Stations' "Wasp's Nest" AI somewhat obsolete by late game

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JohnBWatson
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In my most recent game, I realized that every station in the game save for those belonging to the Ferians and Teratons seems to follow the same defensive AI, regardless of sovereign. In essence, this routine involves docking at or orbiting a station until (A) a hostile entity is detected within a given range or (B) the station incurs any damage from an entity belonging to a hostile sovereign or significant damage from one belonging to a non-hostile sovereign, at which point the ships guarding the station move to engage the offender. Should one of the 'guard ships' be outside a designated maximum range, it returns to its base, and, if the base is destroyed, all surviving guard ships engage the entity that destroyed it, blindly following it towards whatever heavily armed ally the attacker decides to lead them to.

This AI is sufficient in the early systems, in which the player typically lacks a long range weapon and is thus likely to square off against the stations in a melee. Later on, however, as weapons become faster firing, enemies tend to fly directly into the player's line of fire and die long before even making a successful attack. Even later, once howitzers come into play, guards will often fly out, realize they are out of their assigned range, and then return to base without even firing a shot.

This is doubly problematic in that it both undermines the experience of dealing with so many different and interesting enemy factions that is so prominent in this game and leads to a lack of challenge once the player finds a sufficient late game weapon.

Potential methods of diversifying/improving the game's defensive tactics:

Improvements to the overall AI

1. Rather than calling on orbiting ships to make a beeline for identified hostiles, draw two lines parallel to the path from the centerpoint of the station to the target ship. These lines should be on either side of that path, and slightly more than the radius of the station apart from it. Have defending ships determine the closer path, move along it until they are beside their target, and then break off and attack.

2. If the target's weapon range exceeds the given max pursuit range, add half of the max pursuit range to the weapon range and use that distance instead.

3. Have "avenging" units temporarily break off pursuit if their target enters the range of a hostile(to said avengers) station with weaponry sufficiently powerful to destroy them. Reengage after target is more than 1.5x the station's weapon range away from the station.

4. Any defensive turrets assigned to a station should make an effort to shoot down incoming projectiles. This is especially important to the Teratons, who have no long range defenses and aren't on particularly good terms with the kiloton bearing Ranx Empire.

Possible variants on the overall AI

Centauri Pirates

Send a few ships away from guard duty in the same manner as an 'avenging force' when the station hits 75% health.

Reasoning: The Centauri pirates tend to rule by intimidation. It makes sense that they would send some of their raiders after people attacking their stations, given that others might get the message that they could start fighting back too.

Charon Pirates

Have 'communal' frigates in the system that target any unit currently attacking a Charon station. These frigates will stay on target until the enemy enters the range of a 'dangerous' station(at which point it will orbit at 2x the station's weapon range until they leave, at which point the frigate will continue its pursuit) or another Charon station comes under attack.

Reasoning: The Charon pirates seem to have a loose central government based on the lore around them, and an interest in maintaining control over their territory. Given that they dispatch their flagship to deal with escorts that give them too much trouble, it's reasonable to expect that they would try to eliminate raiders with a similar display of overwhelming force.

Sung Slavers

Some 'point defense' drones orbit their larger facilities at medium range, shooting down incoming projectiles in a manner similar to the . Projectiles destroyed in this manner, as well as attacks on the drones themselves, should be treated as if they hit the station by the station's defenders.

Reasoning: The Sung, more than any other faction, seem to rely on automated turrets to protect their facilities. Combined with their use of human minds to develop advanced computing technology, it makes sense that they would use said technology to keep threats at bay, especially considering that their longtime enemies, the Huari, arm themselves exclusively with weaponry susceptible to point defenses.

Luminous AI

Deploy squadrons of drones that wander the system. If the Assembler comes under attack, order these squadrons to engage the attacker.

Reasoning: The Luminous AI appears to be evolutionary in nature. Evolution often comes up with effective but somewhat workaround solutions to problems, and this is an example of such a solution. In addition, Luminous patrols would give the impression of a rogue AI propagating itself throughout the outer reaches of human space.

Ares

Gate in reinforcements from out of system to assist stations that are under attack. These reinforcements should pursue relentlessly in a manner similar to the current avenging AI, and should gate out once their target is destroyed, and scale from a squadron of Sandstorm gunships to a Deimos Class Destroyer based on the type of station and the depth in Ares space. In the penultimate system, this should not occur for obvious reasons.

Reasoning: The Ares are a state actor fighting a winning war in their own territory, and their unmatchable numbers created by cloning technology is explicitly stated to be the reason that the Commonwealth are in such dire straits. As a conventional military that appears to be the law of the land and is shown to have functional supply lines, it seems logical that bringing in additional forces when necessary would be a part of Ares tactical doctrine, especially considering that the Commonwealth Star Carriers do not seem to have a counterpart within the Ares Fleet.
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Song
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Some good arguments, although there's a few issues I can see with each.


