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Interview With Alan Feng of Starcraft College Class Fame

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the good-and-true-uses-for-math dept.

Math 46

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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46 comments

Life - what life? (5, Insightful)

Nasajin (967925) | more than 5 years ago | (#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:Life - what life? (2, Funny)

RuBLed (995686) | more than 5 years ago | (#27047957)

Are you implying that beer = potions? I'm with you on that one then.

Dude, Potions are REAL (1)

DRAGONWEEZEL (125809) | more than 5 years ago | (#27052079)

Just look here!

HEALTH POT [thinkgeek.com]

Re:Dude, Potions are REAL (1)

Sethus (609631) | more than 5 years ago | (#27061075)

My friend and myself made Health and Mana potions using Skittles, Vodka, and coffee filters. We put the finished product in glass containers and drink them while we play video games... you know for power and health.

Re:Life - what life? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27048289)

I don't know about you, but I wouldn't be using Starcraft as a metaphor for my life.

Ask me about my additional pylons

Re:Life - what life? (4, Interesting)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 5 years ago | (#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?

Re:Life - what life? (1)

F34nor (321515) | more than 5 years ago | (#27048903)

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

Re:Life - what life? (0)

mewsenews (251487) | more than 5 years ago | (#27050315)

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, don't be afraid - ever - because... this is just a ride.' And we kill those people.

'Shut him up! We have a lot invested in this ride! Shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry; look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.'

It's just a ride. But we always kill those good guys who try and tell us that - ever notice that? - and we let the demons run amok. But it doesn't matter, because... it's just a ride, and we can change it any time we want. It's only a choice. No effort. No worry. No job. No savings and money. Just a choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your door, buy bigger guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love, instead, see all of us as one.

Here's what we can do to change the world, right now, into a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defense each year and, instead, spend it feeding, clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would do many times over - not one human being excluded - and we can explore space together, both inner and outer, forever. In peace.

-- Bill Hicks

Re:Life - what life? (1)

Pervaricator General (1364535) | more than 5 years ago | (#27051239)

"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.

Re:Life - what life? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27048989)

Yea me too. And always questioning why the game-master reversed the roles of race, making a 10 foot tall mongolian barbarian able to jump 50 feet in the air and letting that little muslim sorceress teleport without a burka and proper teleport-screening. Meanwhile, the poor Niggerdin is wearing too much gear that he can't jump/levitate, the Leszon is not allowed to pole-vault over obstacles, the Necrophilliac can't build a boner-bridge to the other side, and the DragDruid can't grow a fallen-tree bridge over his obstacle or swing by tentacle-vine.

It's a minority's world...

Re:Life - what life? (1)

jerep (794296) | more than 5 years ago | (#27050531)

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

Zerg rush for first post! (1)

blool (798681) | more than 5 years ago | (#27047843)

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 like that there are so many different strategies in starcraft, you can take a very unconventional/high risk strategy, and if executed decently have a good chance of success.

Re:Zerg rush for first post! (1)

Nasajin (967925) | more than 5 years ago | (#27047885)

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.

Re:Zerg rush for first post! (1)

mkiwi (585287) | more than 5 years ago | (#27047981)

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 pretty cool.

About zerg and rushing:
If you have zvz, the most annoying thing you can do to your opponent is kill them by building and destroying creep colonies in their base. That's because there's a relatively low cost of canceling a creep colony, you can easily start one, stop it, take your drone and start another one if your opponent attacks it with his/her drones. Zerglings are for after you've morphed your creep colonies into sunken colonies and humiliated your enemy with your superior micromanagement skills- they clean up any drones that get away.

The other way cool thing was playing all the custom maps people built. That was really an awesome feature.

Big ups to the old toylanders on USEast!

Interesting Stuff (2, Interesting)

Sparton (1358159) | more than 5 years ago | (#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 (1, Insightful)

tooyoung (853621) | more than 5 years ago | (#27047927)

Stuff in video games follows predictable patterns! I wonder how they did it that way?

Re:Um, yeah (1)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 5 years ago | (#27048243)

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 (4, Informative)

SpottedKuh (855161) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Proof for the axium (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27047969)

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.

Those who can't spell "axiom" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27048357)

are doomed to quote stupid quotes.

funded by blizzard (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27048021)

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

I 3 Starcraft (1, Interesting)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | more than 5 years ago | (#27048125)

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 friends. In Warcraft3, I was also extremely good as I got #1 1v1,2v2 and 3v3 in ladder at one point and first to 1500 wins. My 3v3 friends also shared the same status as having #1 in all three too at one point. The nice thing is that in 1v1, you may be a 80% player and beat the top ladder players 80% of the time. If you have 4 players in a team that are all 80%, they help each others odds even more. Like in my 3v3 team, we went 200-1-0, and the loss was due to them being bored with winning so much. I really hope Starcraft 2 is a good team game. In Starcraft 1, 2v2 or higher involves everyone 5 pooling and double teaming someone. If Starcraft 2 has something like town portal or everyone starting near each other, it could help it be a team game.

Starcraft 2 beta is just around the corner, and everyone who's done indepth analysis or gamed at a top level should be there helping them to make sure SC2 is as good as the first. I've been paying close attention to it, and I can't wait for beta. I just want to get famous in Starcraft 2 and I hope there is an emerging US pro scene so I don't have to move to South Korea. I don't mind learning a new programming language, but a real language is tough for me.

