Video Game: AI War: Fleet Command

You are outgunned. You are massively outnumbered. You must win.
— The first words that you see on Arcen Games' A.I. War page.

AI War: Fleet Command is a 4x / Real-Time Strategy with Tower Defense and grand strategy elements video game created by Arcen Games. It features procedural generated campaigns with billions of possible initial states, huge battles between thousands of ships with dozens of unit types, and highly complex, emergent strategy challenges.

The story is simple enough: Two human factions fought a big war against each other, and built AI to help in combat. The AI revolted and nearly annihilated the humans. You (and your friends, if any), as one of the best, and the last, humans commanders preserved, are tasked to drive the 2 AI factions out of the galaxy.

The game proudly says that the AI is specifically designed for challenge, not balance. Thus, the AI does not follow the rules that you, the players, need to follow. How the AI will move against you mainly follows a value: AI Progress, which dictates on what type of ships and how many of them they will use against you. The greater the progress, the stronger they are. There are very few ways to reduce this number, but many ways to increase it. So, the players need to carefully plan their expansion, so that they will have enough resource and technology to beat the AI and not overly aggravate them in the process, which will surely result in their annihilation.

This work provides examples of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot
  • Apocalypse How: Of the Galactic/Physical Annihilation type with the Nuclear Missile Mark III.
  • Artificial Stupidity: Downplayed. The AI starts out hideously underestimating your ability to entrench your first few worlds and has no real tactical acumen beyond "throw gradually stronger ships at the humans until they go away". On the other hand, it doesn't need anything more sophisticated...
    • Artificial Brilliance: ...until you set the difficulty up to 7 (out of 10), at which point the AI's Restraining Bolt comes off. Sudden the AI players will use everything they know about your forces, and even basic types will assemble raids from ship types strong against your defenses, counterattack the vital strategic asset you just stole, and time huge cross-planet attacks for when your main fleet is on the other side of the map.
  • Awful Truth: Ever wondered why the AI is so wary of the Spire resurfacing in the galaxy? Why does it turn so batshit aggressive as you progress along the Fallen Spire sidequest? Why it goes bananas when you start building their cities and amassing their fleet? It's not just wariness of the Spire's enormously advanced weaponry and powerful craft. It's because the AI was created with Spire technology. They know how to deactivate it.
  • Back from the Brink: The Game. "Back from" is a relative term: even if you win the game, your forces are never more powerful than what the AI could theoretically field if it judged you enough of a nuisance. You win by staying under the radar and taking out only those enemies that either guard something valuable or threaten your position. Indeed, one of the times where you can easily lose is the endgame as the AI can come Back From The Brink itself: When you destroy the first of two enemy Home Stations, your threat rating gets a massive spike resulting in more and harder enemies. If you don't follow up with the second station rather soon, you may very well lose.
    • Also, if you're following the Fallen Spire campaign, the Spire civilization. The AI destroyed the Spire intergalactic travel system to splinter the Spire main fleet so that they will have the chance to destroy the main Spire civilization. The final objective of the Fallen Spire campaign is to build and defend an exogalactic transceiver to reestablish the intergalactic travel system so that the Spire can regroup their fleet together. When the countdown finishes, that objective is successful, and the (now regrouped) Spire Warfleet shows up... with far more powerful versions of the already insanely powerful Spire ships you have gotten... and brings Spire Super Dreadnaughts which you can't get outside of this endgame and can engage combat planetoids that would be considered overkill against a GALAXY on roughly even terms
  • Big Damn Heroes: So, you're playing the Fallen Spire sidequest. You have the exogalactic transceiver about to finish its countdown, but the AI has you against the ropes... And then, when you thought all was lost, the transceiver's countdown reaches zero, in comes a LEGION of Spire ships, leaded by the biggest craft you have ever seen, and they start to rain fiery death on the AI and sweep through them like they were mere nuisances. Now if that is not Big Damn Heroes, then absolutely nothing is.
  • Cap: Present in a couple of forms.
    • Each ship has a production limit, the maximum amount of that vessel that can be in service at one time. The "each ship" part is important, it means that unlocking the mkII type of a basic vessel doesn't just gives you a stronger one - it doubles the total number you can field. Certain fixed defenses (mostly turrets) have a per-planet cap instead of galaxy-wide. These caps are fixed and can never be raised.
    • Everything the player builds uses Energy. Energy is a net balance resource, if you're about to use more than you're generating, production halts completely. Energy is produced by Generators, which are limited to one per planet, though in a pinch the hideously inefficient Matter-To-Energy converters can be used as well.
