Aieeeeeeeeee War: Arcen Games In Pain

By Alec Meer on September 14th, 2010 at 7:45 pm.

Tricky to know how best to approach this kind of thing, but quite frankly just getting on with it is only sensible. What’s happened is that Arcen Games, who make awesomely clever strategy games such as AI War – the source of the ‘Quinns doesn’t have enough iron meta-gag’ and a much-loved AAR that we hope to reboot in the not too distant – and the smart casual title Tidalis, are struggling to make ends meet.

Like, really properly actually horribly struggling. “To put it bluntly and briefly, at present we’re only bringing in about one half of the minimum money we need to survive as a company,” quoth bossguy Chris Park. Help them.

They’ve a whole bunch of ways they hope to resolve the problem, first and foremost of which is obviously “please buy our games, they’re ace”, and the very least of which is “giz cash.” So they’re also looking for smart suggestions, and even promotional help such as trailer-making and community-making. They’re the kind of of guys who give away all proceeds of their expansion packs to charity, and are planning to giveaway the upcoming remake of AI War in the Unity engine for free to existing purchasers- so a What Goes Around ethos is entirely appropriate here.

Read Chris Park’s full statement and explanation of the situation here, as well as further ways to help out and get in touch.

Why am I telling you this? Because you’re RPS readers. You’re the purest PC gamers there are. You know the value of ambitious indie games, and you know how to use the internet. Go forth, heroes. Buy and play and spread the word and viralise and use your hands and brains.

Good luck, Arcen. You totally deserve it.

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143 Comments »

  1. Earl_of_Josh says:

    Quick question, I actually got AI WAR through steam, but haven’t gotten any of the expansions. Anyone know if the two versions easily interface?

    • Vinraith says:

      You can use your Steam game key on the direct-from developer version, and you can add direct-from-developer game keys to Steam to get the Steam version (also works with Impulse, actually) so it’s literally as easy as could be. You could buy the base game and both expansions from three seperate sources and it would still all work just fine.

    • mlaskus says:

      Yes, you can also easily try out the content from the expansions. Just go to the update menu and download it. The game will let you play with the additional content for some time, and if you decide not to buy it, you can simply disable the expansions and enjoy your full game.

    • Earl_of_Josh says:

      Thanks Vinraith, I’m sure they have that info on their site, but since I’m at work, not currently able to check.

    • JonFitt says:

      That was my question, and I like the answer.

      I have one more though:
      What is this version 4.0 gubbins going to get us Windows users, and is it out yet as a commercial release?

    • JonFitt says:

      I think I found the answer by rooting through the forum:
      It seems that the move to Unity3D is a platform move which will afford them features they don’t have on their current platform (Mac portability being one), but I didn’t see anything about new game features as yet.
      Also the public beta should be along soon.

    • Arathain says:

      @ jonFitt, up top: “…but I didn’t see anything about new game features as yet.”

      Arcen have added a metric ton of new stuff to the game over the last couple of months, greatly adding to the depth of the game and the overall experience. The great majority of it will affect the unexpanded original version.

  2. Vinraith says:

    AI War is one of the best strategy games ever made, Tidalis is great mind-bending puzzle fun, these are some of the best developers out there for post-release support, overall friendliness, and accessibility. Personally I just bought a second copy of AI War and its expansions with the vague notion of giving it to a friend, but mostly just to keep them making the great things they’re making. Seriously people, these are the kinds of developers you want to keep making games.

    • Wolfox says:

      Seconded. Arcen Wars is one of, if not THE best indie developer I’ve ever known.

    • Wolfox says:

      I mean Arcen Games, of course, makes of AI Wars. My mind is a blur now.

    • Wolfox says:

      AI War. WAR. Singular, not plural. Argh. I’m melting!

    • mlaskus says:

      Thirded? AI War is absolutely the best strategy game I have ever played. It is smart, challenging, customizable, extremely repayable, has probably the best support I have ever seen, etc.

      Let’s not forget Tidalis, which is also an extremely good title with a surprisingly deep and varied gameplay.

  3. mlaskus says:

    Oh, I just sent you a tip-off about it. Anyway, thanks for being awesome and supporting them. :)

  4. JesusChristDenton says:

    This sucks that they’re hurting for cash. Tidalis…honestly the name doesn’t work for me (I still say “Tittilate” and giggle like a schoolgirl inside) and I wouldn’t have paid it any mind if I didn’t know Arcengames worked on it. Maybe some flash ads showing how different of a puzzle game it is as opposed to Bejeweled clones (which is it what it resembles if you just look at screenshots.) They could try to buy adspace at Penny Arcade (very friendly to indies and has a high volume of traffic)?

  5. Earl_of_Josh says:

    You know… considering the popularity of your AARs I bet *that* would do quite a bit for Arcen Games. This is an entirely unselfish post. I care nothing for the sweet, sweet nectar of the gods you call AARs.

    • Vinraith says:

      Very much agreed, an AAR would make for great reading AND great exposure for a brilliant game. A compo is another possibility. Hell, I’d be willing to chip in for a copy of the game (and I’m sure others would to) to be given away by RPS.

    • LintMan says:

      Yes, please – I’d love to see another one of those.

