Author: Chris McElligott Park

Beta 3.711 More Fixes

Second beta build of the day: https://wiki.arcengames.com/index.php?title=AI_War_2:The_Great_Refactor#Beta_3.711_More_Fixes

I still have to chase the memory leak that we’ve got going on, and a new rash of reports of various things arrived this evening thanks to Daniexpert (that really is helpful, so thank you!), but this build cleans up some of the issues, and also adds a bit more performance in a couple of areas.

This build also fixes the Civilian Industries mod to once again compile, and I am assuming it works but I have not tested it.

There’s still a lot changing at the moment, and will be for another few weeks I imagine, but for now this is kind of “business as usual in the beta.” I’m going to take this weekend off, after working the last two.

More to come soon.
Enjoy!

Beta 3.710 Hotfixes Serialization and Performance

New beta build! https://wiki.arcengames.com/index.php?title=AI_War_2:The_Great_Refactor#Beta_3.710_Hotfixes_Serialization_and_Performance

Possibly the first of two for today, we’ll see.

This one fixes some latent bugs in the prior build, mostly about loading transports and saving the game. You know, not anything important.

This also makes the UI sidebars more responsive, and fixes a possible glitch in xml importing and two definite glitches in necromancer hacking.

The death registry work in general is also moving along towards prep for multiplayer.

Lots of things going on and improving these days, but since we’re in this kind of chaotic beta period it’s certainly leading to lots of bugs, too. I’ll be glad to be out of this beta period when we can be, but at the same time it’s still really gratifying how much we’re able to improve the core of the game while we’re in here. It just makes a terrible mess, as grover would say to elmo.

More to come soon.
Enjoy!

AI War 2 – Beta 3.709 Upgrades And Serialization Fix

New beta build! https://wiki.arcengames.com/index.php?title=AI_War_2:The_Great_Refactor#Beta_3.709_Upgrades_And_Serialization_Fix

This one upgrades to a newer version of unity, fixing a number of bugs of relevance, including likely fixing the freeze on startup that was sometimes happening.

Additionally, this release should fix the bug where sometimes units would just turn feral on you when loading a savegame, and all bumrush you for no reason. Apparently testing with the golemite AI faction really makes for a show. If you see this again, please do let us know.

A number of performance improvements have been made in this build, although there’s more I wanted to do. I’ll continue pushing on with that over time. I also made some adjustments to have a death registry, which has some single player uses (it’s related to those performance and correctness bits above), and then also will be the final solution to the ghosts problem in multiplayer once I finish wiring that up.

Final solution? How can that be? Well, the client will be told of things that have died, and the client can ask the host about dead things, as well. That way, the worst thing we can have is not a ghost, or an accidental death — both two outcomes possible before — but instead just a “stale data for some reason” issue. That is far less severe, and should be easier to debug if it happens, but even that happening should be way less likely.

SirLimbo continues to be on a roll adding things to the main game and for DLC, working on some changes that affect how mines show their remaining “number of times they can go off,” and then also adding a bunch more stuff for the Brutal Guardians in the Dire Guardian Lair for DLC3.

I was hoping to redo some of how transported ships work, or how drones work, while we’re in here doing this much surgery anyway. That’s been on my wishlist for a long time. Unfortunately… wow. It’s just really complicated to try to change it, and it would lead to worse performance if I did. Given I’m trying to make performance go the other direction, I don’t feel great about that. It was worth a shot, but I’m going to give it a pass.

I still have some other during-beta things to refactor, to speed up, and to make easier to use in general, but the list is growing shorter. Then it’s just a matter of getting the last of the bugs out, making sure multiplayer is going well, and then it’s the new-feature train for a while.

More to come soon.
Enjoy!

Beta 3.708 Bugfixes And Death Spawn

Another new beta build! https://wiki.arcengames.com/index.php?title=AI_War_2:The_Great_Refactor#Beta_3.708_Bugfixes_And_Death_Spawn

This one is smaller, but hits a number of bugs that were bothering people. It also adds some more new features that SirLimbo is working on for some of his new guardians and such.

