Friday, August 7, 2009

AI Cogitations

The biggest coding challenge for War Plan Pacific was the AI. Easily. Why? Two reasons – first it was unstable. Not in terms of crashing, but in terms of suddenly delivering bogus results after a minor tweak. In some ways this is an unavoidable side-effect of not using a scripted AI. Two, it had a huge search space (all the possible situations the AI might find itself in during a game) and I didn’t have effective tools for validating the AI behaved reasonably across the whole search space.

How to fix? Well, both problems are related, since the lack of a comprehensive test suite exacerbated the dangers of destabilization. Destabilization can be overcome by brute force mapping the possible results, but that requires a mondo test suite. A mondo test suite is expensive to write, unless of course you can get the computer to write it for you…

Hey, wait. There’s an idea.

Stellar Squadrons, since there’s a tactical component, has an ever bigger search space for the AI than WPP. WPP used a hybrid rule-based AI with three planning levels. Squadrons is using genetic algorithm techniques to evolve the weightings for a neural network. I’m calling it a mutated neural network for fun. It doesn’t (at least for the moment) include back-propagation and dynamic learning. Instead, it can choose one of several net weightings to use based on the situation. Developing the GAs requires a fitness test, which gets us to problem #2 – test suites. The fitness test for the GAs is a round-robin tournament (using the game engine sans graphics) against all the other chromosomes in the population, with randomized (computer writing the test case for me) forces and setups on each side.

The GA routines are still in the development phase, and the real proof will be when I can play against one of the evolved routines, but so far I’m both excited and optimistic about this. If it works as well as I hope, I might even be tempted to retofit it onto WPP...

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Three Moves Ahead Guest Appearance

Troy Goodfellow’s new Strategy Gaming podcast, Three Moves Ahead, had a guest on last week to talk about game design.

Me!

If you haven’t seen TMA (or rather, haven’t heard TMA), it’s really cool. Troy, Bruce Geryk, Tom Chick, and Julian Murdoch are the regular panel, and occasionally they have guests (I think I was the second). It’s all about strategy gaming. Troy, Bruce, Tom and Julian have a ton of history thinking and writing about strategy gaming, so their insights are pretty interesting. I’m kind of kicking myself for not pumping them for more ideas when I was on…

Anyway, if you’re interested in strategy gaming in general, I highly recommend all the TMA episodes. If you’re interested in WPP for some reason, here’s Episode 4, my guest appearance.

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Monday, February 2, 2009

The Trouble with Torrents

Piracy. Lots of game developers suffer from it. Some people think it’s killing the industry, driving games to closed platforms. Obviously I don’t agree (at least not completely), starting a game studio and all that. But it’s worth paying attention to. I did a search on WPP and Torrent. Found a nice page that listed five different sites where you could download War Plan Pacific. I hope you, dear reader, didn’t download any of those.

Because who knows what they contain.

Or put it another way, don’t put that zip file in your computer, you don’t know where it’s been.

The smallest of the five torrent downloads was 416 Meg. One was over 900 Mb. The bits that ship on the retail disk from Shrapnel? 110Mb . Throw in a pdf of the manual for another 8 Mb to make it 118 Mb. Throw in the 1.0.1 patch and it’s still under 150 mb. So if you sample one of those torrent copies, you’re getting between 266 and 760 Megabytes of, ahem, extra stuff. Wonder what that extra stuff does?

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Shrapnel Games Developer Chat

Shrapnel, our fantastic publisher for War Plan Pacific, is hosting a chat with yours truly Tuesday night, Jan 27th at 6 PST. Stop on by if you have some questions or comments. It’s a party!

http://forum.shrapnelgames.com/ is the website. You’ll find “chat” on the top menu bar (third from the left).

Hope to see you (or at least your text) there.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

War Plan Pacific Demo released

Finally got the demo tested and uploaded. It’s available at Shrapnel Games…

http://www.shrapnelgames.com/Demos/DD_WPP.html

Now comes the fun part, getting feedback!

Release is always an emotional rollercoaster. You're so glad to be done, feeling good about actually finishing something, but your gut is churning, worried about some hidden bug you missed over all those months of testing, or about a review from a reviewer who "doesn't get it." Some people get so worked up about it, they can’t think straight. I once worked at a startup company that almost went belly-up because the President couldn’t bring himself to give the green light on our first product. “What if it gets a bad review?” he said.

It was actually a really good product, and he eventually did find the courage to release it. It didn’t really get any better in the six months he hesitated, the company just burned through more VC funding (and lost a few employees). I understand his worry, maybe another two months would turn up that killer bug, or give the team time to polish a few things a little more. And you don’t want to release too early, but there comes a time. There comes a time when you hit the point of diminishing returns. WPP is there.

I think:)

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

War Plan Pacific getting close

Well, exciting, the WPP product page at Shrapnel (taking preorders and everything) went live today. Oh, did I mention Shrapnel is the publisher? Well, yes, I did, and Tim and Annette and Scott and the crew at Shrapnel have been awesome to work with. Thanks guys!

Currently, I’m scrambling to get the manual updated, as well as nail down some AI changes, fix networking issues, and finalize the two alternate scenarios we’re including in the game.

Busy, busy, but like I said, exciting. Then end-game (so to speak) of any project is always a gut-check. There is always something else you could do to improve the game, but you don’t want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And at this point, after living with the game for so long, pretty much all your objectivity is gone. Which is why beta testers are so valuable (oh, yeah, add “working on a thank-you gift for the beta team” to my list of tasks I’m juggling. And did I mention we’re in the process of selling a house? In this wonderful market? Ah, ain’t life grand).

Okay, enough jabbering, I’ve got work to do! Check out the product page, it has some updated screen shots.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Shrapnel Games

A bit late blogging about the announcement, but we are very happy to have signed a deal with Shrapnel Games to publish War Plan Pacific. You can read the Shrapnel press release for all the details. Tim and the crew at Shrapnel have been great to work with, and I'm very excited about the deal.

So why am I so late in blogging about this? Because signing a deal and finishing a game are two different things! Lots of work still to do, but everything is moving in the right direction at the right pace.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

We’re going public!

Okay, not that kind of going public. But we’ve put up the first public screenshots of War Plan Pacific, our first title. They’re over on the games page. It feels kind of odd, putting up screenshots with a lot of placeholder art, but it gives folks a chance to see how the game is coming together.

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