The Very High Seas: AI War: Fleet Command

By Kieron Gillen on August 17th, 2009 at 2:56 pm.

DISCO!

This has been on my list of things to look at for a while, but it’s been promoted due to Tom Chick’s rave about it in his latest Rush, Boom Turtle Column for Crispy Gamer where he argues that if you go past its surface lack of charisma you’ve got a genuinely new approach to the modern RTS. What is it? “For lack of a subgenre as convenient shorthand to explain what it does, let me give you this: AI War is a grand strategic tower defense 4X RTS,” claims Chick, “How’s that for a mouthful?”.

A mouthful indeed. I download the demo to suck and see.

It’s quite the demo. While it claims to only offer an hour of the campaign – it’s a longform RTS with a “proper” game lasting 10-12 on a reasonably hefty map, though apparently only four or so on a smaller one – it includes the intermediate campaign, where on a pre-made map – rather than one of the randomly generated one – it leads you through a campaign suggesting tactics. I’ve put a couple of hours into it, with no end in sight. Giving away the tutorial is pretty traditional – but when the tutorial is as hefty as AI War’s, it’s a welcome sight.

DISCO!

It’s an RTS played on the strategic scale – It’s a thousands and thousands of units thing – which, despite featuring multiplayer, is solely co-operative against the eponymous AI. To quote Chick:

“Your goal is to find the two AI home planets on a randomized tangle of planets. Then you must conquer the two planets. However, both of your opponents get regularly scheduled waves of reinforcements, some of which will warp into your systems and attack you. This is where the tower defense element comes in. You will routinely be attacked in AI War, no matter what. You cannot win if you don’t build defenses. While magically appearing attackers might sound cheap in another RTS, the beauty of AI War is that you indirectly control the rate and strength of the attacks. They depend almost entirely on how aggressively you’ve expanded into the galaxy.”

In other words, the harder you push, the harder the AI pushes back – so the decision of how hard you want to push is a primary strategic concern. It’s a game which maximises these hard, artificial limits, and asks you to work within them. So, for example, rather than a limit on the total number of units, you have a limit on each unit type. So you’re only going to have 100 Bomber I at once… though if you research Bomber II, you can have 100 of them. While there’s the expected strategic interplay between different unit types – including unit types which the AI has which you may not (which seem to be part of the random generation, therefore working out What Your Foe’s Like is a key part of the game.

(They’re actually pretty proud of their AI, as explained here.)

DIS... actually, this is a Space War.

On the offence, Chick’s phrase – “Surgical Blitzkreig” seems key. On the defence… well, it’s choosing what and where and *how* to defend is key (The defensive units are also limited, so you can’t rely on just a standard tactic. If you have a certain amount of – say – tractor-beams, how are you going to divide them?). It also strikes me – though this is theory, as I haven’t played the full game – that that firm limit obviously leads to increasingly hard decisions on the larger maps.

Problems? The aforementioned lack of charisma is pretty striking. Presentation wise, it’s got precisely one card in its hand – the scale of the battles. Otherwise, as its anti-glamour title may imply, there’s close to no effort in giving it any personality . Compare and contrast how the equally mechanic-driven Armageddon Empires managed to elevate itself via embracing its theme. Its relying on a wiki for its documentation is a little iffy. And, most of all, the laser sound effects were beginning to make me feel like my girlfriend feels when I play Space Giraffe. I came close to shouting at myself to turn this racket down.

It’s a Sins of the Solar Empire meets Supreme Commander meets Simply Nothing Else, and I think a lot of you will find this very intriguing. The site’s here, the demo’s here and here’s the trailer’s…

AI War: Fleet Command Trailer 2 from Christopher M. Park on Vimeo.

..Just above here.

Actually, its warp-effects when an enormous fleet accelerates and spreads into another map is really nifty. So that’s something.

__________________

« | »

, , , , .

51 Comments »

  1. the affront says:

    “…and I think a lot of you will find this very intriguing.”

    Hell yes. Downloading.

  2. CMaster says:

    I just hope it doesn’t have the problem that Sins does – the winner is obvious between an hour and 3-4 into the play. But you normally have just as long again until somebody wins.

