Archive for the ‘ Level Design ’ Category

Endless Space vs Master of Orion

A lot of reviewers have characterized Endless Space as a slick, modern space strategy that lacks the complexity and personality of classics such as Master of Orion 2.

I agree with that assessment overall but it’s worthwhile to delve a bit into the specifics.

First, anyone would agree the challenge and complexity of modern “remakes” like XCOM and Endless Space is reduced. In XCOM it takes the form of pre-defined bases, pre-specced troopers, with extremely limited weapon choices.

In Endless Space, however, the whole nature of combat has changed, and I don’t mean turn-based tactics vs real-time. In Master of Orion 2 (MOO2), you were able to deploy your ships and adjust even the angles of approach. You were able to select which weapons to fire at which target. Thus when designing your ships, their speeds, shields, even the distribution of weapons made a great deal of difference in combat.

Endless Space combat is simplistic to the extreme. Your ships automatically do everything, you are in the role of a fleet commander choosing “tactics” such as +20% laser damage. One the worst drawbacks is the inability to choose targets which means that a lot of damage is wasted when your Dreadnought shoots all his guns at a scout (1 full broadside), while the enemy Dreadnought is pounding at him.

Let’s explore the 4X’s and do a side by side comparison.

Exploration in MOO2 is limited to the range of your drives. As such, you are required to leapfrog your way, building colonies at strategic systems in order to extend your range.

Also, exploration is very dangerous. Finding the perfect system often means losing the scout to a space dragon; finding Orion means facing the Guardian.

By comparison, Endless Space has exploration on easy mode, especially if you use a pre-generated, non-random seed. Exploring your starting constellation doesn’t require anything. The only critical research is the warp tech and it comes very early and cheaply. At fast speed, it comes before turn 15.

Starting your first colony ship on turn 1, MOO2 asks you to wait for 23 turns. In Endless Space (ES), the colony ship takes the same amount of production as a scout and it takes 2-3 turns to produce one.

However, ES has ways to limit your expansion that are often erratic and frustrating. When you settle a planet, your other planets (often just homeworld) become unhappy about your expansion policies, which reduces their output. It becomes necessary to manage unhappiness on a few isolated systems, which cannot be done through taxes but requires special research and construction. If you are a MOO2 veteran coming to ES, you’ll build a ton of colonies and then find out you have done irreparable damage to your happiness.

Again, ES interface shines when it comes to managing planets. The systems look very beautiful and since you are building improvements for the whole system, it is easy to queue construction.

Streamlining – check.

Complexity, however, again takes a toll. There’s food vs industry vs science but you’re never really wondering what to build next. Frankly, I worry more about happiness and the cost of improvements than optimizing my production. Speaking of streamlining gone too far, there’s just ONE factory, everything else is either % increase or per capita increase in production. Same with science – one “lab”.

I’ve covered combat briefly above and in more detail here (combat at max difficulty). Let’s do a bullet list of all the ways that ES combat is gimped compared to MOO2

  • You don’t have control over your ships; you cannot select a ship and move it closer, while the others sit back; you cannot move away; speed is pointless;
  • You cannot select a target for your ship and you cannot select which weapons to use; fleets with few ships are at a distinct disadvantage;
  • If it wasn’t for the fact that big ships can stack a ton of armor and defense, which skews the balance towards invulnerable ships
  • The AI builds mixed fleets of junk designs and compensates it with tons of them – at max difficulty, there could be 40 fleets on a homeworld, no problem.
  • There is no challenge in the form of “monsters” like amoeba or Guardian; there isn’t an award either (no Orion);
  • There are no Antarans breathing down your neck with ever more powerful ships
  • There are no races like Silicoids who will take a third of the galaxy, eating stones for breakfast

The worst offender is the weapons design. It’s so bad, it deserves at least a paragraph.

There are three types of weapons in ES: kinetic, lasers, and missiles. Each of them excels at certain ranges (kinetic up close, missiles from afar). However, you don’t have control on movement, so your missile boats will happily close distance and get obliterated at close range. So it doesn’t really matter which one you chose, other than laser feels more versatile.

The bigger problem is that weapons in Endless Space follow a linear progression, starting at 10 (power) and ending at around 210. There are no variations and no tricks. There are no special weapons like black hole generators. Also, there’s no point in doing enough research, so you can fit a blackhole generator on a … medium hull. No, you put the latest weapons you have researched. Period.

