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  1. #1
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    Trivial AI Task Automation In RTS Games

    Ever since I first played Majesty and Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom I have been dreaming of a day when AI could do basic tasks and thus remove the incessant clickfest of modern RTS games like Starcraft 2.

    Instead of selecting my units each time and targeting another unit to make them focus fire, or microing each one individually in the case of overkill, or personally determining which enemy unit was a threat, I want AI to do that for me.

    Taking an idea from Dominions 3 as an alternative to DoW style squads of units, I want to assign a group of units to a leader, and then from the leader's interface do things like request focus fire for archers, but spreading out for melee. And from then on the AI handles making my archers focus on a single target.

    I want units to determine on their own based on their unit type, who they should attack. Units could check the default stats of the enemy unit types to determine who they can hurt the most and which enemy unit can deal the most damage to the squad and attack based on that. For instance if they deal fire damage, find the unit with the lowest hp and the least fire resistance with weights for enemy damage output and distance, since you don't want melee to run super far through ranged fire to attack a target, and attack them.

    Ranged fire damage? Target plant and ice units in range first. Why waste fire damage on metal or stone units that it can't harm?

    Many people would ask, why would I take the micro and tactical out of an RTS? Well technically you aren't, you are still giving directives on behavior. But even if you were, it allows more focus on strategy, and also other spheres.

    If I don't have to manage moment to moment unit actions I can spend more time on over all strategy like where to send troops. I can manage larger groups of units too. And suppose I have mages in a fantasy game. I can let mages be microed, since AI can't possibly handle complex magic or science skill systems. So all my regular units can do their thing and I can support with summons and damage spells and casting army buffs.

    I can also focus on non combat areas. I can play games with more complex economies. Managing a city builder system like Emperor has is impossible in starcraft, you need to focus on the microed combat. But with AI control of simple repetitive tasks you can add other aspects to the game.

    You could not only add resource generation but you could add logistics. Local resource storage, supplies of food and weapons, moving around building materials, providing food and clothes and turn based and city sim leisure resources to citizens. You could have large maps where you need to decide where to send new troops to defend. You could build walls stronghold style.

    You would even have more planning time. If you have a lot more units, and more magic, you would still have time to decide, should I start building this unit to add to my armies to counter my enemy's new strategy. You could plan out your advancement up the research system. You could have Warlords BattleCry 3 style hero units, and you could deal with the RPG aspect without crashing your actions per minute for combat.


    Majesty was popular because you felt more like you were ruling a kingdom as opposed to being a colonel or captain in a small skirmish. But it was a little too random, and it actually lacked a really deep economic system. You basically built a trio of markets and spammed guilds and won.

    If you could reduce the time intensity of combat with good AI, you could add features so that you actually felt like a king of legends. Training and deploying mages, managing cities, advancing your culture and science, and still being in control of combat, this is what Majesty had a bit of a problem with, it was good to remove some micro, but just not so much that you had to rely on luck as to whether units would eventually maybe at some point if they weren't busy chilling in a gazebo actually complete your tasks.

    Kinda got off topic, but I have been dreaming of such a game for so long.

  2. #2
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus b0rsuk's Avatar
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    That sounds very complicated. I'm not sure people who play purported Real Time Strategy games can handle that. Real Time Strategy games are not actual strategy games in real time. They are action games with raised unit cap. Today, Syndicate and Cannon Fodder would be called RTS games. If Blizzard made The Gauntlet, one player would control four characters.
    Last edited by b0rsuk; 23-07-2012 at 10:04 PM.
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  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by b0rsuk View Post
    That sounds very complicated. I'm not sure people who play purported Real Time Strategy games can handle that.
    Well it certainly is complicated, but more complicated than a turn based strategy game? I think not. Although you would be limited by not having forever to make a perfect decision. It depends on how you play it. If you accept that you can't get everything done and are okay with that its not a big deal. If you don't like to have to triage what to focus on it would probably drive you insane. It still fits in Strategy though. Its just more macro scale, and deferred results. So if you make a bad choice you may not realize it till much later. Certainly not suited to esports :)

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    Try AI Wars. Not exactly a conventional RTS, although you sure do build bases and a lot of units. There's a ton of automation of fiddly stuff in there, and units do indeed automatically attack the targets to which they can do the most damage. You use your attention (which is always a very scarce resource in any RTS) to pursue macro goals, broader tactical positioning, or to pick off specific targets that need to drop fast, optimal damage or no.

    http://arcengames.com/mediawiki/inde...icromanagement

    This is a long article by Chris Park, AI War's creator, on how he tackles micro and automation for the game. I recommend reading the first section, even if you subsequently skip the AI War specific stuff thereafter, because I think he has the sort of design philosophy you'd appreciate.

