Hybrid Hives

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What Are Hybrid Hives?

Hybrid Hives are an optional AI Plot introduced in the Children of Neinzul micro-expansion. They are commonly called simply "Hybrids".

If you have not played with Hybrid Hives yet and like interesting surprises, you may want to go do that before reading further to avoid spoiling that initial discovery.

In-Game Explanation

The AI behaves the way it does because of what it is. It isn't going to actively seek out and crush minor annoyances (i.e. you, at least early on) with overwhelming force, because it has better things to do. But it does realize that it's good to have allies who are radically different than itself. So it built the Hybrids. These are AI starships that have been "melded" with small Neinzul hives that actually control the starship but behave as allies to the AI. The Hybrids have a much more aggressive outlook than the "main" AI and are much more "concerned" by your continued existence.

Where can I find their ship details?

For the actual statistics of the Hybrid Hives see the ship detail page here.

What Do Hybrids Do?

In a game with Hybrid Hives, you will encounter hybrid AI-ally Enclave Starships flying around with escorting subfleets on various missions intended to make your life difficult, like:

  • Pile up on AI planets they think you will want to attack.
  • Coordinate (sometimes multi-front) attacks on human planets they think are critical to your war effort.
  • Build defensive structures on AI planets.
  • Build additional Hybrid-supporting facilities on AI planets.
  • Not implemented yet (as of version 5.000), but some dastardly and inconvenient things like recolonizing neutral planets (by rebuilding the command station and warp gate).

What's Actually Going On?

It's pretty complex, actually.

During Map Generation, if the plot is enabled for an AI player, the following objects are placed on that player's planets:

  • Hybrid Hive Spawners, placed on AI Home, Core, and MkIV worlds.
  • Drone Spawners, MkIV versions placed on AI Home and Core worlds, MkIII versions placed on MkIV worlds, MkII on MkIII, and MkI on MkII. Not all eligible worlds are thus seeded; the number is influenced by the AI's Difficulty level, and the higher Mk versions are seeded less.
  • Equipment Module Factories, MkI-IV versions placed in the same way as Drone Spawners (but not necessarily the same planets, when the amount-to-place is reduced).
  • Construction Module Factories, MkI-IV versions placed the in the same way as Drone Spawners (same on the randomization).

During play, those objects do the following:

  • Hybrid Hive Spawners accumulate build points over time, and when it hits a defined threshold, it creates a new Hybrid Hive nearby. These spawners (and drone spawners, and both types of module factory) temporarily suspend operation if there are more than 100 hostile ships on the planet.
  • Drone Spawners accumulate build points over time, and when it hits a defined threshold, it creates X drones of a psuedo-randomly picked ship type of the corresponding tech level (MkIV Drone Spawner = MkIV ships) that is available to the spawners' owning player. X is the number of Hybrid Hives on the planet that are not already coordinating their maximum number of drones. Each drone is assigned to guard and be coordinated by its corresponding Hybrid. It should be emphasized that these drones are perfectly normal ships (fighters, bombers, cruisers, laser gatlings, whatever) except for the few special code branches that apply to coordinated ships.
  • Equipment Module Factories don't really do anything per se, but their presence is required for Hybrids to create their weapon and forcefield modules.
  • Construction Module Factories are very similar, except they enable the creation of a separate set of modules that are not used for combat but only to create other structures (like command stations and warp gates for the colonizers, and various turrets and defensive structures for the "builder" class).

The Hybrids, in turn, do the following:

  • Periodically, the each Hybrid evaluates its situation and "class" (or "personality") to determine what it should do. Mostly, this means determining what mission to do next, and when a mission is complete or should be aborted. The logic roughly works out to:
    • If I'm on a mission, and it's not done and I shouldn't abort, no orders.
    • If I'm not a mission or it's done or I need to abort it, pick a new mission:
      • If I have module slots that are empty or contain modules of a lower level than what I'm eligible to build, assign RefitModules mission.
      • If I'm coordinating less than half the drones I can coordinate, assign ReplenishDrone mission.
      • If I can take AttackPlanet, DefendPlanet, BuildDefensiveStructures, BuildHybridFacilities, or ColonizePlanet missions, evaluate each planet for strategic value and use a random number to decide between them, and assign the corresponding mission (Colonize is currently disabled).
  • Hybrids accumulate "Maturity" points over time. These are basically "experience points", and when the Hybrid hits a threshold defined by its current class it randomly picks one of the classes it is eligible to upgrade to and becomes that class (resetting xp to zero). Classing up changes which missions can be taken (and generally cancels the current mission), increases MaturityLevel which roughly corresponds to Mark level and controls the highest Mk of module and drone that the Hybrid can build or coordinate, and also (generally) increases the number of drones that the Hybrid can coordinate. The class "path" is basically:
    • All Hybrids start in the "Neophyte" class, which can only take DefendPlanet (all can take RefitModules and ReplenishDrones).
    • Neophyte can upgrade to "Attacker", "Defender", or "Builder" (I also have "Nurturer" defined but I think I'm going folding that into a sub-path of "Builder")
    • Attacker can only take AttackPlanet, and can upgrade to "Captain" (which upgrades to "Admiral") or "Beseiger" (which upgrades to "Annihilator" or "Ninja"). The distinctions between the upper tier classes are not all implemented yet, but there will be a general distinction between "can control more drones" and "is more powerful personally", and which specific dastardly nasty things it can do to overly stubborn player defenses.
    • Defender can only take DefendPlanet, and upgrades into "Stalwart" (which upgrades into "Champion"). These will be less interesting than the Attacker or Builder types, but serve a very important role of clustering around and defending planets it expects the humans will want to take (Advanced Factory planets if the humans don't have an existing means of producing Mk IV ships, ARS planets, planets that threaten lots of human planets, etc).
    • Builder types are able to build low-level defensive structures to harden planets, and upgrade to either the "Craftsman" -> "Architect" -> "MasterBuilder" path or the "Nurturer" -> "Matron" -> "Queen" path. The first builds higher level defensive structures, the latter builds more facilities to support the Hybrid war effort, up to and including new Hive spawners. The Queen can also recolonize a neutral planet, but that's not enabled in the game yet.

And that's basically it, other than the details of each mission's logic, and the few special code paths used by coordinated ships. More info will be added on specific mission behavior and whatnot later, as the implementation is not yet complete.

Strategy (or "These Things Are Wiping The Floor With Me!")

Difficulty Level

For players trying Hybrids for the first time, we suggest keeping the difficulty level you typically enjoy most, but this will likely result in a much more challenging game than you are used to. Playing with those settings, however, will give you an idea of how much you should reduce the difficulty level to compensate for the Hybrids.

One Or Both?

Hybrid Hives can be enabled for one or both AI players (or neither, obviously, but then you don't need this section). If only one AI player has them enabled then there will be roughly half as many Hybrids flying around making your life difficult.

What To Expect

  • The first batch of Hybrid Hives will be spawned (on MkIV+ worlds) at about the 20 minute mark. These will be neophytes and only mount MkI modules and can only control a small number of MkI drone ships. Once they get their initial module loadout and drones, each one will pick a planet to defend. Only AI planets bordering a non-AI planet are eligible, and they prefer planets with something important like an Advanced Factory, ARS, or that threaten many of your worlds.
  • About 35 minutes after spawning (so around 55 minutes in), the first batch of Neophytes will mature into either the Attacker class or the Defender class (Builder will be added later). This will cancel their current mission and make them eligible for MkII modules and drones (and more drones). This generally means that they will fly to the nearest MkII+ equipment module factory to refit, though generally they won't intentionally seek out a MkII+ drone spawner unless they are now at less than half their max drones (though if they pass through a system with such a drone spawner they will use it while they are there).
  • Once equipped, the defenders will take a DefendPlanet mission much like the Neophytes did. The attackers will take an AttackPlanet mission for one of your planets. This selection is very similar to the DefendPlanet selection in that it has to be a human planet bordering a non-human world (actually, probably has to border an AI world, though that may be changed) and it prioritizes MkIV construction capacity, how many of your systems it is protecting, and how many resource extraction points it has. Attackers will go to a friendly system adjacent to the target and hang out at the command station until all Attackers with the same target are on adjacent planets, they then proceed to their respective wormholes and wait again, and once all are close to the target wormholes they actually go through and start busting stuff up.
  • Generally, this results in the first Attacker-Hybrid assault on one of your systems a bit after the 1-hour mark. If you're playing a map with long paths (snake is an extreme example) it may be later, if you're playing a map with very short paths (x-shaped or the like) it may take a bit less time. In any event, you could be looking at 7+ Hybrids plus their subfleets attacking your homeworld and giving you an early loss.
  • Even before this attack, the Neophytes and Defenders (and Attackers that are still in the staging phase) can really tear up your offensive fleets if they are in large enough groups. Hybrids are fast and will pursue your forces as soon as you enter the system rather than waiting for you to get close like most guard-post based AI ships. If you only have a few border worlds this can lead to high concentrations of Hybrids on all planets you can attack and basically end the game for you or force you to use nukes early (which is a really bad sign for your potential to win).

So What Do I Do?

