Arcen Games

General Category => AI War II => Topic started by: x4000 on April 14, 2021, 11:58:29 AM

Title: AI War 2 v2.800 Released! "The New Paradigm"
Post by: x4000 on April 14, 2021, 11:58:29 AM

It's been one hundred and twenty-nine days since the last major release writeup, with forty-nine releases in all (all on the public beta branch), and notes starting here and spanning a further... one hundred and four thousand words.

That is literally midsize novel-length.  If you haven't been reading as it went, I'm not sure that I can quite summarize everything, so let's hit the high points.

The TLDR Of The Paradigm Shift

"Everything is the same but also different" is a good way to phrase this, I think.

Most of the central concepts of the game are the same -- how combat works, how the economy works, what techs there are, how you upgrade in broad terms,  and so on.  Much of the new version should feel very very familiar, which is of course the idea.  If you are a player with next to no hours under your belt, the two versions are pretty much indistinguishable except for the many UI improvements.

And yet.  If you have a dozen or more hours in the game, this is going to feel like VERY alien territory for a short while.  Essentially everything you ever knew about the meta for the game is changed in very drastic fashion, and even some of the major goals of the game (like Global Command Augmenters) don't exist anymore.

Word from most of our beta testers has generally been along the lines of "holy cow, this is vastly better in almost every way."  (The second bit of opinion is also "hey, the game got a bit easier -- so many bump the AI difficulty up by 1 from what it was before for whatever your play level was.")

Anyhow.  The game's meta allows for more playstyles, is more flexible, is more fun, and is still plenty challenging if you tune your difficulty or add extra factions.  As to what changed and why, I'll get into the major items down below.

We also have a wide array of under-the-hood improvements for you in this build, plus tons of new mods by independent mod authors.  Our second paid expansion for the game, Zenith Onslaught, is coming May 18th with an absolutely gargantuan amount of content.

New Video Tutorials

While this rarely happens, the meta of the game has shifted dramatically over the course of the beta. Basically all of the older video tutorials for this game are now nonsensical in the new paradigm.  They give advice that is now blatantly backwards, they talk about units that don't exist, and they describe a meta that has entirely moved on.

Thankfully, both Strategic Stage and eXplorminate Rob have been making new videos for you for the last few months.  Huge thanks to both of them, and also to the mountains of suggestions from both of them that helped to refine this new Paradigm over the course of the beta period.

Here are their suggested starting points:

Area 1: Balance Curves

This is the first thing that chucks the old meta out the window, and it's paired with lots of subtle balance changes to a variety of techs and ships.  But, essentially, the way in which you get stronger is fundamentally different.

Old Meta: You can invest in limited technology pairs to get a few ship lines to Mark 7.  Whatever fits with that is pretty much what you have to stick to.  Anything outside of this is basically chaff, and potentially quite useless.

This means you were heavily dependent on the RNG, and have a small force of elite units mixed that you use, with a large group of ships that may not even be worth it to bring to battle.

New Meta: Aim for mark 4, not mark 7, in most cases.  Try to get as many to mark 4+ as possible, if you want maximum strength.  The ramp-up of a single unit is still linear (thus mark 7 is stronger than mark 4), BUT the number of ships you are granted goes up rapidly in the lower marks and tapers once you reach mark 4 (for strikecraft; for frigates, it goes more to mark 5, and for turrets it's mark 6).

Don't worry!  You actually get even more ships at mark 7 than you would have had in the old paradigm.  But if you are minmaxing, or even broadly trying to optimize, investing your science points super narrowly is no longer ideal.

TLDR: it is way more viable to upgrade widely, while still investing deeply in a few specialist areas.  You'll use more of your forces, have vastly higher strength in general, higher unit counts, and more flexibility in how to play.  You're free of the shackles of the RNG, while still needing to adapt to what you find.

If you want the really long explanation of all of this, there are multiple spreadsheets for you to read if you want.  They're all linked there in the release notes.

Area 2: More Asymmetry

You and the AI are now MUCH more differentiated.  The AI no longer gets frigates at all, but their guardians are way more fearsome.  AI waves are vastly larger, but so are your defenses.  The AI has more nasty tools in more places, but you have more ways to hack or bypass or even take them over.

TLDR: essentially the AI and the humans both got massive makeovers, both got more exciting, but also both diverged increasingly from one another.

Area 3: Less RNG

Old Meta: There were many places where you were handed a very specific ship, or three ships, and you got no choice relating to them.  Take them or don't.  In some cases, you could hack to do a "re-roll" and see if the new options were more to your liking.  This was incredibly suboptimal.  It encouraged both save-scumming and a gambling-style mentality.

New Meta: Most places that offer you a ship now offer you only one at a time, BUT give you a choice between something like 6-8 options.  There's no such thing as a gambling-style re-roll.  In most of these locations, once you select your first ship, it wipes the slate and gives you a new array of options.  You can't save-scum to optimize this (that wastes your time!).

