Today I will mostly be watching the Student StarCraft AI Tournament. It’s been running every year since 2011 as a challenge to student AI developers. The idea is that students submit bots to compete against each other playing 1v1 Brood War matches.
Gigantic pretty clearly wants to be a big deal. It’s from the former lead designer of StarCraft and Guild Wars, it has $20 million in backing, and its team size is kind of, er, gigantic for an indie studio. So it can talk the talk, but can it justify a series of costly expenditures on the part of shadowy investors and/or see why kids love Cinnamon Toast Crunch? That’s the $20 million question, but it certainly looks like an intriguing prospect. Gigantic includes MOBA elements (teams of five facing off in a big ol’ battle arena), but the difference is you’re not on defense. Rather, both teams have a hulking colossus that accompanies them into combat, with defending/destroying them serving as your main objective. Meanwhile, the whole thing is action-based, with physics-based abilities and WASD controls steamrolling over the classic top-down approach. Impressive debut trailer below.
That headline might be confusing for some of you, so allow me to elaborate: Rob Pardo’s been one of Blizzard’s top designers for 17 years, making him – among many other things – one of Diablo‘s many daddies. So when I say the devil cries, I’m mostly referring to that. I’m sure he’s blowing his 666 nostrils into a +44 WIS Hanky Of Wretched Despondency as we speak, the poor primeval force.
That, however, is only the beginning of Pardo’s legendary ledger, which spans everything from the original StarCraft to Warcraft III to World of Warcraft to Diablo III. He’s been everywhere (as lead designer or chief creative officer for a lot of it), worked on projects great and not-so-great. And now he’s leaving.
RPS Feature Mohawks And Martians, Pt 1
Mohawk Games is an excellent name for a company. And so it is that former Civilization IV lead designer and Spore man Soren Johnson approaches me sporting the company haircut. It’s a recent trim job for the old headshrub, he tells me, but he wears it well. However, the brain beneath the mohawk – the mind behind some of strategy gaming’s greatest greats – is the real main attraction here. Johnson’s goal is to design “core strategy games” in conjunction with Civ V art director Dorian Newcomb and in partnership with Galactic Civilizations (no relation) developer Stardock.
First on the docket? A still unnamed Mars economy RTS with no units and 13 different resource types. Is it madness? Probably, but it’s the good kind, the kind that drives a man to shave off most of his hair before a business conference, the kind that sounds wicked fun when people exchange fireside tales of their favorite matches.
Go below for a discussion with both men about how the game works, boardgame influences, how videogames might be able to replicate boardgaming’s face-to-face appeal, designing strategy that’s extremely complex but also accessible, release plans, and heaps more.
RPS Feature Important E-Sports News
The techno-chaps over at Ars Technica have posted an interesting story about the development of the ultimate Starcraft AI. Written by student Haomiao Huang, it’s the story of the “Berkeley Overmind”, which recently beat
Starcraft pros a former Starcraft pro in head-to-head matches (although it is a way off beating the real current masters, it seems). Here’s a snippet: “In theory, a computer should be great at controlling many units simultaneously, since it’s not limited by human speeds. Indeed, there is a common misconception that because StarCraft is real-time, it must be game of reflexes. But while speed is useful and important, it is no substitute for knowing the right thing to do… To handle these issues and limit computational overhead, our agent uses artificial potential fields for unit movement. The potential field controller generates virtual forces that push the mutalisks around, balancing attractive forces on targets with repulsive forces on threats. Summing up the forces acting on a mutalisk gives a direction to fly, resulting in a simple but robust control scheme.”
A useful read for those of you interested in the subtleties of game AI, with some illustrative videos. Go read!
ChaosSmurf found himself inspired by the humanity of Starcraft commentator Day(9)‘s latest broadcast – a two hour confessional about his life as a gamer, and specifically Starcraft. He lobbed it over. I went to just briefly check its vibe, and all of a sudden I’m half an hour into it, just carried along with the enthusiasm and period detail. I suspect anyone who dug the hell out of Gaming Made Me series will find something to enjoy here. And I’ll agree that having a brother is one of the best peripherals a young gamer can have. You’ll find the footage below…
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I’m not entirely sure how to dig deeper into this particular drama, as the main source sites are in Korean, and the auto-translations aren’t proving to be particularly useful. Anyway, the story as originated here reports that top Korean players are being named and shamed for throwing matches to make money on illegal betting. It’s apparently been a problem that the e-sports organisers have been trying to stamp out for a while, and it has now reached an impass, with players being outed, or forced to retire. It’s the biggest drama the game has seen in some time, and could shake things up for the leagues as they move ahead to the Starcraft II launch, with sponsorship being put at risk, and so forth.
You are permitted to respond to this article by chuckling to yourself and thinking “ah, e-sports. I remember them.”
Blizzard have announced some lovely digital downloads via their online shop. Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne cost $20 each (about £10) and Starcraft is up there for $15 (about £7.50). Not bad, but I recall buying the CD version of Starcraft (minus Broodwar, come to think of it) for about £3 off Amazon a while back…
A fascinating little study of Starcraft’s AI by software engineer Shamus Young reveals something you might not have expected from the game:
I’ve been curious about the quirks in the Starcraft AI and I’ve wanted a chance to see them do their thing in a deterministic environment. I learned some surprising things about this ten-year-old gem. While the races themselves are very nearly balanced in the hands of humans, it turns out the AI is a lot better at using some races compared to others.
It turns out, from Shamus’ experiments, the AI are rubbish at playing the Terrans…
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Half the internet is rather excited about finally getting to see Starcraft 2’s Zerg in action. So, here they are, doing what Zerg do best: Zerging.
Seems the game’s being pretty playful about their infamous swarming nature, which should make for good times, and plenty of nightmares soundtracked by the phlegmy sound of chitin being rendered asunder. If that video’s anything to go by, there’s also actually a pretty decent sense of scale to Starcraft 2, which I wasn’t entirely expecting. I do like to zoom my RTS cameras way out.
You can also see the intro cinematic here, but we’re all far too grown-up to care about cutscenes these days, right?