Re:I 3 Starcraft (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27048553)

So...my penis is bigger.

I remember those tournaments. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27048949)

When I first attended one to watch, I looked around and thought of all the dying and dead Trekkar's and Trekkies that took such useful social "advantages" to good use. The last visit I made to Blizzard was their Fountain Valley CA Fry's Electronics Warcraft 3 product launch. I felt very, oh what's the word, "dirty" (sounds like it) for attending such a waste of time to perhaps a team of 50 Blizzard employees. They were the more depressing looking people I've ever seen in my life. After all that study of Mathematics, computer science, internships and constant haggeling fist-over-fist on who should be promoted to some *insert unrealistic development chore honor* they end-up making video games with such precise intended addiction that it reduced every buyer around them to mere shells of their former self. I've seen the true computer science conventions in a homebrew expositions, where all the participants are not whoring after an idiot's money like Blizzard employees did. I've seen homebrew expositions where everyone is involved and visit one-another's booth to discuss the merits of a product and to trade equally with one another as would a market; clearly, the open-engineering consulting is apparent, and none of this is seen in Blizzard employees or their corporate masters in Vivendi. They've become such shells of their proper selves, selling-out to WoW cameos for unrelated actors and ideas to whore more of that US 100 dollar per year crack addiction.

You played a game that dissatisfied everyone else upon your greater win, while you should have learned to do somthing useful. It's ok, I squandered my time too. I polished the family jewels and my stagtelite can get over 9 inches long and 3 inches wide. I'm the talk of every lady out there, and make Carrot Top look like Harry Knowles in that regard. I found out that both of us can't get any true success in computer games. I just want to let you know that you should look into somthing more useful, like trying to grow a clone parasitically in your slave's womb. Try it sometime. It makes the Zerg look like just another re-run cheezy War of the World's spectacle.

Re:I 3 Starcraft (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 5 years ago | (#27049343)

I play SC casually. Would someone care to explain what "5 pooling" means, please?

Re:I 3 Starcraft (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27050307)

I think it refers to playing as Zerg, and building a spawning pool with your fifth worker drone. This allows you to start producing zerglings, for offense, quite early.

Re:I 3 Starcraft (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27050427)

You've never touched an actual boob in your entire life, have you?

Because I am good at it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27053033)

Starcraft is probably the best video game ever made

.. because I am good at it.

The only way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27048235)

To beat the raging hordes of 12 year olds... Mathematics and a PHD.

For those interested (1)

PuercoPop (1007467) | more than 5 years ago | (#27048533)

wwww.sirlin.net

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

Starcraft relies a lot on clicking fast (2, Insightful)

averner (1341263) | more than 5 years ago | (#27049837)

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 does rely partially on reflexes. If Starcraft is to be studied academically, sports theory is as important as game theory. Otherwise, purely turn-based strategy games are probably better for this kind of analysis.

Starcraft relies a lot on thinking fast (1)

AlpineR (32307) | more than 5 years ago | (#27056105)

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 evenly matched battle and a few extra spells can turn the tide. But a smart player chooses his battles and never engages on even terms unless clicking is his forte.

I believe the most critical resource in Starcraft is attention -- attention to your units, attention to your strategy, attention to your opponent, and attention to your teammates. The ability the absorb and process that information quickly will win you games. Depleting and evading your opponent's attention through distraction and surprise will win you more.

City officials need to learn from RTS (1)

arekusu_ou (1344373) | more than 5 years ago | (#27050903)

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 all your eggs in one basket, all anti-personnel units are great until your enemy rolls out a tank and crushes you.

I know our city, state, and federal government lack these basic learnings.

And of course, the best rule of all, zerg early on for a quick gamble and ending the game one way or another.

Re:City officials need to learn from RTS (1)

Pervaricator General (1364535) | more than 5 years ago | (#27052835)

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.

Re:City officials need to learn from RTS (1)

GeorgeMonroy (784609) | more than 5 years ago | (#27054739)

I prefer Company of Heroes as the ultimate RTS. It has everything you could ask for gameplay wise and then some.

Re:City officials need to learn from RTS (1)

arekusu_ou (1344373) | more than 5 years ago | (#27056217)

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 normally over in 10 mins.

Re:City officials need to learn from RTS (1)

Pervaricator General (1364535) | more than 5 years ago | (#27056467)

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.

Re:City officials need to learn from RTS (1)

arekusu_ou (1344373) | more than 5 years ago | (#27059675)

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, none of them is strong enough to face his combined attack. But if you attack, he faces the same problem. One of the complaints people had was, Tier 3 tech wasn't as useful as Tier 1 and 2 because by the time you can afford Tier 3, you probably have the map controlled and you're pushing him in the corner. I'm used to being more defensive, strong infrastructure, and survive long battle being efficient in resources and minimizing loss while maximizing kills. You can write spreadsheets to calculate the best course of action with something that slow paced. But with fast pace aggressive games, you have to wing a lot of it, and just be damn good, not plan good. Was fun while it lasted, I'll probably get it when it drops down in price.

Awesome idea (1)

javac (21689) | more than 5 years ago | (#27057719)

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

Mining line (1)

Workaphobia (931620) | more than 5 years ago | (#27059657)

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 to this problem?

Re:Mining line (1)

RazorSharp (1418697) | more than 5 years ago | (#27072765)

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 likely you'll find an explanation there if you're curious.

Re:Mining line (1)

Workaphobia (931620) | more than 5 years ago | (#27073095)

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.

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