Plans and Status Updates for AI War 2

(Crossposted from kickstarter.)

Chris and Keith here! Apologies for not having made any kickstarter updates since June, good grief. We’ve had daily or weekly interactions and updates on our forumsblogyoutube dev diary, and release notes pages for anyone who wanted the full firehose info dump, but that’s no excuse.

Schedule Slippage – Overview

Let’s get to the toughest topic first. We had originally planned to have an Early Access release on Steam in May, and then a 1.0 release of the game this month, October. As you are no doubt guessing, a 1.0 release this month is not in the cards.

With the Early Access launch-pushback in May, we went ahead and gave out the keys to all of the early access backers at that time, even though the game wasn’t available for purchase on Steam yet. We’re going to do the same thing with the “launch” backers: we’ll have your keys to you later this month, even though the game isn’t in a launch state and won’t be launch on Steam just yet.

In both cases, you’re still getting your key when we said… but, well, the game is not in the state that you would want just yet. So at best that’s a half-kept promise. Obviously schedule slippage is not exactly uncommon with kickstarters or game development in general, but we are still very sorry about that.

Where We Are Right Now

Code:  

  • All of the core code for the game is done.
  • Multiplayer is currently broken for some reason, but should be quick to fix.
  • Massive amounts of work on frameworks for a flexible UI and extra modding capabilities have been put in place.
  • There are actually a number of extra goodies in there, like multi-squad formations and some other surprises.

Gameplay and Interface:

  • Balance leaves a lot to be desired.
  • In a general sense, the “feel” of the first game isn’t quite there yet.
  • There’s no tutorial, which makes starting to play quite hard.
  • The lobby interface is very sparse.
  • The overall GUI is ugly, but becoming increasingly usable through iterations. Our goal is for it to be better than the first game in terms of incorporating a lot of the longstanding requests people had for that game.
  • The Spire, Nemesis, and Interplanetary Weapons stretch goals are delayed, possibly until after launch.
  • Unexpectedly, we have a whole new minor faction in the form of The Nanocaust, created as the first mod for the game by BadgerBadger and integrated into the official builds by us.

Art: 

  • All of the ship models and textures — all two hundred and six of them — are complete as of last week.
  • The actual integration of those ship models and textures is only about halfway complete, give or take.
  • The ship model and texture work includes all of the Spire, Nemesis, and Interplanetary Weapons stretch goals stuff — so the art for those are already done, at least.
  • The far zoom icons are done, although we will probably change some of the “flair” parts of them as we get closer to release.
  • We have done a number of pieces of concept work for the GUI in terms of figuring out a style, but none of that is integrated into the game yet (no point until the actual underlying elements stop shifting around so much), and there’s still more concepting work to do in general.
  • The visual post-processing stack is still evolving at this point, to give the game a more sophisticated look and avoid the “circus lights in abundance” feel that sometimes hits right now.
  • The visuals for different shot types are still on the todo list.
  • The visuals for how ships die are also still on our todo list. There’s a balance there between performance of particle systems and the frequency (read: very high) at which ships die that we have to work out.
  • We’re still working on inside-one-squad formations that look awesome, although some of those are already in place. Basically making them look more like actual naval or air force military formations rather than just grids of ships. This has been pretty cool to see evolve.
  • The “ships flying around inside one squad with flame trails everywhere” approach has just turned out not to be feasible on modern hardware without impacting our ability to have really large-scale battles, unfortunately. There are some special tricks we could do to still make this happen, but that would get into some budget that we don’t have. This is a real shame, because this was something we showed off a lot in the kickstarter videos, but in pretty much every other respect our art is exceeding what was shown in the KS videos, so this has been a pretty decent tradeoff — and something we can return to in the future.

