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Massive update to AI War is "practically a sequel"

by: Chad -
More On: AI War
My, oh, my - AI War is getting such a massive update that I don't even know how to summarize it.  Please allow me to let Arcen Games try to explain:

"This release is unreservedly huge. It's a full re-imagining of AI War, practically a sequel (but free to existing customers). Frankly there were more updates here than in a lot of sequels we've seen. So it is with some difficulty that we compile these highlights, as even the list of highlights is enormous, yet omits a lot of major changes. Listed here are just the things that have changed in the base game itself, this isn't even including all the stuff that was added as part of the new Children of Neinzul micro-expansion."

Don't believe them?  Here are just a few of the highlights and changes:
  • 147 new ships added to the core game
  • A total graphical overhaul
  • A remastered and re-edited soundtrack
  • A streamlined interface
  • New combat, repair, economic and contruction models
  • A reduction in the default cap on number of ships allowed
  • Mac OSX support
I don't know how much more you could expect from a free update.  A much more detailed explanation of these features (and more) are available in the press release.  Alternatively, you can read the full release notes here and obtain more information about the game here.  Nice work, AI War.  That's an awesome value and fan-service.
This release is unreservedly huge. It's a full re-imagining of AI War, practically a sequel (but free to existing customers). Frankly there were more updates here than in a lot of sequels we've seen. So it is with some difficulty that we compile these highlights, as even the list of highlights is enormous, yet omits a lot of major changes. Listed here are just the things that have changed in the base game itself, this isn't even including all the stuff that was added as part of the new Children of Neinzul micro-expansion. So here we go:

A grand total of 147 new ships have been added to the game. Again, this is NOT counting the new ones added as part of CoN. Most of these new ships went to the AI or are things that the players must capture, but there are also dozens and dozens of goodies for the players in the form of new warheads, new mercenaries, new turrets, and new lines of command stations.
An enormous graphical overhaul has taken place. Every special effect in the game has been replaced and majorly improved, the HUD and GUI has been completely redesigned and has a cleaner feel to it, and the starfields/nebulae have seen a rather startling improvement as well. Those new ships come with a bunch of new prerendered-3D graphics, as well.

The soundtrack to both AI War and The Zenith Remnant have been completely remastered and re-edited, and in a number of cases have new live performances for trumpet and electric guitar (adding to the existing live vocals and piano). The soundtrack for Children of Neinzul was also done at this new quality level, of course. Additionally, two completely-new bonus tracks have been added for free to the base AI War game, and an old track ("Thor") that had been dropped due to quality issues is back and awesome with a live performance.

The interface has been streamlined all over the place, in ways that have really been exciting our hardcore fanbase (who helped design some of the changes). The biggest amongst these changes are perhaps the more-readable galaxy map, the new context menu (alt+right-click) with things like Auto-Gather-Knowledge and special Transport-Unloading logic, the complete removal of "control nodes" in favor of a much cleaner set of menus, and a larger display-on-demand minimap replacement (hold T).

Many new teach-yourself-to-play-better features have been added: or, as we like to call them, "discoverability features." The new Objectives and References tabs provide a lot of guidance for players without hand-holding them, a new Tip of the Day system on the main menu shows player-submitted tips, and all of the tutorials in the game have been completely redone and updated, and are more helpful than ever before. A fan even did some awesome new video tutorials for us, which replaced our older 2.0-era series of the same.

Along the theme of streamlining: Knowledge raiding has been completely rebalanced to no longer be easy or necessary, returning it to the proper role of "last ditch effort to get out of a hole". This was a really tedious activity since players were embarking on it too often. Similarly, the endgame was ALWAYS a grind in the old versions, to the point where very few players actually won games, but now the endgame has been completely redone and is more exciting and full of back-and-forth power struggles than ever. Gameplay activities that were tedious have been cropped and replaced with something more fun, with a great deal of public player testing and feedback.

Brace yourself: but the entire combat, repair, economic, and construction models have been almost completely rewritten. To the novice player these changes are subtle enough that it feels like basically the same game. To the more experienced player, these changes are a dream come true, shaving off rough edges left and right and leaving something simpler and more elegant in its place. We had a corps of 95 community members giving us feedback, after all, so there's been a lot of vetting of this from both newer and experienced players. The main benefits of these particular changes are simplicity, transparency-to-the-player, and internal accuracy in outlier situations.

As part of the new combat model, the old concept of "shields" (as distinct from "force fields") has been removed, and the random-hit-chance and range-related components of the hit chance calculations are gone. In place of this is a new, simpler, and far better "armor" system that affects damage output instead of hit chance.

One key simplification in this new version is the removal of all the internal ship-specific damage multipliers. In their place, we now have a small number of new "hull types," and ships get visible bonuses against them. This also removes the "Strong Vs and Weak Vs" display in favor of both the raw hull attack multipliers display and a new Reference tab when really detailed data is needed (presumably not often).

