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RoN's Single Player Experience: Promising!

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  • RoN's Single Player Experience: Promising!

    Having run the game through its paces for the past few days, I've finally begun to poke and prod the single player experience enough to come to some initial conclusions regarding the AI. I have to say that I am *very* impressed in certain ways.

    I was also quite concerned that RoN's creators would leave the single player experience on the backburner and focus on multiplayer. I'm happy to say that this concern was off-base and that Big Huge Games has done a superb job in remembering that not all of us have the time and/or resources to play on-line.

    First is the Conquer the World (CtW) campaign, which you've probably heard is something like a game of risk with RTS battles for chunks of territory. While many will be disappointed that your armies do not carry over from battle to battle, this was done to ensure that you couldn't simply mass an uber army and wipe out the map without challenge.

    CtW is a novel and clever device to give the single player a story of sorts (but not a scripted one) to keep interest high. I must say that it is quite satisfying to take over your bits of territory, to have sneak attacks launched against you, to have alliances form with/against you, to win and put into play the bonus cards earned throughout the game, etc.

    I do think, though, that RoN's AI is not in full form in battles that don't feature the ability to build an empire completely. That is, particularly in the early battles of CtW, you and the AI are limited in the number of troops and techs, etc. I found that this favors the player since there is a lot more chance to focus on keeping troops safe and generally wearing the comp. down. But at any rate, CtW is simply the coolest 'plot device' I've seen for an RTS without getting into some long drama about the Protoss and the Zerg (which was fantastic, mind you, but over scripted).

    But it's the Quick Battle option where RoN really begins to shine! First, you can customize virtually everything from available techs to what kinds of diplomacy is/isn't allowed in-game. The options screen truly makes it clear that the folks at BHG wanted the player to craft precisely the challenge he or she is seeking. Some people are critical, though, of the population cap at 200-250. Frankly, most systems can't play well much beyond that, particularly if there are more than two players at a time. Further, much of the finessing that makes RoN so fun would be thrown out the window if you had 1000 units running around. Mods, however, are already on the scene to allow you to set this even to infinite, if you want.

    But here's what really struck me: the computer last night beat me on Moderate (no added AI bonuses) difficulty! Now I don't just mean barely beat me because it had some lucky access to resources or something ... No, I mean completely pounded me! I think I almost teared up watching what the AI did.

    This was a land map (not sure which because I had options set to 'random land') that featured some sparse forests, a small pond in the middle, and perhaps 4 resources (before oil) spread evenly. I did my normal 'boom' by bringing out as many villies early to setup a solid econ base. Things were going well.

    I grew disappointed, though, when the comp. never attacked for the first several minutes. "Well," I thought, "I guess I'll just do the usual build up of troops and begin the massacre." Honestly, I was coming to the conclusion that RoN's single player experience was to be a flat one.

    Wrong.

    I had a small army guarding a resource in the center of the map (I needed this resource in a bad way since there's no other way to get gold without selling some of your other resources!). My artillery was taking pot-shots at the AI's most forward-built city. Easy, I thought. Not unlike all the other easy victories one normally has against RTS AIs.

    Then the AI attacked ... but not at my army in the center the map: at my capital!!! "What the hell?!" I couldn't figure out if this was lunacy or genius. Blind chance? At any rate, this had the effect of drawing me from my carefully staged battle point. In most RTSs, the comp is drawn pretty easily to fight you where you want to be fought. This turn of events really had me thinking...

    While I repelled that first attack, the AI then had time to rebuild that forward-built city and begin pushing back on my strong position in the center of the map. Now the *AI* was lobbing artillery shells on *my* forward position! Of course, I was worried to leave my capital open to attack, so I split my forces, built up some towers there and effectively found myself fighting a two-front war against a single AI. Geez. That had never happened to me before...

    Things only got worse for me from here. The AI had out-aged me and was apparently out-producing me as well. He soon had planes straffing me long before I even had access to the techs to do the same to him. In panic, I research enough to get some anti-air units in play, but it seemed too little too late as the AI carefully (maddingly so) rolled in a very nicely mixed army of tanks, infantry, artillery, etc. Yes, a nicely mixed army. From the AI.

    At least, I thought, I had brought the AI back to my kill zone in the center of the map. I was sure that he'd wear himself out in a war of attrition doing stupid things like sending infantry against towers of death.

    Wrong again.

    The AI himself had split his army and was now attacking me at both my capital and at my position in the center of the map. It honestly felt like a 2v1! His attacks on my capital were never very serious, but they included enough artillery hitting my city that I couldn't just ignore it. This had the effect of spreading my resources and ability to react beyond normal limits against an AI player.

    I suppose I realized the beginning of the end when my towers started to fall in the center of the map. First one tower then another. I called up some villies to rebuild, of course, but by now helicopters were straffing me, and I had no chance to keep the outer edge of my forward-position viable. I fell back again to make a second kill-zone. Unfortunately (well, wonderfully!) I was the one doing most of the dying.

