OK, I finally think that I've managed to put the current beta completely through its bases, every race, many different galaxy settings, etc. I have a lot of questions, and some observations. I am just one playtester... so if other playtesters want to chime and agree/disagree, by all means. I also don't mean to be a member of the "overly vocal hardcore" gamer that can unduly influence development. I'm sure you have fine in-house play testing as well, of course take my observations with a grain of salt:
1. Tournaments. I like the Tournament a lot, although I've found one exploit which I never used for a legal submission. I've also never had anyone knock me out of the top two spots yet... still waiting for someone to take on the challenge
The Questions: When is a tournament finished? Do you post results? Will the Highscores in the metaverse only track the current tournament that is running? Is the one mission that is uploaded "The Tournament" or are there a series of tournaments planned? Will it be possible to submit tournament setups to Stardock for possible implementation, especially now that we have map editors so we can send you the whole package? I notice these don't "count" as metaverse games in any way. Is that because it is in beta, or is that planned functionality?
The Exploit: You can get around the tournament settings very easily and create a galaxy with your last saved sandbox settings save map size. You do this by starting a tournament game, playing for a few turns (seemed to take me about 5-10 turns for this to work), and THEN you Ctrl-N. If you Ctrl-N at the start of a tournament, a new tournament correctly loads with everything in place, just starting tiles reset. By hitting Ctrl-N after playing for a while, I was able to get a medium galaxy with a different tech speed, and about 180 planets on a randomly generated map. I did NOT submit this game as one of my tournament submissions, as it was an obvious bug, but you should know about it. I saved the game after using the Ctrl-N, and the save files are tagged as "Rock and a Hard Place", even though they bear no resemblence save medium size maps to the actual Rock and Hard place tournament. If you need a save file or any more information to help close this exploit, please let me know.
Observations: What did you change with scoring? For some reason all of my old standby scoring tricks, while working in sandbox games, fall completely flat in the new tournament mode. Is this intentional? Is there a bug? I built up systems and ship piles that would easily put my score in the 150k range playing on DA, and came away with barely 40k in points. Either I just don't know how to play for score (a distinct possibility) or it really seems like you changed the scoring method for tournaments.
Changing the scoring method is a good thing, because it is something new to learn, and it DOES stop old exploits (assuming that is what I was seeing). If the scoring rules are different, it also is a good decision to keep these games out of official metaverse stats. If you DIDN'T change the scoring formula for tournaments, I really, really need to figure out how almost identical setups are experiencing such a huge score swing in this one mission.
2. Right of Passage Treaty. I don't see these, and haven't heard anything on them in quite some time. Were they abandoned? Have they just not been implemented yet? I know Cari had an alternative idea, but it seemed her idea came with even more problems, especially when planets for several factions mix in a system and wars start being declared. Not that I will mind using my influence to strip AI worlds of their defenders on war declarations... which is what I currently do with the UP neutral ground vote.
3. Tech Trees. Wow, this is an absolutely fantastic addition to the game, and adds a whole new level. I can't say enough about how excited I have been playing with each new race and testing out the new trees. It is not a system without problems, however. I debated whether I should take the time to give feedback on strengths and weaknesses of each race (Terrans are perfect, and serve as a great measuring tool against each other race), but thought if I wrote all that it would take a lot of time and probably no one would ever read it. Instead, here are some broad... quirks of the current tech trees that stand out:
- obviously, some of the techs are not finished, and so can't yet be tested.
- Some techs are in, but appear to the untrained eye to be implemented wrong. A super project that gives +2% to soldiering? Shouldn't that be +20%. I thought about listing every tech... but again I don't know how much you (Stardock) know of these issues yourself, and I don't want to waste anyone's time. Some I expected to just be fixed in future patches which haven't come yet, and some I can't tell if they are by design or not (Korx +2% war profiteering project. It is too small to matter in my games, but perhaps 2% is all that was intended?)