Following on with those massive changes, every last ship in the game has been rebalanced to a heavy degree, sometimes pretty much completely. With a game of this scope, we expect there are still some rough edges in there, but overall it's far better balanced -- and easier to understand the balance in a meaningful way -- than ever before. As part of this, the turrets and starships have both become a lot more specialized and interesting, and more of them are available to players right from the start of the game.

Performance has gotten a major boost in general with the new version, but additionally we now have new "Performance Profiles" that let the game more easily run on a variety of hardware. Best of all, these profiles can be swapped in and out in realtime while playing. This lets borderline computers lower their simulation/graphics load temporarily during a massive battle, then turn those factors back up when the battle concludes. The game in general also now does a better job of degrading its framerate instead of its overall run speed, which is an enormous boon for multiplayer games where one player is on iffy hardware. And as if all that wasn't enough, we also have a variety of simple new performance-diagnosing tools right in the Players tab that lets players see each others' framerates, how fast the game is running at the moment compared to realtime, and other helpful things like that.

This next change is also a shocker: we've reduced the default ship caps in the game. The game has always advertised having 30,000+ ships in realtime, but the truth was that often players were running more like 70,000 to 120,000 ships in large games. This was simply more of a CPU drain than it needed to be, and tended to make a lot of the AI worlds a grind. We now have Unit Cap Scales that you can set in the lobby -- and the old "High" option is still there -- but the new default uses about half as many ships, which is still significantly more than we've ever advertised as supporting. And for iffy hardware, you can actually quarter the number of ships in the game, which is ideal for slower laptops or similar.

Part of the reason for the shift away from just huge numbers of fleet ships is our new emphasis on larger centerpieces. The AIs have massive new command stations and guard posts, as well as mobile Guardians that not only defend but launch often-brutal counterattacks. Going along with these are the exciting new AI Eye that emphasizes de-blobbing, the new AI Barracks that lets the AIs store up overflow reinforcements for later use, and the AI Carriers which are the late-game AI equivalent of transports. All of these new things take the place of turrets, which the AI no longer uses at all, and in general they lead to a vastly different feel of game. It's a lot quicker to resolve battles (without making you rushed -- just no longer a grind), and in general it makes planets feel more unique and fun before you even get into the various special weapons that have always been a cornerstone of AI War.

The AIs aren't the only ones who have been getting a makeover, though. We already mentioned that players now get a lot more starting turrets and starships for free (and both of those unit classes are now far more central to the game). Players also now get a lot more knowledge in general (3,000 per planet now, instead of 2,000), and the player economy -- especially in the early game -- has had a massive boost. Your typical income without economic upgrades will be almost double what it used to be, meaning you can field far more ships, faster, including starships. Speaking of faster, the player ships used to be 1.4x faster than the AI ships, but now they are a full 2x faster. This asymmetry plays well into the enhanced feel of the player as a guerrilla warrior against a superior foe. This unique aspect of the game is really emphasized a lot more, now, and players have responded really well to it in beta.

Did we mention Mac OSX support? Thanks to our switch to the Unity 3D engine, AI War is no longer just for Windows. And while Linux isn't directly supported, we have word that it runs flawlessly in the latest versions of WINE. And, along these lines, AI War no longer has any prerequisites -- installation and setup is far more painless than in the past.

And these were just the highlights. Read the full release notes if you want all the gory details: it's taken us 170 days, 81 releases, 95 testers, and untold man-months to get this awesome new version out. We're really excited not only about what is represented here already, but what this re-launch of the game will enable us to do both with future free updates and future paid expansions. Thanks to everyone for their support during this long process!

Read on for information about Children of Neinzul.

Today I am born, today I die.
The Neinzul are an insectoid race of perpetual "younglings" that live for an extremely short span before dying and being superseded by fully-aware and vicious replacements. Their Enclaves form mini-collectives with their own personalities, goals, and desires. In this second expansion to AI War, players face off against the Neinzul minor factions, against new AI types in general, and enlist the help of the friendlier members of this new alien presence.

Enclave Starships bring a long-awaited feature: mobile space docks. New map types and new capturables add more excitement. Optionally, Hybrid Hives bring a new type of AI logic to the game: these free agents are like a coordinated pack of velociraptors hunting you against the backdrop of the regular AI forces. For advanced players, the Hybrid Hives provide more cut-throat opposition than ever.

Child's Play
When you purchase AI War: Children Of Neinzul, you're not only getting an exciting new expansion, you're also supporting an important cause. Arcen Games has partnered with the Child's Play charity, pledging 100% of the profits from sale of Children of Neinzul (excepting any taxes and distributor fees) to helping sick kids in need. The staff at Arcen has long admired the work done by Child's Play, and we're very excited to finally be able to contribute in a substantial manner.

Key Features
* 36 new ships, including:
* 5 new ship classes with a variety of abilities.
* Enclave Starships and Regeneration Chambers for direct unlock.
* 6 new AI special weapons.
* 6 new AI Types.
* 3 Neinzul alien minor factions (NPCs).
* Devastating new Hybrid Hives AI plot.
* 3 new in-game music tracks, plus a new title music track.
* Two new map styles: X and Concentric Circles.