To summarize: 5 large updates (plus 1 small, and 1 internal-only), 130+ individual changes, almost 9000 words. We had to stop before it went over 9000, of course.
Here are some highlights:
Most of the AI's decision making has been moved into external code.
Taking advantage of this, community member BadgerBadger modded in a more AIWC-like method of planning, announcing, and launching AI Waves.
On that note, BadgerBadger also modded in a more robust, AIWC-like implementation for the Dyson Sphere minor faction. Thanks, Badger!
Much of the visualization code (controlling display of ships, planets on the galaxy map, etc) has been moved into external code.
The ships now use a more serious, thematically appropriate style.
The backgrounds are darker, which also helps with a more serious look.
Target framerate and vsync options have been added, because the graphics were running too _fast_ on some powerful gpus (400+ fps => fan inferno).
We're now using the Alloy Physical Shader Framework since it went open source, and thus we can include it in a way that modders can get at it.
There's a whole new camera system and a much more AIWC-like default camera (along with a lot of tweakable settings, and pretty much the whole thing is moddable).
I accidentally the whole bottom bar. Well, not so accidentally. It was an interesting experiment but it needed to go. Much of its former function now lives in a context menu that opens in the bottom-left.
Replaced the experimental sidebar (which was largely despised) with something much more AIWC-like.
The galaxy map is now a lot cleaner (fewer icons shown at once).
Added support for multiple alternate key mappings per keybind.
When you're placing a turret, the UI now shows the turret's range ring (as in AIWC).
Build Policies now allow you to tell your constructors "just build everything you can" in a few clicks, and they'll automatically update when new ships are unlocked, etc. You can also tell it to build long-range ships first, cheapest ships first, or just about anything else you can express via C# modding.
Budget Policies now allow you to tell your metal economy to save up a reserve, or to prioritize work that directly helps your units currently in battle, or (again) just about anything else you can express via C# modding.
Reduced unit sizes so that things are less cramped in the grav well.
It's now much easier to decloak those invisible swarms attacking you.
The balance of the Power resource (per-planet pop-cap on facilities and defenses) relaxed to let you build more defenses, though the overall balance model for these needs to change to make the upgrades sensible and intuitive.
The AI's ships now pay broader attention to hostile mobile forces that could intervene to stop an attack, and are thus more likely to swoop in at the right time.
The AI's retreating logic has actually been made intentionally dumber, so you actually get a shot to destroy attacking waves before they run off to hunt you later. The AI was pretty unhappy about that.
All ships (AI and yours) now pay much better attention to not massively overkilling targets, thus allocating their fire in a more efficient fashion. This is basically how AIWC did it.
All ships (AI and yours) now automatically prefer pathing through less dangerous planets to get from point A to point B. This is an improvement compared to AIWC's logic.
Nailed a longstanding issue with starting in fullscreen mode, especially on Linux/OSX.
And tons more fixes, mostly not needing a direct mention but put all together it's a much more pleasant experience.
Moving forward from here, we've still got a long way to go on making the UI pleasant and intuitive, and we hope to be putting more time into the actual balance of the game and making the challenge enjoyable.
Thanks again for your support!
All the Steam Keys are now out! Plus screens of the first custom Ark!
about 1 month ago
– Fri, Nov 03, 2017 at 01:45:39 AM
Chris here! Turns out it was about 300ish Steam keys that were not out yet, but thankfully those all went out now. Valve approved the latest batch, and we should be all set for players and press from now through launch.
Sorry for the flurry of updates lately -- I know how annoying that can be when a kickstarter does that. We'll go back to having less-frequent updates for a little while after this, although there's still daily-or-nearly-so activity on the forums in particular, and very frequent on our blogs and release notes pages.
About The Ship Aesthetic
Earlier today I asked about a change in the ship aesthetic, and got a pretty resounding yes on that one. On the forums and elsewhere, there was a pretty much universal "yes please." No surprise, but I just thought I'd do a quick pulse check before making a big change like that.
There are a trio of recent videos that show how this is achieved, if you're into that sort of thing. The videos are long and artist-technical, but I'll be doing some more ones that are more speed-painting-y soon, too.
The result for the Special Forces Ninja Hideout can be seen below:
About The Gloomy Backgrounds
Another thing that Cyborg brought up, and that has been in general a bit of a bugbear for folks for a while, is how happy things like the backgrounds were trending. What a mood killer!