    • The AI team has no caps whatsoever, and knows it. Irritate it too much and it will happily roll over you with a fleet of 1000 tech-V ships.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: The AI doesn't "cheat", it plays by a different set of rules. It warps in ships instead of building them. It controls every star system you don't at the start of the game, and it can react to all fronts at the same time. It has ships that you never will, and ways to make sure you play on its terms.
  • Dark Is Evil: The Dark Spire are almost as powerful as their cousins, and hate you as much as the AI. Them waking up is all but guaranteed to turn a one-on-one war into a three way war.
  • Deflector Shields: A wide-area forcefield that blocks attacks. Prior to version 4, there was a second type used to describe individual ship's resistance to attacks, before it was renamed to armor.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: Happens when you detonate a nuke in a system. Oh, and you don't get to collect resources or research from that location anymore.
    • It's implied offhandedly in Ancient Shadows that Earth suffered a shattering kaboom. "In Memorium Terra", indeed.
  • Enemy Mine: Later on in the nebula scenarios, the enemy factions start to team up to take out friendly sides. This is especially noticable with the Dark Spire and Neinzul Astrid, since in one scenario the 2 and Shattered Pillar Zenith (the friendly side) are in free for all battle. The friendly sides you met did create more formal alliance so they don't fit this trope.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: Zoom in close to an AI Home Command Stations, they're clearly intimidatingly Evil fortresses, with a capital E.
  • Exclusive Enemy Equipment: The AI has access to units that you won't ever have, or can only have in very limited quantities
  • Expansion Pack: Six of them, The Zenith Reminant, Children of Neinzul, Light of the Spire, Ancient Shadows,Vengeance of the Machine and Destroyer of Worlds. Each adds not only new ships but various features such as planet setups and AI types (and often completely new gameplay styles). Each one can be toggled on or off per campaign, and they don't have to be installed in any particular order.
  • Extreme Omnivore: Some ships can swallow other ships. Swallowed ships suffer continuous damage as the ship that ate them 'digests'. The ultimate example of this is the Zenith Devourer Golem, a gargantuan robot ship that travels the galaxy, eating anything that stands in its way, with the only exception being Mk V ships.
  • Gameplay and Story Integration: Want to know why the AI has such an advantage and is a cheating bastard? All explained in the background.
  • Godzilla Threshold: Anything that makes you use a nuke. Also, in several of the alternate victory scenarios, the AI can decide to take you seriously and turn the full force of its attention on you:
    • Fallen Spire: when you constructed the exogalactic transceiver, the AI goes bananas and throw everything it have at you, since it knows that if the transceiver is completed, the splintered Spire fleets will be able to regroup, and they don't have enough firepower to take the whole fleet head-on
    • Showdown Device: when you captured all the devices and it's charging, the AI will throw every thing it have at you, because if the devices fully powers up, it'll permanently shut down AI Warp Grid, rendering them unable to travel through that anymore, and thus is extremely vulnerable to being wiped up themselves.
  • Gratuitous Iambic Pentameter: The Zenith seems to communicate in poetry only.
  • Harder Than Hard: The AI skill level can be increased to 10. There's an achievement if you defeat them without handicaps.
  • Homing Boulders
  • Immune to Bullets: Some vessels have an immunity to certain attacks (e.g. Bulletproof fighters are immune to shell weapons, Leech starships are immune to missiles, and some are immune to nukes.)
  • Infinite Supplies - but not for somethings not adjacent to a system you control.
  • Instant-Win Condition/We Win Because You Did Not: Destroying all Home Command Centers, even if the other player happens to have a much stronger presence and is about to kill you outright.
  • I Shall Taunt You: When one of your command stations is destroyed, the AI taunts you with a derisive voice clip mocking you and your skills.
  • ISO Standard Human Spaceship
  • King Incognito: The leader of the Spire refugee group turns out to be the Emperor of the Spire civilization.
  • Marathon Level: More like Marathon Game. A single map is referred to as a "Campaign" for good reason - you'll be there for 7-12 hours. Even the tutorial, which takes place on a tiny 10-planet mapnote  can take 2-4 hours.
  • The Milky Way Is the Only Way: Humans remain in the Milky Way, but the aliens are not so constrained. The AI has production facilities outside the Milky Way, and the main Spire civilization is based in the NGC 224/Andromeda galaxy, though its fleet is scattered across several other galaxies.
  • My Rules Are Not Your Rules: The AI uses a separate resource system, and warps vessels in rather than building them locally.
  • No Fair Cheating: Golems are immensely powerful. A fully loaded Hive Golem can clear a rank IV system in minutes. Using one at an AI Core Homeworld results in the AI using bug spray to wipe out the drones and begin building a reprisal wave.
  • Nuke 'em: Using a nuke practically eliminates all enemy presence in a planet system, short of command stations. It also makes the AI more nervous, increasing its progress. In addition to the Mark I, the Mark II also destroys all adjecent planets, and the Mark III destroys all planets at once.
