Author Topic: The Non-Player Races (NPRs), and how to set them up  (Read 993 times)

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Offline Polestar (OP)

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The Non-Player Races (NPRs), and how to set them up
« on: June 24, 2021, 11:17:13 AM »
Motivation:
     I have not had much success in setting up Aurora C# games that:
1. Are challenging, while also being beatable, and
2. Don't bog down excessively (as in, "by mid- to late-game, take to reading a book while the game heats up your computer") on my Ryzen 5600x CPU.

A part of the problem is that I didn't know enough about non-player races (NPRs). So in Aurora 1.13, I did some research, consisting of multiple games with specific NPR scenarios and a deal of database editing.
     Some results and preliminary conclusions follow, provided here in hopes of sparking discussion and further testing, hopefully leading to better recommendations for Aurora players!


Comments on Non-Player Races:   
     They do not terraform worlds. They do populate worlds you have made habitable for them.

     They run out of minerals almost invariably. Even if the homeworld is given massive resources, the NPR may move its mines off so quickly, and transfer resources from other worlds back so slowly, as to suffer a permanent resource crunch.

     They rely on civilians to move things about, but this doesn't actually help them much. While they're good at getting mines to resource-rich worlds, they don't know how to keep their industrial planet supplied, or how to cope with a critical resource shortfall.

     They build and expand shipyards aggressively, and build ships and fleets quickly (given resources). Sheer number of ships and fleets are both what make NPRs challenging (this is good!) and are a critical cause of slow-down in Aurora turn processing (this...is not so good).

     They muster ground forces continuously (given resources).

     They do not build very many research facilities and factories, especially after the first few decades. This isn't just a resource problem: Providing massive homeworld resources and population, along with enormous racial wealth, didn't get them to build these any faster.

     They apply their whole research output to a common stockpile. When this reaches a certain level, their tech level (in all categories?) increases.

     Therefore, a player (role-)playing anything approximating a well-governed empire will increasingly outstrip the NPRs economically and especially technologically, starting in key fields, unless massive bonuses are given to the latter or heavy limitations or penalties are set on the former.

     They do not build fighters. They do not need supplies or build maintenance facilities. I am not certain about whether they need fuel, but they do not seem to build refineries.

     NPRs do build officer academies (roughly 2 per billion pop?) and assign officers. Their ground forces can, in fact, gain morale through officer inspiration (pretty cool, this). They do not establish sectors or set up multi-layer fleet hierarchies. As far as I can tell, the bonuses obtained by these means are not available to NPRs.


Therefore:
     Although NPRs will typically have a large number of ships and ground forces, perhaps greatly out-massing your own, these will be no match for a sufficiently prepared player force, fielded by a player empire given time to develop.
     An NPR near to you can be very dangerous in the early and even in the mid game, because they (depending on initial size, available resources, and difficulty settings) may out-mass you by rather a lot. However, an NPR far away from you, or in the mid- to late-game, is almost invariably a pushover, existing only to be massacred when convenient.

Summary and Warnings about NPRs:
     Any NPR capable of posing a long-term threat to you is also going to slow down turn processing by more than any other non-player entity, because it will field more ships.
     NPRs are also certain to trigger quasi-endless runs of turn increments measured in seconds because they run into, target, and fight other NPRs, the Swarm, Precursors, and anything else you've allowed in the game universe. No detection settings will entirely save you from this issue. The only thing I ever found to work is to a) *only* have NPRs (no Invaders, Swarm, or Precursors), and b) manually edit (in the database) relations between all NPRs to be extremely positive. In other words, ensure that nobody fights anybody except you.
     Unless you work to help the NPRs, they will only be dangerous in the early to mid-game, and only if sufficiently close  (<~20 b km or ~6 jumps) to you. Otherwise, you will find them miserably out-teched, and (sooner or later) out-produced as well.   
      
Preliminary Recommendations for setting up NPRs:
     Do not allow NPRs to appear randomly; this will dramatically slow down the game, especially over time. Do not automatically create NPRs at game start unless you are prepared for a game of *very* random difficulty - either terribly difficult or boringly easy, and you won't know which for many hours.
     Consider having a game set-up race explore the game universe before creating the race(s) you plan to play, as well as any NPR races.
     Give the NPRs a large racial bonus to research - at least 2.0 (x2 normal), and possibly as much as 5.0. The further away they are, and the more experienced you are, the bigger the bonus should be.   
     After setting up NPRs, they will benefit if you edit the database to give them a lot of resources (except maybe just a moderate amount of  Gallicite, refreshed every so often) [edit the field "FCT_Population,", their homeworld, column "Duranium" (etc.)].      
     You can also purge their shipyards every so often [database, edit field "FCT_Shipyard"] if you find that their shipbuilding is killing game speed.   
 
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Offline skoormit

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Re: The Non-Player Races (NPRs), and how to set them up
« Reply #1 on: June 24, 2021, 12:28:21 PM »
Very interesting insights, very much appreciated.

Quote
Preliminary Recommendations for setting up NPRs:
     Do not allow NPRs to appear randomly; this will dramatically slow down the game, especially over time. Do not automatically create NPRs at game start unless you are prepared for a game of *very* random difficulty - either terribly difficult or boringly easy, and you won't know which for many hours.

