Friday, December 9, 2016

Master of Orion II: Gnolams

See Master of Orion II: every race for introduction and links to games with other stock races.

Gnolams are another race which where introduced in Master of Orion II. Their stereotype is money making and their trait list reflects that quite strongly: +1 BC, expert traders, lucky, low G and dictatorship government.

BC (also shown as tax +1) bonus is quite powerful (cost 7 points) because it's multiplicative with other sources of income such as government, morale and buildings. It's as if each population unit counts as two for the purpose of taxation. Fantastic traders (in some places referred as expert traders, yeah, game can't make up it's mind) have all sorts of situational bonuses: +25% BC from trade treaties, double income from surplus food and double profit from building trade goods. Trade treaty bonus looks decent but absolute numbers are not to so big and normal taxation bonus will always overshadow it. Extra cash from surplus food is also symbolic bonus because early on you want to have as smallest surplus as possible and later on you won't be producing so much food to see comparable difference to regular taxation. More cash from trade goods on the other hand can have big impact because a good planet can dish out a lot of industry points. The perk costs 4 points but in the eyes of many players it's not worth half the cost unless one is about exploiting credit cheat. Lucky is another ineffective trait, for 3 points only good events can happen to the player and Antarans rarely attack his colonies. Well, events happen every 50 turns to a random player so in four player on average this perk does nothing for 200 turns. Or on the positive side it does one thing during the whole game. Not being pestered by Antarans early on is helpful but they too appear very infrequently. Low G is negative trait, it costs -5 points and the race suffers -25% penalty to farming, industry and research on normal G planet and -10 in ground combat. There is no economy penalty on low G planets and the homeworld has low gravity. Dictatorship is default government type, see Alkari playthrough for more details.

Since last few games on normal turned out to be quite easy, this time I've started a game on hard. My starting position was decent, large desert and small ultra rich barren. Not spectacular, weak early game potential but quite good for the long run. While homeworld was providing food, large desert became research center and small ultra rich an emergency shipyard and main housing (extra population growth) center. Neighboring stars were so so, couple of irradiated average planets and a medium tundra in Weg system. I've landed my initial colony ship on tundra and immediately (turn 7) got in contact with Sakkra. At first I thought it's going to be an opportunity to use my trade bonus but it turned out Sakkrans were repulsive. If that didn't spell early war clearly enough, positions of their colonies did. In four player maps homeworlds are usually near corners but their was in a middle of the map. Cephee, their first expansion was in my direction and it was quite logical they will use it as staging point for attacking Weg. I've scouted remaining stars I had in range, encountered space crystal at Mensa system which guarded large ultra rich gaia with natives and parked other scout at neutral Yen system. That proved to be a good decision because on turn 22 I've spotted Sakkra troop transporter going to Cephee and it gave me time to prepare defense at Weg. My defenses were humble, two frigates, former scouts refitted with two unrefined nuclear missiles each. On turn 30 Sakkra moved to Weg but didn't attack. They blockaded the system for a few turns, until I've built 3rd frigate.

The war was dragging out, I've kept building missile frigates and eventually had enough to blockade Cephee and keep Weg safe from invasion. I've also invested in espionage and managed to steal deuterium fuel cell and biosphere technology, to sabotage a few buildings in Sakkra main system and most importantly the star base in Cephee system. After some time I even attempted to conquer a colony at Cephee but my ground combat score was too low, partly due to my -10 from low G and partly to Sakkran +10 while defending. On turn 110 I've researched planetary supercomputers and established contact with Meklars. While Sakkra and I played tug of war with two systems each, they expanded to four systems. I've tried my diplomatic skills on them but they kept refusing to sign any treaty so I tried something silly, trade supercomputers for heavy armor. It improved my standing a bit but still it took a lot of perseverance to get trade treaty. At least one solid step toward non-aggression pact. War with Sakkra went well, I've advanced chemistry by researching tritanium and started replace frigates with destroyers. On turn 151 as I was getting ready to send colonization fleet to Yen system, hyperspace flux happened preventing all interstellar travel. By the time the flux lifted Sakkra built a colonization fleet too and occupied Yen before I could. While I finally got safety by signing non-aggression pact with Meklar, on turn 188 Antarans decided to raid Yen system. Sakkra was unable to defend so I got the second chance and took the system before anybody got the same idea.

Settling Yen got me in range with Silicoids, another repulsive race. At first I didn't know how powerful they were so I've left Sakkra alone (they where down to their home system) and hoped they will be a distraction while I build up my army. I managed to steal positronic computer from Sakkras and advance physics on my own so I started to refit missile ships with lasers, a lot of lasers. Plus usual special equipment for beam ships, battle scanner and battle pods. Thing is everybody had class I shields which are not strong enough to make lasers ineffective and miniaturized armor piercing lasers are very strong weapon. While I was arming up Tanus, a colony leader, offered me his services and when I hired him I got pleasantly surprised by getting imperium, an advanced govnerment technology from him. My first field test of laser destroyers was against Sakkra who tried to invade me with quite sizable fleet (4 or so battleships with 3 more smaller ones). Lasers ripped their titanium hull to shreds. Then I figured I have enough military power to deal with space crystal and on turn 212 I colonized juicy large ultra rich gaia in Mensa system. I pumped all my money and excess population (mainly from small ultra rich in my home system) to that colony and turned it into a heavy duty shipyard. At this point I've filled command point capacity with destroyers and the time came for bigger ships so I started to build battleships. Where destroyers where packing 9 lasers, battleships could go up to 40. While I was preparing for eventual Silicoid invasion I've also backfilled systems around my homeworld and on turn 240 I was a candidate for galactic council. Silicoids were too numerous to be out voted by Meklars and me at that but that event gave me hope of eventually winning the game with diplomaticy rather then being forced to conflict.

