Quick impressions of CPU behavior in Soviet RTM campaign

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Quick impressions of CPU behavior in Soviet RTM campaign

Post by OutsiderSubtype » Wed Sep 24, 2014 4:36 pm

I've tried a couple games with 8.1, playing as the Soviets. I have not played the new patch as the Americans.

The American CPU player was very aggressive and unpredictable, which is good. Some games it skipped Explorer and went straight for Pegasus, or skipped Mercury and went straight for Gemini. It also tried both the Gemini Direct Ascent and Apollo programs.

On Hard I found the CPU's progress to be extremely quick and impossible to replicate.

I was able to beat it to the moon on Normal. Even on Normal achieving a moon landing before the end of 1969 seems very hard, and like it requires luck more than skill. If your initial launch with a capsule at between 85% and 90% fails you lose at least six months, but there's no point in trying to research up to 90% before the initial launch due to diminishing returns. On Normal I was able to do a moon landing by Q2 1970 using the Soyuz. I do like that you can get Soyuz up to 100% reliability since it has after all been in use for almost 50 years.

The CPU seemed to falter a little toward the end of the race to the moon. It was launching both Gemini DA and Apollo circumlunar flights, and I wonder if it was having trouble getting all the hardware for Apollo sufficiently reliable to attempt a landing.

Overall, I wonder about the balance between Gemini DA and Apollo. I think Gemini DA might be too easy to pull off compared to Apollo, even more so now that the Gemini capsule is easier to research. Having to research a new capsule and the lunar module is rough. Besides the prestige advantage from getting a three-person capsule in orbit, I wonder if an Apollo landing should be worth more prestige than a Gemini landing? I think the Apollo missions allowed for more time on the moon than Gemini would have. There should also be follow-up missions after an initial lunar landing (or increased prestige for follow-up landings) since right now follow-on Apollo missions would provide too much risk and too little reward.

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Re: Quick impressions of CPU behavior in Soviet RTM campaign

Post by OutsiderSubtype » Wed Sep 24, 2014 5:22 pm

Haha, I have to put an asterisk by my win because I was definitely using R-7 Vostok and Voskhod for TLI.

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Re: Quick impressions of CPU behavior in Soviet RTM campaign

Post by KyleS » Sat Oct 04, 2014 11:56 am

On Easy I was able to do a Soviet landing 1969 Q2. I went for Sputnik (first launch 1957.1), then Vostok (1960.1), Voshkod (1964.2) and Soyuz (1966.3), then Soyuz lunar in Earth orbit, then Soyuz Lunar Landing. I basically exhausted each programme, doing all the missions - but I didn't double up on the durations, eg having done Vostok Duration II I didn't bother doing Voshkod Duration II. During Vostok I did a space probe lunar flyby, and during Voshkod the impactor, and that was it for the space probes.

One thing I focused on was personnel - straight-up I opened up a cosmonauts centre and mission control, and trained everyone constantly. So the cosmonauts had had 4-5 years of training before they did any launches, and mission control staff had a couple of years at the start, and a year or two here or there later.

When I had the money, I tried to keep up a relentless pace of launches, for example having the unmanned suborbital and manned suborbital in the same season. I made sure to assemble the second one first so that the best staff would be on the manned or more difficult version. Since I'd got their parent rockets' reliability up high, when I opened the Proton-KD and N-1 rocket programmes they started at 75% reliability. So I just stuck a Sputnik on top and launched a few times, and that did most of my research for me, getting to 90+% reliability in 3 launches or so, instead of 3 years or so.

The biggest struggle was the spacesuits, I kept having failures with them.

The US appeared to be miles behind, after Explorer they went straight for Apollo in Earth orbit (first suborbital flight 1963.2) without trying Mercury/Gemini, and never achieved anything other than orbital docking with EVA (1965 I think). I didn't see any mention of manned flights after that, it was all space probes. They must have had some catastrophic failures or run out of money (God knows how they could afford Apollo so early on).

Once I'd done a Soyuz lunar pass I started the UR-700 programme as a backup. Those guys ended up landing in 1971 Q3.

The first person on the Moon was a woman, Valentina.

Now for Normal difficulty...