Altering the pathing: Good idea if it can be done. At present guards have a habit of blowing themselves up doing this, and they give up far too easily

Better intercept range against long-range snipers: Also sounds reasonable. The player can pick off the defenders, but will be in some trouble if they can close the distance (Unless, like me, they use the dual Mk.3 with a load of enhancements, in which case nothing is safe)

Turrets shooting down projectiles: This is theoretically a very good idea, and I have actually put ICX devices on stations before. However it's a sad fact right now that point defense systems are buggy as hell. Unless they've got friendly fire disabled, having turrets try to shoot down incoming projectiles is going to cause issues. Especially ares turrets. It's likely that missile HP would also need rebalancing. BUT......once point defense is working properly (if it ends up working properly) this would be a good trick for some factions.

Faction specific stuff:

Centauri: Might be worth actually spawning in a revenge force of 2-3 warlords once the player has annoyed them enough instead. The stock centauri are jokes though: 20 facings and crippling AI settings. For any revenge force to be credible, they'd probably need their graphics and setting revamped so they can actually 1. Hit things and 2. Not die when someone breaks wind in their general direction

Charon pirate: Decent enough. Although it might be worth limiting this to the Strongholds. Alternatively since Corporate Command proves that they have autofacs, having them spawn 3-4 Corsair-II interceptors might work.

Sung: Could work, although it'd need some experimenting. Having a ship or drone entirely dedicated to point defense would be odd though. Maybe give a short-range PD weapon to the Earth Slaver?

Luminous: Reasonable....although George is already working on some Luminous stuff for the next adventure.

Ares: I wouldn't gate in the retaliation, because FTL communications are limited to "send a missile or a ship through a stargate with a data packet". But having the Ares respond to aggression with a squadron of gunships from another station would make sense. Or if they know the player is a fleet officer, maybe wait a while and gate in some Cometfalls with orders to blow up a CW station in the same system? That gives the player a chance to intercept the retaliation, but potentially nasty consequences if they do not.



The downside to all of this is that it's complex, and I don't know if it's feasible. But for the most part it seems like pretty good suggestions. Nice job.
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Atarlost
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An easy fix for the Ares is to move some stuff to the Phobos patrol circuit. Probably Deimoses on Shipyards and adding a second line frigate with older weapons on distant patrol around Communes.

Currently a shipyard that has built more than one Phobos is an appropriately tough nut to crack since they patrol close enough to the range from which the station can be bombarded.
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Song
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Atarlost wrote:An easy fix for the Ares is to move some stuff to the Phobos patrol circuit. Probably Deimoses on Shipyards and adding a second line frigate with older weapons on distant patrol around Communes.

Currently a shipyard that has built more than one Phobos is an appropriately tough nut to crack since they patrol close enough to the range from which the station can be bombarded.
I believe my record is between 6 and 8 phobii on one patrol, on my high-score run. Hard to tell preciselyt, because of nebula.

It's not a "tough nut to crack". It's a terrifying instadeath-fest.

But some other long-range patrols would also be cool. :)
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Lots of good ideas, I'd like to see the more feasible ones implimented.
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JohnBWatson
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Shrike wrote: Turrets shooting down projectiles: This is theoretically a very good idea, and I have actually put ICX devices on stations before. However it's a sad fact right now that point defense systems are buggy as hell. Unless they've got friendly fire disabled, having turrets try to shoot down incoming projectiles is going to cause issues. Especially ares turrets. It's likely that missile HP would also need rebalancing. BUT......once point defense is working properly (if it ends up working properly) this would be a good trick for some factions.
If I read the issue correctly, this might be solvable by giving projectiles an array of point defense shots, adding every shot fired at them to this array, and having point defenses switch targets if their current target's health is less than the total damage those shots would inflict upon it.
Centauri: Might be worth actually spawning in a revenge force of 2-3 warlords once the player has annoyed them enough instead. The stock centauri are jokes though: 20 facings and crippling AI settings. For any revenge force to be credible, they'd probably need their graphics and setting revamped so they can actually 1. Hit things and 2. Not die when someone breaks wind in their general direction
Admittedly, my plan wouldn't make Centauri anywhere close to a competent threat, it'd just provide an excuse for why some other vigilante hasn't blown them all up yet.
Charon pirate: Decent enough. Although it might be worth limiting this to the Strongholds. Alternatively since Corporate Command proves that they have autofacs, having them spawn 3-4 Corsair-II interceptors might work.
That seems logical.
Sung: Could work, although it'd need some experimenting. Having a ship or drone entirely dedicated to point defense would be odd though. Maybe give a short-range PD weapon to the Earth Slaver?
Isn't there already an auton with that purpose? I may be remembering an older version. Upgrading the Earth Slaver with a point defense turret is a pretty good idea regardless, given that they should really be more of an intimidating presence at the stage of the game where they show up.
Ares: I wouldn't gate in the retaliation, because FTL communications are limited to "send a missile or a ship through a stargate with a data packet". But having the Ares respond to aggression with a squadron of gunships from another station would make sense. Or if they know the player is a fleet officer, maybe wait a while and gate in some Cometfalls with orders to blow up a CW station in the same system? That gives the player a chance to intercept the retaliation, but potentially nasty consequences if they do not.
I'm not sure if that's still up to date. Don't most stations replace fallen defenders by gating in new ones?
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Yes, they do. I suppose suspension of disbelief is fine then.


