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Subject: Speculation on Electronic Britannia rss

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Lewis Pulsipher
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Speculation on Electronic Britannia

Some of you know that nowadays I teach in a college video game degree program (game design especially, of course). That and the recent question about electronic Britannia have started me thinking about what characteristics would be desirable in such a game. It seems very likely that sooner or later there will be an electronic version of the game (and of most well-known boardgames, in general).

So what would be desirable, what would be most important. I'll give my take, then I'm interested to hear what you think.

1. The game must be playable for one person, that is, you against three computer opponents. Or with two humans or three, and computer opponents to make four. Hence the most important aspect of the game will be the "AI", the computer opponent. The electronic versions of Diplomacy have suffered from awful computer opponents, as I recall, which is a little curious. There is more symmetry and simplicity in what the opponents do in Diplomacy than in Britannia, so I'd expect a computer opponent to be easier to write. My guess is either 1) really bad decisions by designers or 2) too much of a rush to get the game out.

2. The game should be usable for online play, whether with four humans or fewer.

3. I think it's desirable to include the shorter (6 turn) version of the game I'm working on, but this would increase development cost significantly, so it may not be practical. Perhaps it could be offered as a not-free expansion if the electronic version sells well.

Well, I've already run out of ideas. What I do know is, the "AI" will make or break the game; why would most people buy an electronic version of a boardgame if not to have computer opponent(s)?


Ken Agress has said he'd like to be able to play with four humans but have them roll the dice and input the results into the game, to display the board on a large-screen TV. (Or, I'd add, one of those table-like LCDs that Phillips and Microsoft have been working on.)


So what must the AI do? The best Brit players can look at the board, at a particular time of the game, and predict with some accuracy what the final score is likely to be. I don't know how a computer opponent is going to do that, but if it can, it should be able to play well.
 
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Ken
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The reason the Diplomacy AI's were terrible is that the actual conduct of diplomacy is hard to put into an AI. You need to be thinking turns in advance about the conditions that you want to see to support the alliance, end the alliance "nicely," or bury a knife in the back of your ally. At least, that was always the way it seemed to me. I don't see that as a huge problem for Britannia, since there's little diplomacy and fewer players.

It'd also be great to see a good PBEM interface for the game, of course.

I'd love to see if there was a way that you could "play" with the mechanics to change the game. For example, a computer would be a great adjudicator for a change to a simultaneous order execution version of Britannia and that could change many, many things. When MI's hit, you could either do them before everyone else moves or after, and have everyone plot out their moves. Suddenly those "visiting" objectives become harder to get. That could be a very interesting twist to spice things up for single player games against the computer.

The tough part of getting the AI right will be exactly what you pointed to - getting the "flow" of the game right. When do you go for your points? When do you try to get in the way of the other player's points? When does it make sense to go for submission/submit? How do you factor in Bretwalda/King?

An interesting challenge would be to see if good human players could come up with a flowchart for decisions in-game that "work" if you follow them. If players you respect can do that, that's a huge step towards a good AI.
 
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Lewis Pulsipher
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Until we humans figure out a way for simultaneous movement to work, it couldn't be put into the game--though it's certainly a good idea, as it would likely speed up the game a lot.

Afaik no one has figured out how to make simo move Brit work. Including old-Diplomacy-player me.
 
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darune
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As I see it there is in generel 4 concerns when converting a game into a computer version (apart from making the game work and run smoothly).

1. AI
2. Netplay
3. Teaching the game
4. Useability (by this, i mean something along the lines as to how easy it is to overview and control your action in the game)

There can be some overlap between these (eg. the AI could assist in teaching the game by making suggestions for instance).

How you prioritize these (if you have to or just neglect some) depends on the game in question and your goals.

Good luck.
 
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Scott Russell
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I think Brittania is better suited for webplay rather than real time play, so a web interface (log in, make a move, go away). This was the model that we used in PBeM gaming in the past and it worked well.

If you do decide real time is desirable, talk to Bruce Wigdor (Wargameroom) about how to do it. His implementations of CDG's are awesome.

AI would be nice, but if there was a smooth web interface I am not sure that I would make AI top priority.
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Timothy Sullivan
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qzhdad wrote:
If you do decide real time is desirable, talk to Bruce Wigdor (Wargameroom) about how to do it. His implementations of CDG's are awesome.


Seconded. A Britannia game playble in the style of Wargameroom would be awesome.
 
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MYOB MYOB
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AI should be the last phase of any such game. The point -is- multiplayer over the net, after all, and it's playable before you get to the AI part, so...
 
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Lewis Pulsipher
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Someone who takes the time to produce an electronic Britannia for sale in stores will be aiming beyond the current owners, so playing over the net will NOT be the #1 focus. There are many people who don't have the game, or may have it but don't play, because they can't find enough willing players, or because the game is too long for one session, or (less important) its too much hassle to keep track of points. To sell electronic Britannia to a broad audience, these difficulties must be addressed.

So the AI IS the most important aspect. It may enable people to play who otherwise cannot (and who aren't interested in Internet play, though that option must be there as well).

The game being electronic may speed it up a little, but with a save-game feature people can play sections at a time (e.g. on lunchbreak at work) and not need to record positions or leave a board sitting around for days or weeks.

The game will naturally keep track of points, too.

So while Internet play is important, I think a developer/publisher would regard it as second to AI.

I think current owners/players can be accommodated and new ones as well.

I suppose I ought to take a stab at designing the interface(s) and such myself.

Lew
 
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darune
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There is also the tripleA engine which may serve as platform.
 
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