Author Topic: IGF Finalists are in (no AI War)  (Read 24915 times)

Offline quickstix

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Re: IGF Finalists are in (no AI War)
« Reply #30 on: January 06, 2010, 09:58:00 PM »
What is the big deal about holding down CTRL when you click? It's no different than selecting multiple files in an OS really, and virtually any RTS has a whole bunch of movement hotkeys. It seems to me that the IGF really doesn't have the criteria or approach to indie games that boast any sort of longterm complexity or knowledge.

Mind you, I'm the kind of person that just absorbs information and spends lots of time reading game manuals to brush up on my knowledge. Knights in the Nightmare on the DS was criticised by Gamespot for being too complicated and difficult, yet I find it one of the best games I've played in years and love the fact there is a complete encyclopaedia ingame of all the gameplay information. I can just spend ages reading all the information, then applying new techniques to my gameplay.

Nobody enjoys a challenge anymore. ::)

Offline x4000

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Re: IGF Finalists are in (no AI War)
« Reply #31 on: January 06, 2010, 09:59:35 PM »
that guy clearly doesn't like RTSes in general, which is kinda a prerequisite (no offense intended). Besides: Obviously enough people like "complexity for it's own sake" to buy it! ;)

None taken. :)

I do however second the recommendations of the first review -- offering players a smaller, faster paced gameplay where small squads and even individual units can shine would be a worthy goal to add for a future game!

Could be, yeah -- though, things have been gravitating in that direction in general, honestly.  With the addition of the 10-planet maps, plus handicaps, plus multi-planets starts, plus fast & dangerous mode, plus the humans-have-faster-ships... if you want a blazing fast fight to the finish, the options are there to configure one in a variety of ways.  I bet you could play a 10-planet map with an 8-planet start in under an hour in a blaze of glory if you wanted to.  I've not tried it, but it would certainly be a very different campaign from the norm with AI War.

The third review is more or less me, i just can't seem to find a map and settings i like and moreover get into the campaign far enough that i don't just chuck it after a couple hours worth. Though the small "tutorial" campaign would fit the bill for what that guy wanted. And, as a result, we don't get to see your awesome AI :(

The third review, where the guy gives up due to the complexity is you?  Wow, I had no idea -- that's kind of shocking to me, honestly, given that you're such a regular and have been for so long.  You've had a ton of suggestions and comments and so forth for a really long time.  What's causing you to chuck it?  Are you constantly getting stalemated, or does it just become to easy?  If you're stalemating, I'd suggest a lower difficulty level.  If it's becoming too easy, I'd suggest pressing on a bit further into at least one campaign; it gets a lot harder as the AIP goes up, after all, and there's a big jump after you kill the first AI.  Perhaps all the new capturables, and/or the new minor factions, might make for scenarios that are more likely to hold your attention.  I'm not sure, but then again I'm not sure exactly what the problem is that you're facing, given how longtime of a player you've been here.

In short: You've made an awesome game which is doing great in it's niche, but in order to break out into the main market you'll need some sort of ramp for those not willing or able to scale the massive barrier to entry.

Here's the real crux of the matter, though: do I really want to break out into the larger market?  Or rather, what is the "larger market?"  There are a ton of people who play 4X-type games, or other hardcore strategy games, and I'm very interested in them.  But I think that trying to bend this game into a "4X for beginners" direction would just wind up not really bearing very good fruit.  

The best example I can think of is Magic: The Gathering.  I used to be very into that game, and it is very complex.  It's certainly not for everybody (even moreso because of its collectible nature, but also because of the ruthless, constant -- sometimes mean-spirited when it comes to card denial and such -- combat.).  My wife hates it.  I plan to surreptitiously indoctrinate our future kids with it when they're old enough.

But I digress.  The best example I can think of is how Magic: The Gathering tried to make a variant called Portal.  It was basically Easy MTG, with larger print, simpler explanations, and a whole lot less complexity in general.  A few of the simplifications were good, and eventually made it back into larger MTG design (the giant mana symbols in the description area of land cards, for instance).  But, by and large Portal flopped -- there simply wasn't a market for "a hardcore-seeming CCG that isn't hardcore."

In the case of AI War, there are tons of other games out there offering the "simple RTS" model, and doing a better job of it than I ever could.  Why?  Because I don't play those games for simplicity.  I don't know anyone who does.  I can't effectively design or test it.  And I'm not sure there's a market for it.  What I'm more interested in doing is capturing more of the hardcore strategy market, which we've hardly tapped despite what success we've had there.  That's the Target Market in a business sense.  Trying to muddy that by making the design so broad that it covers Everything And The Kitchen Sink generally leads to products that are too generalized to appeal to anyone.  I've had experience with that in the past, incidentally, in past business endeavors.

