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.

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June 09, 2010

MOO -- Ship design preferences

My favorite MOO weapon in the early going is the heavy blast cannon. It's the double-sized version of the neutron blaster. It's weapon tech level 15, so it doesn't take all that long to reach it, especially if you put half your research into weapons. It does 3-24 damage and has a range of 2.

In the early going it's a very potent weapon. When I get it, I build medium ships. They get one heavy blast cannon, plus the best targeting computer I have, plus the fastest star drive. If there's any space left, I fill it with armor. (Sometimes I include a nuclear bomb instead, or a speed-2 system drive.) The resulting ship usually costs between 80 and 90 BC, and a reasonably well built out planet can produce several per turn.

I tend to use swarms of them, which isn't hard considering how cheap they are. And of course eventually an opponent can gain something that makes their lives miserable -- say, scatterpack VII fired from a large number of missile bases. But most enemy planets aren't defended like that, and 40-100 of these ships can take out defending fleets (if they don't run like rabbits) without too much difficulty.

10 or so makes a good guard fleet on annihilated planets to prevent them from being recolonized. 20 can do a good job of protecting one of my planets that isn't yet capable of defending itself.

Naturally, this design doesn't play all the way through to the end of the game. But it's usually the first warship I build, and it can go a long way towards stabilizing a strategic situation after I meet an aggressive AI. It's also capable of completely wiping out the first opponent I run into, and that's usually how I use it.

My favorite weapon in the mid-game is the Auto Blaster, tech level 28. It fires 3 times and does 4-16 damage on each shot. Which is pretty damned good for a weapon that takes half as much space as the heavy blast cannon. By this point in the game I'm building large ships instead, and you can easily pack 6-10 of these into a single hull without skimping on shields or other useful stuff (e.g. the battle scanner). 20 such ships is a formidable force, and 100 is unstoppable. 4 make a decent guard squadron for annihilated planets.

My favorite weapon in the end-game is the Mauler Device. They're entirely too much fun. The Death Ray (the weapon you get from Orion after you beat the Guardian) does a lot more damage but it's not really very good; it takes too much room, for one thing.

But the single coolest beam weapon in the game is the Crystal Ray. You can't get it legally, but it's possible to hack the save file to get it. (I used to know how to do that, but I don't remember any more.)

I don't tend to use missiles mainly because I don't like weapons that run out. And I don't use torpedoes because I don't like weapons that can't be fired every turn. (And whose damage decays with range.)

Also, missiles are too damned big. Neutron Blaster is weapon tech 15; Merculite missiles are tech 14. The Heavy Blast Cannon is size 60; a 2-missile Merculite launcher is 105. The 5-missile launcher is about 160. (The actual size in the ship  is a function of your tech level, but the relative size always remains the same.)

It's true that the missiles have longer range, but they're only doing 10 points of damage if they hit.

So I research good missiles gladly when I can, but only because I need them for missile bases. By the time you get class-V planetary shields and Stinger missiles (or something better), a reasonable planet becomes very difficult and very expensive to crack. I had the Amoeba attack one of my planets and my missile bases destroyed it before it got close enough to the planet to fire back. (I think that was Pulson missiles.)

Missiles are superb for defense, but I don't put them into my ships. It's all beams and bombs for me.

UPDATE: Research strategies figure into this. Early in the game I put everything into propulsion until I get at least range 5 and at least warp 3. Ultimately there just isn't any substitute for fast, long-legged ships, for colonization or for war.

My usual steady-state research is:

computers 20% (i.e. 10 clicks)
construction 20%
force fields 10% (i.e. 5 clicks)
planetology 20%
propulsion 10%
weapons 20%

...but of course by that point I'm usually at propulsion level 10 or more and everything else is at 1. But I've been known to run 50% weapons and 10% for each of the others, when I get hints that an enemy is coming and I haven't gotten the Neutron Blaster yet.

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June 01, 2010

I love the Psilons!

They can do stuff like this:

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May 23, 2010

MOO -- accounting

Here's something I've always wondered about:

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Why are those two colony ships different costs?

