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Worlds of Magic Review

By on March 27th, 2015 2:49 pm

Worlds of Magic Review | Either they are having a party, or the AI has a strange understanding of how to defend its holdings.

Back in 2013, Lucid Dreamers and Wastelands Interactive teamed up with just one goal in mind: to create Worlds of Magic, a true successor to the classic 1994 fantasy 4X game, Master of Magic. Two long years later, they have removed their game from Early Access and taken it into full release.

From the beginning, they have worked hard to involve the community in nearly all aspects of the design. Feedback has been provided by Kickstarter backers, fans on the site’s forums, the Steam community forums, and by press previews like my early access impressions. With a development team seemingly so willing to listen, it would be nearly impossible to unknowingly release a game that was in any way unfit for duty.

It is therefore shockingly disappointing to see Worlds of Magic has now been officially released from Early Access as an obviously unfinished title, and overall as one of the most lackluster 4X experiences I’ve played in years.

Burning the midnight oil

My thoughts and opinions are formed based on many hours played shortly before and right after release, including several complete games with v1.0.1 (first post-release patch). Since then, the development team behind the game has been producing patches nearly daily with the latest, as of the time of this writing, being 1.0.4. I have spent some time with the game with 1.0.4, and in instances where I’ve seen improvements, I have adjusted my review accordingly. While the fact that the game is receiving nearly daily updates is a positive thing, it is also another sign, and there are many, that this game released far too soon.

A 4X Sandbox Experience

Worlds of Magic Review | The 7 planes and the overall game setup options

Worlds of Magic offers a pure 4X fantasy sandbox experience containing single player and hot seat modes. One of its most notable features is that it offers you the opportunity to pick and choose from a variety of planes of existence and decide which of these you’d like to include in your game. These planes, 7 in all, represent the different elemental planes, a shadow plane, a tropical paradise, and the prime material plane. Each plane has its own distinct look, soundtrack, unique locations to visit, and unique resources. This variety is something I’ve only seen a few times before, and it is certainly one of this game’s highlights.

After selecting your included planes, your number of opponents, and your overall AI difficulty level, you’ll be presented with the option to select your faction. There are 8 factions on offer, and each of these brings their own twists and abilities. All of them also have their own buildings, architecture, and units. It doesn’t matter if your preferred focus is on might, magic, growth, or expansion, there is a faction that will have you covered. The most extreme of the factions is likely the Unhallowed, an undead faction that can forgo food, gold, and morale completely. Instead, they rely on a new resource called negative energy. Another feature unique to them is the ability to sacrifice their own citizens to rush production, which let’s admit sounds a lot more fun than rushing it using gold.

The last aspect of setup is creating your own Sorcerer Lord. There are a number of preset lords to choose from and a customization option. With a custom lord, you can select different schools of magic and spells, different positive and negative traits, and a portrait for your sovereign. There are some interesting, and perhaps broken, combinations that can be created here. Combined with your faction choice, specializing your lord is where your strategy begins to take shape, even before the game has begun.

Manual Not Included

4X games can be a daunting experience, especially for newcomers. After creating your sorcerer and entering your first game, you’ll realize you have a lot to learn. This is why a well written instruction manual, or even better a clear and helpful in-game tutorial is near essential for this type of game. Worlds of Magic unfortunately launched with an artbook, but not a manual, although as of v1.0.3 the manual is now included. The tutorial on the other hand still feels like, and perhaps is, an early alpha version. The tips provided are minimal, and in some cases outdated, such as when they refer to round buttons in the city construction screen that no longer exist.

There is also no in-game encyclopedia and there no clickable links to further explain certain concepts. Since concepts such as “Reflex Saving Throw” are unknown to most players, and the benefits to certain spells are vague or refer to other in-game terms that aren’t explained, the lack of information provided in-game is an issue.

Exploring the 7 planes

Every time you start a new game, you’ll be randomly placed on one of the available planes. You’ll generally have 1 or 2 opponents sharing this plane, with an equal number sharing other planes. With a single city and a few units at your disposal, you are free to begin your journey towards victory. There is but one goal and victory condition, eradicate all enemy cities.

Unlike some 4X games, you don’t start with a settler unit, but instead start with a city already constructed. This means that your starting city , which is random placed, will have a wildly different amount of available resources from game to game. You could be blessed with gold, production, and food bonuses right from the start, or not at all. It is also possible you’ve selected Unhallowed, a faction that doesn’t need food, and have been given a starting city with numerous tiles granting useless food bonuses. Also unlike some other games, your city does not grow in size when it gains population, so resources just out of reach will likely remain that way for the entire game.

Exploring the map and its many locations with your armies is a key aspect of this game. The type and spread of these locations varies, as do their guardians, though the plane you are in does play a role here. As long as these locations are within your line of sight, you can click to see what types of guardians it may contain (though it seems it always contains at least 1 of each unit shown), and what types of rewards it may offer. These rewards range from simple gold or mana up to powerful units, heroes, artifacts, spells, or even levels in an entire school of magic.

Every engagement with a location proceeds in the same manner. Moving an army over the location allows you to interact with it. You will then see exactly what units you’ll need to contend with and can choose to fight a tactical battle on the battleboard, auto-resolve, or retreat. These battles tend to take place on generic maps with no thematic connection to the location you are visiting. If you succeed, you’ll receive a random assortment of rewards and potentially an additional reward dependent on the location. So, for instance, the location may expose a few far off areas on the strategic map to you, revive a dead hero, or provide a portal to another plane.

City Building and Management

Worlds of Magic Review | A very early look at a Myrodants city.

When it comes to city building, Worlds of Magic certainly pays a nice homage to its inspiration. One of my favorite things about this game is that every building you construct appears before you in the city view. Not only that, but every faction also has its own unique building artwork even amongst the buildings they share. This is a nice touch not often seen outside of Heroes of Might and Magic style games, and its inclusion here makes it obvious that they took great pride in this portion of the design. Additional effects such as floating buildings, billowing smoke, and flickering flames enhance this even further. Watching your cities grow over time is certainly one of the most aesthetically pleasing elements in the game.

Worlds of Magic Review | The finished look of the Myrodants city.

While factions do share some buildings, each faction also has a number of buildings which are specific to them. This number seems to vary dependent on the faction, but overall it feels like there is a good enough variety that build orders aren’t always identical from faction to faction. Speaking of build orders, it bears mentioning that determining a proper build order or dependency tree is very difficult as you can only see what a building unlocks and not what is required to unlock it. The addition of a “Requires:” in addition to the “Allows:” would be very welcome.

A city’s population will grow each turn dependent on its growth rate, and every time another 1,000 population is reached, a new citizen will appear for assignment. Your citizens can be assigned to farm duty, sometimes force-ably if the city would otherwise lack enough food to support the population. They can also be assigned to production duty to help speed construction and unit training. One final option is to assign them to generate additional research. In all my games however, I rarely if ever used this research option.

