2.815 Polishing And Bugfixing

New build! https://wiki.arcengames.com/index.php?title=AI_War_2:Finalizing_Multiplayer#2.815_Polishing_And_Bugfixing 

We are back from beta, and this new version includes a lot of polishing and bugfixing, improvements to the bastille turret, and many various items for our DLC2 testers to bang on.  This also has another raft of multiplayer fixes, although thankfully the number of those required is going down quite a lot.   We seem to have slain both ghosts as well as the creeping command lag, and the new MP issues reported were actually all related to DLC2!  So that’s a nice thing to be whittling down so far.

During this beta period, we’ve increased energy requirements quite a bit for superweapons, and also scaled back the number of ship lines you have access to.  Officer fleets no longer come with free ship lines, but also now cost much less AIP to capture.  ARSes and similar have slightly fewer choices, but the ODSS in particular now has a better balance of choices rather than giving you too many redundant ones.  There’s a Goldilocks Zone of “just enough choice but not too much” that we’re trying to hit, and we seem to be quite close, if not there.

As part of the beta process, the AI got some new anti-spy buildings for its highest-mark planets, so you can’t just spy on them with impunity in those areas.  We also took away the mechanic that caused the AI to automatically mark up to mark 3 by the time you attack their homeworld; if you want to run a low-AIP game, you can now do that.  The mechanic still remains on difficulty 10, but we decided it was needlessly punitive (not the original intent at all) on lower difficulties than that.

There are a number of new hotkeys that are default-unbound that you can use for things like selecting-only-turrets or for placing half or a third of a cap when you click.  Thanks to donblas on those.

AI homeworlds and bastion planets now have special icons and styling that make them easier to spot.

Enjoy!

Beta 2.813 Golem Relations

New beta build! https://wiki.arcengames.com/index.php?title=AI_War_2:Finalizing_Multiplayer#Beta_2.813_Golem_Relations

You need to use the current_beta build on Steam or GOG to see it.  Assuming that all seems sane with this build, this is the end of the current beta period.

What’s new in this one?  There are a few bugfixes and QoL improvements (thanks to donblas for several of those).  There’s a new anti-spy system and some improved spy balance, courtesy of CRCGamer.

The Arks and Golems have all been made cheaper in AIP to capture, cost WAY more energy to run (they were stupidly undercosted in energy), and no longer come with any ships when you capture them.  You just get them for themselves, not for the fleet they’re toting along.  Thanks to Strategic Sage for the suggestion about the energy costs, as well as a raft of related items.

Existing savegames that would be thrown into negative energy by balance changes now automatically get a free energy handicap that keeps that from happening, which gives us a freer hand to make large energy usage changes like this without breaking anyone’s campaign.

You get one more choice again from the TSS, bringing that back into middle-balance. The Reprocessors by CRZgatecrusher has been updated to the latest code standard, and Civilian Industry has been updated to have better late game performance by ArnaudB.

I put in a ton of fixes to multiplayer, and this time I think all the last of the ghosts are gone.  Thanks to Bummeri, greyhoundgames, KaleR, and Jusa for the great reports in that area.

There’s some new stuff I’m planning for post-DLC2 with alternative game modes, but it will have to wait a few weeks at the moment.  You can read the current iteration of that design here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1PkSQoFIYZDN42jaYvjQ_pLGGWYJrYq4mfhFZvfJjNyk/  It’s open for public comment.

For the next couple of weeks, I intend to focus just on bugfixing, MP, and DLC2 icons and art.  Then on to game modes, etc, after DLC2.

AI War 2: 2.809 Self Optimization

New build! https://wiki.arcengames.com/index.php?title=AI_War_2:Finalizing_Multiplayer#2.809_Self_Optimization

This one is mostly multiplayer-focused, but it has some core speed improvements to the singleplayer simulation as well as some bugfixes that also benefit everyone (particularly those with really fast AMD processors).

This also sees a number of improvements and updates to the SirLimbo suite of mods, and Space Planes and Expatriates have gotten some solid balance adjustments from CRCGamer.

So, what of multiplayer? This release is a pretty big deal! First off, major thanks to Bummeri and abuchris and their MP groups, because this would not have been possible without them.

1. There were STILL some ghosts possible on MP clients, but those seem to be well and truly dead now from several angles.

2. There was a major amount of ship “rubber banding” happening in combat with the AI sentinels in the last couple of weeks, due to a bug I accidentally put in when optimizing bandwidth a couple of weeks ago. That’s now fixed.

3. The sync and ship-check data now uses vastly less bandwidth, and is structured so that it won’t ever flood the client with too much information. There’s now a call and response (ack, in network terms) going on, and this helps the network self-regulate to whatever its environment is. In other words, for this part of the network data, if the connection is slow and flaky, it will slow itself to compensate. If it’s a speedy lan, it will up itself to match that. Overall in most cases this results in a lot of bandwidth reduction, and even more importantly it removes cases where potentially the client could get message-logged and get a lot of command lag from that.

MP is looking a lot more reliable now, knock on wood, which is really exciting. This has been quite a journey for it.

Enjoy!

AI War 2 v2.802 Multiplayer Steams Onward

New build! https://wiki.arcengames.com/index.php?title=AI_War_2:Finalizing_Multiplayer#2.802_Multiplayer_Steams_Onward

We briefly had a v2.801, but had to revert that because it had a couple of critical bugs. The changes from that have been included in this new build, which runs great. Overall this is just a laundry list of bugfixes and tweaks that people reported, but most of them are centered around multiplayer — specifically on Steam.

Our dalliance with the Steam P2P networking framework is likely coming to an end, because that was incredibly unreliable and a lot of people actually had commented that other games had problems with it, too. That leaves us with Steam Sockets, which is Valve’s newer networking model, but it doesn’t support multi-channel data, which causes a lot of slowdown for this specific game. Thankfully, Steam Sockets does support multiple ports, so I’ve adapted it to use four ports as if they were four channels, and the performance is through the roof from that. Additionally, we now support using Steam Sockets either in a relayed fashion (goes through Valve’s network, which they say is faster than the general Internet backbone, but varies a lot based on where you and your friends actually live), or via a direct fashion (just connects you and friends directly, even across a LAN if need be). The direct fashion is WAY faster in my experience, but it’s slightly more of a pain to set up (host tells others their IP).