  6. Unaco says:

    This is a shame… and also slightly disturbing. As Vinraith says, Arcen are great for post release support, they are friendly, accessible, willing to engage with their customers… And AI War is a unique, wonderful, engaging game… yet, they are in dire financial straits. If a company like Arcen can’t make it, then other companies are not going to adopt the traits that make them so awesome. This is extra impetus for companies to act like bastards… nice guys finish last, and all that.

    Perhaps they can use the upcoming for-charity expansion, and Penny Arcade itself (the money is going to Child’s Play isn’t it?), to get some good exposure, and some sales. Maybe a special bundle… AI War + Zenith Remnant + Children of Nurples for X moneys, with Y moneys – the CoN component – going to charity… Getting something like that out, with the backing of Penny Arcade, could be pretty good for them.

    As has been said… they are a great company, and, I think, it is in the best interests of the PC Game community for them to survive and prosper.

  7. Xercies says:

    Maybe that giving to charity thing had a little something to do with it. Not saying that it wasn’t a good thing but maybe they should have thought of their future more then giving it to charity. If they survived they could have given more to charity.

    Anyway i would buy this game but like most indie multiplayers and co-op you need good friends to co-op with and get a decent game, unfortunatly i don’t have that.

    • Unaco says:

      I picked AI Wars and Zenith Remnant up at the end of last year, but failed to get some Co-Op friends engaged enough… So it just sat on my Steam games list for about 6 or so months with only 5 – 10 Hours sunk into it. However, I was reliably informed, and have now discovered myself, that Single Player is equally enjoyable… You don’t have to play Co-Op to get the most of the game… it comes out in Single Player as well.

      There… Now you have NO EXCUSE to not buy it.

    • Vinraith says:

      Actually AI War is every bit as much fun single player as it is in multi.

    • The Innocent says:

      I can attest to this as well. In fact, I’ve only played a couple multiplayer games of AI War, since my friends have been more interested in other games lately. We are trying to get a big three-way game going, but we keep either forgetting or not having the time to invest. In single-player, the game is not only serviceable, it feels like it was designed with it primarily in mind.

      If you’re willing to dedicate maybe two hours into learning how to play, and then can get past the slightly-dull first planet conquest (which still isn’t all that bad, since there is a generous pile of decisions/scouting/defending/research leading up to that first invasion), this game will have you by the balls.

    • Archonsod says:

      Nah, I think the first game you take 10 minutes learning how to play and completing your first planetary conquest. The two hour mark is when you realise that maybe you shouldn’t have conquered every planet as the AI level skyrockets into six figure territory and it’s sending never ending raids of a few thousand mk IV ships at you.

    • LintMan says:

      Xercies says: Maybe that giving to charity thing had a little something to do with it. Not saying that it wasn’t a good thing but maybe they should have thought of their future more then giving it to charity. If they survived they could have given more to charity.

      Arcen committed to their mini-expansion proceeds all going to charity much earlier this year, when their income was looking quite good. Then sales dropped off steeply over the summer and Tidalis hasn’t sold well despite good reviews. But Arcen wasn’t going to back out of their promise to Child’s Play. That was all in the Arcen blog entry the RPS linked to.

  8. airtekh says:

    It’s sad to see a developer struggling like this, especially an indie – so often the source of fresh gaming ideas.

    I don’t really play strategy games at all, so I never bought AI War. I might check out Tidalis though.

  9. patricij says:

    I will get Tidalis once I have the money for it…

    -Frankie The Patrician[PF]

  10. Keirley says:

    Was thinking of getting this sometime, now seems to be a good enough time to do so. Hope it helps them some.

  11. Vinraith says:

    Anyone thinking of buying this should know that if you buy direct from the devs, you can register the key on both Steam and Impulse. In other words, you can give all your money to a great (and struggling) dev and still have the game on your favorite service. It’s win-win!

    • AlexMax says:

      By “register on Steam” do you mean something I can actually add to Steam via the big old “Add Game” button at the bottom, or do you mean that I just download the demo and put in the key manually once the program is opened? I ask because I’d much rather Steam hold my CD keys for me instead of having to fumble through my e-mail or keep track of them some other way.

      I already have A.I. War and the Zenith Remnant, haven’t played more than 30 minutes of either, but I love good puzzle games so I figure Tildials might be a good investment. Plus I might just throw in Children of Neinzul if I can simply put the CD key in Steam and let it handle things.

    • Vinraith says:

      By “register on Steam” do you mean something I can actually add to Steam via the big old “Add Game” button at the bottom

      That’s exactly what I mean. Plug your AI War and Zenith Remnant codes into the “add a game to Steam” function and Steam will hold your keys for you and the games will appear in your library (and in game achievements will also appear through Steam, if you’re into that sort of thing). If you’ve got Impulse you can do the same thing there (indeed, with exactly the same codes) and have copies and keys on two services for your convenience.

  12. Incognito says:

    It´s sad to hear this, and I hope they pull through, but for me personally I´m just not that interested in either AI War or Tidalis. I´m considering buying a copy of Tidalis as a token of support, but I already support many smaller developers with purchases already.

    I buy almost all Telltale games, I have bought both Mount&Blade and Mount&Blade: Warband this year, I bought Introversions three latest games, Shatter, Altitude, Aquaria, Deathspank, Torchlight, Audiosurf, World of Goo, etc.

    But oh well, I might just as well download the demos of their games at least.

