Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Big Download Review of Tidalis

"Tidalis is, in short, stunning. It's one of the most complex, yet easy to learn, games we have ever played. Just when you think you know everything, new blocks and modes are given to you to toy with, leading to tons of replayability. We would, in fact, say that this is one of the best casual games we have ever played, if not the best."
James Murff, Big Download (Final Verdict: Must Own)

Update On Children Of Neinzul Donations For Child's Play

Good news!  As of August 31st, 2010, we have so far raised and donated $586.32 for the Child's Play charity via sales of our Children of Neinzul micro-expansion for AI War -- and that's just with preorders! We look to be well on our way to hitting our goal of $14,000.00 for the year at this rate. We'll post monthly updates on how we're doing towards our goal, so check back!

More About AI War: Children of Neinzul and 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. Our goal is to raise $14,000.00 USD for Child's Play in 2010, but even after 2010 all of the proceeds from this micro-expansion will continue to be donated to the charity.

At the moment, this micro-expansion is only available directly through the Arcen Online Store ($3.99 USD), which gets you full access to the beta.  However, at the time of official release (expected to be mid-October at the moment) we expect it to be available through all of the major distributors that currently carry AI War; those we've spoken to about it are as excited about it as we are.

GameShark and Appletell Reviews of Tidalis -- Top Marks!

"I can say with some authority that Tidalis stands apart... The bottom line is that Tidalis is a flexible, smart, refreshingly unique puzzle design, and it's situated neatly into a large generous package. It's far better than any mere puzzle game should be."
Tom Chick, GameShark (GameShark Editor's Choice Award, "A" Score)

"Usually, puzzle games have such a simple concept that they quickly become boring or they require you to have lightning reflexes just to keep up. It's because of this that I usually avoid puzzle games entirely. Yet Tidalis is the first one I've played that I can recommend to everyone without reservation. Whether you match three colors in your sleep or avoid puzzles like a plague, Tidalis is a really fun game that will keep you entertained and strategizing for hours on end."
Erica Marceau, Appletell (4/5 Score)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Tidalis Official 1.007 (Bugfixes)

The full release notes are here.

This update fixes some serious-but-rare bugs that a few players were encountering in specific circumstances. The next release with "free DLC" will be within the next 1-2 months, but for now we wanted to go ahead and get these fixes out the door in an official capacity even though they only affect a smallish subset of players.

Our goal is always to have the play experience be as smooth as possible for all players!

Beta Updates Cumulatively Included In This Official Release
  • August 29th, 2010: 1.006 Beta (Monitor Resolution Support Improved)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Tidalis Beta 1.006 (Monitor Resolution Support Improved)

The full release notes are here.

For many players, this will be an absolutely inconsequential update. For those players with 16:10 widescreen monitors, or other unusual monitor sizes, this update adds support for those resolutions in fullscreen mode, which should be very welcome.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

AI War Prerelease 3.189, Porting To Unity 3D Begins

The full release notes are on the Arcen forums.  This update is mainly a maintenance release, with a variety of balance tweaks and bugfixes.

Platform Porting Has Started: What Does This Mean For The Coming Schedule?
In other news, as of a couple of days ago, work has now begun in earnest on the AI War port to Unity 3D (which adds in Mac OSX support, but also does a bunch of positive things for the game in general even on Windows).  We'd been spending the last while preparing in various ways for that shift in focus, but now we've made the leap.  Some players have already been wondering if there will be more updates before the port is done.

The short answer is: not many, if any.  Mainly critical fixes, and that's about it for a few weeks.  Right now our goal is to work as hard as we can on the port, to go ahead and get it to the point where we can do a public beta of that, and then we'll resume our "regular programming," so to speak.  The beta of the Unity version of AI War will need at least a month of public beta, and the longer we wait on getting it to the point of public beta, the longer it pushes out the next official release of the game in general: right now we're hoping for mid-October for the next official release, and to have the first beta version of the Unity port within about 2-3 weeks, but we'll just see how things go on both those fronts, those are both subject to change.

A lot of the uncertainty comes from the fact that this is, frankly, a massive undertaking and there is just Keith and I working on this.  With Tidalis it took us a  month to port it to Unity, but the Unity platform was new to us then (it's not now); and we didn't have an established meta-framework for graphics, UI, etc, on top of the base platform (we do now); and we hadn't done any prep work to get that game port-ready in advance (whereas we've done a lot of that with AI War).

On the other hand, AI War is a lot larger and more resource-intensive (which might mean more refactoring, and definitely means more initial porting work in general); and, worse-for-the-schedule, my son is due to be born basically anytime now.  It's the first for my wife and I, and he's already created a number of disruptions for me this week with false alarms and just general exhaustion and so forth, so even before he's born I'm at less than full speed.  After he's born I'm going to be focusing on being a new dad for three weeks or so, and will not be around the site and the forums much at all; I'll be having an hour or two per day to handle general business work for Arcen, and to do designer/producer type work, and possibly to get in a smidge of programming.  But in any case, I suspect my energy stores will be running on low and so the more intensive parts of the porting will likely be beyond my capabilities until I'm back from paternity leave.  Plus I'm just really looking forward to being a new dad and don't want to miss important things during those very first weeks.

So... we'll just see how this all plays out.  The overall schedule goals I've stated were made with knowing all this, but with so much of the burden falling on Keith, and him just being part-time and having a young family of his own to also look after, there are always many variables that can't be predicted.  I think it will all work out well in approximately the time schedule that we want, but we'll keep everyone up to date as things progress.

