Part 1: The First Five MinutesI'm going to show you one of the most important, yet most boring screens you're ever going to see in this game.
Look at that beauty. One second into the game, the very first thing you need to do is open up this panel and set up your empire's micro-management. You can choose if your ships auto-kite, the number of engineers and remains rebuilders to automatically maintain on each planet, the default behaviour of your military forces etc. Fortunately this screen has a 'Load from disk' button, which means we probably never have to look at this again.
This is one of our home planets. The greenish swirls with names above them are wormholes to other planets in this galaxy, the asteroids are metal harvesters and the cluster of strange shaped buildings under that blue circle are the sole surviving remnants of the human resistance huddled under a forcefield. Let's zoom in on that.
In the centre of your screen you will see a home command station. Every planet needs a command station, but the home command stations are special if the AI kills them, you lose. Having a command station gives you supply on a planet, which allows you the ability to build structures and take control of the local energy grid and resource harvesters.
Here you see the dregs of humanity. These guys are here for flavour really while they give you a small energy and metal income, they're mostly there for the AI to shoot. And if they got shot it hurts, as they increase your AI progress. There'll be a more in-depth discussion of what that means later, but for now let's just say that it measures how aware of you the AI are. The more aware they are, the more pain they bring.
A space dock. Now we're getting somewhere. Along with the starship constructor these are the main structures which pump out mobile units for you. Space docks create fleet ships: small, cheap ships which have high caps (a limit on the total which can be active at once). Starship constructors deal with much more expensive, much more powerful spaceships. Think little dinghies with machine guns vs. battleships. Anyway, let's have a look at what our spacedock has to offer at the moment.
From left to right there are some scouts, the standard 'triangle' selection of ships, and our lightning torpedo frigates. Scouts are vital for, well, scouting, and we'll be wanting to build these constantly. The triangle ships are your typical rock/paper/shotgun dynamic:
- A fighter has a light hull and attack multipliers against polycrystal.
- A bomber has a polycrystal hull and attack modifiers against artillery.
- A missile frigate has an artillery hull and a bonus against light.
Getting the right mix of ships types to counter the 60-odd potential ship types the AI can throw at you is a big part of the tactical layer in AI War, at least when you're not just throwing everything together to make a 2,000 ship blob of doom.
To give us a bit of mobile firepower to respond to any AI incursions, we want to get these space docks churning away as soon as possible. So, in the second second of the game another space dock goes up on each home-world and the four docks are set to auto-build a ship type each. These will keep on churning out ships for the entire game, stopping production when the ship cap is hit and restarting as ships are inevitably destroyed.
Now that we've started building ships, it's probably time to mention the economy. There are four resources in AI War: Energy, Metal, HaP and Knowledge.
Metal is an inexhaustible resource which is limited by extraction rate. It comes from metal harvesters, and you only get a few metal harvesters per planet. Metal is used for the up-front cost of units and can be stored, up to a limit. So in good times you can have a +10,000 metal/s economy, and then when your entire fleet wipes chew through your stockpile at -80,000/s rebuilding everything. Engineers are civilian ships which can be used to speed up the 'natural' building time of units or structures by splurging a stream of raw metal at them.
Energy is how the on-going costs of all units and structures in your empire are accounted for, and is a hard cap on how many units you can have. Every planet you own can support one free energy collector, and up to ten 'dirty' generators which cost metal per second to run. Energy is a constant resource, so you either have enough energy or you don't. If you don't, for instance say the AI have just overrun one of your planets, then your forcefields are going down until you get your energy supply positive again.
HaP are a measure of the holes you've found in the AI's firewalls. The more resources the AI brings to bear against you, the more holes are exposed. But once you use one, the AI patches it. Let's you do stuff like knowledge raiding, hacking irreplaceable buildings, temporarily blind the AI etc. We'll discuss this a lot more later.
