Tons of Damage

In preparation for the League of Legends World Finals… we do “Tons of Damage”!

Last night’s game with tons of damage as Rengar:

Kickstarter, gold, paper money

Tobold has a few posts on the subject of game funding via crowdsourcing, in other words, Kickstarter projects.

His main argument is that waiting for a game to be sold on Steam for 50% off offers a lot better value than supporting a project on Kickstarter. It’s true that you can get Endless Space for just 10 euro on Steam. You can usually get an AAA games for as little as 30 or 20 euro (recently released and with 80+ on Metacritic).

With Kickstarter you might succumb to the temptation to get some of the exclusive packages, say $5000 for a star system named after you. What’s worse is that you never know if the game will come out, and if it’s going to be any good.

My counter point is simple: crowdsourcing allows for a better alignment of the interests of a game development company and its future customers.

Right now, a corporate executive needs to greenlight a game project in order for it to get funding. What projects get greenlighted? Usually, the safest bets – the latest installment of a franchise, be it Assassin’s Creed 3 or FIFA 2013. Taking huge risks as professional manager is usually not the optimal path for career advancement.

Kickstarter allows game developers to appeal directly to their customers, bypassing corporate decision-making. Is it better? Well, it’s an alternative, and having alternatives is important.

Which leads us to the analogy with paper money. Even as recently as 60 years ago, paper money was a kind of “promisory note”. The bank that issued them promised to give you a certain amount of precious metal in exchange for your paper money. You had to trust the bank that issued them and banks were hard at work to persuade us their vaults are filled with precious metals.

Buying a game from Steam is like taking your gold nugget to the market and exchanging it for a horse. It’s one piece of value for another, ideally, identical piece.

Supporting Kickstarter games is more like taking a promisory note for your gold. You are hoping the game company has gold in its vault and often, they do! It also allows you to carry a lot more value as mentioned above – you get $5000 worth of game, instead of the universal $50.

So what could be done to address the main objection when it comes to Kickstarter projects, i.e. accountability?

Using the analogy, the result would be to have an exchange rate. But we could do better! Why not start a secondary market.

I’m selling my right to name a star system for $3000, even though I bought it for 5000 a week ago. Why? Maybe I don’t believe in the company or maybe my wife saw my credit card statement. Either way, my loss is your gain. It’s also a way to see which projects are going well and which projects are hopeless.

I know I’d be shopping for a deal on those Bones miniatures that sold out before I could get one of the bigger packages!

Weird or creative

When John Cleese spoke about creativity, he didn’t mention that creativity looks weird. Not always and not to everyone, but most of the time and to most people.

While I’m not sure creativity can be cultivated, you could start working on accepting WEIRD, without automatically dismissing it.

In this exercise, the weird will be moderated by the fact it’s music and it’s perpetrated by two beautiful women. It won’t always be that easy.

A modern example by Lana del Rey:

Kate Bush’s break-through hit (1978):

Monsters for every season

Recently, I stumbled upon an amazing creature collection on Deviant Art.

It turns out that the artist, Nicholas Cloister, is launching a new service that will supply you with monsters at rock-bottom prices.

But who needs monsters?

Well, everyone! From dungeon masters to RPG publishers, from ebook writers to game developers (like myself).

The monsters are excellent not just at the concept level but are also very detailed and well-drawn. All are supplied at print resolution (7000x7000px!) and come with descriptions and even with sample encounters.

Agi Septhoron

michilaft

Hurry up and sign up quickly because the first 1000 members will be getting the monsters for free, when 2000 members are reached.

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.

EXPLORATION
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.

EXPANSION
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.

EXPLOITATION
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”.

EXTERMINATION
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 galaxy seeds

If you after a decisive victory on max difficulty in Endless Space, you’ll need a few good systems.

Thankfully, you can “save” a galaxy you like and then use the “seed” in another game. The way you do it is simple: when you start a game, you go to ADVANCED in the settings window and you enter the seed in the corresponding field. Make sure you UNCHECK the random seed generation.

Here’s a few small ones. I don’t like playing on huge, too time consuming.
SEED: 1717415815

Select: Small Spiral 4 galaxy (normal age).

Advanced settings: medium, few, remote, bigger, normal, low, many, high

You have JUNDUR up north with 3 class A planets and you have ANDROMEDA which will become your main production hub. You will produce a dreadnought a turn!

Last but not least, you have a single choke with a good production system that is worth settling (EDASIR)

SEED: 236910014

Select: Tiny Spiral 2 galaxy (young age).

Advanced settings: high, many, remote, bigger, normal, low, many, high

Your starting position has a few good colonizable planets (see white dots).

This is the make-or-break system – Jundur. If you manage to get to it and settle it, you have won. Research warp immediately and have a colony ship ready. Good luck!

SEED: 19686438261923355406

Select: Medium Spiral 8 galaxy (normal age).

Advanced settings: medium, few, remote, bigger, normal, low, many, high


That’s if you dream big. All 8 opponents have a constellation for themselves. Yours is pretty good and it’s a long distance away from everyone else, so no early wars due to border disputes. All three systems have a Class A planet: two Terran and one Jungle.

SEED: 1923355406

Select: Medium Spiral 8 galaxy (young age).

Advanced settings: medium, few, remote, bigger, normal, low, many, high

Now, this is the one I’m playing right now! You have a star system with 3 Class A planets right next to your home world. You also have 2 constellations at your choke/warp that are immediately colonizable. Also, although I didn’t plan for it, I was able to settle the other end of the warp as well (ROTANEV) and it proved an excellent system as well. I didn’t plan for it because playing at max difficulty, it’s tough to beat 8 AIs to the central planets.

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.

Tactics

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.