Badger also slew his own dragon, which was a way for the AI threat against the dyson sphere to turn against you unexpectedly. It was actually a general memory leak that has been around since October 2019, as well, so this was really a great one to find and fix. Not sure how much this may have been negatively impacting performance in some games.

The load game menu also now performs better when you have a really huge number of savegames or campaigns. Previously it had an annoying delay when first opening.

Enjoy!

AI War 2 v2.800 Released! “The New Paradigm”

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:

  • We’re running a newer version of the unity engine.  This runs smoother for most everyone, but some very old Windows 7 machines or High Sierra machines may have problems.  Both of those OSes are old enough that they do not get even critical security updates from Microsoft or Apple, so you are strongly advised to update in both cases.
  • OpenGL support on Mac OSX is removed, but Metal has been optimized and polished to work super well.  This is basically leaning into how Apple prefers games to work, and the results are actually quite stunning even on really old hardware that is below minimum system requirements.  My main mac I test with is a 2011 Macbook Pro that is well under minimum requirements, and it runs far more smoothly now.
  • RAM usage has been optimized for the base game and the first DLC, to a huge extent.
  • The way we draw things like circles in the game has been improved so that it’s more attractive, and way more efficient.  If you draw a bunch of range circles, it’s now both prettier and more performant.
  • Linux support also got some various boosts, and Vulkan on that and other platforms should work much better now, too.

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:

  • The planet sidebar now has many new options, including list view, views broken out by faction, new sort options, and even fleet displays.
  • There’s a handy writeup in the How To Play menu under  Getting Started that explains how this works in more detail.
  • Seriously, that new planet sidebar is fire.  You can make it look like it always used to if you prefer, but the usability of it has gone through the ceiling.
  • The various settings-style menus now not only have subcategories (THANK you, organization!), but they also divide their content into regular and advanced.  The advanced content is just one click away, but otherwise kept out of your face unless you turn it on.
  • You can now multi-move ship lines around, or even swap fleet leaders between fleets.  There was much rejoicing.

Area 7: Other Capturable Changes

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

  • Fleet Research Stations (FRSes) actually are super useful now.  Their units are not so overpriced, but also only work on smaller individual fleets.
  • IGCs and similar have been removed, as they were redundant with other aspects of the new meta.
  • The Advanced Research Station (ARS) now uses that new style of hacking for units that gives you more choice in a serial fashion, without ever needing rerolls.
  • Fleet Capacity Extenders (FCEs) were also removed, as they clashed with the new FRS design, and also were pretty darn redundant now that you have so much choice directly from the ARSes and so forth.
  • You will capture comparably few fleets, and you can’t make custom ones anymore from the sidebar, so you won’t have a bunch of idle transports sitting around anymore on your home planet.  You have enough to meet your needs, but rarely too many more than that.
  • In the event that you DO have extra transports even in the new model, they can now be strategically placed on economy-focused plants to give a passive economy buff if you leave them on that planet for at least 5 minutes.  Even your “useless” stuff is now quite useful.
  • When it comes to upgrading your Fallen Spire cities, this is now done via clicking a notice at the top of the screen.  Previously it did it automatically, sometimes in a non-ideal order.  Now you get to control the order in which it happens.
  • Outguard units are easier to get into contact with, and hopefully will become a part of more midlevel player strategies.  Advanced play has used them for a while, but they are vastly easier to understand now.

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:

  • AI waves sizes are CRAZY stronger.  They were previously incredibly rare and very weak.  They are still not something that is likely to end the game for you, but they actually factor in now.  They are also no longer cowards. They used to run away the moment you out-strengthed them in turrets. These new waves are a part of the “Relentless AI” subfaction; that means they will fight to the death and constantly seek to do battle with you.
  • Phase 2 of the AI Overlord is a lot more interesting and intense, and the final battle got several buffs in general.
  • AI Reserves are smarter.
  • So are the AI Praetorian Guard, Hunter, and Warden.
  • The AI Warden in particular is way more aggressive, fine with losses, and able to regenerate itself a bit faster than before.  It doesn’t have to worry about carefully preserving itself, and in some ways is actually more similar to your forces in that it can take a beating, regroup, and try again.
  • Overall the style of the AI is less “try to wait until the player cannot possibly win before we attack at all” and is instead “harass them at various levels constantly, and exploit any openings that come up… while holding some forces in reserve for those decisive strikes that are so effective when timed well.”

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:

  • The balance of battlestations and citadels is all new, as befits their new status.
  • The balance of turrets has been further refined, often with a lot of help from user Democracy (who designed a lot of the DLC1 turrets).
  • Frigates are actually useful now!  Their balance work is still ongoing in some ways, but they have shifted from being a metal sink into being something you can main.
  • The way you generate metal and energy has been dramatically updated, in terms of which mix of command stations you should employ.
  • Randomized ship line amounts are gone, so each line you get now has a specific hand-designed meaning.
  • Forcefields and frigates and other small-cap units like that usually do not gain cap anymore as they mark up; instead you start with more of them to begin with.
  • Forcefields in general have had several balance overhauls, leading them to be less overpowered in average games but also still viable in Fallen Spire (and other mega unit) games, while scaling their tech cost to be more linear.  You also don’t have to worry about them getting knocked out of place anymore.
  • Visibility from logistics stations and military stations is increased a lot, plus you can place a new unit called Spies as pickets.
  • A ton of other factions got upgraded to be more useful, including the Marauders and Scourge.  This is to say nothing of mod factions, many of which were added outright or were majorly expanded.
  • Alien ships that you can acquire via hacking are now a lot better deal and more exciting.
  • You’re no longer quite drowning in turrets so much as you were before, and energy and such has all been rebalanced, as has their attack power.  You can very much defend yourself, but it’s much less of a hassle to do so.
  • Brownouts now have a grace period and are harder to trigger, but last a bit longer when they do happen.

What’s Else Is New?