- Balance. I KNOW this is going to be an issue, and probably one that shouldn't be raised. Still, one area where it really seems to come out is in the area of alignment. Some of those new alignment techs are sexy... but there is no telling BEFORE you make your alignment choice what sorts of techs you will have access to. If you read the fluff you know Altarians are good angel/elf like creatures, but if you just start up a game from scratch and go through the screens there is really no warning that going evil will get you no bonus techs... just for them. The ethical alignment screen gives a list of the generic bonuses that you can expect from each race, and neutral special techs have always had a history of being harder to track down... but sometimes its just ridiculous with so many races and hidden techs for each choice. Also, every race that still has access to the Mind Control Center (I know, you are probably sick of hearing about this contentious/popular building) is just plain better by midgame because of the extra money. An actual list of the techs/projects opened up when making your ethical choice would really help in this area, plus it will help for testing because we will know every tech we should go and pick up to see how much of a difference it makes.
Also, some races really have problems on certain settings with their new weaknesses, and I'm not sure what the best solution is to tackle the problem. Any race that depends on economy techs (more than half of them now) are really hurt by slow tech settings. Some races (Thalans) have problems on the hardest difficulty levels because they get out of the gate too slowly. Races with low populations on worlds but with no soldiering/tax bonuses in their tech tree to make up for that deficiency is a double whamy. The loss of many morale buildings to races I haven't noticed, but the loss of morale BONUSES in the tech trees is a massive hit, and has made morale resources very, very important now.
- Military Starbases. I guess I just don't understand the decision to have EVERY race have starbase projection techs come after the full line of starbase defense techs. It has never been this way, and maybe I just need to adjust. The problem with this change is that it forces you to get the very, very powerful early game starbase enhancements before you can add +1 to the beam damage of your fighters, and then it is just so tempting to make early game death traps. When you can easily get +50 in every stat on one satellite for the cost of a few constructors... well you just need one starbase to win an early war because the AI will send pointless wave after wave at your juggernauts. Now by mid game starbases are not a problem, but why make +80/+80/+80 starbases available before you can add a +1 to defense or attack? For everyone? As a side note, I really wish the AI would just evaluate the military capability of a starbase, and IGNORE ones that seem too well defended. That's what I do as a player. Is knocking out one starbase ever worth losing half your military? Again, this is only a problem early game, but it does feel like an exploit/problem.
- Speed. Now, I love speed. The hardest thing to adjust to in DA was the real lack of speed. But its back in a big way, only the problem is only I seem to take advantage of it. There are now tons of techs, most of which are unique, that add +1 speed. Problem is almost every single one is tradeable. You can get (at least) a natural +15 speed boosts to ships at this point, and that just seems outlandish. Why do the arceans, which NEED their +1 speed boost tech, immediately go back to being at a disadvantage by being willing to trade it to everyone? Now, with many many races losing access to gravity accelerators at first I thought this was a decent trade off. But with tech trading on I consistently get to stupidly high speed bonuses, and it feels like an exploit. Also, the terran and altarian speed bonuses display wrong on the abilities screen. They show up as a +10, where as spending 5 or 8 points for +1 or +2 speed still shows up as +1 or +2, so I often play Altarians with +12 speed (as displayed, actually +3).
- Combat Modules. The new combat modules are great, and really let you design some much better fleets. My oh my, but the AI does not do this right. Perhaps this is coming in a future update... but I tested several games against the new Drengin which reportedly got updated, and saw the same problems. First, the Tulon module. Something that is large and adds a bonus to the whole fleet is great. You should have one ship (and ONLY one ship) per fleet later game with one of these. But the AI never seems to use them... they are never showing up on my intelligence reports for AI ships. I tried to just give the techs to AIs, seeing as they don't seem to research it, and still did not see them using the module. In a fleet of 5 huge hulls, being able to add 20% attack to the whole fleet with one module is well worth it. The AI should use this.