  13. riadsala says:

    I’ve been meaning to buy this for ages! (But have been putting if off as I have loads of other games to play). While I was going to pick it up in a sale sometime, I guess it’s not very much full price… so,. bought. hope it helps a little.

    Wonder what wider implications this has for the pricing of indie games.

  14. Caddrel says:

    From a business perspective, sounds as if they over-expanded based on temporary revenue. Their customer support sounds excellent, but they need to make sure they have the revenue to support it.

    Looking to the future; even if they have to shut down, they’re still only one good product away from being a huge success. The people involved seem to have all the abilities to make themselves successful.

    • bob_d says:

      “From a business perspective, sounds as if they over-expanded based on temporary revenue.”
      Oh man, that’s the story of the industry. So many companies have gone under that way. I myself was just working for a company that did that on an international scale, but in their case, they didn’t even have any game releases scheduled that might make them the money they needed to keep the operation afloat.

    • Chris Park says:

      I can see why the temptation would be to think that we over-expanded, but really I don’t think that’s a fair judgment here. The problem is that Tidalis performed 10x worse than expected in terms of sales, and right at that same time the AI War revenue — which had been extremely steady for a long period of time — suddenly dropped precipitously.

      My original long post about it goes into a lot of detail on that, and then I just put up a followup post with a bit more detail, too. Believe me, I’ve been watching all these other companies over-expand and it’s been something I’ve consciously tried to avoid. If we shot ourselves in the foot, it was with poor PR more than anything else, I think; having a staff of 5 is not exactly massive (3 fulltime, two part-time, one of the three working purely for royalties, as well as one of the part-timers doing the same). It’s as lean as we could possibly make the company while actually making the products we wanted to make (in a way that we felt people would be receptive to, and that would set us apart, etc).

      It’s a given that apparently we did something wrong, but I don’t think that was it.

    • Earl_of_Josh says:

      Yeah… From the info you posted on the website, its really hard to imagine that this was simply a lack of planning. Especially because you seem to constantly be *doing* things. Like supporting the games you currently have out, having a posted release schedule of *multiple* games/expansions, and all the while having money in the bank in case of a bad day? Sorry, that doesn’t sound like a bad business model to me, more like some serious bad luck. Perhaps better marketing was a factor, but its hard for me to fault a company who spends their time making their games awesome, instead of a company who only wanders around telling everyone their game is awesome.

      Still, everyone should know your games are awesome!

    • Caddrel says:

      Don’t take the mention of over-expansion as criticism. As you say, there are plenty of different ways of looking at what is happened. In the end, the simple problem is that outgoings are exceeding revenues.

      The people involved in the company are talented and will be successful no matter what happens over the next few months. They now have experience of completing commercial titles and releasing them to a wide audience. Furthermore, the support you are seeing on this site shows your focus on customers does bring tangible results.

      You have opportunities here that thousands of people can only dream of. More importantly, you have the personal skills to actually follow through on them.

  15. Brumisator says:

    Uh… giving away their profits to charity, yes, that’s neat if you have surplus money.
    But if they’re struggling to stay alive themselves, how about they keep the money they rightfully earn?

    Being martyrs really doens’t help anyone.

    …or maybe I’m missing something.

    • Shakermaker says:

      Maybe you missed this quote:

    • Shakermaker says:

      I fail at html. This quote:

      “We were already committed to doing the Children of Neinzul micro-expansion as a for-charity thing, and so we stuck with that — that’s not the sort of pledge we’d ever go back on, and it’s something we intensely believe in, anyway. Probably that will have a residual boosting effect on AI War and TZR sales numbers (and so far that has sort of been true), but also so far it has mostly been CoN itself that has been selling the best — which we are thrilled about, quite apart from whatever our own challenges are.”

    • Keith LaMothe says:

      I figured someone would see the “we’re low on money” and the “for-charity micro-expansion” and wonder “um… yea?” ;)

      As already implied, our decision to make CoN a for-charity micro-expansion was made well before the financial difficulty manifested :)

  16. The Innocent says:

    My friends and I already have the game and its expansions, so maybe I’ll have to purchase another set of keys to give away to someone else. I hope they can pull themselves out of this financial rut, as AI War is one of the most impressive and innovative RTS games I’ve ever played. This is one of two games that when I play it, I think that if only other devs would learn some of the lessons from AI War, the RTS genre could be completely reinvigorated (the other one is Men of War, which isn’t nearly as innovative, but has a lot of little details I’d love to see appear in other games).

    I do wonder if maybe they should have been donating a percentage of their expansion revenue to charity rather than all of it. While I agree that they were doing a good thing, I’m uncertain if it’s the realistic or long-term smart thing to do — even if it’s really the right thing to do, given that they can’t well give to charity if they’re out of business. And certainly they could have seen this coming? It just seems rather sudden.

    Of course, I’ll gladly give some cash to prop them up, but I hope they reevaluate their finances and perhaps play their advertising/expenses cards a bit more wisely.

  17. Cooper says:

    DROP THE PRICE!

    Serisouly. I recently snapped up Immortal Defense because of that pay what you want deal. They didn’t even have to go to pay what you want, dropping it to less than ten dollars would have been fine.