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    Quote Originally Posted by arathain View Post
    Try AI Wars. Not exactly a conventional RTS, although you sure do build bases and a lot of units. There's a ton of automation of fiddly stuff in there, and units do indeed automatically attack the targets to which they can do the most damage. You use your attention (which is always a very scarce resource in any RTS) to pursue macro goals, broader tactical positioning, or to pick off specific targets that need to drop fast, optimal damage or no.

    http://arcengames.com/mediawiki/inde...icromanagement

    This is a long article by Chris Park, AI War's creator, on how he tackles micro and automation for the game. I recommend reading the first section, even if you subsequently skip the AI War specific stuff thereafter, because I think he has the sort of design philosophy you'd appreciate.
    I have that game, as well as all the expansions :) Its pretty cool. I have maybe 100 hours on it. It actually has 10x as many units as I feel is enough in a typical fight, and thusly 100 more than standard RTS games have. Although the scaling for difficulty is really innovative, it did somewhat turn me off the game, but I gave it a pass because its thematically elegant.

    Props for reading my wall of text and having a considered reply. Ive gone weeks without any of my posts getting any replies at all, or if they did, people saying they were too long and rambly, on various other sites.

  6. #6
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus b0rsuk's Avatar
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    Okay, I've ran out of sarcasm for the time being. No, it's perhaps not more complicated than a TBS game, but you have much much less time to perform all actions. It would be fairly innovative, and that's a problem:

    - big studios are scared of innovation
    - indies can't pull off a decent old-school RTS game. Much less an innovative one. It's just complicated technically, and requires solid programming skills and CS background.

    Although I think all they'd have to do is to take the Spring engine, make some proprietary art assets and maps, and sell it. I'm pretty sure Spring is GPL licensed, so you can charge for art assets. For example the original DooM and even Quake 3 are on GPL license today, but that doesn't mean the games are free.
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  7. #7
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus gundato's Avatar
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    Larger scale RTSes like AI Wars and, to a degree, Supreme Commander/Total Annihilation largely get rid of the micro, which is what you really seem concerned with.

    For smaller scale, look into how Company of Heroes did it. You still want to micro for the more important stuff (sniping a high-value target rather than the infantry squad), but your guys are very automated.

    For a mid-range, Men of War. It takes the large-scale approach of "Position them or tell them to advance, they handle the rest" while still letting you specify certain stuff. I find that, for most missions/maps, I am able to set up a general strategy with ease, and then focus on a few critical points throughout the battle.
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    I might like that, but I think I might like more a standard RTS that is designed with an active pause mode and built around that.
    Irrelevant on further examination of the rest of the thread.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gundato View Post
    Larger scale RTSes like AI Wars and, to a degree, Supreme Commander/Total Annihilation largely get rid of the micro, which is what you really seem concerned with.

    For smaller scale, look into how Company of Heroes did it. You still want to micro for the more important stuff (sniping a high-value target rather than the infantry squad), but your guys are very automated.

    For a mid-range, Men of War. It takes the large-scale approach of "Position them or tell them to advance, they handle the rest" while still letting you specify certain stuff. I find that, for most missions/maps, I am able to set up a general strategy with ease, and then focus on a few critical points throughout the battle.
    I could probably spend hours talking to the AI Wars people about design philosophy. I read the article the other poster linked a few years ago, but I read the whole thing again just not because it makes me happy.

    AI Wars and CoH do handle the AI micro reduction well, but they don't get into the complex city builder/sim game economies I like to have. But they definitely solved part of the puzzle very well.

  10. #10
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus b0rsuk's Avatar
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    An RTS with a Baldur's Gate "press space" pause would be pretty funny ! Harvest: Massive Encounter has something like that, but it's really an advanced TD game.

    Another idea I had would be playing a normal clickfest RTS like Starcraft 2, but having each base controlled by 2+ players by default ! There would be some crazy micro involved, and it could be very interesting to watch.
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  11. #11
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus gundato's Avatar
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    Well, I doubt you are going to get a merging of those two, simply because those tend to be two very different genres (that Total War is this successful still astounds me). But look into some of the real-time 4x games that have been popular the past few years. Sins of a Solar Empire seemed to start the trend, but that is really just an RTS in space. I know there were a few indie titles though that tried to do the full 4x without turns though (check Gamersgate, they probably sell them).
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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by b0rsuk View Post
    Okay, I've ran out of sarcasm for the time being. No, it's perhaps not more complicated than a TBS game, but you have much much less time to perform all actions. It would be fairly innovative, and that's a problem:

    - big studios are scared of innovation
    - indies can't pull off a decent old-school RTS game. Much less an innovative one. It's just complicated technically, and requires solid programming skills and CS background.

