Friday, October 15, 2010

AI War Beta 3.713, "The Balance Destroyer," Released!

Okay, maybe the nickname for this release doesn't sound like a good thing, but it so totally is. Like "The Sledge Hammer" before it, this release absolutely rips apart some old parts of the game, and it builds something much better in its place.  This is the last such rip-things-apart release we're going to have before 4.0 hits: it's all rebuilding, fine-tuning, and adding on new stuff from here on out (guardians are coming, I promise!).

The thing that's been ripped apart this time, though, is the combat model. It's a lot of long-requested changes, actually, but we finally figured out a way to do them in a way that would keep the essence of the game while making us and players happy.

This new combat model in the game will possibly feel identical to the old one for novice players, but for advanced players is worlds different. Specifically:
  • The old notion of shields (not to be confused with force fields) has been removed.  Most novice players didn't even know they existed at all, but they had an immense effect on the game and the way that targeting worked.  Now targeting is: a) simpler; b) not range-dependent; c) not including a random miss-chance component.
  • However, there was a bit of interest in parts of the concept of shields.  We've now formalized that into a new Armor concept, which is way simpler than the old shields model, but provides some of the same benefits for ships like Heavy Bombers, etc.
  • The game used to have a massive number (over 2,200, actually) of ship-against-ship-type internal bonuses.  You know: rock, paper, scissors, lizard, spock.  And about 40 other elements, literally.  There had been great forums debates about this back in 2009, and possibly even stretching into early 2010, but... well, the short answer is that the time wasn't right and there wasn't a cogent model that met all my criteria.  But now there is!  So these are gone.
  • In place of the old ship-vs-ship-type internal bonuses, there is now a set of the following hull types: Scout, Light, Medium, Heavy, Artillery, Neutron, Swarmer, Ulra-Light, Close-Combat, Command-Grade, Refractive, Composite, Turret, Ultra-Heavy, Structural, or Polycrystal.  All ships belong to one of these hull types, and combat ships have some bonuses against approximately 0-5 of these hull types.
  • Going along with these changes, the old Strong/Weak Vs display has been removed from the game, for a variety of reasons.  In their place is a new Attack Multipliers display, which shows the bonuses against other hull types.  This is more brief, more effective, and again something a number of players had asked for.
Want more details on all those changes, and the reasoning behind many of them, etc?  See the lengthy release notes, linked above, for all that sort of thing.

But wait!  There is, in fact, quite a bit more to this release.  Aside from a number of eagerly-awaited bugfixes (missing image fixes to the OSX version and the 3.711 windows installer, Zenith Traders that will actually trade with you again, etc), there are a number of other changes.  The main ones:
  • Performance.  We figured out some new ways to squeak yet more performance out of the working set of the RAM.  Moving from .NET to Mono was more of a leap than we'd expected, because their garbage collectors are so different, but we're using the Unity profiler and other methods to get this optimized.  It's about as optimized now as it probably will be for 4.0 launch, and it's looking mighty good, even moreso than in 3.712.
  • Balance changes: Some of them are related to the whole combat-model-reinvention stuff that was already mentioned, obviously, but others are fundamental changes to how some ships work, or how mechanics such as "AOE damage immunity" function.  In particular, all the cluster bonus/penalty stuff (which wasn't really that fun) has been removed in favor of other mechanics.
  • Neinzul Younglings: These have seen a big revamp.  We're definitely soliciting feedback from playtesting with them at this time, too.
  • Previously, we sometimes called Mark V ships as "Core" or as "Mark V."  That's been made more consistent, as "Mark V."  As have the related ship names ("Core Predator" is now "Raptor Mark V," for instance).  See the release notes for more details on this, and what is indicated by the few ships that do still have "Core" in their name (mostly the Core Guard Posts).
  • The first OSX fixes: I mentioned that the missing images are now in place, but there was also a bug in the last version that was causing the OSX graphics to be slightly-to-very fuzzy.  Fixed!
  • And with this version, we can also confirm that the updater is definitely working on OSX just as well as on Windows.  In fact, aside from a handful of OSX-specific issues in our bug tracker, the experience seems pretty identical between the platforms, which is the goal.  We just didn't expect to get there that fast (knock on wood).
This is a standard update that you can download through the in-game updater itself, if you already have 3.701 or later. When you launch the game, you'll see the notice of the update having been found if you're connected to the Internet at the time. If you don't have 3.701 or later, you can download the windows installer for 3.711, or the OSX installer for 3.712. Once you do an in-game update, they'll both be on the latest version, despite starting at slightly different versions.

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