Category: AI War

AI War 2 v0.740 Released! “Clean Up That Nebula, Young Man!”

Release notes here.

Not a huge amount in here, although there are a lot of quality of life improvements in terms of faster load speeds, lower RAM usage, and a few bugfixes.  And some much prettier nebula backgrounds, and out with some older backgrounds that were ugly.

Overall this was just a small maintenance release, but part of what it does is make it easier for us to push smallish maintenance releases like this.  Some of the biggest benefits of this release is actually to making our internal processes faster.

Oh — and of course, behind the scenes Keith is still working away on the first wave of the pivot.  None of that is in this release, but it’s coming along. :)

Lastly, we’re running a deep discount on the original AI War and its expansions.  If you don’t already have that game, now’s a super good time to pick it up.  If you haven’t got the sequel yet (via kickstarter/backerkit), then now is also a super good time to wishlist the sequel.  If you wishlist it, you’ll be notified when it goes to Early Access and when it goes to 1.0.

Enjoy!

Chris

AI War Classic Official 8.024 Patch Released!

Bugfixes and an AI War II kickstarter notice on the main menu.  The release notes cover the details, and we hope that you enjoy those fixes. :)

We also hope you’ll stop by the campaign for AI War II and see if you think it’s worth your time and/or money.  We are having an exceedingly hard time reaching our existing players for AI War Classic — of which we need only about 3% to actually back the kickstarter — and as such, our kickstarter is stalling.

We have a variety of ways in which we’re working on pulling out of the stall, but by far the best option is getting the message out to people who would directly be interested.  Hopefully that includes you if you’re reading this, but please also spread the word to other players you know who might have missed this!

Best,

Chris Park

Founder and Lead Designer, Arcen Games

All right, let’s get this over with: August 17th is the new release date.

But I do come bearing gifts, at least.  Hope you enjoy the screenshots!  Additionally, if you want to see what insanity we’ve been up to lately, then the voluminous release notes might be interesting reading.  They give some pretty good insight into what the delays have been.

ChandelierHall

Here’s a TLDR of my four biggest concerns right now:

  1. I want to make sure there’s enough content right at launch that people aren’t skeptical of how this might develop during early access.
  2. I want to make sure that we’re completely positioned well so that I can spend my time adding content in an efficient manner — DAILY during the week — and not chasing bugs or whatever other issues that are less exciting to players.
  3. I want this to be as smooth and bug-free an experience as possible, and so I haven’t been just going “eh that’s good enough” when something is even a little off.  Those “little things” add up when someone is getting a new first impression.
  4. We need to ensure coverage by “new media” to some extent, and that means twitch and youtube folks.  These people are excited about the game in a lot of cases, but there isn’t enough in there for them to be making hours-long videos showing off their cool antics.  That’s a problem for us, because without that sort of coverage it’s too easy to fall into obscurity on launch.

So what has the holdup been, in a nutshell?

Gertrud Apartment

Lighting

Getting lighting just right has been a real passion of mine.  It ties everything together and makes everything feel cohesive and awesome.  It’s the most visually distinctive thing about the game in a lot of way, and it makes all the assets it touches look better.

But it comes at a cost!  Specifically a cost on the CPU/GPU.  Most AAA games use “lightmap baking,” which basically is a way of having some computers churn out some detailed precomputed data about a level that says what the light should look like at every point.  This process is not remotely realtime: it can take tens of minutes on even a midsize level.  So with procedurally-generated content, you can forget about that sort of thing.

The “deferred shading” pipeline that we use in Raptor is a nice and modern approach that lets us do a lot of cool things with lights, but it doesn’t work with traditional antialiasing (but we fortunately have an excellent temporal antialiasing solution in the form of CTAA).  So there’s a ton of stuff that we can do that the older “forward” pipeline can’t do, and tons of games make use of this (though almost no VR games at the moment, because of the lack of temporal antialiasing in most engines at the moment).

My main challenge was to find the sweet spot between brightness and spread of lights versus the performance cost that incurs.  All lights in deferred shading are “pixel lights,” which means that they are way higher fidelity and light based on the pixels they touch rather than the crude way of lighting based on the vertex (yuck).

Aside: it lets us do other cool things like have very low-poly models that have excellent occlusion and normal maps and thus look far more complex than they actually are.  It’s another very modern way of pushing a lot of detail to your screen without bogging down your GPU on a bajillion vertices.

Industrial Basement Secret Path

Anyway, the problem with lights in deferred shading is that there is a cost per pixel illuminated by them.  So if you use lights that are too huge, then your performance tanks.  Or if you use too many lights, your performance tanks.  My goal is to have > 60 frames per second on any reasonably-modern GPU with most of the visual settings high up (I’m benchmarking things on a 980M if you’re curious), and so finding the lowest light ranges I can while getting the visual effects I want has been a challenge.

