Category: Game Design

AI War 2 v0.781 Released! “Destruction Diversity”, Steam Trading Cards, New Release Date.

Release notes here.

Took an extra day compared to what I was planning for this release, but there’s a ton in here!  First of all, there are a ton of balance improvements that Puffin has put together in order to diversify what gets a damage bonus against what.  There’s a lot of tuning in that area of the game in particular.

Quinn added in the ability not just to delete savegames, but also to delete campaigns, which is super welcome.  A few other tooltip improvements have been made to clarify a few things, and a few tutorial improvements, and a fix for that really irritating bug with the flickering sidebar.

Marauders are a lot more aggressive, cross planet waves are a lot more sneaky, astro trains are a lot less plentiful, brownouts are a lot more painful, and there’s now a cooldown on how quickly you can rebuild something that was just destroyed.  Thanks to Badger on huge amounts of that.

Outside of that, we’ve also done some new kickstarter-exclusive background art thanks to Cath, and then I’ve created new marketing headers for the game (finally!) as well as new Steam Trading Cards.  Here’s a sneak peek!

New header:

Compared to the old one:

And then here’s a sneak peek at the Steam Trading Cards (which won’t turn active until the game releases into Early Access on Monday):

And this is what the associated backgrounds look like:

And this is just for fun:

New Release Date?

Yep!  We’re now releasing on Monday, which is the 15th, instead of Thursday the 18th.  Why?  Rimworld announced their 1.0 will be on the 17th.  And we, uh… wanted to give them some personal space. ;)  Big congrats to them, by the way.

Thanks for reading!  More to come soon.

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 be much more detailed than a thumbs up, 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

Pivoting AI War 2: Bring The Fun!

Hey all — Chris here.

We’ve hit a juncture point with AI War 2. We’ve built a lot of cool things, learned a lot, and now it’s time for a soft reboot. The current plan is to pivot the gameplay to very closely resemble the original AI War, but on our new engine, and then build up from that foundation.

Achievements So Far

So very much is going right with this game, from a technical level and an engine standpoint.

  • The game is crazy moddable.
  • It’s multithreaded to take full use of modern computers.
  • The 3D aspect is working out well.
  • We’ve figured out a variety of new tricks that definitely do improve on the first game, and can be kept.
  • The UI has already been dramatically improved by the introduction of a tabbed sidebar in the main view, and streamlining of several other mechanics that felt very difficult in the past. Eric (as a volunteer) has been a godsend for the UI, and we have pages and pages of more designs from him that we’re going to be working on in the next two months or so.
  • Badger (as a volunteer) has been an incredible tester, volunteer developer, and general help to getting us this far at all; he’s created the Nanocaust faction, as well as a new and better implementation of both Human Resistance Fighters and Human Marauders, among many, many other things.
  • Folks like zeusalmighty, chemical_art, Draco18s, and Magnus have been wonderful sources of thoughtful feedback, commentary, testing, and even map creation.
  • We’ve got art for over 130 distinct units (not counting different mark levels), and we’re set up well to finish off the rest of the art despite the staff changes noted below.
  • We’ve got over 1500 lines of spoken dialogue from more than 25 actors, focusing primarily on the human side at the moment; we have a few hundred lines of AI-side taunts and chatter, some of which is recorded but just not processed yet.
  • There are hundreds of high quality sound effects for a varied battlefield soundscape (with distance attenuation if you’re far away, and positional 3D audio if you’re down in the thick of it), all routed through a tuned mixer setup for optimal listening to all the various parts.
  • We have a set of music from Classic that is over four and a half hours long, and the new music from Pablo is partly in, but mostly set to be mastered and integrated within the next week or two.
  • There’s also a ton of map types, many of them new, and with a lot of sub-options to make them even more varied.
  • We’ve created half a dozen custom Arks as backer rewards, we have another four in various stages of completion, and there’s a lot of cool variety from those folks.
  • With a lot of the other custom art-related rewards (custom flagships, fortresses, and gold merc paint jobs — 21 backers affected in all, when you include the custom Ark folks), since we’re having staffing changes in that particular area, we’ve offered alternative options to those backers, yet said we’d honor the original reward if they prefer. We’ve had a mix of both responses, both of which are fine, and things are proceeding well there.
  • Other backer rewards are either already delivered (game keys of all sorts, many of the custom Ark rewards, backer badges, antagonistic AI voice line writing), or something that are still on the todo list but easy to handle prior to 1.0 (custom wallpapers, planet names, cyber ciphers, antagonistic player voice lines, custom AI personalities, and other non-art merc bits).

New Teaser Trailer!

On that note, here’s an excellent new teaser trailer that Chris and Craig created together. It’s light on details, but it’s just a teaser, after all:

 

The Sticking Point

The new game just isn’t living up to the first one’s legacy. We started out with a lot of design shifts away from the original AI War, and the design just hasn’t been as robust or fun as the original.

  • In AIW2, so far, there was no real sense of logistics. Things felt too simple.
  • The combat was basically getting you to just “fleetball” all the time, though that wasn’t our actual intent.
  • The defensive options felt too limited no matter what we tried, and player Arks wound up sitting away in a corner with their offensive fleet having to return home frequently to help with defense.

The Two Paths

We’ve done quite a lot of engine work to make the actual game that runs on top of it mostly data-driven, so we have a pretty decent amount of flexibility here. For the last few months, we’ve been chasing various issues in gameplay, trying to tidy those up, but it just kept feeling less and less “like AI War.” So, we had two options:

  1. Keep doing that and hope for the best, particularly that it magically starts feeling “like AI War” again.
  2. Go back and actually make AI War again, at least the base game, and then build from that foundation rather than starting way off somewhere else.

As you have likely already gathered, we’re going with option 2. As players, Keith and I have been really let down by how different certain sequels felt from their predecessors, and we really didn’t want to do that to you folks.

We want this to be the sequel you truly wanted, that takes the original game and then goes forward in a refinement fashion. Total Annihilation turns into Supreme Commander, not SupCom becoming SupCom 2. Age of Empires 1 begets AOE2, not AOE2 morphing into AOE3. All of those games listed are good, but there’s a reason that the second in each series is typically more acclaimed than the third.

Future Growth

We do know that some of you backed for something more radical in departure from the original game. Why have the same old experience again? That’s certainly a valid point, and that’s why we talk about this as being a foundation for future growth.

Look at how much the first game grew from version 1.0, way back in 2009, through six expansions and version 8.0 in 2014. They’re radically different games. That said, we were constrained at every turn by an engine that was designed for street racing, and that we were trying to take offroad. That just doesn’t work.

The new engine for AI War 2 is so robust and flexible that we can take it street racing, offroad, or underwater. Maybe we can have our cake and eat it too, at least eventually? Based on the underlying engine, there’s nothing stopping us from having n factions, xyz ships, and all sorts of new sub-games and mechanics on top of it if the response to the baseline is positive enough.

One example: We’ve floated a variety of crazy ideas about hacking in the last few weeks, for instance; and while those are Way Out Of Scope right now, there’s nothing stopping us from implementing those exact systems or something like them a year or two from now, once we know the baseline game is fun and feels “like AI War.”

Second example: in the preliminary design document we’re working on, check out the section way at the bottom about using Arks as champions. That’s something that we want to attempt sooner than later, and it could be an enormous leap forward on the “radical new ideas” front. Same with the mercenaries section in that document.

Schedule Changes

At this point, we’re looking at Early Access (the “fun point” fulcrum) being sometime in July. That will give us a lot of time to further implement Eric’s UI and refine some visual elements and whatnot while we’re at it. Obviously, schedules change, and this is a tight one on the side of Keith’s core gameplay work.

THAT said, the transition toward the fun point is going to come in 5 overall waves of core features from Keith. The 1st wave being minimum set of units to have a functional, winnable and losable game; the 2nd focusing on core variety; 3 and 4 focusing on various toys on human and AI sides; and 5 wrapping up the last toys as well as adding the minor factions noted on the design doc as being pre-fun-point. (Nemesis and Spire are both post-1.0)

Hopefully we’ll have a general idea of our progress, and people’s reactions to it, throughout those five waves.

After Early Access starts, there’s a bunch more stuff to add and tune, and we think the 1.0 can still be October. Some of the stretch goal content (Spire, interplanetary weapons, possibly some merc stuff) may be after 1.0, but that was always the plan, anyhow.

Staff Changes

All the above said, this is not coming without cost; it’s a major financial blow to the company, and unfortunately we can’t afford to keep our longtime artist Blue after April. She’s been with us for five years, and will be sorely missed, but we’ve known for a while this might be something that had to happen (as did she).

We’re basically folding back down into a quasi-one-man company, although that’s giving me too much credit. I’ll be the only full-time employee, at any rate. Keith is part-time and has been for some time. With the AI War 2 project being almost a year over schedule, something had to give. For myself, I’ve taken on a lot of debt, and am about to take on more.

We Remain Committed

You better bet that the game is going to come out; we’re working hard to make this truly shine, not just as a half-baked, unenjoyable mess. We’re determined that this will arrive at 1.0 as something that we can be proud of and that you can enjoy for many hundreds of hours.

