Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Endless Space - 17/20 hours

I don't understand diplomacy. I'm referring, of course, to the game, but I suspect it's a statement that's true in my real life as well. Like, if someone offers me a peace treaty, I'm going to take it. I basically see no downside. I don't attack you and you don't attack me. It's the essence of human relationships, the bare minimum standard behavior, without which any sort of society would be impossible.

Which is why I don't understand why the AI in my last game wanted most of my strategic resources in exchange for a treaty. What possible advantage could they have gained from not having the treaty? Without one, you can't even have trade routes, which deprives your culture of a huge amount of money and research. It's baffling.

From the sources I could find online, the reason appears to be that the AI hates it when you pull ahead, and will do anything to stop you from gaining an advantage, even if it means shooting itself in the foot. Many fans of the game justify this as the AI "playing to win," except that this approach seemed to hurt the AI more than help it.

For example, I'd expanded to the edges of my natural frontier (you travel between star systems through either relatively fast star-lanes or relatively slow wormholes, and thus wormholes act as a good defensive chokepoint between empires). Because, even in a video game, I have a hard time just aggressively taking things that don't belong to me, that is where I stopped. When my neighbors reached the limits of their expansion, they declared war on me (luckily this did not happen at the same time). It didn't matter that I never made any aggressive move towards their lands or that our empires were exactly the same size (on, in the case of my second war, almost exactly twice their size), they needed to expand, and thus all previous relations ceased to matter.

But far from being a canny move on the AI's part, this was a huge disaster for them. Because I am not a naturally warlike person, when I am forced to fight a war, I try to fight it in a way that means I won't have to fight a second. Since there's no vassalage option, that means total conquest. Against my first foe, I was merciful, and left them one system, but bizarrely, when I was in the middle of my second war, and consequently in possession of roughly two and a half constellations worth of worlds, they decided to go ahead and try for round two. Leaving them alive did nothing but buy me a late-game annoyance.

I have to conclude from this that the AI doesn't know how to count. If our star systems are separated by wormholes that give you only one entrance into my territory, then I only need one fleet. And if I have one fleet, and you have dozens, but none of your dozens of fleets is capable of individually overcoming mine, then you're never getting past that chokepoint. And if you've built fleets all over your empire, and I've only built one at a chokepoint, then that means I've got an entire hinterland of highly developed infrastructure, and the cumulative riches of a hundred turns of not paying outrageous fleet maintenance, which means that when it comes time for me to counterattack, building wave after wave of ships is trivial.

Which means attacking me is FUCKING SUICIDAL and you should have just signed the damned peace treaty a hundred turns ago, but no, you couldn't give a human player any sort of leg up, and now I'm forced to stand astride the galaxy on a mountain of skulls when all I wanted to do was play a nice peaceful game. I can only assume there is some sort of simplistic military power counter that the AIs use to weight who they want to try and bully, and that it is incapable of taking into account economic power and geographical limitations. Which is kind of annoying.

But what's more annoying to me is the deep cynicism this sort of system evinces. Coexisting peacefully is not worthwhile for its own sake. You have to expand and consume and when that is no longer possible, you must attack those weaker than yourself or thwart those stronger, because there's never enough. You can't simply have a beautiful society with incredible accomplishments, you have to win.

Maybe the problem is that I want a simulation, and not a game.


  1. Did you watch Stargate: Atlantis? There's an episode where two characters discover a video game on the alien outpost they're exploring. It's a Civilization-type game, except with the deep flexibility of a simulation. It turns out they're actually sending commands to real civilizations, who obey the mysterious commands from their gods.


    1. I never watched Stargate, but that episode sounds like something that would interest me a lot. Do you remember the episode's name?

    2. Not offhand, but I looked it up: "The Game," season 3, episode 15.

    3. Thanks. I'll have to check it out.