  3. Kieron Gillen says:

    CMaster: As far as I can work out, the AI level is about that. As in, the better you do, the more it amps up. It’s an asymmetrical game – more than mere asymetry, really, because it’s more like using the antagonist as *terrain* to be explored and conquered.

    KG

  4. mujadaddy says:

    It’s kinda tough to tell what’s actually going on… Demo, though, = good idea. Going to d/l when I get home…

  5. Heliocentric says:

    Tom Chick is a lovely, wonderful man. Even if i’m not sure i actually want to play this game i am sure he is right. This game is probably lovely, also wonderful.

  6. Heliocentric says:

    I am not saying anything you don’t know. But i’ve recently been exploring and conquering an antagonist of mine.

    Oh yes.

  7. Hypocee says:

    Way-hey, a post about AI Wars! Here’s the blurb I sent to RPS.KG a week ago:

    All of this Tower Defence-meets-RTS (I have a lot of buying to do in the next month!) sent me on a side trip, where I found AI Wars: Fleet Command. There are good reviews and a demo available, so I don’t need help deciding on a purchase, but Chris Park seems like the kind of guy RPS might enjoy publicising:
    The kind of guy who develops and releases a financially successful SoaSE/Gratuitous Space Battles RTS out of a SQL database in seven months by twisting its design to match his expertise in datamining and resource planning.
    The kind of guy who writes his AI around emergence in a query language so he can radically alter its behaviour without worrying about bugs.
    The kind of guy who makes free weekly patches and updates to his little indie RTS.
    The kind of guy who works to give UK customers a fair price.
    And the kind of guy who seems to have a definite reason, expressible in words, for every thing he decides.

    http://christophermpark.blogspot.com/
    http://arcengames.com/aiwar_buy.php

  8. PleasingFungus says:

    Downloaded the demo when it showed up in the Sunday Papers. Seems… interesting, but I’m not sure it’s entirely my thing.

    Will have to fiddle around a bit more.

  9. Sagan says:

    Tom Chick is an interesting man. I usually find the games he writes about fascinating, but I have no interest in actually playing them.

  10. Mike says:

    Interesting. The AI stuff seems a bit… I mean, it says that rule-based systems have problems, but this seems rule-based too at the lowest level, it just has some niceties piled on top of it. But it sounds great, I mean the scale we’re talking about sounds just fantastic.

    Worried I might be terrible at it, but let’s see.

  11. EyeMessiah says:

    Oh Tom Chick. /swoons

    Its not gay to love Tom Chick if you are a man because his surname is Chick ffs.

  12. Hypocee says:

    Yeah, of course everything in a computer is rule-based. Fundamentally, his differences are that A. the rules include an unusual amount of die rolls, and B. they don’t go ‘up’ ‘high’ enough in the traditional decision tree to be exploitable. Everything percolates up, basically, from the tension between thousands and thousands of ships saying ‘I’m most angry at that and want to kill it’ and ‘sticking together is a good idea’.

  13. Vinraith says:

    Ah the beauty of a game that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about adversarial multiplayer. Sounds awesome, I’ll give it a download.

  14. Rich says:

    Hate the fact that it’s one of those ‘download the installer, installer downloads three other installer, those download content and install’-installers.

  15. Hypocee says:

    Oh, I forgot to mention – it also has the scrambled tech tree from Sword of the Stars, which I consider just about the best thing to happen to 4X in years.

  16. Wacky says:

    I downloaded it and it’s sitting pretty on my desktop,but i’m afraid of installing it,i keep thinking “Nah i don’t wanna prove to myself how much i suck at this type of game”.

  17. OJ287 says:

    The trailer didnt grab me. It looks like a microbiological RTS in space.

  18. Pace says:

    Also of note, it’s $20 to buy the full version.
    And if anyone finds themselves occasionally noticing the background music, thinking, ‘I’ve heard that melody somewhere’, but can’t remember where? “Wild World” is the song you’re looking for.

    The game seems really fun to me so far, definitely worth a look.

  19. Inigo says:

    Is this a different game to Gratuitous Space Battles or did it just have a name change?