But really special mention must be made of +HP modules. These are my new favorite babies, costs be damned. Yes they are expensive. They also add a whole new level. Does the AI know how to use them? My absolute favorite is +hp modules on cargo hulls, especially those early game survey cargo hulls which now I can actually upgrade to something useful. I really, REALLY don't want you to remove the ability for cargo hulls to take +hp modules. But... and there is a but, cargo hulls with +hp modules give you early game medium fighters with much less research at the tradeoff of higher cost. See my more detailed analysis here: http://forums.galciv2.com/?forumid=251&aid=177693
The AI really, REALLY needs to start building this chimera cargo hull/medium fighters for early wars.
4. The Economy. This issue probably is the one that I am the most conflicted about. I LOVE the new lack of money. Suddenly, rather than having to worry about being beaten by the AI, a few mistakes and I run into an endless death spiral of debt. It keeps me on my toes, its a new challenge. It slows down the colony rush. I can now witness the AIs economy crashing repeatedly instead of just once like they used to, giving me more windows of prime opportunity to strike. For me it is fun.
But it is hard, and what is fun for me is not fun for everyone. I don't mean to be paternalistic, but what exactly is your expeceted audience for this game? The reason I ask is that for new players that start up a game on "simple", to lose because you overcolonized and never stop spiraling in debt as you stop being able to produce or research and your people just get mad at you... well that is not fun for a newer player. If you are only really expecting vetrans to get this last expansion, the current set up is fine. But if you expect to expand your base with a final pack of this, the early game money situation is just punishing if you are learning the game.
This is only exacerbated by some of the new tech trees. Some races (Iconians come to mind, but they are by no means the only ones) absolutely MUST focus exclusively on economy techs to start out or they can never afford to colonize a fourth world. This is especially true on very slow tech settings on a large galaxy, where upkeep costs for your buildings don't change, and morale bonuses vs. tax doesn't change, but suddenly your tech rate changes a lot. I know, I know, how many begginers are going to buy your game, decide to start a sandbox game, choose easy AIs, a huge galaxy and a slow tech rate? Maybe not a lot, but I can't explain it, I just have an instinct that this change will turn away new players. Maybe I'm just being condesending and I'm wrong.
But what to do? Again, I love the new money set up, and for me its not a problem to realize when I pick a race, glance over its abilities, to realize "oh, with these guys its gotta be economy first". I don't really want to suggest changing how money works on different difficulty levels, I like that most things about RUNNING your empire stay the same across the different difficulties. The problem, if it is a problem, as I see it is that the new money system is hard to deal with if you are not very familiar with the games economy... and BEING hard it punishes people at every level turning away casual gamers, especially those who just want to "try" the game and set up an easy game and build an empire.
Not a problem if only your hardened vetrans pick up the expansion. Perhaps expansions don't attract new customers, and the tail of this project as a whole is such that you can make an expansion just for top level people. Hey, MMOs release those sorts of expansions all the time.
5. resources. This is kind of a small thing, but all of my resource objects have dissappeared from my TA game, and I can't seem to get them back on the map no matter what I do. This makes them hard to find, and I have to click on the fuzzy, glowing light to find out what each resource is... Are they supposed to be missing? Did I get an option set wrong in the expansion? Can I turn those models back on?
6. Sometimes it seems like building techs you capture through invasion overwrite the buildings you can already build... and sometimes this is a problem because the new buildings are worse. I've only really experienced this with industry creating buildings.
7. Trade oddities as well. Why is the arena of agony almost impossible to trade for, but the much better slaughterhouses easy to get? Is this a mistake or by design? Sometimes picking up a tech that displays as having a native bonus doesn't seem to grant that bonus once attained through trade. This seems (annoyingly) espeicially prevelant in a lot of the new +soldiering techs and +economy techs. I still get the new buildings to build, just not the native bonuses.
Oh, gosh, I was going to write more, but I have to get ready for work. Well, hopefully this thread is just the beginning, if the other beta testers can just add their feedback and quirks to this, you should have a much fuller list soon.
Just trying to help, its a great expansion,