If you can’t beat ‘em, make a bot that can. That seems to be the mantra that two UC Santa Cruz students -- Ben Weber and Peter Mawhorter – are following in their attempt to design a StarCraft A.I. capable of going toe-to-toe with even the best of the pros.
“Our goal is to create compelling new forms of interactive art and entertainment that provide more deeply autonomous, generative and dynamic responses to interaction. A major thrust of this work is advanced A.I. for video games, including autonomous characters and interactive storytelling,” they told GamePro.
Currently, the crafty automaton’s already enjoying a 20 percent win rate against humans. It also plays exclusively as the Protoss, meaning that even if Weber and Mawhorter’s experiment fails, they’ve got an easy cop-out. “We were trying to make it play like a Pro all right. A Pro-toss!”
Er, anyway, the two hope their tiny tot of a bot will eventually reach “human-level behavior” – not just in individual games, but in the way it adapts to different situations.
"New strategies are constantly being uncovered by players and playing competitively requires learning how to counter newly discovered strategies," Mawhorter explained. "Our approach to this problem is to build a bot that learns new strategies from replays. Therefore, by giving it more replays, you can expand the strategic possibilities that it considers."
The plan, then, is for the bot to eventually learn strategies on its own, though implementing that kind of sponge-like soaking ability on anything more complex than build orders has proven to be quite the headache. We wish Weber and Mawhorter the best of luck. A word of advice, though: Make sure your bot stays far away from those illegal betting rings.
We’re not above cracking a joke or two about Korea’s near-fanatical obsession with Blizzard’s RTS opus StarCraft, but over there, the game’s no laughing matter. It is, for all intents and purposes, a sport. And where there’s sport, there’s money to be made. And where there’s money and sports, you can bet that there’s illegal betting. Turns out, though, that even Korea’s biggest StarCraft pros are in on it. That’s right: the whole thing’s rigged.
Among other things, various pros have been purposefully losing matches and leaking their teams’ replay files to illegal gambling groups. Think that’s bad? The rabbit hole runs deeper.
“Apparently, retired pro gamers, a former pro gamer coach, a former match announcer and a pro gaming scene reporter brought out their address books and contact lists to play a large part in the deals being made. Coaching staff and camp directors are also implicated, allegedly taking money for charging player entry fees,” gaming site GamePron explained.
Worse still, even E-Sports organizers have been tempted by the unscrupulous, though assuredly lucrative pie on the windowsill – going so far as to call a conference that considered coexistence with illegal betting sites.
Despite Korea’s human rights law – which forbids the release of criminals’ names – a list of suspected cheaters has found its way onto the Internet. Among others, the list includes “sAviOr” and “EffOrt” – both of whom were BlizzCon StarCraft champions in the past.
It’s a shame, too. Blizzard’s patched StarCraft again and again over the years, always aiming to perfect its incredibly tricky three-way balancing act. You can’t patch out illegal betting rings, though. Shame, that.
Seeing Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” on its opening night was a surprisingly illuminating experience for me. For one, I learned that – in my case, at least – introspection and trying to not get trampled by an ocean-like mass of 200 some-odd frothing, cosplaying fans are activities that go hand-in-hand. But as I watched/avoided becoming a doormat for a bunch of Wonderland wannabes, I realized something else: these people didn’t brave the cold (and the dark corners of their parents’ closets) because of their undying love for the timeless tale of Alice and her oddball companions. They did it because Tim Burton’s name was attached to the film. It could have been Tim Burton’s “Barney the Dinosaur” and they’d all have donned purple dinosaur costumes in a heartbeat.
I highly doubt that Infinity Ward’s planned not-Modern Warfare 3 project would’ve been received with such open arms. And evidently, so does Activision.
After all, former Infinity Ward bosses Jason West and Vince Zampella felt so creatively confined as to allegedly defy their contract with Activision and start making eyes EA, so clearly someone wasn’t exactly gung-ho about the Call of Duty creator’s bold new direction. Knowing Infinity Ward, though, regardless of the form the new project took, it probably would’ve been a fantastic game. So what gives? Well, at this point, I can only speculate, but money talks, and it’s telling me that Infinity Ward’s mystery game simply wasn’t a guaranteed mega-hit like Modern Warfare 3’s destined to be. Activision, in case you’d forgotten, likes money quite a lot.
Wait. You read that headline and still chose – of your own volition – to read this article? Either you really love us or your fun radar needs a good tune-up, but either way, we like you more than we like all of our other readers.
With that said, the StarCraft II Beta is live. That is, playable. Right now. Here’s your complimentary link to the Battle.net site where you can download the full 1.64 GB beta client and jump right into the action. Well, ok, the file’s pretty big, so you might not be jumping right into the action so much as you’ll be queuing up the action so you can maybe dive into it tomorrow after work.
Aw, who are we kidding? You're skipping work tomorrow. In fact, something tells us a large portion of the world is about to come down with "a headache... er, a cough... and I think I might have a fever too."
With StarCraft II Betawatch levels recently being upped to code red, Blizzard’s emerged from its cone of silence. But this is Blizzard we’re talking about, so obviously, baby steps. No actual release date just yet, but here are some gameplay details to hold you over.
“StarCraft II beta testers will be able to play a number of ranked multiplayer modes, include multiplayer ladder quick match, which has 1v1, 2v2, and free-for-all (FFA) modes. In addition, testers will be able to play unranked custom matches. We are not testing the single-player campaign of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty during the beta period,” reads the FAQ.
