I realize the AI is not the main focus at this stage of development, but at some point, it will be. So, here are some early observations.
I’ve turned all gravity wells visible so I could study what the AI is doing. For the first ½ hour the AI players do fairly well – they almost keep up with me (in Rebellion at the ½ hour mark I would have twice their number of planets and quadruple their income rates on the most difficult level). Then after the expansion phase ends, so does their performance. One reason for the lackluster performance is research order. Another is prioritization of fleet expansion and ship production over building resources. A third reason is lack of defense.
Depending on how many research station one has, it takes about 5 hours of continuous researching to complete all of Techs. For me a typical game lasts much less than that, so the order of research is greatly important. The AI is researching things with minimal or no impact, like antimatter generators (two of four had it in the first half hour), so they will never keep up with a human. One thing that would help, is if the research queues for military and civilian are separate and can progress simultaneously (I think this is already planned to mimic the original game). This would at least cut the total research time in half and give the AI a chance to stumble upon the important techs.
One way to help the AI research progress is to give research subjects a priority level. For example, "ai_research_priority": 115. Then when the AI has resources available, it randomly selects a research subject from the ones available, but in a weighted fashion.
Another thing that would help is to designate the AI’s research order (a suggested starting order is listed below). I've tweaked the player files and discovered the AI does substantially better if they are given more resources. Their primary focus is growing their fleet size. After their fleet is maximized for their research level, they switch to other things. The suggested research order forces the AI into getting more resources early by keeping their fleet smaller, but still aggressive for the expansion phase. They don't know the importance of developing economically, and the boost helps them overcome it.
I've tweaked the files and given the home world 100 military slots. That makes it a challenge to overcome them. The AI puts out about 16 hangars and a bunch of repair bays. Sometimes I get to their home world before they research the ability to use the repair bays, which makes it easier to attack, but it is still a challenge. Usually after I've killed off the first of them, the rest will have a starbase on at their home world as well. They don't seem to slow me down, I think the starbases need more target banks and more range to be effective.
As far as the rest of their worlds go, they rarely put up enough defense to matter. If they have a fleet, they will move to defend. They seem to only confront on one front at a time, so it is easy to lock their fleet in combat at a point of minor importance and strike at a point of major importance. I don't want them to spam hangars and garrisons, because that will slow the game down. But they should put up the other defenses.
The AI fleet moves to defend planets, without concern to the path they take to get there. If one of their beloved planets orbits past the pirate home, or a well defended planet (with 5 starbases). The fleet gets chewed up in the gauntlet, then defends the planet, then gets chewed up a second time flying back. It’s kind of fun setting up a trap, as soon as the fleet makes its way home, attack the distant planet again and watch the fleet get chewed up until its gone. But something is going to have to be done to remedy this prior to the game’s release.
I've seen the AI put garrisons on the planets without building the factory to go with it. There should be a check for this and have them put in the factory first.
Suggested early research order for AI players (humans should be more flexible and adjust according to the map conditions)
· Civ Tier I access
· Civ Tier II access
· Military Tier I access