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DEV DIARY: AI Walkthrough of 1.84

Published on Sunday, November 27, 2016 By Draginol In GalCiv III Dev Journals

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Disclaimer:

For the first series of these I’m going to put these up so that those of you who have no idea who I am don’t get too concerned that there’s this guy endlessly criticizing the game (and other people’s games) in the most unprofessional way. 

Who I am: I’m the founder and CEO of Stardock. I wrote the original Galactic Civilizations for OS/2 back in 1993 largely as an AI simulator in which humans were allowed to interact.  It took off from there.  I designed GalCiv I and GalCiv II.  For GalCiv III, I consulted and helped here and there but most of my time was spent on Ashes of the Singularity and my day job of running Stardock in which the game stuff is a minority of our overall business.

To be candid, I’m here for you guys.  I write games for people to play. I don’t care how popular the genre is.  I want to play what I want to play and hope you feel the same.

Now, let’s get started.

Start-up

There are two pieces of starting up the game

  1. The first is that pretty little start-up window.  I’d like to see it have a different graphic than the main loading window.
  2. The main loading window

I lowered the load time of #1 by 2.7 seconds on my machine.  I did this by having the language validation put onto another core and moving other validation to being a background thread becuase it doesn’t matter when it happens.

I lowered the main loading by 11 seconds on my machine by having the main game textures loaded on different cores.

Note: If you have a dual core machine there’s nothing I can do for you.  I’m not changing algorithms here (that is called optimization).  I am re-architecting it to run in parallel.

Steady-State

Before you get the next update, load up the game and open up task manager.  On my machine, a couple of my cores are pegged.  I’ve fixed this by using different APIs for measuring time (they’re less precise but much cheaper) along with reducing the number of threads that game sets up for its job system which I’m in the process of scuttling entirely to replace something more similar to what we did with Nitrous over at my other job at Oxide Games.

Bottom line, this updated GalCiv III architecture which will likely show up in 1.84 should use a lot less CPU, be a lot faster and be more stable.  I hope to see this released as an opt-in early next week.

Game Setup

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Memory Use on start of game (via task manager)

  1. v1.84: 2.9GB (my modified version)
  2. v1.83: 4.8GB (current Steam version)

How: Updated the DDS file compression to use one that is new to DirectX 10 (I was able to avoid a DirectX 11 one and get nearly all the benefits). I am still in process of doing this so this will keep getting better.

Total Time from launching the game to being in the game via “quick start”

  1. v1.84: 22s (my modified version)
  2. v1.83: 36s (current Steam version)

So on my machine, 14 seconds of boot time reduced.  This is due to re-architecting, I didn’t “optimize” any algorithms.  I’m just using your hardware a little more completely (parallel computing, my friends at AMD and Intel would be pleased).

Defaults I recommend

  1. Tech Brokering should be disabled by default

Features I’d like to see

  1. I’d like to be able to add components to Mercenary Ships. I think this is very VERY Important. Literally, let me just click upgrade and add and remove individual components.
  2. I’d like to be able to do the above to any ship in fact.
  3. Planets that aren’t class 0 should be given some very subtle atmospheric effect
  4. I think embassies should have to be founded by Diplomatic Envoys. Gives players a lever to improve relations.
  5. GNN report on where the universe stands that comes up every say 20 turns on a particular topic.
  6. In diplomacy, Civs with neutral and then less than neutral relations should get their own circle.  Right now, a player with unfriendly relations occpies the same ring as someone with cordial which isn’t helpful.

Observations

  1. I haven’t gotten to play a lot of GalCiv III since it launched.  It is most definitely a lot better of a game than when it was released.  It wasn’t “bad” when it shipped but I felt it was a bit too much like GalCiv II with a re-skin with a lot of rough edges.  Today’s game shows a lot of nice, and often subtle, refinement. 
  2. Playback speed of battles should be 2X by default
  3. Too many cigar shaped ships.

 

Part 2: Duel

I feel like the performance is good enough to really start digging into the AI strategies.  I already fixed a couple of things I thought were not ideal. 

Disclaimer:  Writing good AI is more art than science.  People who know nothing on programming imagine that we can somehow just brute force calculate out some perfect strategy.  No, you really can’t.  People will pick short terms with decent AI over massively long terms with great AI.  My job is to make a really good AI with short terms. 

Every few years I do a rating of the AIs I’ve written.  Here is how I’d rate them on a scale from 1 (terrible) to 10 (ideal). And my opinions change a bit over time as I learn new things.

Galactic Civilizations OS/2: 9

Galactic Civilizations I: 8

Galactic Civilizations II: 6

Galactic Civilizations II: Dark Avatar: 8

Galactic Civilizations III: Twilight of the Arnor: 7

Galactic Civilizations III: at launch 4

Galactic Civilizations III: at end of 2015: 6

Galactic Civilizations III: today: 5

For other references:

Most other 4X games I play go between a 3 and a 6.

Weaknesses:

  1. The governor system really hurt the AI.  I can only imagine what they do to humans.  But it’s not ideal.
  2. The ship design system needs to be improved. Before Crusade.
  3. The planetary improvement system needs to be improved: before Crusade
  4. The strategic fleet AI needs to be improved. before Crusade
  5. Spacing of stars in star generation needs to be changed (hurts AI, makes game less interesting)

Other problems:

  1. Catering to forum “experts”.  I see a lot of code in here that was put in clearly to assuage people on the forum’s pet peeves. It’s good to listen to feedback. It’s bad to implement their advice as they suggest. Computer players aren’t people. When you try to make an AI play like a human like this, you end up with a very exploitable AI. 
  2. Exploits.  I see a lot of systems in here that I, as a player, could exploit.  Any time I play a game, I exploit it.  It’s a game.  I can choose not to exploit it but the more often I have to do that, the more fun I lose.  You can’t plug exploits easily.  You need to have a better AI system in which exploits just don’t come into the picture in the first place.

