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Experiments In RTS AI

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…

The plucky researcher also suspects that Blizzard’s AI might even be a bit cheaty, with responses based on knowing your hotkeys… Anyway, what’s most odd about this is that I was playing a similar game setup with Tim from PC Gamer UK yesterday, only this time in Dawn Of War. We took one team, and then set up a team with three Imperial factions (two Sisters Of Battle and one Space Marine army) and a third Tau team. We had expected the large Imperial faction to cause is the most trouble, having three sets of hero characters at its disposal, but, contrary to our expectations, two of the Imperial factions became near dormant after the initial fights and didn’t venture far beyond their base. The Tau, relatively unharassed, then proceeded to attack en masse, and near wipe me off the map. It was only thanks to Tim’s monolith defense of my ruined base that I managed to rebuild a stronghold and pull through for us to win the game.

All of which made me wonder to what extent the proficiency of the AI is governed by the layout of the map. Perhaps the Tau had simply had a better starting position for the way the AI played, while the massed three-army Imperial side had spacked out because it didn’t know how to proceed without overlapping with itself. Were the Tau actually in a better position simply because they didn’t have any allies to compete with for capture points? Or perhaps Dawn of War’s electronic brain simply finds it easier to build and attack with Tau units. We may never know.

Needless to say, science needs us, and our experiments are continuing. We can now also revealed that playing two humans vs four AI necron armies is about the hardest thing you can imagine…

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Jim Rossignol

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