Too much to quote, but I'll comment a bit before giving my news.
I did fix Spore Weapons for v3.0 (yup, it's official.) I set the AIV to 10 and it works perfectly.
I also confirm giving the Altarians the normal ethics techs. Throughout my playtesting I've never had cause to second-guess it. The Thalans on the other hand, don't need them at all. They get a slew of special techs no matter which alignment they choose and they are monsters besides. It's only in my final round of testing that any of the other races can really keep up with them, which happens to be the subject of my post.
In my final tests I've been bothered by gross under-performaning by the Arceans and Iconians. The Iconians can sometimes do pretty well if left alone long enough, but develop way too slow and usually get steamrolled before they can recover. The Arceans, on the other hand, are perpetually pitiful, miserable, pathetic, etc. I've been trying to fix them by tweaking things here and there, but finally decided that drastic action was necessary.
I've learned that there are a few major things to look for when optimizing a race. First and foremost is simply making sure they research in a halfway decent manner. After that it gets considerably more subtle. The Iconians and Arceans make nice examples.
With the Iconians, I put a lot of work into getting them to research their unique techs, but they never manage to balance their research and especially lag on weapons. The problem is that their TechTree branches way too early. They start the game with access to their major culture, manufacturing, and research branches along with their unique miniaturization and hull techs. Their economic techs are also in a wonky place, after Universal Translator. After resisting the whole way, I finally had to make their TechTree look more like the others. Culture techs after Universal Translator, miniaturization and hulls after Interstellar Construction. I gave them Planetary Improvements like most of the other races and had the manufacturing, research, and economic techs follow that.
Playtest 1 - Bam. From terminally slow off the blocks to solid performer. Too many choices too early is simply too hard to balance. A few major lines of research ensures that all the basics get hit before going off on a tangent.
The Arceans are another problem. They lag terribly in economy, military, and every other aspect. I've always been leery of their Navigation techs, but that's just part of the problem. Their major problem is having too many must-build improvements. They have Navigation Centers, Weather Control Zeniths, and Space Cannons. The problem is two fold: they're not researching basic techs well enough and they're having trouble building up their planets.
Two problems, two solutions.
For the techs, I first reduced the Cost and AIValue of Navigation Centers and Subspace Drive. I always thought getting those two early would be a plus, but the cost is just too high. Next, I changed Xeno Engineering from Logistics ID to Industry ID. Don't know why it was like that in their TechTree, but it throws off their research. Finally, I moved Planetary Fortification and Cathedral of Valor into the Planetary Invasion branch. Too many branches . . .
Simply fixes for a simple problem. Next problem.
To deal with their must-build improvements, I took a three step approach. Space Cannons I left as is, thinking that moving Planetary Fortification would help. For Weather Control, I just reduced the improvement cost a bit. For the Navigation Centers, I took drastic action. I really wanted to see how much of a drag they were, and boy did I. I attacked the issue two ways. My first idea was to create a new Arcean TechTree, identical except that the navigation techs were replaced with standard engine techs copied from the Altarians. While doing this, I thought I'd try something else. I made the Navigation Center and Adv. Nav. Center into Super Projects that increase overall speed by 1. Same dynamics without the need to build one on every planet.
Playtest 1 - I set up my Tolmekians with the Arcean-Engines TechTree and my Bulrathi with the standard Arcean TechTree, having changed the Nav centers. Wow. Both of them had smashing performances. The Bulrathi are the top dogs, having fended off a challenge from the powerful Torians, who were #1 when they attacked. From miserable dog to champion breed just like that.
I'm actually a bit proud of myself. I sure spent enough time watching the Arceans and Iconians suck, but one shot and now both are contenders. Actually, pretty much everyone is a contender at this point. My last playtest is the most balanced and exciting one I've ever seen. I really wanted to post about the playtest and not just these fixes, but I guess one wall of text at a time is enough.
For those troopers who made it this far, I'll toss out one gem: I'm setting next weekend as a hard date for release. I'm thrilled with the way v3.0 has turned out and I'm ready to share it. One last round of minor tweaks and polishing and it's ready to go.