    AI War comes into exactly the same category as immortal defense did – I’m interested, but it’s not my usual genre of choice, and I’m not sure I’ll spend much time with it, so any purchase would be a gamble.

    I’m not gonna take a punt on something I’m not sure about at $20. I will, happily, if it’s in the $2-$8 range. Even if it turns out I don’t like the game, I can deal with that cost on an impulse buy.

    After a games been out 12 months, why not knock it down to a third of what it was? – you can get a bit more press coverage this way and reel in people who were on the fence before.

    • Archonsod says:

      So pick up the demo. It gives you two hours to play, and also lets you run the expansions too for good measure. You should have a good idea if it’s going to be worth spending money on at that point.

    • fuggles says:

      I guess the fringe benefits of low price/pay what you will is that should you play the demo and not like it (hands up sadly) then you might be inclined to give them some monies out of kindness/principle, whereas why would you give $20 to a company for a product you didn’t enjoy?

    • Cooper says:

      I did play the demo. I liked it. But not $20 liked it.

  18. gerafin says:

    Bought a copy of AI War for myself & gifted one through Steam.

    Best of luck to Arcen Games, let’s hope they get the sales they need to stay afloat in these hard times.

    Also: Steam sale? It always works wonders in increasing sales of the games. And if the Steam sale banner says “We’re struggling to feed our children! Please buy our game!” that might help too.

  19. TotalBiscuit says:

    I think I need to put Chris on the interview list, use the Youtube horde for good.

  20. jsbenjamin says:

    I’m becoming more and more convinced that the future of PC gaming lies with the indie developers. While the big publishers put out crappy ports or games loaded with intrusive DRM, the indie developers are innovating while also connecting with their communities.

    So, I was thinking it was time for a little strategy gaming anyway, and AI War has been on my list. Just bought the expansions (and Tidalis for good measure). Every little bit helps, right?

    • Berm says:

      Same here, I think the future of PC gaming will lie on indies alone, look at Red Orchestra 2 or Natural Selection 2 and you will see titles that already look better than AAA titles.

      I recommend Tidalis to anyone who enjoys Match-3 type of games, a really great little gem.

    • bob_d says:

      Sadly those indie developers are a lot less stable (and that’s saying something).

    • Berm says:

      That unfortunately comes with the territory of being an indie developer, but those who hit it, hit it big, like Tripwire who are becoming publishers themselves. And let’s not forget most publishers today started as indies in the past.

      But with so many indie devs out there and due to the nature of being an indie dev (small and not having boatloads of money) there will be many who will fall along the way, as well as many who will create killer games and rise to become a key player.

  21. Rhetorical says:

    Suggestion to RPS Staff: Please to be mentioning Arcengames at Eurogamer as well instead of non-stop Halo:Reach coverage.

  22. FP says:

    I’m not a huge strategy fan but I did quite enjoy the demo when I played it last year (?) so I’ve just bought the game/xp, maybe it’ll convert me. :)

  23. Poorchan says:

    LOL the game got poor reviews. Why bother supporting them?

  24. Freud says:

    You have to take the good with the bad when it comes to how you can consume PC games these days. Some indie games thrive, some mainly spend their money on bigger games on sale and some indie games don’t make enough money.

    While on an individual basis for a developer it is sad and stressful, it isn’t a problem on the whole. It’s just basic economy. There is no natural law that says that everyone who wants to will be able to support themselves making games.

    • TotalBiscuit says:

      Well actually it’s because people are dumb and pirate shit all the time but if you want to blame it on market forces then that’s ok to I guess.

    • Freud says:

      I don’t blame market forces. They are what they are. Some companies are able to sustain themselves and some don’t. In pretty much every business. Furniture stores close too you know. And it’s not because of piracy.

      If you are a fan of just this company and their games, of course it sucks. But to swing madly at consumers, who support many small companies, is silly.

    • TotalBiscuit says:

      Are you saying it’s not ok to ‘swing madly’ at the consumer base which has proven itself time and again to be incredibly stupid?

    • Freud says:

      I’ve been a gamer for a long time and seen many what I feel great developers come and go. I’ve seen many great games go mostly unnoticed. Sometimes companies are poor at marketing, sometimes because the games media are very bad at covering anything going off the beaten path.

      In the end I have to reconcile that my taste in games and how I choose to spend my money is not representative of the gamer collective as a whole. I take what I can and enjoy the Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines, Deus Exe, The Witcher, Magic Carpet IIs, Savage, Amnesia: The Dark Descent and I support the companies I like. Sure it sucks that there is piracy and it makes it harder for developers to survive. I just don’t think it is meaningful to rage on people for being morons for not sharing my taste in games while making MW2 insanely big.

      I do hope the very best for Arcen. They make what seems to be fine games and hopefully there is a marketplace for them. If not, perhaps the games simply isn’t attractive enough or they have failed to convince the market place that they are worth spending money on. The $5-20 segment of the market is really crowded these days with all the fantastic indie games and games on sale. It is hard to stick out for everyone.

    • dadioflex says:

      Why not take a swipe at people who are indifferent to indie strategy games, because while there’s a chance pirates will one day buy the game if they enjoy it, there’s not much chance that indifferent consumers will buy it.

      Me, I’d take a swipe at the five or six man production team who made a game with screenshots that look like someone spilled beads on black felt. What hell size of screen are you supposed to play this on? A wall?