I have two gripes about the city population system, and these are both related to the game’s unwillingness to provide necessary information to the player. The growth rate calculation is a mystery to me, and there is no tooltip to indicate how this number has been generated. Furthermore, the max population of a city is also hidden information for no apparent reason. Eventually, you’ll just notice the city has stopped growing. It is frustrating as I know the game has knowledge of this information, and exposes some of it if you use the awkward survey tool they provide, but for some reason makes it unnecessarily hard to grasp.

Diplomacy

Worlds of Magic Review | Since he didn't want to tell me why, I decided to just kill him instead.

There was a time years ago when 4X fans were subjected to diplomatic systems that provided almost no information or feedback with which to make decisions. Yet, here we have this same archaic and hated system used again. Diplomacy consists of only a bare-bones portrait of the leaders, a list of things to offer or request, and a submission button. Your offers are “REJECTED” with no reason given, once again with no attempt at flavor or storytelling, and an experience that leaves you cold. I tried many times to get the AI to agree to even a non-aggression pact with me, but was unable to and had no idea what I could do or offer to change that.

Worse yet, the diplomacy itself is broken in several ways. You can use it to see a list of every unit your opponent currently controls. Wondering if he has progressed and built some super units somewhere? It’s easy to see through the magic of diplomatic omnipotence. Then of course you have the AI’s request for truce, promising riches in return for your agreement, and yet nothing appears in your coffers when accepted. Not that it matters, because declaring war immediately after is easy and without punishment should you desire.

Combat as a whole

Tactical combat is one of the most critical elements of a fantasy 4X game. While there is of course some room for deviation in this area, as some recent releases have shown us, there is also no need to reinvent the wheel when traditional tried and true systems work perfectly well. In this area, Worlds of Magic has once again elected to continue its mission to create a true Master of Magic successor through its use of a traditional turn-based tactical combat system.

It is painful for me to state this, as I am a huge fan of tactical combat, but combat is one of my least favorite aspects of this game. The system is nowhere near as polished as it should be. This criticism extends across the entire system, including the mechanics, the AI, the bugs, the spell effects, the animations, and even the sound effects. It’s completely unacceptable.

Just Say No to D20

The decision made early on to utilize D20 system was a mistake. The D20 system is a roleplaying system developed for use with Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying campaigns, and is a rather high luck system overall. It involves the use of various dice denominations, in this case virtual dice, to produce results. As it is intended to do in RPGs, it makes combat feel far more about luck than it should in a strategy game.

For those who may be unfamiliar, D20 uses a variety of dice denominations ranging from 4 sided (D4) up to 20 sided (D20). This means for example that a 1D4 will produce a result between 1 and 4, a D6 between 1 and 6, and a D20 between 1 and 20. Some units also have additional guaranteed modifiers indicated as “+X”, with X being a number that is always added to the roll.

Worlds of Magic Review | By far not the most extreme example, but since some attacks may miss entirely, there is too much randomness stacked in combat.

As in Master of Magic, in this game we have single army units made up of a number of “figures”, or individuals. These figures each get their own attack roll based on their attack dice. For instance, a unit consisting of 4 figures each doing 1D8+2, will actually be doing 4D8+8. This means the amount of damage, if unmitigated, could range from 12 to 40. Well, not exactly, because I haven’t included critical rolls that can further amplify damage, or misses, which could reduce damage from a figure to zero. As you can probably tell, the potential combat damage values can vary extremely wildly, especially when multiple units are involved. This can lead to weaker units sometimes actually being more powerful than much stronger ones, and makes the game feel more random than most.

This damage swing applies to spells as well. Spells when cast can be empowered with additional mana, which is a rather nice feature. Empowerment varies dependent on the spell, but typically involves adding additional damage dice or increasing its ability to overcome spell resistance. The resistance system is obtuse and feels like guesswork as you wait for the virtual die roll to reveal if your spell was resisted or not. Combined with the D20 damage system, this too left me feeling deflated on more than one occasion. Having a spell resisted or failing to do much damage despite many virtual damage dice being added and a lot of mana being spent is a huge letdown.

Moving Beyond D20

Random die rolls are far from the only issue with the combat and battleboard. Aesthetically, the game feels not just extremely dated, but unfinished. The look of the battleboards are lackluster, with very few containing any element of terrain or obstacles to contend with. The unit animations are slow and jerky and there is no option to speed them up (Correction: There is an option to increase animation speed, but only in the main menu options, not from within a game or battle). The sound effects, though often they don’t exist at all, are of poor quality and often lag behind the activity they are accompanying. The unit artwork and spell effects both vary in quality, with some looking pretty good and others looking awful.

Based on my experiences with them, siege battles and city walls should have been cut from the game until a later date. There are so many problems with them that auto-calculated combat or relying on spells or ranged units is the only real alternative. I tried multiple units with wall scaling and none of them could cross over. Flying units work, but if slowed they can no longer move far enough to get over them either. You also can’t attack the gate with normal units, which may be a design decision, but it seems like it should be possible to at least attack a wooden gate. Basically, if unprepared on offense, you must wait for the AI to decide to sally out. This involves them walking through the gate since it doesn’t actually animate or open. On the defensive side, I once caused the game state to lock up by attacking a non-existent “settler” when trying to sally out my own gate. I’ve also had AI incapable of breaching the walls attack my city, turn after turn, pointlessly. If auto-calculated, the AI simply retreated and attacked so it could retreat again. If fought tactically, both sides could just click end turn repeatedly since the AI could do nothing unless I reacted.

Worlds of Magic Review | Since walking on lava was no big deal, I decided to throw down some mud.

I’ve actually mentioned several combat related issues already, but there are oh so many more. Like the AI attacking my flying units it can’t hit thus giving me free counterattacks. Enemy city enchantments that are nonsensical like wall buffs when they have no walls. Enemy city enchantments showing as owned by me instead of the AI in combat. Battles taking place with foot units in a river of lava or in the ocean. The AI shooting missile weapons at units immune to them. These are only the ones I decided to document, and I am absolutely certain there are many others.

AI

The AI in Worlds of Magic can be competitive, but only if it can pin you into your home city within the first 50 or so turns of the game. I’ve see some players cite the game as difficult, and it often comes down to this. If you are able to overcome its initial armies of tier 1 or 2 units, it will never advance to a point of becoming a more significant threat. Instead, the AI continues to build these armies of low tier units, garrisons most of them, and then surrounds its key/main cities with a whole bunch of weak single unit armies. This leads to mid-late game turning into the classic “clean-up” march to victory as there is no longer any challenge.

