AI War 2 v2.001 Released! “Expansion 1: The Spire Rises!”

The first expansion for AI War 2 is out!  It’s time for a little retrospective of how things have been going since the October 1.0 launch of the base game.

Base Game Updates

Put most simply, we’ve had 47 patches to the base game since 1.01, which is about one every 3 days.  There have been a few of those that were just little hotfixes, and some were on the beta branch temporarily, but most of these were quite substantive.

The largest of these was v1.3, The Grand New AI, on January 10th, which we called “almost a sequel in terms of how much it adds.”  That’s a huge read on its own, so I won’t recap it here, but suffice it to say it added a ton of content and a complex new intelligence to the AI.  Some of that (like the awesome fire teams mechanic) was us backporting work from this new expansion to the base game.  Other bits were just us updating the base game.

I’m actually struggling a little bit on how to even describe what has been happening in the base game, because there’s no singular improvement.  It’s just been relentless evolution and refinement on basically every front.  We’ve had a lot of really involved testers, and some of the first large-scale mods (Civilian Industries, Galactic Conquest, and others), and a number of those modders have also been contributing code or ideas to the main game itself.

We also continue to have a healthy number of volunteers who pop in and out and make various additions.  Things I really wanted, but which kept sliding down my own todo list, like the ability to load a quick start or savegame into the lobby for further customization. Dominus Arbitrationis and StarKelp have been the two most active on that sort of front. Heck, StarKelp has kind of adopted the Macrophage faction from the base game and has been adding cool new features to them.

Anyway, the release history is long, and public, and has a lot of detailed writeups already.  Suffice it to say, things have been VERY active.

Expansion 1: The Spire Rises

The base game was already huge, and something that we considered to be on par with AI War Classic and maybe… two of its six expansions?  Something along those lines, although it’s apples to oranges since the content in AI War 2 tends to be so much more versatile and involved.

I’ll skip summarizing what is in this new expansion and just let you read about that on its own page, so instead I can speak a little more broadly here.

The very short version is that we now consider AI War 2 plus this expansion to give parity to be equivalent to AIWC and four out of its six expansions.  Wowzers.

AI Goes Up To 11

The Scourge are a faction born out of the desire to fulfill the Nemesis kickstarter stretch goal in a more… entertaining and robust fashion. That’s just how Badger, the mastermind behind this race, is.  The original concept was one large ship that harasses you mercilessly; that’s still here, but instead we also get a faction of multi-racial slaved warriors doing even more involved and interesting stuff.

Being able to set the scourge as your ally is one of the things that amuses me the most.  Just last night, StarKelp was playing in that fashion and watching the AI Hunters duke it out with human-allied scourge.  The result was a galaxy mostly swept clean by the scourge, and then an amusing of AI-on-AI tag in the ruined wasteland as the hunter fled around the galaxy, fighting as needed, and the scourge split up and chased them, occasionally seeming to have a small group pause and catch their breath on the safety of his home planet.  The fact that things like this can exist inside the game… that makes me really happy.

The really key testers for the Scourge were zeusalmighty, Astillious, Ethan “DEMOCRACY” Wong, and Ovalcircle.

Going Into All-Out War

The Fallen Spire, the other big faction in this expansion, were again to satisfy a kickstarter stretch goal, but in a more-fun way.  We didn’t get as much into the scripted-campaign territory (that’s just not personally as high on my list), but we did build out the citybuilding to a ludicrous degree.  And we then built out the AI forces to a ludicrous degree, giving them the ability to pull back in Extragalactic War units from “whatever it is they are fighting outside the galaxy.”  Those two big expansions of the content for this faction are just how I think about things. ;)

We’ve been really fortunate to have some huge-fan Fallen Spire players from the first game, such as Matt “Vinco” Taylor, show up to test things and let us know where we were failing in this expansion.  Things like the relics having a stronger response or phasing in and out of reality came about because of him, and so much of the citybuilding balance and the effectiveness of the Imperial Spire in the alternative victory condition were thanks to feedback from Ethan “DEMOCRACY” Wong.

Looking To The Future

There’s more that we could do with the fallen spire, and we do plan on that, but it’s already a really solid and huge thing that is a fun new way to play the game.  The amount of core content that we wound up adding was far above what we initially planned, so certain things like journals or multiple loadouts were pushed until later because there are just only so many hours in a day.

The nice thing is that some of those features can double as work for expansion 2, so as we enhance things we’ll continue backporting not just to the base game, but also the first expansion. For now it’s kind of a matter of balancing that against my goal to finally get multiplayer going fully.

The Sheer Volume Of Turrets

Soooo… this was not really planned at all, but is one of these things that we added in because somebody (Ethan “DEMOCRACY” Wong in this case) had a great idea and we wanted to do it.  He basically observed that in the base game, there are not all that many turrets, and they are not spread evenly among all the technology lines (because how could they be).

Looking at the base game, I see there were 11 combat turrets, plus orbital mass driver and ion cannons as major combat turrets. Then we had a further 2 non-combat turrets in the form of  tractor and tachyon turrets.  And that was it.  Out of the 11 combat turrets, one of those was also curiously larger and scarier than the rest, with a higher cost and much lower unit count.

Democracy thus made a big ol’ table for each tech, with columns for regular combat turrets in each row, and then one larger-than-average turret in each  row.  Working with Puffin, and then getting some assists in new code from Dominus and Badger and myself, plus a whole heck of a lot of new art on my end, and we wind up with THIRTY freaking new combat turrets in this expansion.  It’s madness.  They’re so much fun and so varied, too!  The first game never had anything like these.

