Well, it’s that time of year again; GDC is almost upon us! I will be giving my third official GDC talk, entitled Playing to Lose: AI & “Civilization”. Unfortunately, it’s in the dreaded 9:00 AM slot, and since this is the first GDC where I will be sleeping at home instead of a nearby hotel, I better make sure I master the BART schedule and get there on time! Here’s the summary:
Playing to Lose: AI and “CIVILIZATION”
Speaker: Soren Johnson (Designer & Programmer, EA Maxis)
Date/Time: Thursday (February 21, 2008) 9:00am — 10:00am
Location (room): Room 2018, West Hall
Track: Game Design
Secondary Track: Programming
Experience Level: Intermediate
Artificial intelligence performs a crucial role for any strategy game, providing a compelling opponent for solo play. While many of the challenges of AI development are technical, there are also significant design challenges as well. Can the AI behave like a human? Should it? Should the game design be adjusted to accommodate the limitations of the AI? Should the AI be exposed to modders? How do we make the AI fun? Should the AI cheat? If so, how much? Do we even want the AI to win? This session suggests some possible answers to these questions using the “CIVILIZATION” series as a case study. Ultimately, games are many things to many different people; fantasy, competition, narrative, even construction set, and the best AI will support as many different approaches to the game world as possible.
This lecture is intended primarily for game designers and AI programmers who would like a deeper understanding of the consequences of high-level AI development decisions on the final product. Further, important lessons will also be shared for all developers interested in crafting a compelling single-player experience.
Attendees will leave with a better understanding of the difference between a “good” AI and a “fun” one. Furthermore, they will learn the trade-offs inherent in deciding between the two options.
Essentially, I will be talking about the difference between thinking of the AI as the player’s opponent and thinking of it as simply an extension of the core game design (what one might call the difference between “good” AI and “fun” AI). There will also be a long section on AI cheating – the bane of my existence for many years – concerning which type of cheats are acceptable to players and which type are not, using Civ as an extensive case study. Further, I hope to prove that, for Civ at least, there is no such thing as – and never could be – a “fair” difficulty level where the AI is playing the same game as the human. Your mileage , of course, might vary.
This talk will be a bit of milestone for me as, presumably, this will be the last time I’ll be giving such an extensive talk on Civ. In fact, I feel a little sheepish about giving it as a non-Firaxis employee. I’m so used to getting feedback from my old colleagues on my presentations that I can’t seem to shake the feeing that now I’m just some dude spouting off about Civ, and the world already has plenty of those!
At any rate, hope to see some of you there…