  • I mean… it’s really a lot!  You’ll notice little things on almost every screen of the game.
  • In a lot of cases, it’s simply more clear and more balanced, or easier to make what you want into reality.
  • The Fallen Spire campaign from DLC1 now has a vastly more robust set of lore entries, many of which are adapted in from the beloved campaign in the original AI War.
  • On Steam, there’s a new “beta” branch pointing to the last  pre-paraidgm-shift build.  (z_historical_2_715 Release 2.715 – The last version before the Major Paradigm Shift of Early 2021.)  So if you had a game in progress that you’d prefer to finish in the prior style, please feel free!

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:

  • Our new take on the Champions faction from the first game, which includes ways to explore the 5th dimension and fight all sorts of new foes there.
  • A surprising new Necromancer faction, which allows for a partner (or two or three) in multiplayer to take control of the zombies that are generated, as well as become a zombie-making machine in general.  Build necropolises, and so on.  For once the necromancer in a story isn’t the big bad… it’s you.
  • Yet another surprising new mechanic, Vassals let you have a buddy-NPC faction that you give more direct orders to.  This is backwards compatible with the base game and other expansions, and it’s expected that many mods will likely also want to hook into this.

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.

Enjoy!

Chris

Musings upon turning 38. AI, Technological Advancement, And What I’ve Learned In My Career So Far.

I’m turning 38 today, which somehow seems both old and young to me.  How can I only be 38?  I feel much older.  And on the other hand… I still feel like a little kid, and wonder about all these white hairs.

Why I Stopped Writing These Types Of Journals

There’s a lot of personal navel-gazing I could do, but then this would get even longer-winded than I typically am.  But I do notice that I really have not been doing any personal blogging in the last decade or so.  When I was new in my career as a game developer, I felt like I had lots to say, but did all that suddenly stop?

Partly I got busy.  Partly I was very stressed out and very unhappy for a lot of those years.  Some of that was related to work, some of that was being in an unhappy marriage but being unwilling to admit it.  Some of it was… no longer feeling like the answers to things are quite so obvious.  Or at least not easy to explain.

My Older Journal-Style Writings

My original writings on the nature of a superior AI got slashdotted, made the front page of reddit, were top on hacker news, and so on back in 2009.  I was really proud of that.  People read my work, felt like they understood what I was saying even if they don’t work in the field, and came away feeling satisfied and edified.

The problem is, a lot of it was pretty incorrect.  There WERE novel things in there, don’t get me wrong.  But the actual alchemy of what made the AI in the original AI War: Fleet Command really good was not something I myself had a good bead on.  You’d think I would have understood it, but I did not.

Where I Got Things Right

It’s true that I took a novel approach with the AI, and it’s true that it was highly performant code and gave really good results.  And a lot of the design maxims that I came up with are ones I still use:

  • Don’t try to pick truly optimal solutions or things become predictable.
  • Design your gameplay so that it is AI-friendly in the first place.
  • Have a lot of verbs for AIs to choose from.
  • Have a lot of agents so that players can’t follow exactly what the “group” is doing as a whole.

But none of these were at the heart of what I described in 2009, and in fact I was overly focused on my particular methodology.

A Hybrid Approach Surpassed The Original

Throughout the 2010 to 2014 period, Keith LaMothe actually methodically went through the original AI War and upgraded large portions of the AI code to be more “traditional” (aka more loosely based on decision trees and similar rather than flocking), and his results, when blended with mine, yielded a superior result.  When you think about it, that makes sense: blending two very different techniques should give more variability and more interesting results.

But Architectural Adjustments Surpass That

Then in 2015, I came up with a radical new approach for how the AIs should think in Stars Beyond Reach.  That was a game that was never released, but is a lot like Civilization in how it works at a basic level.  Essentially each AI would be simple, and would run in a background thread.  It would make whatever decisions it could, blind to all the other AIs, and they would all turn their results in at once.

I got the idea from bluffing/trick taking card games, of which I am fond.  In those games, I and my family are all sitting around a table, wondering what each of the rest of us are going to do, and we all put down a card that nobody else can see.  When everyone is ready, we turn over our cards and find out all together who read the table and their hands and the other players the best.

It turns out when you have AIs do the same thing, they’re able to run really quickly, and come up with results that are quite good.  When there are problems, like two units trying to move into the same space (which would be invalid), then solve who wins with a coin toss.

The end result was that we were able to run something like 14 AIs in parallel, and have the between-turn timings complete in part of one second where Civilization would groan and stutter over several seconds.  We also were doing less work than Civilization with our simulation, but the savings would have remained if we had continued to build it out.  The approach is just fundamentally better, given modern hardware.

It’s worth noting that, beyond that original idea, I did none of the coding on that.

Back To AI War, Via AI War 2

When we decided to embark on AI War 2 in 2016, we ported over the new AI handling from Stars Beyond Reach.  The old approach of AI in general from AI War Classic was out, and Keith largely built a completely new AI approach that was more traditional and didn’t have any real flocking going on.

Okay, there were a FEW flocking things, but those were largely for the individual ship combat in battles.  Not large strategic decisions.  And the result?  On par with AI War Classic, at least.

Then AI War 2 Evolved

Then Badger game along, and blew both Keith and I out of the water over the course of a couple of years.  Realizing that he had a LOT of time on the CPU with which to do calculations, and that he could store all sorts of working data about sub-groups and similar (fire teams, for example), he coded it to work based on… what I would describe as fairly traditional methods.

Seeing these things be so successful takes a lot of my notions about AI and kind of throws them out the window.  Badger’s code is great, and his strategies for the AI are clever, and in my opinion there is not a better AI opponent out there than what AI War 2 currently offers with its various NPC factions.

But here’s the thing: the actual code itself doesn’t look like something an alien wrote, or some inscrutable neural network that we can’t comprehend.  It looks like very well-organized AI code that you can find in most any game.  This is not a grand reinvention of AI as a concept, in other words.  If anything, compared to my supposed “grand reinvention” in 2009, this is a regression.  But it’s indisputably better.  So what gives?

It All Comes Down To Architecture

This is going to sound like I’m patting myself on the back and taking credit away from Badger, so I think it’s worth noting that I didn’t code any of the actual AI in AI War 2.  Or at least very little of it.  My brain doesn’t easily follow the sort of design patterns that Badger wrote, and I don’t tend to think of AI in the style that he implemented it.  So I’m not sure that I could have pulled off what he and Keith accomplished in the actual AI code.  That’s worth stating up front.