Not a technical one per se, but more of an artistic one.  A lot of the way that lighting is handled here has heavily to do with the post-effects pipeline that we’re using.  We’re rendering in HDR (high dynamic range) in the newer linear lighting pipeline (as opposed to the older gamma one), and so a lot of awesome lighting and depth information is available to us after the initial render of the camera.  This then lets us do a lot of post-work to brighten and tone the scene in ways that you could not do if you were to try doing it in something like photoshop (because you’d be missing that extra key metadata about each pixel).

Dark Building Connector

Anyway.  The point is, it was important to me to really nail that.  I wanted things to be well visible at all times even in the absence of lights (since you can destroy lights), but I wanted dramatic contrast.  I wanted large-range-seeming lights with great quality, but without the performance costs of taking a naive approach to that problem.  I wanted this to still look killer and shadowed even with shadows turned OFF (!?).

Also relevant: I wanted to get all of those things figured out and done in a variety of physical spaces BEFORE we did too much level design, because lights play into level design and I didn’t want us to have to go back and re-light everything later.  That would cause a huge delay in content development further down the line, so it’s better to spend the time upfront in this case.

I am happy to report complete success on this.  It took me longer than I had anticipated, but it’s done, I’m happy with it, it performs great, and I’m sooo glad to be done with it. ;)

BadRaptorGetOffTable

Furniture And Props

We started out just doing our level design with floors and walls and doors and similar, which was a really fun challenge because we had to make each space interesting even without anything in it.  Blue and Brandon and Craig and Misery did a great job on that.

I feel like a lot of games lean on having a boringly-shaped space that is filled with interesting things, and the overall effect is something that is ultimately kind of blander than it should be, if that makes sense.  It’s hard to explain, but it’s one thing that really bugs me in level design and gives a subconscious feeling of “something isn’t right here.”

So to start out we stripped away all that, and that’s become our standard way of making levels here now.  No furniture or props, just designing the space itself.  If the space isn’t interesting without something in it, then it needs more work.

Boy did we have a lot of success with this!  I was super happy with how this was coming along.  And while the level designers were working on the actual physical spaces, I could then focus on those pieces of furniture, props, and so forth that would then populate those spaces and bring them to the next level.

Industrial Basement Miniboss Arena

Well… that took longer than expected.  If you want the whole hoary story, those release notes are probably the best place to do the reading.  Suffice it to say that it is extremely mind-numbing and tedious work getting those ready, but also something that requires a lot of focus because small mistakes echo outward and then require later rework.  So it gets exhausting.

That took longer than expected on my first pass through, and I added a few hundred props and pieces of furniture.  I need to get way more in there, but we’re off to a good start for what we need right now.  I had to make sure that everything was fitting in stylistically and had the quality it needed, and in many cases I had to adjust shaders and material properties to do that.  In some cases I put in completely new textures, but in all cases I heavily optimized the textures.  In some cases I adjusted geometry or optimized it.  I made things have physical presence, be destructible in a lot of cases, and so on.

I learned a lot going through that process the first three times, and I have a lot of more times of that in my future for this and other games.  So one of the things I spent some time on was developing out a toolset to make it more automated to do frequent tasks, and to make it less mind-numbing for me.  And to catch the inevitable errors that I make, and in some cases actually auto-fix them.

It’s vastly faster for me to add new content of that sort now than it was in the recent past, so that’s extremely exciting.  But it did come at some up-front costs of figuring out what the pain points were and then coding custom tools to work around those.

Between Buildings

Aside: Toolchain Development In General

I don’t regret that time spent at all, but it has been a learning experience.  With our 2D pipeline we had about 7 years’ worth of things that we’d built out to make our lives easier.  In our 3D pipeline I’ve had to invent a bunch of new tools for us since February.  Some of our 2D-pipeline tools carried over, but a lot of them didn’t.  And a whole new set of tools has been needed in the 3D realm.

But I really have no desire to ever go back to 2D pipeline at this point.  I have a long personal history with 3D going back to 1998 (though arguably my personal history with 2D game work goes back to 1991, but still), and personally the only sort of art I’m good at is “technical art.”  I can do things like lighting, I can do certain forms of modeling, I have an eye for texture work, etc.  But I can’t draw for ****.