So, don't play with NPRs?  :)

I agree that NPR econ growth is always inferior to that of an empire run by a remotely competent player.
This, as you say, is why NPRs created at game start will only ever be a challenge early on.

But NPRs that are generated randomly during a game are a different story.

These NPRs have an economic strength at creation scaled to the player's economic strength at that time.
(I believe that the exact scaling factor used for a given race is selected from a random range centered on the player's economic strength, multiplied by the game's difficulty factor.)
In other words, you can't out-econ one of these NPRs until after you discover it.

Furthermore, the new NPR creates its entire fleet at that time, from whole cloth, using all of the available shipbuilding points.
This is quite an advantage, because the NPR gets the benefit of a completely up-to-date fleet.
By contrast, the player does not know exactly when contact with another race will occur, and therefore will not have an ideal, up-to-date fleet at such time.

Therefore each new NPR generated will represent, at the time of discovery, an immediate challenge to the player, having an economic strength scaled to the player's own and a fleet that is likely much stronger than the player's.

The best way to mitigate the challenge is to explore fast and far.
You want to discover these NPRs as soon as possible, as far away from your economic assets as possible.
You want to discover them far away so that you have as much time as possible to make up the fleet readiness gap before a significant engagement occurs.
You want to discover them early to minimize their starting econ strength. The longer it takes to discover them, the stronger your econ becomes, the greater their starting strength.

For me, these factors lead to a satisfying play experience.
I methodically develop my economy, slowly integrating and exploiting additional systems further and further from my HW, careful not to commit too strongly to a position until I am capable of projecting significant power there.
Meanwhile, I push the exploration frontier out as fast as I can, creating minor colonies for supply and maintenance along the way.

I'm 37 years into my current game (15% research speed, 10% survey speed).
I have discovered 50 systems at a distance up to 9hops and 29.4bkm from home.
I have a total population of 1.4b, but less than 20m are more than 3 hops / 10bkm from home.

When an NPR is discovered, I am at an immediate disadvantage in the area near the NPR.
The theoretical midpoint of equal effective power projection between us is probably closer to my HW than to theirs.
Overcoming this disadvantage takes time, strategic planning, and effort.
Which is kind of what I like from a game.
« Last Edit: June 24, 2021, 12:30:01 PM by skoormit »
 

Offline nuclearslurpee

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Re: The Non-Player Races (NPRs), and how to set them up
« Reply #2 on: June 24, 2021, 12:44:39 PM »
These NPRs have an economic strength at creation scaled to the player's economic strength at that time.
(I believe that the exact scaling factor used for a given race is selected from a random range centered on the player's economic strength, multiplied by the game's difficulty factor.)
In other words, you can't out-econ one of these NPRs until after you discover it.

Furthermore, the new NPR creates its entire fleet at that time, from whole cloth, using all of the available shipbuilding points.
This is quite an advantage, because the NPR gets the benefit of a completely up-to-date fleet.
By contrast, the player does not know exactly when contact with another race will occur, and therefore will not have an ideal, up-to-date fleet at such time.

Therefore each new NPR generated will represent, at the time of discovery, an immediate challenge to the player, having an economic strength scaled to the player's own and a fleet that is likely much stronger than the player's.

It is worth noting that this is generally true in the early to mid game, however by the late game it is easily possible for the player to greatly surpass what the NPRs will generate with unless the difficulty modifier is turned up over time. This is because the starting quantities for a new NPR are derived in part from multipliers corresponding to an assumed tech level, for example NPRs spawn with research points equal to, IIRC, (300 RP per year) * (years + 20) * (NPR number of labs, based on pop but constrained to be <= 50). The 300 RP per year exceeds the initial tech level (200 RP/yr) but by the mid/late game the player will easily exceed this, and of course the player will build many more than 50 labs.

In practice this late game point tends to be where many players move on to a new campaign as the NPRs do not pose any new challenges (including spoilers which will have been out-teched by this point). Bumping up the difficulty can help with this of course but it isn't a complete fix - later in the game NPRs also will not be able to use the many techs players use to diversify their fleets, OP mentions fighters but also things like cloaking, heavy use of ECM/ECCM, advanced missile designs with homing sensors/MIRVs/mines/etc. - eventually the NPRs are just tactically outmatched and struggle to catch up due to their very poor economies.

At this point two equally good options remain: the first is to simply start a new campaign which appeals to players who get irritated by late game slowdown; the second is to play the late game by adding more player races, which is quite intensive but appeals to a certain subset of players as well.
 
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Offline Droll

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Re: The Non-Player Races (NPRs), and how to set them up
« Reply #3 on: June 24, 2021, 01:08:15 PM »
It is worth noting that this is generally true in the early to mid game, however by the late game it is easily possible for the player to greatly surpass what the NPRs will generate with unless the difficulty modifier is turned up over time.

Everything else is good but I want to mention that turning the difficulty up over time helps but not to the degree you might expect thanks to the crude way in which the difficulty is adjusted, at least in the context of generated NPRs.