That said..

I’m going to do a 1 v 1 game and exploit the hell out of the AI as best I can.

Lots of improvements made today.   But also some significant game design changes to how the economy works that is sure to create some discussion.

The area I’m not that familiar with (in terms of exploits) is diplomacy stuff. Feel free to chime in below with any good diplomacy exploits you want me to look at.

Big problems

So 400 turns in on a massive map I’m running into a couple different problems here. 

First, the AI is reducing its priority on building colony ships even though there are many many worlds available (I modified the internal settings so that there are thousands of worlds to test this). 

Second, the AI is slowly reducing its priority on technology which is causing it to fall further and further behind me.

Part 3: LESS CPU Usage

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So after my tweaking, the idle CPU time is, well, idle.  I mostly play GalCiv III on my Microsoft Surface Pro 4 so I’m pretty sensitive to battery use. 

Sheer Performance difference:

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Thanks to Jon (a GalCiv player who likes to play insane maps with 50+ players) I have access to saved games with hundreds (plural) of hours put into them.  I used these saved games to help carve down some of these costs.

Now, my machine is a monster so my turn times are already short.  On his machine, it was taking multiple minutes to get through a turn while on mine, even on the public version, it’s “only” 13 seconds.  So then it’s question of whether it’s a CPU or memory thing. 

 

Part 4: A better, smarter AI

I ended up having to jettison a lot of the way the AI decides what ships to build.  It’s not that the code was bad or that a lot of work hadn’t put into it.  The problem was a fundamental issue of strategic priority: What should the AI do at a given time?

As the game progresses, more and more things compete for resources and this is where AI’s tend to fall apart in complex strategy games.  GalCiv III struggles with this as well.

For example, what type of ship should an AI facing 50 opponents, 14 it’s at war with that also has 4 unclaimed resources within range and 9 nice planets but is also facing money issues but has 3 trade route slots available and has a very vulnerable enemy that can be attacked if it builds a starbase to increase its range unless, instead, it decides to produce a fleet of longer range Frigates?

What I can tell you is that building a colony ship kept getting  knocked lower…and lower…and lower in the priority list.  The result was that as the game went on, the AI, which expanded well early on, would get slower and slower at further expansion.

There was no way to “tweak” this.  It had to be re-done and moved away from bottom up priority system and instead be looked at from the opposite direction: A top down.  The AI player needs to know what its goal is, globally, and pursue it decisively.  That’s where AIs are good.

Another area it struggles with is when it should, post-haste, send a unit to a troubled area versus rallying them up.  I see people on forums saying that the AI “just” needs to build bigger fleets.  Duh.  They’ve put a lot of effort (almost an insane amount of effort) into trying to do this well.  In GalCiv II, my code for handling this was a lot less sophisticated in the sense that the answer was ALWAYS just build the damn fleets. No nuance. Just do it. 

Test game

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Sunday night check in:

Just before midnight, I have my second check-in (first check in was all performance, this one is balance and AI)

 

