SNG:Stars! Supernova Report

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Last Issue: Issue 5, Vol 2.001 [1] What is Stars! Supernova Genesis?

Currently in development and beta testing (release date to be determined), Stars! Supernova Genesis is a space strategy game in the style of highly rated classics like Stars!, Master of Orion, Ascendancy, Reach for the Stars, Alpha Centauri, and M.U.L.E. (yes, we have high aspirations). While we love those games, they also drive us nuts in their own special ways, and so we set out to write a game we could love unconditionally. Since we aren't alone in the world, we also incorporated ideas from thousands of players of our "cult classic," Stars!.



Issue 2, Vol 2.001 AI Design by Jim Lane Aug 19, 1999 The Supernova Genesis AIs will be stronger (at the higher difficulty settings) than the Stars! AIs, and will be more able to adapt and surprise you. They'll be able to use as much of your computer's resources as you allow them to have to improve their play, possibly to the point where they will use hours of CPU time if you allow them to, or only seconds of CPU time if you need your computer for other purposes.

   As for learning...the design allows for it, but there are many possible pitfalls to learning AIs. They might tend to learn the wrong things, or they might learn too slowly to be useful, etc. The Supernova Genesis AIs are complex, and we won't know for certain how well they learn until beta test. 
   Learning AIs are a design intent for Supernova Genesis, but not quite a promise. The point is to produce a fun game, with AIs that can provide a reasonable challenge to players at different skill levels. If learning AIs improve the game, they'll be in the final version. If they don't, the learning part of the AI algorithms will be turned off. 
   By the way, when a Supernova Genesis AI takes its turn, it has exactly the same information available to it as any other player has. They don't--they can't--cheat.

[4] Issue 10, Vol 2K

Battle Engine by Jim Lane, 10/21/99 The Stars! Supernova Genesis Battle Engine is a complete replacement for the Stars! Battle VCR.

   Stars! Supernova Genesis battles are based mostly on Newtonian physics. No more battle board squares, speeds in 1/4s, or limited space or time. Battles take place in a large area of space (up to 1/10 light year), measured to a resolution of 1 meter. Engines produce thrust, which is related to the mass of the ship to determine acceleration. 
   Time is measured in seconds. There are no rounds or phases. Movement and firing is smooth, continuous and simultaneous. Battles continue until the fight is over; there's no fixed time limit. The display engine can jump forward to the next interesting event, allowing players to skip over the long, dull stern chases. 
   Ships are still collected into tokens, but the size of a token depends on the number of ships it contains. Big tokens are easier to hit than small ones, but there are still disadvantages to splitting up fleets. 
   There are more weapon types, more defense types, more battle devices, and some important new hull types. More variety and better control of easier-to-understand battle tactics. And the behavior of some races' ships in battle is just plain weird--and fun. Can you say "Alternate Reality?" I knew that you could. 
   Stars! Supernova Genesis battles are more complex, making it harder to analyze them to the same depth as Stars! battles. Then again, what general in history has ever been able to completely predict the outcome of a battle? 
   But...a player can replay a battle as often as desired, making changes to see how it would have turned out if only something had been done differently. You can't change the past, but you can learn how to improve your odds for the next time.


Pirates Q&A Updated May 27, 2000 "Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates." Mark Twain

Jeff McBride, our lead game designer, answers questions about Stars! Supernova Genesis gameplay related to pirates:

Can I steal or learn pirate technology? Can I hire pirates for a specific mission? Do pirates keep up on tech like the players do? Can I designate the pirates to be of a specific Primary Race Trait? If pirates are attacking my colonies can I hail them and buy them off? 1) Can I steal or learn pirate technology? It will be possible to gain money, technology and even whole ships from the pirates. Destroying a pirate base is also one of the victory conditions for some scenarios. - top -

2) Can I hire pirates for a specific mission, such as taking out a starbase or stealing minerals? Yes and No. In general, the pirates will make you an offer which you can accept or reject. The pirate might demand a certain amount of money to leave one of your colonies alone. They might offer to attack a particular neighbor if you pay them a certain amount. Sometimes the pirates will ask if they can set up a base in your territory. If you allow this then they will harass your neighbors within range of their base and leave you alone. Naturally, if your neighbors discover that you are harboring pirates in your territory they might get a bit upset. - top -

3) Do pirates keep up on technology like the players do? Or are they only useful in the beginning until the players gain advanced tech? Pirate tech advances along with player tech. The individual technologies in use are randomly chosen from all tech trees. In other words, their ships are a hodge-podge of random stuff stolen from races throughout the galaxy. Images of their ships will reflect this.