      I had it sitting on my Steam account for ages, just installed it, played through the tutorials and it killed any interest in getting the expansions. I may try to play a campaign but honestly the UI makes DF look OK. Maybe Sins has spoiled me.

      It’s great some people like it a lot, but not for me.

      Tidalis looks interesting but as a DS or Ipod game not on the PC.

      Their problems seems to be simple over-ambition, married to a lack of business sense. Realistically they need one programmer and farm out the graphics to a freelancer. Look at Introversion, and by comparison their games were slick as hell, and what happened to them.

      Cliffski has it right, it would seem.

    • Dean says:

      Piracy is a market force though.

    • Freud says:

      “Piracy is a market force though.”

      One could view it like that. But for any development company it should be largely ignored. There is no reason to assume their game will be more or less affected by it than any other games. What they should focus on is the actual paying market and if that market can or can’t sustain the game they want to sell.

    • Collic says:

      Piracy isn’t what is really what’s causing Arcen problems. Their games are so under the radar, by and large, that it just doesn’t really factor. I mention this because i’d rather the thread focused on how great a company they are, and the quality of their games, than yet another debate with the same old arguments.

      I own AI War and it’s a fantastic game for any rts or 4x fan, i highly recommend it. Unfortunately I’m out of work so I can’t help them out any further myself, but another endorsement can’t hurt.

  25. Berzee says:

    This reminds me in several ways of, 2 Corinthians 8:

    12b And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have.
    13 Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality.
    14 Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal.

    • Barnaby says:

      Yeah, it’s totally like that. And sort of like this…

      ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
      All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

      Oh how I love classic literature… especially fiction.

    • omicron says:

      @Barnaby: Jabs at other people’s religions are not particularly amusing except to you.

    • Berzee says:

      Yeah, you will offend the Lewis Carollians. ;)

      Now I will explain to you why this video games journalism story is like what I said.

      1. Because they gave to charity even though it turned out to be beyond their means, which is what you might say the quoted passage is about.

      2. On the other hand you might say the passage is about how giving to those in need shouldn’t make you afraid, because you should count on those around you to help you when the pendulum swings the other way (‘cuz they’re family and all). This would be like the “What Comes Around” that the article mentions.

      Either of these things ( and I am not of a mind to choose between them right now which is why I said that it reminds me those verses in several ways ) will show you why it reminds me of those words of advice (fictional advice?) about giving away your money (fictional money?).

      @omnicron — Obliged to you =) Do you think he could have stomached my words about money if I didn’t list my sources?

    • jaheira says:

      “Jabs at other people’s religions are not particularly amusing except to you.”

      Well, they’re quite amusing to me. So that’s two people I spose.

  26. JesusChristDenton says:

    The interview with Chris that sold me on AI War. Genuinely passionate about games and not some CEO who dabbles in amateur game design and puts out a beta and charges for it.

    • dadioflex says:

      I don’t think I have any empathy. First the are games art thing and now this. Oh and the guy begging for donations a couple of weeks back because he didn’t want to look for a new job. I don’t like people, even if they make games and certainly not just because they make games.

      They started a game studio, if it fails it fails and they’ll know better next time. That’s far preferable to hoping the wounded animal limps along repeating its mistakes time after time – see my Introversion point above.

      I’d much rather the game sold me on the game. I buy Stardock games and I hate Brad Wardell. I don’t let my dislike for him get in the way of our business relationship. He makes games, I hand him money and play them.

  27. undead dolphin hacker says:

    So I have to be the one to say it?

    Maybe if AI War’s learning curve wasn’t a 90 degree angle they might have sold a few more copies. It’s a five course meal of a game, except all the courses are served at the same time.

    There’s nothing wrong with it being a five course game, mind you. It’s just that they really didn’t do a wonderful job making the learning curve a curve.

    For instance, I played the original, stopped playing, bought Zenith Remnant, came back to it, and had no idea how to play the game anymore. I fire up the tutorial again, finish it, and still feel totally lost. About a quarter into my second tutorial round, I gave up and uninstalled it.

    It’s really a game that needs a printed manual. In my opinion, if you could write a 100 page manual about a game, you need to have a damn good tutorial — or, you know, an actual physical manual. See: Dominions 3.

    Yeah, I bought the game, so what the hell does my opinion matter anyway? Well, as a result of the inaccessibility, I never recommended it to any of my friends.

    I’m convinced that their primary source of advertising — word of mouth — was severely crippled right out of the gate.

    • Vinraith says:

      While it’s a very deep game, it’s not particularly complicated. I’m not sure what the source of your frustration was, exactly, but between the tutorial and the official wiki (maintained by the developers as a manual, basically) I think it’s a fairly easy game to learn. Maybe you’re soured enough on it that you’re not interested, but if you did want to give it another shot let me recommend a couple of pages to get you started:

      http://arcengames.com/mediawiki/index.php?title=AI_War_-_Fast_Facts

      http://arcengames.com/mediawiki/index.php?title=AI_War_-_Starting_Out

    • Vinraith says:

      Also, the community on the AI War forums is spectacularly helpful with any specific questions you might have:

      http://www.arcengames.com/forums/index.php/board,2.0.html

      More often than not you’re liable to get an answer from one of the devs.