There is still a serialization bug at the moment (probably), and at any rate I still have more to break in serialization in general. I didn’t quite get through my entire list of things I wanted to, but I wound up finding some interesting nests of programming errors and sorting those out. Whether there is a wider issue on that front at the moment or not I am not yet sure, but I have a couple of targets set for review tomorrow.

In the meantime, hopefully things work out well savegame-wise, but please let us know if not. Badger would love some feedback on those new wormhole invasion styles, by the way! Those are in the base game, and are on by default, unlike what I reported last time.

If you’re a tester for DLC3, then more feedback and testing with the necromancer and the sappers are also greatly desired at the moment. Lots of changes have happened with them since the last time we got much meaningful feedback.

More to come soon.
Enjoy!

Beta 3.706 Expanded Wormhole Invasions And Raid Engines

New beta build! https://wiki.arcengames.com/index.php?title=AI_War_2:The_Great_Refactor#Beta_3.706_Expanded_Wormhole_Invasions_And_Raid_Engines

(Please note: this one again breaks savegames, and there’s a known save corruption glitch from the prior version.)

Well! It’s been a busy six days since the last release. This new build mainly has cool new things from Badger and SirLimbo, however, so let’s talk about those things first. I tried to fix one bug that could cause a freeze on startup, but other than that I didn’t contribute anything here.

First of all, Badger has added options for Wormhole Invasions in the lobby that make it so that you can have something more interesting than the old style of them. Specifically, you can have them just send waves (well, that’s a bit different), OR you can have them… you know… drill through the fabric of reality, forge a link between one of your undefended planets and somewhere in deep enemy territory, and spawn several waves at your soft underbelly.

That last option might sound crazy, but it’s not meant to be purely punitive. The cool thing about it is that it also changes the nature of the map so that you can now ALSO directly go attack the AI deep in its own territory. Yeah, sure, your underbelly just got exposed, but you also now have a direct link directly into potentially useful territory. If it suits you, you can just reinforce your empire on that side, and use it as a new launching-off point against the AI. Or if it doesn’t suit you, you can protect your empire by destroying the projector to shave off that unwanted link.

Remember that you have to turn this option on in the lobby to give it a try. Right now, by default things still work how they did before. If this is popular, maybe this will become a default for some game mode, or maybe it will just stay a niche cool new option; it’s hard to say, and we’d love feedback.

SirLimbo, meanwhile, has been expanding the concept of “raid engines” in general by adding a lot of new features that allow for the creation of Dire Guardian Lairs, which was a concept we had in the original game. This new implementation takes it to new levels, though, and the new units that will be involved will be part of DLC3, so I won’t say too much about them yet.

For my part, I had two days where I was out of town, and then I’ve spent all weekend and the first two days of this week completely reworking Arcen’s website. That thing was old and creaky, not mobile-friendly much at all, and really not… good at showing the important information. We also had two blogs, which I had started neglecting to update because of how much of a pain it was. I’m still not done with the makeover, but there’s a lot of good stuff there, and hopefully it really enhances people’s ability to find out what they want to know about Arcen as a company.

I also wrote a couple of blog posts as a response to some questions that some students sent me:

1: https://arcengames.com/what-are-the-different-phases-in-a-development-cycle-when-creating-an-indie-game/
2: https://arcengames.com/what-tools-do-developers-use-to-make-an-indie-game/
3: https://arcengames.com/have-you-noticed-a-change-in-the-way-a-game-is-developed-throughout-the-years/

I’ll post a bit more about this tomorrow when I hopefully finish the last of my changes, and then I’ll be back to my normal coding. For now, feel free to poke around the revamped site (the game pages have yet to be reworked; if anything seems temp-y or unfinished, it probably is).

More to come soon.
Enjoy!

Have you noticed a change in the way a game is developed throughout the years?

This is a doctoral thesis sort of topic. The short answer is that everything is changing, all the time. There is no stasis, period.