Right now when a new NPR is generated all their population and industrial capacity is focused on one world, the game does not actually generate more undiscovered (to the player) star systems in order to generate a more robust TN interstellar empire. The consequence of which is that you end up with NPRs that have a home world that fits 7bn population but has 30bn population.

This basically causes the population to start dying out by the millions from overpopulation, effectively self-destructing the effect that the difficulty modifier would have had on actual challenge beyond the initial fleet generation.

The simple solution I already suggested on the bug thread, generate a OH design and add however many are need to fit the population cap.

But I think the more complex solution that maybe one day should be attempted is to completely overhaul mid-game random NPR generation to allow for empires that generate with multiple established star systems. This would also make such NPR encounters more dynamic as now you don't necessarily meet an NPR at their home system but a frontier colony, the rest of the NPR still being unknown.
Nevertheless, this would basically need it's own system generation code and be lots of work, but would make the random NPRs be much more fun to deal with.
 
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Offline nuclearslurpee

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Re: The Non-Player Races (NPRs), and how to set them up
« Reply #4 on: June 24, 2021, 01:12:10 PM »
This would be very much ideal. I would even settle for seeing the capability for the player to set this up manually and then turn the race over to the NPR...presently we cannot turn a player race back to an NPR without questionable DB hacking but with the 1.14 changes to allow ship transfers we may be getting closer to this capability.
 

Offline Garfunkel

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Re: The Non-Player Races (NPRs), and how to set them up
« Reply #5 on: June 25, 2021, 12:27:50 AM »
Back before Steve committed to C# version, he had added fighters to NPR code. You can read about the lopsided battle where he got surprised by NPR carriers here: http://aurora2.pentarch.org/index.php?topic=7828.0

It's a shame if that code couldn't make the move from VB6 to C# but maybe Steve will add it for 1.14 or 1.15!
 

Offline dsedrez

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Re: The Non-Player Races (NPRs), and how to set them up
« Reply #6 on: November 17, 2021, 02:25:28 PM »
Hi! I'm setting up a scenario, and reading about features I'm trying to address, and I've stumbled upon this thread.   I'd like to add a couple of things to the discussion, that may help in improving the fun of mid-to-late game even in the current version. 

First, Steve is going to fix it in the v.  1.  14 code, but currently, in 1.  13, any randomly-generated NPR in the middle of the game always use the default research rate to calculate its research points.   That means that if you've reduced the rate (to 15% or even 10% as I'm going to try) that means the new NPR most likely will get a massive research advantage over the player races, even accounting for all the player advantages.   Unless, of course, it's so late in the game that the player's advantage is already massive, regardless of the tech rate, and those other advantages (cloaking etc), that the NPR doesn't know how to use effectively, are now in the player's hands.   The recommendation, therefore, is to set up a reduced research rate from the start, that will result in increased advantages to the random NPRs. 

Second, I've found you can manually generate the NPR in a place of your choosing, without the problems resulting from taking over control of the NPR (BD editing etc).   In the beginning, start with 0 NPRs, and be sure to set the chance of NPR generating other NPRs to 0.   Create a race specifically to set up the game, but instead of exploring the whole universe with it, simply go to SM mode, and "Create System".   If it's real stars, you can choose the system you want, at a given distance from Sol, number of stellar components etc.   Note that this new system is *not* yet connected to Sol, therefore there'll still be an element of surprise to when and how the new NPR will meet you.   Choose a planet, terraform it, give it all the minerals you want etc.   Be sure to also put a gas giant in the system: the NPRs love to use harvesters for fuel.   

Then you create the NPR, choosing any advantages to give it in terms of pop, facilities etc, but be sure to click the "Non-player race" checkbox.   You can even choose whether it's xenophobic and other characteristics, or simply go with what was rolled.   And you can give it the system already surveyed, thus accelerating its expansion.   Maybe even adding more jump points, and exploring ahead to set up more minerals, gas planets, neutral colonies etc.  .  . 

Your set-up race can always go back to the NPR system to check up on things, and I plan to use this to learn how the NPR evolves, and how I might be able to "help" it later on. 

An added suggestion is that you can "seed" the new system with neutral "colonies" of the same race (it can be chosen from the pull-down menu) in the system, to be annexed by the new NPR.   I don't know if this works as intended, but I'm going to try in my new scenario.   By being neutral, they're unarmed, so they should be easy pickings.   Though I'm not sure if the AI will try to conquer them.   If you give these new colonies some facilities (no shipyards, but mines certainly), they'll end up being "inherited" by the race if/when it conquers them. 

Another advantage is that you can do this at *any* point in the game, creating more NPRs to challenge yourself.   You don't know how it'll be set up and where you'll meet them.   I hope this will be enough to keep the game interesting much farther into the game. 

I hope this helps.   When my scenario is ready I intend to try writing an AAR for it, maybe.   I have a whole background story for it :)

[edit] I forgot to add, but when creating the game, set both NPR generation chances to 0, so you don't accidentally create a NPR just by creating the system. . .  Once the game is set up, you can choose to allow NPR random generation by the player races, if you wish.


« Last Edit: November 17, 2021, 02:31:30 PM by dsedrez »