Alpha II and Beyond

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Alright, let’s talk about what this milestone means for the game itself!

 

Seasons & Map Generation

This was actually a bit of a detour from the original plan, but I had long known serious work was needed here, and the map is so crucial to everything else that I decided to bite the bullet.

The old system for creating and managing the seasons was extremely primitive – and it showed. Climate zones were assigned in thick bands based on latitude, with small modifications made near mountains. Randomness was leaned on heavily in an attempt to add some fuzziness. In the end, rather than getting large cold fronts advancing from the north you were instead treated to obvious and unrealistic stripes, with the occasional snow tile peppered here and there.

Climate and terrain is closely linked, so when I decided to redo the former I felt it best to step back and add map generation to the task. What we want are believable maps that contain regions with strong character, but the old logic could do little more than produce an even mix of terrain across the entire map. I decided to basically burn everything to the ground and start over.

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A Winding Road – Diplomacy in At the Gates

Late last year I talked about how I was gearing up for a head-first dive into diplomacy. I’m still in that pool, but happy to report I’ve finally made my way out of the deep end. Without a doubt, this has been the biggest challenge I’ve undertaken. Accordingly, the whole process has taken a bit longer than I had planned.

But let’s not skip ahead, and instead turn back to the beginning of our lengthy story.

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TGDRT #33: Unity of Command

Episode #33: Unity of Command. With Tomislav Uzelac

Episode #33 is live!

Jon and Dirk are joined by Tomislav Uzelac, designer of the amazing WW2 strategy game ‘Unity of Command’ and studio lead for 2×2 Games. They dig into the title’s superb AI, its innovative supply system, building a streamlined strategic experience and the challenges of running a game studio from Croatia.

Very excited to have the designer of my favorite strategy game of recent years on the podcast. And he didn’t disappoint.

Over many years I’ve managed to train myself to always step back and factor in what the end user experience will be when making a decision, but this skill just comes naturally to Tomislav. He’s probably the most pragmatic and focused designer I’ve ever met – and this clearly shows through with Unity of Command. Definitely someone whose work you’ll always want to keep an eye on.

– Jon

Breakdown of AtG’s AI Design

The AI is one of every strategy game’s most important features. The bread and butter of the genre is offering difficult decisions in a replayable environment where success requires constant adaptation. Good AI enhances all three of these elements – whereas a bad one can derail the entire experience.

In the context of game AI, “good” means more than just “smart.” The job of computer opponents is more than just standing in for humans – they’re a part of the world and a gameplay system just like economics, diplomacy and warfare. Attila the Hun isn’t just there to provide a roadblock to victory – he’s there to be Attila the Hun, the frightening warlord who races in with a massive horde of horse archers, burns everything in sight, and runs off before you can muster a response. Is such a strategy productive? Hopefully! But it’s in many ways that’s only a secondary concern.

That having been said, a good AI must also put up a competent fight. This is especially true with features like combat, when the AI’s decisions are front-and-center and mistakes cannot be tucked under the rug. Such competency requires AI players to craft plans and be capable of course correcting as necessary.

For all of this to come together, you too as AI developer must have a plan. To that end, I’ve spent much of the past couple months putting together an insanely detailed breakdown for every AI subsystem and the logic each will perform. Think of it as a “first draft,” where the second will be the translation to programming code. I’ve run through repeated thought experiments to test my design and I’ve scrapped more than one critical feature when it became clear that intention and results weren’t in harmony.

I won’t be posting that work today (or ever… it’s already well over 200 pages and still growing!). But I know many of you would like to see how I envision everything fitting together, so what I will be doing is sharing my basic outline for the components that will make up an AI player. As with all of game development I have no doubt the details will change a thousand times over, but I’m fairly confident this general structure will be maintained until the game is completed, and very possibly for several future titles.

– Jon

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AtG AI Mini Update

Woohoooo, the first post-Kickstarter AtG update! This is going to be a fairly short one, but I wanted to let you guys know what I’ve been up to, lest you worry that I’ve run off to a Caribbean island or something. My intention is to post one major update every month, with smaller unplanned ones in-between going up here and over on our forums.

So for the past couple weeks I’ve been heavily focused on designing the basic structure of the AI. As I’ve noted in previous articles, the basic goals are effective behavior and minimal mistakes, achieved with simple, targeted systems.

I’ve been creating several “scenario sandboxes” in the AI brainstorming docs to establish what an AI response should be to various situations, along with the process for how decisions are made. [Shameless Plug] If you’d like access to these and other documents, you can use PayPal on our website to get up to the $125 tier! [/Shameless Plug]

Right now my brainstorming has led me to an AI design with four main systems:

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