# Memory #
New Compressed Textures: (DirectX 10)

Starbase minimum distance reduced from 5 to 3 tiles
AI tends to focus more on tech (generally) than previously
AI will build survey ships late in game
AI provided with a much wider variety of ship designs to choose from with the various strategies
AI weights units much more closely than previously in order to not make one virtually impossible to build
Opposing culture diplomatic penalty reduced from 1.25 to 1.1 if AI is benevolent
Opposing culture diplomatic penalty increased from 1.25 to 2 if AI is mercilous
Opposing culture diplomatic penalty increased from 1.25 to 2 if AI is cruel
Close to victory diplomatic penalties increasedf rom 1 to 5
Ripe for conquest diplomacy penalty reduced from 0.75 to 0.1 if AI is benevolent
Ripe for conquest diplomacy penalty increased from 1.25 to 1.25 if AI is aggressive
Minimum planet class to be a manufacturing world reduced from 7 to 4
Max number of colony ships the AI will construct at once increased from 2 to 3
Max slider focus reduced from 95% to 75% (to deal with coercion penalty)
Coercion forgiveness eliminated (there is always some coercion if you move off from center)
Maximum coercion reduced from 50% to 35%
Colony Capital production points reduced from 5 to 1
Civilization Capital production points reduced from 5 to 1
Influence Radius root increased from 1.75 to 4 (i.e. influence ZOC will start out much much smaller now)
Tech inflation penalty significantly reduced
Penalty for switching a constructor to a colony ship increased from 50% to 75% (yea, you know who you are)
Pirates moved further away from starting location
Increased the variance for the various settings (minors, , pirates, etc.)
Modified the governor script to provide a bit more flexibility based on planet bonuses when building improvements
Colony capital maintaince eliminated
Colony capital hub  provides a 2 (was 1) level bonus to adjacent buildings if they are population or manufacturing or research
Civ capital hub provides a 3 level bonus (was 1)
Reduced maint. slightly on research buildings
Rare habitable planets decreased from 30% to 25%
Nebula and black holes and anmalies made much less common on all settings
Occasional planet frequency amount doubled from 1X to 2X
Common stars modifier increased from 0.9 to 1
Common planet frequency amount increased from 0.75X to 3X (this also fixes a bug where common was less than occasional)
Abundant stars increased from 1X to 1.5X
Planet Frequence increased from 0.25X to 3.5X (also fixes bug)
Tiny map size decreased from 30 Sectors to 18 sectors
Tiny map base objects increased from 32 to 120 (i.e. tiny maps will be a lot more filled)
Small map decreased from 40 to 32 sectors
Small map base object count increased from 64 to 150
Small map max habitable planets increased from 32 to 40
Medium map size decreased from 60 sectors to 40 sectors
Medium map Base object count increased from 110 to 200
Large map size decreased from 75 to 60 sectors
Large map base object count increased from 155 to 300 (i.e. over twice as many stars/planets/etc. in a particular size)
Huge map size drecased from 95 to 70 sectors
Huge map Base count increasded from 250 to 350
Gigantic map size decreased from 180 to 80 (but number of objects remains the same -- more stuff)
Immense decreased from 240 sectors to 120 sectors (but same object count)
Excessive decreased from 290 sectors to 160 sectors
Max camera zoom on excwssive increased from 16000 light years to 30000 light years
INSANE map size decreased from 380 to 320
INSANE map object count INCREASED from 1200 to 1400!
INSANE map maxhabitable planets INCREASED from 600 to 640 thanks to memory reduction in this build
Max camera zoom increased from 18.2k light years to 40,000 light years.
Sensor cost components reduced slightly
Cargo module cost reduced from 27 to 10 (cheaper colony ships -- but remember, planets now rely more on population for their production)
Tiny hull cost reduced from 11 to 10
Small hull cost reduced from 25 to 20
Medium hull HP increased from 100 to 120
Large hull cost increased from 128 to 300
Large hull HP increased from 250 to 600
Large hull storage incresed from 100 to 120
Large hull logistics cost increased from 7 to 10
Huge hull cost incresd from 432 to 500
Huge hull HP incresd from 500 to 800
Huge hull storage increased from 250 to 300
Huge hull logistics increased from 10 to 16
Cargo hull cost reduced from 42 to 24
Cargo hull HP reduced from 10 to 1
Cargo hull logistics incresed from 5 to 6
Max AI improvement queue reduced from 3 to 2

# Bugs fixed #
Fixed double counting of trade routes for AI diplomacy purposes
Placed a critical section around the D3DX11CreateShaderResourceViewFromMeory call (random, late game crashes)
Placed a critical section around m_textureSets.PushBack( pGC3TextureSet ) (fixes random load game crashes on large games)
Fixed bug that could cause the AI to see tiles in the opposite map position of where they were exploring
Fixed a bug that could cause the AI to reduce the priority weighting on colony ship production based on the # of targetable planets


# Optimization #
Removed legacy stopwatch code from the sound system
Moved old profiling junk
Reduced CPU usage of the particles thread
Reduced CPU usage of main graphics thread
Removed redundant debug output

## AI ##
Added UpdateColonies and UpdateShipyards as seperate functions
Eliminated the UpdateColoniesShipyards (readability)
AI builds scout ships later in the game to keep exploring very large galaxies
Dramatically reduced AI >normal economic bonuses (no longer needs them)
Re-designed the way the AI expands into the galaxy with colony ships so that its expansion no longer stalls on large maps
Dramatically reduced the amount of time an AI will interact with a player if they are not within ship range
AI doesn't try to bribe other players to go to war unless they and the other players have a decent military already
AI will no longer give tech gifts to players with a different ideology (i.e. no more Drengin giving you tech if you're a nice person)
AI now scales the number of similar ship projects based on number of colonies rather than a flat number
AI pumps up colony ship production priority if there are a lot of nice planets laying around
AI pumps out fewer Constructors in general
Re-designed the eway the AI determines which planets should get a shipyard to be more (way more) intelligent
Updated AI's handling of adjacency bonuses to be more intelligent
AI values planet quality more when picking planets to colonize
AI somewhat more heuristic on tech research
AI somewhat quicker to war

 

This will take some testing.  When you boost perf like this, you uncover timing issues that were well hidden before. 

GalCiv Dev Diary: Prelude to AI work

Published on Tuesday, November 22, 2016 By Draginol In GalCiv III Dev Journals

So tomorrow is my first day on GalCiv III.  It’s been a long break for me.  It’s very nice returning to my baby.  GalCiv III is the first GalCiv game I didn’t design or get to spend much time on. 

A few observations

The engine is fancy

I basically have unlimited memory to work with.  However, it uses a lot of memory.  This isn’t terribly surprising given how complex the ships can get.

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But it is still a problem. 

I spent a little bit of time with this.  If we require DirectX 11 and leave the DirectX 10 folks behind, we can, literally, halve our memory use in texture compression.

The Job System needs to be updated

GalCiv III’s engine is both its strength and its weakness.  The strength is that it has incredible potential as a 64-bit, multi-core, high performance engine.   The weakness is that these features can (and are) abused.

A high performance engine means it has the ability to be really really fast.  But there’s another way of looking at it: It’s also very very forgiving of non-performance tuned code.

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Not all cores are created equally. Notice that one of them is pegged.  Now, imagine if you’re playing a 2-core CPU (like a laptop). This would be an issue.

A few examples is that there are a lot of calls for high precision timers in the gameplay code when, in fact, we only need the current time in seconds.  Things like that add up faster than you might think.

