Pride And Falls: Neptune’s Pride Diary Part 4

By RPS on March 13th, 2010 at 1:27 pm.


Who will rule space? No Sponge, that’s for sure. But who else might take the crown? Could it be Graham’s exploding Empire? Or Jim’s embattled corner of space? Or the vast Empire of Quinns? Place your bets for part four… And maybe go sign up to Neptune’s Pride yourself. (PCG are also running a version of this diary, over yonder.)

Kieron: I come in from drinking. It’s 1 in the morning. On a whim, I decide to check in on Neptune’s Pride, to see that Graham’s attacked me. I sigh a sigh of relief.

Frankly, I’ve been torn between these conflicting desires. I’m abstractly helping Quinns. I’m also abstractly in an alliance against Quinns. Eventually, I’m going to have to fall one way or the other. I feel bad either way. This removes the moral dilemma. I’m with Quinns, and Jim and Graham can go screw themselves.

And Graham has screwed himself. His fleets are already in flight. I remix my defensive line, moving ships into the optimum position. I think there was one planet I couldn’t hold, so I evacuate it, leaving the bare minimum of troops enough to do a damage hit. However, I also know that by morning, I will have the ships to retake it immediately. The main 100-strong attack fleets will be simply annihilated. I go to bed, and rest easy. Graham’s going to wake up to find his fleet in ashes.

At this point, I’m thinking myself grateful that I’ve been forced into a siege state throughout all the game. I had a lot of experience in micro-managing combat lines. This move against Graham was the apex of my tactical manouvering, and I’m not sure I’d have pulled it off as well without all the previous attacks from Sponge and Crispy. Thanks, Sponge!

Hentzau: One extremely unsettling development is that while I started this war with a healthy tech lead, Quinns’ economy has now kicked into high gear and he’s left me in the dust. To make matters worse Sponge’s empire implodes around about now, so I can’t get tech off of him any more. All I really care about is keeping parity in weapons tech so that I don’t walk into fights totally outgunned. Happily Gonnas is more than willing to supply me with arms as long as I make Quinns’ life as difficult as possible. This gives me a faint glimmer of hope; if he wants me to tie up Quinns’ forces then that means he must be planning an attack soon, right?

Quinns eventually gets control of the AI rebellion and starts building up his forces again. One fleet of a hundred ships is dashed against the defenses at Aldhibah, severely damaging them in the process. Another fleet of a hundred attacks. It too is destroyed, but now I’m running out of ships, and Quinns is starting to grab worlds on the shrinking periphery of my territory that I’d withdrawn ships from to defend the homeworld. He’s losing fleets of forty, fifty ships per world now but those are small fry compared to what he’s sacrificed in his effort to erase me from the galaxy so far. The final nail in my coffin is hammered home when Gonnas and KG finally invade Quinns, only to have their attack stall after taking just a few worlds apiece. If Quinns can hold them off whilst continuing to pour forces into his war with me faster than I can build my own, I’m as good as dead.

Things continue in this vein for a day or so, with a lot of maneuvering for position and taking-retaking of border worlds, but the end, when it comes, is disappointingly anticlimactic. When I logged off the previous night I was in possession a perfectly functional – if slightly skeletal – defence network. I probably could have staved off defeat for another three or four days if I’d kept an eye on things. Unfortunately I got up early and spent the next day out with friends, and when I got back late that night I discovered that Quinns had taken the opportunity to completely overrun seven of my ten remaining worlds, leaving me with less than twenty ships. After the amount of effort I’d expended trying to hold him off this wasn’t how I wanted it to end at all. There was no thrusting and parrying, no feints, no desperate counterattacks, no final, apocalyptic last stand. There was just me, exhausted after a lot of travelling, logging in after a brief absence to discover that some bastard had repainted all my worlds a bright shade of orange. For a game that had seemed so glacial to start with, being away from a computer for twenty-four hours hurt me a lot more than I expected.

Never mind. My war with him was a real David-and-Goliath tussle, but without decent external support there could only ever be one outcome: That Bastard Quinns stands triumphant over the smoking ruins of my empire.

I hope he chokes on it.

Jim: Of course I’ve been feeding tech to Hentzau the entire time, just to prolong the struggle. Moreso when Quinns opens up the second front against me, although poor old H is clearly doomed vs the orange monolith of Q’s empire. The situation for me is one of brutal attrition. I lose a handful of border planets, and then pump fleet after fleet into holding the remainder. Quinns launches a few heavy raids, and I mop these up, reducing my fleets even further. Eventually I push back hard, and begin to persuade both Graham and Kieron, who have been poking each other with large, pointy spaceships, that they should help me fight Quinns before all is lost. They agree, but what happens next is still a genuine surprise.

