“Talon Tuesdays” is an article series appearing on InsideGMT periodically on Tuesdays. It features articles from the Talon development team regarding the game’s design, development and upcoming release of the Talon 1000 expansion. Since Space Empires:4x Replicators is also releasing soon and there is crossover between the two development teams, Replicator articles will be featured as well.
Issue #37: Talon Solitaire Part 1
As a team, we are really pleased to offer a strong and enjoyable solitaire system for Talon. The solitaire game mode will be part of Talon 1000 – an expansion that is set to ship in the 2nd quarter of this year. This article series explains how we crafted the solitaire system and how it works.
The biggest barrier to solitaire play in Talon is that, if you are controlling two fleets, there are waaaaayyyy too many decisions. This makes for a good “in person” game, but a difficult solitaire game. Should I spend that Available Power on weapons or on movement, etc.? All of these decisions are dependent on the exact board position. A ship being one space different or turned 60 degrees could turn what would have been a good AI decision into a bad one. This is a problem for two reasons:
- These decisions make the AI more and more complex. There are too many things to have to consider.
- Solitaire players do not want to spend a lot of time managing the solitaire AI (I mean, I wouldn’t). They want the AI to be quick and easy to manage so that they can focus on their own play.
The breakthrough to make solitaire play a reality was realizing that many of the decisions in the game could be removed from the AI (while leaving them for the player)….and that we already had the point system to account for it. This led to the creation of an AI empire. It is a faction of ships designed to remove decisions and yet match the player ships in terms of ship point cost equality. This empire is not only controlled by an AI in battles, but it is an actual AI empire that is independent from the Terran Confederation and the Talon Empire. It skirmishes with and is a thorn in the side of everyone.
Two new ship weapons are used by the AI. One has a shorter range and recharges quicker (Laser) and one has a longer range and recharges slower (Cobalt Cannon). There are four important points about these weapons:
- They only have red recharge boxes. This eliminates the need to decide when to allocate Available Power to recharging. They charge only in the Power Phase.
- As long as they are within range, they do the same damage regardless of their distance. This eliminates complicated AI decisions on the ideal range to fire (depending on what weapons were available fleet-wide).
- All the weapon mounts are always 3 arcs. This is expensive in Ship Points for the AI ships, but means greatly simplified AI movement protocols.
- Each weapon is in its own group.
AI ships do NOT get Available Power. They have no need for it to recharge their weapons as their weapons only have red charge boxes, but this also means that they are not allowed to move the Turn Radius marker, reinforce shields, or change Initiative. Removal of these options streamlines decision-making. However, this also allowed us to lower their ship cost by decreasing their overall Power rating- their ships have zero Available Power at a speed of 4. In effect, the cost of all the AI weapons went up because they did not have any yellow charge boxes, but the cost was partially reduced with the removal of power.
This trade off does reduce the flexibility that a player would enjoy having when skillfully deploying his Talon or Terran fleet, but that flexibility is just a hindrance to a solitaire bot because it greatly complicates and slows down playing the AI.
This brings us to the Power Curve. Instead of a normal Power Curve, each AI ship has a default speed of 4. A bunch of things about this:
- This removes the hardest part of the AI process – selecting a power curve for the duration of a Round.
- By having most of the ships move at the same speed, it makes maneuvering easier.
- A default speed of 4 puts pressure on the human player.
- All the ships have the same Turn Radius of 1. At that speed, the AI DD did not have to pay ship points for a good turn mode (like Talon ships usually do), the AI CL had to pay for one improved turn mode and the AI BB had to pay ship points for 3 improved turn mode (in the point system). Having the same Turn Radius makes it easier for the AI ships so maneuver together.
- The Turn Radius of 1 is important because the AI will not be able to spend AP to bring the Turn Radius marker in. If their Turn Radius was higher and they could not manipulate the Turn Radius marker, they could be out maneuvered too easily by the human player.
- There are times, however, either because of damage or, in rare instances, because of an AI decision, that an AI ship will move at a Speed of 3. At that speed, the ships get a Turn Mode of 0. In effect, the AI ships usually have a Power Curve of 0-4-1, but sometimes they will have a Power Curve of 0-3-0.
These three things, working in concert, removed a massive amount of AI decisions and greatly simplified the bot so that the solitaire player was not burdened by an overly complicated decision tree every impulse. It was at this point that we were once again thankful for the point system. We spent over a year developing it and delayed the release of the base game to get it right, but it once again proved its worth. Right out of the chute, the AI ships performed exactly like we expected them to and are exactly as we first designed them.
This gave us the base, and next time I’ll talk about what we did with it. I’ll explain the key parts of the AI decision making and the abilities we gave them to make them even more challenging.