What are the differences between solo and multiplayer?
Q: Is it really different when you play with more than one person? Also, does it still take as long as the single-player games?
A: The only differences in a multiplayer campaign versus one that is solo are:
- There are more human players, obviously, so they can interact and work together, come to each other's aid, etc. It's important to use the flare key (F), and voice chat or text chat -- voice chat via an external program like Skype or Teamspeak is preferred.
- You can give ships between players by selecting ships and clicking the little Give button at the bottom of the screen. You can only give ships that the other player has also unlocked, and that would not put them over their ship cap for that type.
- You are also able to gift ships like metal/crystal harvesters between players. This is the best way of sharing resources between one another, or evening out the resource distribution.
- There are twice as many simultaneous AI waves into your systems as there are human players. So when you play solo, you only have a wave or two at a time. With four players, you have four or eight coming in at any given time.
- The AI planets have more ships, and get larger reinforcements.
- The ship caps for human players are around 10 smaller per extra human player beyond the first. So in a 1 player game you can build 170 mark i fighters, in a four player game you can build 140. Your combined forces are much greater, though, of course.
- Your team succeeds or fails as a group. No one is "out" early. So as long as one player has a home command station surviving, your team can still win. It's the same for the two AIs in all games, actually.
- If a player hits the resource storage cap for metal or crystal (600k), then the excess resources flow to allies instead of just being wasted.
Length of the Game, Multiplayer Saves
As you can imagine with those few differences, the length of games is pretty much the same in either case. This game was designed around the concept of co-op from the ground up, so the single player game is just "co-op by yourself," which is also fun but therefore not as different from multiplayer in terms of mechanics as some other RTS games are.
Being able to finish a 7-hour game in one sitting is of course ludicrous for most people -- myself included -- so that's where the multiplayer save comes in. Like playing a game of CivIV in multiplayer, you can play off and on with a group over a period of days, weeks, or even months. At any given point I tend to be in the middle of around 7 different AI War campaigns: one with my wife, one by myself, and then around 5 others that are the various permutations of my alpha tester group of four players. So if someone is missing on a given week, or several someones, then the remaining ones of us just pick up where we left off with another campaign.
Sometimes the above means a month or even several months has gone by since one of those side campaigns was last played, but with the Notes feature in the galaxy map we can always remind ourselves of what we were doing and what was going on. It can actually be pretty cool to come back to a cold campaign in a later version of the game, and see how the new DLC and options has impacted the options available and strategy for the older campaign.
The Effect of Map Size, AI Type/Level, Etc on Game Length
The length of time a game takes will vary greatly with your playstyle and how big of a map you choose, as well. Smaller maps are faster, but I feel like the strategy is really reduced below 40 planets or so. It's a very different game with 10 planets, for instance. I tend to play only at 80 planets, but those take more like 12-16 hours for me.
The difficulty of the AI level you choose will also impact playtime -- if the AI is overmatching you a bit or is right at the tip of what you can handle, then the game will be way longer usually, since there is more back and forth. If you play where you are comfortably challenged, but not challenged to the edge of your skills, then the game will last a more average amount of time. Or if you want to crank the difficulty down and just steamroll the AI and play around with the mechanics, then those go very fast.
There's such a wide range of possible difficulties in this game that you can find levels that your mom can play (or your senator), and there are levels that no one has actually beaten yet that I am aware of (a few expert players came close to beating a pair of 10s in past versions of the game, and some players have done okay against 10s when giving themselves a big handicap bonus or using various since-removed exploits, but that's it so far).
Fast & Dangerous Combat Style To Speed Things Along
Playing on the Fast & Dangerous combat style instead of the Normal combat style also makes a huge difference in game length. I play only on F&D, as do most other traditional-RTS fans, but the people who are more fans of TBS games, and new players to the game, tend to prefer the slower pace of Normal. F&D is around 30% to 40% faster in terms of total game time on average, I'd say. Somewhere around there.
How To Manage Player Drop-In and Drop-Out In Co-Op?
In a multiplayer game, especially if you are not playing with a close group of friends, you may not always be able to get the same group together to complete a game -- or one player may disappear inexplicably.
As of version 1.301, there is now a Manage Players button in the in-game menu for the host in all non-tutorial games. This new panel allows the host to rename players, add/remove players, and change player colors. A full sync is required after the contents of this panel are saved.
When an active player name is blank or "???" in the Manage Players interface, players with any name can connect into that slot and the name will become whatever the connecting player's name is.
When a new player is added to an in-progress game, they start out with the basic starting resources, and a random bonus ship type (which may or may not be the same as any other player's bonus ship type), but no ships. They do not get a home planet command station, and they are dependent on whatever the existing game players choose to give them in order to get started. Players that are never given any ships can simply watch in a basic spectator mode.
Dividing Up The Ships Of A Disabled Player
When an existing player is disabled, nothing much happens. All of their ships remain, and are simply controllerless. However, the remaining players can interact with those left-behind ships in a variety of useful ways.
Any player can select ships that are not owned by active players, and to then give them to other players, or scrap them. It is also possible to give a number of other commands to these sorts of ships, just mainly as a sort of quick ability to manage them in the case that a disabled player has had to leave the game for a while but will later return.
The normal rules of gifting ships still apply, so if the recipient player has not unlocked the gifted ship, the gifted ship will not make the transition. Thus if the remaining players want to control the ungiftable ships, they will need to do it via issuing orders to the ungiftable ships while they still belong to the original player. This is simpler in practice than it sounds, and simply lets the human players control all of the needed ships on the map without allowing for exploits that would let them take advantage of these new mechanics to get around ship caps or ship unlock requirements.
To quickly gift all of the ships from a planet from one player to another, just zoom way out, hold Ctrl, and select all the ships. Or select fewer numbers of ships to divide the ships up more precisely. This makes dividing up control of the ships of an absent player extremely flexible and straightforward.