Graham: Oh crap. I’ve underestimated Kieron’s forces. I thought I’d be able to wear him down, and slowly but progressively capture his territory. Instead he’s destroying my ships and regenerating his own faster than I expected, and I’m now trapped in a dirty war against entrenched forces with no end in sight. It’s still possible I could defeat him, but it wouldn’t matter. Quinns is pulling further into the lead, and unless we turn to face him, he’ll win. That’s no good.

I send a message to Kieron, and rope Jim in as a mutual ally and third-party: How about we, uh, forget this war thing, and work together? Again? This time for reals, honest!

Kieron: Waking up to Graham saying HE’S MADE A HORRIBLE MISTAKE actually frustrates me. Things were simple then. Now they’re hard. I’m back to worrying about the moral dilemma. While Graham arranges his attack fleets to move on Quinns, I’m sitting and chewing over what to do again.

Something’s happened between then and now, in the day or so which I’ve been chewing over which way to go, in the time after I accept the cease-fire (And consider whether to attack Graham when his ships inch away). Quinns’ ship production is enormous… but his wars have taken their toil. His actual number of ships, while still hefty, isn’t exactly overwhelming. In fact, since I’ve been sitting comfortably in my turtle position, building my infrastructure, I have more ships than him. A lot more ships. Like, 400-500 more. And because I have the least number of planets of the remaining players, they’re all concentrated. Quinns has far less ships to defend a far larger empire.

I realise I don’t have a choice. I can only play the Loyal Lieutenant when I’m the lesser power. I’ve actually got the tactical edge right now. If I move on Jim or Graham, I essentially give the game to Quinns. I was willing to support him in a win… but to give it to him when, amazingly, I actually have a nasty little military machine to put to task… .well, that’s not right.

I plan my move with Graham. The tactic’s simple. I need to leverage those 500 ships into destroying Quinns’ infrastructure. I’m not interested in taking planets. What I’m interested in is advancing as far as I can into his territory, only hitting high-industry planets. If I take enough, quickly enough, and his massive ship production won’t matter. Because it’ll be my production now. Hell, even taking planets I can’t hold temporary stops them from making ships for Quinns. I don’t plan this as a war. I plan this as an assassination. We have to kill the giant.

The added bonus is that Jim is on his last legs, and by attacking now, it makes it appear that I’m actually a nice guy saving his ass.

Well, appear. We’re past the point where anyone can think of anyone else as a nice guy.

Quinns An assortment of fires, hailstorms, Irish internet service providers and the game’s own servers being down mean I don’t log in to Neptune’s Pride for 36 hours. As the game loads I ponder worst case scenarios, revealing a cheery lack of imagination.

My vast empire is gone. It’s just gone. The fleets Kieron and Graham had been using to protect themselves from one other have left their stations to skewer my territory like harpoons through a television set. I am devastated. Ruined. I’m almost reduced to Jim’s level.

It’s an exhausting thing to log in and discover after weeks of play, but I’ve got a little fight left in me. I send the orders for my fleets to regroup at key defensive systems and to take back industrial centres wherever they can. I’m not digging in, not just yet. Instead, I’m drawing out the chaos and wondering how I can go about breaking up Kieron and Graham’s alliance. What would test their trust in each other most?

I don’t have to spend very long thinking. Kieron and I are still chummy, and during an MSN conversation this happens:

Kieron: You know, as a thought
Kieron: And this is the cheekiest diplomatic message I’ve ever sent
Kieron: If you’re happy coming second, I’ll back off and turn on Graham

Oh, yes Kieron. Absolutely Kieron. Three bags full Kieron. I tell him (truthfully) that since he’s been fighting against the odds since the game began and only recently risen from underdog status, I’d way prefer to see him win than Jim with his isolationism, or Graham with his opportunism. I put the word out to my scattered forces and point them straight at the planets Graham took.

I’ll win this fucking game yet.

Graham: After three days, Kieron finally agrees to attack. Late at night, before heading to bed, I put on the music to the Battlestar Galactica mini-series and direct my fleets.

In the battle that follows, I capture around seven or eight of Quinns stars. I have fewer ships than Kieron to commit to the frontlines, meaning I make less progress, but for the first time in weeks I move into the lead. Finally it looks like Quinns might be toppled.

