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Topics - Jon Shafer

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AtG - Developer Updates / 2013 June 24 - AI Design Breakdown
« on: June 24, 2013, 04:24:19 PM »

The AI is one of every strategy game's most important features. The bread and butter of the genre is offering difficult decisions in a replayable environment where success requires constant adaptation. Good AI enhances all three of these elements - whereas a bad one can derail the entire experience.

In the context of game AI, "good" means more than just "smart." The job of computer opponents is more than just standing in for humans - they're a part of the world and a gameplay system just like economics, diplomacy and warfare. Attila the Hun isn't just there to provide a roadblock to victory - he's there to be Attila the Hun, the frightening warlord who races in with a massive horde of horse archers, burns everything in sight, and runs off before you can muster a response. Is such a strategy productive? Hopefully! But it's in many ways that's only a secondary concern.

That having been said, a good AI must also put up a competent fight. This is especially true with features like combat, when the AI's decisions are front-and-center and mistakes cannot be tucked under the rug. Such competency requires AI players to craft plans and be capable of course correcting as necessary.

For all of this to come together, you too as AI developer must have a plan. To that end, I've spent much of the past couple months putting together an insanely detailed breakdown for every AI subsystem and the logic each will perform. Think of it as a "first draft," where the second will be the translation to programming code. I've run through repeated thought experiments to test my design and I've scrapped more than one critical feature when it became clear that intention and results weren't in harmony.

I won't be posting that work today (or ever... it's already well over 200 pages and still growing!). But I know many of you would like to see how I envision everything fitting together, so what I will be doing is sharing my basic outline for the components that will make up an AI player. As with all of game development I have no doubt the details will change a thousand times over, but I'm fairly confident this general structure will be maintained until the game is completed, and very possibly for several future titles.

- Jon

AtG Website | 'Like' us on Facebook | Conifer Twitter

AI Outline

Info Library (IL) - Not a specific AI system, but a general name for the vast collection of processed data for an AI player... is that guy stronger than me? How dangerous it that tile? etc.

Grand Strategy AI (GSAI) - Sets the general, game-wide direction taken by the player.

Objectives AI (OAI) - Determines what the AI's priorities are, what opportunities are available, which are worth pursuing, etc. The Objectives chosen are what shapes the decisions made by all of the following AI subsystems.

Economic AI (EA) - Allocates Resources, manages production choices and handles misc low-level economic decisions like choosing Romanization Perks.

Diplomatic AI (DAI) - Manages day-to-day diplomatic interactions, including when to offer trades, what offers we'll accept and what specific wording is used in all exchanges.

Front AI (FAI) - Allocates Units between different opportunities, and puts in requests with EAI when more are needed.

Tactical AI (TAI) - Gives specific orders to every Unit, every turn.

Priority - A scale with 20 values that serves as a general measurement for how important something is. Each label can have a "+" or "-" after it to make its value slightly more or less. So a "Very Good-" Priority would be one level above a "Good+" Priority, which is itself one level above "Good".

Zone - A small group of tiles, will probably end up being roughly 3x3.

Grand Strategy AI (GSAI)


The GSAI chooses a single GS, which shapes the general game-wide direction an AI player pursues. It dictates the what, but not the how - it might provide us with the goal of conquest, but it won’t tell us if we’re going to do it by sea, with mounted Units, etc. Execution details such as these are decided at the OAI level, which also takes personality traits and the current situation into account.


In the early game, the GSAI picks a “precursor” GS, which hints the player in a direction without committing them to anything specific. Maybe we’re playing a militaristic game, but we don’t know what form that will take. Or we’re committed to being peaceful with the Romans, but we’re unsure how closely we should tie ourselves to them since we don’t yet know our proximity.
In the XML, each AI leader is assigned a fixed set of GSs it’s able to choose from. This ensures that every leader plays consistent with their personality, but doesn’t tie them down to a single strategy like “always attack everyone you see.”

Factors to Consider
  • The AI’s intrinsic personality is by far the most important. Attila is never going to sit back and play nice with everyone, no matter what the situation is.
  • Proximity to the Romans. If we’re really close we probably want to make nice. If we’re too far away then focusing heavily on them doesn’t really make sense.
  • Proximity to other barbarians. If we’re completely surrounded by enemies then we probably want to lie low and play it safe until things shake out.
  • Availability of resources. Should we completely lack Metal, then it doesn’t make much sense to play aggressively.
  • Geography. If we’re close to the water, this opens up the possibility of naval raiding. If we’re tucked into a defensible corner, then we can afford to be a little less cautious.
  • Military balance of power. If we fight a major war, lose our entire army and two-thirds of our population, then it’s probably time to change course.

Relationship with Other Systems

The GSAI doesn’t receive input from any other subsystem.
  • OAI: The sole job of the GSAI is to alter the Priority scoring of Objectives being considered by the OAI. It makes decisions unilaterally (using data from the IL) and receives no input from anyone.

Objectives AI (OAI)


This is the meat of the player-level AI which sets all short and medium-term goals. Decisions are made here for everything from who to declare war on, to which resource deposits to try and grab, to when and where to migrate.

The reason why so much is done in one place is because the AI needs to have a very clear idea of how to score competing priorities. This can either be done with multiple subsystems that all “speak the same language,” or handled in a single location. We’re taking the latter approach.

However, what the OAI does not do is manage any details. If we want Metal, then the OAI figures out which Deposit is worth going after and assigns it a priority, then hands the task off to the FAI to get it done. If there aren’t enough Units available the FAI is what figures this out, and then makes a Request to the EAI.


The OAI utilizes two different types of Objectives, lumped into a single prioritized list:
  • Goals - Abstract “things we want to do,” like undermining the Goths, getting more Metal, or migrating.
  • Opportunities - Concrete “things we can do,” like invading the Goths, harvesting the Iron Deposit on Tile X, or migrating to Region Y.

Objective Creation & Execution

First, every single possible Objective is analyzed for its viability, and if it’s legal, prioritized. Ongoing Objectives are processed first and given a small bias (so that the AI doesn’t change its mind all the time), followed by new Objectives. The combined list is then sorted.

Next, higher priority Objectives alter the Priority of those Objectives below them in the list - if we’ve decided we’re going to invade the Romans, it doesn’t make sense to also try to complete a Request for them!

Any Objective with at least Medium- Priority is considered Active, which means it will be acted upon by other AI systems. Everything below that threshold is completely ignored. Since every possibility is considered and scored, this is our way of “focusing the AI’s attention.”

