Saturday, August 6, 2011

Playing The Computer

Civilization Five and Two have
some... fundamental difference
PC Gamer published an article about some folks over at MIT who created a smarter AI. The article is misleading because it shows images of Civilization V, although the academic text says the study was conducted on Civilization II. Nevertheless this is still a very impressive endeavor!

Computer AI in strategy games has been proven to be... well stupid. It usually is way too much of an undertaking to create anything that really classifies as artificial intelligence. Instead the game developers give the computer an unfair advantage by letting it cheat. Maybe supplying it with more resources for example. Racing games like Need For Speed are infamous for incorporating this into their games. Called "rubber band" AI: the computer simply speeds up to catch up with you, and offer more of a challenge.

In this study the researchers incorporated the CIV rule book into a search framework, and in this case, also had the AI learn strategies through playing. The Monte Carlo search framework has been used in board games before, and considering Civilization is essentially a high functioning board game, it makes a good choice for this study. It is important to note that the instruction books for Civilization games are notoriously known for being massive.

The Guidebook for CIV II, not the box.

Parts of the manual were selected for relevance. Knowing to build your cities on tiles with rivers running through them is more important than say, being able to name your city whatever you want. The AI then incorporates states with actions, such as "use engineers improve" with "terrain within the city radius". It also does a calculation for an "action value" which is based on different states in the game (including simulated game play), and decides the best move to make. I am curious as to how much more machine resources all this new computing requires.

Due to the massive size of the civilization books I wouldn't expect this sort of AI to show in in every video game just yet. But as a big fan of strategy video games I hope I start encountering smarter AI soon!

I really am interested in the content of this academic article. If there is anyone out there who knows about this stuff I would love to talk to you! For everyone else who is interested, you can read, the academic text here. Just in case I also have cited the article at the bottom of this post. The project website can be found here.

Branavan, S.R.K., David Silver, and Regina Barzilay. "Learning to Win by Reading Manuals in a Monte-Carlo Framework." (2011). MIT. Web. 5 Aug. 2011. <>.


  1. I was playing the latest civ a couple of months ago and it was really addictive! :O
    Like, 5hours or more for just one match, INSANE! :D

  2. Woah I love this game so much.