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Help System, Tutorials, and AI Assistant - 9/19/2005 8:51:44 AM   
Shannon V. OKeets

 

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Help System, Tutorials, and AI Assistant
(September 18, 2005)

World in Flames is a complex game in almost every way. MWIF will have 70,200 hexes, 13 types of hex terrain, 7 type of hexside terrain, over 3,000 units spanning over 60 different unit types, 238 countries/territories, 81 sea areas, and 5,084 coastal hexes. The official rules for MWIF (RAW 7), runs to over 60 pages of small font, double column pages. To sum up, how to play this game is not intuitively obvious to the casual observer.

There will be four primary sources of information for the player to reference to learn how to play MWIF: the help system, the tutorials, the AI Assistant, and the player’s manual. The last I will cover in a separate thread next month. Right now I want to focus our discussion on the first three because they will be computer based.


Help System

Almost every software application includes a help system. And almost universally, they are a source of intense frustration for the purchasers of the software. I aspire to have the help system for MWIF to be the exception. In particular I want the phrase “context sensitive” to be meaningful and not just some marketing hype.

MWIF actually has a structure that lends itself to context sensitive help: the sequence of play. Because there are so many stages, phases, and subphases within each turn of MWIF, we should be able to have a pretty good idea what kinds of questions the player is hoping the help system can answer based on where he is in the sequence of play.

Now the help system is simply going to retrieve textual information and present it to the player. I don’t see this as the place to produce an elaborate game situation example with depictions of units on the map. If need be, we can let the player jump to the tutorial system, where colored graphics will be used as part of the explanations.

What I would like your advice on is which parts of MWIF you think players are going to: (1) find confusing, (2) need a short refresher course on from time to time, or (3) need to understand in fine detail before making a move or decision. These should be questions that arise while playing a game.

Tutorials

Before players start playing MWIF it would be really nice if they read through a tutorial. Of course, it won’t be mandatory, but charging right into MWIF blind could be a real eye-opener as to how much you don’t remember, or never even knew, about WIF. But the goal is get players playing the game as fast as possible. That is the sole purpose of the tutorial. Definitive expositions on arcane aspects of WIF are not welcome here.

In order to get players who are new WIF started playing the game quickly, and experienced WIF players started even faster, there will be several tutorials. The primary set of tutorials will be for the experienced WIF player. A superset of the primary tutorials will include an introduction to WIF itself.

At this point I haven’t thought about the tutorials any farther than that. They will have a beginning and an end with chapters, or some equivalent, as their structural format. I don’t like cutesy-poo tutorials myself, with little animated figures popping up and making comments about “be sure to notice”, “here is a useful hint”, and the like. My style is to just say what I want to say directly, with as much clarity and precision as I can muster. Graphical examples of units on the map are essential and I want to go beyond the few that were included in RAW.

Any suggestions you can make about what topics the tutorials should cover, the order in which they should cover topics, how they should present the material, would be of great help to me. There is also the issue of navigating through the tutorials, perhaps letting players choose the sequence in which they view the information. What would you like to see?

AI Assistant

The AI Assistant, AIA, would go beyond the help and tutorial information in that it will base its advice on the current game situation. The idea for the AIA is that it would help the player make decisions. Now I am somewhat reluctant to make this an extensive part of MWIF. There are several reasons for my reluctance.