So with AI War, my goal was to target one specific audience and do so really well.  I think I've mostly succeeded.  Other products from us will have vastly different target audiences in many respects -- they may sell better, we'll see.  Not that I'm complaining overmuch about the sales of AI War anyway, but it's certainly not at AAA levels or even something like World of Goo.  But we're in the upper echelon for indie-developed games on the PC, which I think is worth noting.  I'd rather spend development time on continuing to attract more customers from that key 4X/hardcore strategy market for AI War (via DLC and expansions), and then court other markets with other products.

Granted, I know where you're coming from, and I do try to make AI War as accessible as possible when it comes to easing players into what it is.  Hence all the tutorials and other material, and the ongoing tweaks to the gameplay to make things simpler on the surface while more complex in the scenarios being simulated.  That's definitely a trend that will also continue.  But even if I wanted to, I'd never be able to compete with the C&C's and the Starcrafts -- those games are finely tuned for short pvp (which I don't play), and have absolutely gorgeous, amazing production values.  They're also hugely established brands, and primarily sold at retail.  AI War could never go head-to-head with those in a million years, so instead I do business in the niche that I've designed it for.  I'm gradually trying to chisel away at that niche to make it a bit broader and wider, but still the niche is what it is, and it's where this specific game will stay for all the reasons mentioned above.

Future Arcen titles, of course, are an entirely different matter -- I like games that make me think, but strategy games are uniquely hardcore out of the games that I enjoy.  My goal with future titles is probably a lot more mainstream, namely to make easy-to-learn but hard-to-master games with an appealing, simple surface and decidedly deep underlying mechanics for those who are interested.  It's that same sort of design philosophy that makes me love Nintendo, PixelJunk, and a number of other such brands.  Of course, I'd aim for more depth than those often have, but I am convinced that there is a sweet spot where it will satisfy my more hardcore-thinking-game urges while not being so surface-complex as AI War.

Anywho, thanks for the comments -- interesting discussion.
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Offline RCIX

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Re: IGF Finalists are in (no AI War)
« Reply #32 on: January 06, 2010, 10:01:13 PM »
Nobody enjoys a challenge anymore. ::)
Except, of course, us "strange" people who like arcane games like AI war and such... ;) no offense intended!
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Offline dumpsterKEEPER

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Re: IGF Finalists are in (no AI War)
« Reply #33 on: January 06, 2010, 10:09:01 PM »
It is interesting to hear some of those perspectives on the game, particularly when they did seem to put forth an effort to say why they didn't care for it or specifically what they thought should be improved. That's always one of my personal annoyances, when someone thinks "It sucks!" is a complete and final argument as to why they don't care for a game. Obviously, it certainly does come down to personal taste. For me, the apparent complexity of the game was one of the things that interested me in it. And personally, in no way would I classify the game as overwhelmingly complex or "arcane" (although the comparison to reading Hemingway in binary made me laugh). I appreciate that the information is given to me straight up front and I'm responsible for responding to it.

However, I can see why AI War might not be perceived as a "traditional" indie game. Many of the indie games I've played (as I have several friends who really like them) tend to have an obvious, clever mechanic that is successively iterated on through the game (e.g. World of Goo) and if that's the mentality that an IGF judge had, then by comparison, AI War would probably have felt like diving into the deep end of the pool with a lead vest on. At the same time though, that's precisely why I typically get bored with most of those games once I tire of that that core mechanic whereas AI War has continued to hold my interest far, far longer.

Anyway, just some rambling thoughts from reading their response email, thanks for sharing it.

Offline x4000

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Re: IGF Finalists are in (no AI War)
« Reply #34 on: January 06, 2010, 10:16:34 PM »
What is the big deal about holding down CTRL when you click? It's no different than selecting multiple files in an OS really, and virtually any RTS has a whole bunch of movement hotkeys.

Specifically, I think they were referring to going through wormholes.  It didn't occur to them that if you are fighting near a wormhole and clicking around to do so, that you'd accidentally send ships through if you weren't required to hold Ctrl.  The Indie Games Magazine that reamed us over also commented on that, but no-one else ever has to my recollection.  Suffice it to say, the Ctrl key in that instance is an amazing boon to usability, as I can tell you from the contrast (in alpha) before that was added.  We were always sending ships through wormholes when we didn't mean to.