Ultimately, the OAI has authority over all other systems. If it says to declare war, that’s what we’re going to be doing - consequences be damned.

Relationship with Other Systems
  • GSAI: Our current GS alters the Priorities of individual Objectives within the OAI. The “Lie Low” GS will greatly reduce the Priority assigned to all “Invade Player X” Objectives.
  • EAI: When the OAI wants a nonmilitary thing built, researched, chosen, etc., it puts in a Request with the EAI. Construction Requests from the OAI are extremely rare, as all Requests for anything relating to Units come from the FAI (which, in turn, derives its goals from the OAI - delegation at its finest!).
  • DAI: The OAI’s Objectives shape the general approach taken by the DAI (“make trades when possible”) and even occasionally makes specific directives (“try to trade for Metal”). The OAI is completely in charge of declaring war and making peace. When negotiating peace treaties, the OAI tells the DAI the general parameters of what is acceptable. The best way to think of it is that the OAI makes the important decisions, while the DAI handles day-to-day affairs.
  • FAI: The OAI provides the FAI with 2 things. First, general military goals, such as “capture Gothic Cities” or “wreak mayhem on the Huns” or “ignore everything else, protect the homeland!” The OAI also asks for specific missions, such as “capture that Hostile Stronghold” or “claim that Iron deposit.” The OAI also gets its info from the IL side of the FAI as to whether we should be fighting, and if so, how.

Economic AI (EAI)


The EAI balances day-to-day management of the economy with fulfilling “Requests” that come from the OAI and FAI. It’s main job is to manage the allocation of Resources, but it also handles other economic decisions such as choosing Romanization Perks.

Nearly all actions taken by the EAI will be with the goal of fulfilling Requests, but there will be times when there are no pressing matters to attend to and the EAI must maintain a healthy holding pattern.

The EAI also makes Requests of the OAI when there are circumstances that prevent it from completing Requests its received. For example, if the FAI asks the EAI to build Infantry but we have no Metal to do it with, it’s up to the OAI to rectify that (or not, if there’s more important business to attend to).


The main task of the EAI is balancing competing Requests and the long-term health of the kingdom. If we have a Request to train Units which require Population, we’re unlikely to build them from tiny Cities that can’t really afford it, unless that really is in fact the best way to complete a very high Priority Request.

Most Requests have a target location, and the EAI factors that in when deciding where to build what. For example, if we’re planning on launching an invasion it’s better to have Units built nearby than on an island on the other side of the map.

If the score for a City/Request pairing is high enough, that Request is pushed through. If not, the Request goes away, and must be re-added the following turn by the subsystem which made it. This ensures other systems are constantly re-evaluating what they do and don’t need, and allows the EAI to be flexible and adapt to new circumstances immediately.

The EAI evaluates multiple combinations of actions to see which results in the highest score (just like basically every action taken by the TAI). This prevents situations where the AI is too “greedy” with accomplishing Requests. We’d rather the EAI accommodate two “High” Priority Requests than one that’s “Very High” and another that’s “Insignificant.”

The EAI performs exactly the same for all players in all situations. Personality biases are expressed in the Objectives chosen by the OAI.

Factors to Consider
  • OAI economic and FAI military Requests
  • Is a City a particularly good or bad fit?
    • Proximity to target location
    • Population before and after
    • Proximity to enemies
    • Other (special buildings)
  • Current and projected Resource accumulation
  • Current and projected maintenance (e.g. no Food during the winter)

Relationship with Other Systems
  • OAI: The EAI receives Requests from the OAI, and can also make Requests of it. “You want us to train ships, but we don’t have any Wood!”
  • DAI: The EAI tells the DAI how much we can (or cannot) afford to give up certain Resources for trade or peace treaties. However, the decision for whether or not to make the move is ultimately up to the DAI, as making peace might be a matter of life or death.
  • FAI: The EAI receives construction Requests from the FAI.

Diplomatic AI (DAI)


The main job of the DAI is to execute on diplomatic directives provided by the OAI (which is where the important decisions like declaring war and suing for peace are made). The DAI manages day-to-day interactions of popping up when appropriate, determines the exact language in which a message is to be delivered, etc.

The DAI also looks for opportunities to complete Objectives within the parameters outlined by the OAI. There might be an Objective that really wants us to get Iron, and the Diplomatic AI looks for opportunities to trade for it. If there’s another Objective that tells us to hate on the Goths, we won’t try to trade for their Iron even it would help us.


The DAI tests the list of actions it can perform to see if they make sense at that time, based on what Objectives have diplomatic ramifications and are in a state where action is permitted. For example, if we have an Objective to declare war and attack the Goths and the Objective says it’s ready to go, the DAI will fire away.

A particularly diplomatic AI leader will create diplomacy-specific Objectives, which the DAI then sees and reacts to.

The DAI will only attempt to make a trade if the active Objectives allow for it. e.g. if both “Get More Metal” and “Don’t Trade with Attila” are active, we’ll try to trade for Metal, but not with our Hunnic friend.

If another leader offers us a proposal, the DAI determines if it’s worth agreeing to. It analyzes each piece of the deal to see how valuable it is to us in our specific situation. For example, the value of a Resource or the cost of declaring war on someone will be tested against our Objectives.

As should be fairly clear, the goal is to look at Objectives as much as possible when deciding on what diplomatic activities to engage in.

Factors to Consider
  • Current Objectives.
  • Relations with other leaders.
  • MAYBE stuff in the IL, although my preference is to use the Objectives whenever possible, as this is the part of the AI that decides what it does and does not want to do.

Relationship with Other Systems
  • OAI: The DAI receives general diplomatic directives from the OAI via Objectives. e.g. Make nice with the Western Romans, don’t help the Huns, etc.
  • EAI: The DAI can ask the EAI it how much of a Resource it’s okay to trade. However, the DAI has the final authority to make the call.

Front AI (FAI)


The FAI divvies Units up and ensures they’re utilized in the best way possible.

The most important job of the FAI is enacting the whims of the OAI. It might want us to take down a Hostile Stronghold, or muster an invasion, or improve an Iron Deposit. It’s up to the FAI to figure out what is required and put the pieces in motion. From there, the TAI then takes over and directs specific moves.

