In Vanilla the Ship Design seems to work pretty well
I'm the author of the AI Improvement Mod which Blackstork has integrated into Beyond.
I strongly disagree with the statement you've made above. The Vanilla AI Ship Designs have a bunch of problems which allow players to easily exploit the AI. Let's systematically go through each problem and what the AI Improvement Mod does.
By putting a bunch of different weapons on each ship the AI is forced to research all of those weapon types. While the AI slowly does that I'll beeline to a high tier weapon of a particular type. Now do whatever testing you like (I have) but the synergistic effects of multiple weapons types are rarely enough to make up for that, in fact it's normally a slaughter. So each race in the AI Improvement Mod targets a particular weapon (in some cases there is a combination where the synergy is meaningful). The templates, tactics and research strategies are aligned.
Now when multiple weapons are used of fundamentally different types in Vanilla, what tactic should the AI use? On a ship design which mixes beams and missiles, do I apply point blank (the best choice for beams) or all weapons (the best choice for missiles). Either option is far from optimal. In contrast, in the AI Improvement Mod I've applied the tactic that works best for that weapon.
There is limited variation in weapons in Vanilla. Most races use beams and torpedoes/missiles. Relatively few use phasers, rail guns, gravitic weapons or fighters/bombers. And races that use some weapons, like rail guns, are at a distinct disadvantage as the weapon is underpowered. In the AI Improvement Mod, weapons have been balanced and there is a broader variety in weapons used across the races, indeed it's pretty much an even split.
Vanilla ship sizes are also very small, indeed this is probably the most common complaint. In the AI Improvement Mod, I've done everything possible to increase ship design sizes (and the developer has supported by improving shrinkage algorithms) and the AI is far more focused on construction research as well.
Now the game appears to have some hard coded rules. Let's use the human example you mentioned. They focus on Missiles, if you happened to research Torpedoes, the auto design would apply Torpedoes. But if you focused on Beams, it won't auto design using Torpedoes, as they are different weapons classes.
To make it visible what strategy each race applies in their Templates, you'll find information in the help files in-game for each race. There is also an Excel workbook "AI Improvement Mod.xls" in the Mod Folder, the summary tab in particular.
You can either apply the strategy intended for the race, auto design using the same class of weapon, or manually select the research to ensure the designs align if you want to use something completely different.
There is also another option if you don't mind getting into the Mod folders. For example personally I like playing Quameno with Torpedoes. In the AI Improvement Mod the Quameno use Gravitic Weapons. Since the Ackdarian designs use Torpedoes, I have a "custom" theme where the Ackdarian templates folder has simply been copied over to the Quameno, and also have a custom research order in the race file. That way I can put Ship and Base Design as well as Research on Auto. Which means more battles in less time ...
What I'm not going to do is change the designs back to Vanilla which defeats the entire purpose of the Mod i.e. to improve the AI. You put all these factors together and it's possible to get an entire game on Extreme difficulty, including the Shakturi, and never loose a single ship.
< Message edited by Icemania -- 12/9/2014 2:07:54 AM >