Playing with Noobs

Lately I have not been playing many single player games at all. I have a few I would like to play through, but I’m currently immersed in multiplayer team games. The biggest taker of my time is currently DOTA2 followed by Destiny and now that Smash Bros is out, I’ll probably be learning the newer ropes for that too.  Multiplayer games have this innate ability to be easy fun compared to a single player campaign simply because you are playing with other people; friends or not, the game is infinitely more interesting because you are interacting with actual people and can be more fun. Can being the keyword there, because when your game revolves around other players it no longer goes the way you want it to. Just like in a team sport, if someone fails to perform their role then you can fail as a result even if you do yours well. This happens more often than I’d like, or maybe that is confirmation bias, and I’m not ashamed to admit that it can frustrate the hell out of me.

The other day a few buddies and I were playing a game of Dota2 with a player on our team that was almost certainly brand new to the game. This sniper didn’t buy any of the suggested items, instead he only bought items which improved his agility statistic (which does make some sense as agility is the hero’s primary stat). We tried suggesting better items to buy/use, but he kept buying agility items. As a result, he died a lot in the early game, “feeding” the other team gold and exp, making the rest of the game a very one-sided experience. My friends and I didn’t blame or yell at the sniper player over our voice chat, but we all knew who cost us the game, or at least a good game. We all wondered, “Why are playing with a first timer? Why is this possible for the game to match us up?”.

Earlier this week I was going through the Vault of Glass raid on Destiny with 5 other coworkers. A raid is a type of mission that is usually much larger in scale and requires a team of players to work together to conquer obstacles, enemies, and puzzles to finish it. You need above average teamwork to accomplish this challenge, and it can take hours to complete. I have gone through the raid a few times now but this time I believe we had more people on the fireteam that hadn’t finished it than those of us that had, and I was the most experienced player. Throughout the raid I could feel frustration bubbling up when someone didn’t do their part, missed an oracle call out, or just died when they shouldn’t have. Any fault in someone’s play usually result in a team wipe and we would have to start the section over again. Our final time was 3 1/2 hours when it usually takes my more experienced group about 1 hour. I couldn’t get mad though, I had joined this group of my own choice. We were also talking and laughing throughout the entire thing, it was very fun even though it was taking a lot longer. I stayed because every raider has their first raid when they were learning what to do, what not to do, etc. I’m sure I was the same or worse when I first learned it all.

So why is playing with noobs so frustrating when it is an inevitable experience? After all, you can’t truly ever have someone play their first team game without playing with actual teammates, it wouldn’t be a real first game. When you play any game, you feel competent at, you expect to at least do well enough to be satisfied with your performance. But the shtick of any team game is you can’t do your best if someone else holds you back. Just like how a team victory feels that much better when everyone is assisting each other, a team loss feels that much worse when you can’t do your job because someone isn’t doing theirs’. It has happened, it is happening, and it will continue to happen. I think too many noobs face people yelling at and insulting them, so they keep their microphone and speakers off and therefore don’t learn from others who sometimes actually try to help them in game. I’ve found the best response is to take a breathe, pop a mentos, and make the best of the game you can. Talk to the noob, be friendly, and explain things you think he may be confused with. It is surprising how quick they will start asking you more questions or be more eager to help out once they see you as an ally/teacher. Or they might not, refuse to take any advice, drag your team down to a frustrating loss. Oh well, there’s always the next match.

We Need More Spencer Mansions (The Jimquisition)

Resident Evil HD REMASTER is a remastered version of the remake of the original Resident Evil game released in 1996. I didn’t know exactly what it was about Resident Evil, but it stuck in my brain as one-of-those-games since the first time I played it. Years later, playing the REmake on the GameCube in 2002 I realized that it was the mansion atmosphere that made this game special for me.

The Spencer Mansion is almost a main character in its own right, adding an eerie unsettling stillness as you explore. Throughout the game you become intimately familiar with its hallways, puzzles, tenants (alive or dead), sounds/music (or lack thereof), and back story. But it doesn’t stay static, even after backtracking the mansion’s passageways, doors will break if you use them too much, zombies will come back to life, new enemies will burst out of doors you thought to be safe. The design of this game is so well done that it will forever be the definition of Survival Horror for me.

Pre-Order Bonuses – The Dark Side

What do you get when you buy Watch Dogs? Well that all depends on which edition, location, or pass you buy!

When special editions go to far
When special editions go to far

There are eight, EIGHT, different editions to choose from.  Keep in mind, these are just the bonuses for buying a special edition copy of the game. This image doesn’t show all the extra crap you get from preordering from Gamestop, Amazon, BestBuy, etc.

