Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri & Alien Crossfire > Bug/Patch Discussion

validating Thinker mod's cost_factor in the .ini

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bvanevery:
The purpose of this thread, is to play a test game meticulously tracking whether the cost_factor setting in Thinker mod's thinker.ini works like it's supposed to.

Based on a test game, I have reason to believe that it doesn't, in some circumstance at least.  I made the following change to the settings, in order to have the AI play with no bonuses or penalties on Transcend difficulty:


--- Code: ---; Set AI cost factors for mineral/nutrient production for each difficulty level respectively.
; All other difficulty level modifiers remain unaffected by this setting.
cost_factor=13,12,11,10,8,10
; Changed Transcend from 7 to 10.  AI is too competent at colonizing and resource management.

--- End code ---

I know I started a game with this setting, and verified that all the AI factions were indeed getting rows of 10 nutrients for growth, and 10 minerals for production.  All seemed well.

Then I started the test game I actually played.  I did not verify anything at the beginning, because I didn't have infiltration with anybody, and I wanted to play the game properly.  I do not remember if I ever verified things early in the game.  The Usurpers started right next to me and seemed to do relatively poorly, so I assumed the minerals and nutrients were set to 10.  I played it a lot yesterday, doing a writeup as I was playing.  Eventually I got tired, went to bed, and saved my game.  I also may have saved and loaded once or twice due to some gameplay save scumming stuff.

Today I noticed that the nutrients and minerals were actually set to 7, as though the cost_factor had been ignored, or possibly reset.  Theories:


* It never worked in the game I played, and I just didn't notice?  Odd because it did work at the beginning of a different game.  Could it have to do with entering the app for the 1st time, vs. restarting a game from the menus?
* It did work, but stopped working when I saved and loaded?
* It stopped working for a seemingly random, fairly devious reason?
I am now remembering, I changed game save directories at one point, because I wanted to see whether eco-damage was the same in Thinker mod as in the stock binary.  It was; mission accomplished.  I wonder if this could have affected the path to thinker.ini somehow?  Like if it doesn't believe thinker.ini is available due to directory shenanigans, does it resort to default values?

I can't remember if I continued playing from that save or not.  Anyways, onwards to the test, to make sure diagnosis does not depend on memory.

bvanevery:
The test I was actually trying to do, is to see how Thinker mod does when it isn't given any special production or nutrient boost ala Transcend.  I'm testing this in combo with my own SMACX AI Growth mod, not the stock alphax.txt or faction.txt files.

Quite apart from Thinker mod or my mod, the game gives a huge cheating pass to the AI on eco-damage.  A human player on Transcend will suffer catastrophic losses from doing too much eco-damage, and the AI will get the lightest of slaps on the wrist.  I've verified in another thread that there's at least a 3X difference in eco-damage done.  This doesn't matter with the stock binary, because the AI doesn't know how to terraform all that effectively.

Thinker mod totally changes that, giving the AI the knowledge and capability of the worst kind of supply crawler and borehole abusing minimaxer.  A lot of eco-damage should get done with such a strategy, were a human to do it.  That's why we humans don't do it.  But the AI gets a pass, and now with Thinker mod, it's turned into this huge, amplified cheat for the AI.  It's pretty much the golden path through the game now.  You either adopt a strategy like this yourself, or you die.

Thinker mod is also really good at early colony spreading.  Too good.  In my mod, I nerfed the Aliens so that they are no more powerful than other factions.  Yet, because they start with 3 colony pods instead of 2, in Thinker mod they are usually ending up with 18 cities when other AI factions have 12.  There is some debate about whether starting resources were just more favorable in the cases I observed, so I'll be paying attention to that too.

The excessive colony spreading should be solved easily enough: set cost_factor to 10 rather than 7.  AI nutrient bonus goes away.  Thinker mod might make the colonists scurry better, and they could still do well, but it should be "fair" compared to human play.  Instead of just suffering through a game where I know the AI was given huge boosts, that really really mattered at the beginning of the game.

With colony spreading and production normalized, I want to see if the eco-damage cheat is still a huge problem or not.  Does the AI stomp me, because it doesn't have to pay for all its polluting factories?  (Kinda like negotiating currency valuation with China.)  Or do they merely have an advantage, and it's in the realm of the acceptable?  I was trying to find out, when I ran into the problem of whether cost_factor was working at all.

