Archive for May, 2012

Command and Control in Computer Strategy Games

May 19, 2012

The computer game Civilization starts you off quick and simple, with just one unit.  But it gets more complex as you build more units, cities, and discover more of the world and other civilizations.  Using all of your forces optimally takes a lot of time, and towards the end of the game it becomes a long grind.

Civilization is an extreme example, but many other games follow the same pattern – Sim City, for example. How an we maintain a quick pace throughout a game?

One solution is to think more closely about who the player is representing (an idea outlined in Nicholas Palmer’s books on board wargaming).  In Civilization, you play the leader of a nation, so should be making high-level decisions such as what to research or where to attack, not minutiae such as how many air units should attack Kiev.  That decision is left to capable generals or ministers.

In the old days of boardgaming, this sort of separation was not desirable – why make the player go through a lot of automated gruntwork?  But a computer can easily perform these chores, with its AI making all the trivial decisions.

Computer games often do have an AI that will run some things on auto-pilot, but the part they generally do not think about is making the AI an integral and necessary part of the system, rather than a crutch for lazy players.  So perhaps you could only give direct orders to four units a turn, for example.  This would make things go quicker and might well be more challenging – choosing 4 out of N units to control is a more intellectually challenging (but often quicker) task than giving routine orders to each of N units.  Ironically, card-driven wargames such as Memoir ’44 or We The People have already adapted this mechanic (although without the ability to auto-pilot unordered units).  And, of course, the early wargame of chess only lets you make one move a turn.

Plausible Bidenability

May 9, 2012

When Joe Biden came out for gay marriage, was he making a cunning move in the administration’s game of eleven-dimensional chess, or just blundering around?  I don’t know, you don’t know, and even Biden might not be sure.  It’s another reason Biden was a great pick for VP – his reputation as an amiable doofus leads to plausible Bidenability.  Obama can use Biden to float a trial balloon, and if it doesn’t work out, he can say it was just Biden being Biden, something that would be impossible with a more disciplined politician like Gore or Hillary Clinton.  And this worked out spectacularly well – Obama got to test the waters, lower expectations, and then sucker-kiss progressives with a bold and historic declaration.  The President’s idealism and courage now stands in sharp contrast to the cynicism and cowardice of Team Romney.  Of course, some will say that this was just a move taken for political advantage.  I’m not sure what they’re looking for – should the President be making cautious decisions instead and not trying to win the election?  And would they have predicted this a couple of months ago?

So three cheers for Obama and Biden.  Whether by accident or design, they’ve come a long way since the inauguration, encouraged supporters, and confounded opponents.  If this is opportunism, let’s seize the opportunity!