Here's an example of what the galaxy map looked like in one game prior to the changes that just went out in version 0.601 ("Grumpy Ark"):
And now here's that same screen in the new version:
One of the interesting things is that not only does that feel more space-like, but it also helps separate the background and foreground. Basically it will help the stuff in the foreground to "pop" more. For example, in the below, where the glow is still insane but you get the idea:
And if you're curious about the new "grumpier Ark" in action:
You can see what I mean about icons popping better against the gloomier background. Sometimes it's the little things like that -- and we just need people to come in and give us a bit of a kick in the pants sometimes.
I think we're on a good trajectory for the moment with lots of good things in the works, but in the next weeks and months we're going to start asking you for more and more feedback. And, heck, hopefully during that time period you can actually start playing the game and actually enjoying it in a realistic fashion rather than as a proof of concept.
We're getting there!
Hey -- About Those Backer Arks...
Some backers (11, I think it was) commissioned custom Arks as a part of their pledges. These are things that will be integrated into the game for everyone to enjoy, so these people are actively making things more awesome and creative for everyone.
We still haven't heard back from a few of those folks yet (probably quite busy), but Blue has been having a great back and forth with something like half of them, and the Arks are in various states of concepting ranging from thumbnail sketches to detail sketches... and one of them has gotten all the way to the point of being fully modeled, actually. :)
Here are images of it from in Maya:
These are all prior to having their PBR painting applied and before being integrated into the game with the other post-processing filters, etc. And we haven't even begun to discuss what makes this Ark different from "Ark One" (my new name for the first one, that I basically commissioned) in a gameplay sense. The backer will work with Keith on that sometime in the next month or two, roughly.
Anyhow, I plan on doing a video of me doing the PBR painting of this second Ark, and then getting that inserted into the "big ol' parking lot" of ships so that Cinth can wire it up for actual inclusion in the game.
Evolution of That Custom Ark
I won't share what exactly the backer was saying to us, because I didn't get his permission to do that. But he had some really cool early descriptions to give to Blue, and in response to that she created the following thumbnail sketches based on his earliest concept:
He really liked the one in the first column, second down, as you can probably guess based on the final product. This particular Ark went quite smoothly, so it was straight to refinement sketches after that instead of another round of thumnails:
For this, it was the bottom one in the second column, as the sharp-eyed among you will notice. The tail effect was a big attractive thing.
At this point it was time for some rough modeling to get his feedback on those pieces without color or details yet. So this is what Blue came up with (these are different angles of one model):
He had a few requests for changes based on that, and some good ideas for a bit of detailing. Which led to here:
There was also discussion about the coloring and what some of the final bits would look like once detailed and painted, of course.
Which is how we got back to where we started, with the "final" version of it in Maya:
Now it's PBR-time for that bad boy, and I'll have a video of me handling that probably tomorrow.
In Other News: Tutorial!
This may have slipped under the radar, but the game actually has a tutorial now! It will grow and evolve of course, but it's much better than the written thing we used to have. A lot is starting to change fast, these days. A lot of the invisible work we spent a lot of time on -- Blue, Cinth, Keith, and myself -- is starting to actually coalesce into something you can see.
And, heck -- BadgerBadger is practically an honorary member of the dev team at this point. Cyborg seems determined to catch up lately, though, in terms of stepping in as a really useful hand on GUI design and refinement.
In truth we've had a lot of support from a lot of folks, but thus far compared to some times in the past it has been a rather quiet alpha. That's fine, as it's given us room to breathe and work, but we are coming up on the period where we'll start ringing that bell louder and louder looking for more people to tell us what we're doing wrong. ;)
Updating the ship aesthetic in the game?
about 1 month ago
– Fri, Nov 03, 2017 at 01:45:11 AM
In case that (tiny, tiny) text at the bottom is hard to read, here's what it says:
Note that this effect actually uses vastly less VRAM than the other approach -- insanely -- because we’re able to use compressed textures.
The smooth, cel-shaded look shows imperfections in texture compression super fast, so we have to use higher-quality compression or even no compression.
The PBR-based approach is inherently grungy and messy, which fits with the general vibe of a war-torn galaxy anyhow,
and DXT5 compression doesn’t show any artifacts that aren’t just something your brain writes off as more grunge.
This overall aesthetic helps to make things look less “happy,” since that was a complaint with the art before, but it also keeps the exact same underlying textures.
However, we’ve overpainted those textures using procedural work in Substance Painter, giving a blend of hand-drawn and PBR styles that seems unique.
