AI War 2 returns to Kickstarter, smaller and cheaper

Arcen Games have launched a new Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund AI War II [Kickstarter page], sequel to their cracking 2009 real-time strategy game which pitted players against AI playing by entirely different rules. “Didn’t they just…?” you’re wondering and yep, they did try to Kickstart it in October but cancelled the campaign when it was clear they wouldn’t reach their goal. They’re returned with a smaller pitch for a smaller game with a smaller budget, and this time they’re almost at their goal.

The new Kickstarter is looking for only $50,000 and oh! It’s past $48k as I write this, with 30 days still to go. If they estimated before that they’d need $300k, how can they make the same game with only $50k? They can’t. Arcen’s Chris Park explains:

“We had to really evaluate our scope. The original goal was based around us doing EVERYTHING all in one go, versus over time. There were a few reasons for that aggressiveness, but the main one was that I wanted to avoid having to lay off staff. We gave it our best go, but ultimately that was not meant to be.”

Park is taking more of a backseat role on AI War 2, by the way. With the smaller scope and budget, he’ll be handing a lot of design and programming over to Keith LaMothe, who worked a lot on the first game’s later patches and expansions.

Pledging at least $20 to the Kickstarter would get you a copy of the game when they finish it. Looks like they’re aiming for October 2017.

Adam will tell you that the first AI War is one of the best strategy games. Why, he did that this very day! Adam says:

“The moment everything clicks is the moment you realise that all of your glorious expansion has only served to piss the AI off. And, let’s be clear, it is an AI that you’re pissing off. An in-game AI, a ruthless and seemingly unstoppable machine intelligence that waits for you to make a move and then counters it, swatting your empire to one side. It’s an inversion of a 4X game’s normal flow, encouraging expansion and then punishing it by feeling out the cracks in every new frontier.”

I do hope this works out for Arcen. They’ve made some wonderful and surprising games, brains fizzing with ideas – sometimes too many ideas. But they’ve had a rocky few years, laying off a lot of staff, delaying Stars Beyond Reach as they burnt out, and outright pulling In Case of Emergency, Release Raptor from sale. PC gaming would be less interesting without them.


  1. Cooper says:

    I didn’t get on at all with the first AI:War, simply because it was an RTS.

    However, I really like the idea of playing a turn base 4x against an AI playing by different rules rather than AIs trying to seem like human player (e.g. Civ and the problems that causes)

    Is there anything like that out there? Is that what Thea is like?

    • cyrenic says:

      Now that you mention it, it’s surprising that no one’s done something like AI War in the TBS space. Not that I’ve heard about, anyway.

    • AshEnke says:

      You should try The Last Federation, another one of Arcen Games.
      Basically every one plays a grand strategy game (I think it’s turn-based but maybe I’m wrong and it’s more like pausable real time ala CK2), but you’re just a single extremely advanced ship and you influence how each faction plays.

      You steal or give them technologies, you broker alliances, you manipulate everyone in the galaxy according to your own goals.

      • froz says:

        I played it, and although it’s very innovative, it doesn’t play all that well. It all felt like a quite complicated spreadsheet, where you are tasked to constantly compare numbers. And this is coming from someone who actually loves comparing numbers in strategy games. I don’t know, it just felt like there was little strategy in it. Maybe that’s not true and there is a lot of depth in it (I’m guessing there most likely is), but that’s how it felt to me. I tried it for several hours and I felt bad that I didn’t enjoy more.

        In general I think Arcan games can be like that. I still wish that they will keep doing what they are doing, because they are so innovative. I’m sure that at some point they will create a game that I will love.

      • Toadsmash says:

        AI War works very intuitively played as a pausable real time game just like a Paradox game — you can pause it anytime and issue as many orders as you want to before you start it back up, and the game speed is adjustable to twice as much granularity as a Paradox game if you’d rather not do the pausing.

        And honestly, I think that’s the best way to play for anyone till you have a ton of experience with the game. AI War is a deep game that has very few similarities to… well… anything else, really, and it’s difficult to say what kind of experience will give you useful muscle memory for it. Especially once you start tinkering with the myriad minor factions, there is a colossal number of units in the game that often require radically different strategic approaches. I think most players who can play it as a regular RTS at all have either put a whole hell of a lot of time into the game or are playing on too low a difficulty.

      • shde2e says:

        I always loved the idea, but I see it more as a wargame. Unfortunately, it also suffers from the same flaws.