All five of the starting designs cost more than they would if you made them yourself in the Design frame.

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May 14, 2010

My favorite spell

I don't really remember MOM very well. But I remember this spell:

Armageddon:
Chaos. Global Enchantment. Casting Cost: 1250 mana;
Upkeep: 40 mana/turn. Very Rare.

Inexorably and methodically destroys both worlds. For each volcano that rises from a map square, the casting wizard gains one magic power point per game turn.

It took a long time to get it, and a hell of a lot of power to start it and keep it going. But after a while it paid for itself, and it was amazing to see the entire world except for your own territory getting turned into volcanoes. I remember a couple of times where I let it run long enough to pretty much convert the entire world.

Of course, it makes everyone else utterly pissed off at you, but by that point I was already on everyone's shit list, so it didn't matter.

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I'm doomed!

I just bought Duke Nukem 3D and Master of Magic.

Somewhere around here I have a couple of CDs which contain a backup of the DN3D directory I used to have. Reason I'd want to find it again is that it contains about 300 good single-player levels I colllected over a couple of years. But I was looking for it earlier and couldn't find it. Moan, I hope it isn't gone forever. That would really suck.

UPDATE: But before I make any kind of attempt to play MOM, I'm gonna read the whole manual, and then the entire spell book. The biggest drawback of MOM is that it has a steep learning curve.

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May 13, 2010

OHNOES! ITSA TRAP!

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We're well into the game here. My Klackons currently own 32 planets (in a "huge" playing field) and my average tech is about 25. I was deeply worried about the Psilons, since I didn't encounter them for a long time. When I finally found them, they only had a single planet. They hadn't done any colonies.

Guess why? That green star, which is the only one within 3 parsecs of Mentar, turns out to be Orion. Everything they've sent in has gotten destroyed by the Guardian -- and because of that, the star remains unscouted, and it's the obvious choice for their next attempt to create a colony since it's so close.

A couple of days ago I wrote about how most of the races were no fun to play. Just for the hell of it I tried playing the Bulrathi, and in fact they were a lot of fun. I had a big tech advantage over the stinking Humans, and one time I invaded a planet of theirs with a population of 80, using only 40 attackers. And I won without any losses. It was hilarious.

I don't completely understand the Klackon racial advantage. The Meklars can operate two more factories per colonist than anyone else, so when they're nominally at "Robotic Controls IV" then they're really at "Robotic Controls VI".

But if I read the description properly, the Klackons produce twice as much for a given planet than anyone else would with the same planet and the same number of factories. Is that really how it works? Because than means that "Robotic Controls IV" effectively is "Robotic Controls IX" -- and that's scary.

UPDATE: The computer I used to play this on had a SoundBlaster AWE32 in it, which for the time was a pretty good MIDI synth. It was certainly a whole hell of a lot better than the SB-16.

DosBox emulates an SB-16, and it really sounds cheesy. Looking through the documentation, it seems as if it also emulates a Gravis UltraSound, which was another half-way decent MIDI synth. Does anyone know if that really does work, and if MOO will work with it? I know that my sound module (USB2, but very sophisticated) will have no trouble doing decent MIDI. But will DosBox use it? And what do I have to do to DosBox and to MOO itself to make it all work?

I'm a bit afraid to try it on my own, for fear of not being able to find my way back if I louse up. But it sure would be neat if the music sounded better.

UPDATE: Another thing I want to know is if it's possible to make DosBox scale the window up 2:1. Right now it's the size you see above, which is only 640*480 plus the bezel. If it was twice that size it still wouldn't fill my display, but it would be a lot more comfortable to look at.

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May 11, 2010

MOO -- Silicoids

In Master of Orion for me, at least, the only two races worth playing are the Psilons and the Meklar. The others make interesting opponents, often very challenging opponents, but their racial advantages don't really work as well for me as a player.

But yesterday I wondered if that really was true, so I tried a game as the Silicoids. Playing them really requires a significant change in strategy.

