Update: We will be back -- and soon! You can sign up for our mailing list if you want to be notified of major new projects from Arcen in general. We expect to re-launch the project, in a revised and slimmed-down form, about one week from today.
Now back to the original message:
AI War 2 is the sequel to 2009's AI War Fleet Command. Like the original, AI War 2 is a real-time strategy game with elements of tower defense and grand strategy that pits you against a smart and deadly AI.
Also like the original, AI War 2 is an asymmetric game. The AI does not play by your rules: it is much more powerful than you, has no supplies you can disrupt, and its resources are literally infinite. Your successes strengthen the AI's focus on you, requiring you to balance immediate needs against long term costs.
We’ve made a massive 160+ page design document, because we feel it’s important for backers to know exactly what they’re getting. The big barriers to entry with the first game were an incredibly-steep learning curve, a clunky interface, and outdated graphics. Those are the first things we’ve addressed, but we're also bringing a lot of other new things to the table for people who already loved the first game.
Now we need your help to fund the game. [Here's the plan for if we don't.]
- We did a massive reddit AMA -- more than 50 pages of responses, good grief!
- Chris returned to Three Moves Ahead for the third time, this time in Episode 372. It's more industry-focused than we meant it to be.
- Chris returned to the Quarter to Three podcast with Tom Chick, where they focused on the gameplay as well as Chris's earlier inspirations.
- We really need your help spreading the word, no joke.
- A (much) lesser way of helping out is via our Headtalker campaign, which is still a big deal and is even easier.
- We collected a lot of fun and awesome story snippets about the AI from the first game.
- We also collected some of the best After Action Reports people wrote for the first game.
- Chat with us and other backers on our Discord server?
We intended to make AI War 2 a straightforward sequel. New graphics, port the gameplay, trim some fat, and iterate from there after 1.0. Then we had an idea. And then another. Then we asked our amazing fan community for their ideas, and now we have a design document longer than some novels. AI War 2 will be complete when we have implemented every mechanic in the document, preferably exactly as described. Some highlights include:
- Keeping the best parts of AI War Classic: the focus on strategy over tactics, the ability to granularly customize your campaign, massive space battles, and an AI that can surprise you.
- Over one hundred types of ships ranging from fighters to capital ships to massive superweapons.
- Expanding the AI's toolbox of tricks and strategies -- the AI will recapture lost ground and press the advantage when your losses mount up.
- Letting you decide your army’s strengths and capabilities via a new Science system.
- Expanding battlefields from individual single planets to entire solar systems.
- Replacing the original game’s ship triangle with more nuanced categories.
- Letting you play as humans, the incredibly powerful Spire, or the long dead but mysteriously revived Zenith. Wait, what?
Yes you read that right. Our biggest, most exciting new feature in AI War 2 is selectable player factions, based on the aliens from AI War Classic's 1st and 3rd expansions. Both newcomers have unique units and skills that set them apart from humanity and one another, and unique relationships with the other factions in the galaxy including the AI.
AI War 2 is an opportunity to rectify the first game's biggest flaw: usability. More than half a decade of work went into Classic and it shows. There are so many mechanics to the game that even veteran players spend game time parsing through tooltips. Sub-screens are densely packed and poorly marked. Presentation-wise AI War Classic is utilitarian at best, cluttered at worst.
Cleaning the mechanics up for AI War 2 was a joint project between us and our community, who helped by identifying too-similar mechanics for merger, and time sinks ripe for elimination.
Take the proposed UI changes. Tooltips are now much shorter but can be locked in place. Mouse over a locked tooltip and another tooltip pops out! By folding less immediately relevant information under information that is more relevant, we can clear up screen space and still provide you with the information you need.
Our efficiency improvements aren’t limited to the interface -- we dissected and rebuilt unit control, resource generation, building structures and defenses, connecting to multiplayer sessions and empire management, looking for ways to ensure players spend less time fiddling and more time commanding fleets.
Thanks to fixing up the above usability issues, AI War 2 is well placed to deal with Classic’s second major issue: the killer learning curve. AI War is meant to be a hard but fair game, and the start menu should not be enough to defeat new players.
We’re coming at the problem from a few different angles. The usability changes will help smooth the difficulty curve once they’re in-game, as will the improved ship classification system. We’re going to include quickstart options in AIW2 so players can jump into the game without fiddling with settings. Veteran players should enjoy these preset games as well.
One thing we will not be doing is dumbing the game down. We shudder at the very thought and it isn’t necessary.
The most immediately apparent change between Classic and this sequel is the move from sprites to 3D. By moving to 3D we're able to better use the capabilities of even lower-end video cards to provide clearer, crisper, more scalable resolution-independent graphics. We're pushing more geometry, which your GPU is awesome at handling, instead of relying on lots of 2D textures, which your GPU can handle but not so well. This helps with everything from immersion, to a sense of scale, to performance. Yes, really!