What Does This Mean For The Children of Neinzul Micro-Expansion?
Not a lot, really.  This has been our plan from the start.  The CoN micro-expansion is materially complete at this stage, and just in need of a lot of playtesting, and the resultant balance tweaks and bugfixes.  The above means that those bugfixes and balance tweaks won't be very forthcoming during the next 2-3 weeks or so, until the betas of the Unity port are out, but we'd still love to have feedback from players and we'll get to those items that do come up as soon as we are able, when the ported betas become public.

The official release of the CoN expansion will be on the same day as the official release of the ported-to-Unity AI War 4.0 version: so, mid-October is our best estimate at the moment.  But certainly the betas of the expansion are quite functional (and quite fun) at the moment, even if they are a bit rough in a few parts pending more player feedback and playtesting (that's just the process any new expansion has to go through, eh?).  And even during our beta/preorder period, all of the proceeds are still going to be going to the Child's Play charity.  As our first payments comes in from our distribution partners for CoN revenue, we'll be making our first donations to the charity and posting updates about that.  It's very exciting for us, and we've already made some solid progress toward our goal of raising $14,000.00 for that charity this year -- before the game is even fully released!

What Else Is Coming In AI War 4.0?
So, the big thing in AI War 4.0 is that Mac OSX support is coming, and that it's paired with the CoN charity micro-expansion.  However, for those who have been following the sixty-nine betas since the last official version 3.120 back in May, they know that a ton has changed in the base game itself.  Those release notes are over 26,000 words long already, or over 104 pages of a novel.  And that's before the port to Unity 3D, the stuff that is already out.

In the last few weeks we've intentionally been doing a lot of significant changes, to give people a lot of new stuff to play with while we're away for a few weeks with the porting and my paternity leave and all that.  After the porting is done, we plan on spending a full month (at least) in beta on the ported version, with porting-related testing and fixes, as well as balance tweaks and fixes based on all the other new stuff we've added lately.

But that's not all, of course!  We're also expecting to be adding yet more new ships and mechanics and such during that time period, continuing the trend of the last few weeks.  We want at least two weeks of balance/bugfix changes only at the end of our month post-porting testing cycle, but during that first two weeks of the testing cycle we intend to pack in some more goodies.

What Happens After AI War 4.0?
After AI War 4.0, our focus is largely going to be shifting to a game we're calling "Alden Ridge Arcade" for the moment.  This isn't the full Alden Ridge game that we've been talking about for the last year or so, but it's a smaller, arcade-focused spinoff of it.  After all these huge projects, we wanted something a bit smaller to tackle for the latter part of this year.  The idea is basically to have it be a really focused, polished experience based around some clever and strategy-rich arcade gameplay that we've come up with.  More on that later.

And aside from Alden Ridge Arcade, there will of course be more updates to both AI War and Tidalis, as always.  Our next full project (most likely the full-blown Alden Ridge game) will be kicking off in 2011, and there will be another full-sized expansion for AI War sometime next year, too.  But bimonthly-or-so updates for both AI War and Tidalis will continue throughout that whole period, of course.  With Tidalis it's minor tweaks, a few new blocks or mechanics from the Design a Block contest, and community-submitted levels and similar content.  With AI War, it will be back to more or less the sort of general updates and content additions that were common earlier this year while we were working on Tidalis (but before we got to the very end).

Lots of exciting stuff in the works!  Thanks to all our awesome players for their support.

The Wargamer Interview With Arcen Games

The Wargamer's Chris Beck recently caught up with Arcen Games' founder, Chris Park to chat about where the company came from and where it's going. Topics discussed include:
  • The history and design goals behind AI War.
  • The motivation for and results from the ongoing updates to AI War.
  • The Children of Neinzul micro expansion, and the motivation for it's ties to Child's Play as well as the inclusion of the Hybrid Hives death machines.
  • Tidalis, and why Arcen chose to follow up a strategy game with a puzzle game, as well as what sets Tidalis apart from casual games in general.
  • Arcen's upcoming schedule, including AI War 4.0 (on Unity 3D & OSX), "Alden Ridge Arcade," the full Alden Ridge game, and A Valley Without Wind.

Friday, August 20, 2010

AI War Prerelease 3.188 (Minefields, Siege Starships, Fixes)

The full release notes are on the Arcen forums. This release was actually done in the form of three releases throughout the day, two of which were made earlier than planned because of transient crash bugs that were found and fixed.

Once again, with this release it's mostly a lot of little things rather than anything sweepingly huge.  We've been really chewing through the bug report forum, which had previously gotten a backlogged with minor issues, and so there are a bunch of those in here.

Particularly of note, however, is one long-requested change, which is that minefields have replaced individual mines.  This makes it far quicker and easier to set up effective minefields, and it makes minefields a bit more effective, too.  And it's easier on the CPU, hey.

Another big fan request lately has been for a revamp of the dreadnought starship line.  We've actually revamped dreadnoughts repeatedly in the last few months, but they keep coming out on the weaker end.  Part of the problem was the name -- these were actually anti-starship/siege starships, which isn't well described by the name dreadnought.  So now we've renamed them to Siege Starships to avoid the confusion.  But we did more than that -- we also really buffed them a lot, and cranked up their knowledge costs, so not only are they renamed, but they've also gotten a serious revamp as players have wanted.

There's a whole litany of other smaller balance tweaks and new AI tweaks in addition to the bugfixes, so make sure and read the whole release notes if you're interested.  Enjoy!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

AI War Prerelease 3.184 (Cmd Stations+, Transport Nerf, Colored Planet Links, Fixes)

The full release notes are on the Arcen forums.  This release is basically dozens of little tweaks and bugfixes, rather than any particularly huge new features.  However, that said, some of these smaller effects will have a pretty enormous effect on advanced play (as with most small tweaks in any strategy game).