As part of this, the FAI organizes Units into “Fronts,” which are groups with a shared goal. An invasion force should muster at tile X and launch from tile Y. The homeland is divided into Zones A, B and C, and each needs a unique level of defense based on the threat posed to and contents of each. We need at least Z in order to safely escort a Laborer to the Horses over yonder.


The FAI creates one Front for each:
  • Invasion or Mission requested by the OAI.
  • Zone that the player has an interest in defending.

A Front ends either when the OAI kills off the associated Objective, or when the FAI decides to abandon a Zone (on defense). Defensive Fronts are recreated every turn, since they don’t keep track of any persistent data.

Fronts that are not Defensive are classified as either a Mission, if they have a very discrete goal (such as capturing a Hostile Stronghold), or an Invasion, if its objectives are less defined (go beat up on the Huns). Collectively, these two are referred to as “I/Ms,” as they tend to be similar to one another and somewhat unlike Defensive Fronts.

All Fronts are assigned a Priority, which determines how Units are divvied up. For I/Ms, Priority is identical to the associated Objective. The Priority of a Defensive Front is based on the general defense-related Objectives in the OAI (“Defend the homeland at all costs!”) and the Value of the Zone in question (based on Assets contained, strategic usefulness, etc.).


The FAI assigns each I/M a Muster Tile, which is where Units will be collected in preparation for launch, and a Target Tile, which is what we’re going once the Front is finished mustering.
The OAI can assign a Front Orders which weight the score of actions taken by its Units. If a Front is essentially just a bucket of Units that have a shared goal, the Orders shape how that goal is to be achieved. Orders drive low-level behavior, such as recklessness, caution, and preventing specific Improvements from being pillaged.

A Front can be set to Withdraw if the OAI decides to cancel the Objective or abandon a Zone. A Withdrawal Target Zone is chosen, and Units belonging to that Front head towards it. Units can be pulled off of a withdrawing Front by another Front if the score is high enough. Since Defensive Fronts are recreated each turn, when one is set to Withdraw it actually creates a new I/M whose sole purpose is to get to the Withdrawal Target.

Unit Assignment

When deciding how many Units of what type a Front should be given, the FAI estimates the strength and makeup of enemy forces likely to be encountered. A list of minimum Values deemed necessary in each Domain (anti-Infantry, anti-Cavalry, anti-Naval, etc.) is generated.
  • To determine what Units go where, each Unit/Front pairing is scored for fit, factoring in what the Front needs, the Front’s Priority, distance, general availability or scarcity of Units, etc. Once a big list has been compiled we link the Unit/Front with the highest score, and then work our way down until all Units have been assigned.
  • Each time a Unit is added to a Front, the scores for all remaining Units with that Front are recalculated. Score drops by a small amount for each Unit added so that Fronts with a marginally lower Priority get Units - otherwise the big boys would never share.
  • Once a Front is close to having its minimum requirements satisfied, the penalty for adding Units is reduced and then eliminated.
  • If there’s not much to go around and a Front has high requirements (relative other Fronts in the area) its Priority is reduced. Generally speaking, we prefer fewer fully-staffed Fronts to several undermanned Fronts.
Based on how well or poorly each Front’s requirements are satisfied, the FAI then delivers Requests to the EAI to train new Units.

Special Unit Roles

Some Defensive Fronts can have part of their requirements satisfied by Reserve “Units.” These don’t actually exist, but the EAI has set Resources aside and can pop them out at any time.
I/Ms have dedicated Units for Rearguard duty. The FAI evaluates the Assets that must be guarded, the threats posed to the Front’s flank, etc. and determines how many Units it needs and where they should be stationed. I/Ms also set aside Units for Recon, which fan out to keep an eye on things, and rejoin the main force in case something important comes up.

Once the initial FAI design is functioning correctly, logic will then be added allowing Units to be loaned away by I/Ms that are still mustering to other nearby Fronts. If we’re building up a massive invasion force, this allows us to temporarily siphon off Units to take out Hostile Strongholds, escort civilians, etc.

Factors to Consider
  • Objectives outlined by the OAI.
  • Value of each Zone.
  • Threat posed to each Zone.
  • Current and future seasonal effects.
  • Availability of Units of different Domains in a general area.

Relationship with Other Systems
  • OAI: The FAI receives directives from the OAI via Objectives, which also determine what Orders are given to specific Fronts. The IL side of the FAI provides info to the OAI regarding our military situation.
  • EAI: The FAI places Requests in to the EAI when it needs Units for various tasks.
  • TAI: The FAI informs the TAI the general approach to be taken in each Zone so that it knows how to score different actions.

Tactical AI (TAI)


This is where individual Units are all given orders.

The TAI runs through (almost) every combination of possible moves and attacks, scores the results, and chooses the best outcome.


A brute force approach is expensive, but necessary. It’s impossible for us to “teach” the AI how to execute a flawless tactical plan, as there are far too many factors that need to be considered.
In order to cut down on the exponential processing requirements, a series of checks will be made to limit the number of actions and combos considered. e.g. If there is no danger nearby just take the fastest path to our destination. Another way we’re speeding up execution is by placing Units into “Dependency Groups,” which separate out those which are and are not affected by one other. A Scout exploring an island has no bearing on a siege against Rome, so one need not account for the moves of the other.

Each combination of actions is assigned two scores: Safe, and Risky. A Front’s Orders (generally shaped by Objectives and leader personality) determine the modifier applied to these scores. A particularly conservative leader might need to see a significantly higher Risky score in order to go that route.

The score of an individual action is determined by a large set of rules which account for possible battle results, unseen danger, distance to destination, defensive bonuses, supply, etc. Scoring calculations are calibrating using our determination as to the Value of the Asset (Unit, Improvement, City, etc.). If moving to a tile is guaranteed to result in a Unit’s death, the negative score for that move is equal to the Unit’s Value.

Every time an attack takes place or a new enemy Unit is revealed, the Dependency Group’s action combo is re-scored. This ensures the AI is always using the most up-to-date information and won’t be ambushed.

Factors to Consider
  • The position, number and strength of owned, friendly and enemy Units.
  • Map conditions:
    • Supply available
    • Movement cost
    • Defense bonus
  • Unseen Danger present on each tile:
    • General likelihood that there are hostile Units nearby, based on proximity to enemy staging points, the strength of those enemies, etc.
    • Memory of where enemy Units used to be.
    • What opponents can or might be able to see.

Relationship with Other Systems
  • FAI: The TAI speaks with only the FAI, from which it receives the priorities it should be considering when making specific moves.

