Why FE’s AI is good but not as good as GalCiv’s

Published on Thursday, September 5, 2013 By Brad Wardell In Elemental Dev Journals

I’ve ready a lot of comments on Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes AI.  I feel confident in saying that most people seem very satisfied with it overall. But I think most people would say it’s not quite as good as GalCiv II’s.

In some respects, the GalCiv series is an anomaly.   I’ve been programming AI on GalCiv games for 20 years.  Let’s put that on the table for a moment and consider the ramifications. Can anyone think of a game, any game in the history of game development, where the same individual programmed the AI for the same franchise for 20 years.  That’s why the AI in the GalCiv games is so good. I’ve had 20 years to digest people’s ideas.

Similarly, a couple weeks ago we released FE: Legendary Heroes 1.3.  As many have observed, the AI improvements in it are nothing short of spectacular.  But that’s not because I suddenly became a better programmer (I wish! <g>). It’s because I’ve had just that much more time to play the game, read the forums, watch “Let’s Play Videos”.

Probably the biggest advantage the LH has had in AI is that pretty much everyone has multicore setups.  I can’t promise this but I think LH may be the first truly native multicore AI that’s been developed (it certainly won’t be the last).  That is, every AI player gets its smarts spawned out to a different CPU core.  That’s why the turn times are much shorter than in most games even though the AI plays pretty well without having to cheat.

Why we don’t like cheating

I’ve gotten a lot of email from people asking why I don’t just have the AI “cheat” on the challenging and normal difficulties.  And I think there may be an age thing.  People of my age (around 40) really really hate cheating AI.  I think it hurts the game. I think it hurts the game because when I play a game, I want to feel like the AI is playing the same game as I do.

Even on the harder levels in Legendary Heroes, the AI doesn’t just conjure up units out of thin air. We just give them more gold or more HP and other things that players can understand and react to.  We don’t, for instance, spawn enemies out in the FOW (a very common trick on our industry). The AI has to have the resources, even on “ridiculous” to create those units. That matters because players want to be able to knock out iron mines and stables and know that this is going to impact the AI’s ability to create those units (same for wiping out shards and spell casting).

What’s next

I still think of Legendary Heroes as a new game.  New DLC is in the works, new updates (1.4 and 1.5) are in the works.  The success of the DLC allows me to pay developers to keep enhancing the game. 

So how do we make the AI better?

There’s just no substitute for time on this.  When people play the game and post, I read. And I conspire how to thwart their plans. Smile  Like many of you, I enjoy playing the game and thinking of ways to wreck it.  I’m a lucky guy that I get to spend time with you guys and brainstorm new strategies for the AI.  I do feel bad for the amazing experts who won’t get to see the expression on those new players who suddenly see the AI doing something clever.

But I think, you and I, together are doing something really fun for next-generation gamers who will realize that 4X games are, actually, pretty darn amazing.