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AI difficulty level renames

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AUrankAdminGoogleFrog
3 months ago
The circuit AI difficulty levels are now Beginner - Novice - Easy - Normal - Hard - Brutal. Thanks to everyone for their feedback and patience as we dial in appropriate difficulty levels and names. There should be no further big changes to names because we now have a fairly clear idea of the purpose for each difficulty level.
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USrankCrazyEddie
3 months ago
quote:
we now have a fairly clear idea of the purpose for each difficulty level


I'm not so sure about that. Here are the descriptions of each level that show in the tooltips:

["AI: Beginner"] = "Recommended for players with no strategy game experience.",
["AI: Novice"] = "Recommended for players with some strategy game experience, or experience with related genres (such as MOBA).",
["AI: Easy"] = "Recommended for experienced strategy gamers with some experience of streaming economy.",
["AI: Normal"] = "Recommended for veteran strategy gamers.",
["AI: Hard"] = "Recommended for veteran strategy gamers who aren't afraid of losing.",
["AI: Brutal"] = "Recommended for veterans of Zero-K.",

Following on a chat I had in #zkdev with JPrankgajop, I don't think that the above descriptions capture what's actually going on with each of the difficulty levels.

Beginner and Novice are for anyone who hasn't played ZK before. They are sandboxish, and provide the player with the time and space they need to experiment with the UI and with the various things they can build. They are probably too easy for anyone who has learned how to build and control units.

Easy and higher are for people who no longer need to figure out the UI or play around with the tech tree. Easy and higher are for people who are ready to actually play ZK.

JPrankgajop noted that Easy will scout and raid early in the game. He felt that this was too hard for Easy, since the player will be facing hostile enemy units from the very start of the game but may still be struggling to become familiar with the user interface. I argued back that Easy is not the place for learning the UI. JPrankgajop pointed out that the current AI descriptions will encourage many new players to start with Easy. I agree, but think that that's a mistake. The descriptions should be changed.

Anyone new to Zero-K needs to know that regardless of their prior experience with any other RTS, if they play on Easy they're going to be playing for real and will get their hat handed to them in the first few minutes if they're still trying to figure out what to do and how the game works.
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USrankCrazyEddie
3 months ago
Relatedly, I'm not sure there's any purpose to having both of the current Beginner and Novice levels. They both serve the same purpose - a sandbox where the player cannot lose - and as currently implemented, there is little practical difference between them.
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JPrankgajop
3 months ago
I think we should start with descriptions (target demographic/gamer persona) and configure the AI to behave accordingly. I'm not saying that it is ideal right now, and I'd like to hear any suggestions, but doing it like this makes it much easier to then think about how many levels there should be and what kind of difficulty should each AI present.

There are people with vastly different experiences so it makes sense to have differently starting points. I don't think people should start at the lowest level and work their way up - many players certainly won't be doing that (analytics citation needed). Personally I dislike of thinking about AIs in terms of "playing for real" and "sandboxes you cannot lose against". In fact I don't think there should be an AI you cannot lose to - although admittedly you would have to AFK to lose to the lowest level.
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USrankCrazyEddie
3 months ago
(edited 3 months ago)

quote:
In fact I don't think there should be an AI you cannot lose to

A sandboxy AI that you cannot lose to was requested here. The request was met with generally favorable responses.

I think it is vital to have a sandboxy AI that you cannot lose to, so that players who have no idea how to play ZK can experiment without getting crushed by the AI while they are experimenting.
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AUrankAdminGoogleFrog
3 months ago
I didn't say I was good at writing tooltips or that the configs themselves were finished. Beginner was created after a request for an easier AI than the Very Easy (now Novice) that was available at the time. Beginner is the basically sandbox AI. It should be appropriate for people with basically no experience, they may not have even played computer games. It can also be a sandbox.

Novice is for people who have used RTS controls before. I think Novice has become easier than when I last looked closely at it. Novice used to make an army of about five units and send it around the map as a raiding party, reaching the player about 10 minutes in. It would attack turrets and defeat a commander. I had another look and it seems that Novice is now unable to defeat a complete idle player. However, it still makes a raiding-army of around five units and will use the army to kill any lightly defended economy that you create. I think Novice could be slightly bolder but, regardless, it is still distinct from Beginner due to its raiding behaviour. The challenge of Novice seems to be expanding without losing the expansion and attacking into the small army. Beginner does not make an army.