  20. Chris Park says:

    Hey there, I’m actually the developer of the game. The music is all original, actually — I’m not sure if ‘Wild World’ was an influence on our composer or not, but I doubt it was — I think it’s a coincidence.

    Glad a lot of you are enjoying it, and that it seems worth a look to so many. We have no relation to Gratuitous Space Battles, or the older free AI Wars (an unfortunate oversight on my part that there was a preexisting game with such a similar name).

  21. h4plo says:

    Installing now, but .. they seem to want me to install a rather large quantity of weird stuff for a demo. Wtf.

  22. Wolfox says:

    It’s completely different from GSB; though both games are essentialy 2D and in space, that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

  23. Vinraith says:

    @Inigo

    GSB is much prettier than this, and the gameplay’s completely different. I’ve always been of the opinion that a good strategy game needn’t be pretty, though, so I have high hopes for this (AND for GSB, which I’ll preorder if Cliffski will ever let me!)

  24. Ginger Yellow says:

    “The trailer didnt grab me. It looks like a microbiological RTS in space.”

    And this is bad why, exactly?

  25. Mad Doc MacRae says:

    What’s with all the junk it had me install before I could actually play it? And why did the installer try to set itself up to run on startup?

  26. Pace says:

    Chris; heh, yeah I didn’t mean to imply it wasn’t original, it was just 3 or 4 notes that were the same as that other song and every time I heard them it made me forget about the game and go ‘what was that?!?’. (though that may just be me.)

    I’m quite impressed so far, it seems like a more interesting version of Sins of a Solar Empire, though not quite as pretty.

  27. Chris Park says:

    Here’s a new Fast Facts About AI War guide that should help new players get a quick idea of what is different about this game, and how to function if they skip the tutorials.

  28. Chris Park says:

    “What’s with all the junk it had me install before I could actually play it?”

    This game requires 1) DirectX; 2) SlimDX; 3) Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 SP1; and 4) the installer is MSI-based and thus requires a recent Windows Installer version. The first is obvious, but the second one is a .NET-based wrapper for DirectX. .NET-based applications cannot run without some sort of wrapper like this, and SlimDX is regarded as a very good one though it is not common in games yet. The .NET Framework and Windows Installer versions are standard fare that many people already have from regular Windows Updates anyway, but if you do not then those are downloaded and installed by the installer.

    “And why did the installer try to set itself up to run on startup?”

    I have no idea why it would do that — possibly if the .NET Framework SP1 required a reboot, it would temporarily set itself to do that? I’m the developer of the game, but I did not add anything like that in. It sounds like a “resume installation” feature common in many installer packages, and I guess that’s part of Advanced Installer, the installation tool we use.

    I’m a C# programmer, what can I say, and that extra stuff is needed to run C# DirectX programs. That’s all.

    @Pace: I gotcha, no worries. :) Glad you’re enjoying it! I think comparisons to Sins are inevitable — I get that a lot — but Sins was not really an inspiration for this game. AoEIII, SupCom, CivIV, Chess, and the original Empire Earth were the big inspirations, with a dash of Rise of Nations/Legends. Basically all the recentish RTS games that I really loved had some influence that you may be able to see. Anyway, glad you like it!

  29. Kieron Gillen says:

    Chris: It required a reboot when I installed it, so I suspect it’s that.

    KG

  30. Mad Doc MacRae says:

    I actually only had to install the slimdx thing. My security software blocked the startup thing.

    :shrug: Came off as unnecessarily dickish, for which I apologize.

  31. Chris Park says:

    @Kieron: That would make sense, then. Sometimes .NET 3.5 requires a reboot, and I’m pretty sure that sometimes it does not. Kind of annoying, but what can you do. I think it depends on what system dlls are currently in use, and possibly also whether you are on Vista or XP. But I can’t remember off the top of my head, a lot of people already have that version of .NET installed and so that might just be the ones who don’t need to reboot.

    @Mad Doc: No worries. :)

  32. noah says:

    dled the demo, bought the game. much much fun.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_zGJXpsCiI

    this video (and all the others by this user, I think he is the dev?) really help to explain the basics.

