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Fleetball woes; strategic choice in AIW2

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I was playing a bit of AIWC, and I realized that AIW2 just feels really really simple by comparison, strategically. There just aren't anywhere near as many interesting choices to make. Or at least, it doesn't feel like it. Maybe I'm missing something?

So far here's how I play AIW2. I start by spending all my Science unlocking ships. I then make a giant fleetball with my ark and start conquering things. And then I spend most of the rest of the game with just a giant fleetball. I eventually lose when my giant fleetball runs into a larger fleetball. And that fleetball is pretty much always "Every single ship I can build." One thing that contributes to this is that Flagships feel like they are made of paper compared to the Ark (a sniper flagship has 50K health to the Ark's 600K). There's no element of risk to bringing the Ark most of the time, and you'll wind up actually needing it to rebuild the flagships more often than not. I feel like the Ark needs some weaknesses because it really doesn't have any right now.

And you pretty much always need that giant fleetball. If you bring a fleet that's not Very Large onto most planets, your ships will all die without really accomplishing much. This also means that Metal isn't an interesting resource anymore since there are no choices involved (you just always need to wait for everything to build. You don't need to worry about what to build, you just always need all of it).

An example difference in early game. In AIW2, you start by building a fleet, then going off and taking a few planets. It takes about 30 minutes to take the ARS, Golem and Flagship near you, and there really aren't many strategic choices to make in there. And you totally have the initiative the whole time. You attack, if you don't win you retreat to your planets, rebuild and then attack again. In AIWC on the other hand, the AI has made two powerful attacks against me in the first 10 minutes. I've only been able to build defenses and start amassing my fleet, and if I wasn't very diligent about doing both then I would have died. There's no weak early game in AIW2.

I also feel like I never want to spend Science on turrets. In AIWC, any hole in your defenses might just let the AI kill you. So you needed to carefully plan and build turrets, which gave the game a strong Tower Defense vibe. In AIW2, turrets are much less interesting. You can't use turrets offensively, and there aren't actually any strategic choices to make with them. Since you only need to keep the Ark alive, and the Ark is generally protected by the fleetball, Turrets only exist to prevent the AI from recapturing planets. So the only thing you do with turrets is say "Okay, I captured a planet, now build all the turrets I've unlocked and send my fleet elsewhere". And you never need Shield Generators (what do you have that's worth putting under a shield generator?)

TL;DR: Fleetballs are boring, metal isn't an interesting resource anymore and I like tower defense games.

Thanks for writing this up. It's hard to know much about the balance and gameplay because there aren't many people who get past the UI (currently under overhaul, as you know). My thoughts on how to address what you bring up:

1) Investigate why wave frequency is apparently less than specified. The '<budget_item type="Wave" seconds_between_attempts_to_spend="600" ...' in the xml means "launch a wave about every 10 minutes" but you're not seeing them until after 30 minutes?

Whatever's going on, we should adjust it to send waves about every 5 minutes, and to (by default) announce them 5 minutes out. So the player always sees that something's coming.

We may need to shift more AI budget into waves, too, to make them larger.

2) Demotivate "bring your Ark to every fight".

The idea I've had for a while is to add an "alert" guage next to AIP that goes up every time your Ark enters an AI planet. 3 such hops and it launches an immediate wave to hunt you. Then there are other things that also increase the gauge, perhaps including simply "time your Ark is on an AI planet".

But maybe that's too complex for a simple problem. Just have a red "Your Ark is on an AI planet. The AI is sending hunters to get you!" message whenever your Ark is on an AI planet, and have it spawn stuff a few hops out with "bumrush the Ark" orders. That:

- gives you the chance to capture initial planets
- but then you have to defend yourself, and you'll feel weak and hunted
- and you get the idea that you want to keep your Ark in a safe place
- and you'll be really glad to get a flagship that can handle spearhead actions without the Ark

3) Increase Flagship survivability. We can buff these, but that won't solve the issue as generally individual units in AIWC or AIW2 just die in heavy combat unless they're (i) covered by tons of shields or (ii) less likely to be targeted than other things.

So the best idea I can come up with is to add a simple rule whereby autotargeting always prefers a non-flagship to a flagship. So if you get wiped, you lose the flagship, but otherwise you can retreat in good order.

4) With the above, I think turrets will be more attractive as you'll need something to protect your Ark while your fleet is elsewhere. In addition:
- Turrets have 3x the strength of ships of the same mark and science-cost.
- When you spend science on ships you increase your force size by one cap. When you spend science on turrets you gain one cap per planet. So if your Ark is two hops deep, researching a turret type lets you put two caps of that turret in the AI's way. And that doesn't include moving your Ark around within your territory during the defense.

5) On Metal not being an interesting resource, I'm not sure what to say. If you run out of metal your fleet's effectiveness drops through the floor because you stop being able to replace ships within squads (or build replacement squads). It matters a lot more during combat than it did in AIWC.

I get what you're saying about "I don't choose, I just build everything", but did serious play in AIWC ever not involve building all the mobile fleet you could? I mean, that's why refleeting was such a bear: you had to do it. All of it.

6) Maybe we add a rule where "if Warden Fleet ships see your Ark, they immediately go threat and beeline for your Ark", so you can bait them through your 10 planets of turrets.

