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Interview With Alan Feng of Starcraft College Class Fame 46

Posted by Soulskill
from the good-and-true-uses-for-math dept.
An anonymous reader writes "GosuGamers has posted a very interesting interview with Alan Feng, talking about the course he is teaching on game theory when applied to Starcraft at the University of California at Berkeley. We discussed early news of the class back in January. 'I studied what I knew: history and mathematics. With my fairly good mathematics background, I came up with all sorts of equations, tables and charts to give me the best result in every case. For instance, I once worked out using the binomial theorem that it is slightly more beneficial to send new workers to the *edge* of a mining line rather than the center. Over the course of maybe 3 minutes, this kind of movement will let you mine about 300-500 more minerals than you normally would. Ultimately, I failed at my pro-gaming bid, but, my year of study of StarCraft gave me something that I think no other SC player can offer the academic world: rigorous proof and analysis. And because of my calculations, my proofs, and most importantly, the way I can connect these calculations to real-life examples I was able to present it in a way that Haas Business School would accept as a topic for teaching.'"
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Interview With Alan Feng of Starcraft College Class Fame

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  • Life - what life? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nasajin (967925) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @12:09AM (#27047839)

    I really, really hope that we'll be able to apply a lot of this stuff to SC2 since it would be a shame to have SC1 be such a perfect reflection of life.

    I don't know about you, but I wouldn't be using Starcraft as a metaphor for my life. I find the real world to be a lot more like Diablo. Persistently equipped with sub-standard equipment, battling hordes of the walking dead, and never enough money.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by RuBLed (995686)
      Are you implying that beer = potions? I'm with you on that one then.
    • Re:Life - what life? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by flyingsquid (813711) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @03:42AM (#27048651)
      Portal. Endlessly jumping through hoops and they keep raising them higher and higher. You're promised it will all be worth it if you can navigate through this fiendish maze... but after a while, you start to wonder, what's the purpose of it all? Is your promised reward just a lie?
      • by F34nor (321515)

        Why do you think it was such a popular game? The best part is that it is easy to cheat too.

      • by mewsenews (251487)

        The world is like a ride at an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it, you think it's real, because that's how powerful our minds are. And the ride goes up and down and round and round and it has thrills and chills and it's very brightly colored and it's very loud. And it's fun, for a while.

        Some people have been on the ride for a long time, and they begin to question: 'Is this real? Or is this just a ride?' And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and they say 'Hey! Don't worry, d

        • "I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world, because they'd never expect it."
          - Jack Handy, Deep Thoughts

          Pragmatic approaches to ending suffering have always worked better than empty dreams, even though it never won anyone a Nobel Peace Prize.
    • by jerep (794296)

      I can only agree with you; the more I advance in live the closer I get to hell.

  • Starcraft has incredible depth and lots of emergent gameplay [wikipedia.org]. My brother bought the game nearly 10 years ago and has played it on and off to this day. He's been playing a lot on ICCUP [iccup.com](an unofficial server that the good players use for ranked play and to avoid hackers) since he has graduated an is jobless. He is undoubtedly better than me and wins 9 out of 10 times, which made it all the more satisfying when I 5pooled him(a rush) and left him in a hissy fit(he doesn't take losing well). I particularly lik
    • by Nasajin (967925)
      Emergent gameplay is not really that special. Most games have it in some aspect - i.e. if they have modding capability, or random level design. Thus, even early games like Rogue have an element of emergent gameplay. Text adventure games, early LucasArts point-and-click games, would be an example of games without emergent gameplay. Games which are not narrative driven (such as RTSs) generally require emergent gameplay, or otherwise they provide very little to the consumer.
    • by mkiwi (585287)

      I started playing SC in 1997 and became a decent player over a period of about 7 years. I didn't play much Brood War, as "vanilla" was what I knew best.

      I think micromanagement is the most interesting aspect of sc. The game always seemed to be a balance between time spent managing resources and buildings and time managing individual units. It really got me to reflect on my life and figure out, "How can I make X a little better?" It sounds a little dumb, but it really helped me out. The people were also

  • Interesting Stuff (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sparton (1358159) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @12:24AM (#27047905)

    I actually saw some of this a few days ago on David Sirin's Blog [sirlin.net], and found it quite interesting. There's a fair bit of looking into the design of the game, in addition to the micromanaging for more competitive players. A worthy read for a system designer.

  • Um, yeah (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tooyoung (853621)
    Stuff in video games follows predictable patterns! I wonder how they did it that way?
    • Yes, and stuff costs money. And, uh, some things take more time than others. Any other platitudes you want to enlighten us with?

      The cool part is that he gave us tools to analyze the patterns, and tools to optimally use the existing patterns. Good stuff. No need to put it down.

  • AI in RTS Games (Score:5, Informative)

    by SpottedKuh (855161) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @12:37AM (#27047951)

    Anyone interested in the serious (mathematical, formal proofs, etc.) side of RTS games may find the following an interesting companion read: ORTS [ualberta.ca]. The goal of this project is to develop an RTS platform that can serve as a testbed for real AI research. In other words, a supercomputer could play against you, or even help you by controlling some of your units (roll your own client).