Audio: 

  • A lot of the sound effects for different shot types have been selected and set up, but are not integrated into the game yet. So the battles don’t sound as variegated yet as they will later.
  • Another bonus that we’ve chosen to explore thanks to the urging of backers is extra voiceovers for human ships when you give them orders and when there are various alerts. We’ve done about 30% of the recording with a variety of voice actors for this, and we’ve integrated maybe 5% of that into the game so far. It’s something that brings more of a feeling of commanding actual humans rather than just lifeless ships, and it’s something you’ll be able to disable. It’s also something that we’ve got a system for making sure it doesn’t over-saturate you with the same voice cues over and over again, too.
  • As far as AI taunts or human taunts that you can give back, we have not yet started recording any of those yet.
  • The music is partly in place, but overall only a few tracks thus far. Pablo tends to work in a massively parallel fashion, and so a lot of his tracks are at various stages of completion rather than him finishing one piece fully and then pushing it out and repeating. Bear in mind he has to compose them and then perform them and then do all the audio engineering and mastering on them, so this process gains a lot of efficiency.

(The GUI is being gradually blocked out and iterated-on in that fashion before being made pretty.)

Upcoming Schedule: October through November

During the next two months, more or less through December 6th, there’s going to be a flurry of extra work going on to try to get the game to a point where all of the AI War Classic enthusiasts are able to come to the new game and feel both somewhat at-home as well as like they’re in the next era of the game.

Exactly what that means is a bit unclear at this point, but we know it focuses on usability, balance, the interface, and possibly tutorials. The reason for the lack of clarity is that there’s a big back-and-forth between us and you in this section — this is a huge game, and so we need feedback on things that are unclear or break balance, and then we’ll respond to those items, and repeat.

There are a number of things we already have planned to work on through the early part of October prior to us releasing the “launch” Steam keys, and then after that point we hope we’ll see an uptick in the number of people who are giving us feedback.

Upcoming Schedule: December

After the December 6th date, or thereabouts, we hope to have things in a state where a LOT more people are comfortable jumping onboard and testing and giving us feedback.

Right now feedback has been really limited to only coming from a few people, largely because the game has been too unapproachable and too unbalanced. So that’s on us.

But we just absolutely cannot go to launch, or even to giving out press previews, with that little feedback. Our goal is to get our side of things to where we can start getting your feedback — from more and more of you — while at the same time seeing more and more of you enjoying simply playing the game without having major complaints.

Upcoming Schedule: January

Once the new year rolls around and we’re into 2018, hopefully we’re pretty close to where things are so polished that we can start handing out keys to the press and getting some previews. We don’t know if that will be at the start of January, or later into that month, but either way the goal is sometime in this time period.

At this point in time, when we start sending out press keys we plan to disable our backerkit preorders store and our paypal preorders. This is also likely when the “Coming Soon” page on Steam will go live, although we might conceivably do that in December.

Upcoming Schedule: February

This period might start sometime in January, if things are going really well, but either way it bleeds into February. Basically this is the “press review period.”

During this time we’re not taking any new sales for the game, and press are able to play and review the game. We hope that you folks are also playing the game and enjoying it and giving us feedback on how to make it better during this time so that we can apply some final polish to it prior to launch.

This time period is pretty critical for a number of reasons. Firstly, it gives press a chance to have reviews ready for launch, which can help a lot with purchase decisions. Secondly, it gives the game time to “settle” and hopefully have a lot fewer changes required despite a lot of backers playing it.

Thirdly, it gives a period of exclusivity where only backers and the press are able to actually get the game. People have an increased desire for things that they cannot have, and the press prefers writing about things that the general public cannot yet have, so we wind up with this funky period because human psychology is what it is. Hopefully this doesn’t feel manipulative to you, but we’re being upfront about why we’re doing this — basically it will increase the strength of our launch week (which is critical) and the number of reviewers who will play it during this month (also critical).

Upcoming Schedule: March

Obviously these dates get less certain as time goes out further, but the idea is that about a month after the press gets their hands on the game, we launch the 1.0 on Steam.

The exact day will partly be determined by what is going on with other game releases by other developers, what conferences and conventions are in that time period, what store-wide sales might stomp our launch, and so on. We won’t have visibility on what the exact ideal release date is until probably 6 weeks prior to choosing the day; and even then we might need to shift the day forward or back a week or so because of something else in the market that comes up.

Launch Discount

Speaking of the importance of a good launch week, one of the things we’re going to need to do is have the traditional 10% launch discount for the first 7 days. This is potentially contentious, because that’s a $2 discount that all of our existing launch backers (early birds aside) are not getting.