Last, let’s talk about hulls. In Endless space you basically have just three: destroyer at 100 space, battleship/cruiser at 200, and dreadnought at 400. Once you research the next hull, you rarely look back (unless you’re building suicide destroyers). Also, there are no differences in the designs you do. In destroyers, you select one type of defense, in battleships, you try to cover all, and in dreadnoughts you over-compensate with tons of defense. That’s about it.

In MOO2, you have six types of hulls and you are using almost every type. Space progression is 25, 60, 120, 250, 500, 1200. That’s 48 times difference between a scout and a Doom star as opposed to 4. Endgame your fleets have a lot of big ships but defeating the Guardian, for example, requires a very specialized fleet of destroyers (medium hull) armed with very special missiles. The battle is highly positional as well as challenging (hint: you also suicide most of them do destroy the Guardian’s shield).

Oh, did I mention there are no special modules such as Warp Dissipator, Subspace Teleporter, Quantum Detonator, or Phasing Cloak.

Invasions are another aspect where ES has dumbed things down way too much. When you invade a system, you see a ring that fills gradually. That’s it. No ground assaults, no Bulrathi madman killing 10 psilons. The worst part about invasions is the lack of bombardment and colony destruction. There is no way to destroy a colony and considering the quality of the systems and the penalty to happiness, I’d rather get rid of at least 50%. Maybe I should trade them to another AI.

In conclusion, I want to sound fancy, so here it is: “In the brave new world of classic games remade, the gameplay is targeted at betas, not at alphas.” Being old (I’ve played the originals in the 90s), I want to feel like an alpha again.


Endless Space max difficulty combat

Once you’ve mastered the exploration, expansion, and exploitation part of a 4X game , you are ready for some xenocide. In other words, you switch from strategy to tactics.

At the high difficulty settings, the Endless Space AI gets a lot of bonuses to research and production. You can catch up with research but you’ll never catch up with production. You can see the AI spawn a dozen fleets in 4-5 turns.

So how do you beat an AI that spawns an unlimited number of ships?

There’s two viable tactics: the suicidal destroyer route and the invulnerable dreadnought route. Both could work but I was never a fan of the former as it requires a lot of moving of ships around, plus you need to rebuild the ones you lost, so there’s even MORE movement of ships.

The other aspect that sucks your time are battles. Yes, battles are fun when you have a few battles each turn and you face different enemies. However, at max difficulty, you’ll have a dozen battles and they will mostly be identical fleet compositions.

With this type of ship design, you can finish an opponent in 10 turns or less, depending on the number of fleets you have built. Here’s the key elements:

  • Uniform defense: Yes, you can build ships that are specific to beating certain ships but you can get a nasty surprise when the AI changes fleet composition and you cannot retrofit because you are invading their planets. 10 of each defense is OK. Based on my experience with AI fleet templates, you can fine-tune it to 12-8-12.
  • Laser is the best offense: it just works at all ranges and the AI rarely stacks shields (laser defense). Augment it with a few missiles and kinetic weapons. You rarely need more than 10 lasers (2-5 of the others)
  • Support: once you get to the one that provides +% bonus. 6000 HP is a lot to go through. Put some repair as well, you won’t be coming home to heal.
  • Hero skills: you should prioritize defense, offense and tactician.

Heroes and fleets

If you’ve set up your production planets correctly, you will churn a dreadnought every one or two turns. Realistically, you need four fleets of three dreadnoughts in each (that’s a dozen dreadnoughts) but you can start the war with just one and half. The half is left as defense.

In some games, I do two dreadnought designs and keep a mixed fleet but frankly, that’s in the realm of roleplaying. A support cruiser with fleet bonuses (+damage, invasion, speed, and repair) is in the same realm. You don’t need them but they add a bit of flavor.

As you can see below, the fact that we call them invulnerable dreadnoughts, doesn’t make them so. Of course, this was a turn 130 design that met a turn 180 AI fleet but it’s here for illustrative purposes: don’t go it alone.

The AI can surprise you with a well-tuned fleet and your flak will not be able to handle the missile salvo. This is one of reasons I tend to go a bit heavier in the FLAK and DEFLECTOR departments. The AI’s endgame templates have dreadnoughts with 4000 kinetic attack and in the same stack ships with 2000 missile attack. Going 15-5-10 defense is probably a good call late game, if you want to make the victories more decisive.