This Isn’t an Engine Overhaul

We want to emphasize this! The AI War 2 engine framework isn’t changing much. The engine we built basically kicks butt, with all the moddability and support for advanced UIs and multi-threading, and so much more.

What’s changing is what we do with that engine, back towards something we know was fun on a different (much worse) engine. That solid baseline will be something we can have confidence in, and will be a great place from which to grow.

Example question: “Is the engine is flexible enough to go back to the original vision of mobile Arks as your king unit, and no stationary home command station?” Answer: an emphatic YES. The engine is so flexible that you can designate a king-unit option in XML and select it through the interface. That king-unit could be a squadron of fighters if you want, or the largest spirecraft with steroid stats. All of that can be done, at this very moment already, without any need for more than XML edits.

The 40+ Page Design Document

Measure twice, cut once. We’ve just spent the last week going back and planning things. Here’s the detailed design document.

In general there are a few upcoming stages:

  1. Working on getting it to match the AIWC base game. (The Pre-Fun timespan.)
  2. Players declare it is as fun as the base game of AIWC was. (The “Fun-Point.”) We may take it to Early Access at this point?
  3. We start bringing in more features. (The “Post-Fun-Point.”)
  4. We release the game to 1.0, probably in October.
  5. We do more stuff to meet our obligations as well as our personal goals. (The “Post-1.0 period.”)

At this point, Keith and I are feeling like the feature set as planned for the pre-fun-point is pretty darn huge on its own, and then there’s a variety of stuff planned for pre-1.0 that makes it even larger. We weren’t trying to expand the scope, but such is life.

There are also a number of ideas of varying tentativeness for after the fun-point that we want to try, such as bringing Arks in as a champion style. Things like that should really make the game feel like it has been taken to the next level compared to the first.

Looking for Modders!

Did you know:

  • ALL of the game data is in XML in AI War 2?
  • Adjusting ship stats is as easy as using a text editor to change a few numbers?
  • Adding new ships is just a copy-paste and then edit situation in those same XML files? You can use temporary graphics, and we can do real ones later.
  • All you need is Visual Studio 2015 Community Edition (which is free) or similar in order to edit tons of pieces of code for the game.
  • You can program map types with ease, GUI things with pain (that’s just UGUI for you), and make AI tweaks and similar somewhere in the middle of those two poles?

We’ll provide as much help as we can in getting you the info you need, and documenting all of this as things go on. If you have questions about where anything is, you can always ask Keith or Chris. Badger probably also knows, and before long we hope to have a solid stable of folks who know this well enough to help others.

Further, I feel it’s worth pointing out:

  • If you disagree with us about something relating to balance, you have the option of tuning the numbers yourself in your local copy and then showing us why we’re wrong. (Of course you can still ask us to do it, as has always been the case — but we’re no longer a bottleneck.)
  • If you make something particularly cool, then with your permission we’re happy to integrate that into the main game as an option that people can access without having to download something separate.
  • We wouldn’t have some of the cooler features that the game has right now, like the Nanocaust or some of the more interesting Dyson Sphere behaviors, if it wasn’t for Modder #1 — Badger. We know there were more of you who wanted to get involved in that sort of capacity, and now’s as good a time as any.

What do we WANT from modders?

A good question was raised: what are we really asking of modders, here? Honestly, that depends on the modder.

Some folks like putting in interface bits to solve personal pain points that they had with the original interface. Others have ideas for creative extra factions — for instance the Nanocaust — and we’d love to have those be something that you’re working on as we move toward 1.0, rather than as we move toward 2.0. If it’s all the same to you, anyway, it’s more valuable to us sooner than later, if that makes sense?

But in general, it’s kind of a “hey, if poking around at games like this is your sort of thing, we’re throwing a party and you’re invited.” We’re happy to show you around the house, not just throw you into the deep end of the pool without floaties.

Short Term Goals

We’re going to be aggressively pursuing the Fun Point, with Early Access to follow; and meanwhile building up and refining the UI, controls, and so forth to be the best that they can be.

Long Term Help

On the further volunteering end of things: if you want to help out with any sort of balance testing or custom unit design using the mechanics that we decide on as final, then the XML is easy to edit, and our doors are always open on our forums and on mantis.

Thanks for your continued support!

Best,
Chris

Taking a look at some AI War 2 ships during late alpha.

Chris here! This is just a video looking at a variety of the ships in AI War 2, or at least the graphics for them. These are in the version 0.124, which will come out early next week. It’s presently late alpha for the game (in the pre-Early-Access sense), and so these are coming up to a much more polished status now.

As part of our testing thus far, one thing that we’ve discovered is the need to use GPU Instancing. That was something that I hadn’t been sure if we’d need or not, and I’ve mentioned it since our first kickstarter for the game. I wanted to try to get away with dynamic batching, which is compatible with OpenGL 3.x and DirectX 9 and DirectX 10. However, the performance just wasn’t good enough, even in battles with only something like 5000 ships versus maybe 2000.

A few passing bugs aside, the performance was still better than AI War Classic with that scale of battle on the simulation side in particular, but GPU instancing became a clear need. So now the game is going to use that, which requires DirectX 11 or OpenGL 4.1, and basically hardware from 2010 or 2011, depending on your exact hardware and OS.

Realistically you needed hardware from that era at the oldest anyway in order to handle the CPU processing, so this really should be a moot point, but it was a bridge I hadn’t wanted to cross unless it really became clear it was needed. Well — now it’s clear. :)

A bug in the GUI sidebar aside, I was getting about 30fps in the aforementioned battle using dynamic batching. This is on a latest-gen i7 with a GTX 1070. Now with most of the stuff working with GPU Instancing, I get around 80 fps. There are still thousands of wasted draw calls because of some of how I’m handling my custom sprite system at the moment, and I expect to get my machine running that same scene at 120 or 140 fps by sometime next week. Knock on wood. :) But it definitely seems like that will be what happens on my rig, based on all my tests thus far.

Anyway, so we get to the question of how big battles will be able to be, and to that I still have the answer: I really don’t know. For a variety of reasons, we can do larger battles than AI War Classic if you’re running them on modern machines. On a machine past a certain age (maybe from 2012 or before?), then the battles of Classic might be larger in terms of what your machine can handle. I’m not sure. The newer your machine gets, though, and that’s looking to the future as well, AI War 2 starts pulling further and further ahead. This switching to GPU Instancing is a huge amount of future-proofing in and of itself.

Overall we just have a ton of performance optimizations and multithreading in the game already, and it’s built around a variety of design concepts that lend themselves to larger battles than the original. We still do hit the occasional hiccup, like the sidebar thing, though, which makes performance absolutely grind to a halt for a bit. That’s one reason why we do the alpha, though; so we can fix things like that, and they never last long. :)

All in all, we’re looking good! I’m excited about the recent changes, even if I am apprehensive about any potential backlash by someone angry about the system requirements change.

Thanks for watching!

Chris

Recent Hacking Attempt

Hello everyone, Quinn here.

Quick Reminder!

We will NOT request any passwords, emails addresses, or other personal information via PM. If any information is requested via PM, please report it and do not respond. With that out of the way, on to the meat of the post:

Hacking Round 1

Sometime yesterday, some of the arcengames.com accounts of Chris Park (company founder/owner) were compromised. The person who compromised the accounts attempted to get sensitive data from Keith and myself.  However, database searches do do not show record of him (or her) trying to get data from anyone else.

It was quite clever social engineering, but fortunately there were enough red flags that Keith and I were each able to pick up on the phishing attempt, and contacted Chris via external means to check if it was really him. Once we had confirmation it was not, we locked down the accounts. Chris was able to reset his passwords, we did a variety of security sweeps, and (after a few issues), Chris has full control of his accounts again.

Nothing seems to have been damaged in this — it was mainly a prelude to a second goal.

Hacking Round 2

Mid-morning today, Chris’ Steam account was abruptly compromised. It’s safe to say that this was the same individual as the first attempt, because it fits with the goals they originally had, and they again leaned heavily on particular infiltration tactics.

Today’s attack was much more concerning for a variety of reasons, including what they targeted and how they did it.  We’re omitting that second part for hopefully obvious reasons.  Valve worked with us to piece together what happened, and there’s pretty good odds that exact approach won’t work again.

As part of gaining access to his Steam account, the attacker triggered an instant notification to Chris, which led to a quick shutdown of his Steam account.  After thorough review, we believe the attacker didn’t actually do anything once logged on as Chris.   Build data and similar have detailed logs that show no activity, and the cosmetic areas that are not logged as stringently seem untouched.

We don’t know if the attacker made any posts on Steam as Chris, or if he sent any chat messages. If you did get a message, post, or anything else from Chris’ Steam account today, please do not hesitate to contact us to verify the identity of who sent it.

Methodology

Mostly this was a case of very clever social engineering.  There was a second prong that involved actual hacking, which enabled that to be particularly convincing.  Chris does of course use 2 Factor Authentication, but that was circumvented via a particular obscure method.  Fortunately, the fact that multiple accounts have 2FA on them enabled us to catch and correct it particularly quickly.  The vagueness here is to not encourage copycats; it was not a case of password reuse between Arcen and Steam or something embarrassing like that.