To its credit, the AI does quite well clearing out explorable locations. Given enough time, the AI will clear out these locations and presumably collect the rewards. I have seen some missteps, such as an AI overlooking a nomad camp containing 500 new citizens within 1 tile of its city, but I can forgive them that error since they do quite well in this regard otherwise. A player who waits too long to explore will find all but the toughest locations have already been completed.

I’ve seen two AI co-exist side by side peacefully on a plane for over a hundred turns before I arrive. Though the game is not 1 vs. All, my game sessions at both Wizard and Archmage difficulty made me feel like it was. It may be I was just fortunate, but I’ve not seen the AI really compete with one another. Thankfully, the AI was so passive that they waited for me to arrive with my massive army stack on their plane, so this wasn’t really an issue.

After learning how to overcome the AI’s initial rush, I found I could no longer lose the game. On Wizard difficulty, I created a single city that was so populated and enchanted that it supported a single powerful unit stack that successfully razed every other city across the planes. On Archmage difficulty, I instead conquered all of the AI’s holdings on my home plane, and then razed the cities on every other plane once again with a single stack of doom. In reality, I found this second game no more difficult than the prior Wizard difficulty game. At this point, I find the game holds no real challenge or threat.

It’s Clearly Unfinished

Worlds of Magic Review | Sorry to spoil the ending.  This is actually an improvement over the release day victory screen.

The number of issues still present are numerous and spread throughout all aspects of the game. I’ve experienced crashes on multiple occasions. I’ve had a city whose gold value is being modified by events to the tune of -2.328306E-08. I’ve also experienced, more than once, an event pop up stating I’ve been granted a new neutral town, and then I never get the mentioned town. Perhaps the clincher for me was the reward for winning the game after many hours of play. A lone static image that says “Congratulations”. It’s not even custom tailored to my faction. For an early access budget title, this might be acceptable, but it’s simply not in a full price release.

There are moments within Worlds of Magic that clearly show a love for the product and genre. Moments like taking in how far your city has developed, traveling to a new plane and experiencing the unique soundtrack and ambiance, and realizing for the first time that rushing your undead faction’s building just did something unique and sacrificed some people.

Still, even if I discount bugs entirely, I struggle to find any reason to recommend this over its competition. It is simply an old world game relying on nostalgia in a time where bigger, better versions of the same type of game have already come along.

Worlds of Magic

Worlds of Magic (Win PC, Mac, Linux)

Available at: GamersGateSteam or GMG.

Space Sector score:
4.0/10
bad
The Good:
– Faction diversity is present in both city and unit design
– The 7 planes each offer a unique aesthetic both visually and aurally
– Watching your cities grow into something grandiose is rewarding
– Feels a lot like Master of Magic reborn
The Bad:
– Far too many bugs for a full release
– Combat system feels clunky both mechanically and visually
– Diplomacy is vastly underwhelming for a modern 4X game
– Lack of information makes specific game mechanics hard to understand
– AI is a one-trick pony and fails to challenge players beyond the early stages
– Exploration lacks a sense of excitement as there are few surprises
– Fails to innovate or expand the genre

Keith Turner, also known as aReclusiveMind here on SpaceSector, has been an avid gamer ever since he first laid his hands on a Commodore 128 in the mid 1980s. He enjoys multiple computer game genres, but his primary interests are in deep strategy games, 4x games, rpgs, and action rpgs. He enjoys writing and hopes to contribute with additional reviews, previews, and informative AARs to the community. See all Keith’s posts here.

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72 Comments


  1. Evil Azrael says:

    I am Kickstarter backer and to be honest, i will just wait for my physical reward, put it into my shelf and then forget it. The 20 year old MOM is far superior to this game. I already felt bored after a few minutes :(

  2. AstralWanderer says:

    Still waiting for their long-promised Steam-free release, so I’m not exactly enamoured of Wastelands Interactive’s handling of this. It does look pretty damning though we’ve had worse examples (like the AI in Age of Wonders which would initially move units into and take over your towns if you allied with it) which improved with later updates.

    I would point out one error though:

    “These figures each get their own attack roll based on their attack dice. For instance, a unit consisting of 4 figures each doing 1D8+2, will actually be doing 4D8+8. This means the amount of damage, if unmitigated, could range from 12 to 40…As you can probably tell, the potential combat damage values can vary extremely wildly, especially when multiple units are involved…”

    When multiple dice are rolled and totaled, the most likely values are the middle of the range – for example rolling two six-sided dice (2D6) gives a range of 2-12 but you have a 16% (6 in 36) chance of a 7 compared to a 2.7% (1 in 36) chance of a 2 or 12.

    This probability bell-curve becomes more pronounced as you increase the number of dice so 3D6 has 3-18 range with a 1 in 216 (0.46%) chance of a 3 or 18 and 60 in 216 (28%) chance of a 10 or 11. Hence increasing the number of dice generally reduces the variability of results.

  3. Keith Turner says:

    You are of course correct. Though I don’t think I commented on the probability specifically. I was more referring to the range of values possible providing too wide a range of outcomes. Adding more dice does add more outcomes, however rare those may be.

    I simply dislike the combination of systems used in the game due to the presence of so many random die rolls. For some reason it feels more like a guessing game in this game than in others.

  4. t1it says:

    I still have hopes for this game, I believe the crew is genuine in their pursuit of creating a new MoM. But not sure how they can continue from this point.
    Meanwhile AoW3 second expansion is going to be the king of 4x fantasy for years to come (unless you want a hardcore empire builder, Civ4 mod FFH with modmods are still the best).

  5. Jodet says:

    So maybe done in a year if they keep working on it?

    I usually try not to play games before they’re a year old anyway. The amount of post-release polish that happens these days is amazing.

  6. SQW says:

    It seems they followed the Warlock school of AI coding. =(

    Seriously, what’s wrong with 4X devs these days? If ALL the problems bar the AI was fixed, I STILL wouldn’t buy this game. Did aliens secretly gave devs in the 90s a helping hand? Why are almost every modern 4X or remakes completely fall flat in the face of the originals?

    Got no creativity? Fine, just copy the classics. Can’t even copy? Mate, maybe try a different line of work.

  7. Gary Vandegrift says:

    Thanks for the review, Keith. I’m glad I waited for it :)

    If the game ever gets any better, let us know.

  8. Mark says:

    *sigh* Yet another one crashes and burns. You’d think that from the sheer volume of releases that someone – anyone – would be bound to get it right eventually, just by blind luck and the law of averages. But you’d be wrong.

    Do modern 4x game devs all have too much lead in their diet or something? Honestly, its time for the current crop of devs to admit defeat, bow out and retire or go flip burgers at McDonalds or something – anything – as long as it doesn’t involve game design or getting within 50 yards of a computer. Let an entirely new crop of people have a go. They couldn’t possibly do any worse.

    • Evil Azrael says:

      Game development has never been easier than now. We have excellent tools and frameworks nowadays and with the high level languages used today the entry barrier for new developeres is quite low.

