Jon Shafer's At The Gates


We will not really know until it releases, I think. It’ll be more telling to see what the average gamer says about it than strategy mavens, perhaps.


A lot of the need to move along has gone away over time- stone structures don’t degrade resources any more and since there’s not really threats to them, you can just kind of sprawl out and get whatever you need. Eventually clan training ends up being the bottleneck and resources don’t do much any more.

The huns don’t have structures and I believe they have the most interesting gameplay for that reason- they most certainly do have to be nomadic and move along.

I kinda feel like at least you should need to form a kingdom to build stone structures- it’s not hard to get blocks(you can use either coal or stone, and coal can be had from wood, which is common).


despite what should be a terrible disadvantage - playing a game without even knowing all the rules! - that level at which most of us can reliably win is one where the AI is receiving pretty significant bonuses.

I think this speaks to both strategy game design and strategy game AI, that this woeful state of affairs is so common.

I used to feel this way. Then I realized that chess has been around for 1500 years. It has 64 squares, 6 different “units,” and rules that fit on one page.

We’ve juuuuust about gotten to the point where we have a chess AI that can reliably beat the best humans. In 1500 years.

And we expect each new Civilization, with hundreds of units, sprawling maps, and 200-page manuals (if they had manuals anymore), slammed together in 8 months of crunch by a team of 20-year-olds, to have a functional AI that doesn’t cheat?

With a patch that changes the rules every week for the first year, no less?

Are you kidding? (The general “you,” not you in particular.)

Let’s just take it as resolved that no video game in our lifetimes will ever have an AI that plays the same game the human plays, and still has a shot at winning against someone who understands the rules.

Strategy game AIs can only beat you in one of two ways: concealing the rules, or playing a different game from the one you’re playing.

Good strategy games, like Invisible, Inc or Into the Breach, do the latter.

Bad strategy games, like Civ, do both, and in the wrong way: they conceal the rules by making so many rules you can’t think about them all at the same time. And they play a different game than the human… by cheating.


Why I only play Hoomanz.


“Playing a different game” doesn’t have to be a bad thing! Humans are good at some things (and have very specific ideas of what is, ahem, “fun,”) and computers are good at other things (and don’t care if what they’re doing is fun or not). Why would we EVER expect humans and computers to be equally good at the same tasks? Seems kinda crazy when you think about it! We don’t ask humans and computers to be equally good in any other aspect of life!

So just play the strategy games where the human gets to do stuff a human is good at (like creative problem solving) and the computer gets to do stuff a computer is good at (like follow strict, potentially tedious algorithms). Plenty such games exist. None of them are 4X games, though! Sorry!


I play the ‘puter, just not strategy/wargames much anymore. ‘Puter just isn’t that creative and doesn’t know much about deception or planning.


But Sorcerer King! Aren’t the Thea games also like this?



As long as the game is evocative enough for me to make up an intelligence that isn’t there and infuse it with it, I am quite fine. Like @TheWombat, it seems, I am blessed to have a bad enough grasp of numbers that a so-called AI needs to be really bad for my suspension of disbelief to be shattered. Civ 5 didn’t quite manage to get that low, especially with its last expansion — Civ 6 surely did.
For me, those “let’s fiddle around menus with a coat of theme” games are different to the ones you are citing as humansized headscratchers. I think it is just an incidence of us monkeys trying to simplify everything and sort that “everything” into cases too small that they end up all falling into a strategy genre. But again, I’m bad at Civ and consorts, and consider them to be toys I fiddle with, not games that I can master — which is why I find Tomsplaining and other strategy streamings so fascinating, as it is a relation I can’t have with those games that are featuring too many variables, whether they can be shortcut to be solved by exploitation, or properly dominated by the “I’m so good at this game” parabola.
Which category will At the gates fit? Whichever it will be, I am quite confident I will be able to enjoy it, although not in the same way. My preference is definitely that it fits in your categorized smaller strategy genre rather than another one.


Thanks, Rob!


Preach, preach. Same happens with a nice little RTS Infested Planet and many other games that understand they can’t make a perfect symmetric AI so no need to bother.

This is why I dislike when people talk about AI “cheating”. In strategy games when it’s not cheating as much as playing his own game. As long as interacting with AI doesn’t feel cheap or involve special tactics that are only effective when you know the limitation of AI it’s fine. If AI can conjure resources when his economy is wrecked then it’s a bad case of cheating cause it means there’s no point in using an effective strategy that would work against a human. But if AI gets twice as much resources from the same mine as would human get then it’s fine, we have a human wave AI that would still force you to utilize mostly same tactics but play better.

It’s even OK if AI ignores some of the mechanics that human can’t interact with, e.g. human can get bad random events and AI can’t. You don’t build your strategy around AI getting a stroke of bad luck so it’s fine if AI “cheats” in this way. By the way, I think even Civ games understand it somewhat because plenty of Civ scenarios not bound by the necessity of including everything from Civ checklist work much better than the main game. There’s also Warlock 2, which is sorta 4X game with a sorta singleplayer campaign that is still randomly generated. There you have scripted diplomacy and a very structured world with progression through various “dimensions” each acting like a stage in something like Panzer General with enemies mostly on defensive.


Sorry, but there is now AI that can beat the best human players at Go, which until recently was thought to be as impossible as beating someone at Civilization. And look how it did it: by playing itself!

AI isn’t hard, it’s just that people are doing it wrong. If a large company like Microsoft would just devote a large team of engineers, a couple hundred million dollars, and several years to have server arms of artificial intelligence play each other in strategy video games, we too could reap the reward of having challenging opponents for Gal Civ or Kingdoms of Amalur. So I’m waiting. Impatiently. With my arms crossed. Tapping my foot with a scowl on my face. A mean scowl. Really mean.


How many people are in the market for Impossible to beat AI? Less than you think.
Challenging, sure, but is Google working on that?


For what it’s worth, the design philosophy of Stars in Shadow is along these lines. As a purely single player 4X, there are quite a few aspects only the human gets to endure/enjoy. I believe this is the correct approach.

Edit: The game needs to be either easy for an AI to play, or those aspects left only to the player.


Well, those millions of dollars, several years, and large server farms only produce AI to play one specific game that will be completely hopeless at other games. I suspect, at today’s rates, to get one that’s good at multiple games would be an order of magnitude more expensive :)

Still, AAA game budgets are already rising. What’s a few hundred million to them?!


The ‘only’ in that post is my favourite part!


On Thursday we will be learning where Deep Mind is currently at with playing Starcraft 2. I’m wondering if they have had it playing on the ladder. Whatever it is they are doing some live thing on Twitch/Youtube:


We’ve been past that point for a few years. What I’d like to see if someone come up with an ai that realistically plays like a class player.


Kasparov thinks so

I admit that I was pleased to see that AlphaZero had a dynamic, open style like my own. The conventional wisdom was that machines would approach perfection with endless dry maneuvering, usually leading to drawn games. But in my observation, AlphaZero prioritizes piece activity over material, preferring positions that to my eye looked risky and aggressive. Programs usually reflect priorities and prejudices of programmers, but because AlphaZero programs itself, I would say that its style reflects the truth. This superior understanding allowed it to outclass the world’s top traditional program despite calculating far fewer positions per second. It’s the embodiment of the cliché, “work smarter, not harder.”

Note the “to my eye”: beauty and intelligence can cogently argued to be in the eye of the beholder.

We are far from applying AlphaZero to anything - it took 40 days on a one of a kind supercomputer to defeat human Go players. After quite a few more runs longer than that to work out the algorithms and parameters that"worked". Not dependable yet or economic to be applied to strategy games that change over time with patches etc.


Yeah the traditional engines like Komodo, Houdini, and Stockfish have been up there for a bit, but what AlphaZero and the opensource Leela project have done is pretty awesome. Lc0 is the 2nd seed in the current TCEC competition Superfinals:


i.e. “my style is the best!”