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Re: Quick impressions of CPU behavior in Soviet RTM campaign

Post by N_Molson » Mon Oct 06, 2014 4:46 pm

Thanks for this very interesting report, that's precious data for us. :wink:
One thing I focused on was personnel - straight-up I opened up a cosmonauts centre and mission control, and trained everyone constantly. So the cosmonauts had had 4-5 years of training before they did any launches, and mission control staff had a couple of years at the start, and a year or two here or there later.
That's definitively a good strategy. MC skills are what will save the day - or not -, and having (very) competent astronauts is the key to safety. SETs skills are not that important in the early game, but it will take ages to research a Saturn V with guys in the 50%'s !

Interesting fact about the suits. That's also an area I tend to neglect, betting on luck. Notice they had serious trouble with them during Gemini program, so that's pretty good.
When I had the money, I tried to keep up a relentless pace of launches, for example having the unmanned suborbital and manned suborbital in the same season. I made sure to assemble the second one first so that the best staff would be on the manned or more difficult version.
Yeah that's the thing to do as you can hire quite a lot of MC if you upgrade the buildings. In the late game it happens to me to launch 3 missions / turn.
So I just stuck a Sputnik on top and launched a few times, and that did most of my research for me, getting to 90+% reliability in 3 launches or so, instead of 3 years or so.
Such test-launches are indeed an excellent way to save time, I always keep an Explorer or Sputnik program opened for such use. The problem is that they tend to be costly and that you're taking a real risk - a downgrade can mean a 2 or 3 years setback. Which seems well in the spirit. :D
The US appeared to be miles behind, after Explorer they went straight for Apollo in Earth orbit (first suborbital flight 1963.2)
Given you start the game with 20,000$ (in "hard mode"), there's always the possiblity to capitalize your 3,500$ (or so) each season, simply flying a few economical probe missions (Earth Orbital satellite + extended, Lunar flyby) to get enough to survive. But that means having a costly program opened with a low budget, which leads to long delays between missions. So that seems pretty consistent to me :)
The first person on the Moon was a woman, Valentina.
Terekovshka ? Very cool ! 8)
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Re: Quick impressions of CPU behavior in Soviet RTM campaign

Post by OutsiderSubtype » Mon Oct 06, 2014 5:26 pm

Well, I've gotten better at this since my last post. Playing on 8.5 I can regularly get a moon landing before 1970 on Normal, as US or Soviets. On Hard I can get it before 1970 if I get a little lucky, otherwise 1970 or 1971 at the latest.

As others have said, the key is getting mission control and astronaut skills up. Getting SET skills up is also important for Crewed Spacecraft and Human-Rated Rockets. You want your SET people to improve in those areas when you can do so without delaying critical research.

On Normal I try not too launch until component reliability is 85% for rockets or 90% for capsules. Research is harder on Hard so I launch at 80%/85% but I do more test flights. You definitely want to launch multiple missions a season in the late 1960s. I also tend to skimp on EVA research and will happily launch with EVA at 70% or so. It's not used in that many mission steps and competent astronauts and mission control will help.

I still think the CPU puts up a vigorous challenge during the Sputnik/Mercury/Gemini timeframe, but falters a little toward the end. Are the later mission sequences too complex for it to pull off? Is it too aggressive when scheduling missions and tanking the reliability of important components?

As far as overall difficulty, I still think Gemini DA is too easy compared to Apollo.

Let's compare:

You need to research up to Saturn V for both.
Gemini DA requires you to research the DA module (you already researched Gemini capsule), Apollo requires Command Module and LEM.
Gemini DA has a less complicated sequence of necessary prep missions.
Gemini DA requires fewer astronauts and mission controllers.

Basically if you do Project Gemini you should probably do Gemini DA to get to the moon. If you just go Mercury/Apollo maybe Apollo is worth it, but I would hate having to research Apollo capsule up from 20%.

Also, I have noticed I can maintain historical timing of manned program or historical timing of unmanned program, but not both. How are you supposed to do all those freaking Pioneer missions while keeping manned program on schedule? Edit: for a typical moon run I can do Pioneer 4, Ranger impactor, maybe a lunar orbiter. Don't really have time for other probes to sun, Mars, etc.

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Re: Quick impressions of CPU behavior in Soviet RTM campaign

Post by N_Molson » Mon Oct 06, 2014 10:47 pm

Hello and thanks for the feedback,

Notice that some of the interplanetary missions in the game are quite "advanced" for the era, like Viking or Venera landers, so you shouldn't feel bad if you don't manage to achieve them before 1970 or even later.

But Pioneer Sun Orbiter, as an example, is a quite unexpensive program that has the only drawback to keep some MCs busy during 6 seasons. Again, don't be afraid to go heavy on MC hiring, you can hire up to 35 MCs when the MCC is fully upgraded.

