Goldilocks Zone"
« Reply #25 on: August 09, 2019, 11:32:50 PM »
It's worth noting that you can turn off the ship models, under the Display Settings

The way it's currently implemented, the ship models go away but the selection circles remain, and the icons are not centered to where the ships are.

Offline BadgerBadger

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Re: AI War 2 v0.877 Released! "The Strikecraft Goldilocks Zone"
« Reply #26 on: August 10, 2019, 12:19:00 PM »
Hmm. I basically play a game of moving icons around, and almost never look at the actual models. Though I started playing when most of the models were small rocks, so I'm not a great sample point.

I do find the Local sidebar imperfect, especially for planets with lots different factions. If the Dyson Sphere is trying to free itself from an AI then it's really hard to tell which side is stronger, since they all just show up under the "Enemies" section. Or if the marauders are attacking an AI planet, it's very hard to tell who will win without counting units. It would be nice to have per-faction strength broken out in an easy to follow format.

Offline PokerChen

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Re: AI War 2 v0.877 Released! "The Strikecraft Goldilocks Zone"
« Reply #27 on: August 10, 2019, 09:34:45 PM »
Anyone have a save game with a "much too easy" superterminal hack for some balance work?

For future reference, here are a pair of saves for before the hack and at its early stages.

Offline kmunoz

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Re: AI War 2 v0.877 Released! "The Strikecraft Goldilocks Zone"
« Reply #28 on: August 11, 2019, 01:18:46 AM »
Hmm. I basically play a game of moving icons around, and almost never look at the actual models. Though I started playing when most of the models were small rocks, so I'm not a great sample point.

I suspect that's going to be the case for the majority of players who spent a lot of time in AIWC, since the muscle memory is that icons are what matter.

I suspect it's going to be the opposite for everyone used to other RTS games, since the muscle memory is that icons either don't exist or aren't the most easily selectable element.