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You are an interplanetary mining contractor on a mission to discover natural resources on alien planets and send them back to earth. TerraTech features procedurally generated worlds and unique on-the-fly vehicle construction.

Report RSS TerraTech Dev Diary: Commanding an AI fleet

Kris Skellorn explains how AI Drones are being designed and implemented in TerraTech.

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With the TerraTech Kickstarter well under way thanks to all of your amazing support, we want to share some features that are currently in development, but not yet playable in any of our demos. To kick things off, our Designer, Kris Skellorn, is here to explain how your fleets of AI controlled drones work in the game.

TerraTech’s main campaign is about building and managing a large, living fleet made up of dozens of drones, each designed and built for a different purpose, doing their bit to help you expand your mining efforts.

TerraTech vehicles

You can build as many different vehicles as you like, but you can only take direct control of one vehicle at a time. If you want to get the most out of your fleet then, like any great leader, you’ll have to learn the subtle art of delegation. You have to give your drones orders so that they know what they’re supposed to be doing.

You can take direct control of any of your vehicles that have your Cab attached - the Cab is the part which allows you to drive the vehicle manually. However, if you want a vehicle to drive itself and follow your orders, then instead of a Cab you’ll need to attach an AI Module. The AI Module is an artificial brain that allows your vehicle to carry out your orders.

Cab and AI modules diagram

You can attach both as well; in which case the drone does its own thing when you’re not around (under instruction from its AI Module), but when needed you can take control of the Cab, and override the AI Module.

Once your drone is up and running, the next step is to give it orders. A savvy prospector knows that to get the most out of a drone, it should be built with a specific job in mind. Below are some of the things you can tell your drones to do.


This is the most basic behavior and one which all drones follow by default until you tell them otherwise. Whilst escorting, drones follow your vehicle and assist in combat. They don’t gather resources or wander off on their own, they stay by your side and keep an eye out for trouble.

TerraTech Escort vehicle

All vehicles in your entourage have an option to order them to return to your Base to await further orders, if they are cramping your style. Apart from attacking enemies and protecting you, your escort drones don’t lift a finger with any other tasks unless directly ordered to do so.


When ordered to Harvest, drones immediately set about smashing resource-yielding objects into tiny pieces. Harvesters work best when they have heavy melee mining tools attached to large rugged constructions that provide enough power to flatten down forests of trees as they roam across the land.

TerraTech Harvester

Most Harvesting drones are happy to do a clean sweep of the land, chewing up anything that gets in their way, however they are less concerned with actually collecting each chunk of resource that’s dropped from the trees or rocks that they tear apart. If they have tractor pads equipped, anything that happens to fall on to them is collected, but harvesting is their main objective and they don’t mind if they leave a trail of resources in their wake.

Harvesting drones may look mean, but they are not designed for combat. If Harvesters spot enemies, they will face them and try to look intimidating, but if they come under direct attack they usually turn tail and run - they know to leave the fighting to those better equipped for it!

Harvesting behaviour

Once their tractor pads are filled to bursting, Harvesting drones will return to base to off load. For the early part of the game, this makes them a good choice for gathering resources. but as the nearby stock are exhausted and Harvesters have to venture further from the base, it becomes more efficient to remove their tractor pads to keep them focussed on smashing and employ other drones to do the transport work.


Someone has to clean-up all the mess, all of that loot in the world won’t pick itself up.

TerraTech Scavenger

Drones that are ordered to Scavenge make it their mission to collect fallen resource chunks or seek out battlefields and gather up all the dropped tank blocks. Drones carrying out scavenge orders collect all of this good stuff in their tractor pads, once the pads are full they’ll head back to Base to deliver their haul.

Scavengers are very single-minded, they are only interested in hoovering up loot and won’t be distracted by much else. Much like Harvesters, Scavengers are not built for combat - they try to protect their cargo by heading for home at the first sign of trouble.

Scavenger behaviour

Scavengers and Harvesters work well together and should be paired for best results. If left alone for a long enough time, they’ll happily pick the environment dry and deliver everything back to your Base. But they rarely are left alone, enemies are everywhere. Scavengers and Harvesters need support so that they can focus on their jobs.