The first of these is the new buffs to the Military and Logistics command stations.  Those command stations are relatively new anyway, but players were complaining that in most cases there was not enough incentive to use them.  Well, we listened, and these now have substantially larger bonuses associated with them that cannot be achieved via any other mechanism at the players' disposal.

The second notable change is to transports, which have been nerfed.  A lot of advanced players were using transports as a way to do flash raids against the AI by pulling the transport up to reinforced enemy targets and then "blowing the walls out" (scrapping the transport) to dump all their forces out at once.  This patch puts a stop to that, evening back out the playing field, while still leaving the utility of transports intact for bypassing overpowering wormhole defenses and... for transporting.

The third notable change is to the display of the galaxy map (pictured right).  The lines between planets are now colorized based on the relationships of the planets (friendly to friendly = green, friendly to neutral = yellow, friendly to enemy = orange, enemy to enemy = red).  This makes it vastly easier to at-a-glance parse the visuals of what is going on in any given galaxy, and to keep track of all your planets.  It's also a lot easier to quickly see when a planet is lost.  The effects of Supply are also now easier to see, as they are denoted by line thickness (thicker lines mean human supply) rather than with a faint underline below the regular lines.

The fourth notable change is to how the AI uses "support ships," specifically forcefield bearers, munitions boosters, zenith autobombs, shield boosters, and neinzul youngling nanoswarms.  All of these ships work best in concert with other ships, so it was always an easy wave to just ignore when these would come in as a homogeneous wave to human planets.  The AI now only seeds these into existing waves, to make those waves more powerful, rather than using them as standalone waves.

Beyond that, there are a bunch of other more minor tweaks, and a lot of minor-to-notable bugfixes.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tidalis "Design A Block" Contest

For quite some time, Arcen Games has been committed to adding fan suggestions to AI War via general suggestions and our Community DLC poll in the AI War forums.  In the case of Tidalis, today's new official version 1.005 of the game continues that trend by including 12 new player-created levels, several bits of player-created art, a new player-suggested VS game mode, and a number of other updates and tweaks based on player suggestions.

So what's this contest, then?  Well, it's pretty simple: if you have ideas for new mechanics that you'd like to see in the game, submit them in our Tidalis Suggestions forum.  We'd most like to see new block ideas, but if you have ideas for new game modes, VS rulesets, or similar, those are also welcome.

Approximately every two months, we'll select one or more entries to actually implement into the game, with art and sound effects as needed, and with your name (or forum handle if you prefer to remain anonymous) featured in the release notes as well as the game credits.  Best of all, this is a contest where everybody wins, because all existing Tidalis customers always get these sorts of "free DLC" updates... for free.

Not much of one for gameplay design?  That's okay -- if you're into level or brainteaser creation, you might prefer to simply submit your custom levels for potential inclusion in the free DLC.  Twelve player levels have already become a part of the official release versions of Tidalis, and yours could be next.  Here again, we give full credit based on your name or forum handle (your preference).

A lot of games have community mods or levels, but what we're offering is a chance to affect the actual core official game, not just an obscure addon.  At Arcen, we really believe that players are full of good ideas, and we've seen the frustration that many people have with their inability to see anything come of those ideas with the larger companies.  With AI War we were so inundated with suggestions that we had to institute the Community DLC poll, and now with Tidalis we're going to handle it a bit differently with this bimonthly Design A Block contest.

Good luck!

Tidalis Official 1.005 Released (First Official Free DLC and Bugfixes)

This official release includes a lot of new stuff for players to enjoy, a lot of it suggested by fans. It adds the new VS - Race multiplayer ruleset for use against the AI or against other players, as well as a new Boarded Up block type. It has a lot more flexibility in what fullscreen resolutions players can use, even if their graphics card/OS doesn't report a resolution that they want to use as being supported. There is also a revamped sound subsystem that lets the game load faster, play multiple copies of the same sound effect at once (which sounds much better), and which avoids some issues on OSX.

Also included are 12 new Brainteaser levels created by players, a new visual block style created by a player, and updated stream graphics that look a bit fancier. Music tracks also now fade in when starting, which is a noticeable aural improvement. Aside from the above, this release has a number of bugfixes and other, more minor player-suggested tweaks.

All in all, an exciting first bit of free DLC, both with Arcen-created content and community-created content.

Click here for the full release notes

Full Installer Links
Don't yet have Tidalis, or haven't yet tried the demo?  You can now get the full 1.005 installer from our Download Tidalis page, rather than starting with 1.000 and upgrading after the fact.

Manual Patch Links
Unfortunately, after the 1.001 version was released it was discovered that the 1.000 version of the game has a broken download mechanism for its installer. We ran into this one other time, all the way back at 0.401, so fortunately we have a simple mechanism for dealing with that. If you simply download and run the manual patch program below for your operating system (Windows or Mac), then you'll be all set and future automatic updates should work just fine.
We apologize for the inconvenience of this -- the 1.000 version fixed a problem with the Mac version of the updater, and unintentionally introduced this larger problem to both the Windows and Mac versions of the game.

If you have a copy of the game from Steam or Impulse, no worries -- the automatic updaters that are native to those platforms will take care of you.  In fact, with them you don't need to worry about manual patching at all unless you want betas in advance of when the cumulative official release comes out.

