AI War: Fleet Command – Light of the Spire – what We Think:
Arcen Games‘ third expansion for AI War: Fleet Command–Light of the Spire–brings even more ship types, campaign modes, and additional inspired music tracks to this already daunting mix of RTS, 4X and Tower Defense game elements.
AI War: Fleet Command – A Brief History of Time
I am going to proceed with the assumption that you are new to the universe that is AI: War and not among its small legion of devout converts: AI War drops you in the middle of a near-hopeless situation: two vicious AI races, each in command of its own army of drones and bases. Both seek to wipe the floor with the player’s organic material. They both have technology far superior to anything humanity can crank out. They both have expansion on the brain, and your resistance fleet is parked right where they want to build the petting zoo (figuratively, or course – who pets robot chickens?) They will launch semi-continuous attack waves, steadily getting craftier and more destructive. There is no hope for diplomacy. Survival of the human race depends on the total destruction of the AI.
The player’s home world will draw fire as the wicked machines spread out across the galaxy. Players new to the genre can set the AI development at a slow pace, while seasoned vets can ramp up the insanity by taking on a hive-mind that improves at a quicker rate.
Whatever the difficulty, the player must strike a balance between defending his territory and building up fleets of fighter craft for invading neighboring planets. Resources are finite, and merely digging in with the hopes of fending off countless waves of attacks will prove ultimately fatal. Developing a squadron of attack ships is crucial, as is defending any wormholes that lead to enemy galaxies. By probing nearby galaxies, the player can explore potential enemy targets. Once a planet is claimed, the resources around it can be safely harvested for use in the creation of more ships and spaceports.
Through the scientific development of existing human technology, and the careful acquisition of AI tech, a staggering amount of units become available for construction. Unless the player can keep his fleets on the bleeding edge, he’ll end up under it. All of this has to be done with great caution; players who opt to charge into a neighboring galaxy, cannons a-blazing, will find that the overall AI score will improve at an increased rate in response to any actions considered to be threatening. This will mean more advanced raid swarms on the player’s home base, and if the defense squad is still sporting Mark I units, it won’t be long before the human command center topples. Overtaking certain types of AI technology will allow for the creation of better units, but it has to be done carefully, lest the hive-mind receive news of your battle prowess.
Just when the player thinks he has the enemy AI’s playbook mapped out, it changes strategy. The AI works on many levels, from an overall mindset of the race, right down to the actions of individual units, ensuring that the player is always on his toes.
The Art of War (Show Your Work)
The game requires the use of a great many hotkeys, making for a nasty initial learning curve. Even once these keys are committed to memory, the game demands a slow, methodical approach to development and a quick hand when under attack. Moving too quickly, however, will often result in a brutal trouncing. Knowing what targets to eliminate and how to do this without bringing on too large a retaliation takes finesse and planning. The game also provides a fair sampling of useful tutorials. Here, the concept of “casual” cowers in fear.
2-8 players can enjoy a multiplayer game, though the process of connecting to or hosting a game may require a deeply intimate knowledge of your internet connection. There is no PVP to speak of, so anyone joining the game will also be joined in the task of taking out the enemy AI. Players have the option of selecting the size of the contested galaxy as well. Select a small campaign with 10 worlds, or a massive 80 planet universe. Larger maps will take more time to conquer. Regardless of the size of the game, be prepared to spend several hours on a campaign before achieving victory.
‘Spire to Greatness
Staggering in its scope, a player coming at AI War: Fleet Command for the first time may find the latest expansion to be frustratingly difficult. It seems to be designed as an iterative upgrade, with the returning player in mind, and it might be advisable to toggle off the new content while learning the ropes in the tutorial missions.
That said, even with the Light of the Spire expansion added, the player is not required to follow either of the two campaign types. All methods of taking on the AI are still on the table, but LotS gives the player some direction, should he choose to take those paths.
Collecting and escorting Spire remnants across multiple wormhole leaps may not sound like a good time, but the potential rewards can be well worth it. (In fact it seems Arcen has shown some mercy with this pack, adding the new Defender campaign type that allows for shorter play sessions.) Spire technology is staggeringly powerful, and in large enough numbers, can spell doom for the enemy AI forces. Don’t think they don’t know it!
The same rules of generating threat apply, and the AI will start to increase very rapidly to prevent the player from bowling them over. They will fight to prevent the acquiring of Spire tech, and will fight even harder once new tech is constructed. Even a seemingly unstoppable Spire-charged assault team might get tripped up on the way to the AI home worlds.
Even without the expansion sets, AI War: Total Command is the type of game one never truly masters. This latest entry brings with it a healthy variety of new content and features, most notably the campaign modes, while staying true to the core experience. With over 180 new ships that include 9 bonus ship classes and even a campaign-within-a-campaign, fans of the game will likely dive right into this additional material to unlock its treasures, but it may leave new players a mite blaster-shy.
For $9.99, Light of the Spire offers a lot more than a coat of paint, and is sure to keep players busy for many, many hours.