The Silicoid advantages are that they can colonize any kind of planet without any of the advanced Planetology technologies, and they don't care about industrial wastes, so you don't have to research the technologies which reduce technological wastes, and you don't have to apply any production to Eco except when you're terraforming a planet.

The disadvantage, and it's really a big one, is that Silicoid population growth is half that of other races.

The early strategy for the Silicoids is to spread like weeds. When you get a couple of decent planets and start building up, build lots of colony ships and grab just about every planet within reach. More planets means more places to breed people, and you're gonna need them.

My opponents ended up being the Sakkra and the Psilons, just about the most dangerous possible for the Silicoids to face. The Sakkra are the opposite: they breed twice as fast as normal, four times as fast as the Silicoids. And the Psilons have the edge in tech, if they utilize it.

I was playing on a Huge playing field, and I didn't encounter the Psilons for a long time. I had nightmares of them being way ahead of me technologically and also spread like weeds, but it hadn't happened. I couldn't go looking  for them, though, because I was caught in a finish fight with the Sakkra, and couldn't really stop.

As the Silicoids, once you find an opponent you've got to kill them off. If you let them alone, they'll out-breed you and then out-everything-else you. All the Silicoid advantages become less and less important as the game continues, and the opposition gain technologies giving them the same things. But your breeding disadvantage continues for the entire game.

I kind of hoped that when I got Atmospheric Terraforming (turn all planets into Gaias) that it would help, but was shocked when it turned out I couldn't use it. If you're the Silicoids, once you have it, it gets ignored. I also got cloning but never even tried it; I bet it wouldn't work either. Besides which, that one comes very late and by that point I didn't need the help.

But through most of the game, most of my planets weren't full. Between shipping colonists to newly-colonized planets, and shipping soldiers to one planet that revolted, and all the cases where I conquered enemy planets, I ended up running behind on bodies all through the game. It was kind of freaky, actually.

Actually, now that I think of it, maybe the Bulrathi would be fun to play. They get a huge advantage in ground combat, and that could be interesting.

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May 02, 2010

MOO love

I've been spending a lot of time playing Master of Orion. Yesterday I tried MOO2, and gave up after about ten minutes. I remember with MOO2 came out, and I bought it, and it never grabbed me then either.

MOO, though; it's the perfect blend of ease of play and complicated and interesting play. One of the strokes of genius Barcia included in it is the way that you don't get every research item each time you play. Sometimes you can get the ones you're missing by trading with the computer players, or better yet stealing it from them.

I ran into that today. I was playing the Meklars, against the Sakkra and the Psilons, and I got about half way through the game and hadn't gotten a single one of the "reduce pollution" technologies. Most of my planets were well developed and something like 60% of their economic output was in Eco to keep the pollution under control. I ended up restructuring my research to put most of the effort into Construction, as well as cranking up the espionage on the Psilons, and invading a couple of Psilon planets, in hopes of capturing something, anything, to try to get the pollution  under control.

The Psilons had another surprise for me. They were being nasty, and also starting to spread like weeds, and I decided they needed to be "trimmed back" a bit. So I sent a group of my latest, best warships to visit one of their better planets. And to my shock, my ship was hardly able to scratch the planet. I was using a low-level beam of some kind, and they had built up some pretty incredible planetary shields. Fortunately for me their missiles were crap, so the battle was a penny-ante attrition fight. I didn't particularly care to spend fifteen minutes pecking away at him, especially since I wasn't sure I'd be the winner. So I shut down production of that ship model and designed a new one. With heavy phasors, baby, and fusion bombs. That one worked a lot better.

I think the Meklars are my favorite race to play, though the Psilons are probably a close second. Among players of the game there's no consensus as to which race is the best one -- though there's general consensus that the Mrrshan are the worst. Certainly they're the least formidable when the computer plays them.

The Bulrathi bonus in ground combat can be a bit of a shock, or at least it was for me the first time I tried invading a Bulrathi planet, even though I had a technological advantage.

The Psilon research advantage, though, is really scary. The Darlok advantage in espionage is great. But the Meklar advantage in production is IMHO the best, because high production is the virtue from which all other virtues flow. In my most recent game, it didn't take me long to surpass the Psilons technologically, even though they had a lot of planets.

Depending on the situation, the Silicoids can be a real headache as an opponent. It depends on how long it takes before you find them. If it's quite a while (and generally that's what I prefer, myself) you'll discover that they have colonized every planet within reach and probably own a couple which are "rich" and maybe one "ultra rich".

On the other hand, that can be rather nice. Once the Silicoids have colonized a planet, you can conquer and invade even if you don't have the technology to colonize planets of that type. And the Silicoid breeding disadvantage can be a real handicap.

It was hard to play-balance the races and they didn't really do a very good job of it. I gather that in MOO2 they changed that quite a lot. But in MOO the races are enough different to keep them interesting, and not so out of balance as to make the game unreasonable.

As to the Humans? Bah! Waste off time. Who wants to be a human?

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April 22, 2010

Master of Orion -- the Guardian

I played through and won a game of MOO last night, in a large galaxy, at simple setting, with just one opponent. I played the brainy guys (man, they're fun!) and my opponent turned out to be the Alkari.

I'll move up in difficulty later, but I'm still learning the game. After all this time I hardly remember it. For instance, I got caught by surprise when I found the Orion system and fought the Guardian the first time. I honestly had completely forgotten about that!

My scout had a scanner, so I took a look at the specs, and got a bit intimidated. I put off trying to attack it until I could build a battlewagon I thought was able to compete. Ended up with 20 of those, and tried it.

And the Guardian went down in my first shot. It was 20 ships, each of which carried 11 proton torpedoes (and a 11 heavy ion cannons), and they vaporized it with their first salvo of torpedoes. I didn't lose a single ship. I really overestimated how dangerous it was. I now suspect that just one of my battlewagons could have handled it. (I think I kept a saved game just before that attack; maybe I'll try it and see.)

Maybe I was mixed up with the amoeba or the star crystal. I think those guys are a lot stronger than the Guardian.

MOO locked up on me twice. Fortunately, the game auto-saves every few turns, so I was able to restart the game and "continue" without having lost very much.

There was one advanced ship feature I remember really liking a lot which permitted a ship to teleport to any empty square on the tactical map, but I don't remember what it was called. It wasn't in my research tree this time. I did get the Mauler Device, which I vaguely remember was a lot of fun, but by that point the game was such a mismatch that it wasn't worth going on. I ended up sending just one of those battle wagons I designed for the Guardian into each of the two Alkari worlds, and they won easily.

Remember when I bought Civ 4? I installed it and played with it for an evening, and never ran it again. It's gorgeous. It's also too damned intricate. It's too complicated. If you learned the Civ series over a period of years, upgrading each time to the newer, more complicated version, maybe it wouldn't be such a challenge. But for me, coming into it cold after more than ten years, well it seemed more like work than play.

MOO hits a different point in the curve. The research tree and the kinds of things you get from research aren't so elaborate. They're easier to understand and easier to keep track of. I was hooked on this game back in the day, and I'm pretty sure I'll be hooked again.

The Good Old Games package I bought also included MOO2, but I'm not even going to look at it until I'm back up to speed on MOO, and becoming bored with it. That may take months.

It may never happen at all. Master of Orion is a masterpiece, one of the best PC games ever. It is an example of why I love 4X games.

All together now: Explore! Expand! Exploit! Exterminate!

UPDATE: I remembered wrong:

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UPDATE: No, I guess I didn't underestimate the Guardian after all. One of those battlewagons got creamed. 4 of them got creamed. 11 of them won, but lost 4 in doing so.

When I originally played the game, I took 20 in, and they won without losses.

UPDATE: I have a vague memory that when you were in the main screen, there was something you could click, or some key combination you could hit, which would allow you to cycle through all your planets in order. Am I remembering wrong? What was it?

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Gaming at 10:10 AM | Comments (14) | Add Comment
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