  33. Jarmo says:

    Chris, I can confirm that I did not need a reboot after installation of AI War: Fleet Command. I run Vista and already had .NET installed. The only prerequisites that were loaded for me were the SlimDX wrapper and a MSI installer update (if I remember the latter correctly).

  34. Chris Park says:

    Thanks, Jarmo. I know that the .NET Framework is definitely the only component that sometimes requires a reboot. I’m just not sure if that component always requires one, or only sometimes. But thanks for helping to clarify — yes, the only reason for ever having a reboot with this game’s installer would be the .NET Framework itself, which is a pretty core part of windows by this point (hence the potential need for that reboot, versus regular software).

  35. arqueturus says:

    Hi Chris I’m dropping this here as I can’t access your actual software homepage at work :)

    I’ve dabbled slightly in your demo so far, only through the first 2 tutorials. My main criticisms are the ones you yourself have mentioned in your Reviewing a Bad Review blog about lack of ‘style’ and I totally get your point about it not being the most important thing at this early stage in companbut one thing I’m really struggling with is the font – are there any ways to make it slightly larger at all? Or more visible (bolder or whatever) at least?

    Also, what games inspired you to make this one and why do you make of Cliffski’s GSB?

  36. Ginger Yellow says:

    OK, stupid noob question for the hivemind: in one of the tutorials, it tells you to go into the galaxy map and look at the intelligence your scouts have discovered. How do you do that (the intelligence part, not the galaxy map)?

  37. Pace says:

    Ginger; when you hover the cursor over the planet in the map mode it tells you all the enemy ships and building there. (which you need to scout to get.) I’m pretty sure that’s what it meant.

    arqueturus; he lists inspirations for the game a couple posts up.

  38. Pace says:

    And as for the reboot issue, I also had to reboot for the .NET stuff. Honestly if I hadn’t gotten a recommendation for the game from a site a know and trust like RPS I may have just given up on the game right there and then, good explanation or no.

    Just sayin’.

  39. Chris Park says:

    @arqueturus: Hey there, thanks for the note. No worries about the work thing. :) We’re definitely working on the graphical style, we’ve only had an actual artist on staff for a couple of weeks now, but he’s doing awesome work and the game already looks way better than it did. So hopefully those complaints will be alleviated within the next few months as we continually scrap out the older, cruddier stuff and replace it with shiny new, haha.

    Regarding the font size, you can adjust that in the game settings screen — you can make it quite giant if you want. The game uses the resolution of your desktop, so if you can see normal text on your desktop usually there is no problem seeing text in the game, but some people set a higher desktop resolution and then upsize the font sizes in windows. If that’s what you’ve got, then you’d also need to upsize the text in the game itself. It won’t upsize quite everything, but it will do enough that most reading should be quite comfortable in the game — let me know if you find areas that are not, and I’ll see what I can do. A few other players had been in a similar situation a while back, and so I made the font size adjustment for them and that seemed to do the trick.

    @Ginger: To quote the tutorial, “Hover over both your planet and the enemy planet to see the Intel Summary for each.” It shows a popup window with intel summaries whenever you hover over a blank (blank or out of date in the case of not having scouted at all or recently). Hope that helps!

  40. Chris Park says:

    @Pace: Well, that’s disappointing, especially because I’m sure plenty of people would feel the same. I can’t control the fact that MS makes people reboot when core(ish) new parts of the OS are installed. I don’t know why they didn’t push that down as an automatic, rather than an optional, update through windows update, either — that’s kind of frustrating for me. I can’t change the kind of programmer I am, though; I’d still be coding the original version if I did this in C++, too, I think. C# is a lot more productive, and I know it extremely well and prefer it over most other languages. I also know ActionScript, and Flash is very interesting in many respects, but it doesn’t have the sort of power I’d need for most games I would make.

    So it’s kind of a tough spot for me. If I lose customers over it, I guess I lose customers over it, but there wouldn’t be a product at all without the .NET Framework. Not that I’m trying to be flippant about it, but the reality is that I just can’t do a single thing about it so it’s sort of a nonevent from an economic-thinking standpoint. But, of course, thanks for letting me know how you feel!