Hellooo

In the prospect of a scaled-down Arcen, the actual only path for me where I can do all of the work to a reasonable degree is 3D.  And there are a LOT of things that I always wanted to do in 2D that I couldn’t, but that are possible in 3D.  For instance, procedurally-generated ships in AI War, let’s say.  In 3D?  Absolutely.  The underlying data and design we could always do, but it visually would not have looked good — or performed well.  But we can make use of static and dynamic batching in 3D, and do a variety of awesome things to have better visuals meet better performance (paradoxically).

Keith and I have both been thinking about an AI War 2 at this point, but from very different perspectives.  Whether and how the two of us come together to work on that, and how we divide the labor, remains to be seen.  Most likely he would take simulation and AI, I’d take display and networking, and we’d divide interface and procedural generation.  Probably.  I haven’t spoken to him at all about this in quite a while, so he might be reading this going “what the heck??” ;)

He has a ton of ideas on how to make the AI and the simulation more efficient and more effective, though, and he has an all-new concept of the GUI in general.  I have a lot of ideas on how to make the visuals both better AND more efficient, and a lot of new knowledge on how to make the GUI more efficient.  I also have some fairly crazy ideas on the networking front that would make the computers less lock-stepped and make use of a wider variety of independent ports and so on.  I think we also both have some nutty ideas relating to multithreading based on things we’ve learned in SBR and Raptor and so on.

Wow that was a tangent.  Anyway, back about Raptor…

Le Samourai Apartment

Thoughts On Further Slippage

So how do we know that this won’t just keep slipping and sliding away into the future indefinitely forever?  That is an excellent question, and to a large extent that’s what happened with SBR and why that became such a money sink and caused so many rippling problems into the future of Arcen.  So I’m certainly not blind to the possibility of that sort of thing.

Here’s the difference: SBR is complex and requires a lot of moving parts to even determine if it was fun, and we were building all those parts and not finding it as fun as we wanted at any point.  We’re getting closer on that now (well, Keith is), but there’s a fundamental issue of “finding the fun” there.

With Raptor, that’s never been the problem: at a very basic level it has been freaking fun right from the start.  But what has to be done is making it so that you have more than just a tiny bit of content, and that involves both more varied enemies and objectives, and more places to go.  In some respects it is the opposite of the SBR problem, because the fun was there from the start but the content was not.  We’ve had all the content for SBR for over a year now, but are still trying to find the fun.  That’s a strange thing, no?

Unexpected Kitchen Entrance

Anyway.  Where schedule slippage tends to happen is when there are a lot of future work items that need to happen that have an uncertain amount of time to them.  If I estimate wrong on some or all of them, or I don’t budget in enough extra time for whatever unseen things come up, then we get slippage.  When there are a fewer number of things, and/or those things are very familiar activities that don’t cause strange and new risk (aka, making more apartments to explore doesn’t somehow cause the schedule to slip — but adding a new game mechanic can, because it can introduce new bugs and so forth).

Right now we’re getting down to the point where there are a few things that are still uncertain enough that they might blow up on me, but there is a HUGE buffer time this time around.  I’m not pushing back by a day or two this time (after doing that repeatedly).  I’m pushing back by half a month.  I mean business this time, schedule!

And then beyond that there is a fair list of “nice to haves” that we can focus on in the extra time IF there is any.  During that time we can have people testing, twitch and youtube people streaming it, and put out any fires that crop up.  OR if the earlier stuff slips, then that time disappears but the release date hopefully doesn’t slip.  That’s the plan, anyway.

AnyoneHere

The Current Project Plan

So here’s what’s going down at the moment:

  1. I’m working on a few last things with doors, and then a few other bugs.
  2. I have to finish the procedural assembly of levels sufficiently for it to use the new content.
  3. Blue and others are working on finishing furnishing their existing level pieces.
  4. I have more robots to get in place, including father brain.
  5. The voice acting needs to be put in place for the robots, and more needs to be recorded for some of the new robots.
  6. There are some secondary mechanics (fuse boxes, fire alarms) that I want to get in place, but it’s not dire.  Also elevators that… well, that’s a surprise actually.
  7. I want to get more testers in place starting sometime next week so that we can continue to find whatever bugs exist BEFORE we go into early access.
  8. Oh, I need to make a new trailer and screenshots and all that jazz, and update the description stuff for the game.

That’s all the stuff that HAS to happen.  Beyond that we should hopefully be able to add more content of various sorts while press and streamers and youtubers are checking it out.  The goal is for that to lead to a smooth launch that then transitions into folks new to Arcen being amazed at how fast we add new content.

Used to waiting weeks or months for major content updates?  Heck, we do that sort of thing every 2-3 days most of the time.