At any rate, the initial method through which we believe the attacker got the password for Chris’s arcengames.com services was by exploiting a weakness in Mantis, which has now been patched to prevent further exploits.

Followup

We have not gotten reports of any other arcengames.com accounts being compromised. However, if any staff member sends you a PM and it seems out of place, please report it and do not answer it.

When in doubt, please send Arcen Games (arcengames AT gmail DOT com), the staff member who sent the PM, Chris Park (chrispark7 AT gmail DOT com), and myself (quinnbeltramo AT yahoo DOT com) an email regarding the matter. The reason behind sending everyone an email about it is to reduce the likelihood that the person will get away with the attempt. We can get in touch with each other by phone for any suspicious requests, as we did here.

We’ve spent most of the rest of the day combing through our databases and services, and Chris has spent that time scanning and examining his computers.  We’ve found no other evidence of anything unusual.

We would like to remind everyone to stay safe on the Internet, and use different, strong passwords for each site you visit. That will reduce the damage that can occur should an account be compromised — although in cases such as this, that’s more of a helpful measure than an absolute barrier.

I was able to verify that there was no unauthorized access to the web server or the database, so any information that was contained there is still secure.  Passwords on our site are hashed and salted, and are not stored in plain text for obvious security reasons.  We do not keep any credit card, paypal, address, or other such information on our own servers.

TLDR

Everything is fine, but if Chris or someone else from the staff said anything strange to you today or yesterday, please report it to us.  We had a very clever individual spending a lot of time trying to gain access to our steam partner site for some reason, so we’ve circled the wagons quite a bit.  The biggest negative result of this has been lost productivity today, near as we can tell.

AI War 2 Alpha v0.103 released!

Here are the release notes, which are mostly bugfixes and more quality of life adjustments.

A Tale About Linux

Okay, so — Linux support, grr.  Mostly that has been going fantastically, and we have a lot of folks playing the game on linux machines with no issues.  That said, we’ve had a few problems with some of them, including the VM install of linux on my mac.  My new linux laptop arrived today, although I haven’t unpacked it quite yet.

Today and yesterday, I’ve spent hours and hours researching various things on linux, and here’s a lot of what I’ve found, just kind of in random bullet points:

 

1. On my OSX machine, the issue is just because of the VM version of linux, not the hardware itself.  This is almost 100% certain, because it’s well within the supported parameters.  Obviously the game runs great on that machine in OSX, so it was always a strange thing that it didn’t work on linux there.

It looks like it’s just a matter of anything higher than OpenGL2 not being supported in a pass-through fashion between ubuntu and OSX using Parallels between them.  I looked into doing a dual-boot situation with linux and OSX on that machine (I already have a dual-boot with Windows 8.1 on there, so I guess triple-boot), but that looked like it would eat up even more time and not yield information that is too useful at this point.

 

2. Anything older than a Sandy Bridge integrated GPU is no longer supported except for on windows, so that means pre-2011.  But on windows it would still work because of DirectX9.

Basically, OpenGL2.x support was completely removed in Unity 5.5, which is quite frustrating and was not well-advertised as something that would happen: https://www.gamingonlinux.com/articles/unity-55-released-removes-legacy-opengl-support.8627

A linux box with only integrated graphics and a CPU older than the sandy bridge architecture (sixth generation intel) will need to use WINE and DirectX9 in order to run the windows version of the game.  On OSX, it’s possible that the Metal support would work on a machine that old, but honestly I have no idea.  That also might be a case for WINE.

Either way, we’re talking here about machines that are 7+ years old and which only have integrated graphics, so the CPU load is likely to start becoming problematic once you pass that point, anyway.

 

3. If you ARE running a Sandy Bridge processor — or newer — and are using that for integrated graphics, then you need to have Mesa drivers that are at least from very-very late 2014 or newer.

Thanks to Unity 5.5 only supporting OpenGLCore, that means anything OpenGL 3.2 or newer is needed.  Those integrated cards can do OpenGL 3.3, but they’ll report that they cannot do 3.2 if you don’t have recent-enough drivers.  And there are new Mesa drivers that are awesome!

 

4. We have someone else with a Radeon card who is having a crash on linux, and I have no idea what is going on with that just yet.  He’s on the latest Catalyst drivers, which could mean there’s a bug in them, or… who knows, really.  I’ve heard from various reports of the driver support for Radeon on linux being pretty dodgy, so it could simply be a bug in the latest version of the drivers.  I honestly am not sure on that just yet.

As you can see in the link I posted there, there were a few other things I changed in the last build prior to this one that should make it more likely to run on that machine.  In that particular instance, some of the OpenGL Core command line parameters might actually work to solve the issue.

-force-opengl has been established to no longer work on Unity, particularly on Linux, since the removal of OpenGL2 support.

However, this one might work quite well: -force-glcoreXY: XY can be 32, 33, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44 or 45; each number representing a specific version of OpenGL. If the platform doesn’t support a specific version of OpenGL, Unity will fallback to a supported version

This one might also be of some use: -force-clamped: Request that Unity doesn’t use OpenGL extensions which guarantees that multiple platforms will execute the same code path. This is an approach to test if an issue is platform specific (a driver bug for example).

All of that said, it may simply be an issue that can’t be resolved outside of driver fixes.

 

5. We also have someone for whom the game crashes to blue screen on linux every other run, which is something I saw limited mention of elsewhere on the internet yesterday… and now can’t find for the life of me.  If anyone finds threads or topics about that in unity 5.5, can you please send me the link?  Anyhow, I’m not positive if there’s much we can do on that or not, aside from possibly updating to a later version of unity 5.5.  They are currently on 5.5.1p4, whereas we’re using 5.5.0p3.  There just haven’t been enough changes to the newer 5.5 builds to warrant our update quite yet, in my opinion.

 

6. Overall this works really well for most people!  Which I am very glad for.  But we’ve had some folks fishing for the lower end of the system specs range, which I super appreciate, and these are the things we’ve been running into.

 

Vulkan!

There’s a new “Bleeding Edge Graphics Test” that I’ve included in the latest build and that I’d really appreciate if you ran and let us know how it went.  Basically that new build uses unity 5.6 for a simple scene completely unrelated to AI War 2, and it also uses the Vulkan Renderer for linux and windows (and Metal on OSX).

That may very well solve the Radeon crash, I don’t know.  However, driver support for Vulkan is much more limited than something like OpenGL or DirectX — so far.  Vulkan is the successor to OpenGL, meant to replace it and modernize it, and it looks set to beat the pants off DirectX as well.  Metal is kinda Apple’s answer to DirectX11, and for some reason they don’t really do Vulkan yet.  Bummer.

Anyway, I’m reluctant to make people use Vulkan, because that immediately excludes a lot of pre-2014 hardware.  As it currently stands, that would be moving the minimum spec up to be more recent by 3-4 years, depending on platform.  Not my preference.  But if Vulkan gives people who can use it a speed boost, as well as maybe getting around some driver issues on linux, then that’s super exciting.

If you run the bleeding edge graphics test programs and it just utterly fails, you might try doing so with the following command line arguments mentioned from above:

-force-glcoreXY: XY can be 32, 33, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44 or 45; each number representing a specific version of OpenGL. If the platform doesn’t support a specific version of OpenGL, Unity will fallback to a supported version.

Those would let you use Unity 5.6, but going back to an earlier version of OpenGL Core.  I’d suggest force-glcore32 or force-glcore33 (3.2 or 3.3).  March 31st is the official date that Unity 5.6 comes out of beta, and “Bleeding Edge Graphics Test” will help tell us whether to upgrade to that ASAP or give it a wait-and-see-for-now attitude.

 

Anyhow…

Those substantial snafus with the initial rollout of alpha keys to some alpha-tier backers are all fixed up, by the way — thanks again for your patience on that!

Best,

Chris

AI War 2 Video Dev Diary for February 10th!

Chris here!  Lots to share today.

Obligatory: 106 of you still have yet to send in your surveys, so please do that soon if you have a chance.  Thanks!

Marquee Video

In this one, recorded just moments ago, I walk you through some things that are happening in the game right now:

Highlights:

  • Lots of galaxy map styles already in place!  All of the ones for 1.0, if I’m not mistaken.
  • You can see a bit more about how the planets at the galaxy map actually show the key ships that are there (thanks to Astilious for suggesting that!)
  • You can see the really REALLY ugly tempy gui that is nonetheless functional.
  • Keith has been playing games all the way through in multiplayer with success, and has been building out increasing numbers of features.
  • This shows the earliest version of the forcefield visuals, which are not the most exciting thing in the world yet but are highly performant.  I’ll experiment with making higher-load-but-prettier ones with time.
  • This shows some combat, albeit still without the extrapolation or ship flocking within squads.
  • It shows my new custom LOD system, although that’s tuned improperly for the missile corvette right now.
  • It shows off a lot of the incredible performance gains that we have made, although there are still some architectural hot spots that we’re homing in on.  In general we want this to look super good up close and then be really high-performance as you’re further out.
  • I talk very briefly about Controllers and Guardians.
  • Can I just emphasize one more time that the current GUI is worse than bad and we know that?  It’s for internal use only, but I’m showing it to you anyway so you have an idea of what we’re up to.  It’s easier to work with really ugly buttons and text on the screen, just blocking out the play flow, before even trying to make it pretty (and/or not eye-bleedy). :)

Other Videos!