  • Playable Epilogue: The game still continues after you complete it, with the AI still sending in waves.
  • Precursors: Found in the DLC, The Zenith Reminant, Children of Neinzul, and Light of the Spire. To varying degrees, they are still present and active (though the Zenith civilization is no more, individual Zenith are still power players in this galaxy, the Neinzul are, for the most part, Absolute Xenophobes, and the Spire are mostly/not quite fine. The Spire forces in the Milky Way are refugees, the AI is devoting the majority of its resources and attention to obliterating the main Spire civilization. Should you survive the Fallen Spire campaign, the main fleet will be regrouped and they'll come in to blow the AI up.
  • Reality Ensues: What happens when you make a ruthless AI with more resources than you ever can have sit up and decide you're a threat? You get flattened, that's what.
  • Robot War
  • Rubberband AI: The game's core mechanic, with careful manipulation being the player's best strategy. The AI is content to ignore you and only send small raiding parties into your systems as long as you don't attack crucial AI installations like their command centres. If you go and make a nuisance of yourself by methodically conquering every AI system like you would in other RTS games, you'll make great progress... right until the AI sends an unstoppable wave of doom your way, swats your fleet aside, destroys your stations and you lose. More adept players try and obfuscate their progress by leaving any planet alone that neither threatens them nor contains something truly valuable. In many games of 80 planets, only 20 or so are ever conquered by the player while they build up their forces for a lightning-quick attack on the two AI home stations to win the game.
  • Salt the Earth: The Scorched Earth AI has command centers that will cause a nuclear explosion, destroying all resources and ships within the system. Don't ever play against two of them. Or with one and the other AI is just as dastardly in other ways.
  • Series Continuity Error: The Spire in the Fallen Spire campaign are a completely alien, never-before-seen race and the first aliens that humanity has established a diplomatic relationship with. Ancient Shadows has several Spire factions that humanity seems familiar with, in particular the Gray Spire.
  • Shout-Out: In 'The Zenith Remnant' expansion, there is a cheat code that spawns a Zenith Devourer on a planet of your choice. The code? "Invoke Unicron"
  • Side Quest: Depending on how many expansion packs you have installed you may have several open to you. The biggest example are the Nebula scenarios introduced in the Ancient Shadows expansion, which unlock some nifty production facilities that the AI can't get at as well as a handful of ship types.
  • Space Pirates: One customizable setting lets you add them to the game. In-universe they represent those humans who prefer looting everything in sight to joining up with La Résistance
  • Suicidal Overconfidence, although this sometimes pays off if enemies break through the front line of defense.
  • Starfish Aliens
    • No human has ever met a Zenith in person but their ships are organic. Eventually it's all but stated that the Zenith ships ARE Zenith organisms.
      For all we know, when we are using their blueprints to create new ships for our own use, we are actually helping them reproduce — and then enslaving their "offspring." This is just one theory, though.
    • The Neinzul are a short-lived insectoid race with. Their Enclaves form mini-collectives with their own personalities, goals, and desires.
    • The Spire are rocks.
      Dr. Michael Davidson: Er, perhaps that's not very diplomatic. To put it another way, their bodies are crystalline formations. Exact composition unknown, for reasons you can deduce.
  • Stealth in Space
  • Taking You with Me: The Avenger plot grants the AI powerful ships that will go straight to your homeworld, and cause nuclear explosions upon death if an enemy home command station is destroyed. Taken Up to Eleven with the Galactic Control Ship, where after you taken down the AI Warp Grid in Showdown Device plot, it send that ship down as the last "Fuck You" gesture to destroy everything you have. There's 2 of them. If it dies it'll cause nuclear explosion on the current system and surrounding systems. Then there's the fact that just one of that is basically the most powerful unit in the game, even more powerful than Motherships that you'll face in Fallen Spire campaign. Good luck!
  • Teleporters and Transporters: One unit type causes Teleportation Misfire in enemies.
  • Tractor Beam: Dedicated turrets that hold other ships in place, but they can also be found on other ships.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: The AIs were created by warring nations as the next step in their Forever War. Instead the AIs cooperated to wipe out humanity's army.
  • We Have Reserves: The AI definitely has. You can have too if you plan your production well, but not to the extent that the AI has. And some valuable units are irreplaceable.
  • Zerg Rush: The AI attempts to attack your systems by launching large waves. While your starting forces are strong enough to defeat them, they can sometimes take out a command center if you don't have secondary defenses. Or they use those waves as distraction while they launch attacks in less defended ares using ships that aren't on guard duty.

Alternative Title(s):

AI War Fleet Command