Thursday, January 9, 2014

Distant Worlds: Shadows - beginner's tips

My human (mostly) civilization in space, 2124

These are tips for beginners of Distant Worlds: Shadows and from a beginner. If you think I'm not qualified to give tips in this game, since I'm just a beginner myself, you might be right. But I think of it as being closer to the problem. :)

I've made two previous posts about the game, both from early last summer, and I'll try not to repeat myself. These are tips for beginners - people who've never played the Distant Worlds series and people, like me, who might have disregarded the advice to play a classic game first, preferring to start as an empire in the Age of Shadows.

Note that there are many options when beginning a new game, and you can decide for yourself if you want to change the default settings. For example, you can start in a somewhat richer solar system than average, if you want. (I did.) And I set space creatures to few, since I don't particularly enjoy that feature. With the most recent update, there's a setting for pirate strength, too, I see.

Whatever else you change, don't move Expansion away from PreWarp. If you do, you'll be playing a classic game, not the Age of Shadows start. After all, the whole point of this start is that you begin with no knowledge of hyperdrive, without even knowing what's in your own solar system. (That was hugely appealing to me, right from the beginning.)

Pirates, however, begin with hyperdrive and other advanced technology. They begin with military ships, when you won't have ships of any kind - or bases, either. Pirates retain some of the ancient technology planets have lost, and empires can't hope to defend against them at the start of the game. (Note that you can play as a pirate, but I haven't tried that, not yet.)

Anyway, when you start the game, pause it (press the spacebar) immediately and look around. There's not much to see, is there? Yes, you can see the planets in your own solar system, and you can see distant stars, but you won't know anything about them, not yet.

Before you unpause the game, go to your Colonies screen (F2) and set the tax rate on your homeworld - your only planet, right now - to zero. There are two reasons for that, and I'll explain one of them in a minute (the other will have to wait for Part 2 of this).

Then, order your planet to build a small spaceport. I normally use the Construction Yards screen (F10) to do that. Note that you build spaceports, and other orbital bases, from the planet itself. You build construction ships and, eventually, colony ships there, too. But you need a spaceport in order to build most other kinds of ships, both military and civilian.

You'll need a larger spaceport eventually, but speed is critical here, so start small. Then queue up some other orders, too. I'd build an Energy research station next, then a High Tech research station and probably a Weapons research station. I usually build a defensive base after that, and you might also build a construction ship or two (note my tips about changing the design of these, later in this post).

My homeworld

Some of this will depend on how much starting money you have. Note that you're setting up most of this before you unpause the game, and the point - one of the points - is to use up much of your starting money. You probably don't want to run out completely, but you want to be as poor as possible before the pirates arrive, and they'll arrive almost immediately.

The thing is, your local pirates will demand protection money, and you'll pay it. You've really got no choice about that. But if your tax rate is zero and you don't have a big pile of money sitting in the treasury, they won't ask for nearly as much money. That's important, because you'll be paying for awhile.

I got this tip, and another, here. It's not as gimmicky as it seems, either, because there's another good reason for lowering the tax rate to zero. But I'll get to that later (not till Part 2 of this, I'm afraid).

Pirates will be your main threat - nearly your only threat - in the early part of the game, and the AI will recommend that you cancel that protection agreement long before you're able to withstand an attack. I'd rather keep the payments low and continue to pay extortion for awhile, myself.

Even after you can build ships, you won't be able to match pirate ships, not for a long time. You can try to outnumber them, but fleets are expensive, and they can't be everywhere. This post isn't really about combating pirates (I talked about that here, though I've learned some things since then), but that needs to be a big part of your thinking in the early game.

Pirates will raid your planets, destroy your bases, and hassle your privately-owned ships, the lifeblood of your economy. And although they start strong enough, they can often find really powerful ships, derelicts from the past, since they get to explore space before you do.

If you expand too far, too fast, you won't be able to defend what you own, even after you do get capable ships. Note that I like to use frigates armed with rail guns in the early years, because those weapons bypass shields. You might have no hope of destroying a pirate ship, but if you can damage it, it might withdraw for repairs.

In this game, I've also used small, fast escorts, armed with a few missiles, just to distract enemies and give me a little time to respond. (I add a few to each fleet, but I let the AI handle the rest. I don't know how effective they are, but they make my civilization seem more realistic.) And fighters are really nice, too - especially when you can finally build carriers.

But for the most part, you just have to keep pirates in mind before you build... well, anything, really. If you build it, can you defend it? In general, bases can't defend themselves - certainly not for long. You've got to have ships which can get there in time and which can withstand the pirates when they do. (One priority, a little later, is long-range scanners, so you can see the pirates coming. I've got a tip for them, too, but not in this post.)

Anyway, as I say, that's not the focus of this post, and I don't want pirates to hijack this. There's just too much to say about that problem. Here, I want to focus on resources and money, because with enough of both, pirates will be dead meat.

When I played Distant Worlds last summer, resources were the big problem. I kept getting stuck, so short of critical resources that I couldn't build mining bases to get more of the resources I was lacking. There have been game updates since then, and I think this was toned down a bit. Resources are still critical, but I've had no real problem staying supplied in this game - so far, at least. Still, you have to keep a close eye on this, both at individual colonies and overall (at the Expansion Planner screen, F3).