MmmCoffee

But if things aren’t tidy enough at launch, then we can’t really do that at the same time we’re putting out a bunch of unexpected fires.  Let’s put out any fires first. ;)

Okay, that’s enough rambling, but I figured you folks deserved a reasonably full explanation.  I think that there was more I wanted to say, but I can’t remember what it is.

I guess one more thing.  I’ve been incredibly stressed and that’s a whole story in itself, but my son made me a little thing to keep with me today to make me less stressed.  I just thought it was too cool not to share, sorry for being a geeky dad at this point.

The-Anti-Worry-Tongue

It’s the anti-worry tongue.  He’s six, so I have no idea why exactly it’s a tongue.  But he was drawing monsters and I think giving me the tongue of one was some sort of ward?  I didn’t get a chance to really fully ask, as he surprised me with it.  I’m not sure if it’s the a-w tongue or the new release date, but my stress is down a bit today compared to the last few days, at least. ;)

Cheers!

Chris

Click here for the official forum thread on this post.

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Stars Beyond Reach: What we’re working on, plus spotlight on the Zenith aliens.

STARS-BEYOND-REACH-cropped

Apologies again for my slowness regarding Stars Beyond Reach updates at the moment.  I’ve been active in the forums since this project answering questions here and there if you haven’t been there.  But carving out the time for organized posts sometimes is a bit tricky.

The last week or so has seen Keith working like crazy on implementing the Market Items that you can create in the game, as well as the resource-usage buildings that provide buffs to adjacent buildings.  He’s now working on actually implementing the first pass of the diplomacy screen that I showed a mockup of last time.

peltian-roads03

I’ve mostly been consumed by the actual diplomatic interactions between you and the other aliens, which involves a lot of writing as well as a lot of design.  As part of that, I’ve also finished the design for spies, diplomats, thieves, and intelligence reports in general.

One of the fun things with intelligence reports (and consequently spies and diplomats) is that the game is not giving you the all-encompassing sort of knowledge that you have in The Last Federation.  I have found it’s more fun to be a little blind, because then I don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis so much — I’m able to fully see my OWN empire, but as with a game of cards I have to infer what is going on in my opponents’ hands by their actions and mannerisms.  This is part of why the diplomatic screen lets you jot down notes to yourself.

Leaders_ScreenshotFromWindowsExplorer

One thing that is fun is that since each race has 3 different possible racial leaders, that’s 42 leaders in all.  They all have their own goals and personalities and strengths and weaknesses even within their faction, and so the faction might act and perform very differently under leader A versus leader B.  Also, which factions get along well is determined heavily by the many (many, many) defined attributes of the leaders.  A lot of these personality-specific attributes specifically play into letting the AI leaders interact with one another (and react to you) based on procedural means rather than hard-coded rules.

Leaders_ScreenshotFromExcel

It’s pretty cool, because manipulating spreadsheets thus lets the behaviors of the AI really change quite a bit.  Anyway, but the core point here is that each leader makes the faction act pretty darn differently — and they may be bent on something nice as their goal, or something quite homicidal.  This is… useful to know, to put it mildly. ;)  But you don’t know!  These guys play it close to the chest.

Well, that’s where the spies come in.  You can infer some things based on talking to the AIs (if you can understand them) and seeing what they say back to you.  If you’re aggressive and they like it, that’s… maybe not a good sign (hi Burlusts).  Then again, maybe they were just intimidated (hi Peltians).  Part of the problem is that the identity of the leader is actually a secret at first, so even if you use a cheat sheet and look at the spreadsheet or a source online, you’re not going to just know immediately what is up.

krolin-roads01

Time to send in the spies, if you care enough!  Of course, that does take some time and money, and when spies are caught that erodes trust somewhat between you and the race you’re spying on.  They won’t like you any less (or more), but they will trust you less.  Anyway, as your spies (and diplomats, to a lesser degree) gather data on both the leader’s attributes and the goings-on in the empire you’re looking at, eventually you get a full picture of who the leader is and what they want — and then their identity is revealed.

I think of this kind of like “informational fog of war.”  Exploring the map is one thing, but also getting to know your potential adversaries and allies is another.

Speaking of getting to know your neighbors, Cath and I were talking about the Zenith this morning.  The first buildings from their faction are only now being painted (were sculpted a while back), and so she’s trying to get a sense for their race and how to represent them.  We’ve had their terrain done for months, but the terrain is a different beast than the actual direct place where a race lives — related, but not the same.

zenith-membranes

She was going through information about the Zenith on the forums and the wiki, but not finding out enough about them from the sources that were AI War focused.  AI War never really delved into their backstory as much.  At the time, I preferred to leave them as more mysterious.  And they were long-dead in that part of the galaxy, anyway.  The Zenith that you meet in Stars Beyond Reach are a different pocket of the race that are only cousins to the dead relics that you find in AI War.