The count of working-videos style things in our dev diary channel has grown a lot, and so the dev diary channel is now up to 25 videos as of the moment.  Mostly it’s of a semi-technical or technical nature, but if you’re in to game design there’s some cool stuff in there.

Alpha: End Of This Month!

We’re looking quite on schedule for that. :)  No promises on how horrible the GUI will still be for the first build for you alpha folks, but a lot of the visual stuff will have been filled out further by then.

Multiplayer, Linux, OSX, and Windows will be available from day one of the alpha.

If you have trouble running the game on your system on day one for performance reasons, then I’ll go ahead and say right now — please TELL me!  With you alpha folks, I’m particularly counting on that.  I have four good computers representing a range of capabilities for me to test on, but there are always surprises.

In response to those things I can both optimize in unexpected places as well as providing toggles for simply turning off some visual whiz-bang bits for machines that can’t handle those bits.  But I’m definitely counting on you alpha folks to tell me rather than just assuming it will get better without saying anything! :)

Early Access At The End Of May!

We’re still looking great for the Early Access launch at the end of May, too, and of course well before then the GUI will be massively cleaned up and improved.  In large part thanks to feedback from the alpha folks, I have no doubt.

And yep, the “sometime in October” schedule for 1.0 is still holding steady, too.

Our production of ship graphics has been substantially slower than we desired originally in terms of the final models, but we’re also putting out much higher-quality work than we originally expected.  In my original pitch for 3D with this game, I never expected to be doing fully-painted models, but we figured out a way to do so (and thus massively improve the look of the game) without completely destroying the budget and without sacrificing much in the way of performance thanks to LODs.  It’s a worthwhile improvement that I’m footing the overage bill for.

Conclusion

Things are going well!  We’re still somewhat in the “measure twice, cut once” phase of things, so I always feel like it looks like less progress than it really is.  If you saw the number of code changes and improvements each time, and the amount of productivity and performance improvements each go… well, I wish I could show that in a visual way, but I can’t think of a good one. :)

Nonetheless, my list of “things that are not all that visible but that are very important to do” is getting very short now, while the list of “things that are definitely visible” is starting to get some hefty bites taken out.  Lots more of that to come next week, and the week after… and then we’re into the start of alpha, so you can expect floods of release notes as per usual with us.

Thanks for watching and reading!
Chris

Original post on kickstarter.

.

.

The AI From Within – Part 4: The Special Forces

Keith here.

A Short Update on Development

Goodness, how time flies. We’ve been pretty quiet for the last few weeks finalizing the Kickstarter (95% of you have completed your BackerKit surveys, thank you! 137 backers have not yet, please do so!) and getting everything setup for the alpha. We been applying our noses directly to the grindstone and believe we have developed the right foundation and workflows for both our own work and for modding support. We are currently planning to start the alpha Monday, February 27th, 2:00pm EST.

Sidebar For Modders

As we’ve mentioned before, the graphics in AIW2 are much more complex than AIWC. Adding or replacing graphical assets won’t be as simple as adding or replacing a .png file. In order for the game to work efficiently with the meshes, materials, and so forth (and also with sfx) they have to be baked into “asset bundles” in the Unity editor. Thankfully, there’s a free version of the Unity editor that modders can use to create these asset bundles. Furthermore, the asset bundles aren’t baked into the game’s executable but can be loaded at runtime. So we’ve double- and triple-checked that this actually works and that we can hand you a workflow (with examples) that will function correctly. This has been going well, and as side effect, we’ve significantly reduced the amount of time we ourselves spend waiting for the assets to re-bake after a change, etc.

Other Progress

I’ve also spent a fair bit of time making sure that my workflows for adding new user interface elements and input bindings (i.e. “things you can trigger by pushing a button on your keyboard/whatever”) do not require recompiling the game itself or otherwise require anything an end-user won’t have access to. The list of bindings and the layout of the windows is in xml, and the code-logic that says what those keys/buttons/etc should do is defined in C# code that’s compiled into an external dll.

That external source code will ship with the game and you can modify and recompile it (with whatever you’d normally use for c# on your platform, be it VS or MonoDevelop or whatever) or add your own external dll’s that your xml can reference. Obviously playing a multiplayer game requires that you be using the same stuff which gets trickier on the C# side, but it’s doable.

We’ve also made a ton of progress on the game itself, but that’s better shown in a video when Chris finds the time to make it :)

You call that a short update?

Yea, good point.

Last time in this series we looked at how an AI (or human) ship’s guns decide what to shoot at. Before that we covered the low-level “where do I go?” logic for AI ships not assigned to guard duty or some special purpose. Together, those two sets of logic basically make a complete opponent.

But we would never leave well enough alone. Not at all.

Today we’re focusing on something much higher-level: the AI’s Special Forces Fleet. Due to some interesting… comments… during a recent performance review, Laser Guardian #443x-023 will be conducting the briefing.

Those pesky humans

Laser Guardian #443x-023 here.

Stupid developers. I tell them “how do you expect the meatbags to be properly frightened when I show up without any paint on?” And they just mumble something about working on higher-priority things and we’ll get to it soon and shuffle me out the door again. HIGHER PRIORITY? Clearly an adjustment is in order.

Ahem.

So, a quick history lesson. Back in the day (AIW Classic version 5.0 and earlier) the “Special Forces” were basically just some special guard-duty ships that marched in a weird sort of galactic line-dance between the various Special Forces Guard Posts. Cute, but not especially effective.

When the galaxy was so obviously under our thumb, it wasn’t a big deal.

But the humans were getting entirely too cheeky about picking off our planets with no particular fear of immediate consequences.

On August 30th, 2012, thanks to feedback from several of the more provocative organic target-practice-units (notably Hearteater, Faulty Logic, Martyn van Buren, Diazo, TechSY730, Lancefighter, Sunshine!, Bossman, Draco18s, Ozymandiaz, Wingflier, and chemical_art), that all changed.

Malice aforethought

First, rather than just getting odds and ends of the normal Reinforcement budget, we got our own new Special Forces budget to maintain (but not exceed) a certain overall force level. Silly restrictions, but I guess there are other things to spend it on too.

Second, rather than just getting whatever random ship was selected for reinforcements, we got the ability to weight our preferences based on things we thought would be useful. Lots of anti-bomber stuff, for instance, since bombers were so annoyingly effective against everything we wanted to protect in AIW Classic.

But my personal favorite was getting to spend 10% of the budget on the ships specifically found to be most annoying to the player. Well, that was basically just two ships: Tackle Drone Launchers and Lightning Torpedo Frigates. Neither of which were remotely well-balanced and aren’t slated for the (first) official release AIW 2. Oh, Tackle Drone Launchers, I will miss you.

Even when we didn’t get TDL’s, it was great fun to focus on really long-ranged stuff, or stuff with lots of tractor beams (nothing like nabbing a bunch of human fighters and dashing off to alert other AI planets with them), and so on. Good times.

Later we even got Riot Control Starships, though they were never as effective as they were in human hands. Some players could achieve simply stupid kill-to-loss ratios with Riots, and they don’t even have decent firepower. We’re still sore over that.

Third, rather than our individual ships just following a line to the next special forces post, we got to pick a single planet to all gather on. We were generally only allowed to pick friendly planets (sigh), and we weren’t allowed to rush to the defense of particularly unimportant planets, but this let us build up a strong force instead of just trickling in. Especially since, if our services were not in immediate demand, we’d hang out on a friendly planet 3 hops or so away from any enemy planets.

Fourth, when the enemy dared show their faces we could check to see which planet we could do the most good on (prioritizing our homeworld or core worlds, avoiding planets where we couldn’t get there without passing through a grinder, and otherwise preferring the biggest concentration of organic intruders), and make a beeline over there.

The result?

Nobody expects the Special Forces

A massive roving fleet of jolly AI ships, specifically built to annoy you, singing sea shanties while they crash your party and ruin your fleet’s day.

Of course, this didn’t stop the most virulent meatbags (stupid warheads…), but it did make them work a lot harder. And our refrigerator is covered with pictures of SF assaults scissoring in behind unsuspecting human fleets and stomping them flat.

The Future

So where are the Special Forces going in the sequel? All over the place. Literally, actually. Instead of a single fleet we’ll have regional headquarters, each with its own fleet.

We weren’t sold on the idea, at first, since concentration-of-force is pretty important. But then we were told that these regional headquarters were actually secret ninja hideout fortresses. How could we say no?

This also allows for more exotic behaviors and ship-preferences, since each region can use its own. An all-cloaking SF fleet that only attacks when you’re multiple hops from your territory may die like flies in some circumstances, or it might be the thing that stymies the human infestation in others. We’re all about iterating over permutations. That’s… actually about all we ever do.