Mind you, I'm the kind of person that just absorbs information and spends lots of time reading game manuals to brush up on my knowledge. Knights in the Nightmare on the DS was criticised by Gamespot for being too complicated and difficult, yet I find it one of the best games I've played in years and love the fact there is a complete encyclopaedia ingame of all the gameplay information. I can just spend ages reading all the information, then applying new techniques to my gameplay.

Nobody enjoys a challenge anymore. ::)

Thankfully, a lot of people seem to.  I mean, the 4X games do sell well, just not on the level of CoD or anything.  My best guess is that there is a market of at least 1 million players who would be interested in the vague sort of game that AI War is, just based on sales of other similar games.  Even if half of that market is turned off by graphics or complexity, or doesn't find it based on it not being on retail shelves in their area, or whatever, that's still a huge market that is largely untapped.  

I mean, that would mean that at around 12,000 units sold, we're conservatively at around 2% market penetration (if no one has yet guessed, my degree is actually in business, not computer science).  That's an absolutely huge amount of opportunity remaining.  If we sold even 100k copies of the game at a 70% price reduction, that would be 1.3 million dollars in revenue.  That's absolutely chump change to a AAA studio (many of them probably spend half that a month on salary alone), but for a company the size of Arcen that can support our operations for several years.  That's the nature of carving out a niche when you're a small business: you go after an under-served market segment and provide a superior niche product that makes you a healthy profit that is nonetheless too small for the large companies to be interested in.

If everything is designed too broadly, solely for the mass market, you get only a certain type of game.  Dwarf Fortress would never exist, and neither would AI War.  Probably a lot of the RTS genre would not exist, honestly.  Even the most successful RTS games are considered fairly niche compared to the larger market.  Then again, most people think that the FPS market is so mainstream, but it's only a handful of games there that are so successful, too -- most FPS titles lose money due to the oversaturation of that market.

I guess it all comes down to mindset -- I don't want to be the next EA, or even the next Gas Powered Games.  I want to stay absolutely tiny as a company, and make the sort of games that no one else wants to make, but that I want to play.  And I think that as we get increasingly well known for making games in a few certain styles -- AI War being just one of those styles -- I think we'll do quite well for ourselves.  I mean, our products are not cannibalizing each others' sales, so they all should be relatively cumulative for Arcen's income, and because they place gameplay over graphics and have lots of post-release support, they're likely to have a longer shelf life than most games out there.  So we could definitely hit that 100k units sold number over the span of a few years, I think.  And during that time, AI War would be thus helping to fund other projects.

Right now I'm banking on the expansion and the puzzle game funding A Valley Without Wind, which is going to be more expensive to make compared to The Zenith Remnant or the puzzle game.  Right now we have enough money to definitely make it through the puzzle game, and assuming that sales don't trail off significantly with AI War, and/or that the puzzle game and expansion sell well, we should be pretty okay for AVWW.

I guess that's really my benchmark for success: can I stay in business and keep the staff employed?  Can we make the sort of games we want to play while doing that?  If so, mission accomplished.  I don't have any shareholders to please, and I don't have any particular goals of being "teh numberz one bestsellers evah (until next year's replacement title)."  This got really tangential from your comments, quickstix -- but I think it's relevant, all the same.  I think there's a viable business model for small companies to satisfy smaller niches of customers, and even those smaller niches can be quite profitable if the company does a good job (and gets lucky, a bit).  So far so good!  I'm not mourning the fact that we don't have the visibility of World of Goo or anything.  Though of course I'd like more cash reserves to have a bit more security -- all things in good time. ;)
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Offline x4000

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Re: IGF Finalists are in (no AI War)
« Reply #35 on: January 06, 2010, 10:25:33 PM »
It is interesting to hear some of those perspectives on the game, particularly when they did seem to put forth an effort to say why they didn't care for it or specifically what they thought should be improved. That's always one of my personal annoyances, when someone thinks "It sucks!" is a complete and final argument as to why they don't care for a game. Obviously, it certainly does come down to personal taste. For me, the apparent complexity of the game was one of the things that interested me in it. And personally, in no way would I classify the game as overwhelmingly complex or "arcane" (although the comparison to reading Hemingway in binary made me laugh). I appreciate that the information is given to me straight up front and I'm responsible for responding to it.

Yes, I was gratified that they actually made an effort, too -- that's why I really don't want people to go into judge-bashing.  I may not agree with much of what they said (when literary critics review sci-fi novels that I like, I tend to have the same reaction -- it's just the wrong audience, and they don't get what appeals to the actual audience those books are aimed at), but it's still refreshing to see more than "it sucks."