TIP: If you lose a hundred HP each battle, you can still defeat 100 fleets (I am facing 40+ fleets on Amoeba’s warp planet right now). Every couple of auto battles, hit Manual and select the Repair card for all 3 slots. Do it in the first phase of combat because often there aren’t any other phases. The repair bonus is still applied 3 times though.

Here’s what your battle report should look like. Your efficiency should be above 95%. With a hero with defense and tactician and you will get 100 every time. Three dreadnoughts mean three different targets, so that’s what makes them invulnerable. Not just the defense stats.


I don’t mean the battle cards, as I do most battles on auto to save time (and reduce boredom). I mean how you should approach the attack.

  1. Scout. While you are waiting for the dreadnoughts to arrive, build and send a few cheap scouts equipped with the max scouting possible.
  2. Declare war and send those scouts to die. Check the enemy fleet compositions to make sure they are not all lasers (has never happened). Facing AI dreadnoughts with 4000 kinetic with your 500-800 deflectors is DOABLE. Just make sure you don’t send yours one by one!
  3. Move your hero fleet to your enemy hub. It will be easy to tell which one it is – there will be a dozen fleets waiting.
  4. Once you are there, just hit auto… a dozen times. The AI has a tendency to select “Intercept” for its hubs, so the result will be for it to suicide all its fleets on turn one. That way, you don’t have to waste 20 turns attacking a fleet each turn.
  5. Level your hero after the battles, you could be level 10.
  6. On the next turn you could face another stack or you might have just one fleet left from the previous turn. Kill it and start invasion.
  7. Send your number two (another fleet with another hero) to the homeworld or another hub, so they get a chance to level up as well.
  8. Send the invasion fleet to mop up (optional)

You can destroy the fighting force of an “empire” of the first 2-3 turns. If you take your time you can leave your main fleet to do the invasions. I usually do another design for an invasion ship. Stack it with invasion modules, add some defenses, and always group them with real dreadnought for defense. The AI will get sneaky and bypass your main fleet(s) to attack an invasion fleet two systems back.

TIP: If you are facing 10+ fleets, you can safely ALT-TAB and check your email or browse for 10 minutes. The battles will auto-resolve. In fact, as I’m writing this, I’m obliterating Amoeba fleets at a rate of about 4 a minute. 10 minutes for 40 fleets.

The alternative to the invulnerable dreadnought is the suicide destroyer, often designed as a missile boat to maximize the initial salvo. As you can see it has 2700 laser attack which is twice the attack on the invulnerable dreadnought. When you consider you can stack four times as many into a fleet, this means eight times the offense.

The increased damage is good on paper. In reality, you will lose them to enemy missiles. Not all but some. And this means hauling replacements from the other end of the galaxy. Also, you will be losing ship and possibly hero XP. Finally, you might be tempted to do the battles manually, which will turn a two-hour game into a marathon.

Endless Space max difficulty strategy

If you’ve played Master of Orion 2 on max difficulty setting, you know how frustratingly difficult a 4X game could be. With all the bonuses the AI gets, it becomes a superb challenge to come up with tactics as well as builds that can give you a chance for a victory.

Endless Space is a new 4X game, that takes a LOT from MOO2 and other space 4X games. So you’d imagine their max difficulty settings (impossible and endless) to be just as punishing. Starting a game on endless warns you “You shall not pass”. Yet I had 150 turns of peaceful expansion. Hmm, how do we crack the difficulty even more??

For starters, let’s cover the basics:

  • Galaxy: I go for a small Spiral-4. I don’t like settling a lot of systems, so from the advanced settings I choose: few constellations and sometimes low density. If you want less friction with your neighbors choose remote for constellation distance.
  • Production systems: you need to find a good production system and it might not be your homeworld. The ideal production system will have plenty of happiness boosting luxury resources as well as 5-6 planets, preferably one with decent food and the rest lava. Huge planets and plenty of moons are a nice extra.
  • Science systems: since production system have a pretty good science output as well, they will probably have your best science as well. However, after a bit of production and growth focus, I turn all second-rate systems into science ones. Occasionally  you’ll have a super-science system – one with helium gas giants. It is worth investing in it but keep in mind it will not come online until midgame.
  • Heroes: you absolutely need at least one Administrator hero and preferably two. Corporate heroes can substitute if you only have one Administrator but they are lousy at system development. The administrator boosts production (early on), then food (important for growth), and happiness (to keep your lava system happy).