  41. Pace says:

    Chris; I guess it’s more than just the fact that I have to reboot my computer, it’s more the whole process of downloading and installing other stuff that I may not recognize. That usually sets of warning lights in my head, especially when it’s from a company I’m not familiar with. It’s not that big a deal, but if it’s a demo I’m just trying out on a whim it may be enough to make me think twice.
    Of course hearing your explanation sets me at ease. Maybe if you think people are being turned off by it you could give a bit more explanation during the installation? I don’t know, just thinkin’.

  42. Chris Park says:

    @Pace: Oh, I completely understand. It’s a really good idea about the prerequisites explanation, but unfortunately that is handled in the executable “shim” that contains the MSI file, and Advanced Installer won’t let me adjust any dialogs there (grumble). That definitely would have been the ideal solution to this problem, but the only messages I can put in there would come after the prerequisites screens, when it is actually running the MSI package.

    On the bright side, I guess, most people hear about the game through a trusted source — be it CNET, Impulse, GamersGate (to a degree), or some site that is giving it coverage like RPS, CrispyGamer, Co-Optimus, etc. I get comparably few “walk ins” from the Internet. Frankly I wish that installers and related were simpler in general, but alas.

  43. Pace says:

    Cheers, thanks for taking the time. And good luck!

  44. Chris Park says:

    My pleasure. And thanks!

  45. the affront says:

    You’re 20 bucks richer now, Chris, less however greedy the folks at Stardock are. Nice game.

    BTW, I needed to reboot just because of the new Windows installer version – had everything but that and SlimDX already.
    Also, the installation via Impulse is really a clusterfuck… downloading dotnetfx35setup.exe, then running it silently, and it then downloading everything it needs AGAIN silently (about 50-100mb or so… even though actually it didn’t need to since I had already installed everything some hours before…) – was sitting here wondering WTF was taking so long because my bandwidth was otherwise in use until I had a look at process explorer and my firewall, since Impulse shows nothing but “installing” for the whole time.

    Could really be a little more informative, the whole thing. It would have taken hours if I hadn’t noticed that it tried to download stuff after the download in Impulse itself was already finished.

  46. Chris Park says:

    @affront: Thanks for your support! Glad you like it. I’ll have to talk to the folks at Impulse about that, I don’t have anything to do with the way they handle distribution on their platform. But I’ll pass your notes along to them and see what they say. Thanks!

  47. Chris Park says:

    @affront: Here’s the response from Stardock:

    “This is currently normal behavior. Impulse has no way of knowing if a user has the proper versions of .Net, DirectX, etc. already installed, so we force them to do so during a game’s install time. Future versions of the Impulse client are planned to only do this once for certain runtimes (such as DirectX and C++) and then only update as needed, plus be more verbose on non-standard ones. What this customer described is no different than if he’d installed any game from a disc, etc. – the installer still would have fired off various runtimes.”

    Stardock is really awesome, but I know they also have a lot more planned for future versions of their Impulse store. So I imagine that will help to make the initial install experience even better with them.

  48. the affront says:

    Yeah, I somehow figured that Impulse couldn’t do it better at the moment, but they seemed to think, judging by their response, that I criticized their installer “firing off various runtimes”, which is inevitable these days, when instead I wanted to criticize its doing so silently – because it would have been different had I installed from a disc, obviously, what with not having to download anything and most probably having a progress bar and all – or just if the dotnet setup wouldn’t run silently in the first place.
    Might be better to just beef it up to download the whole dotnetfx35 redist shebang at 200mb for the time being so you can actually see that Impulse is downloading something instead of it then silently subsisting on scraps of 20kb/s of your remaining bandwidth because you don’t notice that it needs any in the first place, and the whole deal taking an hour – but then I have no idea how their customer demographic looks in the bandwidth department, so that could even be worse for some… eh, whatever.

    Anyway, appreciate the responses – and it’s not even nearly a big deal in the end, guess I’m just criticizing for criticism’s sake now, so I’ll stop :P.

  49. DK says:

    I can’t believe noone mentioned the fact that the sprites for stuff are straight out of Tyrian.

  50. DK says:

    Addendum – I consider the above to be a good thing. It’s like commanding the evil fleet of badguys in a scrolling shooter instead of the lone hero-ship.

Comment on this story

XHTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>