      But two things are not so easily learned. The first is game design. For making a game enjoyable you need experience and good intuition what works and what will not work. The more complex a game, the harder it get to get all things working together. Even the divine Master of Orion 2 failed in my eyes when i played it for the first (and only) time online (and lost…) as everybody choose the race trait “repulsive” which more less disabled a part of the game: Diplomatics.

      The second holy grail is AI. For “simple” mechanics like tic-tac-toe, chess, checker, backgammon, etc with a limited number of possible “moves” each turn probably everybody can write a working AI by using the common programming techniques backtracking and minimax. “Galcon” may be easy too, but to be honest in these games part of the game is to understand the hidden behaviour rules of the AI. And too predictable AIs are easy to beat or may indicate that there is one winning strategy the player should also choose. For games like World of Magic I have no idea how idea how a good working AI utilizing all aspects of the game (Economy, military, speed, diplmatics, using the map) could work. Does it plays like you? Again, if you can write a strategy formula for the game, does this indicate your game can be reduced to this?

      A third one could be UI design, preventing such thing like the tiny-fonts-syndrome.

      • Mark says:

        Some good thoughts there Azrael, I think you nailed at least part of the reason for the massive avalanche of gaming fecal material that we are constantly subjected to.

        Back before the 20’s, making a game was *hard*. Only a tiny fraction of people had the knowledge and intellectual capacity to understand how to do it. These people tended to have both a broad and deep knowledge of computer hardware AND programming and the successful ones also had plenty of prior experience making games.

        As you correctly pointed out, nowadays with modern high level programming environments its still hard to make a good game, but several huge technical hurdles have been greatly reduced and it has never been easier for almost anyone to produce something that at least doesn’t immediately crash your system.

        The result is that the same guys who – in the 90’s – were making your pizza or pumping your gas or removing your rubbish can now sit down behind a keyboard and churn out their own shiny digital garbage. And they certainly do as we have seen far too often.

        But that still doesn’t explain why the few good game designers out there (and I still have faith that there must be some) don’t use these powerful modern programming tools to make games with AI and gameplay which could only have been dreamed of back in the 90’s.

        Is it a money thing? Do broken, unfinished, dumbed down dross games sell well enough that investing more time into good gameplay, quality control and AI simply doesn’t pay? That might explain it, but its certainly a pretty depressing thought.

        • Evil Azrael says:

          I think when you thinking about making a game you immediately imagine awesome graphics, good units, sound, network, great story mechanics, a lot of nice ideas, but AI? That’s something very abstract. Hard to think about. One of the last things (besides documentation, support and I18n/L10n) you will spend thoughts about. Getting the thing running has the highest priority, fleshing it out and finishing a lower one. Sidenote, I am still puzzled about M.O.R.E.. They said lately they will start working on the game loop, AFTER developing all the objects.

          Look at game reviews. You find columns for sound, graphics, fun but I have yet to see one for AI. It’s not that prestigious. Everybody expects a good working one but still it’s often only a remark works/bad in any review.

          And I would not be so harsh about the game developers in these days. Still a lot of engineering and management abilities are needed to run and finish such a big project and you still need to be good programmer when working on code and architecture. Luckily the source code is seldom public.

          Regarding Wasteland Interactive I will be more cautious in the future. I own a few more games of them and got them through bundles. All are mediocre at best and all have issues, technical, UI and design.

        • Gary Vandegrift says:

          @Evil Azrael: Seems to me that AI should be the last thing you work on for a game, once you’ve got all the systems in place, and the synergy between them. So I think the M.O.R.E. devs are doing the right thing.

        • Though I agree with you Gary (about the AI is the last part you work on). I see Evil Azrael’s point and also agree with it also.

          See, AI is important, if you want a solid single-player experience. If you are making a MP only game, then yeah you wouldn’t care, but otherwise the AI is what will give your game long-term interest. I’d expect a dev wants their game to sell beyond day 1 and people come back for expansions, sequels, and in the current market DLCs.

          So why shouldn’t you leave the AI for last? Because can the Ai play your game. As games get more complex it becomes harder to ‘teach’ an AI to play your game. I am not expert programmer but I looked at logic threads for an AI’s behaviour and it literally is a list of if, when, except, and go do commands. The more mechanics your game has, the more you have to factor when you script the AI. Remember, deep down, under the programing language, the compiler, the machine language you have a simple binary system. Basically all AI decisions have to be a 0 or 1 at the end, a yes or a no. Fortunately no one has to think of the actual machine language and binary, but knowing that is the ‘soul’ of your computer and your ‘AI’s’ decision matrix helps understand why AI coding is not easy.

          So that is why you need to consider your AI early on, if you can’t program your AI to use a certain game mechanic properly, you need to either a) figure out how to make the AI handle it (and its easier at the iteration step), or b) change the gameplay mechanic to something the AI can handle and hopefully keep as much of the mechanic intact (again easier at the iteration step). When all else fails, probably change the mechanic completely or maybe even remove it to make sure the game is coherent. Even if you are brave and try to ‘teach’ your AI to handle something, it’s easier as you iterate up. Save it for last and you will have a hard time to figure out why the AI is tripping on itself.

          So to go back, yes completely fleshing out the AI and making it an expert should be saved for last, but you should have a diaper wearing one that can handle your game reasonably at the start. Basically, it should be able to play the game it is in at the very least. Then at the end you make it challenging. A lot of these games ‘lack of challenge’ is not just that the AI is too easy, it’s that it seems to be unable to play the game. Doesn’t matter what bonuses you give it, if it will sink its fleet on the sea monsters, the AI will fail miserably (ah Warlock 2 and even Beyond Earth where some map settings ensured even Apollo was easier to beat than beginner).

          The risk MORE is running into is that the AI will not be able to play the game at all. Sure, the right programmer could program the correct AI; but will that programmer be on staff, will one of the helpful modders have that skill? It is a bit like playing the lottery, assuming the people at MORE will have the coder skilled enough to make the AI functional; and if they don’t… oooops!

        • Evil Azrael says:

          Just a small note on the MORE game. As far as I understood the MORE devs developed all game objects, but started on the main game loop very late. There are many ways to develop a software, but for me the main game loop would be the first thing I develop. First i would work on being able to click “Next turn”, then perhaps planets, building, fleets, Science, battles, diplomacy. As long as i can click next turn I have a “working” game I can test all the time. They said they didn’t have this yet.
          https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1447560584/more-oldschool-turn-based-4x-space-strategy-game/posts/743498?cursor=5874408#comment-5874407

          Personally I would place AI as one of the last things to implement, probably best when all game mechanics and rules are implemented, but definitively before doing any kind of alpha, beta, or whatever. It’s part of the main development, not a last minute addon.

          I am not telling them how to develop a game, but with this update I lost faith in this project.

