Officially Unintelligent: AI War Versus RPS Part 1

By Kieron Gillen on August 28th, 2009 at 6:02 pm.

When I blogged about AI War’s demo, an idea struck me. It’s eight players co-op mass-scale space-RTS against apparently only of the most vicious AIs yet seen in gaming. Could we get enough people together to have an eight player game? No, we couldn’t. Seven? No. Six? No. Five? No. Four? No. Two? No. One? No. But three? We totally managed a three-player game. So Quintin, Alec and myself gathered one afternoon to start a battle for the future of humanity against an unrelenting evil AI. Nothing would ever be the same again, except for all the things that were totally unchanged.

The game is longform. You’re looking at over ten hours for any of the game’s suggested numbers of planets. Being a little bit scaredy, we thought we’d try a smaller one to get the hang of it. Fifteen planets? That sounds about right. The aim of the game… well, there’s two AI home-planets out there in the solar system. You have to locate and destroy both of them. The problem being, doing exactly that. It makes no pretense of being an symmetrical game, with the AIs acting more as hostile terrain. Push too hard, and it pushes back. Destroying almost any of its structures gets it increasingly angry, amping up its technology and similar. The trick is balancing the few. Well, the trick is many things, many of them we don’t know. I’m the most experienced, having played all the tutorials (across five bloody hours). Quinns sits between, having played a little of the intermediate tutorial. Alec played the basic tutorials and decided that was enough for him.

We select a 15 planet solar system – to keep it tight – and set the AI to level 7 – which is basically the AI playing as well as it does, but with no artificial cheats. We fully expect it to steamroller us, especially because it takes about fifteen minutes to work out how to pick planets. Anyway, this is our solar system…

It’s actually after about a half hour of play, because we’ve done a little conquering. All three of our zones are in the top right. Could we have picked more? Maybe we could have. You may note we’ve all hid in a small area so we an all help each other (i.e. help Quinns). Is this a sound tactical move? We don’t know either. There is much we don’t know.

In our first three hours, we’ve discovered many useful tactics. Like how if you hold down one key, all the paths in the game appear which makes everything jolly pretty.

More practical tactics? Well, tricky. We tentatively amp up for the first attack on the solar system which we all can see. It takes some time. Quintin has selected a starting planet with not nearly enough metal on it, and spends all his time desperately trying to scavenge it. It doesn’t help that he decides the way forward is to construct enormous starships rather than the mass of Bombers which catches Alec’s fancy. He trips over a minor problem that building time is actually separate from the resource requisition. The build timer, rather than sapping resources as it builds, only takes it when the timer is complete. So if you don’t have the fifteen-trillion bits of iron when a battleship is ready to build, it won’t roll out. A delay in realising it leaves Quinns home system pretty undefended when a wave of attackers come in. Forces are mobilised to help protect him. Everyone ignores the Astrotrains.

Ah. The Astrotrains. Initially greeted with a yelp from Alec thinking it a reference to the splendid Transformers triple changers, these are nearly indestructible AI creatures which wander around, hurting anything on its routes. Not a lot, but they’re pretty much indestructible. At least to us. We spend a lot of time ignoring them.

Meanwhile, I’m off having a little explore of nearby places, while making my own Blunder – being making a couple of factories, then forgetting to tell one to make any bloody thing. Still, both Alec and I are starting to build our specialist crafts. Depending on where you start, you get your own unit. Alec has a ridiculous fast cloaked ship with autocannons – whose main use is to outrun the rest of the fleet and get slaughtered, at least until knowledge of the “everyone go at same speed” button deseminates throughout our party. I have raiders, who ignore the tractor beams around jump-gates, making them ideal for – well – raiding. Quintin can make space-tanks, except he hasn’t got enough iron, so doesn’t make space tanks.

Anyway, secured, we attack. We win! A completely minor solar-system pacified.

This is the point things go wrong. Winning victories trigger attack waves, which prove to come for Quinns. Every scrambles to defend it. Alec – who got the new solar system – joins in. Quinns home system is covered in random ships we have to hunt down. Meanwhile, due to running off before all the resistance was wiped out, Alec’s new system becomes infested with aliens. Massive numbers built up in a special-forces base, and then are unleashed in a disturbing pink wave. Everyone pulls together to tidy up. Quinns finally finishes a space-crusier. We look for new targets.