If this is something that angers anybody to a huge degree, then Chris will refund the $2 discount to those individuals out of his own pocket. So please put away your pitchforks. 😉

That said, I think we all have the same vested interest in seeing this game do well and go on to have lots of post-launch support (which require sales to fund), and expansions, and so on. Basically we all want to see the same sort of arc that AI War Classic had, I think?

The market is a lot more hostile now than it was in 2009, however, and the launch weeks are more and more critical to having any sort of momentum. The more we’ve looked at the data and talked to other indies, the more it has become clear what a problem it would be to not have a good leadup to launch (that month with the press), or not have a launch week discount that buyers have come to expect.

The backers and preorder customers here are the customers who have made this game possible in the first place, and so the 10% launch discount can really stick in the craw of some people when situations like this occur. We’ve witnessed the backlash against certain other games and developers when a development like that comes up out of the blue, which is why we’re telling you now, way in advance, and offering that $2 refund to non-earlybird launch backers if anyone is angry enough to take us up on that.

THAT said, in general we’ve been taking the approach that Prison Architect did, where “you pay more if you buy earlier,” which is counterintuitive in a lot of ways, but something that we’ve talked about the mechanics of with backers for a year or so now. Obviously the alpha and early access tier backers paid a whole heck of a lot more than the launch folks did, and those backers both help to support this game getting made at all, as well as having the game earlier and being able to influence the game’s design from an earlier stage.

We could go on at length about this particular topic, and we feel guilty about that as well as about the general schedule slippage here, but hopefully you read our reasoning and it makes sense — particularly if you’ve been watching the PC market as a whole lately.

(The above image is a good example of us still needing to do some work on the post-processing pipeline, although it’s already much better than that as of today’s release of 0.522.)

Backer Rewards Status

There are a variety of backer rewards in a variety of states of completion right now. For practical reasons, it’s pretty much breaking down like this:

  • Now that we’ve finished all of the ship art for the base game, we’re starting in on fulfilling backer rewards that are ship-art related. We’re working first with the custom Arks, since those are the most numerous and most complicated of the backer rewards, and then we’ll be moving on to the others that are art-related.
  • For things that are design-related (custom AI types, ship stats, etc), we probably won’t get to those until December. It’s better if things are more stable and you can play the game more before you get into that sort of reward.
  • For the audio taunts and the text and lore bits, I’m expecting that probably January would be the timeframe, just to balance with our workloads.
  • As far as all of the digital rewards, other game keys, etc, those are available now and you should already have them. The wallpapers aside, which again will likely be January.
  • To reiterate, the last of the AI War 2 game keys (those for “launch” backers) will go out later this month, and anyone else at a different tier should already have theirs.

Wrapping Up

Hopefully that covers the questions of where we are, where we’re headed, and why. The blogs and dev diaries and release notes show where we’ve been recently. Again we apologize about the delay, but we’re doing our best to mitigate its impact on you, and are feeling good about how it will impact the project as a whole.

As always: any questions, please let us know!

Best,

Chris and Keith

AI War 2 v0.505 Released! “Tooltips And Build Menu”

Release notes here!

This is basically completely about the build menu being more usable, and tooltips being more useful and legible.  They still need a background to really be fully legible, but we got a lot of the other things with them.  The unity ui is still… a learning process, sometimes.

This time around, I made a quartet of videos rather than Keith making them:

I wrote: A lengthy look with me at how to set up new GUI prefabs and then use them in code.  This is shown while setting up the build menu to look better/clearer.

I wrote: A quick look with me at how to set up sound effects for buttons.  It’s not a complete tutorial with everything in-depth, but there are tooltips for the bits that might not be clear, and this shows the workflow with greater clarity thanks to not going over every detail.  At least that’s the goal!

I wrote: For Cinth and for modders, this is how you create new formations for ships of various scales to use in the game.  I look forward to seeing a lot more creative and militaristic formations than my simple grids have been. 🙂

I wrote: Notes for Keith on how we’re using this component at the moment, with a variety of pros and cons to it. Referenced urls:
http://digitalnativestudios.com/textmeshpro/docs/sprites/
https://unity3d.com/unity/whats-new/unity-2017.1.0

All that said, as noted in the release notes, I think there’s a way for us to work around the <sprite> tags in general and not use them.  Even when those are working as well as possible, they still regularly show up improperly because we can’t control the exact relative scaling and offset per-font and per-font-settings.

