Tuesday, 1 June 2010

The Dime-a-dozen Deathstar Deployment Debacle

Neutral good. I always play neutral good. They'll probably write it on my grave. It's like clover, smack bang in the middle, but still lovely and buttery. I don't generally get much of a sustained thrill out of being bad in games. The occasional cathartic rampage is fun, but fleeting.

Strategies are the exception. I still usually play diplomatic democrat dude, but I have a taste for dastardly overlord, from time to time. Galactic Civilizations 2 is wonderful in that it injects the eponymous Civ's with a real sense of character. The alignment system works nicely in creating opponents with goals and habits, so if you want to be evil, you can have all the trimmings alongside your genocidal campaign. Even more, the AI will recognize universe devouring nutjobs and act accordingly, ganging up on you to defend freedom and whatnot.

This means that aggressive players had better pick their enemies carefully and only strike if they think they can win. One of my first evil campaigns saw my Drengin empire slowly picking off weaker races while the powerful good guys fought amoungst themselves. By the time they allied up and realized I was a threat I'd unleashed a blitzkrieg of angry space metal at them. Conquering Earth, something I'd never done before, was a distinct pleasure.

That was back on the original Galciv 2 release, the Dread Lords. I've been playing the game on and off since it came out, and in that time two expansions and a myriad of patches have been released, changing the game substantially. One of the bullet-point features of the latest xpac, Twilight of the Arnor, is the planet shattering Terror Stars which blow up stars and not much else. I figured to give these things their proper due I'd have to play evil. Traders and good guys don't wipe out whole populations. Bad PR.

I choose a "Huge" map which, despite the name, isn't even Galciv's biggest, going up to "Gigantic" and "Immense", but is still pretty darned big. I pick 8 or so opponents, pretty much all either good or neutral, with the evil Drengin thrown in for good measure. This ethical lay out would have some rather dire implications in the early-mid game that I hadn't counted on.

For myself, I choose the Yor, essentially the Borg with a dark sense of humour. They've got an isolationist perk, and I give them buffs to research. I intend to sit back from the galaxy for a good while, then, with some decent tech, attack a few select enemies and try and build slowly.
To my good fortune, I get placed in right in the lower south-east section of the map and quickly carve out a nice little niche from which to plot and scheme.

The problem with this plan is, good guys or not, the AI wants to win, and it can only do this by expanding. Good Civs tend to focus their aggression against evil, and neutral usually prefers to do the same. Even worse, I tend to build up my military slowly early on, focusing more on my planets and technology, and when I do deploy fleets they tend to be small and specialized. This makes my "military might" attribute, the variable by which the AI measures how tough it thinks you are, extremely low. My isolationist realm suddenly seemed like prime real-estate to the do-gooders of the galaxy.

Its pretty ironic, given how things turned out, but I spent the first third of that game desperately battling off virtually every major civ in my tiny little corner of space. My tech was good, my empire small enough to defend effectively, but I was vastly outnumbered. I mean, really outnumbered. Whatever you're imagining, I was more outnumbered than that. Even worse, the galaxy had developed a mercenary streak, and I'd sue for peace only to be attacked a few turns later because someone had paid them to do so. And this was the good guys.

Even even worse, the only other evil Civ, the one I now relied on to draw fire for me, the Drengin sat right next to me, and they didn't like me either. Galaxy of racists. Not bloody once during that period did I ever declare war, in fact that wasn't something I'd do until the very end game.

My most aggravating and constant foe were the Kyrnn, who were utterly bloody relentless. The siege seemed to last forever, until, as if they'd taken a look at the casualties to gains report(a lot/none) the galaxy let up on me, but even then, the Kyrnn wouldn't piss off. Its funny that, setting out to be evil, I'd done nothing but act in self defence against foes who'd attacked me for selfish reasons and refused all overtures of peace. However, having to face the combined forces of Everyone and Their Dog had left me somewhat toughened, with excellent defences and weapons. The rest of the galaxy, by contrast, had thrown away precious resources taking fighting me and the Drengin, and were looking a little flabby all round. I began to push back against the Kyrnn, something made difficult by the fact that they were a) massive, and b) from the map corner parallel to mine.

I cut a swathe across the galaxy, joining my empire in a diagonal. The Krynn had been the largest empire around, but their swarm tactics will utterly useless against my defence technology and superior fleets. I conquered them without loosing a single ship.