While this is going on, I’m messaging Tom every day. Attack Quinns! Gift me your planets! Gift me your tech! You’re not using them! Do something! Help! By this point I’m fanatical about winning, and I’m not above begging for any kind of advantage. Tom finally agrees to login and attack some of Quinns weaker stars.

Unfortunately, he’s not quick enough. Before Tom can log on and take command of his armies again, AI Tom attacks me. The computer has been turtling for days, sat happily with only four planets in the midst of Quintin’s space. Now that I’ve moved into the area though, the AI has seen its opportunity. Fleets are heading outward, and they’re all heading for me. Damn, I think. How can things get any worse?

At which point, Kieron turns on me.

It’s hard to be mad at him for it. I betrayed him first, just a few days ago. But what really grates is that Quinns focuses all his vengeance on me, without attacking even a single of Kieron’s stolen planets. I can’t get my head around it. Kieron attacked you too, Quinns! Attack him back too, Quinns! You big orange space bastard.

I fall into a funk, slipping from first place back into third. I’m certain that my empire is ruined. Kieron and Quinns will eat away at my worlds, and one of them will win. I tell my girlfriend that I think my days of space war are over.

No. No, I won’t let this happen. I’m not done yet. I’m the mighty purple space slug, and I will not let the salty tears of bitter defeat melt my empire. I open up the Mail system and send a message to Quinns, ‘Kieron will win unless we do something. Let’s work together to take him down, and set the stage for our own battle for 1st place.’ I sit back and await his reply.

Kieron: Yeah, I stab Graham. I stabbed him because I couldn’t trust him. Graham had stabbed everyone he ended up in bed with. Despite the fact I’d just vivisected the wonderful military machine Quinns had built, I trusted him more than Graham. After all, Quinns had never stabbed me – of course, at this point, I had no idea of the 4-way pact to take me out of the start of the game.

A lot of it was positional. As Graham and I pushed into Quinns’ terrain, our empires were lying side by side, with these long exposed flanks. Huge swathes of planets were immediately available on a back-stab. By advancing in the planet-skipping way I did against Quinns, we’d actually intermingled our empires. Part of me wondered whether this would allow us to trust one another more. We could see what each of us were up to, so it was harder to do a sneak attack, and without a clear frontline, it was harder to defend and attack safely.

And part of it was that I’d rather win with Quinns than Graham. PC Gamer versus RPS, after all.

The stab is half-hearted. I don’t get much terrain, and it ended up as cementing as a second front to the north of my empire. But it wasn’t meant to be the blitzkreig that we did against Quinns – it was meant to be more a straightforward declaration of hostilities. Graham and I were allied. Now, we were not. Let’s fight. Between Quinns and I, we should have this.

Ah, “Should”. The foulest of temptresses.

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38 Comments »

  1. Taverius says:

    This is seriously making me wish I liked this kind of game …

    • AndrewC says:

      Galcon Fusion is the answer!. All the intrigue, galactic battles, invasions, and spaceships you could want, but all over in five minutes. Yay!

  2. Vinraith says:

    An excellent read, but the fundamental flaws in a slow-form real time multiplayer game of this scale are starting to show. Too many major events are being precipitated by a lack of log in at the right moment. I can’t imagine anything less appealing in a game than having to play to a schedule.

    • The Pink Ninja says:

      My view exactly. It’s lame when people use all these smart tactics and determination and diplomacy that what really wins the game is something that could never happen in a real war.

      It’s like what happened to BoB in EvEO: However cool the back stabbing and espionage is a real agent could never cause his own side to disband the way BoB’s alliance did.

      I just find it immersion breaking.

      Also three cheers for Hentazau for fighting the good fight and drawing cool maps.

      MAN OF THE MATCH!

    • Jesse says:

      Indeed. The pace of the game begins to move beyond the abilities of meatbags.

    • sinister agent says:

      Fourthed. I’ve had a good game of it ruined by not having the time to log in to outmaneouvre people who log in when I’m out of the house/asleep. It makes close-fought wars unwinnable later on if you can’t log in more than a couple of times a day, especially if more than two sides are fighting over a cluster of stars.

    • Chris says:

      Yeah, it’s best to play the game with people who play the game like you do right?

      Just have to find a few thats all ;)

  3. mbp says:

    The real time nature of such a long game intrigues me. I wonder how much time you have to spend logged in every day to be competitive?