Hey guys, time again to provide a quick update regarding recent news and progress. Most of our updates have skewed heavily on the design and theory side, so this time we'll be delving into the more artistic ends of the project.

Early next week I'll also be posting our massive outline for the general design principles behind every AI subsystem. I was originally planning on including that with this post, but the length was starting to get a little crazy so I decided to hold off and split things up.

Unit Animations

The team has started on the rough animation work for the units. These will eventually be painted over, but I figured you guys would enjoy a little sneak peak.

The schedule and budget call for around 180 unique unit animations which run the gamut from running to fighting to dying. We're starting with the run cycles.


We've had an audio intern on board the past couple months and he's been helping produce some great sound effects.

One of the ways we're using sound is instilling even more life to the changing of the seasons. I've uploaded the ambiance tracks for spring and autumn, so give 'em a listen. You might need to turn down your volume to get a proper feel, as these pieces will only be just loud enough to help create a mood.


We're doing concept sketches for all of the leaders before any more full paintings are finished, just to make sure every character is sufficiently unique from one another. We have about half of the concepts done, and I've included a couple here.

Is anyone able to identify either of these fascinating gentlemen?


On the programming front, we've now hooked the Steam overlay into At the Gates. This is completely optional and won't be required to play the early builds nor the final release, but I know many PC gamers prefer having everything in one place.

When the time comes, if you've bought the game the option to claim a Steam key will appear on your Humble account page. I'm expecting this to be available right when alpha testing begins, but I can't make any guarantees just yet.

Where, When and How to Download the Game

We recently finished the migration of At the Gates over to Humble's system. The biggest perk of this is the ability to easily manage builds, but it also means we're now able to start officially accepting pre-orders, so go tell all your friends!

Everyone that has contributed to the game via Kickstarter or PayPal should now be able to access their download page for AtG by going to Humble's key resender and entering the email address associated with your Kickstarter (or PayPal) account. This page is where new versions of the game will be posted, so it's definitely an address you'll want to bookmark.

The plan is to start alpha testing in a couple months, and to officially release the game during the third quarter of 2014 (July/August/September). Of course, our #1 priority is making the best game possible, so there's always a chance we need to push that back. If we do move dates around I'll make sure you know as soon as I do.

Alright, that's it for today - look forward to some AI fun next week!

- Jon

Official AtG Website | 'Like' us on Facebook | Conifer Twitter

AtG - Developer Updates / 2013 May 28 - New Thoughts on Victory
« on: May 28, 2013, 02:16:29 PM »

At times I’ve been "accused" of being a theme-first designer. While this is true to some extent, it’s not the whole story. My philosophy is that (most) games need to evoke a strong theme and build on it with mechanics.

With AtG virtually every idea started with “so what actually happened in history...” However, the enjoyment of a game is the result of interesting mechanics, and your theme is meaningless if you can’t translate it into something that’s fun to play. So I always start with and lean on theme, but only when doing so doesn’t get in the way of mechanics.

What this means for AtG is that I’m first and foremost looking for ways to make the experience of playing the game feel like forging a barbarian kingdom. Migration is a very cool, innovative feature, but it’s only included because, well, that’s what barbarians did.

So what does this have to do with victory? This thinking is critical in the decision as to whether your game should incorporate victory points (VPs), where you perform various actions and winning is a matter of having the highest score, or victory conditions (VCs), where there is a single, unified objective (such as “conquer the world”).

As I’ve explained on my podcast and in my writing, I dislike VPs because they really don’t play nice with theme. If you’re counting your score and chasing points you’re not really going to feel much like a barbarian chieftain. A game that utilizes VPs might very well still be fun, but you’re no longer playing a game about whatever the nominal subject matter is. That’s a big loss, and one that shouldn’t be accepted without a fight. Sometimes a design leaves no alternative to VPs, but you should always first make a strong effort to do without them.

VCs have issues as well. They can absolutely take over a game and funnel players down a single path. Oh, the objective is to conquer the world? Okay, I won’t bother with all of that “diplomacy” and “culture” stuff then. Such a result is probably inevitable for any design featuring a single VC, unless it’s incredibly tight, everything feeds into everything else and you can switch gears at any time. Games that pull this off are almost nonexistent, but David Sirlin’s Puzzle Strike is one good example.

A related issue, particularly common in games with VCs, is the tendency for players to pursue the same strategy in every game. People who like fighting will always try to conquer the world, while builders will always hide away in a corner and train just enough of a military to keep neighbors at bay. While the designer’s goal isn’t to stop people from doing what they enjoy, the whole point of playing a strategy game is coming up with clever solutions to difficult problems, and if your experience is identical every time you play things start feeling a little dull.

The purpose of my brainstorming over the past week has been a design which provides an environment that rewards strategy, allows players to change course without too much fuss, and ensures every game doesn’t play out the same way.

What I’ve settled on (for now!) is three VCs. One is still taking down Rome, but there are now also two ways to win diplomatically: either by forming a confederation with other tribes, or winning the favor of Rome and be declared as its successor. I also considered a true builder victory, but I felt this really doesn’t fit into a game about the fall of Rome. Additionally, economic victories are kind of weird in general because they reward simply having powerful tools, rather than leveraging those tools into achievement.

So how am I planning on avoiding the problems of funneling and lack of variety inherent in VCs? Well, my priorities are to 1) allow players to easily jump into and out of strategies, and 2) make their viability heavily dependent on the situation.

There is a balance between allowing players to change their mind whenever they want and asking them to plan ahead and commit. When in doubt though, you should lean towards the former, as flexibility empowers players and keeps them engaged. There need to be consequences, but nobody enjoys playing a game for several hours waiting for an early choice to play out, only to watch it slowly fall of the rails knowing there’s nothing that can be done. Even if things do work out, your later involvement confined to going through the motions, rather than making interesting choices that have a real impact.

This tends to be a big problem with games that feature VCs. “I’m playing a diplomatic strategy!” Well, if your best ally gets wiped out by someone else, then what? Unfortunately, the answer is usually “start over.” Games that make it hard to switch gears really struggle here.

In AtG my aim is to make it fairly easy to change strategies - saving a neighbor from sure destruction might win you a friend for life, and this is an action that can be taken at any point in the game. You’ll still want to cultivate relationships over time for the head start and tangible goodies this offers, but having a shot at winning diplomatically doesn’t require such an approach from turn 1.