Silicoids on the other hand had no other options then to expand through conquest. On turn 255 they defeated Sakkra and were at war with Meklars and few turns later they tried their luck on me. My laser destroyers and few battleships were strong enough to handle their titans but not powerful enough repel Antarans who decided to raid Yen (again but with me controlling it this time). Their fleet was quite big at this point, 3 frigates, 2 destroyers and a cruiser. I managed to destroy their frigates and retreat battleships on time, thanks to heavy armor but unfortunately the colony got bombarded to oblivion. On the flip side I had second colony in the system so I've managed to remain in control of the system and rebuild the lost colony. After Antaran incident I've proceeded to conquer Silicoids and grow my population to increase voting power. I would have won at turn 290 election if Meklars did vote for me. I traded few more technologies with them to improve standing, tried to make an alliance with them but as usual they were not keen on signing. 50 turns later I assimilated more of Silicoid empire, switched weaponry to phaser beams, defeated Orion guardian and got Meklars to vote for me.

It was a bit slow game if you go by technology progression rate but considering the cause of it was early and constant war, it was an interesting game. The fact that most of the fights were fought with imperfect technologies (plain, non-MIRV missiles), sort of subversion of expectation brought extra fun factor. So did Gnolam traits influence the game and my play style? Low G certainly did slow my economy down. Monetary bonuses didn't look very influential early on while I was playing but in retrospect I was buying a lot more buildings than I could with other races, I was even able to afford buying ships and I didn't have to wait long to afford most expensive leaders. Also there was no mid-game deficit period where building maintenance cost would grow over tax income and by time as I was half way through technology tree I had enough income to go substantially over command point capacity. Gnolams are deceptively strong. I doubt lucky trait probably saved from negative events because Silicoids got a lot of good events but it kept Antarans away from me for the most part.

One side note, see how top right part of galaxy map is uninhabited? It's not because nobody has bothered to send a colony ship there, it's because there was no habitable planets. There was 2 toxic ones in Python system and the rest where either empty systems or filled with gas giants.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Master of Orion II: Elerians

See Master of Orion II: every race for introduction and links to games with other stock races.

Elerians were introduced in the second installment of the Master of Orion and their archetype is..., um, I'll keep my opinion to myself :). From the other perspective they are space elves. For some reason telepathy and other mind powers are perfectly OK magic to use in science fiction setting and Elerian traits are mix of mind magic and warmongering: +20 ship attack, +25 ship defense, telepathic, omniscient and feudal.

Ship attack and defense bonuses are straightforward extra accuracy and evasion (see Alkari and Bulrathi articles for more info). Telepathic gives a few ordinary bonuses, +10 to espionage and +25% to diplomacy (whatever that means), but the best thing is the mind control ability. After a successful space battle cruisers and larger ships can mind control planets to side with the attacker. Such planets do not suffer from conquered penalty and don't revolt. There is a small space battle effect too, when telepathic race successfully captures a ship, they can use it during the same battle. All in all it's great trait for rushing because early conquest doesn't require building and deploying troop ships and conquered planets are developed sooner. Trait cost is quite high, 6 points. Omniscient on the other hand is cheaper mind magic, for 3 points it reveals the details of all star systems as if they have been scouted and reveals all opponent ships, no matter how well they are hidden. Great for planning your game from the start and it's kind of counter for stealthy ships. Feudalism is a government type and a negative one. It costs -4 points, lowers morale for -20% on colonies without barracks and has -50% penalty to research. There is slight bonus, starships cost 2/3 of normal cost. If you didn't get enough incentive to blitz your opponents with telepathy, feudalism would be screaming "rush or die" at you. Imperium, the advanced form of feudalism has lower research penalty (-25%) and ship cost reduced to 1/3 of the normal price which is awesome if one can live long enough to research it. On the surface Elerians look like disaster, overcommited to rushing from turn 1 when you don't really weapons for breaking early starbases but I'm looking forward to the challenge.

Before doing any move, I observed the map. Systems around me were mostly poor with minerals, while some of them are tundras and ocean I wouldn't gain much by expanding and would lose time. By exploiting wormhole placement and extended range on colony ship I could have reached Darloks very quickly. Either by colonizing Ras system without escort or by colonizing Rhilus system and making outpost at Ras. Both systems had a medium tundra planet but I thought about going with the safer option and use Rhilus later for launching attack on Trilarians. Next question was how to take down star bases? Six command points is barely enough for big enough fleet of missile boats but a friend gave me a different suggestion: heavy lasers. Beam ships are not limited with ammo and heavy mount would provide the range for shooting while staying away from most of opponent's weaponry. Fleet composition was third question, there had to be one cruiser in order to use mind control on planets and the question was what to do with remaining three command points. After some time playing in the ship designer I've decided to simply go with 3 frigates, I could build them much faster (plus I could speed things up by refitting scouts) then a single cruiser or destroyer and frigate and they would be packing similar amount of firepower. I've never played with unminiaturized lasers before and my final ship designs where something unique: frigate design had only a single heavy mount laser (much like A-10 airplane, a cannon with wings and engines) and cruiser had one heavy laser and 20 PD (defensive) lasers. The idea was to have a cruiser provide anti-missile defense while frigates do the heavy lifting.

When I've finally pressed "end turn" button I saw Darloks sending colony ship to Ras. That was great for me because I could mind control it and get fuel range to Nazin instead of having to build and deploy an outpost ship. My colony ship was on the way to Rhilus and homeworld was refitting scouts with a heavy lasers and building the cruiser. On turn 22 the invasion fleet was complete and three turns later positioned at Rhilus system, ready for war. Instead of outright declaring the war on Darloks I've tried provoking it by demanding anti-missile rockets technology from them. In either case I would win something. They refused, got so angry they declared war on me and I had "justification" for moving through wormhole and taking Ras system next turn. On turn 28 Nazin fell and Darloks no longer owned anything. The battle at Nazin was straight forward, a starbase was launching missiles at the cruiser which was happy to shoot them all down. Occasionally a heavy laser would scratch the cruiser but not often enough to make significant damage. It took some time but starbase armor and structure was slowly worn down and I got to double my empire's population.