        • DrManhatten says:

          @Edward Varfalvy

          I think technology will come to the rescue here on the AI as well. We just on the bring of it. Deep learning & RNNs and co are just learning to play perfect 80s arcade games so give it a few more years and you will have an AI that is unbeatable in complex 4X games (of course that is if you have enough compute power to dedicate it to AI)

        • AstralWanderer says:

          Some interesting points here:

          @Mark: “Back before the 20′s, making a game was *hard*. Only a tiny fraction of people had the knowledge and intellectual capacity to understand how to do it…”

          I would say that game-making is still hard, but the difference now is that marketing and distribution is so much easier with digital delivery. Before that, a developer would have to persuade a publisher to spend/invest/gamble their money on printing CD/DVDs, manuals, distribution and retail shelf space. With digital distribution, that barrier has been removed and we have more choice (both good and bad) as a result.

          @Evil Azrael: “Sidenote, I am still puzzled about M.O.R.E.. They said lately they will start working on the game loop, AFTER developing all the objects.”

          @Edward Varfalvy: “So why shouldn’t you leave the AI for last? Because can the Ai play your game. As games get more complex it becomes harder to ‘teach’ an AI to play your game…”

          M.O.R.E.’s decision to leave AI till last is likely, in my view, to give them a great deal of grief. I’m in strong agreement with Edward’s point that AI needs to be considered early on since the design of the game has a fundamental impact on the difficulty of writing a good AI. A simple design makes it easier for an AI to counter anything a player can do while a game offering a wide choice gives players more opportunity to come up with something completely outside the AI’s coding.

          A good case in point is the (mediocre) game GalCiv 2. Ships can have 3 weapons types but all are identical in terms of mass, damage and range – the only difference (aside from their names) is the defense against them. So it’s easy for an AI to build a perfect counter to player-designed ships – look at their weapon usage and just add the appropriate defense.

          In contrast, Space Empires V has over 20 weapons types with variable mass, range, rate of fire, damage profile (some do more damage at short range, etc), damage type (some bypass shields, others armour, many target specific components only) and power usage. Designing a ship here involves far more factors and therefore the AI there relies on variations of template designs (differing for each AI empire).

          @DrManhatten: “Deep learning & RNNs and co are just learning to play perfect 80s arcade games..”

          Arcade games rely on timing rather than AI (the only example I would argue as noteworthy would be Pacman where you need to discover the “ideal” path to cover a maze, and that maze doesn’t change).

          For TBS games, a more promising approach would be genetic design (take a player ship, run multiple combat simulations against a stable of AI starting designs, take the best design and generate multiple mutations of that, run simulator with each mutation to see which offer an improvement, rinse-repeat) but that would require significant amounts of CPU. However it could also be run in the background in a separate thread and would seem a sensible usage of today’s multicore CPUs.

        • Mark says:

          @ AstralWanderer
          Yes I agree, modern marketing and distribution makes it much easier to churn out something vaguely resembling a game than it was in the 90’s.

          But the ease and sophistication of modern programming development environments and gaming engines like Unity also contribute greatly to “lowering the bar”.

        • DrManhatten says:

          @AstralWanderer

          The research of using LSTM-NN/RNNs for playing video/computer games is just in its infancy so give it time the best AI bot players at the moment for example can play Angry Birds as good as the average human players. If you give a NN enough time and train them to play a 4X eventually they will play as good as any human player would play and eventually even better as they will never make a mistake. That’s the future of AI you do not write any specific AI anymore but train a NN to play the same as a normal player would play. Then you take the trained NN and put it into your game it will even challenge the best players out there. For the different difficulty levels you just give it handicaps.

          Sure this might be 5-10 years down the lane the biggest problem mid to longterm is computational resources. As most of them is spend on eye candy.

          The evolutionary algorithm part is already is in cooperated in latest NN research.

        • AstralWanderer says:

          @DrManhatten: “That’s the future of AI you do not write any specific AI anymore but train a NN to play the same as a normal player would play.”

          The weakness of neural networks is that they require many thousands of examples to “learn” even a simple system. For a complex game, the training (which would need expert human players to provide the examples) would likely take longer than the game’s programming. And that learning is not likely to be transferable from one game to another – each would need to be learned afresh.

          Neural network research has been ongoing since the 1980’s so the fact that it has taken this long to develop ones capable of handling the most basic arcade games should be a good indicator that we’re not going to see them powering sophisticated TBS AI any time soon.

        • FireStorm1010 says:

          I think its a very interesting idea, and I think its plausible. I tought about it some more and i think there might be another cause of the great 4x games in the Golden Era with decent/good AI, which nowadays games seem so seldom to attain.

          I think we dont apprecaite how talented and bright these guys who wrote those games, liek Sid Meier and others, trully were.

          And im talkign the full package here: coding (Sid Meier wrote games in assembler in beggining fucking assembler), designing, being fans of games, having the intuiution what will be fun, having the audacity to try new stuff,energy to work on it and by the time they made those games, lots of experience.

          Now i think and all those qualities are even more important for 4x games, which are very complex. And its even more important for AI imho: you must think about AI alrdy when designing the game, what will be doable.easy for AI to use and what will be near damn impossible.

          Now for guys in past, they had all the knowledge in them , so they saw it from start, it all clicked.

          For most designers nowadays, i guess they just add more and more features and write in end ” 1 month for AI for 2 programmers. Done”

      • Evil Azrael says:

        Hey Guys, i am currently working on an open source game (again). If anybody with AI skills want to help and prove he can do better than current 4X devs…

    • Fimbul says:

      Wow, what a hard statement. of course it’s another disappointment, i’m backer too. but the glorification of old games is not helping, especially because our memory makes them more shiny than they actually are. it’s easy to bash some guys that try something but 90’000 Dollar is not much for such an ambitious project. just finance the whole art.
      if you can do it better, you are welcome to do so.

      PS: not even Obsidian did it that well, even all are praising Pillars of Eternity, looks like the lack of information and bugs are counting for old-school games.

      • Mark says:

        No one is saying that games like MOM, MOO2, Alpha Centauri, XCOM, CIV III & IV were perfect. But they were so much better than anything on offer today that something is clearly wrong.

        With the amazing programming tools, powerful computers and unlimited memory available today, a good game designer should be able to produce material which blows MOM out of the water in terms of deep, complex gameplay and adaptive AI. Instead we get “Words of Magic”.

        • UncaJoe says:

          Mark I agree with you entirely. And I’ve thought a lot about the “why is that” factor. Or to put it another way, what makes those old games better? Why do I still play them year in and year out?
          Manuals for one thing. They were pretty thorough. Manuals now (if there are any) are skimpy and usually use tiny print on gray paper.
          Strategy Guides for another. Don’t see those any more but they gave you the kind of information people in these posts are looking for: the why and the how of things.
          Simple Research and Application. No complex, convoluted research tree with 14 levels of each weapon or engine or whatever.
          Strategy. Yes, you can actually make a war plan for an entire game and implement it. And change it as needed.
          Tactics. A very strong point in some of the games you mentioned.
          The Fun Factor. I don’t have a name for it, but the games you mentioned were and still are fun to play.

