IntroductionYou are outgunned. You are massively outnumbered. You must win. These are your orders.
Humanity has already fought its war against the machines and lost. AI death squads stand watch over every planet and every wormhole, the few remaining human settlements are held captive in orbiting bubbles, and the AIs have turned their attention outward, away from the galaxy, to alien threats or opportunities unknown.
This inattention is our only hope: a small resistance, too insignificant even to be noticed by the AI central command, has survived. These are the forces you will command. The AI subcommanders will fight you to the death when they see you but your glimmer of opportunity comes from quietly subduing those subcommanders without alerting central processing to the danger until its too late.
You do have a few things going in your favor. Your ships are much faster. You have safe AI routines to automate defenses and mining outposts. You have production techniques that can churn out fully-outfitted unmanned fighters in seconds. There will never be more than a few thousand of your ships versus tens of thousands of theirs, but through careful strategy you must somehow reach and destroy the heavily-guarded AI cores.
Go forth into the galaxy, steal AI technology, recapture those planets you must in order to achieve your ends, and save what remains of humanity. But draw too much attention to yourself, and the full might of the AI overlords will come crashing down.
This game has a free demo, including tutorial. Get it either on steam or at the bottom of the page here: http://arcengames.com/ai-war/
What is AI War?
The official genre is 'A grand strategic 4X tower defence RTS'. My personal answer would be the that's it's the asymmetrical 4X RTS that's stolen well over a thousand hours of my time since it was first released in 2009.
Asymmetrical? Oh yeah. The best way I've heard it described is 'The AI plays Risk while you play AI War'. You aren't playing against an opponent who works the same way as you do, because let's be honest no strategy game in history had ever created an AI that can actually match a human player. Instead you have a tiny force in comparison to the AI, but by squeezing through the cracks in their defences and strategically taking planets you can fight off forces a dozen times your own size. This is a true strategy game while tactics on individual planets play an important role, it's just as vital that you correctly prioritise the planets you attack so you don't rile up the AI so much that they squish you. If this sounds interesting, I would highly recommend reading this article, which is a fantastic (if now somewhat out of date) explanation of the game design by the main developer.
So, I said up there that I've poured well over a thousand hours into this game. That's not quite true. You see, since the 2009 release AI War has had six different expansions and over 270,000 words worth of patch notes. That's almost four average novels worth of changes. In fact, let me just put this here:
From maturity (version 3.0) to the 7.0 release is a period spanning three years from May 10th, 2010 to June 17th, 2013. The stats for this period:
- 1,134 days in the period.
- 281 releases in the period.
- Thus 3.95 days on average between updates.
- For three freaking years.
- Overall 2,800 individual changes in the period.
- Thus an average of 9.96 changes per release.
- Thus an average of 17.65 changes per week.
- For three freaking years.
This is what keeps me coming back, the massive amount of support Arcen Games pours into the game combined with it's unpredictability and replayability. They really are some of the most responsive and active within their community developers I've ever had the pleasure to come across.
So what is this LP really about?
AI War has a grand tradition of After Action Reports, and in actual fact I've written a couple myself. But the game has just hit version 8.0, along with releasing its sixth expansion 'Destroyer of Worlds', and given all four novels worth of changes since its first release I figured it was about time to try and tempt some goons to give it a shot (or another shot). So this LP will be focussing mainly on keeping it light, explaining things as we go along, and maybe providing some strategic insights without getting too bogged down in the minutiae.
This game is confusing, I have no idea what is going on!
Welcome to your first 100 hours with AI War!
It is without doubt one of the most complex games I've ever played that wasn't a straight-out grognardy war sim. Almost everyone bounces off it at first. The trick is that, as a new player, the first game you play should probably be a straight vanilla 5/5 difficulty with no special options turned on, and possibly even some of the more complex ship types (like tackle drone launchers) switched off.