BONUS FEATURE – HELP GUIDE FOR CONNECTIVITY ISSUES WITH AI WAR
Because AI War is so worthy of play, and also because it can be a real bitch to connect to a friend you want to play with online, we asked the game’s programmer Chris Park for some tips. Here are answers from the man himself:
IGR: Mr. Park, help us out! We love your game but even though we Port Forwarded 32320 on both of our computers, disabled firewalls, closed anti-virus software and seemingly did everything else as asked by the instructions, we still could connect online to play with our friends! What do we do now?
Chris Park: If you’re having this trouble with a lot of direct-connection games, there are, to my mind, three possibilities remaining given what you discussed:
1. That the host is not actually port-forwarding too the right address (just FYI, the client doesn’t have to do any port forwarding for most games). When you do ipconfig / all on your windows machine at the command prompt, make sure you’re finding the correct IP address for your machine, as if you have any virtual adapters installed it might be using one of those instead — or you might be seeing an IP for your ethernet port when you are actually using your wireless, for instance. http://ask-leo.com/how_to_find_the_ip_address_of_my_computer.html
2. That there is another (probably software) firewall in play on either the client or the host machine. Usually it would be the windows firewall and then possibly a firewall in one or more antivirus suites, and then standalone firewalls like Zone Alarm, etc.
3. Assuming that the game did actually start transferring any data, as you mentioned you think it might have, then the problem isn’t ports, or firewalls, or anything of that nature — if a connection is established, then you’re through that neck of the woods without issue. In that case, my best bet would be that one of you has a bad network driver, or a bad router firmware. For the network driver, you might be able to get that through windows update as an optional component to install, or more likely through the manufacturer of your motherboard. The fact that Borderlands works is not necessarily conclusive that it isn’t this, because it might be sending notably smaller packets of data or similar.
If none of the above works for you, or you don’t feel like fiddling with that sort of thing, there is a simpler alternative that a lot of players go with for games in general: Hamachi, or Comodo, or another point-to-point VPN solution that is free for personal use. Those have the disadvantages of adding a bit of extra network traffic, but they have the advantage of making connnections easier and seamless. They will give you a virtual address of something like 5.x.x.x, and you’ll easily see the one for anyone else in your VPN list, and you just type in the address of the person you want to connect to.
If it still has problems, then you’re definitely looking at either a bad driver or router firmware, or an additional rogue software firewall on one of the machines. But it very much takes the port forwarding out of the equation, which is the most common place where people get hung up.
IGR: We kinda wish there was a direct big green button that just made it work because this kind of stuff always unfairly files these sorts of multiplayer games (we had similar problems with Jason Rohrer’s Sleepisdeath) away under “Networking guru/hardcore gamer geek” – and it shouldnt be that way. This is too big and good a game to merit that marginalization. Where is the Big Green Connect button?
Chris Park: I very much appreciate the kind words there. In terms of the technical task here, it’s rather a complex sort of thing, though. To do the sort of “always connects easily” process you’re describing requires a whole farm of servers just for brokering connections, though. The process is that if you can’t connect directly, then the server brokers the connection for you, and in some cases winds up acting as an intermediary for all traffic while you play.
This is the service that Hamachi and similar provide, among other things they do, and it’s also the service that a lot of the Steam servers or Gamespy servers are providing you with a game like borderlands. The problem is, those sorts of servers are either extremely expensive, or require the developer to do something like bundle steam or gamespy into every version of the game sold, period. That tends to piss off other vendors, or players, or both, so we don’t do it.
Even in the best of circumstances, that big green button for games like Borderlands is easily thwarted by unexpected software firewalls and the like, which tends to make the resulting easiness rather underwhelming for a lot of players. And that’s with the biggest companies — obviously when Demigod launched with Stardock, that was an amazing disaster for months because their server farm for the brokering wasn’t as large as they expected to need it to be, and a lot of their initial brokering of connections wasn’t working as expected in production, etc. It was a massive engineering problem and took them buckets of money and a huge engineering staff working around the clock for weeks to fix it. And Stardock is… orders of magnitude larger than us, or Jason Rohrer, or similar. 😉 It’s why I’m grateful for things like Hamachi.
The core problem, on the PC side anyway, is choice. So many vendors, so many drivers, so many different lines of hardware and software and firewalls, and equipment and so on. And ISPs. All of that works subtly differently, and a lot of it doesn’t play by the central rules. The fact that the Internet works at all is kind of a miracle if you think about all that stuff. Though I’m not fond of the alternative, where everything is locked to just one set of hardware as on, say, a console system. That’s certainly convenient for developers, but it’s not very good for consumers in the long run, or at least not for more general purpose computing.
I think that over time things will get easier across the board, as more vendors come out to support ease of use and a common framework for this sort of thing, etc — but right now the market just isn’t quite there. Though it’s much better than what I grew up with, first with modems and all the problems that entailed, and then later with having to choose which networking protocol you’d use to play a game with, what baud rate, etc. 😉 At least everything is using TCPIP these days, though the abundance of software firewalls cause a whole new level of frustration and complexity.