    You see, the loss of my towers was followed by the loss of my two forward fortresses. The AI was simply relentless in rolling in tanks and infantry, all the while now bombing me overhead. This caused one of the most beautiful things I've experience in an RTS: my borders pushed BACKWARD! I was running out of real estate. And that computer city in the center of the map I had been shooting at earlier now seemed about 100 miles away as I repeatedly fell back to regroup.

    I can't really say what the nail in my coffin was: perhaps the AI cranking up the pressure on both fronts? Perhaps the mix of AI troops that kept me from simply wiping him out with some simple flood of cheap troops of my own? Perhaps it was his out-producing me?

    Not sure, but I think the 3 nukes had something to do with it! Yep, once the "Nuclear missile luanch detected" message came up, I just started to smile. I had been beaten like a diseased dog. In slow succession, 3 of my 4 cities went up in smoke ... literally. All farms there evaporated and the cities were open to being overtaken by AI infantry.

    With borders collapsing on me, with my resources dwindling, and with no access to key money-making trade routes, my death was sealed. I watched as my capital began to fall. Only the computer's territory victory kept me from seeing my capital city become his own.

    Stunning. I've played at good deal of RTS games and never had something like this happen ON MODERATE LEVEL! The computer had no advantages on me besides truly outstanding programming.

    Now, let me just poke at some of the AI's weaknesses I saw: it seemed *too* careful against me by not comitting to a complete assault deep in my territory when it could have knocked me out much sooner. It also didn't ever really do any serious raiding. If it had added some more raiding on my resource villies in addition to this two-front war, I really would have been frantic. In the AI's defense, though, I see the point: it didn't want to fall into any traps. It was outproducing me and could afford to play the waiting game. In fact, I almost felt like it was using some of my favorite strategies against me! Moreso, I felt like I was playing Brian Reynolds.

    I also didn't ever put the kind of serious pressure on the AI that I know I'll be capable of once I learn the game better. I was convinced that I could sit back, build up and attack. Wow, no. While I'll need to see what happens when I put more pressure on the AI early, I can say that without a doubt this AI will take advantage of a build up opportunity and put the hurt on you. This, also, I haven't seen much of in other games in which the AI typically had one good attack launched against you, and if you absorb it, you win. Here, the AI poked and prodded me, nibbling at my edges but keeping his growing force always safe enough so that I couldn't just mow and roll.

    I suspect, of course, once I get better at hitting the AI hard in the early game that I'll win on moderate with general certainty. But the very fact that I *have* to play this well against the AI in order to win is outstanding!

    Finally, I watched the recorded game from the AI's view ... and what I saw was superb: the AI never let his resources lay unused in the bank. It was *always* building, upgrading, researching, etc. The only time I ever saw any of its resources go above 200 was when it was getting ready to advance an age. This is precisely how the top RTS players do it! They beat you by maximally efficient use of resources, and this AI does this.

    Not only that: the AI out-boomed me!!! Christ. Humiliating.

    I can't really say if the AI's build order changes according to the unfolding battle or if it is following a build script, but even if it's just following a script, it's a highly optimized one. Now if this build order changes on the fly depending on what you are doing, I'll be floored.

    DISCLAIMER:

    I do not want to overstate the case here because it's easy to be impressed when an AI beats you like this when, in fact, you are still learning the game. As I noted, I think my loss was due as much to my bad play as it was to the AI's good play.

    Then again, I'm an experienced player, and I certainly am no slouch (most days) in these types of RTS games. So let's call this a wake up call. The AI face slapped me with style last night, and now I realize I'd better bring much better stuff tonight to get some revenge...

    -=YIN=-
    Last edited by yin26; May 21, 2003, 08:50.
    I've been on these boards for a long time and I still don't know what to think when it comes to you -- FrantzX, December 21, 2001

    "Yin": Your friendly, neighborhood negative cosmic force.

  • #2
    Excellent AAR Yin! I can't believe you were attacked on 2 fronts from a single AI nation. This is certainly good news as far as challenging gameplay is concerned.

    Between the AI in Galciv and hopefully the AI in RoN this will be one busy summer! These two games are beacons of hope in an age when the average computer game leaves a lot to be desired.

    Let us know how you do tonight.
    signature not visible until patch comes out.

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    • #3
      Man, playing the demo i was amazed as hell when the enemy brought in seige + mixed units EVERY TIME on his attack. He brought an ARMY. Not just 3 units, not just infantry, an ARMY on every attack. He let the seige attack and sat back to defend it insted of blindly sending infantry in. He attacked fortresses insted of simply ignoring them and running through them.

      It really is good AI, and the only way to garentee a win is to rush it, the AI isn't good at defending a rush it seems.
      "I just nuked some poor bastard still in the Enlightenment age. that radioactive mushroom cloud sure enlightened his ass."
      - UberKruX

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      • #4
        Well I have found this to be the case as well. Usually to win against the AI i have to attack early to win. Other wise if I dont attack early and let the AI build up I usually lose.
        Donate to the American Red Cross.
        Computer Science or Engineering Student? Compete in the Microsoft Imagine Cup today!.