Another goal of mine is to discourage players from using the same strategies in every game. People naturally fall into a comfort zone, and unless you provide an incentive to not do that your game will be labelled by many as “boring.” I’m not going to completely close doors off, but circumstances will definitely point players in certain directions. Let’s look at a couple examples.

If a neighbor is up against the wall and you have the chance to save him, and in so doing earn a huge Relations bonus, that suddenly makes a diplomatic approach rather tempting. If you naturally enjoy playing diplomatically you can still utilize that strategy even without these sorts of opportunities, but it’ll be a much harder climb. If you don’t start near the water, a naval strategy will be tough, but if you are so lucky then the reward of hard-to-access resources and free, continuous food are hard to pass up.

While this philosophy addresses the biggest issues with a VCs approach, I can’t claim it’s a silver bullet. At some point in the late game players will have to commit, and eventually it will be too late to switch gears. And at times there will be opportunities that only help specific strategies, where players pursuing a different path won’t be at all tempted to take advantage of them. But I feel this design captures the best of both VPs and VCs, and is absolutely worth trying out. At some point you just have to plant your flag and see what comes of it!

- Jon

AtG - Developer Updates / Game Distribution, Preorders & Victory
« on: May 24, 2013, 12:38:44 PM »

Hi everyone, I have some more news regarding how the game will be available!

At the Gates will be delivered to those who have contributed through Kickstarter and PayPal with the help of the folks over at Humble Bundle and their new store. Some of you might be thinking, “wait, the Humble Bundle is a... store?” Which was also my reaction when I first heard about it! And yes, they do. But it’s not a store so much as a system that allows developers to easily sell and manage direct downloads of their games.

A good example is Grim Dawn, another project that was funded through Kickstarter. The awesome folks over at Humble build a database and handle all of the logistics of hosting the game, offering a location for people to download it, and a way to easily send purchasers the info they need.

When the game is ready, everyone will be sent a URL to a custom page that includes links to the download, the Steam key and any other associated goodies you’ll receive as part of your contribution/purchase (e.g. the strategy guide and designer notes). You can also create an account with Humble Bundle to manage all of your games purchased through their store, instead of having to keep that original email in a safe place until the end of time.

Needless to say, this is much better than me sending out a few thousand keys by email manually!

On a related note...

In the next week or so we’ll be switching from collecting contributions through PayPal over to a formal pre-order system powered by the Humble Bundle Store. Once this happens you’ll only be able to purchase the game by itself for $30, or the game plus strategy guide and designer notes for $35 so anyone that hasn’t yet contributed but wants the $5 early-bird discount should do so soon!

Lastly, a quick update on how things are going on the development side.

I’ve put AI work on the back burner for a bit (hence the lack of update on that front last week - sorry!) and have instead been focusing on victory and strategy.

Anyone that’s listened to the game design podcast I co-host knows that I haven’t been terribly happy with the design I came up with for victory in AtG, and I’ve recently been working to come up with something better. I’ll have an in-depth post on that soon, but to give you all a tease I’ll at least say that you’ll be able to win in a couple new ways that don’t involve destroying Rome.

I think that’s about it for now. Thanks again everyone!

- Jon

AtG - Developer Updates / At the Gates on Steam
« on: May 13, 2013, 09:09:11 PM »

I’m very excited to officially announce that AtG will be available on Steam! Everyone who contributes at least $25 through Kickstarter or PayPal will receive a Steam key, along with the ability to download a version of the game directly from Conifer with no bundled 3rd party software.

The fact that AtG will only be available via download coupled with Steam’s position as the dominant digital retailer means this is very good news. Putting the game in front of a larger audience increases the likelihood of financial success, and that means more patches, content and opportunities to develop unique titles down the road.

We’ll also be using Steam to streamline the process of distributing alpha and beta builds, which we expect to updated roughly once a week. This makes me personally very happy, as managing the logistics of a testing group 500+ strong is a bit daunting.

So, what’s going on with the development of AtG?

I’ll have a hefty post relating to the design of the AI up in the next week. “Still designing the AI?” you might be asking - well, yes!

Planning and crafting an AI for a complex strategy game is almost like building a second game. You’re evaluating every last detail from a completely new angle. It’s a lot of fun (I love big, challenging projects, in case it wasn’t already obvious), but also a ton of work and you can’t cut corners. But I’ll have more to say on that soon!

- Jon

Conifer and the Games Industry / How Do You Become a Game Designer?
« on: April 30, 2013, 10:53:53 AM »

Game design: it's like being a rock star, only... with a computer.

In a recent interview I was asked some questions regarding how and why I became a game designer. I've reposted it here, in hopes that it proves helpful for anyone out there thinking about pursuing a career in this field. Design is an amazing line of work and I wouldn't want to do anything else - but I've been very lucky and it's not all roses and puppy dogs.

What made you want to become a game designer?

I've been designing games for as long as I can remember. I started programming simple games back when I was 8, moved on to more complex ones (that I never finished) by the time I was 12, and in high school I spent much of my free time creating detailed mods for strategy games like Civilization 3 and Paradox's Hearts of Iron. By the time I could really consider what I wanted to do for a living, I'd already been doing this kind of work for a decade!

Another factor in me gravitating towards games, both for entertainment and as a creator, was an early interest in history. My mother was a teacher and we always had a bunch of history books around. I particularly grew fond of historical atlases, and it was a fairly natural transition over from this to light PC wargames like SSI's Panzer General.

Was there anyone who inspired you to pursue this career?

There was no industry giant I looked to and said, "Yes, that's what I have to do!" Honestly, I didn't realize there was even a games "industry" until the late 90s, and my exposure to games up to that point was limited to CompuServe shareware and the small rack of games at the local computer store.

My father was the reason I learned to program at such a young age. He'd always wanted to develop games back in the early 80s when he was younger, but instead ended up coding professional flight training software for United Airlines (for 30 years!). To entertain me he'd create basic programs of things like digging tractors, really more toys than games. He taught me some of the basics and would answer questions or help fix problems when I got stuck.

This got me started down the path, but it took me a very long time to actually learn the craft of design. Up until the past few years I'd say I was more fumbling around than truly understanding what I was doing. It's a field where there's truly no substitute for experience.

What were some of the challenges you faced?

The big one is always getting into the industry. A vast number of people want to get into games - most of them without knowing what such a career involves. You have to stand out from the crowd if you hope to break in, and this is especially true with game design. It's much easier to show that you're a good artist, or that you're capable of programming an engine on your own than it is to demonstrate understanding of mechanics, feel and flow in real-world situations. Because of this, design positions typically go to those with seniority who have shown an interest and aptitude for design. It was not my "skills" as a designer, but my knowledge of programming that served as my gateway into the industry.

