Release notes here.
This one is pretty darn substantial!
On the audio side, one of the things that really spurred me to make that a shorter-term priority is Why the sound of a gun had to be nerfed in Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, a video that came out yesterday by People Make Games. I've heard similar stories before, but usually I tend to think of that in terms of other semi-tangibles like visual feedback, tells, telegraphs, or general smoothness.
The non-music side of audio has been something I've really put a lot of effort into on a few titles, actually including this game... but the attenuation and general audio levels and mixing in this game was burying it. There are still some sfx that need to be swapped out in general, I think, but the biggest problem was them cutting out beyond a certain zoom, or getting super quiet, or certain sounds (like explosions) not being mixed at a volume that you can hear well. The first item in that list was IIRC intentional, but just a bad idea on my part. And it got worsened over time as we made the far zoom able to go out further.
Anyway, so combat definitely has more "bite" now, which is good.
The Praetorian Guard
In the first game -- the original AI War -- we had a thing called the "strategic reserve." Basically it was a budget that the AI would hold back and use when you attacked their homeworlds, and it was added after a lot of playtesting suggested we needed something like that. I think that was a 4.x+ addition, or something along those lines. But we never felt like that was a good fit for this sequel, for various reasons.
However, the general niche that the strategic reserve filled was definitely needed here. Players figured out that they could "boil off" the AI homeworlds a bit by going in and aggro'ing them, then letting the aggro'd guards join the hunter or warden fleets (and thus then leave and go elsewhere). As long as you could survive the roaming hunter or warden or both, or keep them distracted, then you had a MUCH easier AI homeworld to deal with. Stupidly easier, really.
For whatever reason, I immediately started thinking of this in soccer terms when this was brought to my attention. Essentially in a lot of sports like that one, you have some forwards/offense, some midfield/versatile, some defenders, and then probably the "final defender" (aka goalie). What I realized is that we basically had an AI structure with just offense and midfielders, with "inactive midfielders" that, once aggro'd, would go off and stop defending the goal, so to speak.
If this were soccer or hockey, it would be terribly unbalanced to either have a ton of new midfielders that can join an offensive at-will once the ball first goes near their goal. It would also be incredibly risky if they all chose to act like forwards. Where the heck are the dedicated defenders?
AI War 2 has the main AI faction (or "Sentinels") that are basically defacto guards/goalies at each planet until aggro'd and abandoned. After that they either join the warden (midfielders, or somewhat floating defenders), or hunter (very predatory/lurking offense).
For MOST of the game, these three sub-groups work just well. It's at the hoomeworld that this falls apart. I had been against adding a strategic reserve to this game partly because it would just feed the hunter, making it so that when you attack the AI homeworld you'd be inevitably involved in a two-front battle (your planets and their homeworld), and it would turn into a race or a game of attrition or something else un-fun and uncharacteristic of the rest of the game. Basically it was going to be un-balanceable without sometimes slaughtering you and other times being laughably easy. It being a nice middle-ground was going to be the rare case.
So... we needed defenders. Only for the very end of the game, and only for the AI homeworlds, but it was super needed. The warden and the hunter can't be fed -- there needed to be something that acted kind of like half and half of those two, in terms of general logic, but which really prioritized protecting the AI homeworld(s). It couldn't "leave the goal open," but it also shouldn't detract from the hunter or warden's ability to strike or buffer you elsewhere (so having the hunter or warden suddenly change behaviors and act like a defender fleet was going to be bad because they might be too slow to respond and that also could be exploitable, and that also would eliminate any interesting chances for the AI to give you a two-front battle -- the two-front battles aren't something I hate, I just didn't want them to be an inevitability every endgame).
Right: so we talked about it, and Badger implemented the Praetorian Guard. These guys work as described as above, and keep the homeworld fights interesting while not letting off the pressure on the rest of the galaxy. They fill the same niche as the strategic reserve, but without a risk of making the rest of the galaxy more dangerous in a generalized sense (they can't add pressure on offense, given they are dedicated defenders).
You'll have to start a new game to see these guys in action, but I'm very interested to see what happens with them. Should be good! I guess we need to make sure they show up in "quick start" games, incidentally. If not, we can fix that in code.
A bunch more changes have been made to stacking, centering around bugfixes and balance, both. There were some cases where stacks were much easier to deal with than they would have been if they were un-stacked, and that no longer should be so severe.
More New Stuff!
- There area couple of new achievements, although you can't see them yet.
- You can hack exogalactic wormholes to cancel them, which is pretty slick. I love having more ways to use hacking points instead of military might.
- The Advanced Research Stations are a bit more intuitive, and a bit more balanced, and a bit more varied.
- A bunch of work on how orders are given and copied have been put in place, and there should be fewer issues with decollision messing up orders, or with units losing their orders after one ship on a stack is blown up, etc.
- The long-range planning for factions, which is basically their "conscious intelligence" now runs more frequently, but without bogging anything down. The AI should therefore be a lot more responsive to rapid changes in the current situation.
- A variety of AI types have balance tweaks that make them a lot more unique and interesting.
- Watchman frigates are no longer so bloody expensive in energy or metal costs!
More to come soon. Enjoy!
Problem With The Latest Build?
If you right-click the game in Steam and choose properties, then go to the Betas tab of the window that pops up, you'll see a variety of options. You can always choose most_recent_stable from that build to get what is essentially one-build-back. Or two builds back if the last build had a known problem, etc. Essentially it's a way to keep yourself off the very bleeding edge of updates, if you so desire.
The Usual Reminders
Quick reminder of our new Steam Developer Page. If you follow us there, you'll be notified about any game releases we do.
Also: Would you mind leaving a Steam review for some/any of our games? It doesn't have to be much more detailed than a thumbs up, but if you like a game we made and want more people to find it, that's how you make it happen. Reviews make a material difference, and like most indies, we could really use the support.