          PLUS, they worked right out of the box on my generic computers. Yes, there were patches and updates, but those games worked correctly from day one.

        • Mark says:

          Lol, do you remember the massive strategy guide for Master Of Magic? You could easily kill someone with that thing.

          In contrast the strategy guide for most modern 4x games – if it even existed – would blow away with a stiff breeze.

  9. DrManhatten says:

    Does anyone know why they suddenly released so early? Sounded like a really bad idea sure they must have enough feedback from backer and EA people not to do so. Although I must admit I was a backer I didn’t really pay much attention to WOM. I played an early beta and it didn’t hook me so I thought I wait till final but reading this it sounds like this will be my second big kickstarter disapointment (my first one was Warmachine Tactics). My verdict is still out on Predestination (at the moment unplayable for me). M.O.R.E and Satellite Reign (which I also rather will wait till it is no longer EA).

  10. SugeBearX says:

    This is off topic and will likely be viewed as strategy game heresy, but I have adopted a new strategy for playing 4x games: Rather than trying to find and exploit the recognizable patterns of the A.I., I try to use an organic approach to the game. In a sense I suppose it is a bit like role-playing…I try to react as my avatar would with only the information it would have. Leaders rarely react in the best, correct or most efficient manner so why should I obsess over trying to achieve something that has no real word correlate.

    This is not an efficient way to play a game and certainly no way to “master” it, but after years of efficient and inevitable mastery of exploitable A.I. behavior, I have decided that fun should be my actual goal here. Most folks who play strategy games likely cringe at the thought of playing like this, but for me it has reawakened my love for a genre that was becoming rote and tiresome. I am having fun with these games again…even if my Father is rolling over in his grave because of my careless play. ;)

  11. NoldorElf says:

    This sounds like they deployed too early. There are a lot of bugs and other issues that could probably have been fixed with further polish. The overall product does seem lacking as well.

    Among the recent stock of games, the Endless Legends and Age of Wonders 3 seem to be the best of the stock. It’s possible that Starock’s Sorcerer King may turn out to be a good game though. But even those games are likely to be problem plagued.

    What we need is:
    – The tactical combat of Age of Wonders 3
    – Better unit diversity than any other 4X game (hard to balance)
    – A game with a strategy layer that rivals something like Alpha Centauri and in depth city design
    – A really intelligent AI
    – Good UI (none of that super small font problem that plagued games like Distant Worlds)
    – Something like a unit editor would be nice
    – Interesting spells and magic

    I seem to be hoping for a unicorn here.

    • SQW says:

      I’d leave the 4X genre for another decade to be honest. All those talks of 4X revival in 2013 when KS was the red hot saviour of PC gaming turned out to be mostly crap with only EL and AoM being passable contenders.

      Personally, I’m shifting back to RPGs and space sims for now. Until people start demanding as much from AI coders as they do graphic cards, SMAC will probably stand as the peak of this genre.

      • t1it says:

        I’m thinking same, even considering going back to FPS lol. But let’s hope for Stardrive 2 and the 2+ expansions GC3 needs to be a worthwhile investment before the exodus :D.

      • AstralWanderer says:

        @SQW: “…All those talks of 4X revival in 2013 when KS was the red hot saviour of PC gaming turned out to be mostly crap with only EL and AoM being passable contenders.”

        I wouldn’t write off KS completely yet – good games can take 2-3 years to do (one of the biggest KS projects, Project Eternity, only recently released and that was with a large team, an established developer and $4 million funding). TBS games may not have hit the big time but we have had Legends of Eisenwald and Battle Worlds Kronos with M.O.R.E and Pre-Destination on the way.

      • SQW says:

        @AstralWanderer

        Project Eternity like Original Sin are RPGs which by its nature, doesn’t require complicated AI – even less so than sandbox ones like Skyrim.

        As long as the story, narrative, combat, and the role playing elements are in place, AI behaviour is basically driven by dialogue tree and scripted encounters. RPGs to 4Xs are what multiple choices question are to an open ended one – the latter require a vastly more amount of independent thinking which is the pitfall of all current AIs.

        I have very little faith in the upcoming crop of KS-4Xs tbh. The first two games you mentioned are way to early to judge and M.O.R.E. doesn’t even pretend it’s got a time frame anymore (Q1 2015 is past and no word on the alpha, forum’s dead and no update on future plans).

        Predestination? The design philosophy seem to be too heavily focused on planet building. Not bad on its own, terrible if you want to run a galaxy spanning empire of dozens of planets. Again, it’s another indie that tries to give us everything we ‘wanted’ without considering what to remove for the sake of the gameplay.

        • Gary Vandegrift says:

          @SQW: I’d rather M.O.R.E. was released as a solid game, than released too early with bugs. In any case, the status of M.O.R.E. is constantly updated in this thread: http://www.morethegame.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=334

          The last post in that thread was just a week ago. Other threads are even more recent. The forum is not dead.

        • SQW says:

          There’s a point where ‘better late than buggy’ becomes ‘bite off more than they could chew’ and I think that point was about 6 months ago for M.O.R.E. Seriously, the ‘better late than buggy’ line is not a get-out-of-jail card for the hip, game loving indie.

          This has practical implications too. KS indies has limited budget. You budget your dev cycle based on X months and if you go over that, you are broke. If you got more than twice as much as you asked for initially, then miss your deadline by over a year, asked for more money and then missed the new deadline with nothing resembling a game to show for it, then something’s wrong.

          I’m aware of the update thread which is 90% dev posts. The forum itself has virtually zero community involvement (because there’s NOTHING to comment on!). Considering IdealCenter was suppose to releasing the first playable build last month, this is definitely not the level of activity one would expect.

          Again, anyone who has ever managed more than a lemonade stand knows constantly missing deadlines with no new revenue source is a recipe for disaster.

        • Gary Vandegrift says:

          @SQW: I’ll just point out a successful game (by an indie dev) that came out much later than it was supposed to: Xenonauts. They missed many deadlines, yet still came out with a successful game.

        • AstralWanderer says:

          @SQW: “Project Eternity like Original Sin are RPGs which by its nature, doesn’t require complicated AI – even less so than sandbox ones like Skyrim…”

          And by that token it means we need to be more patient with TBS projects than RPGs (though in practice, the time for scenario and environment design for a Baldur’s Gate scale RPG could easily rival that spent on TBS AIs).

          As for the examples I mention, Kronos was released in Nov 2014 and has had several updates and Eisenwald is on the cusp of release. Dang it, I really should stop posting here and get round to playing them… :)

        • SQW says:

          @Gary

          You are confusing yourself. These are two very different games with very different development histories.