The other challenge I hinted at earlier is how hard it is to actually get good at design. Everyone thinks they know how to build a fun game, but reaching the point where you can do so capably and reliably really takes time, making mistakes and learning from them. I've been fortunate to have worked with great people that gave me a long leash to grow into the developer I am today.

Do you enjoy the career you have chosen? How long do you intend to stick with it?

I love making games and can't imagine doing anything else for as long as I have to continue "working." I've had incredible and enviable opportunities though - I own and run my own development studio and have the ability to work on whatever I want every day. Not everyone is quite so lucky!

What do you enjoy most about working as a game designer?

A huge part of this job is solving problems, and that's probably what I like most about it. Many people mistakenly believe that being a designer is about coming up with ideas. That is the privilege granted to a handful of very senior devs (and only occasionally), but the majority of design is being directed towards a chunk of work - and instructed to find a way to make it fun. This involves brainstorming, trial and error and learning new things.

Additionally, because my company is so small I must wear a wide variety of hats. It's not typical, but I'm actually designing our games from the ground up, entirely by myself. This allows me to jump from one task to another as need and mood dictate. What I'm working on week-to-week and often day-to-day is always changing, which is often daunting but always rewarding.

Are there any specific tips you can give to those thinking about game design?

Something I often tell people is that if they aren't completely confident this is the line of work for them then they should steer clear. Making games sounds glamorous and is considered by many to be a dream job, but it's really just that - a job.

You're being (under)paid by someone else to do what they need done. The fun stuff is likely being done either by the people paying the bills or those who were there on day 1. Most devs work at large companies on projects they're not particularly excited about, often work frequent overtime, and live with the risk of being laid off at any time. The average length of a game "career" is only 5 years - an absolutely tiny amount of time compared with other industries. A large percentage of people I know in this business... are not happy.

In other words, if you're not already spending all of your free time making games or mods, this probably isn't the line of work for you.

That having been said, for those who do live, breathe and die games development, this is the best career you could have. It's exhausting, frustrating and not nearly as sexy as it seems from the outside, but if you can find a cozy corner of it to call your own - you'll never be happier.

What would you do if you couldn't be a game designer?

Game design has basically been the path I've walked my entire life, so that's a tough question. I briefly considered joining the military and spent a year of college in ROTC (partially motivated by my long-running interest in military history), but that was only a fleeting flirtation.

If I had to leave games behind, I'd probably switch over to a UX/UI (user experience/user interface) role at a tech company like Apple or Google. A big part of making games is crafting the player experience, and good designers spend a lot of time thinking about what it's actually like to play the game. This might sound obvious, but it's easy to lose the forest for the trees when you're working on a project for years, lack the capacity to play it "just for fun," and can't ever know what it's like to come in completely fresh.

Since I've mainly developed strategy titles up to this point, user interface is particularly near and dear to my heart. There are typically a multitude of buttons and text to stick somewhere, and you want to organize it in such a way that it's not impossible for someone to jump in for the first time. A UI position at a big tech company with the time and resources do to things right seems like it might be fun.

Do you need a degree or education to be a designer?

I have a bachelor's in history. I studied computer science for a couple years as well and at one time had the intention of majoring in both. I ended up leaving school early when I had the opportunity to participate in a programming internship at Firaxis. While still working, I re-enrolled in a Maryland university a year or two later and on the side finished up my history degree.

I'm often asked what the best education is for a designer. There are basically two approaches that can be taken.

The first is to focus on programming and get a comp sci degree, and leverage this skillset to wedge your way first into the business, and then later into design. As I noted above, very few people are hired right out of college as designers, and most have earned that position by only after transitioning over from another role. Programming allows you to create something tangible that you can show off to prospective employers. Additionally, the importance of problem solving is shared with game design, so it's a good primer as to the sorts of high-level thinking you'll need to do. If I didn't know how to program, my path into games would have been much, much harder and very different.

The other non-technical approach is to focus heavy on design and try to diversify your experience as much as possible. With this route, the exact degree you get isn't important, so it's mainly about broadening your horizons. History, psychology and philosophy are all great subjects that can really inspire the out-of-the-box thinking that characterizes successful designers. However, without the ability to program you'll face an uphill battle just getting a job. If you don't have any kind of degree that's a second strike against you, and at that point you'll have to be distinctly spectacular in some other way just to get an interview.

If someone truly wants into this industry, the best way to set oneself apart is to spend as much time as possible doing what game developers actually do. Program simple games or engines, create pen-and-paper or cardboard game prototypes, or - best of all - make mods for existing games using the same tools as professional developers. Companies want to hire individuals who they know can produce useful work right off the bat. If you have "potential" or "ideas" but no hands-on experience, then you have no advantage over the hundreds of other people aiming to be hired for the same job. Think about it... if you were hiring someone and investing a huge amount of your own time and money in them what would you want?

How long have you been working in games?

As of May 2013, I've been in the business for a little over 8 years now.

Where do you work and what is your official title?

I am the president and owner of Conifer Games.

AtG - General Discussion / Design Docs Now Available!
« on: April 19, 2013, 11:19:22 AM »
As I'm sure many of you have already read on the Kickstarter page or through email, access to the AtG design documents has been granted to those of you who contributed $125 or more. I've sent a Kickstarter message explaining how it works.

For those of you who would like to join this group, you can do so at any time by contributing the difference between the pledge you've already made and $125 over at our website.

I'm not one to leave the rest of our generous supporters out in the cold, so I've also shared another meaty design doc excerpt!

- Jon

Late last year I brainstormed in detail how the economics system ought to work. It would have been easy enough to just say, "Okay, there's metal and wood and population and this unit costs 50 and that building is 75... BAM! Done."

But a starting point like that is not what you want when building a complex strategy title. Even those decisions which seem unimportant can trigger a chain reaction that dramatically alters your game. Identifying exactly how every piece is supposed to fit together is crucial.

Is a unit intended to be powerful, but expensive? What implications does that have? In what way is wood different from metal, and what strategies can players build (or not) around each? What are the broad goals for pacing and feel?

After switching the economic focus from a social classes to depleting resources, I already knew the rough form the economic system would take. But these were the sorts of in-depth questions I still needed answers for. What follows is the brainstorming I used to find them.