    • Archonsod says:

      It’s a pretty standard RTS at it’s core. The only curveball is the AI behaviour, but learning how the different AI types tick is half the fun. Though to be honest I ditched the tutorials after the first and just relied on experimentation and the tooltips, IIRC the tutorials aren’t that great.

      Best way of learning imho is to have a smaller galaxy with the advanced features turned off, start in a dead end system and fortify the single entry point. Doesn’t matter how much you screw up after that, unless you seriously annoy the AI you can always rebuild everything back in the home system.

    • Vinraith says:

      @Archonsod

      It’s a pretty standard RTS at it’s core.

      Mechanically yes, strategically not at all. It bears clarifying that if you can play other RTS’s, you should have no trouble figuring out how to play this one. Figuring out the best strategy for a given map and brace of AI types, on the other hands, is a very deep well indeed. That’s the beauty, though, it’s far more focused on careful strategic decision making than just about any strategy game I’ve ever seen (be it RTS or turn based).

    • Archonsod says:

      I think the main difference being it actually has a strategic element, rather than being focused purely on the tactical level.

    • Arathain says:

      I’m not sure where the difficulty lies for you, udh. At the core, it’s an RTS- buildings produce units, units get sent off to shoot at other bad units. Build more stuff, make more units. Spend research on more buildings and units.

      The extraordinary strategic depth comes from the enormous importance of what you build, what units you use and where you send them. You can pick this stuff up as you play pretty handily, as long as you’re willing to experiment, and not afraid of losing a game or two before you win one.

    • Keith LaMothe says:

      “Maybe if AI War’s learning curve wasn’t a 90 degree angle they might have sold a few more copies.”

      Actually AI War’s sold pretty well over since May 2009 (about 30k copies including the first expansion, which is pretty good for a $20 indie game). Its sales have dropped off a fair bit in the last few months which has contributed to our present situation but is not solely the problem.

      The confusing part is Tidalis, which has a _much_ easier learning curve (or would you dispute that?). There are a variety of possible reasons why it hasn’t sold nearly as much as we thought it would, but it is pretty concrete evidence that the learning curve issue is not the primary one.

      That said, we do intend to work on improving the tutorials for AI War soon.

  28. Atic Atac says:

    Just tried the TIdalis Demo and couldn’t wrap my head around it…although it looks very good. Was always going to buy AI War and will soon. This development team is my kind of team.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      That’s why I held off buying it. Not because I didn’t understand it, but because the basic mechanics are a bit too complex for a casual puzzle game. It’s really a hardcore game in disguise, not a terribly hard one to figure out, but still a bit of an acquired taste unlike the instantly addictive Chuzzle, Peggle, etc.

  29. CMaster says:

    Has AI War gotten any better since when RPS first covered it? Because back then I tried the demo and it was slow, mostly seemed to just involve massing as many varied ship types as possible, and not very engaging. Is there a newer demo so I can see for myself?

    • Vinraith says:

      The demo is always the current version of the game, and you should definitely take another look. If you dislike the “slowness” you should also consider turning on the “fast and dangerous” combat style. I prefer my strategy games slow and thoughtful, but AI War can cater to most anyone.

      Anyway yes, there have been… considerable updates since the 1.x line. It’s basically an entirely different game at this point. AI War is updated more in an average month than most games are in their entire lifetimes, and that’s not an exaggeration.

    • mlaskus says:

      That changed a lot, the game doesn’t become so grindy as it sometimes could in the past. You should give it a try, or you could wait until the 4.0 release, because some of the recent changes were aimed at this issue and you might want to wait until they get the balance right again.

    • CMaster says:

      There’s “slow and thoughtful” and “glacial and tedious”
      Played the demo coop with a friend back when RPS first mentioned it (we both played the tutorial first). In the space of our limited hour, we sat around, building up fleets and defenses, and attacked one weak AI system (which was slow in itself, as they sat behind shields with ships that had a 10x (or something) damage bonus to our anti-sheild ships. Very little of that hour was spent planning or thinking. Most was spent waiting for more stuff to be built or resources gathered.

    • Vinraith says:

      As mlaskus said, the game’s been significantly rebalanced since then to reduce that sort of thing, and if you turn on “fast and dangerous” the combat goes faster as well. I think it’s worth having a look at again, if the underlying concept is interesting to you and you’ve not evaluated it since the earlier versions.

  30. JesusChristDenton says:

    I don’t think I have any empathy. First the are games art thing and now this. Oh and the guy begging for donations a couple of weeks back because he didn’t want to look for a new job. I don’t like people, even if they make games and certainly not just because they make games.

    They started a game studio, if it fails it fails and they’ll know better next time. That’s far preferable to hoping the wounded animal limps along repeating its mistakes time after time – see my Introversion point above.

    I’d much rather the game sold me on the game. I buy Stardock games and I hate Brad Wardell. I don’t let my dislike for him get in the way of our business relationship. He makes games, I hand him money and play them.

    Right, the interview is more about AI War the game and the inspirations and design decisions that went into the game rather than Chris Park, the man, himself. Otherwise they would have gone into what his favourite color is and how he likes his coffee for an hour.

