Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Impossible: AI

At some point in a tactics game you are gaming the computer player's decision making process instead of directly engaging. You know that the computer will always choose to move and attack if that is an option, so you can use a summoned unit just inside the movement range of an enemy unit to walk them back across the field. In theory if a unit has to move down one row and over three columns to get to you, they could go down that row at any point during their movement, but the computer will choose the point pretty consistently, so you can predict that and put a trap on the first hex they enter.

This isn't really showing tactical superiority so much as it is abusing the flaws of a predictable opponent. One of my favourite units is so good precisely because it is so good at abusing the AI.

Shamans are a pretty strange unit. As an orc unit they use the adrenaline system - whenever they attack or take damage they gain adrenaline that they spend to use their abilities. This is an issue for the shaman, a unit that is supposed to be standing back and casting totems rather than engaging in melee.

In a previous iteration, the shaman had an ability that gave it adrenaline whenever another orc unit gains adrenaline. That gave it some ability to use its totems and magical attacks but some rounds it couldn't. In Dark Side they gave the shaman a really bizarre adrenaline generation ability.

At the beginning of the shaman's turn the shaman has a chance to be restored to a full 100 adrenaline. The chance this happens is one hundred minus the shaman's current adrenaline as a percentage. If you are mathematically inclined then you are probably thinking you read that wrong right now. But no, if the shaman has 65 adrenaline then there is a 35 percent chance it will fill to 100 at the start of it's turn. If the shaman has 10 adrenaline then there is a 90 percent chance it will fill to 100.

That is even more bizarre when you find that two of their three abilities cost 25. Since that divides evenly into 100, I can always keep using them forever. The other costs 15, so after many failed rolls it is possible to end up at 10 and actually end up with a turn when you can't use any ability, but that's pretty unlikely. Even if I was trying my hardest I'd only manage to avoid having an ability to use it would take me almost 240 rounds to get one round off.

So shamans can basically just use their abilities however they want. One of the abilities deals damage to an enemy and heals allies, the other two make totems. The totem of life gives increased defense to allies and heals them each round, the totem of death reduces the speed of enemies and deals damage each round. These effects affect those within two hexes of the totem.

While both of those sound potentially useful, neither is necessarily fight winning. What makes both of the totem abilities very powerful, though, is the AI. The AI has a great fondness for attacking totems and seems to do so above all other options. A well placed totem can divert all melee units on the opposing side. Because the totem of death reduces speed by one, when it comes to speed two units, any number of units can be defeated by a single shaman.

There isn't much to say about this fight. Turn on yakety sax and watch some peasants foolishly chase totems to their death. Sure, those peasants might not have done terribly well even if they played smart, but it's still pretty great to be able to beat them all with just totems. If you are wondering why I cast poison skull instead of chaos missile in thsi fight, it's because there is a medal for many poison skull casts that will increase my maximum mana. Basically, I'm just increasing my cast count because I know the fight is already won.

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