However, I can see why AI War might not be perceived as a "traditional" indie game. Many of the indie games I've played (as I have several friends who really like them) tend to have an obvious, clever mechanic that is successively iterated on through the game (e.g. World of Goo) and if that's the mentality that an IGF judge had, then by comparison, AI War would probably have felt like diving into the deep end of the pool with a lead vest on. At the same time though, that's precisely why I typically get bored with most of those games once I tire of that that core mechanic whereas AI War has continued to hold my interest far, far longer.

Yeah, I know what you mean.  I have World of Goo and Braid, and I really do love those games.  But, they both leave me really wanting much more.  I love what is there, but to me it just feels like an appetizer.  That's my chief complaint with indie games on average, is that they are too small and just have one main clever mechanic, usually.  They are the gaming equivalent of really well-done short stories.  That's all well and good, and I appreciate them for what they are, but I'm really just a novel guy, plain and simple.  When I get into a game and love it, it's a major letdown for it to be over in 2, 5, 8, or even 12 hours.  A lot of people griped about how long Far Cry 2 was (and it did get repetitive at times), but that's just the sort of immersion and length I prefer.

I don't know -- it will be particularly interesting to see how A Valley Without Wind is received, by the wider public at large and the indie judges in particular.  That's a game that will have a ton of content (20-40 hours worth, hopefully, plus side missions), and tons of depth through optional challenges and a hardcore difficulty mode, but also still that simple veneer and clever mechanic that generally typifies indie games.  Hopefully having lots of content will be seen by most actual customers as a sign of a good value (that's how I look at it when I buy games), but I suppose we shall see.  I'm all about going where no one has ever gone before, I guess, and so it can be hard to predict results.  Honestly, I hadn't expected AI War to be nearly so well received as it has been, and its lifespan seems far from over.  In 10 or 15 yeas, I wonder how all of this will look in retrospect.

Anyway, just some rambling thoughts from reading their response email, thanks for sharing it.

You bet -- thanks for sharing back!
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Offline RCIX

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Re: IGF Finalists are in (no AI War)
« Reply #36 on: January 06, 2010, 10:38:20 PM »
The third review, where the guy gives up due to the complexity is you?  Wow, I had no idea -- that's kind of shocking to me, honestly, given that you're such a regular and have been for so long.  You've had a ton of suggestions and comments and so forth for a really long time.  What's causing you to chuck it?  Are you constantly getting stalemated, or does it just become to easy?  If you're stalemating, I'd suggest a lower difficulty level.  If it's becoming too easy, I'd suggest pressing on a bit further into at least one campaign; it gets a lot harder as the AIP goes up, after all, and there's a big jump after you kill the first AI.  Perhaps all the new capturables, and/or the new minor factions, might make for scenarios that are more likely to hold your attention.  I'm not sure, but then again I'm not sure exactly what the problem is that you're facing, given how longtime of a player you've been here.
It's more or less a mix of analysis paralysis and tactical overload -- i get into a game then i have to decide what to research, then scout, then build some stuff, make battle plans, oh shooot incoming wave i built the wrong stuff BOOM! I managed to get one long game going but haven't found another good one since :(

I do however try to play it now and then and am able to spot bugs and errors and -- I dunno, I've always been good at coming up with ideas, at least i think so... I want to get my money's worth :)
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Offline x4000

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Re: IGF Finalists are in (no AI War)
« Reply #37 on: January 06, 2010, 10:55:33 PM »
Huh.  Well, I guess the meta game of helping to improve the game with your ideas is interesting in and of itself, come to that.  But, it's a shame about the analysis paralysis and so on.  You might prefer playing with half waves on as a modifier, or even no waves.  Then you get just a conquest problem, rather than having to balance so many things at once -- still an involved game, but without the worry of getting caught unprepared by inbound waves.  I don't know, it's a thought, anyway -- I'd like for you to get your money's worth, too. :)
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Offline quickstix

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Re: IGF Finalists are in (no AI War)
« Reply #38 on: January 06, 2010, 11:04:18 PM »
I'll be honest with you x4000, your attitude is a breath of fresh air in an era where I was losing faith in developers and niche gaming. I was already sold on the gamplay of AI War when I tried the demo, but when I read your articles and attitudes towards gaming, the decision was made right then and there.

AI War isn't just the best game I've played recently, it's one of the best I've played ever. Most of the games on my best ever list aren't there just because of the awesome game, but my respect towards the developers and their support and commitment.

You can buy publicity, but you can't buy respect.

