Javin – Java Battle of Yavin Tactical Computer

Repost from the Fantasy Flight forum

Shh, don’t tell anyone, but one of my Games and A.I. students and I are working on a Star Wars Targeting Computer bot to play/suggest moves for X-Wing. We feel that this is both canon – “Luke, you switched off your targeting computer! What’s wrong?” – and we’d like to honour this amazing game by creating an A.I. bot competition in the style of Robocode http://robocode.sourceforge.net/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robocode by providing a testbed to allow bots to play in the X-Wing Universe. We hope that making a computer version of the board game, as the first step towards opening this up for artificial intelligence would be both acceptable and of interest to Fantasy Flight and the X-Wing community.

If we get far enough along, we hope to “enter” our own attempt at a bot in the UK X-Wing Championships to be hosted at the UK Games Expo, assuming that this would be allowed. Here is a timeline of what we hope to develop, all of which (possibly apart from the A.I. module itself) will be open source:

1) Visualisation of pieces and board state, movements, etc, in the style of theStar wars tactical displays:

Star Wars Display

with inspiration from the following:

Star Wars Display 2


and the more recent Battlestar Galactica tabletop tactical displays:

battlestar Disp01

battlestar Display 2

The aim here to provide the ability for tournaments to have an abstract projected top down display of the game at hand with some automation in moving ships on screen to match the current board state. We would need some “nudging” to be able to make sure the display matched the board; e.g. If the ref says the X-Wing can attach the TIE, but the computer’s (never inaccurate) digital movement says no, then the physical game would have to take priority. Think Vassal module, but customised to enable the later stages. Clearly, at this stage the intent is to provide a way for a computer program to have access to a relatively accurate board position for ships, and have encoded their ability to move, etc. Fantasy Flight, I am hopeful that if you allow the Vassal mod then this is acceptable.

2) Automation of the movement and action phases of each ship type, subject to the previous “nudging”, including a representation of ship and pilot capabilities and game related stats to enable them to be represented on the display; e.g. TIE 3 has Focus, TIE chose Evade, Y-Wing has sustained 2 shield damage. Clearly, the Vassal mod has attempted to not breach copyright, and we would want to avoid similar infringements, but we would need to be able to simulate the complete state of the game, including pilot stats, in order to allow a bot half a chance to be able to “play” in the proper environment.

3) Library functions to fully automate a game of X-Wing in emulation, so that A.I. (that is Tactical Computer) bots – or should I call them ‘droids? – can play simulated games. Many artificial intelligence techniques require sped up automated games in order to evolve suitable strategies of play.

4) An A.I. of our own to test the testbed, which we would then play against humans to see how well it would perform. This bit, I think, we’d need to keep closed source. In the event that we actually get to (4), an ambitious and ridiculous dream, then Fantasy Flight would have to rule on whether bots would be allowed in tournaments. I’m hoping, at least as a special occasion, this might be allowed, if not in a regular competition.

5) Requesting from Fantasy Flight a bespoke ‘droid pilot card to be allowed official recognition. For example, a tactical computer, no matter how well programmed should (in the spirit of the franchise) not have Focus as an option, but should be very cheap (if not free) to buy; working on the assumption that the human player fielding it MUST abide by the program’s choices in battle for the ships controlled by it. The skill then comes in how well you have actually programmed your Tactical Computers. It would be assumed that TCs would be ship specific – hence the need for unique pilot cards for each ship type – but that the basic stats would be those of the ship’s reference card. The rating of the pilot would need FF to decide, but (for example) a bot would be very fast to react, but slow to target, which would suggest a low rating. Other balance issues, should the idea of a TC be one that FF like as an extension to the rules (even without a “real” A.I. playing, but rather a human pretending), might be extra evades, better target locks, etc, at the expense of the loss of focus.

Of course, (5) is pure speculation, but fun to consider. I thoroughly expect any bot to be much, much worse than an average human. However, the idea is one that (despite probably meaning a lot of work) really interests me. Please do comment, to tell me what you think. Would you be willing/scared to play against a ‘droid (” We don’t serve their kind here! … Your droids. They’ll have to wait outside.”) or should they never be allowed to play in tournaments?

One alternative to a low rating could be an average (middle range) or user selectable pilot rating, which would allow the programmer to decide between move first shoot last and move last shoot first strategies.

Some more reference images (DRADIS from Battlestar Galactica):





Clearly, we would be looking to get one of the art students to do a suitably Star Wars styled representation of the X-Wing ships, but you can see how a Viper (above) is similar to an A-Wing. This is to provide a “mood board” for conceptualising what the display would look like.

Got another canon precedent:

“TIE Automated Starfighter (TIE Droid Starfighter) produced by World Devastators in the comic mini-series Dark Empire I.”