Have fun ! 8)
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Re: Quick impressions of CPU behavior in Soviet RTM campaign

Post by KyleS » Tue Oct 07, 2014 12:35 am

Playing through again on Normal difficulty as Soviets...

In this game, I tried to be a bit more minimalist, and had only 7 SETS initially, with the approach of never bothering with ordinary rockets, only using man-rated rockets. My principle was to try to get an average reliability of each mission of 80+%. For example, if a probe was 85% and the rocket was 75%, that was okay. This is because I trained everyone hard, you're more confident going in with hardware <80% if your MC guys or nauts are 80+%. There'll be problems but they'll usually get fixed.

Remember that while the chance of some piece of hardware failing is 100-reliability, the chance of an MC/naut failing is the same, and the chance of them both failing is the two multiplied. For example, 75% reliability with 75% skill means 0.25 x 0.25 = 6.25% chance of both failing and the mission not going ahead. Of course there are usually several components and staff involved so it's pretty hard to get the numbers that high, but this illustrates the issue. It's not just the tools, it's the tradesman.

For this reason I again opened the MC and SET centres straight away, hired the most people I could, and trained them relentlessly. I expanded MC straight away since I knew I'd be going for manned missions soon. As for nauts, I hired 5. About the time of Voshkod one of them died in a plane crash and I was down to 4, so I hired a replacement and some buddies taking it up to 7, I never needed more than 7 nauts for the whole programme. In 1972 one of them is 53yo and near retirement but everyone else is going well.

I went for Sputnik first, but developed first the Vostok rocket, so I'd be able to use it for both. This meant Sputnik was a bit later than it could have been - 1958.1 - but the first manned suborbital with Vostok was 1959.4. I went through every possible Vostok mission including orbital rendezvous, and by the time I came to orbital duration I they were 90+% so I could open Voshkod. By the time I'd done all possible Vostok missions, Voshkod and its rocket was 80% average, and I started going through those, I didn't bother duplicating the Vostok duration missions, so it was just III, EVA, etc.

From there I opened up the Soyuz lunar pass practice in Earth orbit missions. I used the Proton KD rocket for these. While doing that I prepared a probe lunar flyby, using the Proton KD. Once that was done I could do the manned lunar pass, in 1965.3.

So it didn't cost me much to prepare the Soyuz lunar landing in Earth orbit. For this the only missions I did were unmanned suborbital, manned orbital, lunar landing unmanned test, and docking - 4 missions.

Then I was able to do a Soyuz manned lunar orbital in 1967.3, the lunar lander test in lunar orbit 1967.4, with a landing in 1968.1. After that I decided to land as many guys as I could, including with the 700 series, before the Americans put even one guy there.

The US went for Explorer and X-15 straight up, and proceeded with Gemini. They must have had a lot of failures with their X-15, since they didn't do the final mission until 1966.1. They got Explorer up in 1958.2 (one quarter later than Sputnik), man in space 1961.4, a space docking 1966.1, manned lunar pass 1966.4, lunar probe 1967.2, but no manned lunar orbital until 1972.1.

As of 1972.2 I have put 10 Soyuz crews on the Moon, and 3 LK-700 missions for good measure. I didn't keep track of it exactly, but since I usually went for the automatic best choice, and since as you'll recall I only had 7 nauts (not including the one who died as a random event) there'll be 2 guys who've been to the Moon 5-8 times each. At one stage a couple of them had low Morale, I figured those must be the guys who keep getting left on Earth as CAPCOM while the other guys get the glory, so I overrode the system twice so they could get a go, of course their skills weren't as high but by this time everything's reliability was 99+% so Ham the Chimp could have landed on the Moon.

The US has still not put anyone on the Moon, I can only assume they had a lot of failures.

Some thoughts so far, bugs and considerations.

First, if your first mission in space is manned, this does not count as a "space probe", so you can't actually send a probe or ship to the Moon. That is, you must do Sputnik. However, if you've first put a guy up there and only after do Sputnik, the system doesn't recognise it - this was a problem in my first game, which I just abandoned and did the one in my earlier post. I think a manned orbital should fulfill the requirement, and if not, fix that bug, or make Sputnik/Explorer a prerequisite of Vostok/Mercury, ie your first mission can't be a capsule it has to be a probe.