Next on my hit list were Trilarians. I've built an outpost ship and sent it to Praxis, hired commander Hawk and assigned him to the cruiser. His bonuses were not ground breaking, +5 to beam defense was not that impressive but navigation skill was actually good one. +1 to galaxy speed was nice (huge bonus considering the base value is 2) and secondary effect, no slowdown in nebula, was the best part. Both Trilar and Cryslon had a nebula in the way and being able to travel through with full speed was very useful. By the turn 39 I've established contact with Trilarians and had fleet ready in the Praxis system. I've tried again to provoke the war by demanding a technology but this time AI agreed. I got my self fusion beam but not the the war, now what? I've asked for research treaty and again they agreed. I sighed and decided to spare them for a while.

I thought about attacking Silicoids last but given the situation it was actually not bad idea to deal with them before they spread too much. I did a bit of research and development on my new colonies and then ordered a new outpost ship. Administrator Garron offered his service and I've hired him. All of his bonuses would be useful in some way, +10 diplomacy might give me some better deal with Trilarians, fame bonus would reduce the price of later leaders and megawealth (10 BC/turn) alone would justify hiring him. On turn 50 I've researched my first very own technology: research labs. The feudalism really makes researching early technologies feel like huge achievement. I've traded lab with Trilarians for hydroponic farms because they would help me a bit with food and Trilarians wouldn't live long enough to make good use of labs anyway. Few turns later Silicoids got lucky, they've uncovered a wreckage of an ancient ship and got a fusion beam technology. Then they've lended me a hand by colonizing Dendo system. Once I've made outpost in Honte system I was one system away from having a continious path to all Silicoid systems. Dendo fell on turn 63, but they were able to destroy two of my frigates so I took me some time until I attacked them again. My research was producing results and by turn 67 I had reinforced hull and automated factories and traded factories for space academy. I've built my second cruiser on turn 82, some time after researching fusion rifles so it had a bit more advanced weaponry, it sported AP NR (armor penetrating, no range dissipation) heavy laser. Too bad it was built one turn before I advanced physics field again. I've decided it was worthy to lose time refitting so I've sent it to meet with an old fleet at new outpost in Oba system. New physics technology was tachyon communications which gives an extra command point per starbase. I usually pick battle scanner for more beam accuracy but this time I figured I have good enough accuracy and bigger fleet was more important. And again I traded my new technology with Trilarians but this time for planetary missile base, an excellent planetary defense which can repel most early game fleets, including Antarans.

Fortunately Antarans were asleep whole game and by turn 92 I've mind controlled the last Silicoid colony. AP laser performed well, it was crippling starbase weaponry as it was destroying it, reducing the threat level considerably faster but it was not that great damage wise. The problem was I had mix of no-AP weapons which had to drill through armor so in the end it took almost the same amount of turns. Silicoids are awesome race for to have. They don't need food and they don't produce pollution which translates to almost quadruple industrial output. And on top of that they have higher population limit on hostile planets. Did I mention they don't eat food? Yeah they can spread like weed and bacteria combined. Once I've conquered them their former homeworld was capable of outproducing my whole empire. There should be no surprise if I tell you I made it my main shipyard.

As I was preparing for Trilarians I was concerned about missile bases. Would 20 PD lasers be enough? At the time I had enough command points for 3 cruiser so I've figured 3 times 20 should be enough. I was lazy to run the numbers but knowing how stuff works under the hood I estimated NR modifier would trick fraction rounding into effectively double PD damage, "autofire" modifier would increase actual number of shoots and "continuous" modifier would compensate for autofire accuracy penalty. While refitting the fleet my scientist have researched battle pods so I had even more firepower at my disposal and there was no worry about Trilarian defenses. Final cruiser design was 4 heavy and 9 PD lasers all with aforementioned modifiers. That's very powerful for turn 105 and there were few defensive improvements as well, tritanium armor and fusion drive I got from Trilarians while trying to provoke war. This time I just declared war after failed provocation, there was no more reason to let lone AI live. Trilar fell on turn 112 and missile base wasn't so hard, partially because the system was in nebula so their shields were not working and partially because their ships were busy bombarding my outpost at Praxis. The real battle with Trilarians happened at Kae system, they had a battleship with captain Mukirr, a destroyer with captain Altos, two frigates, a starbase, a missile base and defensive structures were shielded with class I shields. My cruisers were swift at destroying defensive structures, despite the shields, but their ships were good at evading my shots. Extra accuracy on PD lasers helped a lot, something I was scarcely aware it was there. While I was trying to land enough shoots on their titanium plates they managed to cripple and capture one of my ships. Few moments later there were fireworks, one of their ships exploded so hard that my captured cruiser got destroyed along with and Trilarian frigate. Last Trilarian system Yad was undefended and it fell one turn after Kae, concluding the game.

Well that was an interesting game. I've expected a disaster and got exhilarating roller coaster ride. I felt so powerful taking a whole race before turn 30 and defeating everybody else with lasers. Elerians are weird race to play with, as if they are playing a different game then everybody else. Rushing so early feels like cheating but that is the case in all games, not just Master of Orion. Limiting their research capabilities is actually nice touch since it balances out the fact that successful rush would double the empire and it really made me appreciate every single technology I got.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Master of Orion II: Darlok

See Master of Orion II: every race for introduction and links to games with other stock races.

Darloks, another race from original Master of Orion, are the race designed around spy stereotype. Like previous races in Master of Orion II they didn't have all stereotype related traits and had a little twist to the theme. In the original game their spies costed half the normal price, had 20 extra defensive espionage points (roughly +20% to uncover enemy spy), +30% to succeed in espoinage and 20% cheaper research in computer s field which also influenced spy effectiveness. As you can see espionage bonuses all over the place. On top of that all races had negative opinion of them because they are designed around parasitizing others.