This had changed the game. I'd gone from put upon punch bag to the biggest player in the game. The problem was, my fleet was still small, lethal as it was, designed to defend a much smaller space, and I was still surrounded by enemies. The Altarians, arch good guys and, by this time, a powerful bunch, had wiped out the Drengin, and now bordered me. Their tech was nearly as good as mine and their military might was off the charts. We came to blows, and again, the way I'd specialized my ships won the day, the Altarian weapons unable to get through my shields, but I was constantly at war again, fighting all over the place, until, after taking a chunk of old Drengin space, I managed to forge a tenuous peace.

Despite my victories, I was not in the best of conditions. The galaxy now despised me, and the diplomacy menu informed me they had all allied up. If I attacked one, I attacked them all. I couldn't just sit by and wait to be overrun. I'd managed to reduced almost everyone but the Altarians down to a few planets, save the Archeans, who'd been utter bastards to me early on, but let up when I seemed less vulnerable, and the Iconians, who hadn't done anything at all.

The Plan

What I did next was unnecessary. But you know what, I was pissed off. These dickheads had done nothing but pick on me all game. Never had I done anything to them to warrant such aggression. Now I couldn't take my revenge, even though I'd vowed to wipe out the homeworlds of several. They sat their, smug in their defeat, protected by their Altarian allies. What could I do? Attack one, and I'd be over run. Leave them, and they'd take me out anyway.

So, I hatched a plan. A daring plan, if not particularly subtle. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I was going to blow them up, all of them, in one stroke. Most of my enemies had either not expanded much, or had lost so many planets to me they were down to a handfull. I couldn't hope to take out the Altarians quickly, but if I could remove their support, I could mount a campaign. And besides, this was about more than just war. I hated them by this point. I didn't want to win, I wanted to annihilate them, to grind them into dust, burn their homeworlds and piss in their pools. I would turn my now considerable industrial might to the production of constructors, which would in turn, create the terror stars I needed.

I was meticulous with the numbers. I made sure group had enough constructors, and only then sent each one out to its target stars. If I did it right, every civilization save the Altarians would be gone. If I did it wrong, I would be facing the vengeful fleets of the survivors en masse.

It took a little time, but the teams moved into place. This was a moment of devilish glee. Watching my plans unfurl, and my enemies crumble. I tingled. One by one, I constructed the Terror Stars. My massive fleet waited outside Altarian space to launch my assault. Soon, soon my enemies would pay for being such utter sodding rotters!

Only, there was a snag. One group was down one constructor. One. Ok, just a setback, this problem can be solved. I needed a new constructor their fast. I like to imagine the design process behind what I came up with.

King Yor: So, how goes development on the new, faster constructor ship? We need this you know, its important.
Engineer Yor: Well sir, what we did, in the spirit of the whole operation, is to take a constructor and glue fifty engines to it.
King Yor: And this makes it faster?
Engineer: Yes sir, much.
King: Excellent!

My hastily designed ship raced out towards the final group. Yes, this was it, victory, revenge, whole star systems blown to bitty bits. Three turns, two, one.

And then the Altarians declared war.

This is how a bond villain must feel. I scrambled my terror stars into action, taking out a few planets, but I'd miss placed their deployment, something that could have been corrected if I'd not been rushed, and many were taken down. I was now at war with everyone, even the only guys who'd never attacked me.
Disastrously, and this is probably some form of poetic justice considering my borg like race, the Altarians had adapted. My mighty fleets won the first round of fighting, but at a huge loss. They had been meant to push all the way to Altaria. The outcome was even worse than my worse projections.

In a way, I wish I'd lost now, that the AI had pushed me back, that good had triumphed over evil at the last, thwarting its mad, mass murdering schemes. Sadly, what happened next was rather dull. I used my vast funds to completely reconfigure my fleet and started cutting down everyone. My revenge came, but it was slow, piecemeal, and ultimate unsatisfying.

They all went in the end, their homeworld's falling victim to premature supernovas. I let the Altarian homeworld, last free planet in the galaxy not currently slagged, alone for a while. Perhaps, they might have imagined, the Yor have relented, seen the virtue of mercy, died of some virus?

No, you douchebags, now burn.

"Victory" the game declared. Hmm, yes, I suppose it was.