The auton you're remembering is the 310A Aegis. It's split between point-defense and attack, but currently it uses the most powerful of the two PD weapons in the game (in an attempt to make it useful). The net result is that its primary function is now annoying friendly stations and killing you/your autons when they're on low health. If point-defense gets fixed that may be less of an issue.

In terms of altering PD to change targets early....this might work. However: Point defense is inherently inaccurate unless it's firing trackers (which the stock ones are not), because the intercept is quite a difficult one. Might be easier just to get the target-shift sped up when it *does* kill things, then just run with "kill it, change target, kill the next one, etc".
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It would be neat if some ships operating from a station could get special combat advantages relative to ships of the same class that are on patrol, since they don't need to be carrying fuel or life support capable of long-range travel and their telemetry is presumably enhanced by communicating with the station.

Some ideas:
  • JATO rockets- as mentioned, station defenders are especially vulnerable to long range fire when closing on the player. One solution would be to make their pathing less predictable; another might be to have certain military stations equip guard ships with a visible external rocket stage that gives them a short-term boost to top speed and acceleration before detaching and becoming space debris. Kind of like JATO rockets from WWII or aircraft carrier catapults. This would let defenders close in on the player really fast.
  • Minefields- having some stations suddenly deploy wide-area minefields on player approach could shake things up
  • Spotter- increase station weapons range if there are guard ships are within a certain distance from the player
  • Scrambler array - Separate, weaker station that generates radar interference within a certain range of the main station. The scrambler could be stealthed so that the player has to hunt for it, or they can take a chance at attacking the main station blind.
  • Disproportionate retaliation- I would like to see really scary retaliation fleets come and look for the player for a little bit before leaving (rather than pathing directly to the player and attacking until destroyed) when important stations get destroyed. These fleets would be much stronger than the original station defenders so that running could actually be a better plan than fighting under certain circumstances.
  • More composite stations- with multiple sections that do different things. For a station near a gate, you might try to destroy the communications array first could prevent calling for reinforcements, whereas for a station out in deep space it might make more sense to attack station weapons or shipyard facilities first.
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JATO rockets- as mentioned, station defenders are especially vulnerable to long range fire when closing on the player. One solution would be to make their pathing less predictable; another might be to have certain military stations equip guard ships with a visible external rocket stage that gives them a short-term boost to top speed and acceleration before detaching and becoming space debris. Kind of like JATO rockets from WWII or aircraft carrier catapults. This would let defenders close in on the player really fast.
I can see the CSCs doing this. Would make attacking the Antarctica significantly less of a joke.

A similar system for Tundras could also give Ares communes a genuine threat level.
Spotter- increase station weapons range if there are guard ships are within a certain distance from the player
Not sure if that's possible, but it'd certainly add a new set of challenges to attacking some of the early stations.
Scrambler array - Separate, weaker station that generates radar interference within a certain range of the main station. The scrambler could be stealthed so that the player has to hunt for it, or they can take a chance at attacking the main station blind.
That's something I could see the Charon pirates using. It'd certainly help explain how their lightly armed, openly shown caches are still standing despite virtually every organized station in the system supposedly fighting them. The CSCs could have a similar item, perhaps in the form of a built in device, which would make both the privateer level counter - scout missions and the continued survival of the ships in the face of the possibility of attack from Cometfalls and Phobii more plausible.
Disproportionate retaliation- I would like to see really scary retaliation fleets come and look for the player for a little bit before leaving (rather than pathing directly to the player and attacking until destroyed) when important stations get destroyed. These fleets would be much stronger than the original station defenders so that running could actually be a better plan than fighting under certain circumstances.
That seems similar to the ideas here about calling ships from other stations. Perhaps a military faction that's taken significant losses could go on 'red alert', and start sending ships to look for the player, both expanding the patrol routes and gating in some reinforcements to solidify defenses.
More composite stations- with multiple sections that do different things. For a station near a gate, you might try to destroy the communications array first could prevent calling for reinforcements, whereas for a station out in deep space it might make more sense to attack station weapons or shipyard facilities first.
I like this idea. Orders to attack a certain section of a station could add some diversity to the Militia and Fleet missions, too.
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The Ares point actually raises a good question.