MoO II races also don't like them either but not for espionage bonuses. In this game they have flat +20 to espionage and stealthy ships. How espionage works in MoO II is still the mystery, this old forum post explains some details but how odds are calculated is unexplained. I would assume it works similarly to the ground, combat which in turn uses the same formula as hit rolls in the space combat. So what does +20 to espionage means? Probably the same as +20 to the ground combat, 20% more chance to succeed and 20% less chance to get caught.

Stealthy ships is interesting trait that everybody avoids. It works the same as stealth field special equipment, ships are invisible on the galaxy map which makes it difficult for opponents to asses your defenses and impossible to see your attacking fleet. Unless they are omniscient, no kind of stealth can hide your ship on the main map from omniscients. One my argue that even non-omniscient AI could cheat and simply know were are your ships but I have confirmed they don't react to incoming cloaked ships. I have never actually used stealth field or stealthy ships trait and I've read somewhere that one or both of them is bugged so my experience with normal and phased cloaking device my not apply. Why people avoid this trait in custom races? It cost more then it is worth (4 picks vs omniscient which costs 3 picks), doesn't really help in combat (though my make combat easier), doesn't help economy and because of aforementioned bug.

I have played with espionage oriented custom race, it was fun and aggressive game. Almost as if playing with creative race but without the need for early game turtling. Now, I had no idea what to expect, except a lot of hate from other races. So let's begin.

After a little bit of scouting I've realized I'm in very poor neighborhood. There was no terrain or ocean planets, almost every planet was mineral poor or ultra poor and/or low gravity and Anraq, a monster guarded system, was very bad too. It was guarded by space eel and contained two planets: huge rich tundra with high gravity and medium ultra poor toxic with low gravity and gems. Tundra would be OK industry world if it had normal gravity and toxic planet was complete joke for guarded system. Gems give nice boost early on but there was simply no reason to build any building there. Fortunately I've found Vela system with huge rich high G tundra so I've settled there but sad fact was this and two more planets in home system were basically my whole empire for early and mid game.

To keep things more interesting other races introduced themselves fairly early. First ones were Elerian on 63rd turn. At first I was scared, I was weak and they could turn to annoying warmongers. On the other hand they had slow research because of government type and I was playing on a medium difficulty so they didn't have unfair bonuses. I thought for a while and traded research labs and automated factories with them. In ordinary circumstances I would withhold these two particular technologies but I figured if I was going to steal technologies I could give them a boost to get juicier ones sooner. That decision helped me to establish trade agreement so my situation was a bit less miserable. 10 turn later I've met Silicoids and 15 turns later, Humans.

Despite wet dreams of MoO fans, humans and Elerians didn't get along and unfortunately for me Elerians were on the losing end. My problem was that I was repeatedly losing contact with them, trade and research treaties would break and I'd lose desperately needed income source. To compensate and expand I've colonized a desert in Kochba system very near Elerian's homeworld. Things worked well for me for almost 100 turns, I've hired few quite pricey leaders with excellent bonuses, traded tritanium armor technology for missile bases and built some ships. Then out of the blue on turn 171 Elerians surrendered to Silicoids leaving me and Humans in a bad situation because it was only a matter of time when galaxy dividing Silicoids would decide to wage war on us.

But situation got even worse and weirder fast. Mere 6 turns later Antarans joined the party and attacked human colony making them even weaker for upcoming war. Couple of turns later giant space eel appeared to harass Silicoid's Ryoun system. It was good thing which turned bad for me but more about it later. In similar time frame I finally got enough technology to build a fleet for busting space eel at Anraq and secured gem deposits. Then Silicoids turned their ugly eye on me and declared war. My nuclear destroyers were good enough to keep them at bay so they gave up 10 turns later but again every good thing was counteracted by a bad thing and bad news. Bad news came in form of galactic council election where Silicoids alone held 8 votes of 16 total. Bad situation arised when giant space eel reproduced and sent it's equally giant offspring to my Kochba system.

I keep stressing it was a giant one because my fleet which easily destroyed normal one without loss was unable to carry enough nukes to kill this one and this one was definitely able to chase my ships down and one-shot them. Fortunately eel didn't want to destroy colonies so Kochba had lived under blockade. Around turn 220 situation improved, I've hired Tanus, a leader with good bonuses and advanced government technology and started to build bigger and more advanced ships. Humans were not so lucky, they were slowly losing to Silicoids so I decided to steal all of their technologies. It was not much but there were decent and made future stealing from Silicoids easier. To compensate I gave them technologies to defend themselves, zortium armor and missile base and accepted their plea for alliance. About the turn 250 I realized I could actually play as Darlok and help Humans by sabotaging Silicoids. Every few turns a building came down. If only I have started doing it sooner because humans became too few in numbers for upcoming election.

On turn 269 game again decided to make things more interesting by sending both Antarans and giant space hydra to me. Antaran fleet was tricky one, 4 frigates and 2 destroyers. I managed to deal with frigates but destroyers prevailed and Kochba was bombed down to 1 population unit. There were no problems with space hydra except it attacked Anraq making me pull remaining fleet far from Kochba and risk invasion there. That fateful election on turn 280 should have ended the game, Silicoids with their Elerian traitors had all the votes need to elect themselves because diminished Humans and my empire weren't big enough to make 1/3rd of total votes. When the game asked me whether I accept the ruling I chose "No" but for all intents and purposes it should count as if I have lost the game.

30 turns later I finally had what one could call a warship, a battleship with reinforced zortium, armed with antimatter torpedoes and supported with automated repair unit. About 60 turns latter I've conquered all Silicoid colonies. There were few sideshows like another Antaran attack and saving Nazin from going supernova but the game was straight forward, attack, invade, repeat.