Now, we vaguely get the idea we don’t want to conquer randomly – it’ll only make the AI angry. But we’re not really sure which way we’re meant to be going. I’ve got ideas about scouting, but everyone’s a bit kill crazy, and Quintin really does want some more iron. I suspect nothing productive is going to happen until we all get a second solar system each. At which point, we start eyeing up the next target. It’s… well, some planets are level 1. This is a level 3. We figure we can give it a shot. All the forces pile in. Alec has customised his team by researching a lot of Bomber tech. I’ve gone for fighters and raiders. Abstractly, there’s a synergy here, with Alec and I working together to protect one another. In practice, our co-ordination and priotisation differ so much that, by the end, I’ve bought a load of bombers myself just to double up. If we were good, we could have been bloody deadly.

(Actually, the research does lead to one actually useful tip. The game works on a basis where there’s a limited amount of research a player can get from each solar system. When they’ve gained it, there’s no more. However, Qunns discovered that there’s this amount of research for each player, so you can cart all your science ships between all the friendly planets, getting your brain-trust thinking on each. Yay! This doesn’t stop Kieron warning anyone from buying new tech, as he’s convinced it makes the AI angry. The AI level doesn’t move at all when it does so, however. Kieron thinks he may be wrong. Or maybe he isn’t.)

The attack on the level 3 system is somewhat inellegant. It’s actually defended by an enormous laser cannon, which fires every few seconds, insta-killing. Abstractly, we can capture it. In practice, it can annihilate us. As such, we move en masse to fuck ‘em up. It dead, Quinns makes a beachhead, Alec defends it and I make my way around all the alien bases in the system, annihilating each. Soon, only one remains.

It’s guarded by a forcefield. A level 3 forcefield. This… well, I know you need bombers for the task. We have bombers. The problem is that there’s several dozen high level enemy craft beneath it. I’m not sure how they got so many. I suspect, every time I killed an enemy defence base, they got reinforcements. So I really should have gone for it first. As it is, it’s a tough-nut to crack. But with all three of us closing in and a couple of hundred bombers diving in, we figure we’ll be fine.

We’re not. The back and forth cries of “we’re going to do it!” from Quinns analysing by how much the shield is visually shrinking and me going “We’re bloody not” because he’s looking at how many hit points he’s got left goes on for the entire length of the attack. Getting it 60% down, with a fraction of our attack squads remaining, we figure it’s time for a runaway-runaway.

We’re left with a dilemma. Can we just ignore this base, press on to other place and leave forces to attack anyone who comes out of it to harry our lines? Can we work out a way to crack it which actually leaves an army worth having afterwards? And can Quinns actually get any Iron? All will be answered in the future. Yes.

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76 Comments »

  1. Chris Park says:

    @Archonsod: That would be an interesting challenge, to be sure. I don’t know that anyone has done that, but I do know some people have managed to keep it very low by just taking a few planets and then being a nomad raider in essence, striking datacenters everywhere they go. That’s a difficult strategy in many ways, but it keeps the offensive waves against you lower. There’s definitely a lot of options there!

  2. Quitch says:

    Heh, that’s my way of playing but I’m not sure I could keep that up now the AI reinforces wormholes based on the player’s location.

  3. Yargh says:

    Yup, that’s been my initial instinctive play style too: minimize my impact on the AI’s worlds when possible so I can totally surprise them when my massive Blob Fleet turns up unnannounced at his homeworlds… I’m about to do just that and the AI’s level is around 200 on a 40 planet map.

    There is one problem with this though: AI worlds neighbouring any you have constructions or visible ships in will continually reinforce, and when they have enough ships for defence will send the overflow to attack you even if you have left only one warp gate next to one of your worlds. It may be worth while clearing a perimeter around your territory in order to avoid nasty unnannounced invasions.

  4. shiggz says:

    I really like this style of group playtime commentary. Its a lot better then usual subjective comments. Just tell me what things happened i can decide if its a problem that i would enjoy dealing with or find to frustrating to bother playing.

  5. bill says:

    “It makes no presence of being an symetrical game”

    pretence? symmetrical? ;-p

  6. Vinraith says:

    OK, purchased a key direct from Arcen’s website. This is one of those games I cimply have to support. A strategy game where the priorities are single player and small group co-op, excellent and challenging AI, and high replayability is pretty much the perfect game IMO. Keep developing to those priorities, Mr. Park, and you’ll get my money every time.

  7. sinister agent says:

    Coincidentally enough, I bought this the other day. I had trouble running it though, so haven’t played it yet. Will have another go when I can be bothered, and am not being dragged off to watch tv. Good write up though, I look forward to more, gents.