Guard drones protect your Base and fleet from unwelcome enemy prowlers. Some drones that are ordered to guard are stationary, stuck in place as sentinel towers, others patrol freely around checking up on each of the other drones and Base pieces under their care.
Much like escort drones, guards only focus on their primary orders - fighting in this case - but when it’s time for combat, they battle to the end.

TerraTech Guard

When Guards patrol, they keep watch over your Base and all of the drones that are busy Harvesting and Scavenging. Drones on Guard duty also communicate with your other drones and respond to any enemy sightings or attacks within their protected area.

Guard behaviour

Guards do not venture out to check-up on your currently controlled vehicle as it might be miles away from the Base and leave your fleet exposed if they were to try. Similarly, Guards won’t look out for Escort drones or Scout drones that are too far away.


It’s a huge wide world in TerraTech. To find the best resources you have to search far and wide, it also doesn’t hurt to figure out where the enemy bases are before they find yours either. Looking for this stuff alone takes a lot of time, that’s where Scouts come in.

TerraTech Scout

Scout drones trawl the land looking for interesting things and reporting them back to you. They search far and wide for the rarest resources and sneak deep into enemy territory to locate their Bases.

The ideal Scout design is usually a fast, light, flying drone that is well equipped to survive the odd bit of trouble they might run into. Scouts first observe enemies, and then track them at a safe distance, whilst trying to locate their Base. If attacked, Scouts return fire for a time, then try to retreat when things get hot.

Scout behaviour

When enemies, bases or resources are spotted, Scouts report back to you and update your radar automatically. Other drones also take note of Scout reports too, Harvesters that are seeking specific resources log their locations when found, Scavengers listen out for dropped vehicle blocks and resources, and Guards respond to any enemy sightings near to the entities in their care.

Not all AI Modules are created equal. To issue each of the above orders to a drone, you have to make sure that they have the correct AI Module equipped. Each corporation’s modules offer a different set of orders. Some are better suited to certain tasks than others.

AI units chart

Some Modules are also better at certain orders than others. This is normally a reflection of the speciality of the corporation. For example; the Hawkeye PMC ‘Guardian’ Module is capable of the Guard+, plus commands allow you to add a bit more detail to the order:

  • Escort+ allows you to tell a drone to escort other units than your current one.
  • Harvest+ lets you prioritise specific resources for harvest first, not just the closest.
  • Scavenge+ lets you prioritise gathering resources or dropped vehicle blocks.
  • Guard+ lets you specify patrols of; Base only, Harvesters only, Scavengers only or All.
  • Scout+ let’s you tell drones to prioritise searching for enemy bases or for rare resources.

The start of TerraTech’s campaign is about building a single vehicle and exploring the immediate environment. As you move into the middle of the game it becomes more about managing a fleet and expanding your operations. As the number of vehicles to manage increases we don’t want you to get too bogged down with micro management, so you begin to unlock features that help with the upkeep of a wider force. For example; Base modifications to help with the smooth running of your fleet. Repairing each of your drones after battle becomes a chore as their numbers creep into double digits. When you unlock an auto-repair station; drones can use it when they are in need of new parts - as long as you keep your Base supplied with resources or scavenged parts.

As the game expands - so do the possibilities. There are plenty more AI behaviors on the cards as the journey continues.

Thanks for reading our latest Dev Diary. Please continue to support us on Kickstarter and don't forget to play the latest downloadable demo as well.

TerraTech Kickstarter Demo!


This game is one of the best indie-games I've played so far (not trying to sound cheesy). However, one very small, minor problem is that if you are using a laptop without independent left/right keys (such as a macbook), you cannot rotate blocks. This is proving a major problem when I'm designing aircraft, or machines of mass destruction. I do not know if this would be a feasible option, but mapping an unused key to do the same function would be very nice for me, and probably others that play this, but want to do so without a mouse connected. :D


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PayloadStudios Author

Thanks drjd24. Is there some 'mouse wheel' functionality on a Macbook mouse? You can use that to rotate blocks as well.

A few people have mentioned this issue now though, so we'll do our best to sort it out.

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There is no mouse wheel function that I could find (via research) as the mousepad is a one button affair.

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PayloadStudios Author

OK. We're definitely working to sort this out :)

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