    • Zerai says:

      Oh, how easy it would be if you only “had to” the first days are like that, you’ll log here and there, send your fleets and that’s it.

      But after some weeks, when you start battling, keeping alliances and preparing plans, you’ll open it, reload to check changes, stay awake to get better info, and prepare plans and predict enemies while you’re sleeping.

      There is a thing i discovered, if you send a fleet to a star (yours) with ships, and then another, it’ll pass and take all the ships as reinforcements, this helped me not stay way too late.

    • Ging says:

      The automatic reinforcement of passing fleets from a star is a recent addition, like, within a couple of weeks from what I can tell.

      I loves it, as it stops me having to micromanage the fleets quite so much – just have to pick the planets I want to scoop ships from on the way to the front line.

    • Aninhumer says:

      That feature has been there from the start (unless they removed it at some point), you can also set the amount of ships a planet will hold on to when a fleet passes through.

  4. Jayt says:

    Good stuff.

  5. Mr Labbes says:

    I actually wonder what Jim has been doing all this time, and even more what he’s up to. I predict big space drama!

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      It’s very fun read, for sure. Well done guys.

      The game does show its frailties. But lets not kid ourselves; other than a play by email or other turn schedule system, there’s no way it can be played without the issue of not being logged in cropping up.

      But it seems it can still be enjoyed if played by a group of friends. And even more so if they agree to a few set of rules.

    • Wulf says:

      @Fig

      Consequently, I believe even though it’s not the game the developer was trying to make, a scheduled turn system would’ve resulted in the superior game. I think of so many games that have benefited from such a system, like Naked War, Laser Squad Nemesis, and indeed, Solium Infernum, where the system works.

      But I think with Neptune’s Pride, it all relies on who can login the most often, and it turns into a game of endurance. I notice via the logs that early on Quinns was logging in eight times a day, and winning, and then later on he skipped the game for 36 hours and came back to find himself screwed. So the winner isn’t the person with the best strategy or diplomatic skills, but simply the person who can fit in the most logins, day and night.

      Shame really, it has the makings of something great.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      I agree.

      This isn’t for anyone. It certainly isn’t for me. I’ve played a few web games when they started to become a trend and that was the one aspect that always made me throw the towel. Since then I gave up on it.

      I guess the only explanation I see for this type of games is that of catering to a new form of gameplay. They exist simply because there are players who actually want to play games like this. I find turn-based strategy far superior to any of this. They have a lot more to offer to someone wishing to actually play a game of strategy and diplomacy.

      As for Solium. I keep hearing only good things about it. I’m highly curious and downloaded the demo. But have to find the time to start learning the rules. I’m always drawn to turn-based strategy and especially when they offer PBEM and hotseat. But really… not one decent tutorial for the game. It’s frustrating. I work 9 to 5, have a wife and kids. Give me a break Cryptic comet!

  6. LionsPhil says:

    Actually, I’d say the lack of a schedule is the problem, as it leads to late-night bastardry, rather than the nice monotonic ticking of a turned-based classic like Stars!, where you’re not going to miss anything because you know when the universe ticks and can look at it any time between those ticks you’re free.

    • Vinraith says:

      @LionsPhil

      Semantics, really, as we agree on the problem. By “schedule” I really meant that the game dictates when you need to play, rather than you dictating when you want to play the game.

  7. brkl says:

    These have been a really great read!

  8. DAdvocate says:

    These reports are superb, but I think I preferred the Solium Infernum because they felt they were written during the play through rather than afterwards. The hind sight p.o.v. taken in this report makes it easier to track the events but it loses a little of its character.

    Trying to make sense of what was actually going on from conflicting perspectives was one of the most entertaining aspects of the last series. Although I am still enjoying this set immensely.

  9. Heliosicle says:

    Looking forward to the finale, seems like Quinns the space bastard might be back for more…

    Or, (OMG!) Robo-Tom could manage to pull it out of his metal arse…

  10. Heliocentric says:

    I loved the chain of articles, but my god did it explain why i have no interest in the game. I mean, sure. Space strategy, it sounds great, but i cannot ever base by body clock around a game. Not after what tdzk did to me, Its lucky I’ve since passed my degree because tdzk is how i screwed up my a levels.

  11. Michael says:

    I find it comforting that Tom’s faction is always filled with omnicidal maniacs even when he isn’t at the helm. Here’s to a surprising tech victory.