Ok, maybe that's not a good idea ;)

That's a depressing post, but in line with what others say when they drop by and then quickly leave. The lack of incentive to split your fleet, and the lack of tug of war on turtling yourself versus attacking the AIs feels present from the first moment of play, though, I have to say.

What is the first thing you do? Take your Ark, build all ships to cap, and go capture some planet or planets by brute force. I think that sends a really bad message, just at a gut level from the start, and players will then have an uphill battle to retrain themselves or overcome that initial impression.

In Classic, I had a lot of things you had to capture and hold in order to make you spread yourself out. How little could you defend x planet in order to make your offense stronger? Things like per-planet caps of super powerful turrets negates any need for that. And gating all turrets behind science unlocks makes it unclear that there is a strong defensive element to this, too.

My thought, at the moment, is that the Ark should be made pretty low health. Maybe give it really good guns but that's it. And maybe have special Ark-killer big guns with sniper-like range on all AI planets, ala ion cannons. Aka you have to send in ships without your Ark in order to take that out before you can move the Ark onto the planet to even help. Don't let shields block those shots.

That trains players to send ships unsupported by a true capital ship. Maybe give players some turrets from the start, maybe even give them a flagship, so that the game gets off to a quick start and they are immediately thinking about how to divide up their forces.

They have to immediately think:

Where does the Ark hide? Do I send in ships without my flagship, or with it? If my flagship dies, then I have to take my Ark out of hiding. How much metal do a pour into turrets instead of offensive forces?

How else do we get players to divide their forces? In the past, it was always a need to defend multiple places at once, but having to attack multiple places at once works just as well.

A new mechanic that is ever present could be that in order to capture one planet, you have to be suppressing all AI network nodes on adjacent AI planets. Basically having some regenerating health AI nodes that prevent capture on adjacent planets, so you have to attack multiple of them at once, anyway. Boy that would make territory capture a lot more complicated, possibly in a good way. Seems like a good AI option to try out as a thing, even if it doesn't become the new default. That way high-connection planets are not just harder to defend, they are wicked hard to actually capture, even if you can mostly clear the off.

The mechanics of the game seem solid. The objectives early on, and the early pacing, less so. I've never played into the game much because it hasn't caught my interest yet; there was never a multifaceted problem that made me go "I wonder if I can pull that off?" It was always "I'll grind away at it and win, or maybe lose."

I just haven't had any sense of attachment to early territory, either. No sense that losing it is bad, or that I'm trapped or in any serious danger until the wardens show up. The Ark being a glass cannon makes sense to me from a tension perspective. And from a tower defense perspective.

And yeah, I've actually never played long enough to see a wave, even on fast forward.

Odd as this is to say, I think these are problems that have a variety of pretty simple solutions available to them. Which will be best, I don't yet know. I like your ideas about more AI waves, and I think that the AI being aggroed by the presence of the Ark on its planets would be an interesting option x whether that's the default or not. If you don't give me some turrets from the start, I'm unlikely to build any. And it makes them seem less critical than they should be.

The per planet cap for turrets makes me iffy. What if the cap was increased for every planet you hold, but you can build those turrets wherever? I might want turrets more clustered up, but requiring expensive metal to power converters to work on a front line planet. It would be a lot more interesting than a cap of turrets on a backwater I don't care about that I'd never use; but it has the same effect of solving the "I have too many planets and not enough turrets" problem.


I think what we need is a way to make sub-fleets valuable and viable.

In classic RTS games not sending everything meant you could split your forces in two: one to get the enemy to overcommit on one side while half your troops snuck around back and did some real damage.

AI War...doesn't allow for those sorts of tactics because the AI just straight up outnumbers you all the time. Heck in AIW2 I'm finding that even clearing out a single guard post requires 3 caps worth of fleet ships (at game start) just due to the sheer numbers and durability of what the AI has on their capture points. But it's not a problem to throw three caps worth of ships at it because they build so fast and I can retreat back to a "safe place" for a moment to rebuild:

Every AI unit I kill is Gone Forever and every unit I lose is Gone For Two Minutes. The AI has advantage in numbers, but I have the advantage in reinforcements: I will eventually whittle the AI's forces down and I can take the planet.

But splitting my forces means I'm trying to do this on two fronts, and with fewer numbers on my side, it means I need to refleet more times: so rather than 6 total refleets if I were to go after both objectives one after the other, I'd need (say) 9. And because unit creation is measured in time, that means its less efficient to split my forces: It will take me 50% longer to conquer both planets if I go after both of them at the same time.

@Keith: wave frequency is working as coded. You get a wave every 10 minutes. There's 1 AI, so every 10 minutes you get a wave. I do think that the AI should devote more resources to waves; waves are pretty unintimidating at the moment. Unfortunately, the first wave will only get queued 10 minutes in, so it doesn't show up till 20 minutes into the game. Perhaps we should start the AI with a wave queued up already?

I do like the notion of some penalty for using the Ark offensively. The Ark isn't just going to die in a battle unless you are playing very badly, or your fleet is going to be entirely wiped out. So some mechanic to make using the Ark riskier seems useful.


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