    My point is this is a designer who’s making some neat games vs Wardell who thinks game design is 90% engine coding and 10% game mechanics designing and is just realizing that you can’t throw in non-connected game systems into a soup and expect a great cohesive game out of it (http://forums.elementalgame.com/396263/page/1/#2769081 : Clearly, one lesson to be learned here is that you can’t just pick and choose systems and throw them together. You have to integrate the two together seamlessly. Hindsight is 20/20 but luckily, we’ll be able to deal with this in Elemental 1.x and not some future sequel or what have you.)

  31. Navagon says:

    That sucks Alden Ridge sounds cool. I hope we still get to see it released some day.

  32. MadTinkerer says:

    Oh all right, I’ll buy Tidalis then. (I already have AI War and all expansions.) Twist my arm, why don’t you.

  33. gumbomasta says:

    I put my money where my mouth is and bought AI War today. Wasn’t feeling I needed more games, but felt good about supporting an indie dev in need, plus I look forward to the Unity 3d graphic overhaul. Respect to RPS for putting this up and for Arcen for being honest.

  34. ReV_VAdAUL says:

    Well I bought Tidalis because I like (and already own) AI + Expansion but likely wont play it for a while, I have such a backlog :(

  35. Burningpet says:

    It came to me abit as a surprise when i saw they are developing Tidalis and then afterwards a casual tower defence game before establishing a solid fan base. beside expansions, they have nothing up until beyond

    I kinda view small studios as niche studios. cater to a certain type of gamers, that in turn stay with you, because they like what you did in their field of intrest.

    It even applies to the big ones. Infinity Wards fans will insta buy their next FPS no matter what its title says, but if they had developed a bus driver simulator, the fans will not buy it.

    • Burningpet says:

      * …beside expansions they have nothing up until beyond 2013 that even resembel something that the people who liked Ai war might like.

    • mlaskus says:

      I am a fan of AI War and I feel spoiled by Arcen Games. They constantly churn out free updates to the base game, they don’t use DRM and they immediately respond to any issues reported with it. Besides, AI War is as much a puzzle game as it is an RTS, I think you might be underestimating how many fans of AI War find Tidalis appealing.

    • Burningpet says:

      I am not underestimating. i am making an educated guess based on the current events.

  36. oatish says:

    As soon as I got home I bought it and the expansion – gotta show love to those who deserve it

  37. Pantsman says:

    Given that I’m not much into RTS, and that for the next eight months or so I’ll be too busy with school to do much gaming, and that I already have a couple of games I haven’t played yet, and that I have a policy of not buying new games if I have ones I haven’t played yet, and that I’ve never played any of their games, I’m afraid I’m going to abstain. Maybe some time in a year or two I’ll buy something.

    Best of luck to them, though.

  38. SuperChicken says:

    Alright RPS, you convinced me, I suppose I’ll just have to go out and buy AI war

  39. JackShandy says:

    I can’t say that the thought of AI strategy game or casual square-matching game excites me, but I hate to see an Indie developer go down. Buying now.

    • Collic says:

      To be fair, Tidalis isn’t just another match 4 clone. It is ‘casual’, and it’s a puzzle game, but it’s a lot more interesting, and a lot cleverer than the vast majority of games in the genre.

  40. Durns says:

    If this works, then RPS is well on the way to becoming the Oprah of gaming (I mean this in a good way!). Now when are you going to give us all cars?

  41. 12kill4 says:

    You have my wallet.

  42. ecurtz says:

    Maybe they should ask Notch for a loan.

    I’ll check out AI War as soon as the OS X version is out. The iPhone license for Unity is under two grand, if they can’t make that back they’re not going to survive on PC sales either, they should go for it.

  43. Tetragrammaton says:

    AI war was a fantastic investment for me, cant recommend it enough. Interestingly, however, I wasn’t even aware of Tidalis existence until this post. Although to be fair, casual puzzle games aren’t really my thing.
    Even so, good luck Acen! If anyone deserves better, Its you guys.

    • mlaskus says:

      Tidalis’ gameplay is surprisingly deep, I bought it just to support them and now it is one of my favourite games. Try the demo, the game is worth it.

  44. Nick says:

    I want to help them but I also want to eat and have electricity for the rest of this month =(

  45. Tei says:

    So.. what failed? because it was not quality, support, PR…. maybe the strategy games is too small a niche? sould have released another casual game already?

    • mlaskus says:

      Tei, that’s the thing, AI War sold well, it’s Tidalis that didn’t, which is quite surprising as it got tons of great reviews all over the internet.

    • Andy says:

      I also gave Tidalis a good review, but friends I showed it to personally made a very snap decision to not try it because it was a puzzle game!

      I guess there’s a lot more (free/browser) competition for puzzle games compared to 4x strategy games.

  46. Schaulustiger says:

    AI War sold exceptionally well for an indie RTS-game. I guess the problem was Tidalis which was badly marketed and most likely didn’t break even. Plus, for a game with casual appeal, I found Tidalis to get pretty hard and unforgiving during the campaign. But maybe it’s because I suck at those kind of games.

    Still, Arcen Games is one of my favorite developers and them going bankrupt would make me a very sad panda. So, everyone who hasn’t, should give AI War a try. It really is as great as everyone says.

  47. elyscape says:

    AI War was something I found vaguely interesting, but I never really cared enough to check out the demo. Now I own the game proper, as well as all supplemental materials (read: expansions). I guess I don’t have any excuses now.
    Also acquired: Tidalis demo.

