Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Speculation on Electronic Britannia

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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