          Chris from Xenonauts put his own savings on the line at the very start. Despite all the delays and hiccups, he managed to put a playable build before going early access which helped push his project out the door in the end. Many features were cut in order to save money/time but overall, it was a solid indie game.

          Now look at M.O.R.E. There’s very little to show for the money and time. It’s not just delayed, it’s delayed with nothing to show for it.

          I’m in business development. I look at a project not just from the product POV but how the company operates. IdealCentre has consistently put out unrealistic goals and timelines again and again. This tells me IdealCentre has no project management capabilities and that will impact directly on the quality of product regardless the abilities of the coders.

          THAT is why I harp on about IdealCentre, its KS behaviours and the willingness for backers to keep putting faith in this company due to the blinkered focus on JUST the product.

        • Gary Vandegrift says:

          @SQW: The difference between the two of us is that I’m willing to wait and see what IdeaLCenter gives us. You’re trashing them before the game comes out. I feel sorry for your world view.

          I will allow that you may be correct, and if that happens, I will be sorry that M.O.R.E. didn’t turn out well. But I refuse to pass judgement until that happens.

        • SQW says:

          @Gary

          I choose my world view based on facts and evidence of which there are plenty against IdealCenter. You, however, seem to base your support of M.O.R.E. based on…faith. The common factor of all the successful indie titles you mentioned were not that they were all KSs but that they had a genuine development process.

          You don’t need to see the actual train wreck to know it’s one – writings on the wall and all that. Did people really didn’t see DF-9 or Towns dying months ahead of the final nail in the coffin?I personally would love a good 4X space game too but M.O.R.E. does not deserve our attention or money.

        • Gary Vandegrift says:

          @SQW: I didn’t invest in DF-9 or Towns, so I have no idea what people saw. However, I see IdeaLCenter doing their best to come out with M.O.R.E. and I look forward to the game. I think their videos have shown enough to continue supporting the game.

  12. alienjd says:

    Honestly, the reason those 90s games are better than what we’re getting now is because more people worked on them. And we’re comparing these people’s 5th or 6th game to the kickstarter guy’s 1st or 2nd game. Simtex started in 1988 and didn’t release Master of Magic until 1994 and MOO2 until 1996. The original XCOM was Julian Gollop’s 11th game.

    Alpha Centauri had a huge team compared to the indies of today. And Brian Reynolds had over six years of working on professional games before he designed and created it.

    Indie developers today have access to tools that make it easier than ever to do graphics. But everything else is as hard or harder than before. Because of that ease of getting pixels moving on the screen, I think a lot of small teams are biting off more than they can chew. And then realizing too late that they actually do need someone to code the AI, and the battle system, and a maintenance programmer, and all that other stuff they don’t have and can’t afford.

    4X games have too many systems for a small team to make a game in a reasonable amount of time. The best we can hope for is the team manages to hold on after release long enough to gradually update and fix the game either through expansions (ie Distant Worlds), patches (Star Ruler), or just by giving up, taking what they can reuse, and remaking the game (StarDrive*).

    *With luck StarDrive 2 won’t suck.

    ** Also bummer that Worlds of Magic isn’t very good. It thought that game had a pretty large and experienced team and expected it to succeed. Oh well, maybe with an expansion or two.

    • SQW says:

      I think in terms of 4X game design, complexity of the game has been far outpacing our ability to code AI to handle them.

      Just look at how far game mechanics have evolved since MOO3. Then look at the AI – introducing one unit hex grid set the CIV V AI back at least a decade I reckon. Heck, I was trying to explain CIV V to a non-gamer friend years back and her eyes glazed over after picking the faction.

      Is it any wonder modern 4X game’s AI simple doesn’t use half of the tools available? The devs mostly don’t even bother nowadays I reckon.

      Then we have all the KS kiddies trying to make the next MOO3 + more at the moment (still looking at you M.O.R.E.). By all means, build this masterpiece but make it multi-player only or else stick to a chess representation of empire building.

      • alienjd says:

        Programming AI needs to be someone’s full time job on these games. As it is, I think you’re right: on most games the AI is an after thought after all the other systems are in place.

      • SQW says:

        The thing is, you can’t realistically program AI until all the pieces are in place. However, knowing how most projects operate, by the time AI becomes the focus, the projects are over time and over budget already. Bills gotta be paid and publishers/backers are beating down the door and a broken game is better than no game.

        I highly suspect the poor AI as as much to do with our inability to code a decent AI as it is the symptom of how game projects are managed. Even a full time coder is helpless when he/she only gets to work properly at the very end with deadline looming as of last Monday.

        On the flip side, why are AIs NEVER patched to an acceptable level afterwards? Hmmm…

        • AstralWanderer says:

          @SQW: “On the flip side, why are AIs NEVER patched to an acceptable level afterwards? Hmmm…..”

          To be fair, the original Age of Wonders game had hideous AI on release, which was then patched to the point of semi-acceptability. Otherwise I’d agree that AI seems to take a back seat too often, and the trend seems to have gotten worse with better Internet access giving developers and publishers more incentive to prioritise multiplayer.

    • NoldorElf says:

      The problem with the hypothesis that larger teams are developing is that the major 4X players like Firaxis have not improved in quality despite having a large team. If anything, they’ve declined.

      I’d argue that Alpha Centauri was their peak, although modded Civ IV BTS was pretty good as well.

      We’ve also seen the Total War Series and Creative Assembly decline with the release of Rome 2 and Atlia.

      There have been relatively small teams that have made decent games. SOTS1 was a pretty decent 4X, at least if you are into tactical space combat. For empire building though, it was lacking.

      • alienjd says:

        A large team doesn’t guarantee success in making a 4X game; but a too small team is not going to be able to create a full game with strong AI in a couple of years. Adding more people wouldn’t promise success it would just increase the odds that the game would be successful.

        All the small team 4X games that I like didn’t start off very good. The teams were able to hold on long enough to fix the game. SOTS1 at launch was pretty dull and very incomplete (I got it at launch). It wasn’t until the second expansion that the game was really good.

        Worlds of Magic might be fixed in a year or two if the devs have the resources and time to finish it.

      • Gary Vandegrift says:

        @NoldorElf: I agree about the good games by small teams… The Dominions series (two devs), Space Empires IV (two devs), Ascent – The Space Game (one dev), are just some examples.

    • NoldorElf says:

      The problem with the hypothesis that larger teams are developing is that the major 4X players like Firaxis have not improved in quality despite having a large team. If anything, they’ve declined.

      I’d argue that Alpha Centauri was their peak, although modded Civ IV BTS was pretty good as well.

      We’ve also seen the Total War Series and Creative Assembly decline with the release of Rome 2 and Atlia.