Anyhow — major usability strides in this new build, although as always there’s yet more to do.  Also a number of bugfixes.

Cheers!

Chris

AI War 2 v0.504 Released! “Big Ship Graphics Batch + Test And Revise Pass #3”

Release notes here!

I’m now back from traveling, and so is Keith, so that’s nice to be back to normal on that front.  This new build includes a ton of backlog work that Blue and Cinth have done over the last couple of months that I’m only now getting integrated into the game proper — namely, visuals for 34 classes of ship in the game!  That’s a pretty hefty chunk on top of what was already done, and there’s a lot more in the short-term pipeline on that stuff, too.

Beyond that, Keith has continued his testing-and-revising work, and that’s led to a number of quality of life improvements.  Community member BadgerBadger has also made improvements to his Nanocaust faction, and those have been integrated.

Keith has also done another quartet of videos for this new version:

Keith writes: And now for something moderately different: some playtesting to help identify the main things in the way of the play experience. Ends predictably.

Keith writes: The day Galaxy Map Display Modes were unleashed on an unsuspecting universe:(probably not very unsuspecting, considering that AIWC had such modes, but they weren’t moddable!)

I’m not sure how many of you find 1h45m videos of coding “enjoyable”, but if so: enjoy 🙂 If not, an example of how to mod in a new display mode starts around 59:27.

Aside from Chris: I also just have realized, after working with Keith for literally 7 years now, that I’ve been pronouncing his last name wrong this entire time.  In countless videos and interviews and podcasts and who knows what.

So, let’s review:

  • Keith’s name is spelled LaMothe, but pronounced lah-mont instead of lah-mow-th, which is what I’d been saying.
  • For anyone wondering, it is indeed Ar-ken games and not Arson or Arsen games. 😉

Moving on…

Keith writes: A quick change to mapgen to seed some nearby strategic objectives and make the early-early game decision of “which way do I expand?” more interesting.

At less than 20 minutes, this is a lightweight 😉

I’ve got another one that’s like an hour and 40 going through processing now, though, in case you have an excess of time to burn.

Keith writes: The Build Menu has an encounter with a chipper-shredder: You can see the current state of the menu around 1:30:05, if you’d like to cut to the chase. But there’s a lot about how to work with the UI system leading up to that. Iirc, 100% of the actual changes were in external code and xml, so stuff that’s possible for a modder.

Okay… anyhow, so that’s the news for now! 🙂

Cheers!

Chris

AI War 2 v0.503 Released! “Nanocaust + Test And Revise Pass #2”

Release notes here!

Although, frankly for the details on “The Nanocaust,” you need to click through to the forum link where community member BadgerBadger explains his work.  This is the first player-created special faction, and it’s something we’re building into the game as an option for anyone to use without having to do a special separate download or whatever else.

The other main thing from this build is basically pass #2 of Keith playtesting the game and revising based on his findings.  This is overall a smaller batch of testing and revision work, because Keith was traveling for about a week and I’ve been doing the same.  But overall it’s some solid stuff, and we’re marching onward toward where the game needs to be on a number of fronts.

Keith has also done a pair of videos, lately, and you can expect more in the future:

Keith writes: The modding tutorial on xml/code (tool links, etc) is still pending, but this contains a lot of info on modding itself, as many of the changes I’m making are functionally mods.

Keith writes: The initial bit on the dps formula and the overall balance architecture is interesting if you’d like to know more about that, but the addition of Badger’s Nanocaust faction is much more interesting, the real testing of that starts around 1:18:15 in the video.

Cinth and Blue have also been plugging away on their work, and I’ll be putting out a massive batch of their content changes (new shipn visuals, adjusted ship visuals, etc) early next week. 🙂

Cheers!

Chris

AI War 2 v0.502 Released! “Mostly-Invisible UI Work”

Release notes here!  They are short and overall not that exciting, unfortunately.  That said, if you’re modding the GUI, it’s a pretty titanic shift in terms of what you’ll find in there now.

So what’s up?