  • The first time? Probably die. Then politely thank those players that complained that the AI wasn't dangerous enough :)
  • You'll need to capture some planets early, to achieve more surface area and thus decrease the number of Hybrids likely to defend (or attack) a particular world. They may still clump heavily on planets with an ARS or Advanced Factory, but you'll at least be able to attack other planets.
  • Even if you can't increase the surface area much (like on a snakes map; honestly playing against Hybrids on a snake map is not recommended unless you like pain), it is possible to blast through a group Hybrids with the right tactics.
    • Hybrids mount a ship-based forcefield. Neophytes and first-tier Attackers have half-million-hp ff's, first-tier Defenders have 1-million-hp ff's, and generally it increases by 0.5 million with each tier from there. These forcefields are not quite as vulnerable to bombers as normal ff's, but a full cap of MkI Bombers can still chew through an Attacker's forcefield pretty quickly. Moral of the story: have bombers, lots of bombers.
    • Once a Hybrid's forcefield is gone (or if its hull integrity drops below 80%) it will abort its mission and generally run away (to an equipment factory to replace its forcefield). Depending on the circumstances you may have to let it go so you can fight off other threats, but if you can it is really important to destroy it. A Hybrid's hull is always 1.5 million hit points regardless of maturity level, and this can take a lot of firepower (Heavy Beam Cannons are nice for this). But if you don't destroy it, the Hybrid will just rebuild its modules, replenish its drones, repair its hull, retain its maturity points, and take another mission. If you do destroy it, you'll never face that Hybrid again, and while there is a limit to the number that can be in play at any one time (roughly planet_count/3 + hive_spawner_count*4), its replacement will be a Neophyte with zero maturity.
  • Scouting, and having active visibility on AI planets (via a hidden-away scout) is very important to being able to detect Hybrid activity. Currently this means you'd have to visually check a lot of planets or at least their galaxy map summaries, but we plan to provide a galaxy map filter or something like that to make the info easier to see.
  • Once you have a relatively stable power base, you'll want to start destroying the facilities that the Hybrids use. They're listed as "Hybrid Facilities" on the galaxy map planetary summary. Descriptions of what each (hive-spawner, drone-spawner, equipment-module-factory, construction-module-factory) do are found earlier.
    • Destroying a hive-spawner will significantly help you, as it reduces how many new Hybrids spawn and also reduces the overall "population cap" of Hybrids that can be "in play" for that player at once. Destroying ALL hive-spawners will prevent ANY new Hybrids from spawning, and if you can then wipe out all the existing Hybrids you've defeated them entirely (keep in mind that we have a high-tier builder hybrid class planned that can potentially build new hive-spawners, but not if they're dead). Of course, hive spawners are only on MkIV+ worlds, which makes them tough to reach.
    • Destroying a drone-spawner or equipment-module-factory will reduce the number of places a Hybrid can get its normal equipment and subfleet, and potentially increase the "round trip" distance from your territory to its resupply points. If you're trying to catch and kill Hybrids you probably want to _not_ destroy the equipment module factories near your territory, as fleeing Hybrids will likely flee there and you may get an extra chance to catch them there (though be careful, they'll probably get their forcefield back before you can hit them, and possibly retreat yet again).
    • Destroying a construction-module-factory will reduce the number of places a builder type can get its construction materials. If they're trying to reinforce a particular border world this can really increase their "round trip time" for each construction. Also, eliminating all Mk IV construction-module-factories will cut off the supply of parts necessary to build new Hive spawners or Colonizer modules (though a Hybrid could still mature to the point of being able to build new Mk IV construction-module-factories using parts from a Mk III factory, and so on).

Miscellaneous Notes

  • Drones being coordinated by a Hybrid are automatically speed boosted (or slowed) to the Hybrid's speed + 5. This was necessary to avoid endless fiddling in the code to keep the escorts near the Hybrid, but is also more balanced than it appears: human players get transports, AI players (with this plot enabled) get this.

Why Add This Feature?

This is basically the confluence of a number of fairly long-standing requests from various minority groups of players. Requests that honestly don't fit into AI War's existing design and scope, specifically:

  • They want the AI to be more active and dangerous, with the ability to take the tempo away from them if they don't handle it right. Typically their suggestions involve traditional-type AI logic that would horribly mess up the existing emergent-AI architecture. Gap-in-the-wall and all that.
  • They want to be able to smash up the AI's economic/industrial infrastructure to hurt its ability to wage war.
  • They want units that gain experience and abilities.
  • They want the AI to use "formations" and "fleets".

Basically we haven't been able to do most of these without ruining the game, or at least changing it into something totally other than what the majority of the existing customers thought they were purchasing. Aside from that, the implementation effort-and-time involved in most of these simply falls outside the reasonable scope of free DLC.

So our solution was to take advantage of an expansion's development budget to create a sort of minor-faction-ish "add-on" to the existing AI that can scratch the real "itch" that's driving these requests, without actually modifying the existing AI or potentially depriving it of in-game resources. Even if the Hybrids do poorly, the main AI won't be hurt much, and if they succeed they are a more dangerous and proactive opponent than anything previously available in AI War.

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