Part 196: Doomed Fortress-Sleeper*Doomed Fortress-Sleeper* (2:04:08)
The asterisk returns. This is a rather epic, intense struggle and I found myself basically causing constantly throughout it before I was done. I spent the first half-hour almost of the video (more like 45 mins to an hour in actuality) just figuring out enough of how things worked to have a real chance at success.
Yay. Let's get to it. Regallion, remember this is all your fault.
We begin in the north with a vaguely defensible position, but the southern portion dominates this map. It has a bunch of totems, emitters (some of the SuperEmitter type with indeterminate strength), the high ground is there, there's quite a bit of ore, and a number of artifacts. Just barely on-screen at the bottom are a couple of Spore Towers. They emit five each. And then we have this AE Tower which covers literally the entirety of the map, and actually a little bit off the east and west sides of it as well just to make sure.
If Lia is flipping out, it's probably real bad.
How dare you speak to the Imperator in such fashion, impudent insect!
Yep, it's real bad. Ofc I don't know what Sleepers are yet, so I'm not sufficiently concerned by this. I will be. I WILL BE.
*Flex* Bring it on sleepers ... whatever you are.
First idea was to connect the three Nodes with Collectors and grab the energy Siphons - there's one on each side. This was a good concept as far as it goes. The resource packs are more useful than I first appreciated - 550 each for over a thousand extra energy right away. Then, after building Relays across as well which is basically a waste of time ...
These drop out of the sky, literally, at exactly 30 seconds mission time. These are the Sleepers. You might call them Purple People Eradicators. At the moment, all I know is that they are hostile command nodes. They seem to operate on some sort of internal energy supply which they use to do various things. First up is clearly activating all the nearby emitters (the white flashes). Also interesting to me, if you look at the Totems, is that some of them are pre-charged and some are not.
I was basically thinking 'interesting, I wonder what they do' and moved on with my own plans.
That basically meant getting Ore Mines going, and weapons up here to defend against the problem that the nearby central emitter was already becoming. Same pre-charged totem thing can be seen as well.
Sprayers went up next, but then this happened and I started entering 'what the actual creeper ... ' mode. They deploy Pulse Cannons and Mortars against us, which shoot creeper-bearing projectiles. We're at just over two minutes here, so it happens FAST.
Enemy base, same timeframe. They, uh, haven't been sitting around on their hands. I didn't even know what some of this does, but they've activated the Runner Nests, built Ore Mines, Beams esp. are all over the place, creeper accumulating rapidly, they seem to have 'changed' or built something on top of the totems ... My working theory is that they derive energy for those yellow beams, which they use to build more things, from the Creeper itself. I'm beginning to realize here, though I haven't much idea what to do about it, that the sleepers are basically a symmetrical opposing force which totally changes the dynamic of playing CW. Sort of makes things a hybrid of CW and a typical RTS, as both forces get their creeper or AC but also economic structures and deployable military. And well, let's just say they have the upper hand of this map, so I need to be a lot smarter than them or I'll die. Quickly.
Here you can see where I hit one of their mortars with one of my shots, but they keep bringing up more weapons and advancing the ones already at the front, whilst I build more as quickly as I can myself ... but I know it's lost. Aside from 'build up more to outnumber them' I have no clue what the heck to do.
Take 2 - 6:09 video
I ditch the relays and work on getting sprayers up faster. I also start throwing down a few Reactors, which by the way are limited to an initial supply of ten. Then a bunch of cannons and ...
Oh hi there again jerks. This is the first time I kinda-sorta realized that you can see enemy weapon ranges by mousing over them. This is immensely useful. I think, but am not at all certain, that they default to one or two upgrades on them but don't improve from there. They seem to use whatever they get from the totems for other things ... we'll get to that once I do well enough to make it relevant :P. A similar result to the first attempt is quickly realized otherwhise. I do theorize though that it seems their weapons placement is being determined at least to a degree by how far the creeper spreads - they always appear to drop a basic margin within its bounds although I thought at the time it might be based on depth. Maybe both? Dunno. Anyway ...
Take 5 - 11:43
Not a great deal improves in the next couple of attempts, other than getting that close emitter in the middle knocked out quickly which by itself isn't enough, their mortars still punish us. I conclude that I need to befriend the Pause button at this point, and never look back.