As I’ve been designing their leaders and their race in general, a solid picture of them has been emerging, so it was a quick thing I wrote up to help provide some inspiration for the painting she was doing.  I figured I’d share that with you as well — why not have more info out there in public about them, after all. :)

ZenithLeaders

So here’s way more background on the Zenith than you probably ever wanted to know:

1. Each giant shell is a creature in and of itself, so each building is a living being.

2. The beings themselves are practically immortal, and are often billions of years old.

3. However, they are neither the Old Wise Man sort of trope, nor do they look down on other races. They’re just… at peace. They’re pretty calm and easygoing.

4. Their main quest is for knowledge, and they spend a lot of their time engaged in philosophy.

5. They do die, just not from natural causes. So that’s one of the things that they do contemplate, because it’s not an inevitability for them.

6. All the shells and so forth littered around their landscape are kind of sheddings from their body, OR from the lower life forms that serve them.

7. The Zenith themselves have some smaller animals that resemble them in many ways, but which have a shorter lifespan. But it’s not a master-slave relationship, or even a servant-master relationship. Think of your relationship to the bacteria in your gut, or the microbes on your skin. You’re not on similar mental planes at all, and you don’t really think about them, even though they are vital to your survival. You are also vital to theirs, though they don’t have any concept of “thinking” about you that we would consider meaningful. Still, you are literally the world to them, as they exist on you as we do on the earth.

8. The Zenith are very powerful thanks to simply having been around a long time. However, they don’t actively cultivate the art of war (unlike, say, the Spire or the Thoraxians or similar), so they aren’t as powerful as they could have been. The Spire a much more Type A personality that is very engaged and active, whereas the Zenith are more laid-back. They aren’t sloth-like or idle, they just take time to smell the roses — partly because time doesn’t really have the same meaning to them as it does to you or I. After all, death is not an inevitability for them.

9. Their technology is all 100% organic. Even the things that are iron plating or whatnot have been manufactured by their own bodies. They don’t use machines as we think of them. However, they have been able to use organic means to augment their bodies. It’s theoretically possible to create computers out of organic matter, and in fact they have done so. Similarly, it’s possible (and seen in nature) to do things like make welds or generate extreme heat or whatnot using just organic means. Even generate electricity (heck, WE do that bit). The Zenith have basically mastered all of these biological processes, and they exist as a form of “high technology” society that doesn’t actually have anything that we would consider technology normally.

10. When it comes to their environment, for the most part the terrain around them is just the organic byproducts of their existence. That said, in their direct vicinity things would be kept a bit more neat and orderly by the simple fact of the smaller organisms that live on and around them, helping them exist. I imagine that these smaller organisms would leave a variety of trails like deer paths in the woods, but those are paths made by repetition, not design. Deer aren’t out in the woods laying down roads, and we don’t spend time making roads for deer, either. Whatever paths they have are simply made by repeated passage of deer. Same with these smaller organisms.

evuck-roads01

That’s it for now!  I hope you’ve enjoyed the test screenshots here as well.  Sorry that some of them were just cruddy screengrabs from explorer or excel.

 

Click here to view the official forum thread on this post.

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Hey, the Arcen wiki is now open for all to edit!

poweredby_mediawiki_88x31 Well hello!  I’ll have more information on Stars Beyond Reach later in the week.  But for the moment, I wanted to give a quick important announcement about our wiki.  Previously it was invite-only, and mainly edited by staff.  Consequently it was often out of date.

Now it’s open to anyone to edit, although you do still have to create an account (to hopefully keep spambots out).  There are certain pages — mainly release notes — that are protected from editing by anyone except admins.  Believe it or not, I didn’t know how to set any of that up previously, hence us never really having this open before.

Thanks to Dominus Arbitrationis for setting all this up, and getting things upgraded and kicked off at all.  And teaching me a thing or two in the process, as well.  You can PM him through the forums or contact him through the Special:EmailUser page on the wiki.  He wanted me to emphasize that this is a work in progress at the moment, so some aspects of it are still being set up right now.

There’s also some sort of slowdown on the wiki itself performance-wise right now, which I think is probably database-related.  I’m working with Rackspace on getting that figured out.

But if you’ve been wanting to update stats on AI War ships, or write a tutorial for TLF or AI War or whatever, or provide strategy advice on whatever game — now you’re more than welcome to!  A good wiki is the lifeblood of a lot of other similar games, so I’m really glad that we finally have something properly set up here.

 

Official forum post on this thread.