So how was it being Darlok? Despite the game degenerating after one AI surrendered to another it was interesting but not because of my race choice. When playing other races I try to steal as much technologies as possible so Darlok espionage didn't feel fresh. Rate of tech stealing didn't seam to be significantly higher. Sabotage was somewhat better, there was an awesome moment where my spies have destroyed a star base on a planet I was about to attack on the same turn the attack happened. But most of the time saboteurs either did nothing or minimally harmed the opponent who didn't have any defensive spies and espionage technologies. It's hard to gauge the value of stealthy ships but I've noticed AI didn't attack undefended colonies when my overall fleet strength got big enough and it didn't concentrate defensive fleets when I was attacking him. Maybe it worked? All in all playing Darloks felt ordinary, as if they had no differentiating traits.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Casual games are bad

Casual games are not fun, they make you suffer with minimal challenges for symbolic rewards, they are not real games and that is not the problem. Every now and then I stumble upon "casual vs hardcore games" discussion. And it's usually one sided discussion where casual games are either a plague of modern world or something positive like an stepping stone toward "real" games for people who are not "hardcore".

Both sides are right in some way but they don't put enough weight on the core issue. Some discussions scratch it by mentioning a service problem in application stores: app stores on all platforms are not doing good enough job of making good apps visible. But the problem is more fundamental. If I search for note taking app with word "note", I'd probably find some decent note taking application. If I search for a strategy game, no matter how I search I'd find all sorts of games with elements of strategy but very few are that are mainly strategies and even fewer that are decent games.

The problem is in the language, in the meaning of the words. Words don't have absolute meaning, instead their meaning is relative to subjective experience. Or in simple English, two people who speak the same language and use the same words are not speaking about 100% the same thing. Many Croatian examples come to mind like "luk" which in literary language means onion but in certain region of Croatia it means garlic. English example would be a different interpretation of word "chips" between American English and British English. When it comes to "[video] game", differences between parties like age, culture and past experiences make equally big if not bigger discrepancy in understanding the term. And that's how we got a situation where '90 PC gamers refuse to call mobile and certain browser based entertainment software a "game". In fact the term "game" is stretched so thin that anything can be called and sold as a "game" and there is scarcely any way too tell what is what kind of the game.

Once upon the time genre labels were useful but over the time some games started to combine multiple genres others took only some aspects of a certain genre and we ended up with so many hybrids and games unclassifiable by any commonly recognized genre. Perhaps the best we could in this era of perpetual change is to call one game a lookalike of another. I hate phrase "Doom clone" but it conveys more informative then "first person shooter". Downside is assumption that other party knows the basis of comparison. How many people remember Doom, C&C or Mortal Kombat? Today, enough but in a few years they may become irrelevant.

I don't really know what is the best solution, game developers are taking every shortcut toward money, publishing platforms don't feel obliged to police what they serve and tried methods reliant on crowdsourcing (like letting people assign tags/lables) have not proven themselves with quality. But I'm convinced the problem is as described above. Hope this helps someone to find the solution!

Thank you for reading the post to the end, the title was a bait.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Master of Orion II: Bulrathi

See Master of Orion II: every race for introduction and links to games with other stock races.

Next race on the list are Bulrathi. Bearlike/doglike race specialized at ground combat. In Master of Orion I they had +25 ground combat bonus which gave them big advantage when invading planets early on and 20% discount on construction and weapon technologies which could potentially make their ships more dangerous with better armor and weapons plus more space for weapons. 25% more expensive computer techs penalty on the other hand meant they had harder time building those ships due to lower robotics control level and weapons were be somewhat less accurate.

In MoO II their traits got more diverse but still centered around ground combat: "+20 ship offense", "+10 ground combat", "high gravity" and dictatorship government. Ship offense bonus is simply extra beam accuracy, not a big deal but makes beam ships efficient slightly sooner. Ground combat is also flat bonus but with more significance than ship offense. In technologically even match +10 bonus makes 20% more chance to win a roll giving the 3:2 advantage (60% vs 40%). Interestingly +10 is not the biggest racial bonus for ground combat. Maybe developers felt Bulrathi needed an edge in space combat more then all the ground combat bonuses. High gravity trait is real kicker and it makes quite a number of changes. Homeworld becomes high gravity planet and the race receives immunity to 50% penalty on to high gravity worlds. This in a weird way translates to industry bonus, thing is rich and ultra rich planets tend to have high gravity. Large and huge planets too. When ordinary races come across large rich planet, they usually have to wait until midgame for planetary gravity generator building in order to eliminate gravity penalty. High G races on the other hand can fully exploit such planets from the start. Since high G races don't really need planetary gravity generator technology they are free to choose another tech from the field, either a gravity beam (strong midgame weapon) or a tractor beam (a special weapon that reduces target's combat speed, potentially immobilizing it). Cool thing in MoO II is ground combat in space, under certain conditions ships can be boarded and either raided or captured. Raiding damages or destroys random equipment such as weapons, shields, engines, computer or special equipment. If engines get destroyed, ship's warp core "breaches" and the whole ship explodes. Capturing ships is more lucrative business, captured ships can be used against their owner or scrapped for cash and new technologies if the ship has equipment unknown to captors. In order to board a ship one has to either get close to immobile target, teleport marines or land assault shuttles on it. Not the easiest task but some techs like the aforementioned tractor beam make it more reliable. And there is one more thing with "high G" trait, it gives an extra hit point to marines so in a way it directly improves ground combat odds.

In this game I had much more luck with starting location, two systems with artifacts, one with space monster and one unguarded. Ecu, the unguarded system had three decent planets, small ultra poor terrain with artifacts, large swamp and medium desert. Doesn't sound like much but unlike random barren or radiated planets usually found in vicinity of the homeworld, those are self-sustaining climates. Early on that that helps a lot, you don't need as many freighters and you don't need to dedicate your homeworld to farming and supporting colonies. Joseki, the system guarded by space hydra had only one planet but it was almost as good as Orion, large ultra rich gaia with artifacts. Hydra has strong attack, 3 beam attacks that always hit (like mauler device) and can do up to 60 damage but unlike space eel it lacks missile defense so swarm with 10+ missile frigates can kill it, especially if it chooses to attack missiles instead of ships.