Performance Tuning

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Before I can even contemplate writing AI code for GalCiv III, the performance has to be a lot better.  I can’t afford to wait 30 seconds between turns.  It’s late game AI performance that needs help.  But I can’t spend 3 days playing a game to make a few changes.  The turn times have to get drastically faster.

Now, mind you, even today, GalCiv III is, to my knowledge, the fastest 4X at doing turns.  That is, late game, waiting 30 seconds for 20 players on a large galaxy to do their thing is actually pretty impressive.  But it can be a lot better.

And so that’s what I did yesterday and today: I made it a lot faster. A lot faster.  Loading up the game is about half the time it was.  Turn times are about a quarter the time they were.  But there’s a caveat to my performance tuning:  If you’re running 2 cores, you won’t notice any difference.  If you have 4 cores, you’ll probably notice.  If you have 8 cores, it’s massively better.  That’s because I solved many of these problems through improving the task system.

Instead of an AI player going through all its ships one at a time to do its pathfinding, I just split it off into the N-1 cores at a time to do it.  That is, if you have an 8 core PC, it’ll do 7 ships simultaneously. 

Just warming up

Don’t get too excited.  My check in (which you should have shortly) should make the game faster and more stable and use a lot less memory.  But this is nothing.  This is one day’s worth of effort. There’s a ton of low hanging fruit.

If I hadn’t checked in an update to Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation (if you don’t have it, do me a favor and go get it! <G>) to update their high level units, I’d have been able to fix that damn animation on loading thing that bugs the hell out of me (the galaxy should spin smoothly but there’s a call in its thread that sucks up too much CPU at a time).

This is for the base game

I will be getting to the expansion pack AI as well.  But I want the base game’s AI and general performance to reach a place that are more satisfying.

That’s all for now.

Stardock Thanksgiving Holiday Stream Schedule

Published on Tuesday, November 22, 2016 By Island Dog In Stardock Journals

Hello everyone!

This week is the Thanksgiving holiday for many of us, and due to that we are having an adjusted holiday schedule for our regular Twitch streams.

Holiday week schedule:

Wednesday - Ashes: Escalation stream

Thursday - No stream

Friday - No stream

All streams should return to the normal scheduling next week. 

Please be sure to follow our Twitch channel for updates: https://www.twitch.tv/stardock

 

A Tournament Edition: The whitepaper

Published on Saturday, November 19, 2016 By Draginol In Ashes Dev Journals

imageA very long time ago, like, a million years ago, Stardock made a game called The Corporate Machine.  Like all of Stardock’s games, it was played almost exclusively single player.  But unlike our other games, it was surprisingly popular in multiplayer.  How come?

For The Corporate Machine we did the following:

  1. Start-Up Watcher: A little system tray app that monitored for available games and let people launch it.
  2. 7 multiplayer only keys that people who owned the game could share with their friends and included the Start-up launcher.

Last week, we released Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation.  People seem to really like it but, like our other games, it’s mostly played single player. 

When we designed Ashes of the Singularity and Escalation, it was our expectation that about 95% of players would play it single player, 5% multiplayer.  In reality, it’s been closer to 97% single player.

For multiplayer fans, this stat could be bad news but there is a silver lining: It becomes economically justifiable to release a multiplayer-only version of the game in the future.

Here would be the limitations:

  1. No single player support at all. No skirmish, no campaign, etc.
  2. Cannot add AI bots to multiplayer hosted games.
  3. Would have to have a Stardock ID (so that we have some direct control over issues of griefing, ,cheating, etc.).

Time frame

Not yet.  There are a couple of features that are pre-requisites. 

  1. The replay feature for version 1.5 of the base game (2.1 of Escalation) is absolutely a requirement. 
  2. We also need to create a new system tray app that will make it easier for people to jump into games.
  3. We need a scheduling app that will let people set up games and remind others to join in when the time comes.

Eventually, this Tournament edition would be available on Steam for $9.99 which would allow people to get the benchmark as well (since a lot of people just want the benchmark).  We don’t plan to make it free-to-play except for friends of those who have the base game.

Post your thoughts below on what you think of this concept.

Escalation is a hit! First update released

Published on Thursday, November 17, 2016 By Frogboy In Ashes Dev Journals

Our first expansion pack to Ashes of the Singularity is out and people like it! They really like it! Smile

The first update is out

During development of Escalation a number of good ideas came up but we didn’t have time to get them in before release.

This afternoon we released version 2.01.  You can read the full changelog here: http://forums.ashesofthesingularity.com/480532

Highlights include:

  • WASD camera movement
  • Request region (multiplayer ability to request a region from another player)
  • Notification pings on the mini map
  • Lots of Balance updates
  • Lots of AI improvements
  • Bug fixes

The new features will be integrated into version 1.5 of Ashes of the Singularity (the base game). 

Esc_SS6The first reviews are in

As I write this, Escalation is sitting at an 82 on metacritic with a 90 from GamingTrend, an 85 from GameWatcher and an 81 from IGN

We expect to have the German, Italian, French, Portuguese language versions in within the next few weeks. 

A few questions answered

Q: Do you have to have Ashes of the Singularity to get Escalation?

A: No.  It’s a stand-alone expansion.  It lists for $39.99 for new players and $19.99 for existing Ashes of the Singularity players.

Q: Does this mean that the base game won’t be updated anymore?

A: No.  We expect to release v1.45 for the base game within the next couple of days and new features and content we create will generally be available for all versions of Ashes of the Singularity.  The base game will continue to receive new DLC, new features, etc.