I might be able to now, with their example code already sitting there right in front of me.  But coming up with it out of whole cloth?  I’m not so sure.

It’s also worth noting that now we have NR SirLimbo coming in and making very complicated mods with notable AI, and he’s leaning on a lot of what Badger and Keith created, but also doing brand-new things all of his own. 

It’s ALSO worth noting that StarKelp, who is relatively novice as a programmer in general, came in and made a really fun and convincing faction — Civilian Industries — based around fairly simple rules and just all-around solid design.  He used the tools that were there, did not invent anything remotely new from a technical standpoint, but made one of the most fun factions by just thinking about how he wanted it to work.

So… what the heck?  Why is this sort of thing possible?

Four words: having time to think.

By which I mean both the developers/modders, sure, but mainly the AIs themselves.

Technical Revolutions In General

It feels like computing has not really been all that exciting in the last decade, at least not compared to the decade before it.  And certainly not the decade before that.  But I would argue that the advances in computing in the past decade are just as significant, but widely underappreciated and sometimes underused.

Let’s talk about the original DOOM as an example.  That was a first person shooter that was drawn entirely in software.  There was no dedicated GPU.  So all of the calculations for how to draw these polygons on the screen had to take up CPU time, and had to be run FAST.  So there was only but so much complexity that approach could ever render in an environment.

As we moved into the era of discrete GPUs, a whole array of new things became possible.  And it was very noticeable, because graphics are the easiest thing to see (obviously).  As the shader pipeline became a thing in the 2000s, suddenly we could spin off all these little mini-programs to hundreds or thousands of cores on a GPU, each one saying “take this vertex data and draw it like this.”  Later, the programs (shaders) got vastly more sophisticated, and a new era of Physically Based Rendering (PBR) was born.

So now there’s all this incredible art in tons of 3D games, and it can look pretty close to photo-real, or it can look intentionally anime-like.  You can learn how to make basic shaders on your own, and you can beat the absolute pants of of the best graphic artists from 20 years ago.  The old team working on the original Unreal has nothing on the water physics coded by random students and hobbyists around the world today.  But… that’s not remotely taking anything away from the graphic artists 20 years ago (or it shouldn’t be).

The bottom line is that now when someone goes to make a game, any game, they’re standing on the shoulders of decades of work of technical artists and technical art programmers and chip designers and more in order to do even the most basic things.  So we have all that architecture to our advantage, all of us, and there’s a whole heck of a lot of things we just don’t have to think about anymore.  They “just work,” and so we can think about the actual content.  Sound slightly familiar to something I described with AI War 2?

The Multi-Core Revolution

I follow computing closely.  I like knowing how things work, I like building computers, I like seeing all the different layers of compiled code.  Yet somehow I completely missed just how significant the multi-core revolution was.  I stumbled into it over the past few years, and really only in the last year has it dawned on me just how critical it has been.

Here’s the thing: when you’ve got a CPU that can think about a lot of complex things, and where “a lot” of data in the form of several MB of information is trivial in the scope of RAM… you’re in a whole new world.  Calculations for AIs can run on something approaching human-level timescales, and algorithms can come to better decisions than humans would.

One area of the game that I did work on is targeting logic.  A volunteer/modder, WeaponMaster, also contributed heavily to this area.  This was one of the heaviest part of the original AI War simulation, but I chose to break this out into its own background thread.  More specifically, I chose to have it NOT be part of the simulation at all.  Rather, it does its thinking, and later communicates its results back to the simulation to be integrated at the simulation’s convenience.

This means that instead of having 1-5 milliseconds to do the complex targeting for all the ships in a giant battle, we have… you know, whatever, I guess.  Take a few seconds if you really need it.  Maybe hand the data back to us in batches every few dozen milliseconds?

The absolute insanity of the freedom that gives us is something I can’t understate.  We’re talking about two or three or even four magnitudes of extra time to think about things if we need it.  As a result?  The ship AIs are able to make EXTREMELY good decisions in the heat of battle.  Better than any human.  You think you can micro better than the ships in AI War 2?  Please.  Unless we have a particular oversight in our algorithm somewhere, the machine figured out a better solution in roughly the time it took you to understand the basics of what you’re even looking at.

There will always be edge cases, places where humans can come in and make a better choice by hand, and I actually really like that.  But there’s definitely not a Starcraft-like urgency for you to give every order to all your moron units, because your units are instead largely as smart as you insofar as the limited scope of what they do.  So if you’re super-fast at clicking… well, there’s just not that many corrections for you to make.  If there are that many corrections, you’re better off giving us a suggestion (or looking at the open source code yourself) and we’ll just make the algorithm better again.

None of this was possible in the original AI War, and it isn’t possible in most games in general.  You can’t take that much complex data (positions, bonuses, priorities, ranges, multiple weapon systems, etc) all into one algorithm and spit out a good result in a reasonable amount of time.  So we changed the definition of what “reasonable” means.  And that was made possible by having strong multi-core machines basically be ubiquitous.

The same is true for all of the fire team logic and similar that Badger wrote, or even the simpler logic for StarKelp’s civilian industries.  In any other game I’ve ever worked on, Stars Beyond Reach aside, we would always have been thinking “do we have enough CPU time available for this?”  And if we had a novice programmer joining us, and they made some slightly less optimal choices, we would have been royally annoyed because it was making things worse for everyone.

Oh, hey.  That’s not a thing anymore, either.  If a novice’s mod code runs 20% slower for some reason, mainly because they don’t have a deep multi-decade fascination with the internals of computing and the programming languages we use, then… no harm, no foul.  That’s all on its own thread, and isn’t blocking anything else, so the game is completely unaffected.

This is, frankly, revolutionary.  Most games have not caught on to this yet.  Maybe I shouldn’t mention it, and keep a completive advantage.  But how you structure your AI code, and your simulation code as a whole, is essentially as important as what the actual AI code is, these days.  This structure, and optimizing it and refining it, is where I’ve spent the vast majority of my time over the past few years.