I spent a bit of time fine-tuning my systems to determine the best setup. I tried maxing my best production and science systems with the best terraforming had to offer and frankly, terraforming beyond lava/arctic is hardly worth it. So you might as well start the extermination at turn 120 (like I did).

Production systems verdict: Lava is perfect!

Lava System (endgame): Excellent production, however you need more happiness luxuries (or improvements)

Jungle System (endgame): The same production as the lava system but since you got more food, when you transfer that food into production, it will appear to produce slightly more.

As you can see, with food conversion turned off (Adaptive Industrial Systems improvement), both systems are virtually identical (the heroes are identical too). Considering you can get lucky with a natural lava system and lava is the first terraform option you research (it’s also very cheap to execute), lava is best.

Science system verdict: Artctic is cool, Helium is marginally better

This is a second-class system that had 2 planets converted to arctic (was almost naturally suited for science anyway). That’s around turn 130. Science: 1200

Let’s look at my home system, where I got extremely lucky with 3 helium gas giants. Science: 1400

Here’s my home system late game, churning 2600 science with my hero boosting science with wit of 19.

I never bothered terraforming the other planets to ocean and changing the exploitation, but as a test, I did that. With food converted to production and production converted with science (25% anyway), my home system peaked at 3200 science.

So the conclusion is simple: finding easily-colonizable systems with plenty of planets is the key to victory. Planet composition is not very important, especially once you get to lava and arctic transformation.

Next: Ships and Fleets at max difficulty

Bad piggies motorcycles

I haven’t played Angry Birds as I’m not fond of “launch” games or puzzles for that matter. I bought Bad Piggies for my better half but I ended up playing it instead.

The levels are interesting, with only a few of them slow or frustrating. I had the most fun constructing motorcycles though, even when the level didn’t call for one.

Rovio did a good thing by adding sandbox levels where you can actually drive your bike around!

Diablo 3 inferno farming

This is probably a bit of old news, as no one seems to be playing Diablo 3 any more (myself included).

I wanted to post my Demon hunter and my Inferno farming gear. If I have more time, I do ACT I runs (selective farming of rares) and once I’m up to 5 stacks, I usually go to the Pony level (Whimsyshire).

The key to the item build is the full Natalya set as it gives you incredible discipline regeneration. In Athene’s tests, he was able to kite/stealth for 2 minutes straight. This was enough to kill rare spawns even before the inferno hit points nerf.

As to weapons, I have a 1050 crossbow. The impressive part is it has 80% increased critical damage and a socket, which I can upgrade to +100%. Currently, it’s +70, which gives me +150% from the crossbow alone.

XCOM Build Order (5 Sats strat, Impossible)

If you are hooked on XCOM, you’ve probably invested quite a few hours tweaking your build order in March.

Playing on IMPOSSIBLE difficulty, March is the make or break month, when every star needs to align just right. While it is possible to survive and later thrive with just one additional satellite in March, if you manage to pull off 5 sats in March, you have pretty much won the strategic battle.

So what’s the ideal build order for March?

1) I chose Asia for starting location because the bonus is nice (cheap soldier upgrades) and I don’t plan to sat it first. I’d rather leave the smaller continents in “panic”, then sat them. Asia and Europe are more difficult to manage through sats, so you’ll need to do missions there.

2) March 3: you need to start your workshop ($130). You’ll also need to select Engineers whenever you have an abduction mission (+4).

3) March 11: you need to have 4 sats building (4x$79). Note: always build sats one by one (as opposed to batches), because this way you can cancel 1 if the money is short later in the month.
Money is short, so luck comes in. There will be a small UFO around March 7th. Ignore it and shoot down the medium one they’ll send after it. I got lucky to shoot the medium one on March 11. Sell the alien navigation, computers, everything.

4) March 17: you need to start your satellite link building ($150), which means you needed to place your power plant on March 11/12 ($60).

5) Late March: there will be a council mission. Ideally you want engineers and/or money to help with next month’s expenses.

6) March 31st: Launch your 4 sats, targeting countries in red. You won’t be able to cover any continents, yet. That will happen in April.

XCOM Build order: 5 Sats in March

In April, you need to continue building workshops, power plants, satellites (by April 10, you need 5!), and sat links (by April 16, you need 2). It is possible to do it and it’s not as much luck-based as the medium UFO you need by March 21.