Q: I don’t have either Ashes or Escalation, which should I get?

A: Ashes of the Singularity targets everyone.  Escalation targets RTS veterans specifically.

Q: Are there any new units coming out for free?

A: Yes, we are working on two new Dreadnoughts that will be added to the game along with a few surprise new units early next year.

Q: I’d like to see new races?

A: They are planned.  The Escalation campaign infers the existence of two more races that we hope to join us in the game.

Q: Will I have to have Escalation to get these new races?

A: No. 

Q: What about modding?

A: Our long-term plan is to turn Ashes of the Singularity into a platform for people to make their own games with.  Much of that will require time and more tools to be made.  You can already do a lot with the game as is (see the modding guide) but our explicit goal is that a customer could use Ashes to remake Total Annihilation or Supreme Commander or any number of RTS games in the future.  This won’t happen overnight but that’s our goal.

Multiplayer

While most people will play Escalation as a strictly single-player game, we are putting a lot of effort into improving the multiplayer game as well.  We include a save game feature (and autosave) in the event that there are connection problems the game can be reformed and continued. But there is a lot more we can still do to make multiplayer really fun.

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Some Wallpapers

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Esc_wall-2

Where should I go to learn more?

I can name 3 places:

  1. www.ashesofthesingularity.com
  2. Steam
  3. GOG

DEV DIARY: Campaign Overview

Published on Tuesday, November 15, 2016 By Zultar327 In Offworld Dev Journals

Recently the “The Patron and the Patriot” DLC was released for Offworld Trading Company. This DLC focuses on revamping the OTC campaign, specifically aiming to add story elements and new game mechanics focused on increasing replayability.

But before we get into the DLC we need to discuss what the campaign actually is, so that’s what we’ll be doing today.

 

Offworld was designed for quick, competitive games. Companies rise and fall in a matter of minutes, and most matches finish within half an hour. While this certainly is in line with the modern fast-paced RTS experience many players crave, it often does not match up well with those who want to spend time developing their company carefully and thoughtfully over time.

Enter the OTC campaign. In this mode players are able to select one of seven CEOs, each with unique specializations and abilities. You can play as a respected scientist, a robot seeking world domination, or a simple capitalist who want to turn one dollar into one hundred.

Reni Campaign Splash

No matter who you select you’ll be facing a grueling seven week challenge. Each week players will compete with two to three other CEOs, all of them trying to make a profit while aiding in the development of local government sponsored colonies. Whoever proves themselves the most valuable (most profitable) is awarded lucrative contracts, while everyone else is left with lesser subsidies relative to their performance in the region.

Campaign Mission Review

As the weeks go on and players turn their profit they are given opportunities to reinvest in the business, acquiring additional engineers for their production, specialists to handle advanced buildings, or unique abilities such as patents. They can even visit the black market and store a few nasty surprises for the competition in the coming weeks.

Campaign Hire

After a few growth come the elimination rounds, where CEOs who have not been able prove their worth through either victory or steady, strong performance will start being removed from the competition. Once the competition has been whittled down to four the final round begins, and colony growth is no longer the goal. Instead players compete in one last skirmish-style match, aiming to buyout their opponents directly. Whoever succeeds here will have proven themselves the dominant force on Mars, and will be rewarded a well-earned monopoly.

 

Despite the strength of the campaign Mohawk saw more that could be added to it, and we’ll start talking about those changes and why they were made next week.

Get ready for a lot of bitching

Published on Monday, November 14, 2016 By Frogboy In GalCiv III Dev Journals

Last month, CariElf, the lead developer of GalCiv I and II rejoined us.

Later this month, I rejoin the GalCiv III team.  In effect, it'll be a reunion of the GalCiv II team as we take the game to the next level.

But before we begin the series of GalCiv III updates that leads into the big expansion, let me offer you the same advice I've tried to give others here:

If you want to succeed, you must slay the three F's: Friends, Family, Faith.  

And in the spirit of that credo, my journals are going to take on a much darker tone.

Now, I know many (most) of you like Galactic Civilizations III.  It is very polished and it plays really well and has a good user experience..most of the time.

But I'm not joining the team for those reasons.  I don't care about any of those things.

When I wrote the original GalCiv for OS/2, I wanted to make an AI game.  I only let people play the game because I needed your money for my AI work.  Frankly, the game would be a lot better if there were no humans at all.  You're just too...slow.

I have a lot of complaints.  I don't like the late game experience of GalCiv III.  I don't like the AI's war fighting "strategy" (if you can call it that).  I find the game too slow late game.  Anyway, my point is, I'm old and I'm back on GalCiv which is where I like to be.

But I'm not going to sugar coat my work.  If you want to read marketing fluff, you'll want to avoid my journal entries.  

I still think GalCiv III is the best space 4X game currently on the market.  But that's mainly because I'm not happy with any of them right now.  If I could combine the presentation of ES 2 with the features of Stellaris with the rest of GalCiv III it would still be...ok.  But let me tell you what is wrong with these 4X games (looking at you Civ VI):

  1. AI. It aggravates me that no one cares about AI anymore.  You can get a 90 review score without decent AI.  
  2. Statistics show that most people play these games as Simcity style games. Well, they're not.  I'm happy to make a space Simcity game but STRATEGY games should be about strategy.
  3. I hate the economic systems of these games.  All of them.
  4. I'm annoyed with the new MOO game.  You know the secret sauce that a new MOO game could have had (did you know I bid $2 million to get the MOO IP?): It's not the battles, it's the fact that they put a lot of effort into having different species mixed together.  Simtex got this back in 1996. GalCiv should steal this.  We won't be for the time being but good grief, what a great game mechanic.
  5. Espionage.  Won't make it until the expansion. But gotta have that.
  6. Politics.  I am probably alone on this but it's a big bugaboo with me that we don't have more politics in these games.  Did you know the original OS/2 version of GalCiv back in 1993 had political parties, elections, etc? And I wrote that by myself. That's how big a deal I considered that game mechanic when trying to run an intergalactic society.
  7. Food.  Seriously. ARRGH.  This should be a global resource.  The idea that planets need to be self-sustaining in food is absurd.