Game Mechanics For All

We wound up adding new game mechanics to support the scourge, the spire, the turrets, and the new arks — yes, there are five new arks as well in this expansion. In a lot of games, you’d see that sort of stuff gated off if you don’t buy every last expansion, and so if you’re a modder you have to think about what expansions the player does and does not have if you want to allow them to fully use your mod.

I’m not a fan of that.  We build all the new mechanics into the base game so that any mod can use any mechanic, and the modder never has to worry about what expansions you have unless they are explicitly setting out to mod expansion content.  This keeps things going along really well, mods-wise, and lets you consider our expansions on their own merits individually without having to wonder if they block you from getting some mods you want.

The Sheer Volume Of Art

Oh, yeah.  One of the things that we recently did for the base game was massively upgrade the lighting, and add a lot more pleasing detail onto many ships.  That required me to go through and touch basically every ship and structure in the base game, which was a great result but super time consuming.

We also added some VERY large new ships for the Extragalactic War feature, which is something I wanted to be in the base game so that any expansion or mod can trigger those guys.  Right now mainly only the Fallen Spire trigger it, but it shouldn’t be a feature that is limited to them in the long term.

After all was said and done, the art asset bundles for the base game are about 1 GB.

Looking to the first expansion, then, the total amount of art wound up being… 714 MB.  That’s absolutely insane, but shows just how large some of these factions are, not to mention all the turrets.

Hey, Multiplayer!

We haven’t forgotten about that!  In fact, we’ve been coding in preparation for it from day one, and have continued to make some revisions to things to make things easier to implement there.  Balancing things out with such a small workforce has been hard, but now the turn for this aspect of the game has come.

To make things as easy on players as possible, the plan is to try to use three different transport layers to allow for playing multiplayer in any of three fashions.

Firstly, we’ll have some general basic networking based on Forge Remastered.  There’s some light NAT punchthrough in there, which is a big feature that we said we wanted for this game, but it’s only going to work but so well.  You ultimately need relay servers and such, and that’s expensive to set up and maintain-forever.  But this would be the absolutely-no-DRM-or-service way to play multiplayer, and probably the ideal way to play via LAN.  So here we are with this.

Secondly, we’ll implement Steam networking as another transport layer.  The game code is all the same either way, but then the code and networks that is transmitting the data of the game is different in these cases.  This should be the most seamless experience for Steam players who want to play via the internet.  Steam has relay servers, NAT punchthrough, and a bunch of other things that a small group of people can’t hope to match.  So we’ll just use theirs! But locking you into this wouldn’t be cool, hence other options.

Thirdly, we’re going to implement GOG networking as the last transport layer.  This one works very similar to Steam’s, has all the same cool functionality for bypassing firewalls without a hassle to you, and even has some inter-connectivity to Steam players.  The only real downside in the short term is that it doesn’t have Linux support (since the GOG Galaxy client doesn’t support Linux yet).  When they have it, we’ll add it.

None of this means we’re going to have matchmaking, because for games that last a long time that just doesn’t make any sense.  But for connecting with your friends via your platform of choice, this should make it so that you can just connect and play.  During the next few months I’m definitely going to be wanting to have a variety of testers to help us iron out the bugs and find network load bottlenecks, etc, before we move towards calling this “true multiplayer support.”

Beyond Multiplayer and DLC 2

Badger and Puffin and I have some things that we’d like to do for a DLC 3, and there are always new ideas coming up in general.  This project has been in work since 2016, and we could probably spend another four years on it and still never run out of ideas we want to work on.

What happens long-term is still… something that remains to be seen.  When multiplayer and the other base game features come out around the same time, that will finally discharge the last of the kickstarter obligations.

What happens after those obligations are finally met is… up to the market, really.  At the moment, AI War 2 doesn’t fully pay the bills, and it never has.  It is close to doing so, and our hope is that with expansions and related promos and so on it will start doing so.  In the current climate on Steam, back catalog sales drop by roughly half basically every year, which was income we used to rely on.

I still feel cautiously optimistic despite having to take on debt to cover half of my expenses last month (and having had to take on debt to a greater or lesser degree for 33 out of the last 36 months), but I figured it was worth noting.  Everything we’ve been accomplishing lately has been on a shoestring, despite such a successful 1.0 launch.

That sounds glum, but I’d rather give you an honest appraisal than potentially have some surprise after we get into summer if things are still on a downward-trending or flat trajectory.  We’re hoping that paid DLC and the free multiplayer update will reverse or at least delay that trend.  There’s more that we want to do beyond the “minimum required to finish this  up.”

The Very Short Term Future

The Scourge are very battle-tested at this point, but we’re sure that with a large influx of new players we’ll find more things to fix or improve.

The Fallen Spire also feel quite polished at this point, but it’s hard to know if it’s balanced well for all difficulty levels.  So we’ll probably have a lot of tweaks regarding that.  Our testers were all pretty skilled.

There are things we’d still like to add to the Fallen Spire, and we’ll probably do that while also getting started on the beta version of multiplayer. But for now we’re going to stop working all the nights and weekends.  We can get plenty of done without that, now that we’re past this initial milestone.  Badger is already digging well into DLC 2, to make things easier on himself schedule-wise later.  So the hope is for us to not really hit a crunch period again like we’ve had the last month.

One of the shortest-term things is that we want some more varied and descriptive icons for some of the new turrets and ships, and so that will be coming out later today.  There just wasn’t time, we were all falling asleep in our chairs.

Lots more good stuff to come soon!  We’re really proud of what has been accomplished in the last few months, and we hope that you get a lot of enjoyment out of it.

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

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