Not All Mult-Threading Is Equal

Right now we’re still a bit in the wild west of multithreading.  It reminds me of the “Web 2.0” days of the Internet, or the pre-PBR generation of shader programming.  There are not codified best practices for games as a whole, and any libraries that are out there (and there are a lot) are usually pretty task-specific.  We have not yet reached a state of general-purpose multi-core processing for games AI and simulations in the way that we have for game physics, game audio, or game graphics.

And I’m cool with that.  What I find most interesting is that I’m not sure how much people are even paying attention to this as a goal to achieve.  It’s certainly not on the list of any engine developers, near as I can tell.  They have indeed started making strides to make a lot of things use more cores in general, but they’re still very… task-oriented.  A lot of them follow my 2009 style of thinking, with a focus on individual agents (because in the case of these systems now, that actually is much simpler to do).

What I’m not seeing is a lot of large-scale AIs or multi-thread simulations being developed where individual parts of the simulation or AI are allowed to run for seconds at a time before their data is reintegrated.  Being able to do that is like a superpower.

I Like The Wild West

When I originally started writing this post, I was going to talk about how I’m grateful for all the various wild west periods I’ve been able to participate in.  The early days of indie game development was a big one.  I was feeling a bit sad about how some of those wild wests have instead become populous and post-gold-rush settled civilizations. 

I was thinking that, eventually, there will be no more frontiers to discover, and that’s a pretty big bummer.  But rather than feeling bummed out about it, I was feeling grateful to live in the time that I do now.  I was feeling a bit bad for people 100 years from now, who will have so many things mapped out for them, and so few constraints on resources, that they won’t get to innovate in certain ways that I’ve been fortunate to be able to.

But as I started to write, and as I compared my 2009 self to my 2020 self — and in particular as I thought about computer graphics and how those have changed from 1998 to 2020 — my perspective shifted.

I can make really awesome 3D scenes, on my own, these days.  I can do character art.  I can do my own motion capture, from my own body and face, in my home, for males and females and creatures.  These technological advancements give me the tools I need to make really interactive and believable cutscenes, if I were so inclined (I am inclined, I just don’t have time in my schedule).  Ten years ago, the idea of any of that would have been impossible, and I don’t feel sorry for myself now that I have this new power.  If I am to work on a cutscene, now I get to focus on the actual content, and not the technology or minutia of it.

AI, sooner or later, is going to head that same direction.  Same with game simulations for games like AI War 2.  Right now I get to live on the bleeding edge and help do things that nobody else can do, like those developers for Unreal 20 years ago.  But 20 years from now, a novice just poking around at game development for fun will be able to casually craft something far more involved than anything I, Keith, or Badger ever can in this moment.

Thinking of it in those terms, I’m okay with that.  There are a ton of games that I’d like to create, but that I can’t because they’d be too expensive (and thus too risky) to make.  I really do love being able to push the limits of technology, and there will probably always be some area in which I can do that.  But that won’t always be so directly coupled to the game itself.

A game like Stardew Valley offers nothing new on the technological stage, but is a revolution in design and personality and just plain fun.  Even with all our modern tools, it still took one developer a really long time to make that game.  This was someone focused entirely on the content and the artistry, not someone bogged down in the details of how to push the bleeding edge of technology. 

In my own way, in my own areas, that’s the sort of thing I also look forward to being able to do. 2021 is going to have a lot of that, I think.  I’ll still be slaying technical demons and pushing the edge of technology in still other areas, because that’s just plain one of my interests, but I won’t HAVE to in the way I was forced to for much of the last decade.  That’s a welcome thought.

AI War 2 v2.701 Released! “Multiplayer Shared-Faction Reaches Beta”

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.

Enjoy!

Chris

AI War 2 v2.604 Released! “A Thousand Screaming Idiots”

It’s been six days since the last major release writeup, with four releases in all, and notes starting here and ending here.

We are in multiplayer alpha!  If you want the full info on multiplayer’s current status, the place to look at that from now on is here.  We’ve had the first victory over the AI in multiplayer happen, and we’re knocking down MP bugs steadily.

AI Improvements And Additions

Okay, this is a really big release, actually.  Far more than we had intended to do, but so it goes.

First off, the star of the show is definitely the new “Tsunami CPA” option in the galaxy options screen.  You can turn it on for existing savegames or new campaigns, but temporarily it is off by default.  It turns Cross Planet Attacks into the sort of… scary tidal wave of doom or glory that the pre-3.0 days of AI War Classic used to enjoy.

We’ll always keep the option to have boring-style CPAs in this game, where basically the CPA just releases a bunch of threat that join the Hunter fleet.  That’s… fine.  But as a number of people have noticed, that’s a very anticlimatic result after a scary countdown timer.

The hunter is its own thing, and is intelligent and scary in its own way, but it’s also cautious and coordinated.  That’s the very opposite of what a Cross Planet Attack used to represent, 8 years or so ago, in the first AI War.  A Cross Planet Attack is meant to be a flood of ships from all over the galaxy, only lightly coordinated at best, that wash up on the shores of your defenses and either dissipate or carry the wreckage inland.

So that’s what happens now, if you turn on the Tsunami CPA option.  It’s basically a thousand screaming idiots running at you from every direction, only sort of avoiding danger.  And they go for the throat, too, if they can get past your external defenses.  It’s thrilling and quite unlike anything the AI War multiverse has seen since maybe 2012.  How I’ve missed this.

However, here’s the thing that makes this extra cool and also quite new-feeling: the hunter may be cautious, but it also is quick to capitalize on openings.  And it operates alongside the Tsunami CPAs.  So while those are washing up on your defenses, and you think you’re going to be okay… sometimes the hunter shows up at just the wrong time and tips the balance.  It turns out that a meticulous and ruthless planner, given a thousand screaming idiots for cover, is even more effective.

Moving on from the keystone feature:

In a whole bunch of other areas for the AI, there are things that look on the surface like nerfs to the ship budgets for the AI, but actually are not quite what they seem.

The changes are complicated enough that it’s really easy to misunderstand the implications of them even if you read really carefully.