Thematically this seems more appropriate, and it’s also a lot (LOT) more efficient on your GPU, particularly if you’re on OSX or Linux (which can’t read BC7 compression).
We’re talking a 4x to 10x reduction in VRAM, while getting added detail -- just to be crystal clear. 4x on Windows, 10x on OSX and Linux.
We should also be able to make some of our LODs and asset-integration work a bit more efficient using this, too.
Also, when it comes to the vibrance of the space backgrounds I've toned those down as of today, too -- with the next build that comes out, 0.601, those will be much more muted.
And About Those Remaining Keys...
Still waiting on those from Valve. So sorry about that! I assume I'll have the keys from Valve either this afternoon (PST) or tomorrow afternoon. Otherwise I'll get up with my contact there.
about 1 month ago
– Tue, Oct 31, 2017 at 11:50:44 PM
Okay! Today is the last day of October, so here we are with the release of version 0.600 of the game to the various "launch" backers. Bear in mind that this is in no way the launch copy of the game, but we're working on getting things into increasingly good shape, and hope that the influx of new players will help us really make this shine.
At the moment there was a small error -- Chris underestimated how many keys we would need by a bit, and so not all backers are actually getting their keys in this first batch. 1083 people out of the "launch backers" group have gotten 1+ codes now, but there's some number of them that are still lacking a code because we ran out. Backerkit makes this a bit hard to see, unfortunately.
We've put in a request to Valve for more keys, but that could take up to two days -- or could be within the next hour, depending. As soon as we have them, we'll ship those out, and we really apologize if you're one of the ones inconvenienced by this. You wouldn't think that "stock issues" would be a thing with digital codes, but... well, since this game isn't out yet for sale on Steam, things are a bit stickier than they otherwise would be. Can't say much more about that without getting into iffy territory.
At any rate! Most folks now have a copy of the game, and we'll have the copies to the last few soon. If you have a key assigned to you, you should have gotten an email from backerkit with that information. If you're blocking them via your spam filter, or otherwise don't get the email, you can check the status of things here: https://aiwar2.backerkit.com/
If you want to preorder the game or pick up any of the add-ons that are still available, you can do that here:
Note that a lot of the purchase options have been removed since we're getting closer to launch, and those pages themselves will likely be taken down around January or so.
Thanks again, so much, for your support. And patience. We know a lot of that has been involved as well.
Plans and Status Updates for AI War 2
2 months ago
– Wed, Oct 04, 2017 at 01:52:44 AM
Chris and Keith here! Apologies for not having made any kickstarter updates since June, good grief. We’ve had daily or weekly interactions and updates on our forums, blog, youtube dev diary, and release notes pages for anyone who wanted the full firehose info dump, but that’s no excuse.
Schedule Slippage - Overview
Let’s get to the toughest topic first. We had originally planned to have an Early Access release on Steam in May, and then a 1.0 release of the game this month, October. As you are no doubt guessing, a 1.0 release this month is not in the cards.
With the Early Access launch-pushback in May, we went ahead and gave out the keys to all of the early access backers at that time, even though the game wasn’t available for purchase on Steam yet. We’re going to do the same thing with the “launch” backers: we’ll have your keys to you later this month, even though the game isn’t in a launch state and won’t be launch on Steam just yet.
In both cases, you’re still getting your key when we said… but, well, the game is not in the state that you would want just yet. So at best that’s a half-kept promise. Obviously schedule slippage is not exactly uncommon with kickstarters or game development in general, but we are still very sorry about that.
Where We Are Right Now
All of the core code for the game is done.
Multiplayer is currently broken for some reason, but should be quick to fix.
Massive amounts of work on frameworks for a flexible UI and extra modding capabilities have been put in place.
There are actually a number of extra goodies in there, like multi-squad formations and some other surprises.
Gameplay and Interface:
Balance leaves a lot to be desired.
In a general sense, the “feel” of the first game isn’t quite there yet.
There’s no tutorial, which makes starting to play quite hard.
The lobby interface is very sparse.
The overall GUI is ugly, but becoming increasingly usable through iterations. Our goal is for it to be better than the first game in terms of incorporating a lot of the longstanding requests people had for that game.
The Spire, Nemesis, and Interplanetary Weapons stretch goals are delayed, possibly until after launch.
Unexpectedly, we have a whole new minor faction in the form of The Nanocaust, created as the first mod for the game by BadgerBadger and integrated into the official builds by us.
All of the ship models and textures -- all two hundred and six of them -- are complete as of last week.