That's just off the top of my head.

Like I said, GalCiv III is the best of the 4X space games on the market right now imo.  But without significant work, it's ripe to be knocked over and it'll deserve it.

So sit back and avoid my journal entries. It's going to be quite a ride.

 

Customize Your Game (Part 2): Map Options

Published on Friday, November 11, 2016 By Tatiora In Ashes Dev Journals

The thing I've been enjoying the most about Escalation is the ability to arrange a custom game to cater to what I'd like to do at that particular moment. Some people (and believe me when I say I am not one of them) are so good at the game that they want the opportunity to practice specific skills or challenge themselves in more unconventional ways.

In Escalation, we've focused on two really important core features: AI and Map Options. If you'd like to know more about the AI options in Ashes, check out part one of this article here. In part two, we're going to take a look at all of the new map options and see how they can be used to create a custom and unique experience for individual players.

Map Options

Crust Metal Density and Core Radioactivity
So, here's the thing about me and Ashes since the beginning: my economical management sucks. And every time I think I'm producing enough resources to turn myself loose and start amping up my army building, I feel my blood pressure start to spike when I hear Haalee whispering (yelling) in my ear: "You need more metal," or "You need more radioactives."

The mature response would be to quietly and begrudgingly set about fixing my economy. Please note: I am not mature. I do cut back my spending and cancel some of those incredible Dreadnoughts in my build queue, but not without uttering a few expletives first.

Sometimes, I have days where I just want to run amok and blow some things up. The "Crust Metal" and "Core Radioactivity" map options allow me to determine how much metal or radioactives I'm able to draw from each region and how quickly. There are five settings (including the default), and when I'm feeling like I just want to build lots of units and crush a computer, I can set it to "very high" and worry just a little bit less about whether or not I'll have enough resources as I start to build up my base and my armies more.

Or, if you enjoy a challenge, you can run either of the options down to the "very low" setting and practice managing your economy that way. I don't need to tell you which one of us will be more prepared for our next multiplayer game if you decide to go this route.

Quantum Coherence
In the beginning, when I was still a n00b (ok, you can stop laughing now, I know I'm stilla n00b), I seldom ever had any issues with logistics. I would normally have more than enough to keep up with my "growing" army and didn't have to listen to Haalee yell at me about needing more logistics.

That was a peaceful time, a time well before I knew that it was a good idea to build more than just one base factory or assembly early on. After being overwhelmed and caught off-guard on several different occasions, I sought some advice from some of my friends who were "experts." They all told me the same thing.

"Build more stuff."

...lack of specifics aside, I definitely saw their point. When I started upping the production of my units early on, I found I had an easier time capturing more regions quickly and defending my base against rush attacks. All the while, there was this tiny (loud) voice in my head, reminding me of one critical thing:

"You need more logistics."

...Thanks, Haalee. You're a real pal. Upping the Quantum Coherence option all the way to "very high" has allowed me to get around my logistical issues while also having enough Quanta available for upgrades to the weapons and health  of my units as well.

Of course, I have to remember that by setting these options for myself, I am giving my opponent the same advantage, but it still makes for an exciting game by allowing for tons of units to be produced quickly. Alternatively, some people like to be a little more leisurely about the way they play, so taking down the Quantum Coherence to low or very low will both elongate the game and make it more difficult for you to rush (or be rushed!) early on.


Es blog 2


Mantle Thickness and Neutral Defenders
Mantle Thickness determines how quickly your units are able to capture a region. For me, this affects me at two particular points in the game: in the beginning when I send out my Engineer to go capture a region before the defenders spawn, and later-game when I am trying to snag regions before my opponents discover me.

The higher the mantle thickness, the longer it takes for your units to claim an area. If you want to be able to take regions quickly and then move along to conquer more, setting the mantle thickness to low will speed up the process! But, remember -- whatever good this does for you, it also does for your opponent.

Neutral Defenders also have their own setting now, too. Before, you only had the choice of "on" or "off", but now you can add a little bit of variety to the game by setting the defenders to light, heavy, or random. I have enjoyed the "random" setting in particular because it forces me to be prepared no matter what region I am attempting to conquer. Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised because there isn't a single one to be found, and other times I'm actually glad I sent a small army because they have a pretty solid little force built up.


Atmosphere and Orbital Coverage
There are three words I fear when playing RTS games, and it's usually what I would hear screamed across my voice IP channel of choice when playing Starcraft with my buddies:

 
"DEATH FROM ABOVE!"
 
In the case of Ashes, it comes in two forms: orbitals and air units. As I've played, I have gotten a lot better about building up a counter to both of these things at my main base (since an embarrassing all-orbital defeat at the hands of Brad a few months back, I now always remember to build orbital nullifiers).
 