Originally AI War's story was confined to its opening crawl: the AI rose up, ending an 800 year long human civil war and nearly driving humanity to extinction, before turning their attention to other matters. The expansion packs added aliens, lore and a story campaign (Fallen Spire), as well as a few alternate ways to win the AI War. But questions remain about the AI’s goals and motivation, and about the recent and ancient history of the setting.
We're excited to finally start answering these questions, some of which have gone unanswered since 2009. We are also preparing to link AI War up with other Arcen titles. This will be the first time many of the connections will be laid out or explained!
During your fight against the AI you’ll discover floating derelicts that provide you with material for the war effort and occasionally lore about the setting. The playable factions each have their own perspective on the war and the AI, while minor factions have their own stories to share. Your discoveries will be kept in a logbook that persists across campaigns so you can peruse it at your leisure.
It doesn’t stop there: all new factions, entities and mysteries are showing up in the Milky Way Galaxy. How they’ll affect you and the ongoing war has yet to be revealed.
We are pleased to announce that AI War 2 will be open and easy to modify, while still maintaining sim-concurrence. Players will be able to modify ships and structures, the design of AI personalities, and create tutorials, scenarios, and vignettes of their own. The design document has a long (LONG) list of modifiable components that we identified before we even started making the game.
Arcen (that’s Ar-KEN) Games started in 2009 with a lone programmer on a mission (Hi everyone! - Chris). Most real time strategy games at the time lacked artificial intelligence worthy of the name. Once you understood how the AI worked, the challenge, and most of the fun, disappeared. So Chris decided to make his own.
It would promote strategy over tactics, reward players for experimenting, and constantly surprise them. The game needed to be fun for Chris even if he knew the game backwards and forwards.
Through his sister he found a composer (Hi Pablo!) and the pair released AI War through their website in 2009 before expanding to the usual digital distribution platforms. AI War was one of the first titles in the “modern wave” of indies.
Seven years, ten games, ten expansions to those games, and hundreds of patches to those games later Arcen Games is a proud independent game studio with fans all over the world.
From its origins as a one man product, AI War Classic morphed into a community driven cult classic. Critical praise for the original is glowing, as our website can attest. Some highlights include:
"It’s a Sins of the Solar Empire meets Supreme Commander meets Simply Nothing Else, and I think a lot of you will find this very intriguing." – Kieron Gillen, Rock Paper Shotgun August 2009
"...I’ll be surprised if anyone else twists the RTS formula this dramatically and this effectively. And I’m hoping it’ll be the Next Big Thing, because it’s big, different, entirely unprecedented and an exciting way to play an RTS." – Tom Chick, Crispy Gamer, August 2009
"...as much heart and soul as Dune 2, Total Annihilation, Homeworld, Galactic Civilizations and Desktop Tower Defense rolled into one." - Alec Meer, PC Gamer October 2009
These 2009 reviews all predate AI War's first expansion pack, and all the updates since then. It's on the strength of those updates that AI War Classic made Rock Paper Shotgun's list of the best strategy games of all time.
The icing on the cake is that Classic still reaches new fans every day!
Small problem: we've made games since AI War Classic that taught us some really cool tricks, but we can't bring those lessons back into Classic. Keith LaMothe -- the lead programmer for AI War since 2013 or so -- described AI War's code as "...a lot like a lumber mill built by two guys with nearly 0% concern for safety. 5-foot-radius sawblades spinning at maximum speed hanging from minimum-strength supports in the middle of an empty room with no safety shields and raw wood being thrown at them by various devices. You could call it 'efficient', you could call it 'horrifying'."
This was three years ago and the problem's gotten worse since then (if it helps, imagine the mill is now on fire). At this point there’s no way to to implement all the tasty technical things we want to in the old engine. It’s time to start anew.
Here's the trailer for version 8.0 of AI War Classic:
Keith's been prepping for AI War 2 since 2015. He's built a new lumber mill so efficient at multi-threading it can just about travel through time. He's also responsible for ensuring the game will be moddable, something that just isn’t possible in AI War Classic’s code
Chris has come a long way since the days we coded everything to DirectX. Several years ago we ported AI War Classic to Unity, and at the time the only part of Unity 3D we had use for was the cross-platform shader pipeline. Since 2013, Chris has expanded outward into increasingly advanced Unity tricks and the 3D graphics pipeline. The recently-released Unity 5.4 build adds even more tools we needed.