By the turn 90 I've colonized Tyrius in the middle of galaxy, made contact with all other players, Sakkra, Humans and Trilarians and got some more lucky rolls: colony leader with megawealth and random event that turned my homeworld ultra rich. At that point luck made the game too easy. Only thing stopping me from attacking space hydra and colonizing sweet Joseki world was space flux, a random event that prohibits space travel (freighters can somehow still move food around). When space flux passed I've included Joseki to my economy and along with Sakkra became a candidate for Galactic Council. For some reason Humans were upset with me voting for myself and declared war on me. I really couldn't figure out why, I wasn't spying them, we were at good terms, they were not in the alliance with Sakkra, haven't had erratic personality and I had bigger fleet. They had bad planets though, were they trying to expand over me, why not invade Trilarians? I had no problem with war, destroyers with beams (3 AF AP ND lasers, tritanium armor, class I shield, battle scanner, heavy armor) started to replace not so old missile frigates and Human's Ussika system fell quickly. After 10 turns and some espionage they gave up, gave me gyro destabilizer and asked for peace. I agreed, I wanted Humans to use their research potential to get technologies I would either trade or steal, not to fight me. Sakkra on the other hand was one I wanted to test my fleet against so I tried to provoke the war by demanding terraforming. They knew what I was armed to the teeth and gave me the technology. Reluctantly I left them alone and went back to building up my economy.

Then Humans made a wrong move, demanded tribute and declared the war when I refused. I don't know what went wrong with them, they had no economy, focused on espionage technologies and were underestimating me despite all numbers showing they had no chance to win. Oh well, my ground troops set foot on one more system, Muru and as I was about to attack Aldebaran they asked for peace. Few turns later Trilarians asked me for alliance and I accepted, curious in which trouble would it lead me to. And then the game fell apart, on turn 231 Humans surrendered to Sakkra. I was facing a boring game of either eradicating Sakkra from all planets or being elected as the leader of Galactic Council once again.

After some thought I've decided to end the game by punching Antarans in the face, I mean, with ground combat/space marines and started to work my way up the tech tree. War between Sakkra and me finally broke out, I demanded Zortium and they violently refused. I attacked and conquered Aldebaran and they launched surprise attacked on Ursa with 4 battle ships and 6 smaller ships. Nebula around Aldebaran prevented me from pulling back my attack fleet so I had to defend with spare a little fleet around my shipyards, 2 destroyers and one cruiser. It was enough to win and also to capture one of their ships by losing only the cruiser and the star base. Scrapping captured ship gave me zortium armor and I've started to rebuild even stronger defense. Few turns and one Antaran attack on Aldebaran later Sakkra ceased fire and gave me Sol system. On top of that I demanded peace with Trilarians which they refused. For the rest of the game I've tried to keep Trilarians alive but they were hopeless. I've parked my ships in Trilarian systems hoping to destroy incoming fleets but Sakkra's turn was processed before mine and attacked and bombard to oblivion my ally before I had chance to drive them off. I tried giving Trilarians technologies and money but no amount was enough to keep them safe from invasion so in ended up giving them Sol system where I've built every defense building. By the turn 300 I've stole adamantium armor from Sakkra and attacked Orion. Rewards I've got were xentorium armor, death ray, particle beam and reflection field. I hoped for damper field but no luck this time.

50 turns later with few hyper advanced upgrades I was confident enough to attack Antares. I've made some bad choices along the way, picked stealth suit over personal shield and energy absorber over megafluxers so my ships and marines were not as strong as they could have been. For a good measure I've compensated quality with quantity. Antaran ships fell quickly after being immobilized by tractor beams and raided. Only one of their cruisers survived the first turn. On the second turn whole battle was over, I lost only 3 out of 17 battle ships.

The design I ended up with was a battle ship with phasing cloack, subspace teleporter and two tractor beams and mauler devices. I haven't had space for more weapons and had to wait for 3rd hyper advanced physics to even get this much. That's why I regret not having megafluxers especially since I didn't even use energy absorbers. I could have gone with less defense, when star fortress got first opportunity to fire it has completely destroyed two of my ships so automated repair was useless and shields could have been omitted without losing too much survivability. Image above shows my ship design and Antaran's star fortress before being destroyed. Look at how much damage raiders made. Luckily security stations was destroyed early on so odds were not too bad, 90 vs 110 other equipment followed shortly but weapons where hard to dispose of. When damper field got destroyed it was an easy task to destroy the station with mauler devices. All in all I've got my taste of Bulrathi both in ground combat and space combat, I had opportunity to play with tractor beams but the game didn't last long enough for transporters to come into play. Shame the game got derailed in the middle and AI players managed to research so few technologies. I was looking forward to powered armor technology which adds one more hit point to ground troops and space marines but is in the same field as robo-miner plant - a must have midgame industrial building. Maybe it would have happened if I was willing to trade strategic technologies like planetary supercomputer and aforementioned robo-miner plant.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Master of Orion II: Alkari

See Master of Orion II: every race for introduction and links to games with other stock races.

So, I've decided to play Master of Orion II with stock races and first race on the list are Alkari. They are also literally first on the race list in game (which is incidentally sorted alphabetically) and I never actually played with similar race.

Alkari are one of the many races MoO II inherited from MoO I. They are birdlike creatures who excel at piloting ships and hate catlike Mrrshans. In MoO I they had +3 to ship defense (roughly +30% to evade beams and missiles) and 40% discount to propulsion technologies, meaning they could improve ship speed, range and evasion faster.