The simplest way to look at this is hardware and tooling. In the past, you could code your own engine and that wasn’t an insane thing to do. Now it is. There are too many good free-or-cheap engines available for indies, particularly with options that only kick in with costs if you actually succeed. But even a game engine that is huge is not complete without a lot of other middleware, and that will vary from project to project in terms of what you need. This goes for AAA and indie games. To pick one random example: very few AAA companies are hand-modeling all the trees in their game world now. They’re using SpeedTree or another middleware tool to get the results they need and move on. The old joke about lots of artists just sitting around modeling rocks? Nobody is actually doing that, unless the rocks are really specific and impactful for some reason. People are using middleware like Megascans or Quixel to get actual high-resolution scans of physical rocks, and then the environment artists are doing scene composition with those. Some artists are of course doing their own photogrammetry to bring in custom things, but in the general sense why would you pay someone to do that when there is middleware that is cheaper? Have your artists work on something more unique and impactful than the literal rocks.

In the past, there were many limitations with RAM and available CPU and GPU processing. There still are limitations, of course, but it’s on a whole different level now. You can go for something vaguely photorealistic on pretty low-end hardware now, or there’s a thousand ways you can go for a stylized effect. Again, middleware is often really helpful in finding a stylized effect that you want. You need artists to have an eye for this and not just slap a filter on with no sense of design, but the analogy I would give is that there is a supply chain, now. In other words, metaphorically speaking, ten years ago if you wanted someone to “paint your house,” you would hire someone to come out, look at your house, and sit right there and then find just the right pigments and create paint on the spot, then paint your house with that paint, using brushes and rollers they carved themselves. As you can imagine, this is a silly amount of expense. Brushes and rollers are mass-produced and cheap to buy. There are stores where you can get any color mixed with ease. So instead you pay the painter to go buy those supplies and then just paint your house, and the whole process is bother higher quality and cheaper. To torture this analogy a bit, now the painters are going to be doing much more complex paint jobs, though, rather than just picking a couple of colors and applying those. If you look at this and can see why it’s acceptable to have a supply chain that leads up to physical art (who makes their own paint or brushes by hand, and why would we expect them to?), then the same should be true of the virtual supply chain and the endless, endless middleware out there. Someone else already did a lot of the things that you need, probably better than you can, so just license that. But that doesn’t mean that you’re suddenly qualified to just throw things together and expect a good result. Artists are needed now as much as ever, but they are able to focus now on the actual art.

Programming and every other sub-discipline is the same. Are you going to spend two years with your programmers making a general engine that will be outdated by the time it’s finished? That’s foolish. You’re going to license another engine. This isn’t cheating, this is more mature ecosystem. In film, do you expect the director to construct her own cameras and dollys? Of course not. She buys or rents those. She may or may not have a custom costume department, or might contract with a company that does nothing but specialize in costume design.

Anyone that is a “one person show” is still standing on the shoulders of giants even if they try to do all the things themselves. So trying to do absolutely everything yourself is a backwards way of thinking in my opinion, and a bit of a masochistic way to work. You can be an auteur and still use middleware. If anything, that can give you more chances to be involved in all the possible parts of the process.

All of that was internally-focused. Focused on how games are made, not how they are sold. When it comes to those external factors, of how games get sold and what the market is, that is no less dynamic. Every year the market is a bit different, and things move more and more digital. The competition from other companies small and large is more and more fierce, because there are more people trying their hand at this. A lot of them are terrible at it, but there are still an ever-increasing number of people who do a very excellent job. Some of these people you will never be able to compete with because they are a team of talented young folks living in their parents’ basements, working 90 hour weeks for 5 years, to put out a work of utter majesty before disappearing forever because the business was not sustainable. Other companies you can’t compete with because they create unsustainable conditions for their workers, and rely on them burning out before their 30s but just hiring new talent out of school. There is an endless supply of of excited new talent, so a company can freely burn out their staff and have turnover without losing their ability to output amazing work.

We tend to focus on the creative leads, who also work long hours but stick around longer because their life is not quite so grueling. But under them is an ever-churning mass of people with hopes of one day getting that sort of job, only to have those hopes dashed when they realize there are only so many openings. My advice is to not work for a company like this. And if you are trying to create something on your own, then be sure that you consider what your lifestyle is like for yourself and those who work for you. Do you want to have a company culture that allows people to have families, and take vacations? Then you need to budget for that. And you probably need to accept the fact that this will make you slower, and have a lower-production-values end product than your less-ethical counterparts.