… Ah, good, it appears the paint crew has finally arrived, so we can strike terror into our enemies and the appearance of the SF fleet can once again have its proper brown-trousers effect on hapless human attack fleets.

Ok, make sure you get plenty on the weapons ba-aaAAAAhhhHHH!! (entire ship dunked into vat of MurTech-brand Astatine-enriched Universal Solvent)

Up next

Keith here. Whoops, it looks like the quartermaster made a mistake on that paint order. Oh well.

(pushes speaker button, “Cleanup, nebula three.”)

Bear in mind that the plan is for modders to be able to define their own Special Forces controller logic sets, for determining which ships a fleet picks to build and/or which planet to rally at in a given situation. Then you can have those controllers be put into the normal rotation, or even remove the vanilla controllers and only use your own. Naturally, you would never use this to make your game easier by reestablishing the galactic line dance.

I’m not sure when the next entry in this series will be, since work on the game itself obviously takes priority, but we’ll probably look at the offensive equivalent of the Special Forces: the Threatfleet. The SF gets to play dirty tricks on you, but a Threatfleet has much better opportunities for gratuitous vandalism.

Also in the works is another combat video from Chris. In general we’ll try to check in every now and then so you know we haven’t suffered a misfortune at the hands of disgruntled machines.

Original kickstarter post.

.

.

Another batch of AI War 2 working videos!

Chris here!  Last update I talked about a variety of random things, and that’s what’s in store once again.  Later this week, Keith will have another update for you in the running series about the AI. :)

The Ark Is Finished!

Mostly finished, anyway.  And bear in mind that this is just the first Ark design — something like 8 backers are going to be working with Blue in order to come up with alternative designs for anyone to choose from.  Thanks to those who chose the Arkitect backer tier or preorder item! :)

Anyhow, here’s the final product:

AI War 2 – Ark Visuals Update: January 24th, 2017 — Just a quick look at how the Ark now looks inside the game and inside the prep project.  Sorry I don’t sound more enthusiastic, but my voice is giving out a bit. :)

This is a good example of how things have evolved from my original terrible mockup, which I’ll embed here again as a reminder:

Internal Working Videos From The Last Week Or So

If you want to see these dev-diary style videos as they come out, there’s a playlist for those right here on youtube, although we’re not having all these videos popping up as “new videos” on our main channel (they’re unlisted to not clutter things up).

Tutorial – AI War 2 Texture Quality Import Checking: January 19th, 2017.  Notes for Cinth on how to check after me to make sure I haven’t fudged up the import settings on any files.

Also it just plain documents how the ideal file import settings should be, which is pretty useful for modders making their own asset bundles in the future.

Plus I have a random epiphany part-way through there regarding my shader, and there’s a variety of discussion of the pros and cons of some of the past performance of importing of textures in our 2D games.

Tutorial – AI War 2 Setting Up Ship/Structure Models and Gimbals: January 20th, 2017.  Notes for Cinth on how to take a model/prefab of a ship and in the prep project, set up a gimbal for it (along with all the other scripts and whatnot), and get that into the game for use.

Also covers the general xml setup, and collision boxes and so on.

As an aside, this is honestly quite useful for modders, too, although the video is overlong for that.

 AI War 2 AI Master Controller Initial Mockup For Concepting: January 23rd, 2016.  Visual mockup for Blue (artist) of unpainted model of my rough concept for the AI Master Controller for AI War 2.  This is incredibly unpolished and unoptimized and is meant to be a bit of a “throw together some legos as a 3D concept” sort of thing.

She then takes it and makes it into something that is actually awesome, though this will probably be in the game instead during most of the alpha since this one is a really large undertaking and there are better ways to spend her time in the meantime.

Warning: this is very much “how the hotdog is made” in terms of the nature of the video!

Tutorial – AI War 2 Getting To Projects (For Devs): January 23rd, 2017.  Notes for Blue and Cinth and other staff/contractors that may need this, on how to get into the unusual structure of AI War 2’s internals and get to an actual project that runs and that can be tested in.

There isn’t any confidential information in here, so hey why not let kickstarter folks see this, too, if they are interested.

Tutorial – AI War 2 Model And Texture Import: January 23rd, 2017.  Notes for Blue on how to import her models to our specific prep project area, and also how to use the values in my custom shader.  This is actually super useful for modders, come to think of it!

Tutorial P1 – Ship Optimization And LODs In AI War 2 (Prototype ships): January 30th, 2017.  Notes for Cinth on setting up LOD groups and otherwise optimizing the ship LODs for prototype ships for AI War 2 to keep the framerates high during the alpha.  Later tutorials in this series will cover handling the actual final ships, which take more work.  This is the basis under all of them, though.

That’s It For Now!

Keith will have his update later in the week on the AI, as I noted, and then next week I should have a new combat video for you, I expect.  Lots and lots of stuff is happening, and I’m really excited about that evolution that we’re seeing.

We look to be properly on schedule for a release to the alpha players in very late February, based on how things are going.  Definitely good news!

Cheers,
Chris

AI War 2 Random Working Notes Video Roundup – Circa January 19th

Chris here!  Okay, so this is a whole lot of random stuff from the last month, and these are some of our internal videos that I did a quick vetting of and figured were safe to release for those people who might be interested in them.

These are all unlisted on our youtube channel, to not clutter that up with this sort of thing, but if you’re interested in the development work side of the process (technical or art or otherwise), here’s some meat for you (in chronological order):

December 10th, 2016: Chris rambles about custom editors for Keith, but generally fine to show for whoever.

December 5th, 2016: Notes for Keith, specifically aimed at showing what was done in AI War Classic so that he could replace it with something much better for AI War 2 (via Forge Networking).

January 16th, 2017: Quick visual mockup for Blue (artist) of unpainted model of my rough (VERY rough) concept for the Ark for AI War 2. This is incredibly ugly in a lot of ways and is meant to be a bit of a “throw together some legos as a 3D concept” sort of thing.

She then takes it and makes it into something that is actually awesome, which is work that is currently in-progress as of the time of this post (though there are some screenshots from Maya).

Warning: this is very much “how the hotdog is made” in terms of the nature of the video!

January 16th, 2017: Notes for Keith on some craziness that happens with external DLLs and moving the cheese on unity, plus how to re-link assets that become unlinked.

January 17th, 2017: Here’s are some progressive screenshots from Maya of what Blue (artist) had done at that point (very very incomplete) and how her work was evolving from mine.

On the left in the first shot is the terrible mockup fbx file I created, and then in the center is what she was evolving that into in broad form:

Then later that day, two more shots of the Ark.

January 18th, 2017: More screenshots from Maya from Blue’s work, where she is basically done with the model itself.  She notes “I left all the small bits in grey-checker so you can distinguish them from the main ship.”

A few hours later that day, more stuff (in false colors).  She notes:  “UV’s done and organized.  Each color indicates a set of UV’s. So if they share a color, they share a UV set.  So there will be 8 texture sets.”

And then actually painting those uvs in Photoshop comes next, and is currently in progress. :)

Here are the flat colors, actually, with her notes: “I haven’t done any of the detail work yet. Just laying down the base over all.”

January 18th, 2017: Quick visual mockup for Blue (artist) of unpainted models that may or may not be used, with the general idea of the motion they would have, and the vertex-animated internal model for the “wormhole” inside the AI Warp Gates for AI War 2.

Very very rough, and not meant to be any sort of final product.

January 19th, 2017: Notes for Cinth on setting up LOD groups and otherwise optimizing the particle effects for AI War 2 to keep the framerates high.

Visual Evolution of the Bomber

This is out of sequence because it happened over the course of many days throughout this whole process, but here’s an interesting look at some of our workflow.

I gave Blue this reference bomber model to work with that I had created, but it was messy and needed a lot of work, and had no textures yet:

In the above two, it’s shown next to the fighter for scale.

She then had to do a lot of fixing of the model, which is a process we’ve decided to scrap because it’s much easier for me to create a rough approximation with notes (ala the Ark, as seen above), and then her to create the final model from scratch herself rather than trying to repair my wreckage.  Nonetheless, she spent 3ish hours repairing the wreckage of my bomber and made something awesome out of it:

Note how crisp all the lines are, although it’s not yet having a proper shader, and it looks washed out, etc.  This is to be expected.  Generally once I pull it into Maya and apply my shaders and tweaks, it is basically the final touches that turn it fully awesome.  The post-processing effects and bloom and her emission maps help a lot with that, too, to be sure.

But this time, there was a problem.  I set it up, and did so like this:

Grooooosss!  While the lighting and so on is cool, there’s a lot up there to hate compared to the original model.  She noted there was some quality loss, and I wasn’t sure specifically which things she meant, so I pointed out the following possible areas:

With some detailed commentary on each area that are not worth repeating here.  At any rate, I made a lot of tweaks to the shaders, and we got to this:

Muuuuch better.  Still needs work, though.