I start working on a more efficient start-up, and here's the first thing I notice; this emitter and it's mirror on the right of the map don't start up right away. We're at a hair under 20 seconds in and while the middle one gets up and goes immediately, these wait. So I decide to try and nullify all three of the forward ones quickly. They activate shortly after the sleepers land, which I think is just straight-up 'just because' scripted.
I discover a couple of things here about the same time. Before this, that you can Nullify enemy weapons. I would later spend a stupid amount of time trying to implement good ways of doing this - don't. Just don't. It's a waste of time. Almost all of that was flat-out cut from the video. But here, I'm experimenting with Shields to see if they block enemy projectiles. No, they do not. But I also notice by happenstance that my Beams, put up for the sole purpose of defending against enemy spores, do attack enemy units that fly within range. This is a crucial thing to understand, how the opposing units interact in what are to me at least unexpected ways, and I begin to form the germ of an effective idea. You can see the other part of it here as well - by knocking out the emitters fairly quickly I've kept the creeper from approaching quite as much, so there's a buffer between my network and the enemy. Not enough of one, but still it's progress.
Take 6 - 19:20
Another new idea here - grabbing the artifacts. A bunch more reactors - I think 20 in four groups of 5? - are available, along with a single bertha and a pair of terps. By stringing relays to them early on, I can grab these assets before the creeper reaches them. I didn't get them all this time, but I would later after refining my approach.
SuperBeams on the PZs left behind by those first emitters is an absolute must IMO on this level. Here is one of the first weapons that I destroyed before it could reach its destination. Between that and as much anti-creeper as I could throw out there to hold back the flood, I was now interdicting their attacks to a significant degree. That which does not get in range of me can't shoot at me.
I don't know what to call these small blue things - I said 'nodes' but that's the command units - but I soon realized they were a big problem. Reason is, they are basically manufactured emitters, producing creeper on their own. This steadily increasing amount gradually overwhelmed my position in this attempt, so I did an off-screen test of what happens if I fire Bertha shots at them? As hoped, they blow up quite effectively.
Take 7 - 25:22
At this point I thought I knew enough about the start to create a series of saves I could go back to, a la Waternaris, so that I wouldn't have to begin from scratch each time. As a result, this was the last time I had to go back all the way to square one, but it would not by any stretch mean I was done failing. I had more yet to learn.
One tweak to the start - I get the siphons up immediately and the initial collector row, but I'm not connecting it on the one side to the middle node here. That's to keep it from running low on juice while the first couple of things are built and the network unified.
Then, seven seconds in when the siphons are up, it's time for a massive build. Four reactors and I'll add more three at a time after that. Ore mines, sprayers, relays along the wings, nullifiers placed by the initial trio of emitters, more collectors in the 'arch' that I can initially protect, more relays to grab all the artifacts ASAP, Forge even so the upgrade process can start soon, etc.
Most of it's up by the time the sleepers arrive, one siphon quickly depleted by the demands. It's all in a good cause though, and I actually ended up with a couple hundred left in the second siphon so I could have been even a bit more aggressive, maybe built a few more reactors right away or something. This is at the one-minute mark, and I'm focusing on clearing out this central area to get the two additional ore spots as quickly as I can. Beams are going up on the two wing locations ... but not here. It turns out that SuperBeams have just enough range at the start to meet in the middle and effectively cover the entire area, so I can use this for something else.
The initial burst from the Aether Siphon is used for a couple of ore boosts, an energy storage, and an energy efficiency.
As soon as it's clear, I put a SuperBertha up on the central PZ. This costs 600 to build, more than twice the usual cost - and we only get one. That means we darned better protect it and put it in the best location. Accordingly, I'm using one of our Terps to build a protective wall in front of it, a little at a time.
Reactors continue to go up a few at a time, and I start placing Mortars on the flanks. Those blocks won't last long, so the weapons must protect these areas, including and esp. the more advanced ore mines. Around this point - two minutes mission time - I notice that energy is topped out. A nice problem to have, and I accelerate reactor construction.
I run into the first problem in the east. Do you notice the problem here? I didn't at first. The SuperBeam doesn't have a relay connecting to it, which means it can't refill fast enough to keep the approaching weapons at bay. But also, that island I have the sprayer/mortar on is too far away, so I retreat those units on both sides. Margins on this map are narrow enough that packet speed is really important as well. Lots of things are really important.
These also come out early. Enemy terps are more annoying than anything else, but they produce digitalis. Quickly.