Why can't we have ares ships hunt down the player like Molotoks, if they're in the fleet?
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Xephyr wrote:The Ares point actually raises a good question.

Why can't we have ares ships hunt down the player like Molotoks, if they're in the fleet?
Gameplay reasoning:

The Ares do that already, with the encounters. This occurs regardless of fleet status, and is the same method the Sung have for causing trouble for the player. There's also the fact that this would leave every system clogged with wrecks after the player sits for a few minutes next to a ringer station. The power of the Molotoks comes from their immunity to being greased by the player's allies.

Plot reasoning:

From what I've observed in the game, there is a fundamental asymmetry between the two factions of the war in the Outer Realms. The Commonwealth, bearing mobile bases, heavy shielding, and missile weaponry, seems to focus on indirect engagement, being able to hit the enemy, repair, and flee, while the Ares tend to brute force their way through tense situations using unguided bombs and massive armor plating. These two philosophies have led to a vast difference in technology owned by the two factions, with the Commonwealth developing targeting systems that can hold their target from across the system, long ranged turrets for their cruisers, and guided missiles for their new Britannia gunships(built for highly effective and highly versatile all around short term engagement), all electronic innovations that fundamentally alter the battlefield, while the Ares endeavor to simply improve their current set of equipment in a linear manner, as shown by the development of the Phobos(a Diemos, but moreso) and the Positron cannon(a high end mid range weapon, like the lightning gun), their two most recent creations. Ultimately, the Ares' need for long range patrols and repeated scouting runs at a single carrier, their tendency to avoid firing on craft outside of visual range, as well as the fact that Polars seem to bring their own escorts rather than call for support from bases like the superfreighters of the Commonwealth, seem to indicate that the Ares lack a system analogous to the Commonwealth's targeting ROM, and furthermore suffer from an intelligence and logistics disadvantage that is denying them the ability to win this war quickly and easily. On top of that, not even the Commonwealth has the capacity to see ID cards you don't want them to see, as shown by the fact that they don't take Black Market IDs when you dock with them.

Furthermore, the player is a soldier in a military, and\ those he encounters tend not to live particularly long. The Ares' ability to ID him is going to be miniscule, if existent at all, and, even if it weren't, giving passing pilgrims even more reason to attack them would seem like an easy way to damage one's chances of what could otherwise have been an almost certain victory.

Essentially, if they haven't sicced their fleet of Phobii on the Terra yet, it's axiomatic that they are likely either unwilling or unable to send them after you.
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This does make some sense as an ingame reason. Although the main reason the Ares ships aren't as sophisticated is that they have a quantity-based strategy, using the vast resources of Ares Prime and their cloning tech to grow far faster than the CW can handle. You don't need to make the most advanced capital ship around when it's got a fantastic gun and you can spam them at the enemy. This was working well as a tactic, but then they managed to get a technological edge over the Fleet as well.....at which point the war started going badly for Decker & Co.
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Shrike wrote:This does make some sense as an ingame reason. Although the main reason the Ares ships aren't as sophisticated is that they have a quantity-based strategy, using the vast resources of Ares Prime and their cloning tech to grow far faster than the CW can handle. You don't need to make the most advanced capital ship around when it's got a fantastic gun and you can spam them at the enemy. This was working well as a tactic, but then they managed to get a technological edge over the Fleet as well.....at which point the war started going badly for Decker & Co.
I don't think their technological advantage is universal. Just like real economies can have their ability to innovate crippled by a vast excess of natural resources, the Ares war economy seems to have forgone logistics and tactics due to their excesses of both natural and human resources.

To put it in real terms, it's as if WWII America had invented the atom bomb but eschewed the aircraft carrier.
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Considering that carrier launched strike craft cannot threaten capital ships in Transcendence that's a very good choice on the Ares part.
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Atarlost wrote:Considering that carrier launched strike craft cannot threaten capital ships in Transcendence that's a very good choice on the Ares part.
From what I've seen, it's a question of a lack of AI capability, not any fundamental constant in the design, role, or armament of the ships. Imagine 10 - 15 Centurions using their superior maneuverability and small size to draw fire from just within turret range, drawing back when fired upon and fleeing whenever their shields fail, while 5 Britannias focus fire on the rear of the ship, darting back whenever the Phobos manages to target them long enough to significantly weaken their shields. Remember, the average player takes down about five of the things, generally singlehandedly, and those 20 fighters are a fraction of a CSC's fighter complement(a group of 4 CSCs was said by Decker to field hundreds of Centurions).
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