  The tech used on pirate ships is different each time you play and improves over time. The tech they get is somewhat limited by the races in play however. For example, if there are no players using the Alternate Reality PRT in the game, then the pirates are unlikely to have any AR specific tech. 

- top -

4) Can I designate the pirates to be of a specific Primary Race Trait? Pirates are not races in and of themselves. Think of them as bands of outcasts from races across the galaxy. They do not have a growth rate per say, but their number increases whenever they are successful. Think about it as recruitment rather than population growth. You can modify their behavior and abilities to some degree via the Rules Description Language. - top -

5) If pirates are attacking my colonies can I hail them and buy them off? In general, pirates will give you the option to pay them off. They also remember. If you are a ruthless pirate hunter they aren't likely to make any deals with you.


Issue 5, Vol 2.001

Teaser: Reducing


by Jeff McBride April 11, 2000

If you're a Stars! player today, ask yourself how much of the time you spend taking a turn is spent doing relatively mechanical operations to keep your empire moving and how much is spent making important decisions and doing really interesting stuff. Here are examples of how micromanagement has been reduced in Stars! Supernova Genesis to emphasize important strategic gameplay (without dumbing down the game).

Colonization example You can right-click a habitable system on the map and select "Colonize." This is an example of giving the player access to a low level AI script. You can have many helper scripts running at the same time. In essence, they just do micromanagement orders for you. There is no difference between orders generated by you and orders generated by a helper. In fact, you can always see the orders the script is giving and override them at any point. If you have an idle colonizer fleet in range it will be given the right orders. If not, then a colonizer will be placed in the most appropriate production queue. Once the ship is built it will automatically be given the right orders.

Colony orders example You can tell a colony that you want it to focus on a particular goal. For example, you can say that you want it to be a mining colony. The production queue is automatically manipulated year to year as appropriate and once the local mining is up to speed it will look at the cost effectiveness of branching out into remote mining of nearby systems. Again, this is just a case of turning your colony over to an AI script. The AI doesn't make policy. It doesn't do anything that you can't do manually. You aren't required to use it. It is an option. It allows new players (and people playing in huge games or multiple empires) to do exactly as much micromanagement as they want. If all they want to do (or have time to do) is global strategy, diplomacy and long term planning they can choose to pass off simple repetitive tasks to the AIs (dressed up as advisors, fleet commanders, colonial governors and so on).

Remote Mining example You can give a remote mining fleet a radius of operation such that it will automatically move from system to system within that area as necessary to maximize a 10 year running average mining rate. In other words, each year it says, would I do better to stay here for the next 10 years or would I be better off moving to another one of the systems in my "patrol" area and mining for 10-X years (where X is the travel time). This takes into account what this fleet can do and what your other fleets are doing. It looks at the total take from all remote mined worlds and attempts to maximize it. Obviously, players can do this by hand if they want. They certainly do enough of it in Stars! today. I just don't think they should have to. Many fleet tasks now take a radius of operation.

Trade example You can set up automated trade orders such that player 1 builds X cruisers per year and routes them to player 2 with orders to change ownership on arrival for 10 years. Meanwhile, player 2 has automatic orders set up to transfer X galactic credits and Y minerals from their bank account into player 1's bank account every year, also for 10 years. Total setup time is perhaps 5 to 10 minutes. Once the time limit has been reached everything stops naturally. This is but a simple example that is easily automated. When combined with diplomacy and espionage it gets even more interesting. Imagine stealing the plans for, say, a minelayer that you can't use yourself but can, in turn, trade to a third party for a piece of technology you can use and can't live without.