The actual integration of those ship models and textures is only about halfway complete, give or take.
The ship model and texture work includes all of the Spire, Nemesis, and Interplanetary Weapons stretch goals stuff -- so the art for those are already done, at least.
The far zoom icons are done, although we will probably change some of the “flair” parts of them as we get closer to release.
We have done a number of pieces of concept work for the GUI in terms of figuring out a style, but none of that is integrated into the game yet (no point until the actual underlying elements stop shifting around so much), and there’s still more concepting work to do in general.
The visual post-processing stack is still evolving at this point, to give the game a more sophisticated look and avoid the “circus lights in abundance” feel that sometimes hits right now.
The visuals for different shot types are still on the todo list.
The visuals for how ships die are also still on our todo list. There’s a balance there between performance of particle systems and the frequency (read: very high) at which ships die that we have to work out.
We’re still working on inside-one-squad formations that look awesome, although some of those are already in place. Basically making them look more like actual naval or air force military formations rather than just grids of ships. This has been pretty cool to see evolve.
The “ships flying around inside one squad with flame trails everywhere” approach has just turned out not to be feasible on modern hardware without impacting our ability to have really large-scale battles, unfortunately. There are some special tricks we could do to still make this happen, but that would get into some budget that we don’t have. This is a real shame, because this was something we showed off a lot in the kickstarter videos, but in pretty much every other respect our art is exceeding what was shown in the KS videos, so this has been a pretty decent tradeoff -- and something we can return to in the future.
A lot of the sound effects for different shot types have been selected and set up, but are not integrated into the game yet. So the battles don’t sound as variegated yet as they will later.
Another bonus that we’ve chosen to explore thanks to the urging of backers is extra voiceovers for human ships when you give them orders and when there are various alerts. We’ve done about 30% of the recording with a variety of voice actors for this, and we’ve integrated maybe 5% of that into the game so far. It’s something that brings more of a feeling of commanding actual humans rather than just lifeless ships, and it’s something you’ll be able to disable. It’s also something that we’ve got a system for making sure it doesn’t over-saturate you with the same voice cues over and over again, too.
As far as AI taunts or human taunts that you can give back, we have not yet started recording any of those yet.
The music is partly in place, but overall only a few tracks thus far. Pablo tends to work in a massively parallel fashion, and so a lot of his tracks are at various stages of completion rather than him finishing one piece fully and then pushing it out and repeating. Bear in mind he has to compose them and then perform them and then do all the audio engineering and mastering on them, so this process gains a lot of efficiency.
(The GUI is being gradually blocked out and iterated-on in that fashion before being made pretty.)
Upcoming Schedule: October through November
During the next two months, more or less through December 6th, there’s going to be a flurry of extra work going on to try to get the game to a point where all of the AI War Classic enthusiasts are able to come to the new game and feel both somewhat at-home as well as like they’re in the next era of the game.
Exactly what that means is a bit unclear at this point, but we know it focuses on usability, balance, the interface, and possibly tutorials. The reason for the lack of clarity is that there’s a big back-and-forth between us and you in this section -- this is a huge game, and so we need feedback on things that are unclear or break balance, and then we’ll respond to those items, and repeat.
There are a number of things we already have planned to work on through the early part of October prior to us releasing the “launch” Steam keys, and then after that point we hope we’ll see an uptick in the number of people who are giving us feedback.
Upcoming Schedule: December
After the December 6th date, or thereabouts, we hope to have things in a state where a LOT more people are comfortable jumping onboard and testing and giving us feedback.
Right now feedback has been really limited to only coming from a few people, largely because the game has been too unapproachable and too unbalanced. So that’s on us.
But we just absolutely cannot go to launch, or even to giving out press previews, with that little feedback. Our goal is to get our side of things to where we can start getting your feedback -- from more and more of you -- while at the same time seeing more and more of you enjoying simply playing the game without having major complaints.
Upcoming Schedule: January
Once the new year rolls around and we’re into 2018, hopefully we’re pretty close to where things are so polished that we can start handing out keys to the press and getting some previews. We don’t know if that will be at the start of January, or later into that month, but either way the goal is sometime in this time period.
At this point in time, when we start sending out press keys we plan to disable our backerkit preorders store and our paypal preorders. This is also likely when the “Coming Soon” page on Steam will go live, although we might conceivably do that in December.
Upcoming Schedule: February
This period might start sometime in January, if things are going really well, but either way it bleeds into February. Basically this is the “press review period.”