Tidalis Reviewed At PC Games And Reviews

"Tidalis is well produced in both the looks and sound departments and sports a puzzle mechanic I've not seen before. It has literally hours of stream-building puzzle action, plus it has a character called Humphrey and if that isn't an excuse to buy this I don't know what is! Puzzlers: Go Get!"
Andy Yates, PC Games And Reviews (7.5/10 Score)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

AI War Prerelease 3.182/3 (Ship Type Buttons+, Balance+, Bugfixes, Lobby Code Revamp)

The full release notes are on the Arcen forums.  This release is actually a pair of releases, one released this morning and the other released tonight.

This release pair has a lot of important stuff in it, but it's nothing game-changingly exciting.  The 3.181 release had an issue that would cause some long-running savegames to become absolutely unwinnable within a few minutes of being loaded (thanks to over-aggressive border aggression), and consequently these releases include updates to really revamp both the border aggression and the AI barracks for the better.  There are numerous other balance adjustments here for the base game and CoN -- important stuff, but individually minorish tweaks.

The Intel Summary in the galaxy map has seen some improvements, as has the lobby for launching games, based on making things easier, fixing a few bugs, and preparing for the Unity 3D changeover.  The ship category buttons along the bottom of the screen have also been revamped to have sub-categories now, which fulfills a few long-running requests.  There are also some new warnings that now pop up when planets are under attack by the new CoN minor factions: hybrids, preservation wardens, and so on.

Lots of important progress and polish, in other words, but it's not as new-toy exciting as the last couple of releases.  Still, for those players who were finding their savegames unplayable in 3.181 because of the AI incursions that was causing, this was exciting in a different way!

Arcen Games Composer: Pablo Vega

Hello everyone, my name is Pablo Vega, and I'm the Composer and Lead Sound Designer for Arcen Games. It's been an absolute dream working for Arcen and getting the opportunity to share my music with you! In the coming weeks, I'm going to be blogging more and more about the music and general sound of all of our games.

One way to follow these discussions is by visiting my facebook music page: Pablo Vega Music

I've already put up some previews of the re-mastered original AI War: Fleet Command and AI War: The Zenith Remnant soundtracks on the page (which will be available to all of you in a few months), and there are plenty more to come.

You can also follow me on twitter at: PabloVega8

In addition to writing articles here on our blog, I started a new Music thread on the forums as well. So, if you have any general music/sound questions about our games, this is the place to get answers: Arcen Games: Music/Sound

Thank you for all of your support, and I hope to hear from you all on the forums and on facebook very soon!

Monday, August 16, 2010

AI War Prerelease 3.181 (New CoN features, AI Ship Counts Down, 45 New Guard Posts)

The full release notes are on the Arcen forums. This update has such a broad spectrum of new stuff that it's difficult to summarize.

First of all, on the Children of Neinzul expansion side we're getting quite close to done with the initial feature set -- though there's still a long way to go with bug testing/fixing, balance adjustments, other secondary features like new achievements, and so on.

The planned Youngling Mimics were problematic when it came time to actually implement them (they were either two powerful, too weak, or too fiddly every way we thought about it with detailed designs), so now those have been implemented as the Youngling Nanoswarm. The nanoswarm fills the same conceptual space that the mimic did, but it does so in a way that can be effectively balanced and that isn't fiddly to use.

Speaking of Younglings, there were some problems in prior releases with their lifespan being a bit shorter than we wanted based on the granularity of the self-attrition when it comes to low-health ships. This has been fixed.
Also for CoN, we now have two new minor factions for them: the Preservation Warden and the Roaming Enclaves. The roaming enclaves are particularly exciting because of how unpredictable they are, but both of these minor factions add something new to the game (the preservation wardens try to kill all your harvesters, to great effect). Along with these, there are now three new AI types/personalities: Neinzul Youngster, Support Corps, and Warp Jumper. The Warp Jumper in particular makes it for a very different game since it doesn't use warp gates but instead is able to warp anywhere. This makes the normal mechanisms for protecting your flanks completely ineffective, but it also leads to 25% less AI Progress since the warp gates are missing. All in all a challenging AI type.

Aside from those larger pieces of functionality, the CoN expansion has seen a lot of other tweaks both major and minor. In recent releases, players were seeing the numbers of Viral Swarmers quickly climb to 35,000 units or more in the early game, which was obviously far too extreme, so those have been toned down. There are 23 new CoN achievements, and some tweaks have been made to hybrid hives, amongst other improvements.

So far all I've talked about is the additions and changes for CoN, which are significant, but equally significant are the changes to the base game itself. In the last prerelease the game received a completely new endgame, which really changes the feel of the end of the game for the better, based on a lot of player comments and a lot of long-term design thoughts we'd been mulling over. This release extends that thinking into the early and the middle game, as well.

The first major change is to the AI per-planet ship caps. Previously, the AI was limited to having around 5000 ships per planet, and it would gradually reinforce until it hit those caps, then it would eventually start upgrading the mark level on those ships. This worked pretty well, but in the long games it made for really high ship counts on every planet, which led to epic battle after epic battle, and which could harm the framerate on non-latest-technology computers when the galaxy-wide ship counts were getting into the hundreds of thousands. We've previously combated those performance concerns in a variety of ways, capping the AI to a maximum of 175,000 units galaxy-wide for example, as well as just making the code more efficient and using batch processing and such.

However, at this point we've decided to add on another layer of shifts that will help performance on older hardware and in those 30+ hour or 60+ hour edge-case games: we've reduced the effective ship count from 5000 to around 2600 on the AI home planets and around 2000 on all other planets. The nuanced effect that this has on the game is hard to succinctly explain, but the shortest possible explanation is this: it will make the performance better overall, it will make attacking entrenched AI planets less likely to ever be a grind, it does NOT eliminate the massive 4000x4000 (or even more) ship battles, but it does make them considerably more rare on a per-campaign basis -- once or twice per campaign, perhaps, rather than every other planet. Of course it could be a lot more common even now, depending on your playstyle.