These two new options now allow you to adjust the atmosphere of the map to either allow or ban aircraft from being built for the duration of a game, as well as enable or disable orbitals. I know that when I play, orbitals are just one more thing in a mountain of things to remember to do, so it's nice to be able to turn them off and focus on getting better at my army management when I'm practicing during single player.
 
I personally tend to leave aircraft on, but that's just because I like to use them. I still get pretty salty when my opponent sends over an early bombing squad I'm not ready for, though.


Nanobot Productivity
This option is a dangerous one (for me), because it's really easy to crash your economy by increasing the rate at which everything is built. Granted, you can better control your economy by decreasing the rate, but as one who hates waiting for construction (we have two seasons here in Michigan, Winter and Road Construction), I just won’t do it.
 
The benefit to being able to change the rate of how quickly your nanobots work is being able to set the pace for your game. If nothing else, it has taught me something about managing my economy, since building things rapidly means running out of resources and having to listen to Haalee judge me.

Escalation Base

Entrenchment Bonus
This one is brand new! Admittedly, I haven't played with this setting very much yet. The Entrenchment option allows you to give your units a defensive advantage when fighting in territories that belong to you. This sounds great... until you remember that your opponents get the bonus on their home turf, too.

Either way, I found that I more often that defending against my enemies is more difficult than attacking them. To that end, setting the Entrenchment Bonus to Low (90% normal damage) or High (60% normal damage) has allowed me to gain a bit of an edge when I’m being attacked by more than one opponent at the same time.

The best thing about the new map options in Escalation are that you can set the pace and tone of your game any way you like. By allowing for adjustment of more than just the levels of difficulty, Escalation is a game that veteran RTS players can really sink their teeth into.

Ashes: Escalation - New Unit Showcase (Part 1)

Published on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 By rrfarmer2000 In Ashes Dev Journals

Hello and today we are bringing you previews of 4 new units!

Harvester

Harvester - Substrate

This unit is attached to a given region (any region) and sends a portion of that region’s output to that player. Also the Substrate now have an infinite resource storage! Spend that quanta on extra logistics caps!

Strategic Bomber

Strategic Bomber - PHC

Drops a single devastating bomb on structures (and only structures). Very useful for surgical strikes that must take out a specific building.

Brute Mark II

Brute Mark II - PHC

The next generation Brute has arrived in time for the war. It only comes out as single unit but it is much tougher and more deadly than the previous Brute. It is a short-ranged lightly armored unit designed to protect the more important units behind it.

Saboteur

Saboteur - Substrate

This new unit is called down via an orbital ability to wreak havoc on unprotected areas of the map. They come in groups of 8 and will punish those who just try to quickly expand. They’re not tough. They're not good against defenses or other units. But they are deadly against structures and for capturing lightly defended regions.

November Ashes Mega Diary

Published on Thursday, November 3, 2016 By Draginol In Ashes Dev Journals

Greetings!
Sorry I haven't been as active lately. It's been Ashes of the Singularity 24/7 here at Stardock.

image

 

So let's do this:

## Escalation ##
We had to push the release date of Escalation from November 3 to November 10. This is my fault as I just wasn't comfortable with the balance in the campaign. It was a bit too hard on the default setting and we needed to adjust it.


Obviously, you can change the difficulty level (side note: In hindsight, it's pretty insane that the original game shipped without a campaign difficulty slider) but the default does matter a lot.

Escalation also has added more units to the mix to the point that our review guide is a bit out of date.

For example, the Charon cruiser is awesome. Any army it is apart of is able to teleport reinforcements to it instantly. But it will probably have a lot of threads about it because there's a unit that is very tough to balance. On a huge map with 20 factories going, a Charon is a roving nightmare unless you kill it quickly. So it has to be handled very carefully.

Back when I was a Total Annihilation nut playing in the PGL, I used all kinds of cheese tactics like com napping, jamming a flash into other people's factories (the destroyed hulk would block units from leaving the factory), giving metal generators (consume energy to give metal) and then gifting them to my opponent so that I could assassinate my opponent's commander without worrying about his Dgun. I'm not proud.

I bring up the above because as I play and balance Escalation, it's an endless challenge to find that right balance between what is fun and what is exploitable. Escalation includes a number of really interesting new units that are likely to create some new ways of playing the game that we can't imagine yet. So we'll have to pay very close attention to that.

## Flocking ##
Some of the negative Steam reviews talk about path finding problems in Ashes. But the problem they are experiencing isn't path finding, it's flocking. The units know how to get where they're going just fine. The challenge is what to do when you have hundreds of them trying to get past each other in the most efficient way possible. That requires a really sophisticated flocking algorithm and it's something we've been spending a lot of time on these past couple of months as it is a non-trivial programmatic challenge.

We think we have a suitable solution that should be ready to be made public next week. There are opt-ins that are starting to get pushed out that will test this and hopefully will make positioning armies much more enjoyable.

## Tournament Edition ##
Early next year we are going to create a Tournament Edition of the game. This version will initially be only available to Ashes players to share with 4 friends for free. Ashes of the Singularity: Tournament will be a multiplayer only version of the game to help encourage a bigger multiplayer community.

We still expect 90% of the player base to play the game exclusively single player but we do want to make sure there is a really strong multiplayer community as well.

## Vulkan ##
We have this most of the way completed and have test apps of it ready. The remaining issue is HLSL to Vulkan. One of our partners is working on an HLSL shader converter. Once we have that, we should be able to release a Vulkan version soon after.
Once there's a Vulkan version, we can take a look at SteamOS (Linux) support.