In MoO II they have "+50 ship defense" and "artifacts homeworld" perks and "dictatorship" government. Ship defense bonus is large, +50 points to beam evasion and hidden +25 to missile evasion. It's basically inertia stabilizer without turning speed improvement. The bonus is not very useful early on when everybody use missiles and you don't have more defensive technologies. It's also no help versus space monsters since most of them have weapons that always hit. Once you get equipment for competent beam ship, the bonus will help you a lot. Paired with ECM jammer and trained (regular crew) it yields 102 missile evasion vs normal missiles and 67 evasion vs ECCM missiles which translates to 9.5% and 32% chance to be hit with no scanner and 73% with neutron scanner. Add inertia stabilizer to the mix and chances fall down to 3.4%, 14% and 48% respectively. Not bad considering it's usually hard to evade missiles. Evading beams is much easier, with this bonus and inertia stabilizer all ships would have at least 140 beam evasion and small ships with veteran and elite crew would be over 200 making them impossible to hit with beams without serious dedication to accuracy which AI doesn't do. Artifacts homeworld perk is there to get you faster to the mid game. It gives +2 research points per scientist on the homeworld only, that's 8 extra points on turn 1. With it getting research laboratory tech takes 8-9 turns less, about 5 turns less to get automated factory and almost 20 turns less to get planetary supercomputer. Great time saver early on and extra time can be used to either maintain technological lead or expand. Dictatorship is default government type in MoO II, colonies has to have barracks to mitigate 20% morale penalty and spy defense is increased by +10 points. Advanced form of dictatorship, imperium removes "no barracks" penalty while keeping +20% morale bonus from barracks, raises spy defense bonus to +20 and most importantly increases command points by 50%. Command point bonus is big deal, depending on the stage of the game you'll be spending 60% - 80% of command points on ships protecting owned systems. 50% more command points means your attack fleet could be twice or four times larger without having to pay maintenance fee. And that is recurring theme in the Master of Orion II, almost nothing is plain.

My starting location was near the center of the map (see the galaxy map below, Altair is my homeworld but as MoO player you already know that :)) so I've found Orion system and made contact with other races very early. First race I've found were Klackons at the bottom left corner but due to absolutely no suitable unguarded planet to colonize near starting system I was weak economically and it took some time to establish trade agreement with them. Trading techs certainly helped there. What didn't help was failed attempt to kill space eel guarding Yifne system. There were two large planets with decent climate and one was ultra rich. For some reason I though interceptors are going to synergize well with defense bonus and attacked the eel with two destroyers, each with one interceptor squadron. The eels have plasma flux weapon (stronger version of pulsar, area of effect weapon, always hits) and lightning field special (50% chance to destroy incoming missiles, torpedoes and fighters) which made it really well defended against early weapons, especially interceptors. Fortunately both ships successfully retreated and since I haven't had economy to make a swarm of missile ships I've abandoned the campaign for the time being. So I've tried my luck at the other end of Urna wormhole and hit the jackpot. There was Oshi system with large arid planet. I've made an outpost at Urna system and escorted colony ship with one of carrier destroyers to Oshi. Oh boy, I had reasons for military escort, it was on the other side of the galaxy and near the Mrrshan homeworld. It was only matter of time before they attacked. But before that I've made contact with Humans and started trading shortly after. My economy was good, research was getting even faster and trade got me couple of interesting techs, fusion bomb, missile base, mass driver and deuterium fuel cells. That made me free to research other techs in the same fields, most importantly class I shields and tritanium armor. By that time I've researched planetary supercomputer and soil enrichment on my own. When Mrrshans attacked I still had interceptors on my destroyer defending Oshi. I managed to destroy most of attacking fleet except the last ship. Thing is this game likes to round down numbers, if a squadron of 4 fighter loses a single member, it won't relaunch after returning to carrier. Since I had only one squadron per carrier it meant the carrier was useless after interceptors returned. I lost Oshi to ground invasion but as it turned out it was only minor setback. I've refitted remaining destroyer with autofire lasers, built another one plus a troop ship and liberated Oshi with them. No buildings and population was harmed in the process so I could continue where I've left of. The moment I've showed up in their Derke system (I've built one more destroyer so I can defend Oshi and attack with two ships) they requested peace and gave me 10% tribute. I've accepted it, ordered my fleet to return and demanded fusion drive, a technology I've hoped to gain during the war. To my surprise they agreed.

Then for some reason Humans declared war on me. There were few skirmishes at Urna system, I've lost an outpost, they lost half a dozen destroyers and almost as much frigates, I attacked their colony but didn't have enough bombs to destroy fighter garrison, made even bigger fleet, sent it to Urna, they got scared, asked for peace, gave me tachyon communication technology and all was good. Klackons declared war on me too, somebody framed me for espionage. Truth, I had decent number of spies but I was sending them to steal from Humans during the war and was honorable to those I was at peace with. After losing two battleships at Oshi they didn't make any more attacks. The reason was Antaran intrusion, they repeatedly attacked their colonies and destroyed their economy. Finally there was some period of peace. That gave me time to make few extra warships, a colony ship, kill space eel and colonize sweet Yifne system. Then Antarans attacked me at Altair. It was intense battle, I had a star base, fighter garrison, missile base and radiation shield on the planet and four destroyers armed with two autofire mass drivers (tritanium armor, fusion drive, electronic computer, class I shield, battle pods, battle scanner, inertia stabilizer and ECM jammer). They had four frigates and two destroyers. I barely survived, as I was destroying them one by one they had less and less cannons to shoot down nuclear missiles from planet, I've lost all ships and the star base but they were good distraction (ship defense bonus helped a lot) while nukes were doing the real damage.

Guess who made an audience with me then. Mrrshans! They asked for 5% tribute, I said no and got myself another war. Reason for rejection this time was my economy relied on every penny because I've lost trade agreement with Humans and Klackons and I was really looking forward to build up new colonies. Mrrshans reasoning was that I was weak after Antaran attack because I lost two thirds of my fleet. What they didn't take into account was that my fleet was made of powerful destroyers. The thing with destroyers is they can be built anywhere (bigger ships require star base) and on well developed colony it only takes two turns to build one. War was usual one, they attacked Oshi, lost a battle, brooded for a while and asked for peace when I positioned my fleet for an attack. At least my spies stole the merculite missile tech in the process. There was peace again, much longer then the last time. I've researched terraforming and started to colonize all the barren planets in vicinity, Herschel system, smaller planet in already colonized systems and Weg system near Klackons. I also colonized radiated planet in Urna system, Humans for some reason took toxic one. Then Galactic Council elections started. At the first few elections Klackons and Humans were candidates but after Antarans decimated Klackons and I expanded a little, I was there against Humans. By that time I've seen enough of Alkari, rapid early research, almost impossible to hit ships and Mrrshan opinion of them so I've decided to end the game through Galactic Council if the opportunity presents it self. So I started advancing construction field all the way up to advanced city building technology and taking planet construction in the process. My economy was thriving, military was strong in both quantity and quality. I moved from mass drivers to neutron blasters, upgraded shields to class III and armor to zortium.