Then again, if you can carve a niche for yourself and connect with people, and find whatever balance works for you, this is how you can still be around a decade or three later, when everyone else burned out long before. I love my job and still intend to be doing this 30 years from now. I definitely don’t have everything all figured out, but I have learned that I should not try to chase certain dreams if I want to keep any of my values. Maybe someday I’ll have infinite money for some magical reason, and then I can chase those dream projects. Then again, maybe all I need to do is wait for middleware to mature even more, and no magic will be required. For now, I do what you should do: try to pick something with a scope that you can hit, with production values that are pleasing but not going to bankrupt you financially or morally, and then see what happens. If you truly plan on making this a career, then whatever you’re working on right now is not your last game. Don’t feel in a hurry to “do it all now.”

Try to keep your project times to just a couple of years if you can, so that not all your eggs are in one basket and so that the market doesn’t move on while you’re building your game. And above all, only do this if you actually love the process itself. If you don’t actually enjoy this sort of work, then being able to weather the ups and downs is going to be next to impossible. Games are fun to play, but making them is a serious and difficult discipline even in an ethical company. If you don’t actually love the art and science of it, you’re going to have a very bad time indeed. There are much easier industries to get a steady paycheck from if you are a programmer in particular, if the game development process doesn’t speak to you on a level beyond just money.

The future of indie games looks bright to me, but it’s also a bit of a maelstrom. If that sounds good to you, then come on on!

What tools do developers use to make an indie game?

If you want, you can code your own game engine. I don’t recommend it. I had coded my own from 2002 through 2009, but later ported my custom engine to Unity 3D in 2010. It’s a different time period now, and you want to be able to hit PCs, macs, consoles, and who knows what else.

Unity 3D and Unreal Engine are both fairly straightforward to learn, and both have pros and cons. Personally, I believe that Unity is better in terms of general flexibility and making something truly unique. You can also have something gorgeous in that engine; it has plenty of power. But Unreal makes it faster to have something gorgeous. It is harder to prototype in Unreal, though, in my opinion.

If you are making a 2D game — a challenging sub-market now — then you can use all sorts of 2D engines.

If you’re making a 2D or a 3D game, there are then dozens of products that you will need to use for a ton of different purposes. Every developer uses different things, and it’s impossible to generalize.

I’ll give a partial list of the software that I use on my projects of the moment, just to give you an idea:

  • Unity 3D as the main engine
  • ZBrush for sculpting (I have also used Sculptris and Mudbox, but prefer ZBrush)
  • 3D Coat for uv unwrapping and digital painting (parametric and otherwise).
  • Substance Painter is also great for what 3D Coat is good for, and I also used that on my current project, but overall I prefer 3D Coat.
  • MooTools Polygon Cruncher for general optimization of large models. Though sometimes I do this work directly in ZBrush.
  • Maya for certain types of modeling, although personally I don’t use it — but some contractors do, and I use the fbxes they create from that.
  • Google Docs and Google Sheets for communication with team members and design documents.
  • Adobe Audition for sound editing. Audacity is a free alternative, but less powerful in many ways. I have dozens of plugins for various kind of sound editing in Audition.
  • Various sound banks for foley sound and ambient sounds and sound effects. I’ve collected from a few dozen sources over the years, and at this point I have a few terabytes of compressed material to pull from.
  • Soundminer for poring through those sound banks and pulling out the specific sounds I am looking for based on metadata. You’d be amazed how much time this saves.
  • TextMeshPro in unity for proper text rendering and optimization
  • TexturePacker for external sprite atlas generation (you need this even for 3D games because of UI icons).
  • Amplify Shader Editor (this is a core tool for how I create shaders in Unity. You likely don’t want to just use the standard off the shelf shaders).
  • FinalIK by RootMotion for inverse kinematics support if you’re doing character animation.
  • iClone and Character creator for character design and animation. There are plugins there for facial motion capture and various forms of body motion capture.
  • PolyFew for in-engine final optimization and LOD creation. Use unity’s LOD system if you must, but it’s possible to code a more efficient version yourself.
  • Lighting Box for unity (there are HDRP and other pipleine versions). These help you to get away from that “unity feel” in your games.
  • Feel for unity — this helps you give more impact to motions, and generally just spice up things so that actions don’t feel rigid. You can use this even during your prototyping phase for that first 5 minutes, because the way things react does impact us emotionally and it’s not cheating to use this sort of thing in the same way that good graphics or audio might be considered cheating at the early stages when you are wondering if the game is fun or not.
  • Rewired for unity — if you’re supporting controllers and a variety of control schemes, and you need key rebinding during gameplay, then you need a solution like this one. I’ve used a variety of such solutions on various projects, as well as coding my own from scratch. For the broadest possible spectrum of platforms, Rewired is currently the one to go with.
  • TortioseSVN for source control, with repositoryhosting.com as the provider. If you prefer to host it yourself internally, then VisualSVN Server is not expensive. If you prefer Git, then that’s also fine. Git is more flexible in some ways, but more complex in others.
  • Visual Studio 2019 for coding.
  • Notepad++ for xml editing.
  • VisualSVN for Visual Studio SVN integration
  • Bandicam for video recording
  • Photoshop for everything 2D
  • FileBoss for mass file operations
  • FreeFileSync for moving things around easily during the “push a new build” process. It’s faster and more accurate than using batch scripts.
  • Batch scripting for the actual compile process (this is faster and more accurate than other alternatives). Robocopy is a key part of these sort of batch script chains.
  • WinMerge for file diffing when looking at logs.
  • FMOD can be a great tool for audio, although I am only planning on using it and have not done so in a project yet.
  • Blender for certain kinds of 3D editing. It’s the easiest tool I know of when it comes to outright deleting certain parts of geometry by hand.
  • iDrive for nightly backups so that I’m never losing my work or my purchases.
  • Google Drive for certain large files that need to be shared with the team remotely. This pairs well with FreeFileSync, which can pull and push from there.

And… there’s literally multiple dozens of other tools that I have used or do use, but less frequently. Don’t be afraid to code your own time-saving tools from time to time, especially if you’re going to be doing this for a long time and see places where you can save some time.

What are the different phases in a development cycle when creating an indie game?

My first advice is to go watch the series on Film Courage where they interview Jack Grapes. He explains his philosophy on Method Writing, on which he teaches courses and has written many books. There is not a 1:1 analogue with game development, but as he himself notes, his concepts apply to any field of work. He explains the role of failure and authenticity in leading to future success far more succinctly than I can.

Now, to your question in specifics. I find that the question is broad enough that you’re likely to get very poor quality or very contradictory answers. “Here is the method I used to make a game” is certainly something a first-time indie can tell you, and “here is the formula I use for this series” is another answer that a repeat indie with a series (“spiritually” connected like what Supergiant Games does, or literally connected with proper numerals).

If you are looking to mimic the success of some other game, but you have a twist, then that also has its own process.

I have been making indie games longer than all but a score or two of other folks in the world, so my perspective is a bit different. My observation is that most people pour their soul into a first game, and then if it does well or poorly, they are probably pretty wrung out by the end of it. Most people do not make a second game, and if they do make a second game, it’s rare that that one does as well.

My own experience over the last 12 years has been that I’ve made I think about ten released titles, and something like twenty released products (so that includes DLCs). I have had to recall one game from Early Access and refund players because its prospects were so poor because of decisions I made (In Case of Emergency, Release Raptor), and I’ve had half more than a dozen projects that got some way through production or preproduction and then were scrapped for some reason, or transformed into something else entirely than what I set out to make at the start. Stars Beyond Reach is the one with the most publicity, but even my title A Valley Without Wind (the first one) started out top-down and was in magazines, and then went sidescroller before release. I got a lot of flack for that, and people questioning loudly in comments sections if I knew what I was doing.

The answer? NO.