## Roadmap for Escalation vs. Ashes ##
It is important to remember that for us, there is ONLY Ashes of the Singularity. Escalation is an expansion to Ashes of the Singularity. When we are working on Escalation, we are also working on Ashes.


image

Ashes of the Singularity user interface

vs.

image

Escalation UI

 

Going forward, we will be differentiating Ashes and Escalation more distinctly and some of that means that certain elements of Escalation will come into the base game or be made available as DLC.

For example, here are some DLCs we are thinking of making available to Ashes players in the future that come with Escalation:

1. Crystaline worlds
2. Volcanic worlds
3. Maps with more players on them

There are also features that are probably going to back into Ashes (for free) that will debut in Escalation such as:

1. The UI update
2. The Substrate economy change
3. Upgrading the Smarty to a Barrager
4. Upgrading a Annihilator to a Deadly Annihilator
5. Adding a low level anti-air defense for the PHC and Substrate that upgrades to a better one.

But over time, you will see the distinction between the two grow.

## Philosphy on RTS game design ##
As some of our Founders can tell you, the design for Ashes of the Singularity was NOT to be like Supreme Commander. I once even posted on our forums that if you were hoping that Ashes would replace SupCom that you would be very disappointed.

So for example, I opposed, in Ashes, to have things like strategic zoom or more than 15 units per faction or lots of defensive buildings. I still am not sure having upgradeable buildings in the base game is a good idea but I feel like I've promised that to the community.

But why? The answer is that Ashes of the Singularity, at its heart, is supposed to be a next-generation RTS to introduce people to the RTS genre.

I read people saying that people should just buy "Supreme Commander: FA" or some other classic RTS. I'm obviously a big fan of Total Annihilation, SupCom, FAF, etc. but are you sure that's the game you really want to use to introduce someone to the genre?

The fact is, a lot of these great games do not work well (or at all) on modern hardware. The mouse cursor might not work or they crash if you're running at too high a resolution or they are no longer compatible with certain video cards and so on.

## Where Ashes will go and where Escalation will go ##
At a recent LAN party for core PC gamers who were NOT RTS players, I had to pick a game to introduce the RTS to them and that game was Company of Heroes. Not CoH 2 (or Ashes) but the original Company of Heroes (this is why marketing hates when I post, I'm recommending Company of Heroes as the best intro RTS game on the market <g>).

The only reason I didn't push Ashes was the hardware requirements. The 2GB video memory requirement was too much for a couple of them. If we could fix memory requirement that then Ashes would be a no-brainer. Alternatively, we can just wait until 2GB video cards are the norm.

If you take a fresh look at Ashes of the Singularity, not as a veteran RTS player but as someone looking to recommend an RTS to someone interested in the genre you'll (hopefully) note these things:

  1. It's pretty bullet proof. You install it on a new gaming PC and it just works.
  2. The game mechanics are straight forward. You capture regions and get their resources. You can then build up those regions and get more resources which lets you build more stuff.
  3. There is some action in the first few minutes (In TA or SupCom, it can be several minutes before you even get to see any boom boom boom).
  4. It's visually gorgeous (on a modern PC anyway).
  5. Losing isn't particularly frustrating. Losing due to a Turnium build up is not generally anger producing. Having someone finally beat you back to your base can actually be fun. By contrast, losing because someone nuked your commander or did a Reaper rush into your base or put barbed wire all over the map or having your entire army melt because you couldn't find your little unit with the right counter to activate its special EMP power and select the enemy unit that would be casting the melt army spell can be extremely frustrating to a new player.

That isn't to say Ashes is perfect. We should have had a mobile orbital nullifier unit in the game when it shipped. We didn't think of it at the time. But we will add that. But overall, Ashes is a really really good introduction to the genre.


By contrast...

Escalation is designed with RTS veterans in mind. We listened to the feedback and realized that Ashes couldn't be a one-size-fits all game.

I spend a lot of time reading RTS communities and the Ashes one is the best i've been apart of. You guys are amazing and your feedback has been extremely helpful. But we couldn't put those ideas and features into Ashes, the base game, even as DLC at any price because at that point, it's not Ashes of the Singularity anymore, it's a hard-core RTS game.

That's where Escalation came in. With Escalation, I am comfortable having strategic zoom (and in fact, it's layered strategic zoom like we did in Sins of a Solar Empire). I'm okay with having a lot more units and defenses.

Esc_SS2

Strategic Zoom in Escalation

That doesn't mean Ashes, the base game, won't eventually get naval units and more factions of course. None of our plans have changed with regards to the base game. We just want to be able to have a game that targets ALL PC gamers (Ashes) and a game that focuses on veteran RTS players (Escalation).


## How did Escalation get so much stuff so fast? ##
As the Founders know, our sales projection for Ashes of the Singularity were modest. As I posted in our Founders forum last year, our objective was to sell 50,000 units of Ashes of the Singularity before the end of 2016 (not counting OEM sales).

It's not that we didn't have confidence in our game. It's that the demographics are the demographics. 4 core CPUs + 2GB video memory as a base requirement cuts out most PC gamers. It's just that simple. Not many people can play Ashes of the Singularity.

When it became clear Ashes of the Singularity was going to more than double the projections, we beefed up the team. A lot.

  • Ashes of the Singularity = Oxide Games
  • Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation = Oxide Games + Stardock

 

So once we had a design down for Escalation we had a lot more people available to do stuff.
Anyway, I have more to say but can save it until later. This is already really long. Let me know if you have any questions.


-brad

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