And, finally, knowledge. Consider this to be information and designs 'lost' during the war against the AI. Each planet recaptured has a limited amount of knowledge which can be extracted and turned into new blueprints for blowing things up.
Speaking of knowledge, we've got 10,000 of it sitting in the bank just for starting the game. And between the two home-worlds, another 6,000 waiting to be unlocked over the next fifteen minutes or so. Time for a shopping spree! Here's the current technology tree, along with what I consider some choice options.
Note that some options, particularly fleet ship upgrades, expand as we unlock new technologies from ARSes etc. But still, even now there's so much to choose from. Let's go with a fairly standard set of picks to start out with:
- Scout Mk II We always need more scouts. Mk II, III and IV ships are 'additional' fleet ship / starship versions which have their own caps independent from the MK Is.
- MK II Neinzul Enclave starships Generate free drone ships, great for throwing out fields of chaff to distract the AI
- Engineer Drone Mk II These decrease build times massively
- Mk II Metal Harvesters Better harvesters, faster extraction, more metal
- Hardened Forcefield Generators Because command stations are fragile
- Mini-Fortresses Small defensive structures which also heal nearby friendly ships. I always unlock these.
- Heavy Beam Turrets
- Gravitational Turrets
And that leaves me with 6,500 knowledge in the bank to spend at a later date. Wait, did I just say turrets?
The third pillar of AI War, after a mobile fleet for attack and ensuring your economy is running, is defence. Now, you could use your fleet for this. But then you wouldn't be able to attack anyone. So we can build fixed defensive emplacements to help deal with any AI aggression. Turrets work the same as fleet ships they all have bonuses against specific ship types, different strengths and weaknesses etc. However in a recent change most turrets actually have per-planet caps, rather than galactic caps. So in theory you could fortify every planet to the max, with full defence in depth if you had unlimited energy and metal, that is. Which you really don't.
So I've started ship and turret construction, unlocked some new toys etc. Time to unpause the game and let everything build. Around minute five, things are looking like this:
That's our two home-worlds on the left, Zivu and Dageo. Zivu is now looking something a little like this:
The list on the right-hand side of the screen displays all units and structures on the current planet, and you can see that there's a fair few turrets which have gone up. A brief glance at the metal income at the top of screen, which currently reads -22,514m/s, will show that I've absolutely tanked my economy by building everything at once. I always do this, even though it leaves me with loads of half completed turrets, because I'm an impatient git. Let's take a bit of a closer look at those defences.
Here's Dageo, with the ranges of all turrets displayed. You might notice we've got a bit of a ripple effect going on here, with clusters of 25 turrets between the wormhole exits and the home command station. We've also got lines of grav turrets and tractors between the exits and the command station to slow down any attackers, a set of infinite range sniper turrets off at the edge of the gravity well, and have reinforced our one starting forcefield with a further six just in case anything slips by. Oh, and there's also clusters of lightning and flak turrets under the forcefields unlike other turrets, whose firepower is decreased while under a forcefield, these are still 75% effective under one.
At 5.01, a wave of 67 grav rippers is announced for Zivu. This is where the 'tower defence' aspect of AI war comes from one of the ways the AI is allowed to attack you is by sending in waves of ships to try and break through your defences. But why only 67 ships, when we saw earlier than there are currently 23,361 hostile ships in the galaxy? Because our AI progress is low, and as such only a tiny fraction of the AI's mind is focussed on us.
We are a pimple on a gnat's arse, and that gnat itself is beneath the notice of the elephantine war machine the AI currently has in another galaxy doing who knows what. But in time that pimple will metastasise until it consumes the gnat, then turn into some sort of vampire bat which can fly through the plaque clogged arteries of the elephant until it strikes at the heart. That metaphor got away from me.
Next Time: When
P.S That was an info dump, so anything you want clarification on speak up! I'm also happy to resize the timg'd pictures in the future, is you think the native 1920*1280 is a bit excessive.