There was one last war, for some reason Humans felt strong enough to demand Oshi system. I turned them down, I don't like giving away colonies. I would amuse them if it was small system but Oshi was the best system in my empire (two large planets, one small ultra rich and one normal). I said no, nope, not a chance no matter how charismatic you are and they responded with war next turn. Their first attack was at Altair no less. Again I defeated them with smaller ships without losing any. I've tried to remove them from Urna with experimental cruisers that had shield capacitor instead of ECM jammer but planetary defenses bested them. Simultaneously they colonized the Rotan system in the nebula and blockaded Herschel system with a single frigate. Colony in the Herschel system had a missile base so it was safe from invasion but it still took 50% blockade penalty. I had only one destroyer to spare, others were patrolling in other systems or blockading Urna, and sent it to bomb Rotan. I managed to destroy all buildings but couldn't finish off the last unit of population in a single turn so I've sent the ship to defend Herschel. I've attacked a frigate "blockading" my system but it had leader with defense bonus which prevented me from destroying it fast enough and it retreated to Rotan. It was a game of a cat and a mouse. I've decided to go offensive and attacked Rotan again while Human frigate came back to blockade Herschel. It took me three turns to finish off the Human colony in Rotan but when it was done, frigate didn't have enough fuel range any more to maintain the blockade and was forced to retreat. Other Human colonies fell soon afterwards, I've built another batch of cruisers (with ECM jammer this time), bombed Urna, bombed Elcorno and moved toward Sol, Human homeworld. When they saw the fleet, Humans offered hyperspace communication and asked for peace. I accepted.

I continued to arm myself expecting another war, building cruisers and upgrading them, swapped neutron blasters for graviton beams, fusion bombs with antimater ones, upgraded shields to class V and added hard shields in case of Antarans. In the mean time I expanded myself in the nebula colonizing Rotan and Grus and worked to improve relationship with other races. Klackons were still angry with me for espionage I have not done but eventually they accepted a non-aggression pact which improved relation enough to establish trade and research agreements which in turn improved relations even more. Mrrshans were a bit more agreeable to trade with me. Few elections passed and everyone voted for Humans. Since they together had less votes then me alone, no leader was elected. My fleet grew large and powerful enough to consider conquering Orion system. As I was refitting my older cruisers and preparing colony ship, Antarans appeared on the map, two cruisers 5 turns away from Altair. Not a big threat but nice opportunity to get some endgame techologies. I postponed my Orion campaign and started to build "assimilator" ships, battleships armed with assault shuttles and limited defenses, designed to capture ships. I calculated there would be three assimiltors when Antarans attack but then suddenly I won the game, two turns before battle with Antarans. There was Galactic Councile election and Klackons voted for me, though I think I would have won election anyway at that point.

Yeah I won! Still I was curious how many Antaran ships I could have captured and which technologies I would get from them and Orion. Loaded game few turns prior victory, refused to vote in Galactic Council, fought Antarans and successfully captured one cruiser, other self-destructed on capture. Scraping Antaran ship gave me particle beam and neutron bomb technologies. Then I've sent 10 cruisers to attack Guardian and won losing 4 ships. Orion gave me death rey, xentorium armor, reflection field and spatial compressor technologies.

All in on all it was a great game, challenging starting position, good AI interaction, interesting battles, nothing got too broken. And Alkari have demonstarted their strengths and weaknesses.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Master of Orion II: every race

Master of Orion II is an old game and I'm still playing it. It can thank it's longevity to the deep race customization and the research system that makes a player choose one path over the other. At first I was mainly playing it with "creative" race (gets all two or three technologies when advancing a field instead of only one) variations and occasionally with non-creative race (but not "uncreative") to try out some more powerful but risky combinations. Few years back I've played around various gimmicks, diplomacy, espionage, ground combat, missiles only, small ships only, etc.

Reading about stock races in both MoO I and II (mostly comments how they suck in multiplayer and how some races are plain weak) I've realized I haven't played most of them. I've played stock Psilons, Silicoids and maybe Humans on one of my first few runs. Psilons are only stock race with "creative" perk which makes them a great race for learning the game and OK choice for higher difficulty levels. After learning the game mechanics I, like most people, had tendency to play with custom races that were "creative" but had other perks different from Psilons. Problem is "creative" gives false sense of power, yes you have all the toys at disposal but wisdom in choosing technologies and little espionage can make you equally versatile and some other perk instead of "creative" can make your race expand and develop faster. There are many interesting combinations without "creative" perk. Stock Silicoids are one of them, they don't eat and don't care about environment, meaning they have roughly twice more research and industry points at the beginning then other races and can immediately exploit hostile large and/or rich planets. With a little customization say replacing slow population growth with some other negative perk could make even more powerful race.

Finding a right trait combination is practically mandatory on the highest difficulty single player and doubly so in multiplayer. Stock races are simply outclassed there. So I figured if I want to play a normal stock race I could set other settings to "normal". Not every game has to be 8 player huge map on impossible difficulty. In fact higher difficulty levels break empire interaction. Wars happen more often, if you play custom race with "repulsive" perk (no diplomacy beyond declare war but can pick more positive perks) you'll be declaring wars on sight. And there is flawed AI power estimation making it to either attack you thinking you are weak for favoring ship quality over quantity or to declare war on you because you've expanded more then they did. On average difficulty AI is much better at role playing and my first game in this series was really interesting. Below will be links to posts about the game with each race: