In a game as singleplayer-oriented as Empire at War, having a good AI, which supports the intended gameplay loops of the mod is crucial. Today we’re going to talk a bit about what the AI currently does, how we plan to develop it further, and an extra option we’re adding in 2.3. As always if you prefer a video version of this news post it can be found here:
While everyone would say they want a “better” AI, and we’ve talked in the past about certain improvements, we want to take this opportunity to talk about exactly what we mean by better. With 2.2, we began to overhaul the AI in about every possible way. Step one in that was to remove as many avenues for cheating as we reasonably can- on easy (Recruit) in 2.2, the AI makes fewer credits and builds more slowly than the player, on medium about the same as the player and on hard, the modifiers are only enough to help make them remain active as their territory is removed for more experienced players (1.5x credits).
While some basic tactical AI improvements were made with 2.2 (the primary one being to make ships come out from sitting under their station, which is an abusable feature in the base game and most mods) a lot of the focus on 2.2 was on the galactic level, determining the basic rules and desires for building up their structures, their economy, and their budgeting for larger projects (like massive Star Dreadnoughts). This also came with unique AI types for various factions- the Empire of the Hand has a more isolationist AI, preferring to build up before attacking in era 5. The Pentastar Alignment also remains somewhat isolationist unil era 3. The other Warlords have their own AI (with Eriadu getting its own more reckless AI in 2.3, which should help the New Republic’s AI survive in the really early eras, whereas currently they struggle because of how spread out they are).
Evilbobthebob, who in addition to developing our AI for Thrawn’s Revenge, is the developer of Phoenix Rising, another mod with a lot of unique features and the same AI components we’re talking about here (you can find PR on the Steam workshop here: https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=1235783994
) has continued with more of these optimizations for the galactic level of the AI within 2.3, and the longer term economic changes in the mod are also being developed with the AI in mind. In 2.2, the AI would typically want to build Hypervelocity guns/Ion Cannons on as many border planets as possible, which worked out well in most maps, but in some where their territory was more thinly spread or smaller (like the single-planet start maps), the AI could often end up building too many along their border and not leaving enough room for proper economic or production structures, so this has been adjusted appropriately and is something we’ll be keeping an eye on. Another issue is that with how mining facilities are structured, on those smaller maps the AI often has to spend more slots on economic structures at the cost of defense, so to reduce that burden we’ve shifted more of the economic power into space, bumping up the values of trade ports and reducing the per-planet cap on mining facilities to 2 from 3. There’s other more in-depth changes coming to the economy and even galactic government mechanics in 2.4, so we’ll talk a bit more about that in a future news post.
Tactically, we plan to continue to make as many adjustments to improve AI behaviour as we can, along with doing things to diversify fleet and army compositions. Part of this work involves steps that are part of overall ground and space combat updates. Thrawn’s Revenge is an old mod, with a lot of work from over a decade ago, which means there’s some older bits of the mod which carry over older mistakes. Between 2.2 and 2.3, we’ve been trying to go through and standardize, expand, and update the things like the AI Combat Power values (which tells the AI roughly how strong a unit is) and category masks (which tells the AI what role it fills). There’s a new carrier category, for example, which for smaller carriers, will tell the AI that kind of unit needs to stay back- they’re for deploying fighters, not for engaging directly. This kind of work will be ongoing, but we’ll try to be as explicit with AI changes as possible, since that’s a lot better for people to understand changes than just saying “we made the AI have 20% more betterness.”
That brings us to our second major part of the update, being additional options for players. If given the choice most people would say they want an AI which acts exactly like a human, but while we agree with that for tactical behaviours and other kinds of 4X games, Empire at War, as anyone who plays multiplayer GC will likely have experienced, is not set up in a great way for a purely human and fair AI. Our goal with not just AI but economic systems and even other parts of the game like events (for example, the Yuuzhan Vong and other emergent factions) is to make sure the game goes as long as possible while still having some form of challenging component, which is why some form of cheating AI is necessary. In games like Europa Universalis and Stellaris, you have things like Aggressive Expansion and Overextension and Truces which allow a faction to rebuild between wars, but in Empire at War, it’s all war, all the time, and winning one key engagement can mean you take half the galaxy before they can even complete a new capital ship. While there are some background mechanics that may be somewhat similar to those from EU that I mentioned added to the mod where possible in the long-term, AI will always factor into the equation. It is, after all, a tool and a game mechanic as much as an opponent.
To this end, we have introduced a new optional set of extra difficulty levels, beyond Easy, Medium, and Hard. If people prefer to stay on the more even-footing of the 2.2 AI (plus the additional logic-based improvements), that will be the default you start with. However, once you get ingame, there is an extra option available, to enable the Cruel AI. This will enable higher levels of AI income and production more similar to the bonuses that you may be familiar with from mods like AotR or RaW, which will allow them to more easily rebuild and continue to push back for longer. While we’re increasing their production capabilities, we won’t be giving them free spawns of units outside of areas where it’s supported narratively, however. In the future it’s entirely possible we’ll be able to offer additional ingame options for other things based on similar principles, as well. I use a similar set of bonuses in my preview LPs, and another youtuber, EckhartsLadder, who has been given a preview copy of 2.3, has been struggling against it in his recent streams if you’d like to check those out as well by clicking here.
That’s going to do it for our look at the AI for now, though. Starting in a couple weeks I’ll be starting my Fall of the Republic (our Clone Wars mod) preview playthroughs on Corey Loses as well, but in addition to that there should be a couple more regular news posts coming out in the next few weeks, including an overview of ICW2.3 and its testing process, the CSA’s We Could Be Heroes post, and the next Vision of the Future post, looking at another new faction.