Part 2: When vampire gnats attack
The enemy has arrived. I'll be playing in 1024*768 from this point onwards, as after a bit of experimentation it makes for far better screenshots. After coming in and shooting at one gravity turret, the AI all turn tail and flee. Huh?
Ohhh, let's talk about AI types. In the setup screen you can choose a variety of different AI varieties, to add a spicy little twist to your game. This wave of ships happens to belong to an AI which has been set up with a Mime type, and a Cowardly sub-commander. What does that mean?
Yeah, so the cowardly sub-commander means that the AI ships run away far, far quicker than normal when out gunned. Which, flying into a lead storm from almost 200 turrets, they certainly were. This means that rather than pressing their attack and getting killed the ships fly away to fight another day, becoming part of the free 'threat'.
A quick word on threat. Any AI ship which is not aware of the player can be considered dormant. However if you go and wake them up, for instance by shooting too close to them or failing to kill them when a wave strikes, they toddle off to join the threat. These guys then hang around on an AI world close to your front lines and wait for a moment of weakness. This is all done off a rough 'strength' based system, which was recently updated to operate across a three-hop range. Once the AI are sure they outclass you on a planet, say if your fleet gets wiped out or another set of AI ships warp in as part of a wave, they then strike.
Anyway, now that whole wave situation has been deferred it's probably time to see what's going on in the local neighbourhood. Let's send a single scout, all of which are invisible to the AI, to act as a picquet on the three planets next to our home-worlds.
Hmm, interesting. As expected, all three of the planets next to our home-worlds are lightly defended. Durxhua has all 63 known threat sitting on it, as that's where the wave retreated to. It also has an orbital mass driver, along with the usual selection of guardposts. Miknei in the middle has a fortress, which will make it a somewhat harder nut to crack. And Oorto up at the top has no special defences, but five metal harvesters compared to the three everywhere else. As such, it is currently a slightly preferential target.
Now that the picquets are in place and feeding us back real-time information, let's see about exploring a bit further afield. I told the engineers to prioritise building scouts, so right now we've got 55 of them sitting on Zivu. And thanks to a useful alt-right-click menu, we can tell these guys to auto-explore.
The filters on the galactic map are pretty handy. Using these we can search for specific units, detected threat, known AI facilities etc. Without these, planning a 120 planet campaign would be considerably more of a slog. For now, we're just filtering based on the number of scouts on each planet. Hey, wait a minute. Didn't we start with 55 scouts?
Tachyon sentinels. That wily AI puts one of these next to every wormhole exit to catch scouts. Tachyon sentinels have the capability to de-cloak anything which isn't tachyon immune, which can put a real dampener on your information gathering capabilities. Thankfully scouts are cheap, and once destroyed the AI never replaces their tachyon sentinels. Hence the practice of 'tachyon drilling' to allow your scouts to reach further and further away.
Let's see what our first information gather excursion has given us, anyway. All those planets which now have numbers left of them, and the time since they were last scouted displayed on the right? We now know what structures the AI has there, and can prioritise them for our expansion plans. As a rough guide to what the numbers mean, here's my usual prioritisation list:
- P0 Don't care
- P1 A Core world, bordering on an AI homeworld. Do not alert this unless absolutely necessary
- P2 A world with something nasty on it. Examples would be a raid engine, vengeance generator etc. Be careful.
- P3 Utterly ordinary and uninteresting in any way
- P4 Of slight interest, but with no unique capturables
- P5 Unique capturables that may be hacked or captured. Fabricators, core turret controllers etc.
- P6 AIP reducing structures
- P7 One of more broken golems which can be fixed up and join our forces
- P8 An advanced construction facility of some kind, i.e. an advanced factory or starship constructor
- P9 The next priority. Generally ARSes or the Botnet Golem.
In the meantime, we have a couple more waves hitting. Nothing the local turret defences can't handle, but I send the partially completed fleet over the meet them anyway. Here you can see a few AI fighters being restrained by some tractor beam turrets and then pummelled by the fleet well, that's one way to stop them running away at least.
The star of the fleet, however, is this chappie. Observant members of the audience may have noticed him sitting next to our space dock earlier. A few expansions ago, Arcen decided to add in a modular 'champion' ship which could earn XP, grow in size and unlock fun new toys. This champion did so by participating in a number of nebula scenarios with their own little story, helping various minor faction allies out and gaining even more toys in the process. It's also a lovely way to introduce the less strategy inclined to the game, as you can set them up as champion only players in the lobby and let them fly around the galaxy knocking off nebulae and reinforcing your attack fleets while you yourself get on with the dirty business of trolling the AI.
Two years later, and people were getting a touch sick of playing the same ten nebula scenarios in every game. So Arcen gave us an alternate champion progress mechanism, where XP was gained gradually over time and capped by your current knowledge. There was much rejoicing, and champions now make a handy deep raider or fleet centrepiece without all that distracting helping people.
I think this post is long enough for now, but tune in next time for the first tentative attacks on an AI held planet!