For my test game, I will take a random faction.  Before, I chose Cha Dawn to maximize my PLANET rating and save me eco-damage, but I'm thinking that's not actually necessary now.  I will play against the Pirates, the Caretakers, the Usurpers, and 3 other random factions.  I want those 3 in the game as they benchmark important things.  In my mod, when combined with Thinker mod, the Pirates are clearly the economic runaway.  They are Passive and focus on Wealth.  They just sit back and rake in all those delicious sea mineral bonuses they get.  No need to conquer anybody when you've got a moat and inherent wealth like that!  The Aliens, they test whether starting with 3 colony pods instead of 2 is game breaking under Thinker.

bvanevery:
I start the game "cold".  Freshly loaded into RAM.

After doing so, I think to check my "Alpha Centauri.ini" file for any weird save path.  It has:

--- Code: ---Latest Save=C:\GOG Games\Thinker and AI Growth\saves\Cha Dawn of the Planet Cult, 2206
--- End code ---
That's normal.  That's the directory I made for combining both Thinker and my AI Growth mod.

Huge map.  30%..50% land mass, using my world generator settings.  Such maps never have small islands, are mostly continental in shape, and have large oceans in case Pirates are in play.  Average settings.  Transcend difficulty.  cost_factor in thinker.ini is 10:

--- Code: ---; Set AI cost factors for mineral/nutrient production for each difficulty level respectively.
; All other difficulty level modifiers remain unaffected by this setting.
cost_factor=13,12,11,10,8,10
; Changed Transcend from 7 to 10.  AI is too competent at colonizing and resource management.

--- End code ---

I draw the Spartans.  Pirates, Caretakers, Usurpers, Cyborgs, Peacekeepers, and Hive are in play.  Based on previous experience I'm expecting the Cyborgs to be weaker than the others, but otherwise I really couldn't tell you.  I'm still living with the consequences of rebalancing the factions in my mod.  Those others could all be strong factions.

The Spartans only get +2 MORALE in my mod, no other bonuses.  However they also don't get any penalties.  On larger maps, if they start out isolated it's the worst case really.  They have no advantage for sitting back and making a good empire.  They need to find a victim.

So, if I thought I was going to ape Thinker's play style and cough out boreholes and supply crawlers, well we'll see how it really goes.  I think it's going to be logistics dependent.  I could certainly take over someone else's nicely constructed boreholes.

Before I make any move I save my game, in case I need to check it later.  Attached.

bvanevery:
MY 2157.  I have been completely isolated.  My high MORALE has been useful for exploration, and I've made a lot of money, but I don't have much of anything to spend it on.  I don't need to rush Colony Pods because I'm much more limited by the speed at which I produce roads and terrain improvements.  I've started building Rover Formers to make roads faster and lower my SUPPORT costs.

This turn I finally popped a comm frequency from a supply pod.  It's for the Pirates.  They offer a Pact if I go to war with the Usurpers.  I have an ulterior motive for saying yes: I want to see how many nutrients and minerals are in a row of Svensgaard's cities!  This is the quickest way.

It doesn't hurt that I need a lot of his techs as well.  In my mod the Spartans have a pure Conquer focus by default, and I kept that, to see how it would go.  Lately I've started feeling a need for a Recreation Commons though.  We trade, and he thinks I'm a weakling, so he even gives me a tech for free.  Ironically, the one thing I don't get out of him is Social Psych!

Detailsfriendly pirates to the eastfriendly pirates to the east
Looks like I would have contacted him soon anyways.  Now let's see what his nutrients and minerals look like.

Detailsaarg me hearty mineralsaarg me hearty minerals
Nutrients are correct, 10 per row.  Minerals are at 9 per row.  They are Democratic Capitalist Survival, which gives +0 GROWTH and +1 INDUSTRY, so that's also correct.

Now I save the game.  Everything is working correctly right now.  Attached.

bvanevery:
To test the "saves ignore it" possibility, I select Menu.. Game.. Start New Game.  This is a warm start, the game is still running.  I load my game.  I check Safe Haven again:

Detailsaarg save me mineralsaarg save me minerals
Still working.

Now I quit SMAC completely.  I start the game "cold" again.  I load my game.  I check Safe Haven:

Detailsaarg I eats me spinachaarg I eats me spinach
Still working.  So it doesn't appear to be anything as trivial as a start, save, or load issue.  I guess now I just wait and see, checking on the nutrients and minerals every so often.  Maybe the whole problem was triggered by my save / load interaction with a different SMAC installation.  If so, that's not worth chasing down, as nobody would be doing that regularly in the real world.  I will refrain from trying to perform that experiment for some time, in favor of just playing this test game.

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