But to summarize the most important one, essentially the AI is… less reactive in how it applies its budgets when it feels like its king is under pressure.  It now trusts that it has been building a good and solid defense for a long time, and keeps pressing its own attacks on you.

Previously you could run into REALLY protracted final battles with the AI homeworlds, where the AI was being super defensive and making it really hard for you to win… but also really hard for you to lose.  Now the AI final fights won’t be quite so hard to win… but at the same time there is a dramatically higher chance of you outright losing during them.

Aside from this, there are what amount to some legitimate nerfs to the AI in the warden and praetorian guard sub-factions, if those are at their full cap for whatever reason.  Rather than donating excess income to general defenses (which made some AI types turn out to have generalized defenses that were way inflated in an inappropriate way), they just lose that budget.  This is more in keeping with the first AI War as well, and should not affect most games.  A few specific AI types may wind up needing a buff, but let us know how those feel (Special Forces Master and Praetor, mainly).

Oh, also speaking of the AI’s intelligence, the highest-level AIs (difficulty 8 and up) will now underestimate their strength a bit when deciding to engage you.  This will make them tend to engage you with overwhelming force more often, again like the first game.

And in general, turrets were being undervalued in terms of strength, which was hurting the decision-making of all factions.  So the strength values of those have been tweaked upwards (how the strength is reported, not what the damage of the actual turrets is), and that should lead to all factions making more sensible decisions on heavily turreted player planets.

Oh, and it’s harder to bait the hunter into your meat grinders on difficulty 8 and up.  You’re welcome. 😉

What’s Else Is New?

  • There’s a bunch of new little lore bits that now appear in the game when you are getting started!  This includes backstory on the Spire and Zenith if relevant when you find them, and backstory on the AI.  Some of these bits of lore are brand new information, and other are things that were easy to miss.
  • The Civilian Industries mod not only now works again, but also has been getting a number of substantial updates by its author, StarKelp.
  • Lots and lots of bugfixes.
  • One bugfix in particular fixes an issue where all of the fireteam-based faction ships were being lobotomized upon loading a savegame since September 3rd.  So that made the hunter, the nanocaust, scourge, etc, all really stupid for at least 30 seconds after loading a savegame.  That was a one-line typo on my part, but is now fixed.
  • The Nanocaust has seen a bunch of buffs in general, since they were starting to seem lackluster compared to the newer factions that are more powerful.  The devourer golem is coming up soon in terms of getting some new power levels (in its case those will be lobby options instead of a straight buff).
  • In the arena of multiplayer, we found an interesting bug a while back that was causing any ships in transports to get duplicated endlessly on clients, which led to all manner of bugs and eventually crashes.  The bugs we’ve been fixing since then have not been nearly so serious, and it’s really great to see how a variety of people are playing a variety of multiplayer scenarios with success now.  There are still plenty of missing MP-specific features and MP-specific bugs, but it’s coming a long way fast thanks to testers.

More to come soon!

Looking for more information about multiplayer and DLC2?  A recent post on September 25th has a lot of details.

Please Do Report Any Issues!

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

The release of this game has been going well so far, and I think that the reviews that folks have been leaving for the game have been a big help for anyone passing by who’s on the fence.  For a good while we were sitting at Overwhelmingly Positive on the Recent Reviews breakdown, but there have been a lot fewer reviews lately and so that has definitely had a material negative effect.  Go figure.  Having a running selection of recent reviews definitely is helpful, but at least we have a pretty healthy set of long-term reviews.  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.

More to come soon.  Enjoy!

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.

Enjoy!

Chris

AI War 2 v2.600 Released! “Multiplayer Alpha”

Can you hop into multiplayer and play now?  Why… yes, you can!  There will be bugs, at this point, but we’re well into alpha now, and the first waves of testers have helped us fix a lot of things.

Since the last update post fifty-seven days ago (WHOAH), we’ve had thirty releases, starting with notes here and ending here.

If you want the full info on multiplayer’s current status, the place to look at that from now on is here.

What’s New Other Than Multiplayer Stuff?

  • Heck of a lot of bugfixes and balance tweaks, as you might imagine.
  • You can have multiple Devourers and Zenith Traders if you like.
  • The Imperial Spire (in DLC1) has a number of improvements.
  • Ion Cannons are particularly more effective now.
  • Melee units now do battle far more effectively, too.
  • The way the galaxy map is drawn has had a lot of improvements, most notably in the lobby.  This feels SO much better in singleplayer and multiplayer.
  • Some features from the upcoming DLC2 (which is now pushed until January 2021) have been backported to the base game.  Notably, you can now hack Dyson Spheres like an ARS.
  • Dark Spire got a number of improvements, including more interactivity with other factions that hate them.
  • Hit the R key to reset the camera rotation and orientation, at long last.
  • Improvements and flavor updates to Human Resistance Fighters.
  • Lots of changes to AI Eyes to actually make them formidable again.
  • Lots of improvements to mod compatibility, which broke code-based mods temporarily, but ultimately make them work better in both singleplayer but especially multiplayer.
  • Scourge (from DLC1) intelligence improvements.
  • Civilian Industries By StarKelp has been added as our second off-by-default mod that we’re distributing for the mod author.  It may be broken at the moment because of some of the overhauls relating to multiplayer, but we’ll have a working build again as soon as that is ready from the author.  It’s a very cool mod.
  • More Starting Options By ArnaudB has been added as our third off-by-default mod.  This one adds a lot of new options for starting fleets for you.
  • There is a new “Find Planet” command (cmd:findp yourtexthere) that lets you find planets by name, which is super useful.
  • Better Default Screen Resolutions!  This has been bugging people for a while.  It’s now defaulting to your desktop resolution and fullscreen windowed mode when you start the game for the very first time.
  • More voice lines related to the nanocaust and a few other factions.
  • The AI difficulty descriptions have been completely rewritten and are way more clear as to what you can expect, without making you feel bad.  Huge thanks to Tzarro on this!
  • “Fireteam dynamic resizing” is a new feature that leads to massive performance gains in very late-game situations with a lot of enemy factions in play.  Huge win by Badger.

More to come soon!  Read on to hear about multiplayer and DLC2.

What’s The State Of Multiplayer?

If you want a truly exhaustive writeup about multiplayer, this has everything.