    I'm not involved with this project in any way, but it looks pretty exciting. It looks like a bunch of people who contributed to this project wound up at Bioware.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Ultimately, I failed at my pro-gaming bid, but, my year of study of StarCraft gave me something that I think no other SC player can offer the academic world: rigorous proof and analysis. And because of my calculations, my proofs, and most importantly, the way I can connect these calculations to real-life examples I was able to present it in a way that Haas Business School would accept as a topic for teaching.

    Those who can, do.
    Those who can't, teach.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    well... maybe its coincidence that this happens before the release of starcraft2...
    i sense snakes on a wbf

  • I 3 Starcraft (Score:2, Interesting)

    by CrazyJim1 (809850)
    Starcraft is probably the best video game ever made when the ladder worked, hackers were not around, and win traders did not exist. In the $25,000 Blizzard world champion ships, I finished in the semi finals. :( I was world class level. I plan on bringing it with Starcraft 2. I have 3 teammates who are all world class level. When you're top notch, you sometimes run across people who are doing amazing things against you that don't fit into what everyone does. I've been fortunate to have some of them as
  • wwww.sirlin.net

    Sirlin is blogging about the topics in the class! Very interesing, definitely worth checking out!

  • While Starcraft isn't mindless, clicking quickly is an important skill. It's as much of a sport as a strategy game.

    On one hand you have games like Chess, Go, and Wesnoth, where you think about your move, then perform it in a manner that does not rely on lightning reflexes. On the other you have games like first-person shooters, fencing, basketball, and hockey, where reaction speed is very important.

    But in the middle lies Starcraft. While claiming Starcraft is a pure click-fest is a bit of a stretch, it d

    • Professional level Starcraft might favor players at the high end of the actions per minute scale. But I find that among casual players clicking is much less important than you think. I know because I'm successful in Starcraft but have very unimpressive twitch reflexes.

      The more important abilities are knowing how to grow an economy, scouting an opponent, knowing when to be defensive and when to be offensive, and choosing the right unit for the job. Click speed is crucial only when you're fighting an evenl

  • RTS like all gaming has a level of educational value.

    You learn time management. The benefits and drawbacks of multi-tasking and micro-managing. The concept of diminishing returns on investment. The concept behind balancing between early investment on resources and infrastructure for a greater compound interest over time (similiar to retirement funds) and how an overinvestment in that, and lack of attention to other areas like "defense" could make it all pointless when you get overrun. To balance and not put

    • I'm more of a fan of Dawn of War for its ability to accurately reward the player for ground taken as a metaphor for continual progress.

      This also fosters your battle as part of a larger effort and explore the link back to the larger force. Instead of mining things on the spot, you have to show your mettle to get more resources from the Thunderhawks dropping in buildings into your burgeoning forward outpost.
      • I prefer Company of Heroes as the ultimate RTS. It has everything you could ask for gameplay wise and then some.

      • Funny you should mention it, I tried Dawn of War 2 Beta on steam, and man did I suck. I don't just mean I couldn't win (except zerging as Tyranids), I mean I was completely overwhelmed and crushed.

        With DoW1, the maps were normally wide, and took more than 1.5 min to get all the points and start engaging in battles. But with DoW2, it was a matter of quick multitasking right off the bat, a level of micromanaging the units to make them useful, as range usually gets overwhelmed by melee, and battles were norm

        • DoWII is all about combined arms rather than unit spam. Mounting a successful defense involved rbinging several types of hurt on the opponent at once.
          • Yeah and beta didn't have 1 player mode to practice on. I suppose the biggest problem, I was having such a slow learning curve, constantly reacting to the more experienced players. Beta was over by the time I figured out, my first 3 units should be cheap fodder, and upgrade their activated abilities, because they're not as worthless as I perceive. And to be on the offensive. On most maps, you can cross the line in 3 places, if not more. By the time you're ready to attack, so is he. If you defend all 3

  • I would love to take that class. I could see all that stuff when I was playing starcraft, but I never took the time to quantify it. I really wish I would have

  • For instance, I once worked out using the binomial theorem that it is slightly more beneficial to send new workers to the *edge* of a mining line rather than the center. Over the course of maybe 3 minutes, this kind of movement will let you mine about 300-500 more minerals than you normally would.

    Huh? Will somebody explain to me why it is more efficient to increase the length of a mining circuit, all other things held equal? Or what additional assumptions are required to make the binomial theorem applicable

    • I don't know but I tried it and it works. I think it's because my probes spread more evenly and stopped trying to go to the same patches, thus slowing one of them down. As of last night (when I first read this article) I started sending every other probe to the far sided min patches and my early game $ situation was much better. (note: it worked on Lost Temple and Python - it seemed to slow me down on BGH and have no effect on Hunters). Anyway, I'm sure you can find the course material for his class, it's l

      • Well I don't send all my probes to the same patch anyway. In the case of drones, it's especially important to send the four initial workers to separate patches so they don't queue up. But it would be nice if the author bothered to explain his statement instead of leaving us to speculate based only on what we already know.

UNIX was not designed to stop you from doing stupid things, because that would also stop you from doing clever things. -- Doug Gwyn

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