Once again our Spades app has taken a substantial slice of our work at the end of Q4 2016 and also into 2017. As our testbed architecture matures, each time we return to work on each app we have more tools at our disposal and this allows us to make more profound progress. However although the AI was substantially improved, it is not the only advance and so the interface has been enhanced to provide scoring explanations in response to the user clicking parts of the score table. Also added are random player selection and helpful indicators such as player void suit indicators, among other things. These may sound like small details but require significant work and provide some real value to the player. The gradual shift over time is for games and apps to be completely self supporting with the need for manuals almost completely disappearing. Users expect to know what to do instinctively and for the app to completely explain itself.
Our collaboration with York continues. The big event of this period was NEMOG at York. This is our primary link to Academia and still we exchange ideas with York about how we could improve our Spades program. Their research input is still significant for us and will feature in future releases. As ever, our Spades engine was presented at the event in a lecture by Dr Sam Devlin.
Spades is just one of our 16 games on Google Play and the others do get a share of our development time too! Of these our Chess was given a significant boost recently. The app in the store has had many enhancements over the years but the core engine was designed to run on mobiles with tiny memories, such as the Google G1. Clearly the mobile technology has moved on a long way and compromises we made early on are no longer needed. The core game engine has flags to support mobile or PC or a number of platforms, but new mobiles are now faster than old PCs. It was time to upgrade the engine and one compromise lifted was the book size. With a flip of a switch and some tweaking we could give the chess app a 2 meg book, 700x times bigger than the tiny book previously provided. However it needed more than that as the old book was created a decade ago and tuned from an old edition of Modern Chess Openings. It was time to start again and we build a completely new book that was bang up-to-date. Again this requires some crafting as players do not just want to play in the style of modern grandmasters but also to be able to follow some unfashionable or simpler or even slightly unsound lines. The solution was to mix the book with an extra hand-crafted book, structured like the old small book, and have this hand-crafted book steer the choice of openings. From this we had a book that worked well with the amateur player, but still had the depth desired by more professional players.
AI Factory has a fair body of bespoke technologies unique to our company, but we do not want to hold onto all of these ideas regardless, so have been trickling out our expertise via the newsletter for general benefit, but also in publications such as the Game AI Pro - Collected Wisdom of Game AI Professionals series. We contributed to the 2nd edition and have also now contributed to the 3rd edition to be released shortly. This details how we managed to achieve an astonishing level of compression of a solution database for our Solitaire. The ideas are not complex, but mixing and choosing the right methods can deliver massive returns.
The next edition of this round-up will have yet more on Spades and also our trip to GDC 2017.