Please note that these ship cap reductions affect the AI only; the human player ship caps are untouched. On the surface, it would seem that this would make the game a lot easier, but this is not so. Also added in this release are new AI Barracks, which store AI overflow units (between 200 and 1200 units per barracks). Basically, the AI can now have more units than ever, but just with a lot of their units stored in a completely idle fashion in these barracks. The human players then have a bit more choice of when and how to engage these barracks and the units they contain, and this can make things like command station sniping far harder without dragging down the framerate during normal play.

But the AI Barracks alone certainly would not compensate for the reduction in AI ship caps. Thus five marks each (I-V) of nine new guard posts have been added to the game. These are specifically NOT for the AI homeworlds, but are now used in place of all of the previously-existing guard posts and stealth guard posts that used to be in the game (special forces guard posts have not been altered). These new, specialized guard posts vary in rarity and effect just as do their counterparts on the AI homeworlds, but these have very little overlap in terms of specific function with the homeworld-specific guard posts. Also, with the exception of the "AI Command Station Shield Guard Post," none of these new guard posts protect the command stations from being destroyed.

The primary function of these specialized guard posts is to make the assaults on AI non-homeworld planets more interesting and varied. These first 45 new guard posts should be considered the first steps into this new design paradigm for guard posts, rather than the end-all designs. In other words, there is lots of room for growth in terms of variety and function with these, same as with the guard posts for the homeworlds. The secondary function of these new guard posts is to counteract the lowered difficulty based on the lowered AI per-planet ship caps. These guard posts now form the centerpieces of more varied sub-battlefields within the larger battlefields of each planetary area.

All in all, this release really helps to push AI War forward by making it much more varied in the texture and scope of its battles. Sometimes you'll just have golems or starships duking it out with the large, specialized guard posts. More often you'll have a mix of scale of ships, including the larger centerpieces surrounded by the hundreds or thousands of supporting fleet ships. Other times you'll still have thousands of fleet ships versus thousands of other fleet ships and/or turrets. Increasing the variance between the many planets has been a big goal for us lately, and this is a huge step in that direction.

Friday, August 13, 2010

AI War Prerelease 3.180 (Completely New Endgame)

The full release notes are on the Arcen forums. 

This one is a HUGE and exciting change to the base game: the endgame has been completely overhauled for AI War. Previously, the home planets for the AI were always very similar to one another, and often they were something of a grind.

The chief problem was that things were too centralized on a single unit on those planets: the AI home command stations. You had to destroy those, and that was really the only goal; therefore, that was super hard if you didn't have enough firepower, or really easy if you did.

Now the emphasis is on a distributed network of specialized, much stronger guard posts, as well as a much weaker central home command station. However, the central home command station can't be touched until all the new AI Core Guard Posts have been destroyed, which means that there are many goals on the planet before you actually get to the final goal of killing the command station itself.

There are 9 new types of these specialized guard posts, with various abilities. Rather than enumerate those here, we'll let you discover those in-game. Some are more rare than others, and your seeding is different every time, which makes each AI home planet quite unique now. There is also room for expansion over time with more specialized guard posts in addition to the first 9.

The overall net effect is that you can take on the home planet a chunk-at-a-time now, and you can successfully destroy a chunk and then come back much later without having lost any progress. This is a big improvement over the old system, where you had to build up overwhelming force and win all in one big push; again, that tended to be either too hard or too easy (usually too hard).

Going along with the above, there is now quite a bit of strategy and puzzle-style challenge to figuring out the best attack pattern and order for actually clearing the guard posts on the AI home planets. Some of the guard posts are likely to support one another, and so your success depends on your ability to make and execute plans here. The goal is to make the endgame as strategic as the early and middle game, rather than it always devolving into a grind or a cakewalk right at the end.

Lastly, the AI home planets previously had really inflated ship caps, in that even if you destroyed guard posts it was impossible to neuter the AI home planets at all. This is no longer the case, and the AI home planets can now have their effective ship caps whittled down over time. This way the battles remain epic, but not laggy or grindy, hopefully. More tweaks may be needed to this over time, too.

All of the above DOES affect all existing savegames loaded in the new version. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

AI War Prerelease 3.179 (Warheads+, Neinzul Silos, Transport II, Harvesters II and III)

The full release notes are on the Arcen forums.  This is another big mix of stuff for the CoN expansion and the base game.

Overall, this release is a human-player-focused one, whereas a number of the recent updates could have been described as being more AI-favoring.  There are six new warheads added in this version, all within three existing lines, but one of those lines with additions is the nuclear warhead line. 

What on earth could be more powerful than the nuclear warhead, you might ask?  After all, it literally destroys a planet and all its resources, while obliterating most ships on the planet (Mark V ships and starships being the main exceptions), and it does so for a whopping +50 AI Progress (that's bad).  What on earth could a Mark II version of that warhead add, let alone a Mark III?  You can check out the release notes (or the beta) for full details, but the Mark III version is nicknamed the Doomsday Device and carries a +5000 AI Progress cost to it for a reason.  Bwa ha ha...