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Arcen Titles Hit IndieGameStand, Up To 85% Off This Week

Wanted to drop a quick note that all of our releases are now available on the IndieGameStand storefront. To celebrate, we’re running a week-long promotion with the site carrying the following discounts:

  • AI War Collection (2014) — 75% off
  • Tidalis — 80% off
  • A Valley Without Wind 1 & 2 Dual Pack — 80% off
  • Shattered Haven — 85% off
  • Skyward Collapse Complete Edition — 80% off
  • Bionic Dues — 80% off
  • The Last Federation — 50% off

Sale ends Tuesday, November 4th. Shattered Haven is also available as part of BundleStars’ Halloween-themed Carnage Bundle — offering 10 horror/zombie Steam games for $2.99.

AI War Official 8.017-8.019 “Boost THIS!” Released!

This one is another performance update, this time on the CPU and RAM sides.  The munitions boosters were the big culprit here, but there are other more minor effects beyond that.

UPDATE: 8.018 turned out to be necessary, because the prior version was giving the “spinning beachball of death” on OSX.  Apologies for that — we almost never run into platform-specific bugs of that sort, but the new version of garbage collector stretching code turns out to only work (or be needed) on windows.  So the OSX and linux builds now use the “tame” version of that logic, which works great for them, and the windows build still uses the new aggressive logic that it requires.

UPDATE: 8.019 makes some more changes to prevent an out of memory exception that two people (one of them being myself) were able to get on windows machines.

Enjoy!

This is a standard update that you can download through the in-game updater itself, if you already have 4.000 or later. When you launch the game, you’ll see the notice of the update having been found if you’re connected to the Internet at the time. If you don’t have 4.000 or later, you can download that here.

Click here for the official forum thread for this update.

AI War Official 8.015-8.016 “Flicker Factor” Released!

This one is  relatively small update with a couple of bugfixes.  The main thing here is some fixes to flickering in the far zoom icon display that people were noticing in recent versions, as well as what is likely a performance improvement for most people on that front, too.

Update: 8.017 is now out and includes a couple more flicker-related fixes.  And yet another performance improvement related to that (a happy byproduct).

Enjoy!

This is a standard update that you can download through the in-game updater itself, if you already have 4.000 or later. When you launch the game, you’ll see the notice of the update having been found if you’re connected to the Internet at the time. If you don’t have 4.000 or later, you can download that here.

Click here for the official forum thread for this update.

Podcast: Curating Games and Open Ended Development

This week I went on the excellent Perceptive Podcast once again, which is always a pleasure.  This time we discussed a variety of things:

  • Open-ended development and how that differs from traditional linear game development.
  • Why I think the new Curator system on Steam is the bee’s knees, and why I hope other stores do similar things.
  • Some of the recent flap with Spacebase DF-9 and other similar titles, and my perspective on that both as a developer and a consumer.

Enjoy!

AI War Official 8.007-8.014 “Now With Moar” Released!

This one is the culmination of a couple of weeks of no-joke improvements to performance.  Not only is the underlying timing for frames completely rewritten and improved, but the all-new sprite batching for our engine’s render pipeline is now in place, too.

Just what does this mean to you, as a player?  Well, even on fast machines there were previously some times where you’d get stuttering and slowness that wasn’t warranted, based on heavy CPU load.  That is now pretty much a thing of the past, and even really large battles run much faster.  Additionally, really huge battles would previously tank pretty much everyone’s graphics cards because it was just trying to render so darn much.  Now it’s incredibly efficient by comparison!

This is something that I’ve been wanting for a long time, so seeing how awesome the game runs now is really very satisfying.

 

Enjoy!

This is a standard update that you can download through the in-game updater itself, if you already have 4.000 or later. When you launch the game, you’ll see the notice of the update having been found if you’re connected to the Internet at the time. If you don’t have 4.000 or later, you can download that here.

Click here for the official forum thread for this update.

Rock Paper Shotgun does a Humble Weekly Bundle and curates AI War — wow.

Well, holy #$#$%.  I am honestly humbled — pun not intended — by this one.  Check this out:

This RPS bundle is a career milestone for me. Several, really. First of all, the recognition that Rock, Paper Shotgun has bestowed on AI War: Fleet Command not once but many times is something that still amazes me. Being noted as their 2009 Game of the Year is an incredible high water mark for me.

And then I take a look at the list of other six games that they chose to curate for their list. And holy @#$#% all over again.