- Jon

Economics Brainstorming

Updated: 2012 November 16

How often to players have to put out fires? How long can they keep taping over problems before a real crisis occurs?

In the first 24 turns or so players will be able to address all of their needs by capturing Improvements owned by the Independents and Hostile Tribes. After that, things start to get dicey.

What Happens after the Freebies are Gone?

There probably needs to be a way to build up a big surplus of something that can help alleviate the pressure for a while. Maybe this is where pillaging becomes vital? If you just capture everything then your maintenance will eventually catch up with you. The only way to get ahead of this curve is with big payouts, and the only way to get that is through pillaging.

When and How are NEW Resource Locations Harvested?

Do players need to earn Romanization Traits before they can construct Improvements for themselves? This seems overly harsh and possibly unfun.

Maybe there’s a bit of a race for the best ResLocs, which are one of the few economic items which aren’t a long-term net loss.

If Everything is a Net Loss, Then...

That means there constantly needs to be new input into the system, otherwise it will crash almost immediately. This is true even In the early-game when players are acquiring “free” Improvements, because they still cost maintenance. And if building new Improvements also has an up-front cost it’ll be basically impossible to survive.

Which means there needs to constantly be new input.

So Where Does the New Input Come From?

In the current design there are only two places: Goodies and pillaging. The first is a trivial and quickly-exhausted supply. The second is good, but can it carry the entire game on its shoulders? Probably not.

Maybe Resource-based Improvements aren’t a net loss, but they do become exhausted and need to be replaced. However, non-Resource ones still are. Let’s do a quick example.

  • Farm:    +2 Food, -1 Wood
  • Log Camp:   +2 Wood, -1 Metal
  • Iron Mine:   +3 Metal, -1 Wood

The above ecosystem is stable, producing 2 Food and 2 Metal. Another Logging Camp would reduce Metal to 1 but add 2 Wood. As soon as the Iron Mine runs out though things crash. The Logging Camps will shut off once the Metal surplus is burned through, followed by the Farms once the Wood is depleted. As soon as new Metal is available, everything else comes back online.

However, doesn’t this just reduce the game down to “get the Metal”? Not if Logging Camps deplete as well! Maybe all Improvements require Wood, even Logging Camps themselves. The trick is then:

Get as much Metal as you can, because it’s vital to both economics and military.
When your Logging Camps are about to deplete, build new ones. If you don’t have enough because of other pressing matters, then you need to find something to pillage.
These two things combined with Wood for Supply Camps, Ships, etc. should really be pretty interesting.

What about Wealth?

Units require a LOT of Wealth in Maintenance (as well as a fair bit of Food). But Population produces Wealth - in fact, with few enough units (let’s say ⅓ or less of a player’s Pop is in Units) then the player will make money.

Is Keeping Track of Depleting Improvements Overwhelming?

It could be, but the goal is for individual turns to matter more than in a traditional 4X - no hitting end turn five or ten times in a row in this game and then realizing you skipped past something. There’s basically zero “City Management” in AtG, and this “Improvement Management” fills that void in a way. In other words: maybe it is a lot to manage, but that’s what the game IS.

Is Population a Net Economic Drain?

If it is, players will find ways to kill off their people, which is probably not what we want. Maybe they eat less Food than Units, so Food can be stable as long as one’s standing army is tiny? Seems good. Pop points can each eat 1 Food, and Units 2.

The Wealth produced by Pop is also valuable, and needed to pay for Units. I like the 1-to-1 relationship, so let’s say just like Food each Pop point produces 1 Wealth per turn, and Units require 2. This means to be break-even, players need 2 Pop in Cities for each Unit out in the field.

Units in Cities could use less... should they be completely free, or still cost 1? Free is “cleaner,” but it kind of lets people off the hook who build a ton of units. So I think they should still cost 1 per turn.

What Should the Rate of City Growth Be?

Right now it’s 0.1 per turn just because that’s a nice, round number. It’s hard to say what this should be without more data, but we can at least lay down some goals.

Let’s say the player starts with two size 3 Cities, producing a total of 6 Wealth / turn. After 10 turns they’d be up to 4, producing a total of 8 Wealth. If they each train one Unit income drops to 4, which is completely eaten up by the two Units. If they’re stationed inside a City their maintenance drops to 2, meaning the player will start collecting 2 Wealth again. After that 10 turns the player will have another 2 income, allowing him to support 1 more Unit (or 2 stationed in a City). A new supportable Unit every 10 turns feels pretty good to me!

Scouts are nice because they only cost 1 Maintenance instead of the usual 2 (although there’s no discount for putting them in a City).

Do Larger Deposits Produce More Per Turn, or Last Longer?

Because of how fragile the entire economic system is lasting longer would be much, much easier to get the pacing right for, so that’s the direction I’d like to go.

Where does Pillaging Fit In?

Should pillaging an Improvement give you a bunch of what it produces, or a bunch of something else? Still not sure about this one. The same type is definitely simpler. This would make sense if either A) you needed a bunch of that Resource NOW, or B) you can’t afford the maintenance (usually in Wood) of owning it. I can see both situations arising - the former for obvious reasons (to train a Unit, to pay for your armies, etc.), and the latter because your Wood supplies are already low and you’re going to need to it to replenish your stock of Logging Camps.

How much of a resource should pillaging provide? It can’t be too much, as owning the Improvement already requires you to also spend maintenance. In general, players should want to own rather than pillage. So the equivalent of 5 turns of ownership seems right.

Pillaging should also provide the player with a small bit of Wealth. This helps pay for the troops out in the field, and it also makes logical sense. The amount received should be roughly half of the resource amount pillaged, with a bit of variation depending on the type of Improvement (more valuable ones net more Wealth).

What happens if the Improvement being pillaged is close to running out anyways? Does it give the full amount, or a smaller “pro-rated” one? Probably should be the latter, but pillaging a half-depleted Iron Mine for only 7 Metal isn’t much to write home about. Maybe the most you can get is half of what remains - so an Iron Mine that still has 40 Metal left inside would provide the full 15 for pillaging, but once its down to 20 it would only give 10.

Can players pillage their own Improvements? Pillaging Farms for Supply will probably be a fun, painful strategy so we definitely want to allow that. I think we do have to permit it and allow it to provide the full amount, otherwise players will try to do things like let the enemy capture Improvements just so they can pillage them for the resources.