XCOM Impossible build order: 5 Sats in March, 10 sats in April

You’ll probably need to sell everything, which means your research will suffer. You will be fighting aliens in basic armor and with basic weapons all the way through May.

Shoot for light plasma research, start it after the mission you see (and capture) your first muton. Which means you’ll need to set aside a few Sectoids to get done with Xeno Biology and the Alien Containment.

Soldiers will have to live by their skills as plasma will be a long time coming. Plasma snipers will come in late June.

A few bits of tactical advice. I’m assuming you are aware of most of the points about fighting aliens on impossible difficulty as better AI, increased HP, etc.

  • First mission is tough because you only have assault rifles. Use grenades to soften up the Sectoids, then finish them off. You need to rotate your troops, so all four get a promotion.
  • First abduction mission could be tougher, so use blocks as much as possible. Second turn in general there will be movement from the AI, so plan your position and overwatch carefully. Your sniper needs to get to squad sights (lvl2 skill), so give him a few kills. It’s important not to lose soldiers, so use explosives as you see fit.
  • Mind merge is great because you can kill the Sectoid that initiated it and get two kills in the process. Easy with run-and-gun (see below)
  • Thin men need to be killed on sight. Rockets, double grenades, whatever it takes. Weapon fragments are important but you are only researching plasma and that’s  month 3 anyway. Winning tactical battles and getting promotions is more important.
  • UFO missions – obviously, don’t use explosives unless you are blowing up walls. A damaged computer can cost you 35 credits and make it impossible for you to get 5 sats in March.
  • May missions – Mutons will start to appear, make sure you’ve researched Xeno biology, so you can stun the first Muton you see. This will give you light plasma rifle (item) and allow you to start the research on it with a bonus to plasma. That means not selling 4 Sectoid corpses, sell everything else, even elerium and alloys.
  • Muton charge – some missions in late May/early June will pit you against 6-9 Mutons. If you are lucky, you could be armed with light plasma (so get more assault/support guys in battles). You will need to fight a retreating battle, the AI is pretty easy to fool to follow you. Just show them someone in full cover (hunker down), whenever you’d like to see them moving in any particular direction.
  • Rockets and grenades are your friend here, not only for softening, but more importantly, to blow their cover. Mutons are 10 HP and your assault rifles (even snipers) will do 2-3 damage, unless they crit. So a fire rocket or 2 grenades are the perfect opening.
  • Learn the spawn positions on maps. It looks like sometimes the AI will spawn a group only when you get close to a spawn point. So scout with the guy that’s part of “hit team” and not with the lone sniper on the roof. You might get a nasty surprise.
  • Go assault heavy or sniper heavy. Hybrid teams can work out but generally require more research. Assault teams work well if you are losing people – run and gun is assault’s first and most useful skill (after you get New Guy at the Foundry). So if you have problems keeping your people alive, go assault heavy and send those squaddies to the front line. If you enjoy a more defensive play, get multiple snipers but keep in mind that plasma sniper is not coming before June, because first you need to get a regular plasma rifle, research it, and then research plasma sniper. In the meantime, your assault squaddie swill be running with light plasma, running and gunnning.
  • Assault tank – I don’t mean the SHIV, it’s too much research. I mean if you get 3 assaults, it might be worthwhile to get one of them to spec as a tank (+defense). Use him to lure enemies with a full cover + hunker down. It should get him close to 100 defense, though he still won’t dodge grenades!
  • Cheese alert: new rookies you hire will come at 6 HP, as opposed to your original ones. Some consider it a cheesy tactic, however, you have little choice here as you’ll need to recruit new people. The other “cheese” I found is that thin men when dropped will only come at 3HP. You can wait just next to their future location with an Arc Thrower ready. Or you can Overwatch a rookie (2 tiles away not to get poisoned).

P.S. If you are done with XCOM and you are looking for an online tactical game,  check out Riftforge. Yes, it has a fantasy flavor but when it comes to tactics, it really doesn’t matter if you are running from a blood call Muton or an enraged Caldarian (walrus-like brutes).

League of Legends quests

Last night, my team and I in particular received our first League of Legends quest – bring the head of Kha’zix.

I  was playing as Rengar, in an attempt to stave off my Maokai dependency.

The team was really excited when the quest popped up, so it’s easy to make the case for MORE quests like that. They are fun and require a bit of teamplay, which sometimes changes the dynamics for the better.

My Maokai record from last year. This year I came back to him as a jungler and late-game tank. Works out pretty well.