Author Topic: AI War 2 v2.701 Released! "Multiplayer Shared-Faction Reaches Beta"  (Read 5978 times)

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  • Chris McElligott Park, Arcen Founder and Lead Dev
  • Arcen Staff
  • Zenith Council Member Mark III
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It's been sixty-six days since the last major release writeup, with THIRTY-FIVE releases in all, and notes starting here and ending here.

We are now in a mix of multiplayer alpha and beta! (Depends on how you play, some methods are feature-complete and others are not.) If you want the full info on multiplayer's current status, the place to look at that is here.

Badger's Retirement

Okay, this would be a really really long digression, but I hope you take a moment to click over and read about the legacy of Badger and Puffin. Both have retired from working on the game fully (although both still hang out and occasionally poke things in), and so I'm now the sole remaining active developer on the game.

With that being said, this is "news" as of a month and a half ago (for Badger -- for Puffin, it was much earlier this year), and we've had 28 releases since Badger retired, so I do okay on my own. This isn't a cause for concern, but rather a moment to take stock of their achievements and celebrate them.

It's also worth noting that Badger is still doing some remaining work here and there on DLC2, and he's already decided to return and is working on content for DLC3.

New Main Menu

You might have noticed the new main menu if you've logged into the game in the last month:

If your computer fans turn on and your FPS is only like 30, please don't freak out. This is actually the (by a really large margin) most intensive scene in the entire game. I get 90fps on it and in the game on my main dev machine, and a measly 30fps on my under-min-sys-requirements mac computer, but it's usable on both. Even my below-specs mac is getting like 60-90 fps in-game with ship models turned off.

The main menu might seem like a strange thing to revise, but it's the first thing that you see when you load up the game. We wanted something that felt more epic and exciting, and that had a darker and more appropriate thematic feel for the game. Personally, I also wanted a view from inside a spaceship looking out, since usually we only ever see spaceships from the outside during actual gameplay.

I also majorly updated the ending scenes (both win and loss), so those are more epic now.

UI Overhaul, And Usability Galore

Okay, so for one thing I did a complete visual overhaul of what buttons look like, and backgrounds on all the UI bits, and things like that. This no longer feels vaguely website-ish. It feels like... well, like a hardcore strategy game with a lot of space themes.

But that's not all we did. There are new functions for doing searches for units or planets by name on the galaxy map. There are a ton of new galaxy map filters that show more information of various sorts. You can easily see where threat is, or the hunter or warden, etc. You can edit planet names, set priorities per planet like the first game (but with more options), add narrative notes to planets, and more.

You can also ping planets or locations on planets, and you can ping with multiple colors to help communicate meaning while you're discussing on voice chat. The notices up at the top of the screen now have backgrounds that indicate their severity/importance, and are automatically sorted by that.

There's also a new fleet status window that Badger added despite being retired (he actually did a ton of QoL stuff in the last month, since he was actually starting to play both on his own as well as with his family and friends and thus noticing more things). The fleet status window is particularly helpful for keeping an eye on what is going on in your empire, or in all the empires of players in multiplayer.

...but it's been 66 days. Come on, we're just getting started.

AI Improvements

  • The AI Hunter has gotten more intelligent multiple times over, and fireteams in general have gotten smarter. You have pre-retirement Badger to thank for these.
  • Deepstriking (the AI Reserves) got a number of AI updates from Badger right before he retired.
  • The way that AI Sentinels handle their reinforcement budget was completely overhauled by me, making them much more threatening and interesting.
  • The way that AIs use turrets has also been redone, so that they really don't use remotely so many as before. They really should be putting their resources into things that can strike you offensively, so the planets with a bunch of turrets are now far more rare.
  • Turrets have actually been rebalanced fairly substantially, largely thanks to post-retirement Puffin, who was still collecting ideas from the community and implementing them along with his own thoughts.
  • We made a number of changes to how strength values are calculated, to more accurately represent how dangerous ships actually are. This makes it easier for you to make good decisions, but also plays directly into the intelligence of the AI and other NPC factions.
  • There were a number of cases where the AI Sentinels would hold onto threatfleet ships (which are not very smart) for too long rather than giving them over to the Hunters. We looked at that and I decided to just brute force them into giving their ships to the Hunters if they can't get whatever they think they are doing done in 3 minutes.
  • Thanks yet again to post-retirement Badger, various factions including the nanocaust and marauders are able to invade your galaxy in a delayed fashion, which is pretty cool. Rather than having them there from moment one, they show up a while into the game.

More Mods!