Those are now part of the base game, and so are the new Mark II Transports.  Perhaps these are less dramatic than the mega-destruction-warheads, but they are still really exciting.  The Mark II transports are uniquely useful because they actually slowly regenerate all ships stored inside themselves.  This actually makes for some pretty interesting abilities to support fleets on deep strikes, although the regeneration is very slow for all ships except Neinzul Younglings, which are regenerated in these at the same rate as a Regeneration Chamber (but they don't automatically seek these out or get ejected from these).  For players who are playing with the CoN expansion and suddenly get a new Neinzul Youngling ship class late in the game, if they had not already unlocked the higher-level Enclave Starships then that Youngling ship class could prove to b useful only in defensive situations (because they are too short-lived to be used offensively without some sort of support).  The Mark II Transports now provide an alternative, much knowledge-cheaper way to support Younglings on deep raids.

Also new to the base game: Mark II and III metal and crystal harvesters have been added.  These only add a little bit of income per harvester, so are mainly helpful for players who already have a lot of territory, but they also drastically reduce the rebuild time for harvesters, which can also be immensely useful for protecting the resource flow of players who keep losing a lot of harvesters in raids.

Specific to the CoN expansion, there are now Neinzul Silos and a new Neinzul Rocketry Corps minor faction.  These are reminiscent of parts of the Battle of Briton, with V2 rockets coming in to the allied airspace.  Only this time it's aliens launching lightning warheads and occasionally EMPs from AI planets at the humans.  Don't worry, there isn't an AI Progress increase from those incoming hostile warheads -- the fact that your enemies are now using at least a few warheads for the first time in AI War history (which is another longstanding player request) is bad enough!

The Neinzul Viral Swarmers have also been nerfed quite a bit (not before obliterating some adventurous beta testers, unfortunately), and we fixed a bug with the Hybrid Hives in the last beta version that was preventing any from spawning (whoops!).

There are a number of other minor fixes and additions, too, and you might notice that your EMP and Tachyon Warheads now pack a little extra punch, too.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

AI War Prerelease 3.178 (Neinzul Clusters/Nests/Bombers/Virals, New Ion Cannons, Starships Improvements)

The full release notes are on the Arcen forums.  This beta has a mix of new stuff for the base game, as well as specific to the Children of Neinzul micro-expansion.

The biggest new addition for the CoN expansion are the new Neinzul Clusters and Neinzul Nests, and their related new ships.  There are a good dozen specific structures between those two categories, with varying mark levels and personalities.  The Clusters let off bursts of Neinzul ships whenever they are antagonized or killed (think of stepping on a spider's egg sac -- yick), and if they survive the antagonization they recharge their cache of Neinzul ships and will later send out more the next time they are antagonized.  The Nests are similar, but are also angered by the humans controlling their planet or an adjacent planet, or killing AI units on their planet or an adjacent planet.  There are some other various differences between the two, as well, that the release notes and in-game tooltips cover in more detail.

Going along with the new Nests and Clusters are the new Neinzul Bombers and Neinzul Viral Swarmers, which are small AI-only fleet ships which get released from specific types of clusters.  The first two AI Types for CoN have also now been added in the form of the Neinzul Viral Enthusiast (easier) and the Neinzul Nester (harder).  The AI also now uses Neinzul Regeneration Chambers.

In terms of what has been added to the base game, it basically boils down to ion cannons and starships.  Since 1.0 and before, there have only ever been two marks of ion cannon: mark I and mark II.  Well, the time has come for marks III through V!  Those very advanced weapons are now in the hands of the AI, but only on the higher difficulties (see release notes), and only fairly rarely in any given galaxy.  It's a good idea to use starships or very high-level ships to take these out, probably with the aid of transports to dump your attackers right next to the cannons.

In terms of what has changed for starships, the dreadnoughts have now had a significant health boost and a significant speed boost to their energy bombs (which also applies for a few other ship types, such as Zenith Bombard Cannons, actually).  The flagship, Zenith starship, and spire starships have also had their health doubled, partly in reaction to their recent knowledge cost increase, and partly due to the new survivability of the dreadnoughts.  Lastly, there are now three new marks of scout starship (marks II through IV, to add to the existing mark I).  These starships provide combat support or excellent scouting capabilities, but at a pretty steep cost.  The mark IV scout starships are even more useful than the venerable mark IV scout from the advanced factories, but the knowledge cost to get the highest-tier scout starships is three times as much.

Another notable change is that the AI will now sometimes make use of mobile repair stations and space tugs, or of clusters of spider turrets.

More to come soon!

Release Schedule Updated, Alden Ridge Arcade

The new schedule (also visible on the left sidebar of our main site):

Oct '10: AI War Unity/OSX
Oct '10: AIW: Children of Neinzul
Dec '10: Alden Ridge Arcade
Q3 '11: Alden Ridge
Q2 '11: AI War Expansion 3
Q3 '12: A Valley Without Wind
2013: AI War Expansion 4
2013: Cayenne

What is this new "Alden Ridge Arcade" game?  Well, it's something really different that we have planned for the fall.  It's a smaller project and will be even less expensive than most Arcen titles.  This will be the first arcade-style game that Arcen has ever done, and we have a great design for a really focused, fun, high-replay, procedurally-generated arcade style game using the core concepts of pursuit by zombies, traps, and environmental interactivity that are from the main Alden Ridge game.

We're really looking forward to sharing more about that with you in the coming months, but for now that's all!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

AI War Prerelease 3.177 (Knowledge Changes, Civilians, 3 Home Planet Outposts)

The full release notes are on the Arcen forums.  This is another impactful release, mainly for the base game (a lot of CoN work is in progress but not yet ready for even beta release quite yet).