Easy is for the standard experienced RTS players. I have this idea of an RTS player in my mind. They have played many different RTS games, they trounce the (non-cheating) AI of games they have spent an above-average amount of time on. They've probably beaten a few campaigns. Bonus points to the player if they are familiar with games that use streaming economy with assist (so C&C doesn't count). They might even have a few heuristics for how to learn a new RTS. Easy is the first AI without a large number of restrictions. It is much more representative of a standard game than the earlier AIs, although it still builds up quite slowly. It will only expand to 30% of the map.

Normal to Brutal are primarily not for new players. Of course, if you're super keen or highly competitive you may want to jump in at Normal or Hard to learn by flailing around and losing a bunch of games. There are people who would want to do that. The aim of Easy to Brutal should be to never leave someone floundering in a spot where level X is trivial but level X+1 is too hard. If Normal ceases to be much of a challenge players should be able to get a well matched challenge out of Hard. The AI developers themselves get the most fun out of making circuit AI as strong as possible so I've left them to do that with Brutal. The rest of the configuration of these levels is up to feedback.
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JPrankgajop
3 months ago
quote:
A sandboxy AI that you cannot lose to was requested here. The request was met with generally favorable responses.

I think it is vital to have a sandboxy AI that you cannot lose to, so that players who have no idea how to play ZK can experiment without getting crushed by the AI while they are experimenting.

Trivial AI that you shouldn't lose to isn't the same as an AI that you cannot lose to, which also doesn't attack. Sending very few units, with the first attack coming later on and can be defeated by one or two LLTs seems appropriate. It is important that it attacks, since this is a competitive game and the presence and struggle against an opponent its crucial point => the presence of the enemy must be shown.

Seeing as how AUrankAdminGoogleFrog described AIs, which I think is sensible, my point still stands. Easy is one of the entry AIs, for experienced RTS players, and we can expect people to start there. Therefore it would be better off if it delayed its initial attack at least 1-2mins, but later on was somewhat stronger than it is presently.

PS: Novice attack should come somewhat earlier however. Currently the first attack happened at 15mins in, which is too late. I think something like 5mins for a scout at 10mins for a real attack makes more sense.
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USrankCrazyEddie
3 months ago
quote:
Trivial AI that you shouldn't lose to isn't the same as an AI that you cannot lose to, which also doesn't attack.

You're reading my words too literally. I'm sorry for not being more clear. It is in fact possible to lose to Novice; if you leave your factory completely undefended it will be killed by a raiding unit, and if you march your unupgraded commander into the middle of the map it will eventually be killed by the units that congregate there.

quote:
Sending very few units, with the first attack coming later on and can be defeated by one or two LLTs seems appropriate. It is important that it attacks, since this is a competitive game and the presence and struggle against an opponent its crucial point => the presence of the enemy must be shown.

This is exactly what Novice does.

quote:
Novice attack should come somewhat earlier however. Currently the first attack happened at 15mins in, which is too late. I think something like 5mins for a scout at 10mins for a real attack makes more sense.

Novice never makes a concerted attack. However, Novice constantly raids. Novice sends its units all over the map in very small groups; if it encounters undefended expansions, it kills it; if it encounters defenses, it usually either dies or withdraws. Novice does this from the very start and continues doing this the entire game. I don't know why in your game it didn't happen until 15 minutes; you should do more testing to see how consistent this is.

In my most recent testing I noticed that if it chooses Cloaky it stays clumped up in the middle for a long time rather than raiding. It didn't do this a week ago. Perhaps something has changed recently. It doesn't happen with the other factories.

You should do more testing, preferably in multiplayer so you can link to replays demonstrating the behavior you think is undesirable.
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JPrankgajop
3 months ago
You're right about the newest Novice attacking early. I don't know why it didn't before - it just built a presence in the middle of the map and didn't move until 15m in.
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