  8. Mr Popov says:

    Gamersgate is running a sale on this right now. 13.95 USD.

    http://www.gamersgate.com/DD-AIWAR/ai-war-fleet-command

    I hope that link shows up correctly

  9. Chris Park says:

    @Vinraith: Thanks for your support! I definitely don’t plan to change my style of development and focus, though I do plan to explore a lot of other genres (while also extending AI War over the long haul with a series of larger paid expansions and free DLC).

  10. Vinraith says:

    @Chris Park

    You’re entirely welcome. Explore all the genres you like, I’m just pleased to see a developer that values a good challenge in SP/co-op. Far too many seem to think SP is a “training mode” for an adversarial MP mode that half their customers will never even play.

    Regardless, I look forward to your continued support of AI War, and will keep a close eye on your future games. :)

  11. sebmojo says:

    More congratulations from me, Chris – I just played the tutorial (currently a few planets into the intermediate combat trial). Great fun – very SoaSE, but in a very good way.

    Also, props on what seems to be a very helpful and friendly community on your forums. I suspect you’ve put a lot of effort into it, and it shows.

    One criticism is the slightly involved installation process – the ’1-click’ industry norm is so widespread that it might be costing you a few sales having the multistage reboot needed arrangement (though I know it’s not that simple to change).

  12. Torgen says:

    downloading to my lappy now to see if the Intel graphics can run it at all.

    When’s part 2 of the article, Kieron? :)

  13. Kieron Gillen says:

    God knows. I imagine some point after Alec gets back from camping.

    KG

  14. PJ says:

    well first impressions are not good on my part. I just do not like the presentation at all. It suffers from some old-school rts flaws in that units stack up and bump into each other while they try to get in range of their targets.

    Graphics and aesthetics is not everything for me. I enjoy Dwarf Fortress, Dominions 3, and the Paradox Interactive strategy games for example, but in this case it just detracts from the game so much.

    When I have a longer stint of boredom at work I may give this another solid try, but for now I am not recommending this to my friends.

  15. Martin Edelius says:

    Downloading the demo thanks to this write up. Great stuff, keep it up! :)

  16. ldlework says:

    I have attempted to solicit everyone in my life who has pretended to assert that they play video games and no one has agreed to play this game. – fml

  17. Railick says:

    I’ve gotten the impression over the past few weeks that Vinraith is an extremely rich person ;P He got a new computer and has mentioned that he’s baught about 10 or 15 games over the last couple of weeks (or maybe months, time does fly while i’m at work) So tell us Lord Vinraith the oppulent what is it like being so rich? Do you have time to play all the games you’ve gotten recently what with being so busy making money and all ? : ) (This isn’t meant as an insult just an observation , I wish I had the ability to buy as many games as you do I’m just full of envy atm)

  18. Vinraith says:

    @Railick

    I’m the opposite of well-off, actually, I’m a grad student. The new computer was a purchase of necessity, prompted by the untimely death of my old system due to a faulty power supply. It involved pulling a bit from savings, which I detest doing, but it didn’t make sense to me to purchase something that wouldn’t last a good long time.

    As to the games, the overwhelming bulk of “the pile” is stuff purchased for 5-10 bucks through the insane weekend sales of the past 8 months or so. Exceptions are a small number of indie games (like this one) that I actively wanted to support.

    As to time, I’m a graduate student. That means I’m busy, but have a lot of schedule flexibility. I also have a fair bit of downtime when processing data and the like. Combine that with being married (extra income) but not having kids yet (no drain on time or cash) and you get someone in my position. It’s all temporary, and I’m painfully aware of that. :)

  19. Vinraith says:

    @Railick

    But yeah, you’ve caught me in a “splurge” period (some new funding came through, so I effectively got a nice raise) and I need to stop. Fortunately, I have enough of a stockpile that it should be no trouble to do just that.

  20. Dreamhacker says:

    Wow, I find myself looking forward to the next episode and rooting for the home team!

  21. Psychopomp says:

    It’s been three months, guys :(

  22. f_t_r says:

    So are we getting the rest of it?

  23. Collic says:

    Are you guys ever finishing this? It’d be a great read, and if any game deserves more exposure its this one.

  24. Koldunas says:

    Part 2?

  25. MrWolf says:

    Looks like the next installment of this write up is today’s announcement that Arcen’s bottom line is in dire straits.

  26. noogai03 says:

    Hmmm. This game looks pretty fun. I would love to see the code behind that AI.
    Imagine that, an AI so good you can put it in your game’s title.
    I saw a game ages ago called “The AI is Terrible”, which was true to its name. AIs:”Let’s all play Shoot The Wall!”