With this release, the knowledge-per-plant jumps from 2500 to 3000.  It wasn't all that long ago that the knowledge increased from 2000 to 2500, but a lot of new knowledge-costly items have been added (like the various new command stations), and the intent is to encourage a balanced and experimentation-friendly play style.  In light of that, the mark II technology unlocks for fleet ships are now only 2500 to unlock instead of 3000, while the mark III/IV technology unlocks are now 5000 instead of 4000.  This makes it 500 knowledge more costly to go all the way to the end of a fleet line, while making it easier to get partially along multiple fleet lines.  This also makes the command stations, turrets, starships, etc, a bit more attractive.  But not all of them -- the dreadnoughts, flagships, zenith, and spire starships have each had their knowledge costs increased by 1000.  The dreadnought changes were supposed to be paired with some increases to their health and the speed of their bullets, but those are not in place quite yet (next prerelease).

As if that wasn't a huge enough change above, the starting situation for human home planets is now a vastly different picture than ever before.  There are now three outposts instead of one, and you start with a lot more on your home planet.  One of the outposts is a completely civilian outpost with a bunch of the new cryogenic pods and home human settlements; both provide you some added resources, but will cost you AI Progress if they are destroyed.  This accomplishes two things: it makes the start a bit faster for you if you're in a good defensive position, and it makes the start a lot riskier for you if you're in a poor defensive position.  Playing with multiple starting home planets just got a lot harder, as did starting in the center of a spokes hub or similar.  Those sorts of starts are still quite possible, but the risk/reward balance is now a lot more appropriate in those scenarios. This multiple-starting-outposts change is also indicative of some future additions we'll likely make over time, to develop out the civilian presence more and in more interesting ways.  That may even be the focal point of a future expansion down the line, we'll see.

For now, there's a lot of pretty significant changes already.  And more additions are coming soon.  Enjoy!

More Great Tidalis Reviews!

"Tidalis is a dream of a game, and more than worth the money paid for purchase. If you like Bejewelled, Tetris or any title that tests your brain, Tidalis is a must-buy."
Harry Balls (5/5 Stars)

"Overall it's a cracking puzzle game title - it looks great, is easy to pick up the basics but very difficult to master completely, has a nice story mode for people like me who often get bored with puzzle games normally, and as you'd expect from Arcen Games has some great multi player options."
CaptainD, CaptainD's PC Gaming Blog (8/10 Solo, 9/10 Multiplayer)

"Tidalis's ease of use really lends itself well to the casual market it is trying to hit, but there is also enough substance in the game to make it appealing for more hardcore puzzle gamers as well. This is definitely a game to check out if you are looking for a new type of tile-game."
Chris Meyer, GameVortex (80% Score)

AI War Prerelease 3.176 (Hybrid Hives+, 6 new Cmd Stations, new warheads and mercs)

Perhaps the title of this release should be "too much stuff to list."  The full release notes are on the Arcen forums.

One of the big groups of changes here are the Hybrid Hives.  Their functionality has been tuned and extended quite a lot in general, and some new interface elements have been added to the galaxy map for working with detected hives, etc.  They have also been nerfed rather heavily, as they were brutally destroying most experienced players within the first two hours of the game.  These are meant to be an exceptional challenge, but not quite to that degree.  There is a new "Advanced Hybrids" AI Plot option available for CoN owners that adds on the nastiest parts of the hybrid logic, and keeps the challenge at a very high level.  This lets players adjust just how steep a challenge they would like.

Also in this release are a wide range of bugfixes, and one rather notable performance improvement.  Of course, all bugfixes and core improvements of this sort are free for all players -- they are never tied to any expansion or anything like that (we think charging people for bugfixes would be pretty unethical to say the least).

There's also six new command stations for players to choose from in two new command station lines.  Previously there were only four command stations total, split across two lines total.  This more than doubles the number of strategic options that players have for colonizing planets.  Best of all, these six new command stations are for all players of the game, not just CoN owners.  Though there will be some new CoN-specific command stations coming soon...

There are also four new warheads available for all players: the old Lightning Warhead is now Lightning Warhead Mark II, and new Mark I and III variants have been added.  This adds a bit more flexibility into lightning-warhead-related strategies, which should be quite welcome with many of our expert players (who use them extensively).  Similarly, there are now Mark II and III variants of the EMP warhead.  Often players were having to "stack" the effects of the EMP warheads to really make use of them, and these higher-level EMPs provide an alternative to that.  Though clever players can cause the lowest overall AI Progress increase simply by sticking with the lowest-tier EMP and combining that with transports and/or starships.

The last major addition is to the mercenary space dock.  First of all, it's been visually revamped and now costs 0 energy to run.  But players also now get a starship constructor, warhead silo, and mercenary space dock right at the start of each game; this makes for faster starts for expert players, and helps newer players realize what is available.  In the past, there were only fighter, bomber, and frigate mercenary variants, but that was somewhat limiting and basically only something people used in order to enlarge their fleets after they had already hit ship cap.  Now, there are also Parasite and EtherJet Tractor mercenaries for everyone, Beam Frigate mercenaries for Zenith Remnant owners, and Neinzul Enclave Starship Mark I mercenaries for CoN owners.  All four of these new mercenaries come with the usual 10x-cost-but-no-ship-cap-and-no-unlocks-required common to the existing mercenaries, which makes them much more interesting for during general  gameplay.  Players are much more likely to go for some of these specialized mercenaries, despite their exorbitant metal/crystal cost, to gain access to functionality they might not otherwise have in a given game, not just to pad out their fleets.

