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Wednesday
Nov032010

Inafune and Starcraft Genetic Algorithms (unrelated)

Inafune Leaves Capcom

Here's a long interview with Inafune about leaving Capcom. He was, until recently, their head of development. One of his main points is that having a huge burn rate is bad. A burn rate is the amount of money you must pay to keep paying your team. This is exactly the point I've made for years, and I've kept my own company at the smallest possible burn rate I can.

If you have a large payroll to meet every month, the good part is that you probably have a lot of great workers who can accomplish a lot of great things. But there is a real bad part too. It means you must have projects going all the time. If it would be better for a project to do a long planning phase of several months before going into production, you'll be wasting everyone's salary by having them sit around and wait for planning. If you are a company that sets up deals with other companies for development (for example, you are a developer who gets paid by a publisher to make a game, or you're a publisher who looks for developers to make games for you), then a high burn rate means you need to make those deals by a certain date or there is going to be a disaster. If you have a horrible deal on the table, you might be forced to take it because waiting 2 months might be astronomically expensive.

Also, a high burn rate means that a huge return is needed to break even. If you need to sell a huge number of copies to just break even, it means you're going to be more afraid to take risks. Even if you say otherwise as you sit in your comfortable arm chair right now, free from any actual responsibility, if you were in such a position, you can't help but think that a risk could destroy the whole company when the stakes are that high. And if you aren't thinking that, your executives are. Being forced into "hit or die" is not great for creativity, and we'd hope that our industry is about creativity. In short, I totally agree with Inafune on that particular point, that a high burn rate is a very dangerous.

Starcraft 2

I thought this use of genetic algorithms looking for build orders in Starcraft 2 was really interesting. It seems like a good area to apply genetic algorithms, and I've imagined such a thing for years, but I never heard of anyone actually doing it.

The idea is to have a computer try a whole bunch of build orders and rate them on "fitness" (how close they are to a desired outcome of like "build a lot of marines by time X" or something. The ones that are fit, the computer tends to keep; the ones that aren't, it tends to discard. There are mutations over time that test if this or that variation helps or hurts. There are also several "villages" of these algorithms that are running independently, so if one stagnates at some evolutionary dead end, the whole thing is replaced by a new village that's based on the most successful other village.

The algorithm found a new (or at least previously not popular) build order to create 7 Roach units very, very quickly. The build order is kind of unintuitive, so it's exactly the kind of thing that a genetic algorithm would be good at finding. Pretty cool!

Reader Comments (2)

You know, I've been thinking more and more about the money involved in the industry since I've been working retail at an independent game store - its hard enough on us as it is since we pay like $50 for a game that sells for $59.99, or $24.50 for a game that sells for $29.99 (making rent has to suck for my boss, and this is why retail stores have to buy/sell used games at the rate they do)... so if there's a distributor between us and the publisher, and then there's the cost of publishing, just what sort of profit do publishers see per copy?

And after learning more accurate numbers in my Game Design class (honestly, the business aspect is all I'm getting from this class, everything else I already know from reading around on here and other websites or just from being a gamer), it's really starting to hit me how poorly planned a lot of projects go. I remember reading that Assassin's Creed 2 had around 300 people on the development team, and not that long ago, 50 to a team was huge (back in the PSX days). Think about that... 300 people all getting paid for several years of development, to have the game need to price drop just a few months after release due to lower than expected sales.

Maybe too many people think that throwing money at a project will make it good (you can argue that for plenty of movies at least), and I think too many people are taking the work for granted. I want to consider all of the hard working developers that pull 100 hour weeks during crunch time and work really kill themselves for the project, but I also wonder what the hell people were thinking with games like Super Smash Brothers Brawl. There's nothing that would have made the game unbalance-able, and there was enough fan demand after Melee to have it be competitive that it would have been an enormous hit had they put a lot of time and refinement into it (though it did get sales, most of that was off of the franchise itself and what the Melee community was expecting), and it's designed to where it can still be completely casual and a "party game" at the same time. Why only spend as much time in development as they did when it's pretty much a flagship title that could have easily sat on the back burner while games like Super Mario Galaxy and Galaxy 2 and Twilight Princess and Metroid Prime 3 and blah blah blah all came out and carried the company?

Maybe having so many people in development made a difference... it had like 30+ composers for the 250+ soundtrack, and even more costs were surely there. Maybe they should have focused just a little bit less on the Subspace mode rather than spending that money. Maybe the level designers could have just slapped together something quick and dirty like a Kirby game with a "stamina mode" base and made a simple platformer that still would have been a lot of fun, but wouldn't have cost quite so much.

November 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTheRealBobMan

Maybie we can use genetic algorithms to look for a super imba build order for Puzzle Strike, too :p

November 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWilken
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