        As much as i’d like to use complicated strategies, there are so many units with so many attributes that it can be quite hard to determine what to do.
        Especially so since the first one sucked at communicating much information, like the numbers and composition of any group of ships or buildings.
        Often I find that the only way to determine the strength of any AI force is to throw my own fleet against it and see what’s left standing.

    • FireStorm1010 says:

      I havent tried it yet , but i understand StarDocks Sorcerer King and Sorcerer King: Rivals is exactly like that. The term for this kind of design seems asymetric

  2. Freud says:

    That looks great. Arcen games often have this placeholder look to them that I have a hard time with, but this looks very polished.

    They always were very creative and I know it’s only a matter of time before they make something that will stick with me.

  3. Yglorba says:

    Wasn’t Sorcerer King supposed to be something like that? I avoided it, since I’ve mostly not been impressed with Stardock’s games recently, but that was the basic concept, anyway.

    (In a way, most turn-based strategy games are like that at very high difficulty levels anyway due to the inability of AI to keep up with players without cheating – Master of Magic’s higher difficulty levels, for instance, would have the AIs start with huge established empires, which you’d have to undermine as a clever upstart.)

  4. Sin Vega says:

    I was quite upset that their last kickstarter didn’t make it, but glad to see them, as is their habit, adapting and figuring out a way to go ahead with less. It’s interesting to see their resourcefulness extends beyond their games, but a shame it was necessary, they really are one of the best developers out there these days.

    I was surprised too, to be honest. AI War was by far their biggest success, and the sequel already looks like it’s addressing all the complaints people often have about their games. Still, good to see this will go ahead.

    • mouton says:

      Well, it’s been a while and they sure had some misfires. Very happy it will keep them alive, even if they have to downsize.

    • Cocoarico says:

      Could not agree with the two of you more, the amount of time i spent on AI war was rediculous. I still remember being 20 hours into a game to make one mistake and watch the AI steamroll through my defenses taking half the galaxy back. In a game with AI I didn’t respect I would have restarted in a heartbeat but I had to see it through.

      After that I bought every one of their games just to support them(ie Chris Parken), and some games were duds but I enjoyed the ideas behind them. I’m sad they had to cut staff but the tenacity and drive of Arcen is incredible.

      Super happy they already reached their target and I can’t wait for the next epic battle versus an AI worth a damn.

    • bonuswavepilot says:

      I thought it was interesting in the first Kickstarter to see Chris talking about how they were having trouble reaching their current player-base.

      It’s an aspect of selling through Steam that I hadn’t thought about so much – even someone who absolutely loved AI War might well miss the news of the sequel because Arcen have no way to spam them directly.

    • shde2e says:

      Yeah, I always love Arcen’s games. They’re always just so darn… interesting. You can accuse their games of being many things, they always find new and innovative ways of designing them that put 90% of the AAA industry to shame.

      Honestly, any of their games is worth a whole sub-genre on it’s own.

  5. AngoraFish says:

    Well, I missed out on the early bird tier, so this is one fewer backer they’ll be getting. The scourge of crappy ‘early bird’ pricing must be forced to die, die, die a long and painfull death. As if a few hours late to a game that’s at least a year away from launch is somehow, because you happen to be sleeping/working at the time of launch, not ‘early bird’ enough.

    • Moraven says:

      I saw a board game recently that locked Early Bird pricing every 4-5 days. So every 4-5 days the price went up essentially.

      But really, its a Kickstarter. Its supposed to be more than a cheaper pre-order. You are supporting a developer to make a game you want to see. Is $4 really that big of a deal?

      • AngoraFish says:

        It’s a slap in the face, and I tend not to support slaps in the face. Call me weird that way.

        The alternative you propose is better, in the sense that a kick in the shins is better than a kick in the groin. It’s still crap, however, to rub into the face of potential supporters that they could have saved a few extra bucks if they’d only checked in 1825 days ahead of launch instead of 1824.

        I suspect that early bird pricing is simple crowd funding groupthink more than any logical or rational way to maximise pledges. There’s a reason why stores don’t leave sale stickers and brochures lying around the day after the sale. It’s just not good business to rub into the face of your new day customers that they could have had a bargain had they turned up just a day or two earlier.

        • SuddenSight says:

          There is a psychology to it. If someone sees your thing and somewhat likes it, but decides to wait till later to buy, there is a decent chance they will forget. But if you can convince them to ACT NOW then your chances of getting the sale go up a bit. Plus, with a Kickstarter, the first week tends to be critical for building momentum so convincing people to buy in early helps a good deal.