(1) Giving good advice in WIF is hard. Excellent players can argue for hours about what is the ‘correct’ tactical, operational, or strategic plan in a typical WIF game.
(2) Choosing advice that integrates with what the player has been doing for the past several turns is hard. There is the very real possibility that the AIA advice will be diametrically opposed to what the player is trying to accomplish.
(3) Assessing a game position is hard. I am writing code to do this for the AI Opponent and it is non-trivial. If all that is needed is a superficial evaluation, then that can be done easily enough. However, any thoughtful analysis that takes into consideration the trends in losses and builds over the past year and the expected changes in production levels for the next year seems too ambitious.
(4) Identifying opportunities for great attacks for yourself (and for your opponent) strikes me as the heart of WIF. To have the AIA go do the work for you, and then tell you what to do, is like having a grand master tell you what move to make in chess. You might beat your opponent senseless, but have you really played the game? Who really is the senseless person in that contest? Along the same line, I never understood why players want to know how to cheat. If they simply want to have the highest score in the list of champions, I can let the players edit that file directly.
(5) Comparing the importance of the AIA to other game elements, leads me to the conclusion that a lot of effort could be expended on the AIA with either less being done in other areas, or the release date delayed.

So, I want there to be an AIA, but I want it to “think small”. The player should be reminded to do things. He should be prompted to think ahead, have a strategic plan. Perhaps post notes to himself for what to do next turn. Since I plan on providing Preplanned Decisions (PDs) as a way to enter moves in advance, there might be a way to tie the AIA advice into the PDs.

Where do you think there would be a high payoff in terms of making the product better by adding advice from the AIA? What things do you think would be used a lot by the players? How do you feel about having the AIA tell you which hexes to attack and which units to use in those attacks?

All your suggestions and comments are eagerly awaited by me.

_____________________________

Steve

Perfection is an elusive goal.
Post #: 1
RE: Help System, Tutorials, and AI Assistant - 9/19/2005 5:09:28 PM   
Cheesehead

 

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quote:

What I would like your advice on is which parts of MWIF you think players are going to: (1) find confusing, (2) need a short refresher course on from time to time, or (3) need to understand in fine detail before making a move or decision. These should be questions that arise while playing a game.


Without a doubt, naval operations and naval combat are easily the most difficult to master for the beginner. I think several tutorials are in order here giving beginners the opportunities to set up convoys, attack convoys with subs, intercept SCS, and carrier combat. I think all other parts of the game are intuitive for experienced wargamers.

quote:

The AI Assistant, AIA, would go beyond the help and tutorial information in that it will base its advice on the current game situation. The idea for the AIA is that it would help the player make decisions.


I don't think the AIA is necessary. As long as there is an AI that beginners can play before they attempt to play an experienced opponent, they will be able to figure this stuff out from the school of hard knocks...a school I have attended many times.

quote:

So, I want there to be an AIA, but I want it to “think small”. The player should be reminded to do things. He should be prompted to think ahead, have a strategic plan. Perhaps post notes to himself for what to do next turn.


Just reading the scenario notes from the board game should provide the beginner with most of these prompts. I think I've read through all the scenario notes 4 or 5 times and I still find it valuable. If you incorporated the written advice in text format from a number of WiF experts...(I'm sure you'd have no problem finding guys to volunteer)...this would probably accomplish the same thing.

I hope this does not sound too critical...I really admire the TLC you're putting in this project and any extras you throw in certainly won't bother me...

_____________________________

You can't fight in here...this is the war room!

(in reply to Shannon V. OKeets)
Post #: 2
RE: Help System, Tutorials, and AI Assistant - 9/19/2005 5:19:19 PM   
Froonp


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quote:

Help System

What I'd like to be part of MWiF which is not part of CWiF is some sort of visual interactive sequence of play, where the stage you are in is highlighted. This way you'd rapidly know where you are in the turn, and more importantly, where are ("when are" is maybe more appropriate) the other phases & steps relatively to the present one.

I know that the game already show the Sequence of play in the rules, but it is dug inside the rulebook, and it does not get the importance it deserve, because the SoP is central in the WiF System, and you must master the sequence to play well and to avoid loosing time (impulses).

I also know that the game tells you the step / phase currently played because it is written in the status bar on the bottom of the screen, but I'd like some interactive dialog showing all the Sequence of Play, possibly with backgroud colors helping telling the phases from each others.

A text could appear at the mouse cursor, quickly describing what is done during this phase, when the mouse hovers one phase for 1 second.