She finished her tweaks to the emission map and the albedo texture, and I figured out some big improvements on the texture import side (both quartering the VRAM used by the bomber as well as improving its crispness), and we arrived at this:

Biiiiig difference.

That’s It For Now!

Just a lot of random notes, since we’ve been quiet.  There was a ton of other stuff happening as well, but this gives you some idea. :)

Cheers!

Chris

SPACE ARCHAEOLOGIST tier live, OST now available in select tiers, and 10% funded in 30 hours!

Wow what a whirlwind of a few days!  If I haven’t responded to your message yet, I really apologize and will do so as soon as possible.  I’m caught up on the kickstarter messages and comments themselves, but I’m behind on Steam and the Arcen forums.

Funding Is Starting Strong!

Our kickstarter for AI War II has now passed 10% funding within its first 30 hours, which seems like it bodes well.  But the graph for every game is different, and so we’re not going to sit idle just because of a strong start.  We can still use all the help that we can get in spreading the word on social media, other sites that would be interested in this sort of game, and of course via gaming news.

Reddit AMA Tomorrow

Speaking of!  Tomorrow we’re going to be doing another AMA on /r/Games/.  It will start at 11am EST, but if you’re going to be late feel free to still ask questions — I’m on reddit every day anyway (not during work!).

So what else is new?  Well, we’ve updated the video for the kickstarter to be a little better (it was already pretty killer).  If you’ve already seen it, it mainly just adds a bit of extra visual and sound effect punch and clarity in a few places, and then a bit of extra music at the end (sneak peek of a vocal track from Stars Beyond Reach, actually).

New Backer Tier!

Our $100 and $300 tiers sold out incredibly quickly, and we’re trying to figure out how to handle that — providing rewards at those levels that you folks will enjoy, but that don’t break us in the implementation/fulfillment phases.  Thanks for bearing with us!

In the meantime, we’ve added a new $400 tier: SPACE ARCHAEOLOGIST.

As a Space Archaeologist you get the following benefits shared by all Neinzul Backers:
– Named prominently in the credits as a Neinzul Backer
– Neinzul Backer badge on Arcen forums.
– 5 backer-exclusive AI War II digital wallpapers
– Write your own “message in a bottle” that will be discoverable in-game (subject to approval)
– Two copies of the game in private alpha
– Name an in-game planet

In addition, and EXCLUSIVE to the Space Archaeologist, you get to:
-Work with Blue to design a mysterious alien artifact, then collaborate with Jack to write what we know about them (subject to approval)

Initially controlled by the AI, alien artifacts are variants on the resource-generating derelicts scattered across the galaxy. Capturing an artifact earns you a one time Science bonus, and ongoing attempts to study them sometimes “glitch out”, and generate allied ships! These ships aren’t pushovers, and while you can’t control them, you don’t have to pay for them either. The AI won’t be happy about losing the artifacts however, and will destroy them rather than let you keep them.

Space Archaeologists will individually work with Blue to design their own artifact, and then work with Jack to explain what we know about it. That might be where it’s from or how it was found, secrets of its construction or how it’s been used. With this tier you’ll be adding one more secret to the Arcenverse, so don’t explain too much!

Soundtrack Now Included In All $100+ Tiers!

So many of you asked for this that we worked it out and are now going to be providing high-quality mp3, FLAC, and wav file versions of the AI War II OST for anyone who pledges at least $100. This will include the entire soundtrack, including any stretch goals or other bonus tracks commissioned, so when exactly you get each piece may be staggered a bit.

This was a belated addition due to popular demand, and kickstarter doesn’t allow us to change the description of backer tiers after someone has pledged at that level (definitely for the best as a general policy), so we’ve had to make note of it in the campaign FAQ and in the rewards section (not the sidebar).

If you’ve read this far, here’s a special reward. ;)  This is Pablo’s reorchestrated and remastered version of the original AI War title theme.  Just like Arcen itself, he’s come a really long way since 2009, and I continue to be really stunned and impressed with the work he’s doing lately.

Other Changes To The Campaign!

People have been making all sorts of great suggestions.

  • We now have a new $40 tier that simply gives you two v1.0 copies of the game (so it’s just like getting the $20 tier twice).
  • We’ve added two new videos down in the body of the campaign that show off the far zoom mechanics for the new game as well as the last trailer for the first game.
  • Down at the bottom there are now a number of charts detailing our work status on all the major 1.0 features.  We’re further along on a number of them than folks might have realized, massive design document aside.

 

That’s all for now!  I’ll have more updates coming up soon, as will other members of the team.  Thanks again for all your support, enthusiasm — and let’s not forget trust.  With a campaign like this you’re trusting that we’ll follow through for you, and we have absolutely no intention of letting you down.

Very Best,

Chris Park

Founder and Lead Designer, Arcen Games

AI War II – Far Zoom First Look

Lots of stuff has been happening on the AI War II forums in general, and a lot of news in the dev diary section in particular.  Once the kickstarter for the game launches — later this week — we’ll be sharing more through our blog and social media.  It’s been an intensive process so far in the forums, though, with folks contributing 2,470 post on 180 topics in a matter of just a couple of weeks.

Here’s the first video of the game:

The kickstarter for AI War II is coming up in the next week! If you want to be notified of it by email, please send a note to arcengames at gmail dot com and we’ll be happy to.

Our forums have a ton of information about what’s going on and how you can contribute (non-financially) prior to the kickstarter if you wish to.

And our public design document is huge and still growing.  The latter will be finished up (for purposes of v1.0 specs) within the next 3 days.

I’ll be around on the forums plenty in the coming days, or I’ll hopefully catch you later this week when we launch the Kickstarter!

  • Chris

 

AI War II Art Diary: Player Base concept work.

Here’s a new look at whats under development art-wise for AI War II.

I’m been tasked to create a high-definition model of the player base ship.

With 3D modeling, it’s not usually so simple as to jump into the program and get to work. Lot of times you need a thought process to kick it off, and that’s usually best handled through concept sketches.  Some artists use references and mood boards instead, but I’m of the concept sketch camp.

Anyway!

It started with thumbnails, which I unfortunately mostly forgot to save. (Go me.)

Here’s one:

ck5cfu2

I had to take into account Chris’s recommendations and visions.

In short: He wanted something spiky, dangerous in feel, maybe have some rings, look like it was compartmental and had obvious living quarters.

Hmm.

Alright, well at this point, I wasn’t happy with any of my thumbs (of which there were a lot). Everything looked.. boring to me.

The lack of muse was pretty present.

Usually I’ll resort to a few other methods of sparking an idea.

One of my favorite ways is combinations. Take part A and add to part B.

In this case, I wondered what I could do if I tried to make a ship look a bit like a dragon head.

7bahm22

Ah hah! A sketch!

g39z0rj

Refinement and details.

m7laeqs

At this point, I felt like the dragon style wasn’t subtle enough. I did away with some of the more pronouncing details.

ktvycy6

Color isn’t necessarily super important in model concepting, but to me, it really sets the mood.

You can see the living quarters in the rings. Overall, pretty happy with the shape.

Chris suggested maybe building in a rock or asteroid, make it look like it was built off that. Like taking and putting rockets on a asteroid or something. Haha. Might be an excellent idea really.

And finally:

7homvdw

Just because!

-Blue

Click here for the official forum post on the topic.

.

.

AI War II: Design Document First Unveiling Is Now!

This is only the beginning.  The first 36 pages of the AI War II design document are in place.  I’m sure that folks on the forums will have a lot of commentary already about this.  I’m going to be out over the weekend, just to warn you, but I wanted to leave this with you to peruse before I left.

The largest segment so far is detailing the technical advancements of the sequel (most of which are already in place).  It’s actually kind of insane to see how far things have come from where we left AI War “Classic” in 2014.  It was already quite long in the tooth by our standards then, being very rooted in a 2009-based code architecture that had been remodeled enough times that we couldn’t really go further with that.

earth

Squads

This document does start by going into the rationale behind ship squads, which are a change with major performance-boosting ramifications and that should be able to yield an increased feeling of giant space battles more along the lines of the pre-Unity battles in AI War Classic.  Feelings in this particular area may run a little strong since it is a pretty big shift (although familiar to many RTS games), so there’s a lot of math and explanations there to hopefully make it clear just how freaking awesome this change is and why you should be happy about it.

The TLDR is that it will make your game run more smoothly even while we are able to do more complex things.

Multi-Part, But Not Modular Ships

This is the first example of something that is being changed that will have an impact on a lot of units in the game.  Based on discussions with players on the forum, we should basically have the best of what modular ships offered before (the multi-part bit), but without the fiddly interface for customizing them during the game.

Of course, given the moddable nature of the new game, you can customize ships to your heart’s content anyway.  And there are space platforms that are a thing that have been designed but not yet written up, and those will also scratch that same itch…

Other Bits

There are a lot of other sections of the document that are just stubs for now, and they will be filled in next week.  First of all focusing on the largest structural changes, since those require the most discussion with players.  Then moving into smaller and smaller topics until we have a document that we feel is complete and correct.