I have no idea what I’m doing on the one hand, but on the other there is a method to the madness. So let’s zoom out to the phases of understanding a project, personally, as you create it. At the very start of a project, you have some sort of core idea. I have long referred to these as “Immutable Design Goals.” In other words, these are the core things about your game that must be true at the end for it to be the game you set out to make. When I was making my first commercial game, AI War: Fleet Command, which in all has generated more than $2m USD for my company, I had a few: 1) “I want to feel like Ender Wiggin.” 2) “I want to be able to play multiplayer in this with my dad and uncle.” 3) “I want all of the feelings of power and scale that Supreme Commander gave me.”

From that point, once you know your immutable design goals, you can set out on actually doing preproduction on a game. The way I did this for my entire career is wrong and backwards, though, I am now convinced. You can use a suboptimal process for making a game and still make a masterpiece, by the way — you just won’t understand, not truly, how you did it. And you’ll always wonder “how can I do that again?” My suggestion is to use a process that actually process that you can understand why things work. With our game Starward Rogue, and our other title Tidalis, both of which were devestating commercial flops but quite popular with players and critics, this is the process I used. Clearly a good process is not tied to commercial success. Luck plays a role, but so does how you communicate about the game, and how you onboard players.

What’s the most straightforward way to onboard players to a complex game? The unfortunate answer is… there is not one. A very complicated game will typically require understanding many interlocking concepts in order to truly play it and have fun. In other words, with a sufficiently complex game, you as a player can’t understand the complexities of the late game (and all the majesty and fun that might be found there) until you understand not only the mechanics of the many subsystems of the game, but also how the expression of those mechanics plays out over time and experience. Most people will not stick around that long, especially in today’s market.

A better approach is to stick with games that have core central systems that are fun in under five minutes. I don’t care if you’re making the next Crusader Kings or if you’re making a casual puzzle game or a “brainless” action brawler. If you can give players something that they understand in five minutes, that they enjoy for its own sake, then you’re on the right path to onboarding them. Because it doesn’t matter how amazing your game is when you finish it — if it takes players 30 minutes or 5 hours to really “get it,” then you’re playing with fire. You may find success with that, as I have multiple times, but you may also find that the market gives you a miss, which has also happened to me multiple times.

I bring this up, because this is the second phase of game development. You need to develop some sort of “vertical slice” of your game that gives 5 minutes that is enjoyable. Again, let’s assume you want to build the next super-complicated RPG, 4X, or MMO. I don’t care what it is. You need to have an absolutely rock solid 5 minute experience for people before you go beyond the basics. As noted, this is backwards from how I have actually developed most of my games in the past, but I have come to believe that it’s imperative to mitigate risk in today’s market. Attention spans are not long, and if people are not hooked in some fashion very fast, then they will move on. This of course applies to press demos and conventions, but also just people organically trying your game on Steam and deciding if they want to refund it. If you can’t give them some fulfillment in five minutes, you’ve made a terrible mistake.

It is going to take you a long time to get a compelling five minutes. With an individual or team working full-time, it’s likely going to take you months unless you get very lucky. I strongly suggest that any art or music that is happening during this time be of the pre-production variety, because what you are creating at this stage is not something that should have integrated art or music yet. If it’s not engaging without music and without stock ugly graphics, then it’s not going to be truly engaging with gorgeous graphics and a wonderful score, either. Pretty graphics and beautiful music and perfect sound design can elevate a game for sure — but that’s for later. At the moment, all it can do is distract you, or make your game seem more fun than it is (others, later, often won’t share your sentiment, but you’ll find out too late).

So, during this early period where you know what the general goals of the game are, and where you are working on that 5-minute vertical slice with placeholder graphics, you can also be conceptualizing what the graphics pipeline is going to be like, and what the sound design might be like, and what the visual style would be, and so on. But keep these separate. Don’t put the pretty graphics and sound onto your naked game skeleton yet. Wait until that 5 minutes is fun.

You are going to fail, and this is expected. Your very clever ideas on paper will never work in practice — again, unless you are very lucky. Even if you have made half a dozen games before, even if you are a veteran of 30 years, THIS new project is new, and you don’t know what you are doing. You know how you made something else in that scenario, but you still don’t know how you will make THIS new game. So you will fail. Over and over. You will be very frustrated, and think that maybe my idea of the 5 minutes of compelling gameplay is not a good one. “If only people could play the late game, this would be fun, I bet.” But don’t listen to that voice!