Second, we should probably have to do the Soyuz orbital programme before doing the stripped-down lunar pass Soyuz, or beefed-up lunar landing Soyuz. Or either advantage taking that step, so that getting Soyuz orbital to high reliability has great carryover to Soyuz lunar stuff, etc. Otherwise it's like doing the Gemini lunar missions without doing Gemini itself. It just seems a bit easy to me.

Thirdly, I would try to balance the money a bit. In the first phase (before prestige/budget review, I mean) you are generally struggling for cash and can't launch missions every season, and if you expand too fast the buildings you lose money and can't do anything. But if you get past that with even just Sputnik up, you'll be awash in cash after that. You won't be able to go straight to Apollo/UK-700, but so long as your approach is relatively sane money won't be an issue. Obviously this is on Normal difficulty, but it wasn't the amount of cash as such, it was the contrast between the first and second phases that really struck me. So if you want to make it easier for people, then make the first phase more generous; if you want to make it tougher overall, make the later phases stingier with the cash.

Fourthly, the random prestige gains are a big excessive. They mean that even if we have nothing but failures through each phase, we can still max out the prestige for budget review purposes. I'd tone them down, eg if they are currently a 25% increase I'd make them 5%, something like that. The random events should be a slight help or hindrance, not something that entirely changes the course of the game, I think - unless you were on the edge of success and failure already.

Lastly, it'd be good to have a bit more information about what the other side is doing. After all, one of the original driving forces of the space race was intelligence - high-altitude spy planes and satellites to watch the foe and see what he's doing. Radio transmissions were basically unencrypted, so at the least the missions reaching orbit would be public in their results. This would help give the player a sense of urgency or "there's no hurry" as appropriate.

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Re: Quick impressions of CPU behavior in Soviet RTM campaign

Post by N_Molson » Fri Oct 10, 2014 12:29 am

Hello Kyle,

Thanks again for that feedback, that's very useful data, and it really seem to go in the same direction than the other posts or our personal experiences. We'll take that into account for balancing the gameplay. 8)
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Re: Quick impressions of CPU behavior in Soviet RTM campaign

Post by KyleS » Fri Oct 10, 2014 2:33 am

Another point is, I think that the manned lunar landers should have as a prerequisite one or more of: probe flyby/orbital, probe lunar impactor/landing, manned lunar pass/orbital. This is because if you've never even been anywhere near the Moon, how do you know how to build the craft that'll land there? Historically some scientists thought the lunar surface might be some kind of fine dust and the probes would just sink into it like quicksand. The "lunar mapping level I" goal should probably be the minimum requirement to start building manned lunar landers.

On the other hand, a probe flyby should not be a prerequisite for a manned flyby; if you can put Vostok/Mercury into space before Sputnik/Explorer, then you should be able to do the same with Moon probes/capsules.

Further to the issue of seeing what the foe is up to, if you want it to be more of a RACE, you could make the foe's Prestige visible, and the budget reviews to do with the RELATIVE Prestige, not the absolute Prestige. If you're winning the race to the Moon, your country's government rewards success to help you win faster still, if you're losing they withdraw funds making things harder. This is pretty harsh but reflects historical reality... "We're losing anyway, let's give up and deny we were ever trying, comrade."

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Re: Quick impressions of CPU behavior in Soviet RTM campaign

Post by N_Molson » Sun Oct 12, 2014 2:33 am

What you write makes sense, but I'm not sure to fully agree with this :
On the other hand, a probe flyby should not be a prerequisite for a manned flyby; if you can put Vostok/Mercury into space before Sputnik/Explorer, then you should be able to do the same with Moon probes/capsules.
Translunar navigation requires another level of precision than orbital flight, as a deviation of several tenth of degrees can turn a mission into a disaster. Sending a capsule into space for 1 orbit doesn't require the same level of precision - not saying it is easy, of course -. :)
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Re: Quick impressions of CPU behavior in Soviet RTM campaign

Post by KyleS » Sun Oct 12, 2014 5:56 am

It's worth pointing out that there are no countries who've put up capsules without putting up probes first.

US - probe 1958, capsule 1961
SU - probe 1957, capsule 1961
China - probe 1970, capsule 2003
and though literally dozens of other countries have been launching satellites since the 1960s, no others have independently put people into space.

So whether you or I consider it to be more difficult, evidently those who've actually run space programmes consider it to be more difficult - or perhaps just too expensive to be worth bothering with. The main thing seems to be that you just need a bigger rocket for a capsule than for a probe.

I would suggest allowing capsules to go first into space or around the Moon, but have a significant reliability penalisation.

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