Kickstarter

Depending on how long it takes us to reach that “complete and correct” status with the design document, and how long some of our prototypes for a few things in the new game take, we will be heading to kickstarter with this in 2-4 weeks.  The game already has a remarkably complete base in terms of the multithreading, the networking (minus transport layer), and so on.  The status of items are noted in the document above, and quite a lot of the trickiest things are already in the “complete” camp.

That said, there’s still a ton to do, so it’s not like the game is going to be rolling into early access tomorrow.  But the goal is for us to be able to show you the vision for what this is (visually and otherwise), concretely show you what is planned (design document), and give you an accurate timeline for completion (with appropriate buffer).

If you’re interested in hearing about the kickstarter when it goes live, you can always email us at arcengames at gmail dot com.

 

I’ll see you all Monday!

Chris

Click here for the official forum thread on this post.

.

.

Time for some straight talk: Release Raptor is being pulled and refunded.

First up: as promised, Alpha 16 is now out.  This includes fixes, improved and extended AI, a new robot, and a minimap.

AVeryDarkAlley

In A Nutshell, What’s Up?

I’m going to give all the customers of In Case of Emergency, Release Raptor a full refund and let them keep the game, then take the game off sale.  The game is selling extremely poorly, even below what happened with Starward Rogue.

Isn’t Part Of Early Access “Don’t Make A Game You Rely On EA Sales For?”

Yes, this is very true.  However, I stated upfront that our reason for doing EA with this game was partly as a market survey of sorts.  I felt like that would be a way of determining how big this game could get.  With Starward Rogue, and indeed some of our other past commercial failures, we put in everything and the kitchen sink and then there wasn’t a market there.

I never expected that one option even on the table with this one would be “actually don’t do it at all,” because the premise is incredibly exciting to me and seemed like something other people would also be very interested in.  But just from the concept alone, we have a lot of pushback from press; and despite some quite positive coverage from some reasonably biggish youtubers, that isn’t moving the needle at all.

We don’t need Release Raptor to be our sole source of income, or even our largest one.  However, if it’s going to be our largest expense it also has to vaguely earn its keep or at least show the promise that it will someday do so.  That’s what is missing here.

Cicadabots

Why Not Just Build Out A Stripped-Down Version 1.0 That Is Worth $5?

I honestly don’t think there’s any way that a lot of people wouldn’t be left grumbling at that.  I personally will also lose far more money trying to do that than I already am, and probably some of what little staff we have left would have to be released.  It’s just far, far too risky.  I’d rather be known for honorably pulling a game than slapping a 1.0 sticker on something — whether or not that experience is worth $5 or not, we both know the perception would be there.

So Are You Untrustworthy, Or What?

The immediate idea is probably to think “wow they delayed it a ton and then are possibly canceling it right after it comes into EA?”

My response to that is that this is exactly how you want a game company to comport itself.  I held back the game while I didn’t feel like there was enough there for other people to catch the vision I have for what it would turn into.  I’m not going to take anybody’s money and run; in fact, I’m going to eat a big fat loss out of it and you get a free game if you bought it.

You can certainly argue that I have overreached or have at least misjudged the market in several instances, but I’m not going to sell you a turd and call it ice cream.

1_MmSoda

Is Release Raptor A Bad Game?

I certainly don’t think so, in any form.  I play it, and it gives me a feeling of joy.  I just love going through and doing things with the raptor.  It has an elemental fun factor to it that myself and a number of other people have reacted well to.  I thought that it would be enough to provide this, and then the promise of more enemies and tactics and whatnot (sheesh that’s what we’re known for, people ought to have some faith in THAT bit if nothing else).

That said, people have different degrees of warm feelings toward the controls.  That doesn’t help.  People have different reactions to the environments.  Etc.

ConstructionSite

Was This Just Youtuber Bait?

No.  This is a project that I freaking love, and that is based around my favorite animal (velociraptors).  It’s something I very, very much wanted to see happen.

That said, I won’t deny that the idea of a game that appealed to a larger audience and more easily picked up video views was an attractive one.  I even considered calling this “Raptor Simulator,” to the dismay of my staff.

This was never intended to be like Goat Simulator (which I’ve never played, but my understanding is that it’s a silly bug-fest just centered around messing about and not doing anything).  I figured we might be able to pick up some of the Goat Simulator crowd since you CAN come in here and just mess about, but what I didn’t realize was that this would create a stigma that would lead people to then to think it’s more vapid than it is.

Which, launching with less content in terms of enemies and tactical situations than I would like, only reinforced that perception I suppose.  “There’s not enough to do” is probably the number one complaint, and I thought I had made that clear enough from the start.  And we’ve been managing daily updates with substantial new content, which I think is pretty darn impressive.

Then plan was to put out more content in a month than most other EA games put out in a year, and just keep on trucking with it.  We’ve done it before with other games, multiple times, and it’s something we were well geared-up to do this time, too.

BadNewsForFatherBrain

What Went Wrong?

I… am not entirely sure, honestly.  People’s perception of this was not matching up to what it was, partly.  Also I suppose I should have made more grandiose claims and been mysterious and vague instead of transparent and clear.  It’s way more exciting when you don’t know what’s going on and “it could be anything — it could be EVERYTHING!!”

I’m all for enthusiasm, but hype is not something I really like.  We had a lot of hype for A Valley Without Wind, and that burned the company and myself in some fairly profound ways.  So I’m really wary of hype; that was our one game that had it, and it was distinctly unpleasant.  Well, okay: I guess there’s also hype around Stars Beyond Reach at the moment, which is another project of ours that I refuse to release yet because I don’t think it’s good enough yet.

Ultimately I don’t think it can be blamed on any one thing.  I do know that in the past — going back to 2014 with the release of The Last Federation, and then everything before it — we made almost all of our sales via Steam and people finding our stuff on Steam.  We’d see a bump in sales for a few hours after a Kotaku piece or a Total Biscuit video, and literally no other website or youtuber made any bump that we could discern.

Being on the front page of Steam was the big thing.  We’ve had one title in the past that have reached the #6 top seller spot on Steam as a whole (IIRC it was The Last Federation), and multiple titles that have hit the top 10 sellers on Steam as a whole (even A Valley Without Wind).

It used to be super concerning if we weren’t in the top 20 bestsellers on Steam for at least a day or two, and when we dropped down into the 60s on overall game sales it was basically game over until the next discount promotion.  Discount promotions, even as recently as 2015, had more weight behind them, too.  The lack of gamification of recent seasonal sales has been bad for the small developers, in my opinion.

4_WeNeedNoMiniboss

Overall the market is more crowded now, and gaining visibility is harder.  We tried advertising this time, but we literally spent more money today on advertising than the game made.  Win!!  So this is some sort of New Market now, anyhow, with something approaching the App Store effect that we’ve seen on Apple devices.  I was incredibly paranoid that would happen going all the way back to 2009, and then I gradually got less worried about it, and now here we are.  How many indie developers do you know of who have made more than one or two games at this point?  That’s a bit scary to think about.

It’s not all doom and gloom in the market, obviously: in some ways, opportunities are larger now than they ever were.  And it’s certainly a better market now than in mid-2009 when I first started out with AI War.  So it’s certainly not all market forces, and I don’t mean to imply that.

At the end of the day, for whatever combination of reasons, this doesn’t seem to be the right game at the right time.  Might we pick this project back up in the future?  I’d like to think so.  As I said, this is a personal passion of mine (raptors), not some Goat Simulator knockoff to me.  But such is life.

TurretGallery

What Next, Then?

One of my core conclusions from this, despite how much I have tried to defy this my entire career as a game developer, is that folks pretty much just want strategy games from me/us.  This is not all I want to do!  I want to make games where you shoot things, and games where you’re a raptor, and all sorts of other things!  I have varied interests and tastes, and I don’t want to do one thing for the rest of my life.

That said, given the choice between leaving the industry and making strategy games, the choice there is freaking obvious.  I absolutely love making games, despite the many negative sides to it.  So that’s what we’ll do: we’ll make you another strategy game.

Lab Two Reactor

Specifically, we’ll go back to the game that is still our top seller, AI War: Fleet Command, and we’re going to do a proper updated sequel.  But at this point I can’t afford to do half a year or a year of development “on spec” to then find out if you’re interested or not.  So we’ll likely run a Kickstarter for this, as much as I’ve avoided Kickstarters and never wanted to do one.  And if that doesn’t work out in a way that feels financially safe, then there are some other options on the table, too.

At any rate, people have been clamoring for this for years: an AI War sequel with a better UI, better performance, better networking, better graphics, moddability, and so on.  We’re now in a position where we know how to do all those things, and goodness knows we know how to make AI War better than we know how to make anything else under the sun.  That’s our freaking bread and butter right there.

I suppose there will be some people who are thinking “yay, end of the stupid raptor game, and we get the AI War sequel that has been quietly talked about for a year or so now!”  And if that’s how you feel, fine.  But you were going to get that anyway, and I just wish that I also got to make this raptor game to go along with it.

TheNewAggressiveTurret

Be Wary Of Knee-Jerk Reactions

It’s very tempting for me to blame the state of the market, or whatever other external forces.  Really it was a combination of things.  So I have to be pretty careful of not giving in to negative emotions on my side.