When you have failed at this enough, eventually something unexpected will happen and it will be fun all of a sudden. Some combination of ideas that you never would have come to while staring at a design document suddenly coalesce and are fun in PRACTICE, not just in the hypothetical.

I am of the opinion that traditional design documents are a great evil for new projects. I have written extremely detailed design documents for a number of projects, and every one of them suffered for it. What you need is a general idea of your goals, and then to get a prototype of a vertical slice. AFTER you have a working vertical slice that is fun, then it’s time to start working on a design document. You need a roadmap for the rest of the project now that you have a central core that is fun. But you can’t even start this until you have a working core. Design documents are an amazing tool for revising a project, or adding onto it (DLC), or expanding from that central working core. But having any sort of design document prior to having a fun core is a profoundly dangerous thing. It gives you a sense of security that you should not have: “Well, this game is not any fun yet, but this is just the start of it. When I finish implementing the design document that is so brilliant, it will be fun.” Trust me: it will not. Or if it is — in that event that you are incredibly lucky — then you now are back to that same problem of onboarding new players, because they have to play much longer than 5 minutes to find the fun game you made. That’s the absolute best-case of that sort of design style, and it’s not a very good one.

Once you have a core vertical slice that is engaging to play (I keep saying fun, but not all games are meant to be fun — some are emotionally affecting instead, or intellectually compelling, or just pique curiosity to no end), then you have to start being creative in a new way. Games are not five minutes long. In order to give 5 minutes of fun, you had to create some sort of systems and controls to let the player interact with your game, and probably to let the game interact back. Now it’s time to start thinking up variations on this, and how you can layer on new rules, new complexities, new antagonists, new scenarios, new powers or abilities, in order to expand from this core nugget of fun into something more complex while still retaining the central spirit.

During this next process, a design document is a great idea. But even so, don’t treat it like a design bible — again, a terrible mistake. The proof is always in the pudding. Whenever you add something new to the game, you have to ask yourself if this adds to the experience, or if it actually drags it down. A great example of this, in my opinion, is the Yoshi’s Island series. The core mechanics are pretty okay, but it’s not as strong as the main Mario games. What keeps these games especially niche, however, is the fact that there are so many collectibles and items that you get graded on at the end of the level. Normal Mario games allow you to play a level in a way that lets you run through very fast and enjoy the speed and grace of your actions. And they often have collectibles that reward you coming back to a level you played before and exploring further, and more slowly. Similarly, they also have slightly-hidden paths that allow you to run through the level EVEN FASTER if you wish. That’s a great design! All of the parts are in service to the core fun that is running and jumping with Mario. The Yoshi’s Island series has running and jumping and throwing eggs, which is already not as compelling based on how it was implemented. But even worse, you’re constantly saddled with these expectations of getting a good grade at the end of each level, and you feel like you’re doing poorly if you don’t slowly comb through the level for each stupid collectible. It’s not a fun thing to come back to: it’s an upfront chore, or at least that’s how it feels to many people.

This is where it becomes impossible to talk in generalities. Are all collectibles and end-level scores bad? Absolutely not! Some games thrive on them. But you would never be able to tell which ones are actually fun or not based on a written description of those games. You can only tell by playing them, which is why that initial vertical slice, and then further endless prototyping and experimentation, is so important. Hotline: Miami is a great example of a game where the end-of-level scoring is done to perfection. My Friend Pedro is an example of it being done semi-poorly, but not so much that it completely ruins the game as happens with the Yoshi’s Island later entries. (Remember, the later Yoshi’s Island games have the benefit of nostalgia and a giant franchise on their side; they would never make it as indie games without those characters.)

Anyhow. You will keep building and building on your core 5 minutes of fun, constantly evaluating everything that is new for whether it should stay or if it should be cut. If you aren’t sure, then that probably means it should go. Past some certain point, you will still have a pile of ideas that you COULD do, but that you haven’t tried yet, and you will realize “hey, this is already enough; this game is quite big now.” So stop adding ideas and get to polishing. If you keep pushing every last idea, then your game will be over-sized but under-polished. I’ve been guilty of this many times.