We have now been in multiplayer alpha for sixteen days, in a “soft launch” status.  Basically, we only told people who were really paying a lot of attention in the Steam forums or on Discord.  We had enough testers out of that smaller group to run into a whole slew of issues, and thanks to them you are now not going to be one of the folks to run into things that are that bad.

At first it was a situation where errors were immediate, and then it was a case of maybe being able to play 20 minutes at a time.  As of a day or two ago, Suzera and Ipsum were able to play for about three and a half hours without major errors, until they hit a game-breaking dead-stop issue.  However, the host was able to save their game, send it to me, and now on the new version they can keep playing as if nothing had happened; this may well be the first completed “real” multiplayer game of AI War 2 (assuming they win, heh).

At the moment you can definitely still expect some bugs, and things are not quite as smooth (visually) on the clients as we would prefer.  But we’ve made a huge number of strides, and it should be playable from start to finish aside from whatever unknown bugs you run into.  There’s a list of many of the known issues, but most of them are not that serious at the moment.

What’s The Difference Between Alpha And Beta?

Beta means feature-complete.  We’re not there yet, on multiplayer.  Things like sharing a faction between two players doesn’t have an interface yet.  Spectator mode has only been somewhat tested.  Lots more testing is needed in general.  Balance needs to be thought about by people who are actually playing it.  There are some features like gifting between players that are an obvious need.  Etc.

There’s a list of questions for multiplayer alpha testers that can have a major material impact on what beta (and later fully released) multiplayer functions will be like, so if you have an opinion, please feel free to let us know!

What Makes Multiplayer Beta?

When we have all of the major features missing from the alpha, then that’s a relatively feature-complete multiplayer experience.  When sync issues are not routinely a problem, and other bugs are not prevalent, then you can basically have an expectation of a “normal multiplayer experience.”  Connect, play, disconnect when done.

The purpose of the beta period is to have lots of people attempting that, so that we find the strange edge cases.  Or other features that are needed that we are missing.  Or balance problems that are specific to having multiple players.

At this point, the schedule is such that we’ll be hitting beta status sometime in October.  But we’re in a more-robust-than-I-expected alpha status at the moment, so there is that.

If you’re wondering “when can I play with my friends and actually just have a good time doing it,” my hope is that the answer is… maybe now?  Depends on your tolerance for bugs.

If you’re new to the game, or have a low tolerance for things that break, then my real answer to that question is “it should feel like finished and polished multiplayer in November,” based on how things have been going so far.

What About DLC2?

This is something we haven’t really been talking about too much, mainly because it seemed in poor taste to be talking about it before multiplayer was ready.  At any rate, Badger has really outdone himself on his part of it, and I’m very excited by what is there.

For my part of it, I have yet to even start it, and probably won’t be able to until sometime in October at the earliest because of multiplayer work.  So the end release for this expansion will probably be in January, which is when we’ll likely also call multiplayer “fully gold” in order to maximize the chance of marketing.  But realistically, hopefully multiplayer is there for you in every meaningful respect in November.

What can I tell you about this new expansion?  Well, it’s much larger than the first one.  It’s also not free to kickstarter backers, as an aside.  It’s called Zenith Onslaught, and it does live up to its name.  I look forward to being able to share more about that with you in the future, but for now I need to keep my eye on the multiplayer ball.

Please Do Report Any Issues!

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

The release of this game has been going well so far, and I think that the reviews that folks have been leaving for the game have been a big help for anyone passing by who’s on the fence.  For a good while we were sitting at Overwhelmingly Positive on the Recent Reviews breakdown, but there have been a lot fewer reviews lately and so that has definitely had a material negative effect.  Go figure.  Having a running selection of recent reviews definitely is helpful, but at least we have a pretty healthy set of long-term reviews.  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.

More to come soon.  Enjoy!

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.

Enjoy!

Chris

AI War 2 v2.112 Released! “Steam Networking Complete” (Multiplayer Alpha Approaches)

Multiplayer is not ready yet — but this is a big milestone on that path.  We expect to be into the alpha for multiplayer sometime next week.

Since the last update post sixteen days ago, we’ve had ten releases, starting with notes here and ending here.

I recently talked a lot about multiplayer and our plans for that in the short and middle term.  I think all that is still accurate, but I’m going to talk about things again based on what I now know.  Our release notes page also has a section with the current multiplayer todo list for your easy reference.

What’s New Other Than Multiplayer Stuff?

  • Relating to DLC1, the Scourge have gotten a number of new tweaks and fixes.
  • Various other UI tweaks and improvements, including a few to the lobby.
  • A fix to a memory leak and a crash to the desktop that were possible for some people to hit in the last month.  Those had to do with some newer ways of loading assets faster that didn’t always agree with everyone’s computer.
  • We fixed a handful of cross-threading exceptions that were possible.
  • The imperial spire now always give you vision properly.
  • Several ship behavior improvements.
  • The music selection/change window is now much improved.
  • The Dyson sphere got a few buffs.
  • A couple of speed improvements in parts of the codebase, and a couple of serialization fixes.
  • A fix for the self-building ships owing extra metal above their actual cost.
  • Several improvements to how stacks of ships behave, balance-wise.  This most notably improves Vanguard Hydras.
  • Campaigns in the load menu are now sorted by how recently something was saved in them, not alphabetically.  Oh my goodness this feels so much better.
  • Some minor nanocaust tweaks, and AI Exogalactic War unit tweaks in general.
  • Some balance tweaks to the Fallen Spire ships.

More to come soon!

What’s The State Of Multiplayer?

This is a screen (edited to blur out some names) that makes me very happy:

For multiplayer, the intent is to have three general solutions for HOW data is transmitted across the Internet.  Two our of three of those are complete.  This doesn’t mean that the game is ready to play, though, because WHAT data is transmitted across the Internet (or LAN) matters a whole lot more, and that still has a ways to go.  But we’ll talk about that in a minute.

First up, how do we connect to players and how does data get between them?