      There have been relatively small teams that have made decent games. SOTS1 was a pretty decent 4X, at least if you are into tactical space combat. For empire building though, it was lacking.

      I’d have to disagree that developer team size is the sole arbitrator or else the AAA studios would be better than they are.

      • Ashbery76 says:

        Atila’s possibly the best game in a series so I do not agree with that statement at all.Civ5 with all expansions is also a great strategy game.

        Alpha Centauri is a great game because of the theme and setting.I would not call the unit designer all that interesting and the winning strategy was city spamming with large micromanagement.It was not a perfect design.

  13. UncaJoe says:

    alienjd, I think you’re on to something. I’ve thought for a long time that all the emphasis on how good the graphics are is really missing the point. It’s the GAME that counts, not how pretty it is. Thanks for the comment.

  14. Erv says:

    Another HALF-ASS game….smh. Glad I didn’t get suckered into this one. Maybe if most cpu gamers TOTALLY stopped buying into to this early access BS developers would be more serious about making a good game.

  15. SamDog says:

    Good Sirs;

    I got this months ago and checked up on it from time to time. They made a lot of progress. Since I already paid for it, the release doesn’t mean much to me and they are still making progress. It seems like the release isn’t a big deal, since they had patches the week before and the week after. So I think the consternation is unwarranted.

    I play robocraft, pay 100s of dollars for it, and I don’t know if they ever plan to release it. These guys should have just said they were now in beta 5 which is what Gal Civ 3 is doing istead of releasing it.

    Steam just had a sale, 50% off Gal Civ 3 about a month ago, and I bought it because with online updates every week before and after release whats the difference?

    yours
    SamDog

    • Keith Turner says:

      A game reaching official release status is generally the green light that lets gamers who aren’t interested in beta testing, bugs, and constant patching know that it is ready to invest in and play. This is why reaching released status is a big deal.

      • SamDog says:

        Keith;

        Used to be. Robocraft has made millions and they aren’t bothering to release. I think even microsoft keeps stuff in permanent beta–just so you can’t sue them.

        yours
        SamDog

  16. Writing competent 4x AI is a huge challenge.

    The programming all boils down to “what is the smart way to play this game?” and then scripting it out in logical steps. Even simple things like “explore your surroundings and colonize the best planet” turn into very long-winded code sections. The Ai needs to know what ships it has. It needs to know how to order ships around. It needs to know that it has a goal of colonizing a specific planet, and not try to duplicate its orders. It needs to know if the goal fails because its ship is destroyed or the planet is colonized. It needs to know if the planet has defenders like space pirates. It needs to know to hold its colonization goal until its defense forces can go clear out the defenders, and it needs to know if THAT goal is successful or not.

    And the rabbit hole just keeps going deeper and deeper. Eventually you do hit the bottom of what the AI needs to know, and you can start wrapping it back up. But then, of course, it can all get unraveled by something you didn’t think of. And while you have this complex AI that can handle a dozen different scenarios, I guaran-fucking-tee that the players will find scenario #13 where it all goes to hell.

    For fighting wars, its dreadfully complex stuff. Anyone who hasn’t seen my article on AI design on this website here should give it a search. But generally my approach to AI is to compartmentalize the AI. There’s one AI that makes high level decisions, and then it passes its orders down to Sub AIs who are responsible only for their specific little tasks. This makes issues easier to comprehend on my end, and it helps me debug things when it goes off rails.

    • Evil Azrael says:

      I would like to see a game with a public programming interface for AI players so everybody can have a shot and write his own AI. It could be a nice competition to develop the best AI which can beat human and computer players alike.
      Besides any open source games I know only C-Evo ( http://c-evo.org/text.html ) which encourages to develop your own AI.

      • AstralWanderer says:

        Space Empires V provides mod support which can include AI changes (and one such mod, the Balance Mod, at http://www.captainkwok.net/balancemod.php has recently received an update). Call to Power II (Activision’s take on the Civ series) was another with its SLIC scripting language.

        On the whole though, these do seem very much to be the exception.

    • Mark says:

      I don’t think anyone is doubting that 4x AI design is hard. Its just that it seems to have gone dramatically backwards since the days of MOO2, CIV IV and Alpha Centauri.

      Back then the devs seemed to have the skill to design AI that – while not Hal9000 – at least wasn’t shockingly, embarrassingly bad like say “Worlds of Magic” or pretty much any recently released 4x.

      The ability to write even passable AI seems to be becoming a lost art.

      • AstralWanderer says:

        Hmm…I wouldn’t consider AC to be a good example of AI (the computer players tend to send units out in dribs and drabs rather than gathering them together for a sustained assault – I’ve found the native lifeforms to be much more dangerous in a typical game).

        Civ 3 and 4 though did seem much more competent – I suspect due to Soren Johnson’s work on these titles.

        • Mark says:

          Like I said, I don’t consider AI from Civ III/IV, SMAC or MOO to be fantastic. But it is workable and generally doesn’t embarrass itself too badly.

          Unlike the point-and-laugh AI of Worlds of magic (and most modern 4x games) where you honestly have to wonder what they were smoking to release in that state.

        • AstralWanderer says:

          @Mark: “…point-and-laugh AI…”

          Careful, that could become a marketing catchphrase. ;)

  17. Jodet says:

    In this day and age having only one victory condition, domination…. it’s just not acceptable in a 4X game.

  18. NoldorElf says:

    Out of curiosity, are you planning to do reviews of Stardrive 2 (at time of this typing, about to be released in ~12 hours) and Star Ruler 2 (just came out recently).

    I have heard quite a few people complain about Star Ruler 2 being “simplified” – not sure if those are true rumors or not.

    • Adam Solo says:

      We have top men working on both reviews as I write this :) Just hang on in there.

      • JD says:

        All hail the top men ;-)

        • Keith Turner says:

          If there is anything you’d like to know specifically about StarDrive 2, let me know and I will do my best to work it into the review.

        • JD says:

          I think it would be interesting to see what SD2 offers over the original Master of Orion 2 besides needing an DOS emulator to run it. As the mechanics are literally cloned from MoO2. What are the ‘improvents’ over that old classic. Of course that should not be the focus, but nice to have as a byline and SD2 should be looked at on it’s own merit, but spacesec always does a good job with that imho.

        • Keith Turner says:

          Thanks JD. I’ll keep this in mind.

        • Mark says:

          Ground Combat: Obviously you’ll cover this in your review Keith, but I’m particularly interested in whether the total lack of any random factor makes it feel more like a dry game of chess than “real” ground combat.

      • NoldorElf says:

        Stardrive 2 seems pretty decent, although I have not played for that long yet, so we’ll see.

        • SQW says:

          How’s the AI?

          I usually don’t get a handle on the AI until at least 15hrs into the game by which time I usually face-palm at the shocking lack of I in AI.


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