Why Cardiff is an excellent place to be a Gamer

Cardiff is an outstanding place to be a gamer. Although it isn’t home to any major gaming events in the die hard calendar (yet!), it hosts two exceptional games shops, both of which provide the kind of service that should shame you, if you live or work nearby and persist in purchasing your games from Amazon.
Rules of Play
Rules of Play (RoP) is an unassuming little shop in the Castle Arcade in Cardiff. One of those places it might be easy to miss, among the fashionable cafes and weird boutiques.

Rules of Play, Castle Arcade, Cardiff
Rules of Play, Castle Arcade, Cardiff

However, it is not cluttered, and actually quite inviting. There are none of the intimidating tables with sweaty young men hunched over bizarre dioramas, a la Games Workshop. What there is are staff who are keen to please, able to recommend games to meet the needs of Grand Ma wanting a game for her relatives, and the hardened MTG and CCG nut alike. Quite an achievement, and RoP is probably one of the best games shops I have ever frequented.

While normally there is a cellar for game play, with regular events for diverse games, currently the playing space is relocated due to seasonal flooding. However, RoP also run two game events a month:

  • The second Sunday of every month at Chapter, a family-friendly event usually starting at 5pm with a selection of games to loan out to interested players (although die hards with their own games are often there earlier). On that, the RoP staff are all excellent tutors in games, and will have you up and running quite quickly.
  • The last Monday of every month at The Gate in Roath from 7pm, which is more for seasoned gamers.

I’ll cover their events in more detail in coming months, but it is safe to say that the staff are both knowledgeable and accessible to both novice and expert alike.

Firestorm Games
Firestorm Games (aka StormFire) are less easy to come across, being the “wrong” side of the tracks, if only a convenient walk from Cardiff Central Train Station.

Firestorm Games, 8a Trade Street, Cardiff
Firestorm Games, 8a Trade Street, Cardiff

The shop itself, is about the same size as RoP, but in two smaller sections; one being predominantly Games Workshop (GW) products, the other being a range of board games and accessories for War Games, etc. It’s quite compact, but nice to see things on display for a company that does most of its selling through the Internet. However, the real jewel in Firestorm’s Tardis-like interior is the fully licensed (!) massive play space, affectionately known as “The Battlefields”. Click the panoramic image below to fully grasp this!
Panoramic View of the Firestorm Battlegrounds Play Area
Panoramic View of the Firestorm Battlegrounds Play Area

Firestorm has a licensed bar
Firestorm has a licensed bar
This huge, well-resourced area, with a cafe, bar, figure painting area, and even an arcade cabinet, must be seen to be believed. While it is clear that War Games are the dominant game type here – there is a huge array of dioramas and peripherals, so you only really need to bring your army to play massive campaigns, and Firestorm even offer lockable storage for regulars – there are regular events for CCG, and board game play.
Firestorm's Figure Painting Station
Firestorm’s Figure Painting Station

The staff charge a fixed fee for access to the Battlefields (currently a one off £3.60, but periodic membership is also available), but when I attended recently, there were a range of games on hand, as well as those brought by the regulars, and there was an atmosphere of “Let’s make sure everyone gets a game!” from the staff, who could be seen arranging groups of players to guarantee that people wouldn’t have to wait to be entertained. Even I got roped into a quick game of
Rob and Steve contemplate their defeat in Evil Baby Orphanage
Rob and Steve contemplate their defeat in Evil Baby Orphanage

“Evil Baby Orphanage” despite not intending to stay for long. It just reinforced the great atmosphere that Firestorm provides for the young adult gamer. While I don’t think that this store is as accommodating for families – the licensed bar on the premises necessitates some control over who can play on site – it is good to know that the two shops complement each other perfectly. Both Rules of Play and Firestorm are worth a visit, if you are ever in the Welsh capitol. Next time, I will cover RoP in more detail, especially the regular Sunday and Monday events, but in the mean time, here are some other shots from Firestorm’s Battlefields:

Kipling, the Seemingly Saying Something Game – #1GAM Entry for @Boardroomers

The @Boardroomers February Game Design Competition deadline is TODAY! Here is my entryKipling the Seemingly Saying Something Game, which will also be my first February entry for #1GAM; I originally developed three @Boardroomers games, but (understandably) they decided to only allow one submission per designer. The other two games:

  1. Aversion – a 3 player card game of Find the Killer/Counsellor/Suicide in a fast Rock Paper Scissors game of Secrets, Intervention and Group Therapy) and
  2. Elementary – A 2 player puzzle card game where you find out which of cards 1-10 the other player has by getting answers for 2-4 of 9 left (e.g. >?, same colour, odd, etc.)

will be posted later this month.