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Alpha Centauri

Page 2 of 3

A glimpse at gameplay:

So, in Mission Year 2150, as human life gains a tenuous foothold on an alien world, Lady Deirdre offers to trade me CEO Morgan's comm frequency for five energy credits. (Hmmm, I would have given her a whole tech for that, knowing I would likely recoup several from trading with Morgan....) My archenemy Sheng-ji Yang sends a trickle of Alpha Crawlers against my outlying bases, one every couple turns. I defeat them in detail. (Hmmm, I would have waited and massed an overwhelming attack force, then gone in all at once....) Colonel Santiago's forces blunder mindlessly into my territory, trying to find a way through to attack Dr. Saratov's University, not realizing they're violating their agreement with me as they do so (got to give these guys a better concept of territorial integrity).

It can be a frustrating process, since in the early versions of a game the computer players do something rock stupid every couple of milliseconds, and it feels like there's no way to cover every possibility. But if I can put my finger on why a particular decision was stupid and identify the reasoning process I would use to come up with a smarter one, then I have the angle of attack I need to teach the computer how to solve that kind of problem. Deirdre's problem, for instance, is a simple one - the principle involved is merely "information is power." Let's increase the value of information (even information as seemingly innocuous as another player's comm frequency) and give the computer a better algorithm to compare the value of information with that of other tradable commodities.

Yang's problem, in detail, again involves a fairly simple principle (amass your forces before attacking), but the implementation is a bit more difficult. I teach the computer to pick out a base close to enemy territory as a marshalling point for its attack force. Then, as new offensive weapons are produced, a sizeable number of them are tagged as members of the soon-to-be amassed attack force (the remainder are left free to patrol friendly territory for intruders or make small raids against enemy strongholds to "keep him honest" while the attack force is amassed). "Tagged" weapons know to proceed immediately to the marshalling point, avoiding distractions and entanglements along the way. Once they arrive, they are told to wait until the rest of the force arrives. When the attack force reaches a certain critical mass (based on friendly production capacity and the personality of the attacker), its members are "released" all at once and can proceed together into enemy territory using the normal attack algorithm.

Next: Fixing more of what's broken

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