During this time we’re not taking any new sales for the game, and press are able to play and review the game. We hope that you folks are also playing the game and enjoying it and giving us feedback on how to make it better during this time so that we can apply some final polish to it prior to launch.
This time period is pretty critical for a number of reasons. Firstly, it gives press a chance to have reviews ready for launch, which can help a lot with purchase decisions. Secondly, it gives the game time to “settle” and hopefully have a lot fewer changes required despite a lot of backers playing it.
Thirdly, it gives a period of exclusivity where only backers and the press are able to actually get the game. People have an increased desire for things that they cannot have, and the press prefers writing about things that the general public cannot yet have, so we wind up with this funky period because human psychology is what it is. Hopefully this doesn’t feel manipulative to you, but we’re being upfront about why we’re doing this -- basically it will increase the strength of our launch week (which is critical) and the number of reviewers who will play it during this month (also critical).
Upcoming Schedule: March
Obviously these dates get less certain as time goes out further, but the idea is that about a month after the press gets their hands on the game, we launch the 1.0 on Steam.
The exact day will partly be determined by what is going on with other game releases by other developers, what conferences and conventions are in that time period, what store-wide sales might stomp our launch, and so on. We won’t have visibility on what the exact ideal release date is until probably 6 weeks prior to choosing the day; and even then we might need to shift the day forward or back a week or so because of something else in the market that comes up.
Speaking of the importance of a good launch week, one of the things we’re going to need to do is have the traditional 10% launch discount for the first 7 days. This is potentially contentious, because that’s a $2 discount that all of our existing launch backers (early birds aside) are not getting.
If this is something that angers anybody to a huge degree, then Chris will refund the $2 discount to those individuals out of his own pocket. So please put away your pitchforks. ;)
That said, I think we all have the same vested interest in seeing this game do well and go on to have lots of post-launch support (which require sales to fund), and expansions, and so on. Basically we all want to see the same sort of arc that AI War Classic had, I think?
The market is a lot more hostile now than it was in 2009, however, and the launch weeks are more and more critical to having any sort of momentum. The more we’ve looked at the data and talked to other indies, the more it has become clear what a problem it would be to not have a good leadup to launch (that month with the press), or not have a launch week discount that buyers have come to expect.
The backers and preorder customers here are the customers who have made this game possible in the first place, and so the 10% launch discount can really stick in the craw of some people when situations like this occur. We’ve witnessed the backlash against certain other games and developers when a development like that comes up out of the blue, which is why we’re telling you now, way in advance, and offering that $2 refund to non-earlybird launch backers if anyone is angry enough to take us up on that.
THAT said, in general we’ve been taking the approach that Prison Architect did, where “you pay more if you buy earlier,” which is counterintuitive in a lot of ways, but something that we’ve talked about the mechanics of with backers for a year or so now. Obviously the alpha and early access tier backers paid a whole heck of a lot more than the launch folks did, and those backers both help to support this game getting made at all, as well as having the game earlier and being able to influence the game’s design from an earlier stage.
We could go on at length about this particular topic, and we feel guilty about that as well as about the general schedule slippage here, but hopefully you read our reasoning and it makes sense -- particularly if you’ve been watching the PC market as a whole lately.
(The above image is a good example of us still needing to do some work on the post-processing pipeline, although it's already much better than that as of today's release of 0.522.)
Backer Rewards Status
There are a variety of backer rewards in a variety of states of completion right now. For practical reasons, it’s pretty much breaking down like this:
Now that we’ve finished all of the ship art for the base game, we’re starting in on fulfilling backer rewards that are ship-art related. We’re working first with the custom Arks, since those are the most numerous and most complicated of the backer rewards, and then we’ll be moving on to the others that are art-related.
For things that are design-related (custom AI types, ship stats, etc), we probably won’t get to those until December. It’s better if things are more stable and you can play the game more before you get into that sort of reward.
For the audio taunts and the text and lore bits, I’m expecting that probably January would be the timeframe, just to balance with our workloads.
As far as all of the digital rewards, other game keys, etc, those are available now and you should already have them. The wallpapers aside, which again will likely be January.
To reiterate, the last of the AI War 2 game keys (those for “launch” backers) will go out later this month, and anyone else at a different tier should already have theirs.
Hopefully that covers the questions of where we are, where we’re headed, and why. The blogs and dev diaries and release notes show where we’ve been recently. Again we apologize about the delay, but we’re doing our best to mitigate its impact on you, and are feeling good about how it will impact the project as a whole.