Basically over the last months we’ve learned a lot about what functions we do and do not need in our GUI in order to make it fit all the various screen resolutions and configurations, and to be as performant and attractive as possible.  It’s still blocky and untextured right now, so the attractive part isn’t there yet, but with the changes from this week we’re now able to pursue “functional, well-organized, and non-overlapping” with renewed vigor.

There are a few other things in there as well, including some minor changes that make a huge difference in how the balance of AOE units affect things.  There’s a few more of the voice acting audio clips that play now, and a few quality of life improvements with hotkeys.

Anyhow… this is one of those “iceberg” releases where it is actually a lot larger than it looks on the surface. 😉

Cheers!

Chris

AI War 2 v0.500 Released: Major Milestone! Ship batch 7 of 7.

Still not time for “beta” status, or Early Access, just yet.  If you’re waiting for the smooth gameplay experience, there’s still a bit to go — but that’s now squarely the next thing on Keith’s plate (and the GUI is a big part of that, yes).

The release notes are here.

New Ships!

There are two dire guardians in this one (which are two of the most nasty ones), and then there are four big honkin’ Zenith golems.  This includes the Dyson Sphere, the Zenith Trader… and yeah, the Devourer. 🙂  Ho-lee smokes.

Bear in mind that these are the last of the ships until things are playing really well and the interface and whatnot have matured substantially.  Sometime during the Early Access period when things are running well, Keith will work on those interplanetary weapons (a stretch goal), the spire stuff (another stretch goal), the Nemesis (yep: stretch goal), and whatever other minor stuff might be left that I’ve overlooked.  I think basically everything else is in the game now, though.

Milestone!

Anyhow, so this is a very big milestone for us, because that means that Keith’s focus can stop being on content, and can shift instead to refinement, usability, and all that sort of thing.

I’m finally done with all my performance-chasing stuff as of a little while ago, and as of last release the sound system is in place (though not with all sound effects yet, of course), so cumulatively this makes for quite a satisfactory 0.500, I think.

Post-Processing Visual Stack AGAIN!?

I just finished redoing that, right!?  Well, it’s been redone yet again thanks to some issues that are detailed in the release notes.  The overall look is pretty similar to what it was before, except things are a little crisper and better antialiased, and there’s a very slight vignette effect.

The big difference is in the bloom effect, which is generally more subtle now, but also more diffuse and thus a bit more dramatic in how it blends things around.  Previously things were super intense in their bloom in a short range, but now they’re intense in their immediate area, then fade out more gradually.  Gives a more natural look.

Additionally, in order to deal with the flickering glimmering lights that could happen in some cases previously, the game now uses a much longer (about 3/4 of one second) temporal filter on the bloom, which can cause some really pleasing light trails that are purely a screen-space (and thus “free” in terms of performance) effect.

You can see that with:

  • The first shot in this post, which has the camera stationary and then the Ark moving away from it, leaving a bit of a ghosting trail from its engines.  That’s completely a screens-space effect.
  • The second shot in this post, which has the camera panning super fast to the right while the ships are stationary, and so you can see the glows being pulled to the left.  This looks less good, but is also a lot less common of a case and generally happens so fast you can’t see it unless you screenshot it while you’re in motion.  It does give a bit better sense of your own speed of movement, though, I’d say.
  • The third shot in this post (below) shows a stationary camera and both ships and shots that are moving, and how the glow trails help a bit with those.  This is more subtle since the shots themselves are trail renderers in a lot of the cases there.  It’s noticeable in a still shot, but during gameplay I wasn’t sure it was actually even happening.

If the temporal effect feels too strong to some folks, then I can easily make that a slider that folks can adjust in the settings, and we can debate what the best default setting would be if this is not it.  For the moment — and I’m too close to this at the moment to speak with any real confidence on the matter — I like how this is looking, though.

Coming Up!

Over the next half-week or so, Keith and I are going to be pretty quiet/absent, because of some other-life things that we need to take care of, respectively.  But then after that he’ll be working on the user experience and GUI and so forth, and I’m sure a bunch of mantis reports.  I’ll be working on mantis reports and more sound effects work, and getting the first voice acting in place, etc.

Enjoy!

