Okay, so this is basically a fictitious mockup, but I'm going to use it to illustrate a few points regarding the new Supply system.Map Notation:
White circles are planets I would take.
Red Science Labs are planets with Advanced Research Stations
White Science Labs are planets open to me for knolwedge under the new supply rules.Map Stats:
Planets On Map: 80
Planets Taken: 16 (17 total, if you count the starting home planet)
Planets With Knowledge Available Given Supply Changes: 42
Number Of Planets Attacked Without Supply Support: 9, Plus the Two AI Home Planets
Number Of Enemy Planets Hopped: 24
Advanced Research Stations Captured: 5/5
Now, to address some of the specific concerns from other threads:Knowledge Raiding Is "Basically Dead"
This is alarmist and patently false. As you can see, in the current map I could be knowledge raiding on 26 planets in addition to the 16 I actually take. It is
true that knowledge raiding is now more difficult if you are wanting to take a very few planets. But given the relatively low number of planets taken in this mockup (not tiny, but well below my normal expected range of 20-30 planets for a map of this size), there are a huge number of options available. This basically represents 94,000 total knowledge available to the player(s) in this scenario, which is huge.
And if you wanted to up that by 10,000 or more, all you have to do is take perhaps one more planet that borders four other planets. Easy peasy, but now knowledge comes at more of an opportunity cost, which is important. Most activities in the game are meant to come with an opportunity cost, otherwise they are not strategically interesting.This Kills Deep Raiding
Not at all. As you can see, I still had to do a lot of deep raiding in order to keep the AI Progress to a reasonable level. Deep raiding is just as important as ever. What is
dead is the ability to just be a roaming marauder with a self-sustaining fleet. That was way too powerful. As you can see, in order to maintain deep raiding I periodically would take a weak planet so that I could have docks and other reinforcements on those planets. That way I don't have to send reinforcements all the way from my main cluster of planets, etc.
What is more interesting about this new way of handling things is that it provides another attack point for the AI against the human players, and basically gives players something to lose. Having nothing to lose (except your easily-replaceable ships) is another flaw that is uninteresting, and was a situation that some enterprising players were able to manufacture for themselves. This artificially lowers the difficulty of the game, and also makes for game-breaking exploitative strategies.Energy-Poor Players Are Now In Trouble
Again, no. Previously, some players who were too energy poor would build a beachhead on neighboring enemy planets just so they could build a reactor there. This is still completely viable! The supply restrictions don't affect neighboring planets in any way, so there is effectively zero difference here.This Kills Beachheads
Again, again, no. It does
kill beachheads that are a long way off in enemy territory, but your ability to make a beachhead on an adjacent enemy planet is completely unaffected. For the long-range beachheads, take a look at the map above. The strategy now is to take a weaker planet next to the stronger planet you really want to attack. Then either use the captured planet as a forward outpost, or use it to supply an actual beachhead on the target enemy planet. People who are looking for mobile supply: this is how you do it. Take a nearby low planet, and that's your mobile supply. Colony Ships are unaffected by supply, so you can do all the planet hopping and fancy minimalist strategies you want.Why Make Changes Like This, Anyway?
The main reason for making these changes is to increase the opportunity cost for a number of actions, and to provide a more rich set of strategic options in general. You can still do deep raiding, you can still be a minimalist, and other strategies also remain very valid. However, these come with some cost.
In general, the only
reason I ever nerf a given strategy in this game is if it gives too great a benefit at too low of a cost. There have been some really challenging issues of late with players taking too few planets and doing all sorts of clever things, which really causes the AI to be less effective and lowers the difficulty in an artificial way. My response to this has been partly to teach the AI some new behaviorlets, and partly to reduce the benefits and increase the costs for these more esoteric strategies.
When I look at this game, the main thing I am looking at is the "decision space." When a single strategy or group of strategies are too effective, the decision space effectively shrinks because expert players would be fools to use any other strategy. This becomes a failing of the game which I have to address through balance updates and new/updated game mechanics in some cases. Individual ship balance is only the beginning, because how players use all the myriad types of ships in concert, plus how they plan their overall strategy, can have an even more complicated effect on game balance.
My goal is not
to make all strategies exactly equal (because then the decision space is shrunk by nature of the fact that any strategy is as good as the next, so it doesn't really matter what you do). Having no interesting deviations in strategy is just as much of a game-killer as having one best strategy is.
Instead, my goal is to make strategies that are generally all within a standard deviation of one another, so that players with different playstyles can play as they wish, but also which are context-specific to a degree, so that the truly expert players will adjust their strategy very heavily depending on the specific circumstances of a given scenario. This not only adds to the richness of the strategy of the game, it adds to the replay value.
Of course, when players play below their true difficulty level, they have more latitude to just use their favorite strategy and have done with it. But when things are really neck-and-neck, players should have to make appropriate evaluations of the map and act accordingly, rather than being able to artificially lower the difficulty through exploitative tactics.
Will this annoy some players who rely on these tactics to play at a higher difficulty level? Of course it will, and that is an unfortunate side effect. Any balance shift in any RTS game seems to annoy someone, while (hopefully) the majority rejoice. You might assume that because AI War is not a competitive pvp affair that these sorts of balance issues are not important. To a certain extent this is true, it is certainly much less important that the unit balance be perfect because of a number of facets of the AI War design. However, the overall strategic balance is critical for the longevity of the game.
When I play any RTS game, I am going so solo or co-op against the AI in skirmish mode. That's the only way I play. I basically can get 6-12 months of biweekly play out of most of the better RTS games, and that's the point at which I get bored with the game because I have figured out some sort of killer best strategy that the AI can't counter and that I can't top. At that point there's no other way that I really want to play the game, and I've lost interest playing the game using that best strategy, so there's pretty much nothing left for me to do with the game and I move on.
That's all well and good if you are trying to sell a huge series of RTS games, but with AI War I intend to grow and build it as a series of expansions, not sequels. That means that the core game had better be extraordinarily rock solid, with absolutely no best-paths that people discover after however many months of play. There are always tricky things that players figure out, of course, and so that makes an ongoing balance load for me. This is not unexpected -- Starcraft is still getting balance patches some 11 years after its release, from what I hear, and it is regarded as supremely well balanced.
As with the Starcraft balance updates, my goal is not to quash player innovation -- I applaud it. However, my goal is
to keep all strategies within essentially a single standard deviation of the norm, and also to add as much context-sensitivity to the grand strategies as possible. The kiss of death for an RTS game, in my opinion, is when all the games start feeling basically the same to expert players. That's when it's time to move on and find a new game to play. My goal is to keep that from ever happening with AI War, because that's the only way I'll maintain my own interest in the game, let alone the interest of anyone else.
That sort of outlook will annoy a few players as I go, unfortunately -- and I need to be very careful to listen to player feedback and not do something that pisses people off for no reason, or which is hated by a majority of the playerbase. In general I'm pretty averse to doing things that players don't like, which I think is a crucial attitude for game designers to have (just "doing your own thing" or having a "take it or leave it" attitude is stupid and is suicide). However, it's impossible to please everyone when making any given change, and so player feedback has to be weighed against the longterm health of the game. Rebalancing a game that has already been released is always a tricky proposition, but you only have to look at examples such as Starcraft or World of Warcraft to see how incredible the results can be in the long term if care is taken.