We plan to stick to our design document until 1.0. That means that any stretch goals that happen (thanks ahead of time if we get there!) will not impact the schedule we laid out above... even though we already have a few ideas on how to make the game bigger and better. Every theoretical stretch goal will have its own budget and schedule
What might those be? We'll talk about them should we pass our initial funding goals. In the meantime please see the “Not For 1.0” Limbo section of the design document. It talks about some of the things we wanted to do in the first build but wound up out of scope -- great material for stretch content.
But that’s for the future. Right now we're focused on reaching our initial funding goals.
(Please excuse our dust! We're currently updating this section.)
Design and name an AI personality: Please see the design document for an explanation of AI personalities and their traits. You can go as nuts as you like with the settings you choose for the traits, and we’ll include it in the game. That said, be warned that we will put exceedingly hard or easy ones into relevant categories denoting them as such, which may make them not show up in most people’s games. If you would like for us to keep them in the “general pool” that is within a standard deviation of balance, we’ll be happy to do that for you. Please keep the name of the AI thematic and clear as to what the AI actually acts like, but we’ll include a special note that says it was created by you (your name or handle).
Name a satellite human faction: Backers at the Mark V/Mysterious Human and above may name one of AI War 2’s new “satellite factions”. Satellite factions have no presence in your part of the galaxy but nevertheless play a vital role in the war: AI bait. Discover this faction’s location and the AI will send forces to investigate, reducing the heat on you. Satellite factions may show up in other contexts as well. Stay tuned!
Write a Player-triggerable taunt: To be voiced by the awesome Ben McAuley, who you can hear in the kickstarter trailer. No profanity, and this is subject to approval, but you don’t have to keep with the lore of the game. No copyright infringement on other franchises, but quotes and parodies are fine. The design document explains them in more detail.
Name a satellite alien faction: As above, but with aliens. We separated these out because aliens are much more entertaining. Should you prefer to name a human faction instead, just let us know.
Design a minor faction's lore: Returning from AI War Classic, minor factions represent human, Zenith, Neinzul and Spire factors in the war (and active in the galaxy) that aren’t the player. Backers at the Neinzul/Faction Scribe level get to develop the lore for one of these groups. Working with our loremaster and other Arcen staff, you may choose to expand a planned minor faction or design one yourself.
IMPORTANT, PLEASE READ: Designing a minor faction’s lore does not mean you are designing their mechanics. Please be thematic and appropriate when you develop your faction.
NEW REWARD! One copy of Stars Beyond Reach: By popular request! We hope to one day finish this game -- we've invested almost half a million dollars into R&D on it, after all -- but can in no way guarantee that. We have no immediate plans to resume work on it. However, a lot of our testers greatly enjoyed various iterations of it. In Steam (this is only via Steam), there are various beta builds you can choose from: 0.771 is a super old one from April 15, 2015. 0.840 is the last multi-city build, from May 22. 0.854 is the last build before the "industrial and commercial overhaul," from May 28. 0.877 is the last version with districts, from June 8th. The default build is 0.918, with territories. There is a "limitedbeta" version that is for internal use only, and this reward does not grant access to that.
Design custom space station: Collaborating with Blue, Neinzul/Station Architect backers will design a custom space station for the minor faction of their choice. The nature of your collaboration will depend on how much of a direct role you want in the art design, within the boundaries of the game’s artstyle and technical limitations.
Write an AI taunt: To be voiced by the awesome Ben McAuley, who you can hear in the kickstarter trailer. He’ll be done up nice and evil and robotic, rather like you can hear Chris Park in the AI War 8.0 trailer, although with more clarity. No profanity, and this is subject to approval in terms of broadly fitting with the lore of the game, but we hope you have some fun with it. Chris will work with you to make sure that we’re able to use your taunt in the best possible trigger points, although be aware that because of the dynamic nature of the game there’s a limit on how tightly we can control that. We’ll also work with you on wording if there’s something that doesn’t quite flow right in Ben’s accent, while trying to keep as close to your original as possible.
Design an alien artifact: The design document explains alien artifacts. Work with Blue to pick out a theme for their structures, and with Jack to write a short lore piece explaining one thing about the artifact.
Design a rare alien artifact: Same as the above, except even more awesome. Rare artifacts are something game-changing indeed. Note that they will need to pass muster balance-wise, and use existing tech mechanics.
Design a mystery faction's lore: A number of satellite factions will receive further lore development. Backers at the Zenith/Fleet Engineer level and above will get to choose a faction to develop themselves. You may choose to expand your own satellite faction, or with permission, that of another backer. We will coordinate with you as needed.