Forum Announcements & Questions / Forum Email Now Working
« on: April 10, 2013, 08:59:55 PM »
Anyone who tried to reset their password or anything like that probably noticed that, well, the email it said was sent never actually showed up. Well, that's finally been fixed now. Never would have thought that my custom ConiferGames email domain would have to sent out via a custom Gmail SSL address...

- Jon

Conifer and the Games Industry / Your Feelings on Mobile Games?
« on: April 09, 2013, 11:22:34 AM »
As I'm sure all of you know, we'll be making an iOS version of AtG. In part, this is an experiment to see 1) how difficult it is to do so, and 2) whether or not complex strategy games are really viable on that platform. Given what I've seen thus far, I'm expecting the answer to #2 to be "no," but you don't know until you try. Plus, I'm a mobile junkie (although not with games), so the prospects of working on that platform seem fun.

What do you guys think of mobile games? Obviously the majority of the current selection isn't really targeted at strategy gamers, and the business model in some are a bit exploitive. But how likely would you be to play AtG or games like it on mobile platforms? And how much would you be willing to pay for them?

- Jon

The state of games development is something I spend quite a bit of time thinking and writing about, and I'm curious as to your guys' opinions.

For me the most exciting opportunities are with indie development and Kickstarter specifically. We're starting to see a wave of new games and teams popping up, and this should give us a number of exciting new games.

My biggest worries are related to that, along with more traditional development. The budget of AAA games isn't really sustainable any more. When you're spending 20-50 million dollars on every project, all it takes is one or two to completely torpedo a company. I'm obviously a big indie guy, but I also enjoy my Skyrims, Red Dead Redemptions, etc. I really am concerned that these will become ever more rare, particularly with the new console generation, which is sure to increase budgets even further.

On the indie/Kickstarter end of things, I think there's a lot of optimism out there, but the harsh realities of the business will start to come knocking soon. The majority of projects by well-funded and experienced development studios either produce bad games or nothing at all, and it's likely the failure rate will be even higher for those setting off on their own.

I've touched on this in other threads and articles, but I wonder what the overall impact will be on crowdfunding. I'd be surprised if it were killed outright, but it will likely become much more "closed off," and the tendency we already see for big names and titles built on nostalgia succeeding while everything else struggles mightily to reach their funding goals. This will increase the temptation to set a low target in order to scrape by, which is likely to exacerbate the problem. We might very well be seeing the "golden age" for a team with an interesting idea having the best shot of succeeding.

Regardless, I like the generation direction things are heading in. Just hoping that Microsoft eases up a bit, and we're not stuck with a PC future with a closed store - that would be the worst case scenario, at least in my mind.

- Jon

AtG - General Discussion / Other Games Similar to AtG?
« on: April 08, 2013, 06:31:54 PM »
Do you guys have any suggestions for titles that are similar to AtG, or simply include one of its prominent features? These can be computer games, board games, etc. The goal of this thread is partially to help give the dev team new research material, but also to give everyone else suggestions for games that could occupy their time while we're working on the game. :)

- Jon

AtG - General Discussion / Official AI Questions/Suggestions Thread
« on: April 08, 2013, 06:29:34 PM »
I know this is a topic I threw out with the AI mini-update, but I decided to shift things over to a more centralized location with a less specific focus.

FYI, in the next week or two I'll have a bigger, "chunkier" update with more details as to what we're planning. Pretty excited for this, as I feel really good about our approach addressing many of the common issues and providing a solid opponent. :)

So what do you all feel should be our priorities with the AtG AI?

- Jon

AtG - General Discussion / Biggest Problem With 4X Games?
« on: April 08, 2013, 06:23:32 PM »
If you had to pick just one issue that you have with past 4X games to be fixed, what would it be?

For me it's the tendency for these titles to get easier as you play. I love the opportunities and challenges in the early game, but so often this dries up in the midgame once exploration and expansion have been basically wrapped up. This is obviously something I'm aiming to address in AtG, and it's fortunate that this subject matter offers some obvious and interesting solutions. :)

- Jon

AtG - Developer Updates / 2013 April 2 - AI - Mini Update
« on: April 02, 2013, 12:16:57 PM »
Woohoooo, the first update! This is going to be a fairly short one, but I wanted to let you guys know what I've been up to, lest you worry that I've run off to a Caribbean island something. My intention is to post one major update every month, with smaller unplanned ones in-between going up here on the forums.

So for the past couple weeks I've been heavily focused on designing the basic structure of the AI. As I've noted in previous articles, the basic goals are effective behavior and minimal mistakes, achieved with simple, targeted systems.

I've been creating several "scenario sandboxes" in the AI brainstorming docs to establish what an AI response should be to various situations, along with the process for how decisions are made. [Shameless Plug] If you'd like access to these and other documents, you can use PayPal on our website to get up to the $125 tier! [/Shameless Plug]

Right now my brainstorming has led me to an AI design with four main systems:

  • Objectives AI (OAI) - The meat of the AI where strategic plans are laid. Its varied Objectives range from "I'm out of Metal... spawn an Objective to grab that Iron deposit over there" to "The resources in this area are diminishing, I need find and head for a more fertile one" to "I don't like the Picts and they'd be easy to attack, so let's prepare an invasion."
  • High Command AI (HCAI)- This divvies up the player's Units between various "Military Goals" and orders them around. If we're trying to muster an invasion force on the eastern flank and need to draw strength from various parts of the kingdom, the HCAI is what makes that happen.
  • Tactical AI (TAI) - This system takes over from the HCAI when there are very specific, intricate tasks that must be accomplished (typically when there are enemies nearby). It runs through and scores a large number of possible action combos, choosing the best option. An approach like this is necessary if the goal is to reduce the number of mistakes to the absolute minimum - trying to teach it to "do everything right" in one go is basically impossible when there's as much to consider as there is in AtG. If the TAI slips up just once and forgets to protect a single Supply Camp, it could very easily be the end of everything.
  • Economic AI (EAI) - This handles production, spending of resources, etc. For the most part it hums along happily enough, just keeping things running. However, the OAI and HCAI can make "requests" of the EAI, such as "build more Units, ASAP!" (because we're being invaded from two sides - but the EAI doesn't know or care about that). The EAI does its best to balance these competing priorities.

There's a lot more detail I could go into here, but I'll save that for future updates, as I want to keep this one fairly high-level. In your guys' opinion, what should the AI always/never do? What's the most important thing for it (and me!) to focus on?

- Jon

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