  12. Zwebbie says:

    It’s a bit of a shame that, unlike the Solium Infernum series, the number of players still in the game seems to be steadily declining. It seems like the amount of major players has been reduced to three, which doesn’t allow for a whole lot of cunning in the end.

    That said, it’s a very enjoyable read so far!

  13. Shalrath says:

    On a whim I decided to try this out, and the prediction of myself and my friends was correct – I have the worst starting position possible. I’m in the centre, my stars are spread out, and my stars are in a line. Like, my stars don’t make a circular shape in total, they make a | . With 6 vertical, two horizontal.

    Let’s just say I’m being kicked slowly to death and it’s the 3rd turn.

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      It’s quite curious, because were I to design such a game, I would want to make sure the algorithm responsible for plotting the game “map” didn’t produce situations in which one of the players is in a clear disadvantage. There’s algorithms to read and interpret sparse matrixes, which is basically what the game map is. Or, one could simply run the game on millions of good seed values for map generation instead of an infinite number.

      On the subject of being in the center… well, I know a few players who love the tension of it.

  14. FunkyBadger says:

    Astonished that everyone didn’t gang up on and eobliterate Keiron at the start of the game.

    Had they not read the Solium Inferus diaries?

    • drewski says:

      I was thinking the same about Quinns, although I guess if Robo-Tom had been playing properly things may have ended differently for him.

  15. DD says:

    Truly great series guys. Really enjoying this.

  16. geldonyetich says:

    A pity Space Empires V isn’t more topical. I’d like to see what they come up with given that sophisticated diplomacy mechanism and rather underhanded tech tree.

    • DrazharLn says:

      @geldonyetick

      Re: SE5

      Space Empires 5 is a great game that’s crippled by needless micromanagement, irrational automatic behaviour (I don’t want my ships to automatically attack unknown alien ships on first sight, damnit!) and multiplayer options from 1992, all compounded by a poor UI.

      PBEM (the only multiplayer I managed to get working on SEV) is simply not suitable for a game that is likely to take several hundred turns to complete, especially when the first 100 or so will only take about one minute per turn. In Solium Infernum (by contrast) it is a good choice because you have a lot to do every turn right from the start (scheming), because there are meaningful choices to make, because the game mechanics are transparent and because the game will only ever last a small number of turns.

      “Do better then!” I imagine you cry. The truth is that I will be working at doing just that at my earliest possible convenience. I have plans for space strategy games like other people have treehouse plans (perhaps in that both are bloated, eccentric, extravagant and unlikely to ever be realised).

    • geldonyetich says:

      Space Empires 5 is a great game that’s crippled by needless micromanagement, irrational automatic behaviour (I don’t want my ships to automatically attack unknown alien ships on first sight, damnit!) and multiplayer options from 1992, all compounded by a poor UI.

      Though they have released a steady stream of patches over the years that have improved it on many fronts, this is still true enough in many regards for me not to argue. Truth be told, the game is also a bit harder to pick up than most as well.

      I think I’m primarily interested in a story of a playthrough of it simply because the diplomacy options are so deep and the tech tree leaves room for surprises.

  17. innociv says:

    This would read much easier if you color coded names(find and replace a name with name is an easy way), but nice series of articles on a nice game.

  18. DrazharLn says:

    You have no exuse, Mario. The basics of Solium Infernum are really quite easy to learn. The tactics and strategy that comes later may be a bit more complicated, but it’s much more interesting to simply work these things out as you go.

    Reading the diaries here is a good way to learn of a few of the worse gotchas. Personally, I think I’ve only ever been stung by the upkeep (I didn’t notice it was there) and subsequently lost a very expensive and powerful unit before I had a chance to use it.

    But that was ok. We learn by failing, so suck up your pride, play a few games and learn. In fact, I’m looking for someone to play against… :)

  19. BlazerKnight says:

    The fact that half of the game I’m in are RPS readers is testament to how great these diaries are. Unpaid advertising, I tell you.

  20. Sussexgamer says:

    The information contained within here is helping me in my games (hi to anyone playing against redmoleghost or tallarn – that’s me!) – but not as much as I hoped.

    Still, we’re only a few days into each game, so I’ve absolutely no idea how any of them is going to turn out!

  21. Chris says:

    So I started by first game almost 4 days ago now. Things are going smooth and I’m just puting my feelers out as a potential arms dealer. The central galaxy has started with its border disputes so perhaps my venture shall prove very lucerative.