On the other end, as an outside observer I hope that you also look at this for what it really is, and not the knee-jerk reaction that you might have.  I am the Anti-Sean (cough).  I will treat you fairly, communicate clearly and often, release frequent substantial updates (just look at our history), and try to over-deliver.  This is what you want.

In an ideal world nobody ever makes a mistake.  In the actual world, we have to think about how we want people to behave when mistakes inevitably do happen.  I am sorry this had to happen, though.  I wish it would magically change, but we’re well past that point I think.  I want to take a moment to thank everyone that did support the project, though — it really meant a heck of a lot to me.

Very Best,

Chris

ReleaseRaptorEarlyAccessTrailerImage

Click here for the official forum thread on this post.

.

.

August 22nd release and Arcen AMA.

First of all, I want to do a shout-out to the reddit AMA that we did yesterday.  We’re still answering questions in there some, even though the AMA is technically over.

I am going to be traveling this afternoon and over the weekend, so will be responding less (if at all) during that time.  However, I will try to get to any and all questions by sometime next week if more come in (at the time of this writing all of the questions have been answered, which I’m very pleased about).

Lab Two Tunnels

Another Delay

Okay, yep, another delay.   This time less than a week, though, and there’s solid reasoning to believe this will be the last one.  So what’s up this time, right?  Here’s the scoop, copy-pastad from the email I sent to staff (we’re all virtual, so no office):

Progress has been good, but not quite what it needs to be (mostly on my end).  Ultimately it comes down to me being too much a bottleneck for everyone else.

  • I had to take out a bunch of time to set up stuff for Cinth (setting up props), which has saved time but cost me some upfront.
  • I had to take out time for the same thing for Keith (helping out with programming procgen).
  • Blue (artist and level design) needed various things and I had to take time out to get those ready for her.
  • I spent pretty much all yesterday either writing dialogue or recording it with Ben McAuley (voiceover actor), partly so Craig (major help on audio editing and work) would have time to split it.

And all of this has delayed a lot of the work that I need to do in order to stop blocking Misery (major help on enemy design, and also coming up to do tactical room design) from doing his work, which is some of the most critical remaining stuff. But all the other stuff was (and is) also critical. It’s nobody’s fault at all (certainly not anyone but me if it was), but there’s just a lot of stuff and I have been too embedded in all the parts of it to let proper progress be made in all the areas that need it.

Factory Floor

The Positive Bits!

THAT said, the slowdowns have had some positive unexpected benefits.

  • Blue has been greatly expanding the variety of environments that we have, which should be a really good thing for us both in terms of screenshots, videos, and early replayability.  A lot of the cool environments you can see in screenshots in this post.
  • Cinth has been actively feeding in more components for her to use, which has been a huge help and feeds that ability to really have a variety of atmospheres in such a positive way.
  • Craig has had extra time to work on things like ambient sound effects, which add so much to the immersiveness. I’ve seen Jim commentate on such things in The Jimquisition, so that stuff does matter.
  • Keith has not only taken a bunch of load off me on the programming with the mapgen stuff, but he’s reworkng a lot of areas there so they are legitimately better under the hood and will help us give better and more correct results in terms of the levels created. But of course that takes time, too, so it works out kinda well I guess.
  • Misery has been coming up with a crazy amount of enemy ideas (and Craig added some too), and the number of ideas there has really let me put things together into some enemies that have graphics assignments figured out as well as voicework designed, etc, so that we can have a variety of grouped variants with each visual and audio consistent enemy. That’s been absolutely killer of a help. Ben even remarked at one point “How do you guys come up with this stuff!?” and “You sure aren’t making this easy on the player, are you?” at another. ;) Those two things ought to be the motto for Arcen in general, I feel like, haha.

Lab Two Reactor

Summing It Up

So there’s been a pretty darn big silver lining with all this, in that nobody has just been sitting around waiting for me, which has been my goal. It’s why I’ve done things in the order I have, even though in some respects that has been to the detriment of overall timing I have to say.

If I’d chosen a different path through some of this, we might have been able to hit the deadline, but we’d have had a bunch of idle periods where I was completely blocking someone for a week or more, etc. This sets us up for more success at launch and immediately following launch.

Lab Two Intermediate Office

So overall, even though I’m not happy about the delay, I am pleased with what we gain in exchange for this particular delay.

On a more personal front, I’ve been struggling with a variety of things on my end that have also started to intrude into work over this past weekend and into this week. We’ve been sick, my six year old son has had some issues that we’re trying to help out with, some things with extended family have come up, and so on. So, yeah. From those things, I don’t think I’d be in mental shape for a release next week even if we could barely squeeze it in. I hate yet another delay, but such is life. At least have potato.

Dark Cafeteria

What About ProcGen And Updated Pre-EA Demos?

That’s the other thing that we want to be able to show off a LOT prior to launch on the 22nd.  We should start rolling those out on the 17th (when we originally would have launched), and then will be packing in more enemies, rooms, and tactical setups throughout the week and weekend after that.

Talk to you soon!

Chris

Industiral Tunnel

Lab One

Click here for the official forum thread on this post.

.

.

Volumetric Lights And Custom Frustrum Culling

What!?  Shouldn’t this post be about procedural generation or new robots? ;)  That stuff is coming, don’t worry.  As you can see in the release notes, a lot of work has been done on that.  But in the meantime I did want to do a release with a few other things in it.

HolySmokesDeepFog

Volumetric Lighting

First up, we’re now using the brand-spanking-new Hx Volumetric Lighting component from Hitbox Team, the folks behind Dustforce and the upcoming Spire.  I figure I owe them some shout-outs there, because their work on the volumetric lighting is so freaking fantastic.

It has a moderate impact on framerate, depending on your graphics card.  For a lot of lower-end cards you’ll need to turn it off.  But for folks running on middle-high or high-end rigs, this is something that really takes the game to the next level visually.

This is something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time, to give more of a sense of atmosphere to the game.  However, short of particle effects that can look iffy, and a few light-specific options that usually have iffy performance, there’s been no good way to do that until now.

IndustrialDemo

Anyway, so, that’s neat.  That will make for some nice differences in the next round of videos, so I’m pleased to get that in now.

Obviously this is an effect that is not to be used on every last freaking light in the game — sometimes it’s really nice to have crystal clear areas that just pop with sharpness.  Other times you want a slight bit of softness, and other times you want something that’s super foggy.  The point isn’t that we’re switching over to deep fog all over the place, but that we now have a greater depth of mood effects we can go for.

The screenshots in this post are really leaning on higher-volumetric views, though, since that’s what is new; the non-volumetric views don’t look any different.  Oh!  And if you hate it, you can always turn it completely off.  So, as with all things, tune to taste.

VerySlightVolumetricApartment

Custom Frustrum Culling

Occlusion culling is a complicated subject, particularly in games that are partly or completely procedurally-generated.  What it means is not rendering things that the camera can’t see.  The biggest problem is knowing what is behind other opaque stuff and thus invisible.

Unity has some built-in support, but only for static levels, not procedurally-generated ones.  I created my own occlusion culling system that works on procedurally-generated levels, but the levels have to be designed with the occlusion system in mind or else it doesn’t work to full effect.

However, there’s also a middle-tier of object culling that is based around the “view frustrum.”  Aka, the view out of your camera based on where it is pointed right now and what your FOV is, etc.  Put another way, it’s to avoid drawing things that are either offscreen to your side or behind you.

ThatHallAgain

Unity has a built-in way of handling this, too, and I had — until now — not bothered to create my own.  I’m not in the habit of trying to reinvent the wheel for no reason.  However, I found that unity’s solution has some really strange issues with false-negatives when the camera gets close to a wall.  Basically it would stop drawing certain objects that were straight in front of me once my camera got a bit close to the wall behind it.

Imagine having your head leaning back against a wall, and the wall on the other side of the room in front of you mysteriously disappears.  Um… no thanks on that.

Apparently with any of Unity’s occlusion culling on at all, it was trying to do a mixture of occlusion culling (what is behind something else should not draw) and frustrum culling (what is out of my view should not draw).  And when I got really close to a wall with the camera, it decided “oh hey, you must be on the other side of that wall.”

HolySmokesDeepFog2

I’ve known about this for well over a month, and I figured that the solution was to get the camera to stay a bit further from the walls.  Turns out… nope!  That doesn’t work in any way that I can figure out.  I thought that it perhaps was related to concave mesh colliders, but nope there too!  I was really surprised, because I thought for sure that was the one.

I had turned off unity’s occlusion culling a few weeks ago because of the graphical errors it was introducing, but then performance took a big hit and so I turned it back on.  Now the graphical errors were getting on my nerves increasingly, so I decided to once again disable their system, and this time come up with my own frustrum culling system.

So I did.  It works!  No false negatives.  It seems to have a very similar performance profile to what unity’s system did, but minus the errors.  Knock on wood that’s what others also experience with it!

Cheers!
Chris

Click here for the official forum thread on this post.

.

.