    • elyscape says:

      So I just tried out Tidalis. While I tend to like puzzle games, for some reason Tidalis just isn’t grabbing me. I’ll probably give it another go sometime this week, though.

    • mlaskus says:

      Have you tried the puzzle mode? Some people prefer it to the real time modes which make up most of the game.

    • elyscape says:

      Not yet, but I’ll look into it next time I start up the demo.

    • elyscape says:

      Puzzle mode isn’t grabbing me either. Which, again, is strange, because I tend to like puzzle games.

      I think part of the issue is that I’m not getting the feeling of accomplishment from Tidalis that I get from, say, Tetris or Sudoku. Now, to be fair, on low levels of Tetris I don’t get that feeling either. However, once the speed starts to ratchet up, there’s a real rush from beating the random number generator that keeps screwing me over. Also, it keeps going until I screw up (or the RNG really bones me). Sudoku, meanwhile, has more of a cerebral thing going for it: when I finish a puzzle, I prove that I was smart enough to figure the damn thing out.

      Tidalis, meanwhile, straddles the line without committing itself enough to either. It’s too laid-back to give that good feeling from frantically putting things together, but it’s not cerebral enough to make me feel particularly smart either. And these aren’t mutually exclusive; Chime does a pretty good job of requiring enough abstract thought to make me feel vaguely smart, while still being dickish enough to make me figure it out RIGHT THIS SECOND OH GODDAMMIT I WAS TOO SLOW. But that’s weird too, as Chime’s mechanic isn’t nearly as clever as that of Tidalis; I’m just making boxes and then making them bigger. I think the timer may have something to do with that. The whole thinking-under-pressure thing is important, and I think Tidalis is missing that. I need to survive until the timer runs out, but there’s no way to extend it, meaning that I’m ultimately limited to a finite score. In Chime, there’s a balancing act between getting ridiculous amounts of points and getting more time so I can keep getting points. In Tetris, I need to balance my need to clear lines with my need to clear lots of lines simultaneously; if I just focus on clearing single lines, I’ll live forever, but my score will suck, whereas if I focus only on combos, my score will go up really fast and then I’ll die.

      Tidalis doesn’t seem to have that balancing act. At its core, there’s not really a whole lot of tension. While this doesn’t mean it’s a bad game, it does mean that it doesn’t reach out and grab me. And that’s a shame, because it looks like it’s actually pretty good: the mechanic’s interesting, the various modes are intriguing, etc.

      But if I have to force myself to play it (and, right now, I do), that’s a problem. It might be a problem with me, not the game, but it’s still a problem.

    • Keith LaMothe says:

      @elyscape

      Thank you for the detailed feedback :)

      Have you tried a custom game with just the speed-up mode enabled, on a relatively high difficulty setting? It should be roughly analagous to the tetris experience with endless play but increasingly fast drops.

    • elyscape says:

      I think I did, but I’ll do it again when I get a chance. It is, of course, somewhat hampered by the demo’s hard 2-minute limit, but I’ll let you know.

    • elyscape says:

      I tried it out and found that there’s no real good difficulty setting, at least with the 2 minute limit. Either it stays too slow or it gets too fast after like ten seconds. One thing that I think would help a lot would be if the speed of the glowy thing increased with the speed of everything else.

      I was talking about the game with a friend of mine and one thing we hit upon was that there are two effects the game direly needs. Specifically: a sound effect when you rotate a square and a visual effect indicating which square was rotated. The piece rotation feels somewhat loose right now, but I’m not sure how to fix that. Making a sound effect when you move something, however, makes it so you don’t have to completely rely on your eyes, which may be confused by visual effects. And a little fading glow or something would help remind you what you’ve been doing, as well as provide another indicator of what you’re doing that’s more visible than the cursor itself.

    • Keith LaMothe says:

      @elyscape

      Thanks for the feedback :) I’ll pass that along about a sound and visual indicator of a direction change, and perhaps we could include another demo level that’s just vanilla + speed up with like a 10 minute limit or something.

      By the way, I don’t mind checking back here for feedback but if you’d like you can post over at the Tidalis forum and it’s easier for us to see :) http://www.arcengames.com/forums/index.php/board,76.0.html

    • elyscape says:

      Sure. Should I repost my comments from here over there?

    • Keith LaMothe says:

      Sure, the other users might have some ideas I didn’t think of. Some of them know the game better than I do ;)

  48. drillerman says:

    Been sitting on the fence for ages with AI Wars. I think it’s time to get off the fence and buy!!

  49. Lambchops says:

    This has finally got me to buying AI War. I probably wont have time to actually play it for a while but I’ll just add it to the pile of stuff to play later.

    Oh and folks Tidalis is well worth it if you like that sort of thing. I poured a good few hours into it; the brainteasers are great and the action mode has lovely presentation and suprisingly varied and deep, though i never did complete it owing to the latter levels degenerating into requiring a fair bit of luck and me being too obstinate to turn the difficulty level down! Overall a great package though.

  50. Lambchops says:

    Also worth adding that the games they are working on sound great and I hope things work out for Arcen and they will get to release them.

    Arden Ridge sounds exactly like my cup of milk and if they show as much creativity as they did with Tidalis to the tower defence genre for A Valley Without Wind then the game will be an absolute treat.

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