Design custom fleet ship: Collaborating with with Blue and Chris, you will design a fleetship, artistically and mechanically. While new mechanics are out of scope, Fleet Engineers will be decide what abilities their ship has and what its combat role is. Especially powerful craft could turn into prizes given for dealing with minor factions or elite AI ships. Ships that break the difficulty curve entirely will not be allowed in the regular game… but if you really want, it might become a “cheat ship”.
Learn the AI's secret: Why did the AI turn on mankind? Why did it fail to destroy humanity when it had the chance? And why did the AI leave itself vulnerable during the First AI War? The answers remain secrets, one that we’re preparing now to reveal to the AI War superfans at the Spire tiers. If you want to know, then please keep it to yourself! If you’d prefer not to know, we’ll happily keep this secret a while longer. Still, one cool turn deserves another, and this is the coolest thing we could think to do.
Design new canon alien race: Working with Chris, you’ll come up with the 4th and 5th alien species in the Arcenverse’s Milky Way. Your race may be newcomers to the galactic stage in 1.0, but they will go on to join the Zenith, Spire, and Neinzul in future AI War & Arcenverse media. We’ll do our best to accommodate your ideas for your creation’s characteristics, history and name, but may veto or change elements to better mesh with our setting.
Help create a music track: For the music loving superfan: you will work with Pablo Vega to develop an all new song for AI War 2’s soundtrack! The nature of the collaboration depends on you. If you are musically inclined we invite you to contribute a tune you’d like to see worked into a larger piece. Otherwise, please suggest a genre you think meshes with AI War’s soundtrack, or a tone or mood you’d like to evoke, or… something. It’s up to you!
This will be added to the 1.0 soundtrack, so you’re actually making the soundtrack bigger by choosing this tier.
Skyward Collapse Source Code: For the aspiring indie developer, or the Arcen (or Skyward Collapse) superfan. You'll get full access to the code for Skyward Collapse, with the ability to inspect, modify, compile, and use it as you desire. This will be under an NDA that prevents you from sharing the code with parties outside your team, but you can make commercial works based on it. Please note that this code is completely programmer-oriented and not for anyone who wants to work in a visual editor. Please message us for any questions you have before selecting this reward.
This pie chart shows how we’ll be spending the money from this Kickstarter if we hit our initial funding goal and nothing more. The amount of money budgeted for design and simulation work is lower than one might expect. We've spent our own money on design and programming in advance of this Kickstarter. That money is not included in this budget and will not be reimbursed by the funds we raise here.
Stretch goals are not covered in the general budget. They will have their own budgets, with costs divided between the cost of fulfillment and Kickstarter's take. Example: a music stretch goal would be about 88% music cost and 12% kickstarter cost.
One last note about the budget: the time it takes to make each part of a game is unequal. Design and art get done before programming, which gets done before balance and QA. In this budget, Chris and Blue will only work full-time on AI War 2 until the design work and art assets are done, after which they will move to another Arcen project. Funds from the AI War 2 Kickstarter will not be used to fund their activity on other projects.
This changes if we hit a dozen stretch goals or if the game sells extraordinarily well in Early Access/after release. In either case Chris and Blue will move back to full-time work on AI War 2's post-release content, and will draw pay from the new funds. Our hope is that we'll get to keep the whole team together making AI War 2 for a long time to come!
The design document is huge, and the below charts don’t remotely cover every feature in detail. However, they do give a pretty good overview of the status as of the start of the kickstarter. Further updates can't be reflected here, but you'll be able to see that on our site and in update messages.
Risks and challenges
Thanks for reading this far! In exchange we’ll let you in on a secret: the biggest threat to AI War 2 is this Kickstarter failing. Arcen has spent over seven years making AI War Classic. We’ve patched it, improved it and expanded on it enough that, short of the AI rising up and destroying humanity, if we get our funding we can all but guarantee we'll release AI War 2.
That said, things change during development. Ideas can need more time, or not work at all. Miss a milestone and the game gets delayed. Programming challenges could push features intended for 1.0 into the post-release period. And this is before getting into acts of god and personal tragedies.
AI War II is set to avoid issues common to Kickstarted videogame projects. Our finished design document is huge and hugely specific, we've never had a game planned out in as much detail as AI War 2 is in every area. The funding we need for the project has been carefully considered, and we're being utterly ruthless with the scope of the 1.0 build.
We have two more secret weapons: AI War Classic and our community. Almost everything in AI War 2 has an equivalent in AI War Classic. If we run into issues implementing a feature we can look back to the original version. For everything past that point, we rely on our fans, always a source of ideas and creative solutions to problems. We have a reputation for speaking with our fans and listening to them in return. You’ll know what we’re doing, what our challenges are, and what we’re doing to overcome them. We’ll go into excruciating detail (after telling you to expect "a brief update" or "a quick video,"), just like always. It’ll be great.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (31 days)