RPSHumble

World of Goo perhaps stands out to me the most, because in 2008 it represented a sort of “indie platonic ideal” to me.  I had yet to release any indie games whatsoever, and I was only just discovering that my lifelong hobby (dating back to the early 90s) might suddenly be a viable career.  World of Goo, to me, represented the unattainable.  Some of my earlier blog posts musing about game design talk about that game a lot.  It was the first “indie” game I ever bought, in the modern sense.  I bought a preorder copy on PC, and then later bought it again on the Wii.

Then we have Armageddon Empires.  Vic Davis’s game came to my attention via the venerable Penny Arcade, where Jerry Holkins had gone on at some length about his admiration for it.  I’ve been a fan of PA since it was only a few dozen strips old, and so when Jerry started talking about any game, it always caught my attention.  Vic has actually made several awesome games; you should check them out if you have not.  Solium Infernum is such a sideways concept for a strategy game, and it continues to inspire me to move sideways, myself.

So, already when I looked at the roster of what games RPS chose to curate, this was not only a history of “highlights of the past seven years of [their] site,” it was already something that represented quite a bit about my own early heroes in indie gaming.

What else?

Well, AudioSurf is another with legendary status.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent was more of a contemporary, and one I bought and enjoyed until my nerve gave out.  One of my very favorite games is the venerable Silent Hill 2, and after playing SH2 and then SH1, I thought I could basically handle anything.  SH3 and Amnesia disabused me of that notion. ;)

Then there is Dungeons Of Dredmor, which somehow feels vastly more recent to me than 2011.  I remember hearing so much about it around the time that we were working on A Valley Without Wind (the first one), but I never really had time to play it.  It seems like most of the rest of my staff played it and loved it, though, and so when we started working on Bionic Dues they finally prevailed on me to play it.  And of course I was blown away.  I’m really proud of Bionic Dues, but one of the big goals for me with design there was “don’t be too much like Dredmor, because Dredmor will school anyone who is too much like Dredmor.”

And lastly, we have Teleglitch.  Way more recent, and the only one of the games in this bundle I have yet to play.  But I’ve heard great things, and obviously RPS gives it an enormous thumbs up, so you can’t really go wrong.  It’s now jumped way higher in my to-play list.

RPSHumble

Anyway, I have never been known for my brevity, but normally I don’t write such an in-depth post about discount promotions.  This one is special to me for a lot of reasons, but the TLDR is this: because of the incredible company AI War finds itself in, and how and why it was chosen to be so.

AI War Official 8.002-8.006 “Lock And Load ” Released!

This one is our second post-8.0 update. It’s another intentionally small one, as we’re trying to wait and see if there are any serious things that crop up before going through other kinds of bugfixing or balancing.

In this particular case, some people experience slow loading times per image on their specific machine setup.  This is apparently something to do with the WWW class in the unity engine, and strikes only some machines for the people that even experience (aka their high-powered desktop suffers from it, but their lesser laptop runs like a dream).  In order to mitigate/remove the effect of this, there are some new options and default behaviors that help with loading concurrency.  That way you don’t wind up having to wait for things to load sequentially, all that time gets set next to itself.  It’s an unfortunate bug in the underlying unity engine, but this should really help to keep the problem to an absolute minimum impact for those few who are affected.

Update: 8.003 fixes a bug preventing the display of shots and explosions in the prior version, as well as making the max loading threads slider clearer and easier to use.

Update: 8.004 beta update out to hotfix an issue that causes a crash while (auto)saving when the game is run with the steam overlay enabled (and, probably, the report-high-scores option on).

Update: 8.005 official update out to hotfix a performance issue that has been plaguing some players since the unity engine upgrade.  It was actually affecting everyone, but it was only really that noticeable on some machines.

Update: 8.006 official update out to hotfix a performance issue that was still affecting some folks.  This returns the rendering pipeline to a state that we are more directly sorting for performance purposes rather than letting the unity engine asynchronously try to handle it on its own.  It seems to help, given the volume of stuff that gets drawn in this game.

Enjoy!

This is a standard update that you can download through the in-game updater itself, if you already have 4.000 or later. When you launch the game, you’ll see the notice of the update having been found if you’re connected to the Internet at the time. If you don’t have 4.000 or later, you can download that here.

AI War Official 8.001 “Oiling The Engine” Released!

This one is our first post-8.0 update.  It’s an intentionally small one, as we’re trying to wait and see if there are any serious things that crop up before going through other kinds of bugfixing or balancing.

In this particular case, some of the Unity 3D engine upgrades that we did between versions 7.0 and 8.0 may have led to some incompatibility with certain older drivers or graphics cards, thanks to the game erroneously trying to force 2X antialiasing on.  The way that fullscreen mode was working on OSX was also incorrect, but now all of the above match how our other later games (The Last Federation, etc) work.  There were some people who strangely could run TLF but could not run AI War, while running on the same engine version, so hopefully this fixes that for them.  It’s tricky, though, because it’s an incredibly minor subset of people on some very specific older hardware.  Fingers crossed for them!