Chris

AI War 2 v0.450 Released: Sound effects at last! Plus video of it all.

New version!  Release notes here.  They are long, and in parts technical if you’re interested in the innards of our new sound mixing system.

If you’d like a quicker look at the results of the sound mixing system, as well as a brief video-based overview of it, then here you go:

I had, naturally, hoped to get ALL of the shot graphics into the game today, and have their sounds linked up to them, and get the existing voice work integrated into the game… and of course that didn’t happen.  I was super tempted to delay the release because I didn’t have every last thing in it, but already there’s so much goodness in here that there was no point in waiting.

One of my favorite things was actually coded by community-member and top-bughunter BadgerBadger: the ability to name your savegames.  We hadn’t had time to get to it yet, so he said “heck, I’ll do it myself.” 🙂  That was a side benefit to open sourcing those parts of our code that I hadn’t really anticipated!

As always, more to come soon.  Enjoy!

Chris

AI War 2 v0.401 Released: “Ship Batch 6 of 7, And Gimbal Perfoooormance!”

New version!  Release notes are… here on the forums?  More on that a bit later.

First up, there’s a new video where I do a bit of show and tell relating mostly to performance and some of the visual things:

Regarding the sprite compound-batching thing, I wrote about that in the last release post, and now you can see it here actually in action.

Moar Ships!

There are 14 new ship types in this version, including the first of the golems.  There’s only one more batch before we have the original “target ship list for Early Access” done.  That isn’t all of the ships for 1.0, just to warn you — the spire ships, the interplanetary cannons, and the Nemesis stuff is all for during the early access period, not prior to it.

There may be a few other odds and ends for after EA starts, I’m not sure.  But basically the list of ships for implementation during-EA are ones that came from stretch goals on the kickstarter, plus a few that will require particular refinement for whatever reason.

What’s Up With The Wiki??

Well… okay, so we’ve had a bit of a saga going on since late last week.  Basically we had some admin human error on our end — it happens to the best of us — and we managed to corrupt our forum database.  That should have been no problem, because we have 10 days of rolling backups with hostwinds, our web host.  We’ve been using them for a few years, and have been happier with them than we had been with rackspace, hostgator, A2, and whoever else we hosted with in that time.  Gets hard to keep track over 8 years, sheesh.

Anyway, the short version of the story is that Quinn has been on the phone and on chat and email with them constantly, and they’ve had a really hard time actually restoring things properly.  It’s been quite unpleasant, and a real surprise after our previous excellent support interations with them.  We’ve had to do restores before with other web hosts, and possibly even with hostwinds, but this time things just haven’t been great.  It’s been a comedy of errors and other issues all around.

!Fun!

Anyway, the wiki is down as a casualty of that, at the moment.  So far as I know there was no data loss with the wiki, but I certainly wouldn’t swear to it.

Hey… The Forums??

Yeah, as part of the forums backup restore, we lost about seven days of data from there.  We definitely did not lose any data from mantis or the wordpress sites.  And obviously anything on Steam or kickstarter or backerkit is all unaffected.

Our code and game hosting stuff is on Amazon, repositoryhosting.com, and elsewhere.  Our code, for instance, is backed up by our hosting provider for that (repositoryhosting.com), as well as being on at least 3 computers and also backed up by another service on at least my machine.

TLDR: We’re super-duper-extra careful with the data that really truly matters — anything to do with customer data, code, tools, or whatnot.  We thought we were being careful with the website stuff as well, but we were relying on a single point of potential failure (one service and their own backups) rather than having a second tier of backups or a secondary service for the backups.

That was… clearly a mistake, we now see.  In the past we’ve used a secondary service to back up our website, but now we’re clearly going to need to be in the market for a service like that again.  If anyone knows of one they trust, please drop us a line. :/

Anyway: The Game

We’ll get the wiki updated with the new stuff when the database issues get sorted out there, but the good news is that since Quinn has been handling all of this (hugely frustrating) stuff, Keith and I have not been interrupted in our coding at all.  I like keeping our productivity tools spread around a bit partly because there’s then not one single point of failure, to be honest.  It’s come in handy at least once in most years we’ve been in business. 😉

More stuff soon.

Enjoy!

Chris