    Although I think all they'd have to do is to take the Spring engine, make some proprietary art assets and maps, and sell it. I'm pretty sure Spring is GPL licensed, so you can charge for art assets. For example the original DooM and even Quake 3 are on GPL license today, but that doesn't mean the games are free.
    Actually there are some good open source options, 0 A.D. and GAE which have a technically solid base, perhaps not AAA level but certainly better than standard indie. Of course this type of game is not profitable, as Tilted Mill doesn't even make city builders anymore and no one has picked up the mantle, so large studios won't touch it.

    True you have far less time to make choices, even if you account for adding a buttload of AI Wars style AI. But that is where the concept of triage of decisions and multiple spheres comes in. You make a choice what to focus on. This is dictated by cost benefit but also enjoyment. Ideally players who prefer economics could focus on that area and come out even with players who focused on combat, or who focused on magic, or who focused on research assuming each person was nearly evenly skilled and was average or a little below at the other areas. So where you focus attention can be dictated by fun, but to win you have to do very well in your area of focus.

    Achron does provide a cautionary tale for innovation of this kind. No matter how cool your innovation, if you can't handle the basics, you sink. But we can dream right? Forums are the sea of dreams. For reference, 50% of threads on mmorpg.com are "wouldn't this be awesome" threads about imaginary MMOs..

  13. #13
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Smashbox's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by b0rsuk View Post
    An RTS with a Baldur's Gate "press space" pause would be pretty funny !
    You can Totally do that in Total War.

  14. #14
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus gundato's Avatar
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    Something else to look into might be those hardcore wargame sims (I recall an after-action report on a game set during Waterloo on RPS?) that actually model how long it takes for orders to reach the front line and the behavior of generals and what nots. They lack the city-building aspect, but it doesn't get much more strategic than that.
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    Quote Originally Posted by gundato View Post
    Well, I doubt you are going to get a merging of those two, simply because those tend to be two very different genres (that Total War is this successful still astounds me). But look into some of the real-time 4x games that have been popular the past few years. Sins of a Solar Empire seemed to start the trend, but that is really just an RTS in space. I know there were a few indie titles though that tried to do the full 4x without turns though (check Gamersgate, they probably sell them).
    I have SoaSE and 2 of the 3 expansions. Its pretty cool, another 100-200 hour game for me. I play games way too much :)

    The important part about incorporating TBS mechanics and complexities into an RTS is that you can't design it or play it like you would either one separately. Total War was clever and skipped most problems by having a turn based campaign map and city system.

    A primary difference between TBS and RTS games, and I play both extensively is the audience and the expectations. TBS gamers expect to be able to micro every little thing and set up each turn perfectly as they want it. So you have to be careful about merging them, you need to avoid the intensive micro and skip some of the more time consuming features. You also need someone who can handle UI. Dominions 3 has a UI that is hell already in TBS style. I can't imagine an RTS using that UI with out curling into a little ball and crying :)

  16. #16
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus b0rsuk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Smashbox View Post
    You can Totally do that in Total War.
    Even in multiplayer ?
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  17. #17
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Smashbox's Avatar
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    Not in multiplayer, no.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by gundato View Post
    Something else to look into might be those hardcore wargame sims (I recall an after-action report on a game set during Waterloo on RPS?) that actually model how long it takes for orders to reach the front line and the behavior of generals and what nots. They lack the city-building aspect, but it doesn't get much more strategic than that.
    Well the audience for those is small, and grognards would probably hunt me down if I tried make a similar but simpler version of their favored games. I have played a few though in my years of searching for fabulous RTS games.

    The problem with wargame sims is that they take reality TOO far. Wargame sims aren't design as games, they are designed as real life mimicers. I can play them in a certain mood, but if I am at all stressed they tend to make me angry. Plus I prefer fantasy magical settings over modern or sciency settings, although I do prefer magic to be rare and powerful as opposed to the way its done in some games, one of the reasons I rarely play MMOs, a mage should be able to handle a dozen warriors, breaks my immersion when its even :)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Smashbox View Post
    Not in multiplayer, no.
    I think that some games that would fabdiculously in single player would be a disaster in multiplayer. I oppose the idea that all RTS games should have a multiplayer component. You just have so much more freedom in design when you don't have to worry about people's pride getting hurt.

  20. #20
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    Distant Worlds is pretty much the most extreme implementation of this kind of thing imaginable. It's also pretty cool.

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