Enjoy!

This is a standard update that you can download through the in-game updater itself, if you already have 4.000 or later. When you launch the game, you’ll see the notice of the update having been found if you’re connected to the Internet at the time. If you don’t have 4.000 or later, you can download that here.

AI War 8.0 Launches alongside Expansion 6: Destroyer of Worlds (and Linux Support!)

AI War’s run from 7.0 to 8.0 took a long break during our development of The Last Federation, but still contained over 60 new releases in 425 days. Thanks to player feedback (some new, some from years ago) the game is now better than ever.

Biggest on the radar is the addition of the new “hacking” mechanic which gives the player several abilities which can be extremely useful but also quite risky. Hack wisely, and you can turn defeat into victory. Hack foolishly, and you can turn humanity into hamburger. The idea came out of long discussions with players on improving the relationship between metal and crystal. Those two mechanics had become far too similar, and ultimately the idea of merging them in favor a new radically-different mechanic found a lot of support from the community.

“Salvage” is another major new mechanic based on years of community feedback. Basically if you lost your whole fleet in an attack it could take a long time to rebuild but often there wasn’t much actual danger. In a game where 8 hours is a “short” campaign, players don’t want to be stuck spending real “wall-clock” time without much actual “game” happening. So salvage allows the AI to harvest the remains of your ships lost in its territory to build a “reprisal” force that threatens you after a fleet-wipe, and allows you to harvest the remains of AI ships lost in your territory to accelerate your rebuilding. This led to a somewhat bumpy ride balance-wise but it’s shaken out pretty well by now and has significantly improved enjoyment of the game.

Champions have also been the subject of quite a bit of player feedback since they were introduced in the fourth expansion. Some people really liked them, some people really did not. One of the biggest issues was how the nebula scenarios (the main way you could improve champions) were so disconnected from the rest of the game. So we’ve added an optional alternate way to improve your Champion units that’s much more aligned with playing normally. There’s probably more to be done on this topic, but what’s been done thus far has helped.

“If anyone beats difficulty 10, that’s a bug” is one of our old jokes with the community. Actually, we laugh when we say it but we’re not joking. Several players have managed to beat Diff 10 over the years and the refinements to prevent this (without being too heavy-handed) have continued. Several AI improvements were made for 8.0, especially it’s pushing an advantage during a large-scale attack. Balance dials have also been cranked to even-more-painful levels, and as of this writing there are no confirmed reports of a “normal” diff 10 win since the last round of related changes. The gauntlet’s right there on the ground, folks.

Player feedback (and our own devious minds) prompted tons of other changes in 8.0 (counter-attack posts being made optional comes to mind, and many turret caps becoming per-planet), but this account has to stop somewhere. Oh, and let’s not forget the engine upgrade and the addition of linux support :)

Have fun!  (Here’s the discussion on the official forums, by the way.)

AI War: Fleet Command 8.0 Trailer

AI War: Fleet Command version 8.0 is set to launch August the 18th (so two Mondays from now), alongside its sixth expansion, Destroyer of Worlds. One of the best-reviewed PC games of 2009, AI War has continued to grow each year with new expansions, new free content, and continual refinements to the deep strategic gameplay it already boasted.

What’s new this go-round? Well, the release notes from version 7.0 to 8.0 are over 29,000 words long. It’s quite a lot!

Here are a few key changes:

  • Linux support comes to AI War!
  • Hacking is now a primary resource, seen up on the top bar. There are also new forms of hacking.
  • Crystal, on the other hand, has been removed from the game. All metal now, baby. (There were many detailed discussions about the need for this with fans).
  • Tons of refinement has been made to how the AI manages its resources and how it reacts to various things that you do.
  • An entirely new way of playing with Champions has been added — a free new feature for a previous expansion!
  • Spirecraft, Golems, and Warheads have all been rebalanced.
  • AI Carriers now work entirely differently; they pass damage to the ships within themselves, among other changes.
  • Turret caps have been revised heavily, so that their main lines are now per-planet caps rather than global, which allows you to better defend on multiple fronts.
  • And a whooole bunch of other stuff.

Version 8.0 won’t officially launch until the 18th, because we’re still in final polish mode for these new features and changes. However, the current steam version, and current official version in our own updater, are already updated to (at the time of this writing) version 7.055, which includes all of the changes noted above (just minus the last bit of polish we still are working on).

Enjoy!