TLDR: You have a LOT more choice now, but it's more meaningful choice.  You may not get your exact favorite units, but you can get something that fits with the current campaign in some way.  You are encouraged to explore new units, but not forced to do so.

Break For: Technical Improvements

Let's take a break from discussing the meta, and talk about the technical improvements.  Briefly.  Essentially:

Area 4: Science Refunds

Old Meta: You spend science to upgrade your ships  or fleets, and it's gone forever.  If you find something later in the game that makes you wish you had chosen differently, too bad.  For this reason, most players would "float" large balances of un-spent science points until late in the game.  This actually was the single largest thing contributing to the complexity spike leading into the midgame, in my opinion.

Related: Hacking Points (HaP) were also spend-and-gone-forever, but for most players there is so little of worth to hack that you will have an abundance, making this kind of a non-factor.

New Meta: You still spend science to upgrade your ships or fleets, but you can get it back at a later point by using a new button at the bottom of the Science sidebar tab.  This will cost you some hacking points (HaP) to do, so you can't just do it infinitely, but it's a very attractive offer and allows you to go all-in on science during the early, middle, and late game.  It allows you to transform your empire as you grow and as you find out more of what is available to you, which is extremely nice.

AI War 2 is very much about adapting and working with what you have on hand. The ability to respec your spent science, both in tech categories and individual fleets/command stations allows you to be MUCH more flexible than before. So start experimenting!

Related: Hacking Points are still spend-and-gone-forever.   And you have more than ever.  However, now there's a LOT more to hack, and that is brought into the forefront in general.  Some folks (like Strategic Sage) still carry large balances of extra HaP as they play, but most playstyles will see you having to make fairly tough calls with how you use these.

TLDR: Science points now firmly represent empire-design, and as such allow you to make changes  as you go.  Asking you to commit to techs forever, based on your limited early game knowledge in any campaign, is just plain unfair and unfun, so is gone.

Hacking points, however, have stepped up to occupy the role of "decision with long term consequences, but you need to make it anyway."  The nature of these is that using them is substantially less stressful, but still impactful.  I want both elements in the game, but I don't want you (or me) to be stressing out about the long-term side of things above a certain threshold.

Area 5: Hacking, In General

Old Meta: The interface was very clunky, but you could hack to sometimes weaken some AI stuff, but not much of it.  You could also sometimes hack certain buildings to gain new powers for yourself.  But overall you could honestly ignore a lot of this if you were not playing on a high level.

New Meta: The interface is pretty and helpful, and the number of things you can hack -- enemies, friends, even yourself -- is insanely high.  You hack for new ships, you hack to steal superweapons, you hack to turbocharge your golems, you hack to transform your transports or battlestations.  And occasionally to get some science points refunded.  Additionally, there is a small bonus for taking planets adjacent to your own. While it isn’t a lot, it does add a nice little dynamic.

The effect this has on the game is immense, because (for instance) if you previously felt like your Armored Golem was a paper person in the presence of your current foe, you can not only upgrade it via science, but you can also hack it to directly improve its hull.

TLDR: Your hacking points are now super precious, because now it's a target-rich environment for them.  You may still have extras at the end (the float is not a bad idea), but there are easily 5x more things for you to do with hacking points than you can actually ever acquire.  So your priorities will reveal themselves.

Area 6: "GCAs" and Battlestations

Old Meta: You start with one battlestation.    You can capture more.  There are also citadels out there, which are a bit overpriced but kind of the same thing.  They all are what they are when you find them.  For most of your defenses, you will rely on your command stations, and finding Global Command Augmenters (GCAs) to unlock loads of new turrets for them.  You get new turrets in overwhelming lumps all at once.  In some cases you have to hold planets if you don't want to spend hacking points.

New Meta: You start with TWO battlestations, and can never get any more of them.  You can choose to capture Citadels, which are way more expensive but also way more useful.  GCAs are gone, and Turret Schematic Servers (TSSes) and Other Defensive Schematic Servers (ODSSes) are out there instead.

The hack for a TSS or similar can be done 2-3 times, and gets more dangerous and also more expensive each time you do it (per building).  You get to choose ONE line of turrets or other defenses to add to your kit, and then it rerolls for a whole new set of choices after that.  Most of the time, your hacks will benefit all of your command stations AND your battlestations and citadels, but you can also do special hacks that give extra ship cap for that turret line to just one battlestation or citadel, instead.

TLDR: You're no longer so flooded with information about new things you just got ("here are four new turrets, all at once"), and you can also choose specific units that you want to acquire, with some limitations.  In other words, your empire is designed with much more intention, and there are no "useless units" cluttering things up all over the place.

Break For: UI/QoL Improvements

Let's take another break, this time for something that has been very exciting to basically everyone who plays the game:

Area 7: Other Capturable Changes

There's a lot, so let's go through them just briefly:

Area 8: A More Active AI

This is another one that is hard to summarize into any one thing.  But in general, here are some highlights you will quickly notice:

Area 9: Massive Balance Work

This is the work of many people, mostly longtime players and/or modders who have turned volunteer.  ArnaudB, CRCGamer, and Zeus Almighty are the three largest direct contributors, but Strategic Sage had a lot of excellent advice, and Metretek kept pushing the boundaries of ultra-high-level play.  Among so many others!