          I doubt any of this makes you feel better, but thought I’d point out that there is a rational (if manipulative) idea behind it.

          • AngoraFish says:

            All correct. Regardless, this doesn’t really address whether the “act now” factor shifts to a “don’t bother” effect after the early bird tier is full and (unlike most limited time sales in the real world), the sale pricing remains right at the top of the list taunting you about missing out.

            I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m butt hurt here. I wasn’t a huge fan of the original AI War – I liked the idea but found the game too complex and impenetrable to get into. I was willing to kick in to a new version because I can afford to throw away a couple of bucks, but it was always a wavering interest and one easily pushed from ‘give it a go’ to ‘wait for a sale’.

            It is also largely irrelevant if your early bird tier is sold out in a few hours, since clearly there was more than enough pent up demand to start with. In fact, the first backers to buy into a Kickstarter are almost guaranteed to be your biggest fans, as they have been most closely following your campaign, and therefore are also the most likely group to be willing to pay a premium rather than being encouraged by a discount.

            My main objection to early bird pricing is that I see it a lot and it’s dumb.

            The AI War Kickstarter is currently pretty illustrative. In their first campaign there was 1000 copies pledged in their early bird tier and only 106 copies pledged in the regular tier. This Kickstarter, inexplicably, the early bird tier has only 500 pledges (all taken) and (as of now) only 124 backers in the regular tier. This means that, to date, nearly 500 original backers haven’t transferred their pledge from the original early bird tier to the new regular tier (now the early bird tier is sold out).

        • Meatpopsicle says:

          If you really wanted to support them you’d do it without whining like a spoilt brat. They hit their goal without your help so take your whining some places else.

          • AngoraFish says:

            LOL. If backers were mostly altruists desperate for nothing more than the opportunity to donate money to support art, devs would all be running Patreons not Kickstarters. Have a nice day. :D

  6. Unsheep says:

    They have already reached the goal, with 30 days to go.

    If they had been able to finish Stars Beyond Reach, instead of simultaneously experimenting with different genres, they would probably not be in the current financial situation. Even though I really liked Starward Rogue, I think more people would have been interested in Stars Beyond Reach.

    Anyway, I’m backing this for sure, I count Arcen’s strategy games among my favourite modern strategy games. I like their mix of humor, innovation and deep thinking.

    • KDR_11k says:

      Wasn’t SBR pushed back because they had trouble making it actually fun?

      • Tridus says:

        Yes. SBR was playable. It just wasn’t very good.

        • LintMan says:

          > Yes. SBR was playable. It just wasn’t very good.

          Arcen not realeasing it anyway to try to recoup their losses says so much about them.

          Arcen spent most/all of their cash reserves developing Stars Beyond Reach, eventually forcing them to push out a small game (Starward Rogue) to try to supplement their income as SBR was increasingly delayed.

          When they decided SBR just was wasn’t fun enough and they weren’t close to a fix, they set it aside and moved on. How many other developers would do that with so much invested? It would be so much easier to put the best face on it, and release it hoping to recoup at least some of the investment. I totally respect Arcen for that.

  7. Bobtree says:

    This new AI War II Kickstarter page makes my CPU use in Firefox really high. I thought FF 50 had a bug until I realized it was only happening on this page.

  8. Iain_1986 says:

    £300,000 is too small a budget for a game, £50,000 is just absurd.

    Thats what, a single developer + tools for a year or so and nothing else.

    Game develop is costly, Kickstarters like this that make “gamers” think games can be churned out for pennies really don’t help the industry. We shouldn’t be chasing each other to the bottom…

    • shde2e says:

      Which is why they seriously reduced the scope.
      Also, it probably helps they’re not developing this from the ground up. If they have even half a brain cell (and they do) they will probably reuse much of the first AI War, and try to simply improve and rework parts of it.
      They also said that they weren’t going to do everything they wanted due to the reduced scope, so the situation is a bit different with this.

  9. philelzebub says:

    Speaking of Kickstarter, how about a follow up piece on “That Which Sleeps”? link to
    RPS was the first place I heard about this project but it appears to have gone to the dogs. The two devs have fallen out and no longer have any contact, the AI appears to have been a lie, they’ve locked out $10 backers from their official forum and the cash seems to have vanished despite not much having been done (art assets were bought in but both devs have jobs concurrent to this game development…)