June 13, 2010

Haven't you guys got anything better to do?

So there we Psilons were, minding our own business creating a tiny stellar empire on one side of a huge game map, and we get a big advance in ship range and discover all three of our opponents:

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This is random? Actually it is; it's just tremendously bad luck. Ordinarily I'd bag a game like this and start over, but this time I really couldn't do it. Here's why:

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Four of my first five colonies turned out to have artifacts. And I found an inferno ultra-rich which I really wanted to colonize later. Here's how the game ended up developing, up until a few minutes ago:

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The humans (to my south) turned out to be very easy to get along with. We've had a non-aggression pact and a trade relationship since the early part of the game.

The Meklars and Klackons have had an alliance since the beginning. I took out the Meklars first, and then the Klackons. Both of them are down to a handful of new, small, isolated, colonies. I used my standard early-phase ship (medium, heavy blast cannon) for the Meklars, and my standard mid-phase ship (large, autocannon, fusion bomb) against the Klackons. Meanwhile, the humans have been doing a lot of research. They've got class X planetary shields and some decent weapons. When the time comes, they're going to be interesting to fight against. I'm researching pulse phasors right now and I already have neutronium bombs, so it shouldn't be too tough. But it's going to take a while to build a fleet capable of handling them. None of my existing ships are up to the job.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Gaming at 12:57 PM | Comments (12) | Add Comment
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1 Rotten luck with the home star distribution. Only three opponents for a huge map certainly leaves a LOT of space to expand. I hope you have the range to leapfrog the humans and grab some of that open south and west

But that start! Four artifacts worlds, for the Psilons. Wow.

Posted by: haphazard1 at June 13, 2010 05:44 PM (xF0tu)

2 That's one of my pet peeves about many turn-based exploration-strategy games.  The game designers sometimes seem to think that a game is boring if you have much time to explore and expand your empire before running into your opponents, so they cluster them together, even on "huge" maps.

Posted by: Siergen at June 13, 2010 05:53 PM (jMQcx)

3 I'll take that flaw over "the AIs team up to gank the human player first" any day, though.

Posted by: metaphysician at June 13, 2010 06:14 PM (OLeXB)

4 It does seem to be random chance. I've had games where I colonized 20 planets before I even saw an alien ship, let alone made contact with them.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at June 13, 2010 06:28 PM (+rSRq)

5 (Also, I confess that I'm playing at "easy" level, because I'm a wimp.)

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at June 13, 2010 06:28 PM (+rSRq)

6 Well, so am I, but I haven't played it in, what, 15 years?  Gimmie some time to get back in the saddle, already....

Posted by: ubu at June 14, 2010 11:09 AM (i7ZAU)

7 How many strategy games actually make the AI smarter at higher difficulty, though?  As opposed to simply weighting the dice, giving the AIs cheat moves behind the scenes, or otherwise simply adjusting variables?

Posted by: metaphysician at June 14, 2010 04:37 PM (OLeXB)

8 Usually the difficulty setting on computer chess games affects how deep the program looks ahead.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at June 14, 2010 04:47 PM (+rSRq)

9 Many modern strategy games use AI that is actually "smarter" on higher difficulty settings. The point is that the AI needs to be told to make a bad move once in a while on low difficulties, the frequency of which can simply be reduced for higher difficulties. You can also have harder AI employ strategies that easier AI doesn't have, or let it take the player's weaknesses into account more.

I think what you say happens more in, for example, shooters, where the player will simply have less health, whereas his opponents get more.

Posted by: Jordi Vermeulen at June 15, 2010 07:42 AM (5EMw1)

10 I'm curious how MOO adjusts for difficulty. I think it allows the computer to cheat outrageously on "Impossible": I had a nearby planet colonized one turn before I could get there, and when my colony ship arrived there were already 20 bases. They'll generally have many fleets and planets while I've barely colonized my 4th, with no spare resources for ships or bases.

I win maybe one out of four games on impossible, and only after many hours of playing factions off each other so they ignore me until I can build Fleets-o-Doom.

Also, is the 32k stack of enemy fleets the result of a software bug, or do some races just do that intentionally? The suspiciously round number makes me think it's a bug of some kind. Whenever I come across these I have to either employ multiple ships with Teleporters and Black Hole Generators, or destroy their economic base from under them.

Posted by: bkw at June 15, 2010 08:19 AM (34O+x)

11

I think I saw something in the manual which explicitly said what the difficulty settings do. I did find this: "The difficulty setting affects several components of the game, including your opponents’ production rates, expansion rate, technology development, and willingness to ally with you. It also determines the size of your initial fleet."

Except that it doesn't affect your initial fleet; it's always two scouts and one colony.

Anyway, at higher settings the AI's produce more, expand faster, and are less likely to be friendly towards you.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at June 15, 2010 08:35 AM (+rSRq)

12 Ah, that pretty much accounts for all the behaviour I've seen. That is, no real changes in AI, only it's doing the same things with more stuff, for cheaper, and it's harder to influence them. I haven't deduced enough about the MOO AI to guess whether it "thinks deeper" at higher difficulty levels, or even if "X-moves-ahead" is a relevant model at all.

It's a shame they didn't implement scaling fleet sizes: having more/fewer ships to start out with would have drastically changed the feel of the game. As is, the first several dozen turns are pretty identical no matter the size of the galaxy or difficulty of the game.

Posted by: bkw at June 15, 2010 09:48 AM (34O+x)

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