Offline x4000

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Re: IGF Finalists are in (no AI War)
« Reply #39 on: January 06, 2010, 11:10:19 PM »
Many thanks, quickstix -- that really means a lot.
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Offline Shardz

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Re: IGF Finalists are in (no AI War)
« Reply #40 on: January 06, 2010, 11:42:33 PM »
Yeah, I'll chime in again after reading the responses thus far here. The mission statement of Arcen is exactly what most of us here want to hear and have much admiration for as we don't want any clones of other things on the market, either. Like you mentioned with M:TG Portal, I've been into Magic for many years and I still even pop online to Magic Online to play with my virtual cards now and then. Portal flopped cause they attempted to expand their audience with a watered down version and nobody wanted that. There is that substance thing again...people want meat, not tofu (well, except for Vegans LOL!).

One tidbit I excluded about the review was regarding the comment of the title. In one sentence he says that you need to market the game with a focus of what the strong suit of the game is about; which is the AI. Then he goes on to say that the game title is too generic and doesn't work. Well, it's not Angelina sexy, but everything you need to know is right there in the title!  AI War: Fleet Command. The AI is the showstopper in which you obviously play against and then you command fleets to obtain your objective. I think those two comments offset completely and he just should have said, "I'd like to see a spicier title" and leave it at that.

It's really a big balancing act to produce the product that you want to make while trying to make a profit to continue on in the future; preferably bigger and better as time marches on. You have a really good mechanic going on so far that seems to work in your favor and that keeps the creative end flowing and the customers chirping. There is your initial brainstorm product, then a live forum open to suggestions and feedback, then we also double as beta testers (those willing) to ensure quality, then your retail outlets that take care of the peddling while you do the coding. You also have the DLC with some TLC to dominate NYC. LOL! I think what you will end up with over time is a supergame franchise that will become undeniable to the fans of the genre in general once the exposure falls into the right place (which I believe it will).

I think the attractive message here is that you are sticking to your guns overall for the sake of creating art in motion and to create something that needs to be made. Whether or not that becomes a massive commercially viable asset in the future remains to be seen, but AI War should always be around for those who finally come around. The selling points for me were system requirements, integral small developer, constant updates, communication with the community, frequent DLC, and a game that just plain kicks butt all over the place. I would never expect anything less from Arcen after seeing what I have in this time already.


Offline RCIX

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Re: IGF Finalists are in (no AI War)
« Reply #41 on: January 07, 2010, 12:20:52 AM »
Huh.  Well, I guess the meta game of helping to improve the game with your ideas is interesting in and of itself, come to that.  But, it's a shame about the analysis paralysis and so on.  You might prefer playing with half waves on as a modifier, or even no waves.  Then you get just a conquest problem, rather than having to balance so many things at once -- still an involved game, but without the worry of getting caught unprepared by inbound waves.  I don't know, it's a thought, anyway -- I'd like for you to get your money's worth, too. :)

Darn it, my cover is blown! Head for the hills! ;) :D

I didn't think about that, next time i fire it up i'll be sure to try :)
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Offline spelk

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Re: IGF Finalists are in (no AI War)
« Reply #42 on: January 11, 2010, 11:53:28 AM »
Troy from FlashofSteel.com, has a piece about the injustice of the IGF's and specifically talks about AI War, and quotes Chris.

Offline eRe4s3r

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Re: IGF Finalists are in (no AI War)
« Reply #43 on: January 11, 2010, 12:15:44 PM »
To be honest, it really is a border that has to be crossed, i mean playing with the settings you like, not the ones OTHER people consider "good" or other people consider balanced, what YOU consider fun is what YOU have to choose. I am talking about handicap and AI Wave modifiers.

People seem to believe that theres only 1 way to play a game, but i can tell you AI war is much more fun to me at 200% Handicap for me - and at normal waves without astro trains. With the Zenith ships and changes in 2.600 specifically to the damage boost ranges theres no longer any blockaded wormholes you can't break though with a hearty push. If all fails, push through with a golem, that'll definitely get you through ;)

So the point is, if you like action heavy gameplay, turn up handicap for yourself to positives - that way 99% of the time you *are* fighting and you are going to win victories that other players can only dream of at normal handicap. Like for example pwning Golems with kiting fortresses for fun. Having a super fortress next to your home command station etc.
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Offline x4000

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Re: IGF Finalists are in (no AI War)
« Reply #44 on: January 11, 2010, 01:20:07 PM »
Very interesting, thanks for the link, spelk.  This has been a much more cited post than I had expected, but hopefully some good will come of it.
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