Note, however, that – for those of you who aren’t so confident in your ability to not be torn to shreds by people who’ve been playing StarCraft since before you were born – CPU opponents are an option.
Also of note: Blizzard plans to bring more testers aboard the SS StarCraft II based on its “testing needs,” so just because you don’t nab a golden ticket right away doesn’t mean you won’t get in eventually.
Click through the link for the rest of the FAQ. It is, in fact, handy. And really, that’s all you can ask for. Aside from a release date (*hint, hint*).
You’ve watched. You’ve waited. More than once, you’ve probably lost all hope, given in to despair, and cursed Blizzard’s name while holding your beta key inches away from an open flame. Well, watch, wait, and get all melodramatic no more, because the StarCraft II beta’s been cleared for take-off, and it’s launching “this month,” according to Blizzard.
The news came during a conference call today, straight from Blizzard boss Mike Morhaime. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, meanwhile, is still on track to release in “mid 2010.”
Is there anything more to say? You will be playing StarCraft II in less than 30 days. If you’re not leaping up-and-down while squealing like a big man imitating a little girl, you might want to check yourself into a morgue, because you’re dead.
We – as in, this particular blogger – don’t actually play World of Warcraft anymore, but we still have something of a personal stake the Lich King’s passing. Arthas’ fall – or his whiplash-inducing plunge, really – in Warcraft III still remains one of our favorite gaming stories, so it’s a bit surreal to just wake up one morning and find out that someone offed the old cold king. We always figured we’d get to close the book on what we started when we yanked Frostmourne from the ice all those years ago, preferably in some form of RTS.
Even so, congratulations are in order. A guild by the name of “Blood Legion” did the deed, earning the title of “Kingslayer,” along with a World First achievement and – hopefully – a single night off from their assuredly rigorous raiding schedule. This, of course, also means that Blizzard’s officially run out of drops of Lich King content to drip-feed players. Until the run-up to Cataclysm kicks-off, don’t count on any new content or real estate for the biggest MMO on the block.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are plenty – perhaps too many – fish in the MMOcean, and even the hardest of hardcore WoW players should now be able to find time in their schedules to sample them. Or, we guess you could go outside or take a vacation or something, but we hear that murdering 30 boars and stealing their innards is actually frowned upon out there. Best to stick with what you know, after all.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty was originally thought to be a Terran-only shindig, but according to a recent Blizzard forum post, the Protoss are crashing the party. Just don’t expect the Terran campaign to be overtaken by a Zerg rush… of Protoss. Wait. We’re confusing ourselves. Please, take a bucket to this sinking ship, Blizzard Europe poster “Xordiah”:
“I won't go into details, since we don't give out information on the campaign of StarCraft 2, but I can confirm that there will be a Protoss mini-campaign that lets you control Protoss units,” Xordiah said. “This part of the campaign mode is of course way shorter than the Terran part, but it is very fun to have a very different playstyle to add even more variety to the game. I am sure every Protoss fan will love this part of the Campaign!”
“That being said, the Protoss mini-campaign will not prepare you for the multiplayer as Protoss, you won't be using all units or getting to know buildings and upgrades,” the Blizzard employee added.
The Protoss’ main course, meanwhile, won’t be along until StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void drops. And seeing as it’s the third piece of StarCraft II’s campaign, “several years” may pass before the stars align in the ‘toss’ favor again. But hey, there are worse things than waiting to play as some crummy old alien race with all kinds of neato warp technology that we barely even care about anymore.
Gotta say, it’s a bit ironic that a blood-soaked week of virtual warfare – during which, more than twelve million casualties met their abrupt, though most assuredly excruciating ends – is the perfect template for videogame immortality. But hey, when happenstance writes my jokes for me, who am I to complain? And so it is with Valve’s Team Fortress 2.
As you’re probably already aware, last week saw Valve launch its latest update for the now two year-old Team Fortress 2. Which, in videogame years, roughly equates to dead. And a half. At the very least, you’d expect the public eye – easily distracted as it is -- to have wandered elsewhere by now, leaving Valve’s wacky shooter to the vultures and tumbleweeds of the world. But it hasn’t. War, as with each of TF2’s other updates, grabbed all kinds of attention – even as newer games like Modern Warfare 2 watched jealously from the outside.
So, why hasn’t interest in Team Fortress 2 faded over the years? Well, I can’t uncover the entire recipe for Valve’s incredibly intricate immortality potion, but I can outline one of its major ingredients: presentation. When Valve gives TF2 a tune-up, it does so with style. While other developers are content to toss their DLC out into the cold, harsh world with little more than a press release to keep it warm, Valve rolls out the proverbial red carpet with comics, videos, week-long Advent Calendar-style reveals, and – most recently – in-game competitions.
If a speed run is the videogame equivalent of a 100 meter dash, then a WoW character by the name of “Little Gray” just won the Tour De France. On foot.
The character – given virtual life by a Taiwanese power-player – completed 5,906 quests, killed 390,895 creatures, and raided 405 dungeons en route to unlocking all 986 of WoW’s achievements, effectively 100% clearing the game.
Well, mostly. Little Gray hasn’t quite bagged the elusive “B.B. King” event-based achievement, but a glitched PVP achievement still brings his grand total up to 986.
According to WoW Armory, Mr. Gray hasn’t logged-in since November 23. We wish we could say he’s finally hung up his tier 9 pauldrons and moved on to some other game, but – having spent far more time with the game than we’d like to admit long before achievements turned its addiction factor up to 11 – we imagine he’s simply started an alt.