  • Another new included-by-default mod is now in place: Civilian Industries, by StarKelp. This is turning out to be a really popular mod, which involves a lot of defensive and economic buddies hanging around. Strategic Sage has been doing a video series with the Civilian Industries helping him against the Scourge from DLC1.
  • NR SirLimbo has been adding a prolific number of mods, as well as several frameworks for modding. His Extended Ship Variants (for the base game and for DLC1) have become really standard fare for a lot of players, and his Kaizer's Marauders are a vastly more complex and dangerous interpretation of the base game Marauders. At the moment he is working on a new and evolutionary style of Devourer, but that is currently still in earlier testing and not yet included for everyone in the main game.
  • I did an enormous overhaul of our XML Parsing capabilities, upgrading it so that the data is parsed faster, and also more correctly. This fixed up a number of blocking issues that were preventing certain mods from being possible, and consequently we saw a huge uptick in new mods right after that.
  • Oh man, the mods from NR SirLimbo kept coming! There's a micro mods collection in there now, too. He's been absolutely prolifically busy on several fronts. It's hard to understate just how involved his Kaizer's Marauders are, in particular. And his AMU tool is there to support any modders who want to use it, making it easier to make complex mods like his.

Multiplayer Bits

  • Multiplayer itself has seen a ton of improvements at a technical level and otherwise, it probably goes without saying. But this has been the major focus of mine during this period, despite the detour into quality of life improvements.
  • Multiplayer went through a number of changes at a technical level as I experimented with how to get the smoothest experience in terms of sync, while at the same time keeping things moving. The end result was not what I had planned on, but is instead something that relies on data I collected in real world use cases. It works ridiculously well.
  • The ability to swap ship lines between players was added by NR SirLimbo, which was really kind of him and saved me having to do it. He also made that interface a bit less overwhelming in general even in single player.
  • I added in the ability to finally share control of a single faction, and that's the mode that is just now going into beta (aka feature-completeness). The multi-faction mode will hopefully join it in beta status in the next week or two at most.

Other Visual And QoL Improvements

  • I redid all of the visuals for area of effect attacks, most notably tesla attacks. It looks SO much cooler now. The old version was okay, but not nearly as varied. And when I upgraded the lighting pipeline during the runup to DLC1 late last year, the AOE visual effects actually wound up taking a step down in visual quality.
  • I added a new Stationary Flagship Mode, which I had expected to be popular but actually was almost universally hated. But it is still something that you can enable if it solves a gameplay problem you have. A few people were enjoying it, so that's a win in my book. But it's no longer on by default for everyone.
  • The way that galaxy map links are drawn has been updated to be a gradient of the two colors of the owners between those planets, which was a cool addition of post-retirement Badger.
  • For a long while, we've had some trouble with trying to use one button for toggling on or off modes like pursuit and attack move and so on, and so I split those into two functions where you can clearly tell it if you are turning them on or off. This solves a lot of intermittent frustrations people were having.
  • Post-retirement Badger added a whole host of other quality of life improvements.
  • Post-retirement Puffin added about thirty-six new space backgrounds of various sorts, for use in-game and on the galaxy maps. These were mostly created using the shader tool I set up a few years ago, but the results are the result of a lot of artistic work and experimentation on his part. They really spruce up the variety in the game, and in particular make the galaxy maps look nicer.
  • I also spent a goodly while making it so that we are now able to include arbitrary sprites in text. This involved further customizing our version of TextMeshPro, which now has a number of unique features for us. This paired well with our overhaul of the icons for various resources, and in the future we'll do things like embedding ship icons in tooltips.
  • The visuals for shots themselves are now a lot more appropriately-scaled for various zoom levels, so battles look nicer.
  • There are also now battle indicators on the galaxy map, making it more obvious where there are fights happening in your territory without it becoming a circus.

What's Else Is New?

  • Astro Trains got a buff to make them more interesting.
  • Post-retirement Badger also added a variety of roguelike options for not revealing things about what the galaxy you are entering entails, which is a cool feature.
  • A bunch of performance improvements in text generation, and UI updates in general, have been made. SirLimbo and I wound up going down a giant rabbit hole on the text generation in particular, but it makes it so that really length text narratives and dynamically-generated lists of ship tooltips no longer suck the performance out of your game.
  • Error handling is also vastly more robust in the game, and when errors happen you now get much more information about what is happening and especially if there are a bunch of silent errors hammering your log.
  • Ever thought that "snipers and drones are useless, because they just aggro entire enemy planets and get me killed?" Well, they now have a new aggro invisibility ability, which solves that problem and lets them remain useful without being unfair or annoying.
  • For our linux players, we've added a variety of tools to get around the unity bug with mousewheel scroll being backwards, so that is one annoyance off the list.
  • The number of bugfixes and general balance tweaks are too staggering to recount, but it's a lot.

More to come soon!

Multiplayer Schedule?

There are two ways of playing: a shared faction, which is now in beta and thus basically complete aside from bugfixing; and multiple faction, which still has some known issues and missing features and thus remains in alpha.

