Arcen Games entered the strategy game stage in 2009 with AI War: Fleet Command. The genre confused grand strategic 4X tower defense RTS title turned a lot of heads in a time when great strategy games weren’t exactly in abundance.
AI War has received no less than 6 expansions since the release in 2009. Arcen Games has developed a number of other games as well, but none of them have seen the same level of success as their inaugural release. Their latest endeavor, In Case Of Emergency, Release Raptor, failed to meet sales expectations, and is now available as a free-to-play game.
In Arcen founder Chris Park’s autopsy of the Release Raport failure, he revealed that the company’s next project would be a sequel to AI War. Now the campaign has finally launched on Kickstarter, which means you can start throwing money at it.
The Nitty Gritty
The campaign is a massive wall of text. That’s no surprise considering Chris Parks' track record when it comes to writing. A quick look at the Arcen news section will illustrate my point. Long posts are the rule rather than the exception. The AI War 2 design document is already quite the behemoth as well, weighing in at an impressive 62,056 words.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a lot of information. I’m no stranger to writing walls of text myself. This very post will probably turn into one. I love that Arcen Games share all this information, and my assumption is that the rest of Arcen’s core audience love it too. But the amount of text might be a bit daunting to people who stumbled across the campaign.
So, as a public service, here are a few of the highlights from the campaign text:
- AI War 2 is keeping the best parts of AI War: Fleet Command: The focus on strategy over tactics, the ability to granularly customize your campaign, massive space battles, and an AI that can surprise you.
- The AI’s toolbox of tricks and strategies is expanding. The AI will recapture lost ground and press the advantage when your losses mount up.
- AI War 2 will let you play three different factions. Humans, the Spire, and the Zenith.
- There is a focus on clarity and usability enhancements compared with the first game. This will hopefully give AI War 2 a gentler learning curve than Fleet Command has.
- AI War 2 is rendered in 3D, not 2D as is the case with AI War: Fleet Command.
Tons of great stuff right there.
Risks and Challenges
Here’s an excerpt from the Kickstarter campaign (emphasis by me):
“We intended to make AI War 2 a straightforward sequel. New graphics, port the gameplay, trim some fat, and iterate from there after 1.0. Then we had an idea. And then another. Then we asked our amazing fan community for their ideas, and now we have a design document longer than some novels. AI War 2 will be complete when we have implemented every mechanic in the document, preferably exactly as described.” - Arcen Games founder Chris Park on the AI War 2 development process
The last part of the above statement worries me, because it’s a textbook example of a waterfall approach to software development. The game’s got a massive design document written up front, and it’s followed to the point throughout the development cycle. But development takes time, and during that time, the world changes. Targets move, but if the aim, i.e. the design document, remains unchanged, you’re gonna have a bad time. I’m seeing this far too often in my line of work, and it’s like watching a catastrophic train crash in slow motion.
My hope is that I’ve just misunderstood how Chris' explains the AI War 2 development process. Based on my experience with the original AI War, that’s most likely the case. AI War: Fleet Command has gone through a lot of iterations and changes since the first version. It seems that “implement, evaluate, re-implement” has been Arcen’s mantra throughout the original AI War’s lifetime. Given that he also writes that they will “iterate from there after 1.0”, my worries are most likely unfounded.
Arcen is looking to raise the weirdly accurate (“but that’s what our budget told us”) amount of $299,400. The funding goal is ambitious - perhaps too ambitious. AI War 2 is a niche game in a niche genre, yet a genre that has seen an influx of great games over the last couple of years. Galactic Civilizations III, Endless Space, Distant Worlds: Universe, Stellaris, the Sins of a Solar Empire series, and Star Ruler 2, just to name a few. The world is different now than it was 7 years ago, when AI War: Fleet Command was released. There are many more developers looking to convince players that their game is worth the money.
But ambitions are great. If the $299,400 is reached before the remaining 27 days are up, I’m sure Chris Park is able to transform that money into an awesome game.
That’s why I’m in. $65 worth of in, actually. That’s a lot more money than I would normally pay for a game. I’m throwing my money at the AI War II campaign partly because I think it will be an awesome game when it’s finished, and partly because I really want Arcen Games and Chris Park succeed. They need a financially successful game now to get on top of things. With the finances back in order, they will be able to release other great products in the future. Arcen Games need their own Prison Architect.
PS: If you’ve not yet dived into the original AI War: Fleet Command, now is a great time to do it. The base game and all 6 expansions are available in a sweet package from both Steam and the Humble Store.
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