At this point, get the graphics to be as good as you can. Work on the music, the sound design, the achievements, any voice work that is needed, and so on. If you are looking for a publisher to fund a game, now would be the time to try to find one. Or if you want to do a kickstarter, then now would be the time to do THAT. Maybe you couldn’t afford art or music or sound before now, or you can’t afford the programmer expertise to really optimize the game. Well, okay then, that’s fine. At this point you can show people something that is demonstrably fun, and also “complete except for hair and makeup.” When you run a kickstarter, DO NOT promise more features. Make it clear that this is about funding the art and music and optimization or whatever. Give people a vertical slice (more than 5 minutes, but less than your whole game) to actually play.

Graphics and audio and the trailer and such — and the game of the game, for that matter — are the first things that people will see about your game, and many will not click a link to see what it is if even the name turns them off. All of these things are important! But especially as a new indie, you can’t be worrying overly much about these things before you actually have a game that is fun.

I used to tell people that games are not fun during most of development, and then at some point suddenly they are. And this remains true. But my strong belief now is that you need to hit that point sooner than later in the project, or stop working on a given project. If you can’t hit a point where you have a fun 5 minute game, then you need to stop and move on to a new concept. This happens sometimes, and that’s okay. Not every core concept is worth hanging onto. If you are not willing to admit defeat and throw away a “great idea” that you can’t execute, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Remember: if you plan on this being your career, you always have a chance to come back to that idea sometime in the future, in a different time when you know more. If it’s that great, then you’ll eventually figure it out, probably while driving somewhere or in the shower. But you do not have to figure it out right this moment. If you’ve hit a brick wall for months, and you’re starting to get truly frustrated, perhaps take a break and at least try a side project. Sometimes that “side project” turns out to be a major winner. This was the exact scenario that happened for me with the original AI War. It was just this little side project from the “main game” I was working on. I released the main game years later, after finishing it, and it bombed hard. It is widely disliked (though loved by an incredibly tiny minority) and has an overwhelmingly negative response on Steam. My side project made buckets of money, is still frequently put on best-ever lists for its genre, and so on. Don’t be afraid to “kill your darlings,” as they say in writing.

AI War 2 — v2.999 DLC Eve

New build! https://wiki.arcengames.com/index.php?title=AI_War_2:Finalizing_Multiplayer#2.999_DLC_Eve

(Reminder that if you have trouble with the build, you can always go into betas and choose most_recent_stable to go one build back. This is how I sleep at night after making some major changes.)

Lots of last minute fixes and tweaks, a lot of them the sort of thing where we went “how did none of our testers find this?” But Democracy and some others ran a long game last night and found a whole crop of new bugs, so those got squashed.

Speaking of bugs, a not-so-new bug from the last few weeks has been making multiplayer just miserable for the clients, and I could not figure it out for the life of me. After chasing it for a long time, and getting lots of reports that I couldn’t replicate, I was finally able to replicate it. Once it was replicatable, its days were numbered. It turned out to be three complex bugs in one, but they’re all fixed now and so the client experience is a lot more sane. No more disappearing fleets and units.

On the DLC2 front — hey, that launches in about 11.5 hours from now! — there’s some really cool new additions as well, with some last minute new controls to allow you more control over targeting crashing nomad planets or zenith miners. These are semi-wildcard type aspects of DLC2 when you enable them, so the ability to use hacking points to turn them to your advantage (rather than having no choice but to fight and defeat them if they were unfavorable to you) adds a lot of new strategic options for advanced players in particular. For casual play, it still adds options, but it probably won’t be game-deciding at that level.

SirLimbo’s mods got some updates as well, and Tzarro helped us find a ton of typos that are now fixed, most in the base game. Oh! There’s two new fun cheat codes for DLC2. One to get all Zeus’s cruisers, and the other to spawn a Miner Probe.

Titan Edition and DLC2 arrive super soon. Enjoy!

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

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