All in all?  This is one huge prerelease, and it substantially alters the number of strategic options available to players.  We expect there will be some rebalancing needed for a lot of the new stuff, but these initial versions look quite promising already.  Enjoy!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Bytten Review Of Tidalis

"Tidalis is the first game in recent memory that I can unreservedly recommend to everybody. If you're a puzzle game fan then it's a no-brainer. Tidalis is simply the best abstract puzzle game on the market, hands down. If you're not much of a puzzle game fan, then prepare to be surprised."
Steve Blanch, Bytten (81% Overall Score)

AI War Prerelease 3.174 (Bugfixes, Neinzul Regeneration Chambers)

The full release notes are on the Arcen forums.  This new prerelease includes a number of bugfixes including a couple of important tweaks to the new CoN expansion beta (which wasn't installing completely correctly in the last release, although there was a simple workaround).  This new version installs just fine, and additionally adds a new Neinzul Regeneration Chamber unit that makes the Neinzul ships a viable choice for planetary defense, instead of just an offensive-only ship class.  More updates to come soon, for AI War, CoN, and Tidalis!

UPDATE: Now 3.175 is out, as well -- same link above.  That's probably the last new release for today.  It alters the balance of the Youngling ships to a fair degree, as well as adding in the new Vultures and Weasels (Mark I-V on both).

Thursday, August 5, 2010

AI War: Children Of Neinzul Beta Opens!

The first beta release of Children of Neinzul, the new micro-expansion for AI War, is now available for demo or for preorder (only $3.99)!  After the longest time ever between AI War releases, the new beta 3.173 version of the game is also now out with a few bugfixes aside from the new CoN micro-expansion features.  The following features have been added so far for the expansion:

* Starship Class: Neinzul Enclave Starships Mark I-IV.
* Bonus Ship Type: Neinzul Youngling Commandos Mark I-V.
* Bonus Ship Type: Neinzul Youngling Tigers Mark I-V.
* Map Types: X,Concentric Circles
* AI Plot: Hybrid Hives

The Neinzul aliens are an insectoid race of perpetual "younglings," who live for an extremely short span before dying and being superseded by fully-aware and vicious replacements. The Neinzul are organized into localized "Enclaves" that 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.

The new Enclave Starships bring a long-awaited feature to AI War: mobile space docks, including variants that go all the way up to mark IV. Optionally, for those players who felt that the normal types of AI in the game weren't challenging enough for them already, there are new Hybrid Hives that bring an all-new-to-AI-War type of AI structure to the game. Hybrid hives are part Neinzul and part AI, consisting of loose fleets organized around the Enclave Starships. Hybrid hives have various personalities and goals, and might work together or might go it alone. They are far more aggressive than the regular AI, they gain in power over time, and they can even recapture planets. For advanced players who want to try their hand at a whole new kind of AI War experience, the Hybrid Hives provide more cut-throat opposition than ever.

Child's Play
But wait! Perhaps the best part is still yet to come. 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. Our goal is to raise $14,000.00 USD for Child's Play in 2010, but even after 2010 all of the proceeds from this micro-expansion will continue to be donated to the charity. We'll post monthly updates on how we're doing towards our goal, so check back!

Want to read about all the features in extreme detail? You can of course try the demo of the expansion to make sure that you know what you're getting, but the full feature list is also now available on the AI War wiki. There's quite a bit that will be coming in this one even though it's technically a micro-expansion rather than a full expansion!

Tidalis Beta 1.004 (AI-Related Bugfixes)

The current official version of Tidalis is still 1.000.  These later beta versions are previews of content-to-come, and will later be "officially" released via Steam, Impulse, etc, once our vetting process is over with the new changes and features.

Full release notes: http://arcengames.com/mediawiki/index.php?title=Tidalis_-_1.004_Beta_Release

This is a pretty small release, simply dealing with a few bugfixes to the AI in VS mode.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tidalis Beta 1.003 (VS Race, Boarded Up Blocks, Experimental Sound Subsystem)

The current official version of Tidalis is still 1.000.  These later beta versions are previews of content-to-come, and will later be "officially" released via Steam, Impulse, etc, once our vetting process is over with the new changes and features.

Full release notes: http://arcengames.com/mediawiki/index.php?title=Tidalis_-_1.003_Beta_Release

Well, it's been just over a week since our last beta update to Tidalis. That was a bit longer than I'd planned, but after the rush to get Tidalis finished and out the door, there were a lot of non-development-related tasks that I'd been putting off that I had to take care of over the last week.

That said, there's a lot of cool stuff in this one! Firstly, we finally fixed that nasty desync with line clear mode, so the game is once again desync-free so far as we know. We also made huge strides in a sound subsystem improvement that will hopefully let the OSX version of the Steam overlay work pretty soon. Even more exciting is the new VS Race mode that was suggested by Joshua Yu, and the new Boarded Up special block that we cooked up as part of our free DLC plans. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

More Excellent Reviews Of Tidalis!

"I was extremely impressed by Tidalis... The Co-Op Experience: The standard for judging drop in/drop out co-op, with custom options for two-well co-op and even online co-op, Tidalis takes the co-op puzzler crown."
Marc Allie, Co-Optimus (5/5 Co-Op Score, 4.5/5 Overall Score)  

"Tidalis is an excellent and very polished action-puzzler, that impressively lets you decide how to play it, and you really should play it! You'll probably be too addicted to do anything else -or review it- for quite some time. Better yet, let me rephrase this: TIDALIS IS AMAZING. BRILLIANT TOO."
gnome, Gnome's Lair  

"Tidalis manages to offer up a fresh twist on the concept, creating an addictive experience that's equal parts challenging and relaxing. And it even has a story."
Andrew Webster, About.com (4/5 Stars)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Jordan Rivas Interviews Chris Park

Chris recently got interviewed by Jordan Rivas. Talks about Tidalis and the future of Arcen Games (secrets). It makes a good listen, so download it and slap it on the iPod, or click below on that page to stream it right now.