Thursday, July 2, 2009

More Blood Bowl AI

I was going to write up this long AI critique today but my Dr. has prescribed happy pills for my back so WOO HOO. Go Happy Pills. However, the BB addicts on the game's official forum have done the work for me so in that honor bound blog tradition I am going to totally steal that info and paste it here.

This is in very basic terms what is wrong with the Blood Bowl AI whether you play on Easy, Medium or Hard. It matters not.

This from a fella called Bitterman:

Speaking as a games developer, writing a good AI isn't easy. Especially for a game as complex as Blood Bowl. Some of the suggestions above are great advice for human players but a computer will really struggle to understand it. But there are a few easy wins that absolutely requirement improvement for the game to be at all challenging and interesting in single player.

1. Understand turns 7 and 8. It is completely pointless (and totally ruins any illusion of intelligence) when a team 2-1 down at the end of turn 14, with the ball, doesn't advance anyone on turn 15, making it impossible to score on turn 16. This is absolutely critical and 100% required that this behaviour gets fixed.

2. Differentiate more between team tactics. It is completely pointless sending Dwarf Blitzers forward on the wings in the same way as Wood Elf Catchers. Effectively it's like the Blitzers aren't involved - so you're playing against 9 men - I've yet to concede against Dwarfs, or win by less than 3-0 (usually 4-0). While on the subject - if a Dwarf team is kicking, it's not always a good idea to field the Deathroller - I've never had to face a Deathroller for more than three turns before I score and it's sent off.

3. Differentiate more between kicking and receiving. I'm not sure I ever remember more than three players being set up on the LOS, with two in each wide zone and a line behind the front. It's so predictable - and the same whether kicking or receiving. Why not set up seven Dwarfs on the front line sometimes? Or four Wood Elf catchers and both Wardancers on one flank when receiving, to overload it? Every drive is the same.

4. Team progression is broken. Goblins with Break Tackle are just the start of it. There's no sense that the team develops as a unit - players are given skills apparently at random, in isolation. This is probably the most complex fix because there's a lot to it (strategy, trying to predict future tactics, rather than just tactics in isolation!) but a few simple rules would make big differences.

It's a good game, it's fun - I mean, it's Blood Bowl - but the AI is very weak in the above areas. It'll never be as strong as a truly skilled human but on the "hard" setting, it should not do things that are just stupid - but it consistently does, usually leaving it incapable of scoring when it needs to equalise or win - no human would make such a basic mistake.
He's on point with all of that.

However it goes deeper.

In order for the AI to be a threat -- not to play a brilliant game but just to pose a threat to a good BB player it needs to stop with the excessive dodging and the ridiculous amount of times it tries to "Go For It." -- Going For It is the game's defacto sprint -- you can move 2 spaces more than your Move Allowance but you need to roll a D6 each time you move and if you roll a 1 you fall and your turn ends.

The AI Goes For It every turn and with multiple players. It is TRYING to set up a "cage" -- this is a BB term where the ball carrier is placed in the middle of a bunch of teammates who shield (cage) him from enemies. A common tactics with teams like the Orcs, Dwarfs, and Chaos. Of course the AI does this with every race...

But it is SO intent on this cage idea that it Goes For It like crazy in order to set it up and invariably someone tumbles, screwing up the turn. They also like to dodge...with Dwarfs. A lot. That's 10 ways of stupid.

Finally -- MOVE THE BALL. The AI will only move the ball when it has a wide open path. Of course a good BB coach won't allow that unless the dice just flat out betray him. A good offensive coach has to plan blocks, and yes, take a few risks with passes, blocks, nullifying tackle zones, etc. The AI is terrified of your players with its ball carrier. And will not move until the road is wide open. This is why my games are almost all 2-0; 3-0; 4-0. The AI will score every few games based on abysmal die rolls but it doesn't get credit for that in my book.

So yes, the AI has no sense of time, no sense of the score, no sense of its star player's skills and how best to use them or how to line them up, no sense of game planning based on race, no sense of basic friggin' percentages when it comes to dodging, goes for it too much, and has no idea how to mount a basic offensive attack.

Other than that, it's awesome.

Look, this is still Blood Bowl and playing the game online is about as good as gaming gets for me. The rules of the boardgame are mostly in effect and are brilliant. It's a wonderful game. But Cyanide needs to fix the AI like...soon. Otherwise when all of the new players who are learning how to play the game start bitch slapping the AI (it will happen, believe me) boredom is going to set in.

I just hope for your sake that it takes a long time for that to happen so you feel like you got your $50 worth.


macsomjrr said...

People are being really harsh with Cyanide regarding BBs AI. Is it crap? Yes, but how big of a studio is Cyanide? How many people do they have working on each iteration of the game? Would you rather not have this game at all? I understand trying to motivate them to work on this aspect of the game but some people are just being outright nasty and acting like total BB snobs.

bill abner said...

The $50 I spent on the game does not care how many people were programming it. You want to code budget level AI? Price it as such.

Would I rather not have the game? An odd question.

For multiplayer: of course. As I said, MP is the heart and soul of the game. But, for the sake of argument let's say this was a solo game only w/o MP support.

In that case, then no, unless it received an AI patch because the solo game is a complete snooze fest because it takes exceedingly bad die rolls in order to lose unless you are a Blood Bowl novice.

In addition, the CEO told me straight up how tough and race-varied the AI would be. It's not. I didn't say those things, he did. Trust me there is no one on the planet who wants the game to be good as much as I do. But off line, it's just not. I've been waiting for this thing since 1989. I really, really, want it to be good. I keep playing the damn thing hoping the AI will all of a sudden turn on like the computer in Wargames.

And when you look at Cyanide and say "small studio" why didn't that hurt Ironlore Studios? (Makers of Sins of a Solar Empire -- a more complex game than a rigid rules based game like BB) and a terribly small outfit.

Or the one man design team at -- makers of Armageddon Empires -- another board game based game on the PC.

Or the countless other indie studios creating games with more complex AI than this. The small studio argument doesn't fly, especially when you're building off a game with an established rule set like Blood Bowl.

That said, that is the first time I (or perhaps anyone, ever) has been called a Blood Bowl snob!

Brandon said...

Just reading these discussions has convinced me that this game is too complicated for me.

Cody said...

Reading all about this makes the Madden AI seem like a genius.