Each time you run into something new, you examine it and work out how to defeat it. Then next game you bump the difficulty a little. Then you add super-weapons like the golems, or the fallen spire mini-campaign, or zenith miners, or ... and pretty soon there's so much complexity that you're back to gibbering in terrified confusion again. It really is knowledge built up from dozens of games, encountering new things every time you play.
The Arcen Games wiki is a fantastic resource for finding your feet, and I've pulled out a couple of the best pages in the list below. If you fancy having a play yourself these should serve as a far better introduction than I could ever give.
- Like Chess, A Game Of AI War Has Three Abstract "Phases"
- Prerequisites to winning
- Fast Facts: A Crash Course On AI War
- AI War - Starting Out
- How does the AI think?
- What Makes The Design Of This AI Unique From An Under-The-Hood Perspective?
- This AI is Awesome
I especially recommend that last one by the way, it's a forum thread dating all the way back to 2009 which catalogues the emergent AI behaviour which makes the game so interesting. Anyway, without too much further ado, let's dive right on in to setting up this game.
I'm really a kitchen-sink kind of guy, which means I turn on lots of optional extras. If you're interested in the exact setup I'm using, you can see the whole lot below. But don't worry, I'll explain these as and when we run into them.
I also tend to play mainly difficulty 9, two home-world starts with a small income boost. The 'normal' difficulty for this game is 7.0, which means the majority of the dirty tricks are unlocked at that point and the AI puts up a stiff but manageable challenge for someone who has grasped the basics. Beyond 7.0 things start getting rather tougher, with the AI getting far more reinforcements and unlocking some very dirty tricks (EMP guardians, warp gate guardians I'm looking at you) that often require significant Limburger to deal with. Winning on difficulty 10 is generally considered a bug, and after some recent wins the developers have spent a fairly significant portion of the 7.025 7.062 patches resolving that situation.
Above is the galaxy map in all its splendour. About 25% of this game is spent staring at this, trying to work out what you want to attack next or hoping that you can fling a fleet across five different star systems in time to rescue your embattled home-worlds. Each home-world you take at the start doubles all your ship and turret caps, as well as giving you a special toy in the form of an extra unlocked ship to build right off the bat. From a choice of around 60 I've gone with one of the new ships from the expansion which I've never played with before (The Neinzul Combat Carrier) and an old favourite from the last expansion, the Lightning Torpedo Frigate.
You may also notice that I've chosen two home-worlds (circled in red) that are connected to each other, and in total only have three access points to other worlds. This is because the first rule of AI War is to keep your empire's exposed surface area to an absolute minimum. More access points means more lightly defended fortifications for thousands of AI ships to pour through. Choke-points are key, and many people prefer to use easier map types like the 'X' or clusters to help them. Personally I always play on realistic maps, which have lots and lots of random interconnections.
Anyway, enough faffing around. Tune in next time for 'The first five minutes', whereupon basic home-world defence is explained and dramatis fleetship personæ are introduced.
Table of Contents
- The First Five Minutes
- When vampire gnats attack
- Tackling an Orbital Mass Driver
- When Fortresses Attack
- Strategic Objectives and Data Centres
- ARSes, the Botnet Golem and the Dyson Sphere
- Question and Answer: Part Un
- The Spire are made of bloom?
- That's no moon, it's a Dyson Sphere!
- Martys, defend thy motherland
- Rocks, but not as we know them
- Taking on the ASC
- When Nemeses Attack
- Bottie has an adventure
- Question and Answer: Part Deux
- CPA, redux
- The Lonely Wanderer
- Not crashing a freakin' planet into it
- Drive-by Hacking
- Risks, Rewards and Defences
- Take an ARS and the Empire Strikes Back
- Target of Opportunity
- Planet Crackers, Inc.
- The Aftermath
- Question and Answer: Part Trois
- Disintegrating the Core Shield Network
- Final Preparations
- Nuke them in Orbit
- Epilogue - Bonus Round