In order to protect my ore supply, I decide to build a makeshift fortification on the wings, starting in the west with my second terp. Also starting to get Snipers up. As can be seen here, the beams basically never stop firing and are always starved for energy. Overall supplies are fine, in fact too fine as I'm maxed again so I start throwing down more weapons. Mortars mostly as the creeper's getting deep.
One mortar makes it through right in front, but not by much. I'm worried about it destroying my almost-finished bertha, and I just throw cannons as close to it as I can for it to shoot at. This is probably a good time to point out some things I've learned since completing this level:
** Enemy weapons can be targeted, they are treated as Digitalis for that purpose. This would have been most helpful.
** Snipers can shoot at the enemy, not just runners. Which is logical, but didn't occur to me.
Stuff like this lone weapon getting through the cracks would be a lot less concerning now. As it was, the only way I knew of to kill something like this was to shoot it with the not-yet-finished bertha or throw a stupid amount of weapons fire into the area and hope enough of them decided to target it and not the creeper.
This is what happens when the SuperBertha shoots at a cluster of enemy buildings. It's a beautiful thing.
Also worth noting is that the sleepers are dirty, filthy cheaters. If you pause the game, Terps keep building digitalis, etc. And their Cannons, as seen here, shoot through walls as if they weren't even there. That's a max-height wall that provides no protection whatsoever against them. Super-great.
Having increasingly secured our defensive perimeter, I deided it was time to go on the attack. I tried repeatedly to grab this plateau in the west with increasing amounts of 'just throw more weapons at it', without success. They just couldn't hold against the creeper and other enemy weapons in range.
Eventually, increasing amount of spores and creeper-shooting Strafers, which are just all kinds of awesome esp. when they require quite a bit of power for the beams to shoot down, overwhelmed my defense. What I didn't realize for a while is why so many spores were coming. See those things on the left side of this image that I can only call 'Creeper Flowers'? I didn't realize what they do until watching them more closely, but they shoot out Spores. Without announcing it like the traditional towers do. So once again a new strategy; anytime I saw multiple of those together, they would get targeted by the artillery to limit the amount. Even so, it takes 2-3 attempts to knock them out.
Here's the status of my upgrades as I reload to a point where I had stability but wasn't yet attacking. I'm about halfway up on the ore/energy boosts, three range upgrades and no fire rate at this point. I increasingly realized that to advance successfully, I needed to continue focusing on the fact that Range.Is.King here. Outranging their mortars was vital, particularly given that I didn't know how to specifically target them.
Instead of a big leap forward, I gradually organized myself into an advancing line of mortars, as many as I could afford to keep firing. A slow push across the entirety of the map, compressing the sleepers into an ever-shrinking area which had the side effect of clustering their stuff more for the SuperBertha to punish. I found this much more effective in combination with knocking out the Flowers wherever possible, and also from time to time built stupid amounts of additional standard beams to increase our anti-air firepower.
I was even more methodical than I needed to be in this process, but once I started moving forward I retained a very healthy level of respect/fear for the sleeper capabilities. I didn't want to give them another chance to smash me.
By the time I started nullifying their emitters - at this point I've only taking the closest one in the center - the Sleeper Stronghold looked like this. Spores everywhere despite my best efforts, my beams constantly firing without pause to shoot them all down, and cannons/mortars clustered along the front that I ever-so-slowly pushed backwards. Screen's so busy it's hard to even see what's going on sometimes.
And here's my side of all that. Energy/Ore are up to 7 each, a couple firing rate boosts in, and I was focusing on maxing out range. Once that happened, progress increased as I had a lot more leeway in pushing through their collections of weaponry.
Eventually we started to approach their furthest-up Command Node, mortar projectiles filling the air, having liberated some totems and ore mines for our own use to aid the effort. You can only get so close to them here, as the nodes will shoot out their lovely yellow beams of theirs to destroy our weapons if we come too near.
Eventually, after enough creeper and assorted structures had died, so too did their node. It did not do so quietly, taking out dozens of weapons that had the misfortune of being placed too near the shockwave.
Taking out only one has a chain reaction effect that I did not expect - everything else goes boom shortly thereafter. The Sleepers have been vanquished, at long last.
I've since heard that they can do even more evil things if you let them survive long enough, like building their own Berthas. That sounds horrifying. Apparently they use the totem-structures to tech up every so often? That's my operant theory anyway. Overall, an entertaining and well-implemented alternate scenario that really messed with my head for a while, though I do find them being able to do things like ignore walls to be quite aggravating.