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        • #5
          BHG RULES
          be free

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          • #6
            The one thing I noticed you did, that I've learned never to do in a cold war against the AI (where no shots have been fired yet), is to NOT attack a city unless I got the balls to go to the walls. It's sorta like poking a stick in a hornets' nest... seems lika a trigger one can almost take advantage of. I've had borders against AI's secure without shots fired (practically demilitarized zones) for long stretches of times until some barkrafter in the tower decides he CAN hit those knickers off the clothes drying line from where he's at and tries...

            Then all hell breaks loose.

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            • #7
              Good point. I can say that a) I hope the AI doesn't stay too careful in that regard ... it really should attack at certain points in the game before the human catches up and b) in other RTSs of this sort, I would typically draw out the AI into kill zones this way. But with RoN, the AI didn't seem to so blindly go to Spot X to die stupidly.

              I can't wait to test this observation some more!
              I've been on these boards for a long time and I still don't know what to think when it comes to you -- FrantzX, December 21, 2001

              "Yin": Your friendly, neighborhood negative cosmic force.

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              • #8
                yin - you ever play SMG? some of your comments put me in mind of Brians earlier RTS.

                (im not a very good RTS player, so i dont know if me being whupped by the AI in SMG means much)
                "A person cannot approach the divine by reaching beyond the human. To become human, is what this individual person, has been created for. Martin Buber

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                • #9
                  FYI the "Moderate" level is actually not the highest of the AI-doesn't-cheat levels--for that you want "Tough" level. At Moderate level the AI, believe it or not, pulls some of its punches in terms of aggressiveness which may account for some of the "being too careful" that you noticed. "Tough" is specced as the level at which the AI plays its "best game" without cheating.

                  At Tougher & Toughest level the AI does actually get a resource & unit-speed advantage (kind of like giving a skill handicap to a human player in multiplayer) so watch out!

                  Mucho credit for the coolness of the AI has to go to our AI specialist, Pranas Pauliukonis (aka "Pancake") who in particular worked on the "Army" code that makes the AI manage his forces as armies rather than as trickles-of-guys.

                  The AI briefly uses one of several "scripts" in the Ancient Age to get itself started on the right foot (which script depends on its boom/rush preference), then by early Classical switches to an unscripted strategic AI that responds to (a) the map situation, (b) the "personality" of the AI and (c) what the player does. Of course on the easy level it "responds" by trying to do the wrong thing :-) (e.g. "look he's got an army of archers, let me get started on some pikemen!")

                  Have fun!

                  Brian

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                  • #10
                    HOLY DEAR GOD! On-the-fly AI and a 'no cheat' level above Moderate.

                    It's official: I suck at RTS!
                    I've been on these boards for a long time and I still don't know what to think when it comes to you -- FrantzX, December 21, 2001

                    "Yin": Your friendly, neighborhood negative cosmic force.

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                    • #11
                      Wow, thanks for dropping by, Brian. It's indeed a most impressive account that Yin wrote, and I find myself in agreement. If you put the AI above easy, it attacks, and does so well.

                      Can you confirm if the AI gets or not bonuses such as seeing cloaked units without scouts, knowing precise locations of missile silos, and such? I assume not, but just checking...
                      Solver, WePlayCiv Co-Administrator
                      Contact: solver-at-weplayciv-dot-com
                      I can kill you whenever I please... but not today. - The Cigarette Smoking Man

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                      • #12
                        I've just started playing tough and it is certainly not easy. The AI builds some huge armies. You'd better have some defense ready. I lost to a wonder victory. The nukes were flying too. 2 nukes from armageddon.

                        Is there a way to save the replay so others can watch it?

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                        • #13
                          Solver-- you're correct, no special bonuses. If I'm not mistaken I think even the pathfinder doesn't look under hidden terrain.

                          Brian

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                          • #14
                            Yeah I just got my ass handed to me on moderate by the AI, attacking on Two fronts sometimes 3 with a diversionary force, nuking my ass back to the stone age, and whatnot- what a BLAST! I went for the Armaggedon "win," and put a stop to his wonder timer (+23 points mind you!) at 2 minutes... I cna't believe how FUN it was to lose three cities of 11 and slowly gain them back all the while knowing it was fruitless and I would not ultimately win... taking wonders, destroying them, sending in spies... maintaining THREE FRONTS and a paramilitary force on the fourth!

                            OMG that ROCKED!

                            In fact the Ai was so intense at times I had TWO nations under my heal whenthe allied Russians (only ones allowed to ally in my game) came knocking on my door.... I had NO time to finish off the Chinese and Mayans at ALL! Apperantly I gave as good as I got because the French were stuck back in the Gunpowder age when the AI was at information age! Very quaint little village they had in their little corner, fending off flamethrower dudes with their arquis... Bombers flying overhead... LOL

                            YEAH!!!!!!!!!!

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                            • #15
                              Yup- I've been playing on Tough and loving it! Its a great challenge to casual veteran RTSers, and there's still 2 more levels above that!

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