Pre-Order Bonuses

I know that I’m not the only one getting sick and tired of ten different pre-order bonuses depending on what retailer you go to or version of the game you buy. It is getting out of hand. I don’t mind so much when its simple game swag or in-game cosmetics, but sometimes it is extra weapons, maps, even entire DLC chapters that are unique to one of those choices! This is anti-consumer, be design.

So, when Titanfall announced their preorder bonuses I was surprised when they actually did a great job. No exclusive guns, or titans, or maps. A few swag items and a possible guide that you can find on the internet. As an avid gamer, thank you for not contributing to the preorder bonus ecosystem mess we are currently stuck in.

AI Project: Checkers

I figure I’d start revisiting some work I did a couple quarters ago at UCI in an AI project course. We set out to experiment with some different Checker strategies and see how they would fair against each other, against us, and (most importantly) against another team developing another Checkers AI system. I’ve created a simple game from my own ideas, but I haven’t created a game from a preexisting set of rules before or have the game play against the human. The game system is pretty self-explanatory; moves are hi-lighted, jumps are mandatory, a piece becomes a king on the other end of the board, and you win when you lose all your pieces or when you can’t make a move.  I really wanted to build this in something other than a Java applet, since they aren’t used much these days, but UCI programming courses heavily use java and their game courses heavily use a custom library called UCIGame (you-see-ga-me).  The AI depth search uses a min/max and alpha/beta pruning strategy to allow the massive move set to be shortened so a move decision can be made in reasonable time, but a search of depth 10 still makes a noticeable pause.

The most interesting part of this project is the AI strategies we implemented.

  • Random
    • The AI selects a move at random.  Hardly a challenge
  • Basic
    • The AI examines all possible moves within the search depth value.  It then selects the move that allows the AI to be in the position were losses and gains will be the most beneficial.  Ideally, the more pieces it can take and least amount of pieces it can lose will increase the probability to win the entire game.  This strategy is easily countered by tricking the AI with bait, and then trapping and taking its piece.  The best choice is based on an average score derived from a couple of heuristics.
      • Taking pieces(+ for regular; ++ for kings)
      • Loosing computer pieces(- for regular; — for kings)
      • Getting ‘Kinged'(+)
      • Moving a piece from a ‘King Me’ square(–)
  • Piece Table
    • In addition to the heuristics above for the basic strategy, a piece table is also incorporated into the score for a move. The piece table gives each square a value and it is added into the average score for each move. This is the piece table used for our AI.  Each number denotes a square worth value. The higher the value, the higher the worth of keeping a piece on that square. Notice that all ‘King Me’ squares hold the highest value of 4, these spots are very important, and a player would only want to move a piece from this location as a last resort. Squares close to the sides of the board also have the value 4, and closer inside is 3, are the least vulnerable from attacks. On the other hand, the squares in the very middle of the board hold a value of 1. These squares get vacated as fast as possible since they are most susceptible from attacks. The numbers make a sort of spiral from the outside, decreasing in value as they come closer to the middle. This strategy is very strong since it combines the heuristics from the Basic strategy to minimize losses and maximize gains as well as achieve optimal piece placement on the board to further minimize more losses and maximize more gains. I have not been able to beat this strategy with a high depth.

Overall, it was a very enlightening project to work on.  I learned a lot working with massive decision trees, different strategies, implementing given rules, and classifying data sets using a range of scores. I was quite happy with the outcome of an AI that can easily beat its creator, and with the fact that we smoked the other Checkers project team. Checkers is a solved problem after all, so if we were evenly matched it should tie or win ~50% of the time.

EDIT// before java was more or less shuttered from browser support, we had a working embedded applet you could play but not anymore.

I have a couple of planned changes for this application’s future:

  • Simplify the button options
    • The three buttons on the GUI made sense at the time I created them, but many users have reported that they have trouble knowing which one to click when.  Combining the Resign and New Game button into a single one will free space for an AI vs AI option.  Another problem is that when the Make AI Move button is pressed the player switches sides.  They have to click it again to resume play as the original red color.
  • Allow  the player to select his color at start of game
    • Just a nice option for the player to choose.


“But games do matter, because they spark the imaginations of our children, taking them on epic quests to strange new worlds. Games matter because our children no longer have access to real-world play spaces at a time when we’ve paved over the vacant lots to make room for more condos and the streets make parents nervous. If children are going to have opportunities for exploratory play, play that encourages cognitive development and fosters problem-solving skills, they will do so in the virtual environments of games. Multi-player games create opportunities for leadership, competition, teamwork and collaboration—for nerdy kids, not just for high-school football players. Games matter because they form the digital equivalent of the Head Start program, getting kids excited about what computers can do.”

-Henry Jenkins, Art Form for the Digital Age