An overview of my starting solar system

OK, you've started the game, those pirates are being paid off, and you've just built your first small spaceport. Now that you can build ships, you need to explore your local solar system. Note that you won't have hyperdrive for some time, so this is going to be painfully slow. To help with that, I'd manually edit the design for your exploration ships and add more engines - ion thrusters - and maybe some more directional thrusters for quicker maneuvering, too.

Yeah, that will add to their cost, but this will just be temporary, and you really want your first two exploration ships to be as fast as possible. If you're building any constructions ships (I wouldn't build more than two), you want to do the same thing. Manually edit the design to make them faster, much faster.

There are probably two derelict ships somewhere in your starting solar system (at least, there have been every time I've started a new game). I'd look around for them and send your exploration ships their way as fast as possible. Neither ship has hyperdrive capability, but they'll still be extremely valuable.

One of them will be damaged, and you'll need to send a construction ship to repair it. But while it's working on the ship, you'll get a research bonus. And when you finish, you'll get a useful ship, at least for a little while (after that, you can retire it at your shipyard for another research bonus).

The other ship can be boarded and used immediately. Unfortunately, I've never managed to get to that ship before the pirates do. But it's still worth trying, and you need to explore the whole solar system, anyway.

You'll discover some secrets, including clues to researching Warp Field Precursors, which will give you your first jump ship. Get to work on that immediately. It takes a long time to research, and Warp Bubble Generators will still be too slow to explore the stars, but they'll make a huge difference in travel times within your own solar system.

(Note that, when you finish exploring your initial solar system, you can scrap those first two exploration ships. There's no sense in paying maintenance on them any longer than necessary.)

You'll also discover valuable resources on the other moons and planets of your solar system, and you'll want to build mining bases on them,... eventually. At the very beginning, though, think it through. Without hyperdrive, you won't be able to defend them (even if you could afford to build a fleet of capable ships, which you probably can't).

Of course, you'll still be paying protection money to one pirate faction, and that might be the only one in your neighborhood. There might be dangerous space creatures near a planet, or there might not. There's a lot that goes into this. Is it worth the risk - and the expense - or not? Think about every mine, every planet.

Either way, you'll still get some resources, because your private sector will start ordering mining ships (and they'll pay you to build them, which is especially nice). Note how your spaceport will start building those ships automatically, if the civilian economy is doing well. Then watch them move around your solar system, mining resources and bringing them back to the homeworld.

All of that is automated, and they'll go where they're needed. You don't control the civilian economy directly, but it's very important to you. Once you build mining bases, they'll order freighters, too, and you'll get even more resources. But you have to decide what you really need and when. This is all a balancing act, and it's one of the great things about the game.

Strategic resources are critical, so you have to build mining bases. But you need to be able to protect them, too. Bases within your starting solar system are generally the easiest to protect, though not if you haven't even discovered hyperdrive yet. But then, if you're still paying off the pirates - as you should be - you should be safe from that particular faction, at least.

But bases also cost resources and money to build. We'll get to the money part later, but let me just say that there's a very good reason to go slow on spending money. On the other hand, if you go too slow, you'll run short of resources. And you can really get into a bind if that happens. Decisions, decisions, huh? But that's what makes this fun.

To begin with, note which resources are available on your home planet. You don't need to build mining bases at colonies, since you'll get those resources anyway. You need strategic resources at first, and it's more efficient for your freighters (not to mention easier to defend) if they're close to your homeworld.

You might not need any mining bases at first, but keep a close eye on the Expansion Planner screen (F3). Throughout the game, you'll want to watch for any unfulfilled demand from your empire (fourth column from the right) and take care of that before it gets out of hand. And keep an eye on civilian ships, too. If they're hauling resources from far away, it might make sense to build another mine closer to your colony.

At the very start, as I say, you might be OK with the trickle of resources you'll get from civilian mining ships. After all, you won't be needing much, at first. For your first mining bases, look for multiple strategic resources on the same planet - steel, lead, gold, iridium - a nearby planet, ideally. You'll also need a gas mining base in order to get caslon for fuel. Again, try to set up one mining base which will supply multiple resources.

Then focus on getting other strategic resources. Chromium and silicon seem to be very important at first, too, though you're going to need all of them eventually (and multiple mining bases, at that). Luxury resources are useful as well, since they keep your people happy and help your population and your economy grow. But strategic resources are critical; they're your priority.

If you don't have access to a strategic resource you need, feel free to offer a bounty to pirate smugglers to deliver that resource. This does give money to pirates, and it also makes everything more expensive for your private sector (keep an eye on how they're doing at your Empire Summary screen, F6), but it's far, far better than running into a production bottleneck.

To review:

  1. Don't build more than necessary, especially when you're first starting. Money is likely to be a bigger bind than resources. Be as efficient as possible in placing mining bases.
  2. Location matters. Nearby bases will be easier to defend, and the faster freighters can get to your mine and back to a spaceport again, the better.
  3. Can you defend what you build? At first, the answer will be no, but that's why you're paying protection money to the pirates. Later, you'll want to cancel that (as soon as you can, but almost certainly not as soon as your advisers keep suggesting), so think about how you'll defend your outlying bases.

OK, I'm going to leave the money side of this for another post, since I've got a lot to say about that.

Note: You can find more posts on individual computer games here.

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