  1. LiteNetLib.  Originally FORGE Remastered, but that was not performing well in my tests, so I swapped it out.  This is fully working.  This is what you would use if you want absolutely no central services or servers, or you want to play on a LAN or a VPN with friends.  It’s extremely fast, and will try to do NAT traversal if you are playing across the Internet, but there’s a very high possibility that you would need to use port forwarding with this.  I built in a lot of things to make it easy to find your IP addresses with this, and it should support IPv4 or IPv6 with no troubles (though only IPv4 has been tested).
  2. Steam.  This is fully working.  Basically, the host opens the lobby in multiplayer mode, or loads a savegame.  The client clicks join game and sees a screen like the above with all of their Steam friends.  Click connect next to the one who is hosting, and Steam brokers a route through any firewalls you have, sets up a very fast relay through their own servers, and connects you with your friend without ever revealing the IP addresses of either of you.  It’s not possible that you would have to worry about ports or port forwarding or any of that sort of thing, as it doesn’t use any of that in a traditional sense.
  3. GOG Galaxy.  Not yet working.  This solution will only work for Windows and OSX right now, and not also Linux like the other two solutions do.  This one will work a whole lot like Steam, although with less in the way of relay servers.  I’m still working with GOG to figure out a few technical bits at the moment.

At this point, this covers HOW data gets around.  Other than GOG, which I’m waiting on information for, I’m completely done with this work (any future found bugs aside). 

The work of this stuff is:

  • Getting you and one or more friends connected.
  • Then keeping you connected and data moving fast between you.
  • And finally, making sure you know when someone disconnects.

These have no idea what is being said while you are connected, or really any concept of what the game is or what it is doing.  Their job is immensely complicated, but it’s all about the shipping and transfer of data, and not about what the data is.

What’s The Barrier To Multiplayer Alpha?

In order to play multiplayer at all, you first have to get connected and stay connected.  That’s done.  The game also then has to have a system for talking between clients and the host, and keeping everything in sync.  Someone clicks a button or gives orders to a unit, and everyone else sees the result.  Etc.

A huge amount of that sort of data-sharing is already done:

  • The initial sharing of the state of the galaxy, so that everyone is on the same starting point, is done.  It nicely pauses things until everyone is caught up, so that if someone is popping in in the middle that’s not a problem.
  • The actual routing of all the GameCommands that the AI and players issue, and the central time clock ticking, and that sort of thing has been done since 2017, and something we’ve been continually working on keeping up to date.  I’m sure there will be bugs, but I can verify that the vast bulk of this is working correctly already.
  • With the lobby itself, there’s a bunch of UI stuff that is particularly complicated, more than the rest of the game in some respects, and that is partially done.  Right now there are a number of known bugs in there that I’m sorting through.
  • We also have to know which players are controlling which factions, or who is choosing to just be a spectator, etc.  That’s on my list for early next week along with the lobby bugs.
  • During gameplay, certain things will drift out of sync because of the multithreading that we do, and because of floating point inconsistencies between machines in a few places.  We need to have the game roll through and self-analyze itself and fix those sync errors.  A lot has been built out here in terms of design, but the basic version needs to be implemented before people can play for too long without sync errors being hilariously in the way.

And in terms of a multiplayer alpha, that’s kind of all that we have left to do.  The main time question mark is just how many bugs I run into.  I also do want to convert the GameCommands into a new format that is more efficient, and that will probably introduce even more bugs, but that will ultimately be a speed boost for both single-player and multiplayer games.

What Will Multiplayer Alpha Be Like?

Buggy, probably.  And definitely not feature-complete.  Hopefully you can play with a friend for at least 20-30 minutes before there are catastrophic pileups of sync errors, and then saving and reconnecting is fast (3-10 seconds, probably).  But I would not expect to be able to play an entire game.

I also expect to see some funky things that we did not expect, such as trouble using certain interfaces or issuing certain commands.  Those should be pretty quick to fix, on average.

There’s also a bunch of features that are multiplayer-specific that will be missing.  Want to trade ship lines with a friend?  Too bad, at first.  Text chat?  Sure, that’s there already.  Science sharing?  Yep, already there!  Passing some metal over?  Nope, not yet.

During the alpha, one of the things that we’ll be soliciting feedback on is what features you want.  We have a pretty good idea, based on all those years of co-op in AI War Classic, but it’s still good to hear what feels lacking here, since there are a lot of concepts and features in this game that did not exist in the first.

What Makes Multiplayer Beta?

When we have all of the major features missing from the alpha, then that’s a relatively feature-complete multiplayer experience.  When sync issues are not routinely a problem, and other bugs are not prevalent, then you can basically have an expectation of a “normal multiplayer experience.”  Connect, play, disconnect when done.

The purpose of the beta period is to have lots of people attempting that, so that we find the strange edge cases.  Or other features that are needed that we are missing.  Or balance problems that are specific to having multiple players.

I’m still hopeful that we’ll reach the start of beta during August, and at the moment that seems like a reasonable goal.  The one real wildcard remaining is how much of a bear the sync code winds up being, since everything else is either complicated-but-done, or some type of code I have done many times over the last 11 years.

The Steam networking integration, and even to some extent LiteNetLib, were the other two major wildcards, and it’s really rewarding to have both of those behind me.  I do need some extra assistance from the GOG SDK team in the short-term before I get that platform up and running, but if that isn’t ready until sometime in the beta period that wouldn’t be the end of the world.  I would just prefer it to be done sooner.

We will probably have a multi-month beta period, just to let people have lots of time to run into any particular issues.  This will also give me time to then step back and do my work on DLC2, and then we can officially launch both that and the free multiplayer update at the same time.  October still seems reasonable for both.

If you’re wondering “when can I play with my friends and actually just have a good time doing it,” my hope is that the answer is “during beta, later this month.”  Fingers crossed!

Please Do Report Any Issues!

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

The release of this game has been going well so far, and I think that the reviews that folks have been leaving for the game have been a big help for anyone passing by who’s on the fence.  For a good while we were sitting at Overwhelmingly Positive on the Recent Reviews breakdown, but there have been a lot fewer reviews lately and so that has definitely had a material negative effect.  Go figure.  Having a running selection of recent reviews definitely is helpful, but at least we have a pretty healthy set of long-term reviews.  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.

More to come soon.  Enjoy!

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.

Enjoy!

Chris