I expect to sort out the remaining known issues, while fielding ongoing bug reports, over the next 1-2 weeks at the most. At that point, multiplayer is effectively finished aside from just giving it time to collect any more bug reports people come up with.

One thing I should point out is that this is an insanely complicated game from a technical standpoint, and so the more testers the better. The game might be working perfectly for most people in most situations, and then you come along with your friends and run into something catastrophic and wonder how anyone could possibly play this.

Send me your bug reports, and I can generally have that stuff knocked out in a couple of days. But without your bug reports, if other people aren't running into it, I'll never know it's there.

DLC2: Zenith Onslaught

Our first non-kickstarter-related expansion comes out in early 2021. Maybe January, or potentially February. You can read all about it, at least in a limited preview format. We've had a number of testers banging on this for months now, and the detailed unit design and art to go with it are the last pieces we'll be putting together.

This expansion represents a large opportunity for us, since it will coincide with the game fully launching its multiplayer mode. A lot of news outlets didn't fully cover the original launch of AI War 2 because we released it in a crowded season and it came out with too little advance notice. So we're trying to turn that around with this expansion and hopefully get some more traction with a wider audience for the base game itself.

DLC3: The Neinzul Abyss

Our second piece of DLC for 2021 will hopefully come out more around the middle of the year, and you can read about that here. It's something that came into existence largely because Badger kept adding too many things to DLC2. DLC2 was either going to be massively expensive, or any other DLC we ever did was going to look paltry and small by comparison.

We made the sensible decision to split these out into two products that we can thus offer at better prices -- and also take extra time to do cool extra things for DLC3. I'm looking forward to getting to fully design my first faction, versus just collaborating on factions with others or doing the art and technical support for them.

Remaining Kickstarter Stuff?

There's a diminishing number of things. I covered a lot of it back in update #65. Interplanetary Weapons are something still coming for free to the base game (they were a stretch goal), and I'll be working on those while I work on DLC3. The backer planet naming will happen around the same time, as well as the ability to send some taunts back from the player at the AI.

We'll probably do another batch of AI taunts as well, and the Cyber Cipher reward for mysterious messages will be something that we tackle during that DLC3 period. Design and Name an AI is something that will be around the same time as the third DLC3, same as the Text-Based or Design-based Mercenary Stuff. There are two lingering art-related backer rewards I still need to follow up on, but then that's it.

What Happens After That?

That really depends.

The release of this game started out going well, and I think that the reviews that folks have been leaving for the game were a big help for folks passing by at the start. 2020 has been a rough year, though, when we really look at the data. The company's income has fallen to less than half of what it was in 2019, and that was already one of our lower years in terms of income.

We do have those two new DLC planned for 2021, along with the giant multiplayer updates and so on that are free, so hopefully that trend will turn around. If you've been playing the game and enjoying it, we'd greatly appreciate it if you'd drop by and leave your own thoughts, too.

If the trend doesn't turn around? I don't know, exactly. The structure of modern online stores may ultimately wind up forcing our hand. I'd probably have to either choose between working on an entirely new project unrelated to AI War 2, or start working on a sequel instead of more expansion. Both prospects have a lot of downsides, but they also have some substantial upsides.

Right now I don't feel super inclined to leave the AI War franchise after all this work and developing this giant engine, so I'm more inclined to stick to something closer to home than try to reinvent the wheel. If you look at the evolution of AI War 2 since launch, the current build you're able to play is already practically AI War 3. It looks better, plays better, has better AI, has more content, and is much more technically advanced.

Right now the frustration is that more or less we're doing most of that work for free (personally I have still lost about $240k in making AI War 2, versus earning any actual money, if you look at my spent money versus earned), and it's hard to get press attention for a "year old game." Since we started this project, more than half a console generation has come and gone, sheesh! I have no shortage of ideas, but I don't want to work for someone else and right now the open market is feeling fairly indifferent.

I have a lot of hope for 2021, though. :)

Please Do Report Any Issues!

If you run into any bugs, we'd definitely like to hear about those.

Thank you!

Problem With The Latest Build?

If you right-click the game in Steam and choose properties, then go to the Betas tab of the window that pops up, you'll see a variety of options. You can always choose most_recent_stable from that build to get what is essentially one-build-back. Or two builds back if the last build had a known problem, etc. Essentially it's a way to keep yourself off the very bleeding edge of updates, if you so desire.

The Usual Reminders

Quick reminder of our new Steam Developer Page. If you follow us there, you'll be notified about any game releases we do.

Also: Would you mind leaving a Steam review for some/any of our games? It doesn't have to super detailed, but if you like a game we made and want more people to find it, that's how you make it happen. Reviews make a material difference, and like most indies, we could really use the support.



Have ideas or bug reports for one of our games?  Mantis for Suggestions and Bug Reports. Thanks for helping to make our games better!