Let's try and hit some highlights:

What's Else Is New?

More to come soon!

Multiplayer Schedule?

Both shared-faction and multi-faction multiplayer are in public beta at the moment.  Details here.

Right now there are continual intermittent bugs that we are sorting out as reports of those come in, but most of them do not prevent folks from having a great session.  Some of these are in mods, and we are helping with support on that where we can within reason.

All of the features of all styles of multiplayer are here now, so it's just a matter of ironing out the last bugs.  I also recently added a new Steam P2P networking support option, but Valve has been having some server issues and so we still retain the other Steam Connection-Oriented (Steam C-O) framework for folks who run into issues with that.

We were planning to dump Steam C-O in favor of Steam P2P, since P2P is better when it works, but given the ongoing issues Valve seems to have had with P2P for several months, we may keep both indefinitely.

Both GOG and LitenetLib continue to work well, and both have been upgraded to use multiple data channels like the Steam P2P mode is able to do.  This is a big advantage compared to Steam C-O in terms of connection throughput.

DLC2: Zenith Onslaught

Our first non-kickstarter-related expansion comes out in May of this year.  Probably.  We've had to push it back a number of times, partly because of this large Paradigm Shift (worth it!), and partly because this thing is so huge.  You can read all about it, at least in a limited preview format.  You can also watch me working on the art for it here on discord.  Sometimes I also do livestreams on youtube, which you can watch later if you miss them.

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.  Part of why I was so intent on refining the base game so much was that I really wanted to make it easier for both new players and veterans to get the most out of it.

DLC3: The Neinzul Abyss

Our second piece of DLC for 2021 will hopefully come out before the end of the year, and you can read about that here.  The themes for this expansion, so far, are really focused on some roguelike options, as well as new ways to play.

On the roguelike front -- which is all optional, but really fun for those who like the feeling of raw exploration -- there are new random factions, plus all sorts of ways to turn any campaign into something you enter into fairly blind and discover as you go.

When it comes to new ways to play, there are TWO new player factions.  Normally you play as what we call a Human Empire, which is basically just "the human faction."  But DLC3 adds:

And this is before we get into the Neinzul faction that I'll be designing, and which can be friend or foe.

Remaining Kickstarter Stuff?

No progress since my last update, but plans have crystalized some.  The actual work is all to be post-DLC2. I covered what is left back in update #65.

Interplanetary Weapons are something still coming for free to the base game (they were a stretch goal), and those should  be a thing this summer.  I keep putting this off because it's hard to make them as epic as I'd like.  Our original stretch goal just described guns that can shoot neighboring planets, but... that doesn't really affect how you play all that much.  My goal with these is to allow for new strategies both in offensive and defensive areas.  I have some solid ideas for a few designs that may work, but we'll have to test them and make sure they are suitably awesome.

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.  As far as player taunts against the AI goes, Badger had the great idea that this should actually be a bit of a prestige thing, where it actually makes the game harder but then gives you special accolades at the end.  "I won the game on difficulty 8 with two taunts!"  etc.

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.  A lot of new lore stuff has been getting integrated lately, and we've been figuring out how to do that in a non-obtrusive way that still lets you get at pages and pages of context if you want it.  That's an exciting thing, because the lore is deep and wide, but also not something we want in your face in a glaze-over-RPG-text fashion.

There are two lingering art-related backer rewards I still need to follow up on, but then that's it.  I've been getting much more practiced at digital sculpting and painting, so I'm definitely excited to return to those two, as they were challenging ones.

What Happens After That?

That is enormously up in the air.

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 was a very rough year, financially, though.  The company's 2020 income fell to less than half of what it was in 2019, and that was already one of our lower years in terms of income.

That level of income isn't sustainable, even with me being a one-man shop now (volunteers aside), so it all comes down to what 2021 winds up looking like.  So far it is just more of 2020, but I've been putting so much effort into refining the base game for a reason.  And we do have those two new DLC planned for this year, along with the final multiplayer drop and so on.  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 will likely spend most of 2022 working on other smaller titles in a completely solo fashion, rather than continuing to work on AI War 2 in a fulltime capacity.  And after that, we'll see.

AI War 1 was a game that I stepped away from after four years and three DLC expansions, but then we kept up support for it with periodic updates and yearly DLC for another few years after that.  That worked well, but that was when we were a four-person studio.  I'd like to do something similar here if I can, but a big part of this may wind up being partnering increasingly with modders, we'll see.  The mod scene for AI War 2 remains vibrant, and I hope to see it grow.

This game is a financial loss for me on paper, but there was a lot of R&D work that will pay dividends to future titles, so I have to partially look at it as an investment in infrastructure.  But since Arcen is a one-person shop again, dividing my time between multiple projects will be an "interesting" exercise.  Anyhow, I mainly want to have this in a state I'm proud of, which I can now finally say is the case without any reservations.

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.