(in reply to Shannon V. OKeets)
Post #: 3
RE: Help System, Tutorials, and AI Assistant - 9/19/2005 5:32:50 PM   
Froonp


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quote:

Tutorials

My idea about these tutorials is that they are like short scenarios (a couple of impulses long) that the player plays on a selected side, except that the game gives him advice on his screen on how to play, which menu to pull, which command to choose, which key to press, to perform the action the way the scenario is prepared. The dices are pre rolled to have the effect wanted, the objective is only to explain to the player how to do things.
Maybe these tutorials could be some short piece of action based directly on known and interesting short episodes of WWII.

For example, a tutorial on naval moves, naval interceptions, naval gun combat & naval air to sea combat could be a short, 2 impulses long guided (scripted) scenario about the Bismarck first Cruise & Doom.
On the German naval move from Kiel there are interceptions in the Denmark Strait with 2 British Cruisers (forgot their names) who have enough surprise to avoid the combat (and tally the German ships), and then there is an interception combat in the Bay of Biscay with the Hood & Prince of Wales successflly intercepting the Bismarck & Prinz Eugen, with the Hood being sunk.
Then, on the following Allied Impulse, there are searches from a CW Ark Royal task force who find & sink the German BB.

A tutorial about naval transportation, invasions, land combat, could be a scenario of a couple of impulses based on D-Day in Normandy.

< Message edited by Froonp -- 9/21/2005 11:31:00 AM >

(in reply to Shannon V. OKeets)
Post #: 4
RE: Help System, Tutorials, and AI Assistant - 9/19/2005 5:40:54 PM   
Froonp


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quote:

Help System

You will say that I'm too influenced with MS things , but one thing that could be cool for the Help System to have is the ability to right click somewhere and have a context menu including a "What's this ?" command. When you click the "What's this ?", you have Help about the thing that was clicked. It can be a unit, an hex, an Hexside, a menu item, the status bar or any other bar from the software or any other thing.
When it is done on a unit, it would explain what is this kind of unit, and what are its possiblities (eventually linking the possibilities to the rule).
When it is done on an hex or hexside, it would explain all about the hex or hexside, terrain, things contained in the hex (cities, factories, resources, oil, etc...) with links to the relevant rule sections and short summaries of effects, things forbidden, effects on combat, movement cost, etc...

(in reply to Shannon V. OKeets)
Post #: 5
RE: Help System, Tutorials, and AI Assistant - 9/20/2005 4:04:14 AM   
Manack


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It might be handy if the AIA pointed out little things missed by the player or highlighting risks. Such as flipped planes that might be overrun next impulse, not enough convoys in a sea area to get all the resources to factories, low garrison ratios in high partisan areas. Those kinds of things.

(in reply to Froonp)
Post #: 6
RE: Help System, Tutorials, and AI Assistant - 9/20/2005 6:01:28 AM   
Shannon V. OKeets

 

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quote:

ORIGINAL: Manack

It might be handy if the AIA pointed out little things missed by the player or highlighting risks. Such as:
(1) flipped planes that might be overrun next impulse,
(2) not enough convoys in a sea area to get all the resources to factories,
(3) low garrison ratios in high partisan areas.
Those kinds of things.


Good stuff. The more that can be added to your short list the better.

_____________________________

Steve

Perfection is an elusive goal.

(in reply to Manack)
Post #: 7
RE: Help System, Tutorials, and AI Assistant - 9/20/2005 6:09:08 AM   
Neilster


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As with most proposed things in the game, any AI assistance should be optional/turn-offable. I imagine really hard-core players would want blunders or oversights to be part of the game. Also a graduated system of assistance would probably be appropriate. That is, we could have everything turned on for novices, through to no assistance for the real guns/purists.

Personally, in our games, my friends and I were pretty casual about allowing "take-backs" for silly mistakes or patching up missed moves. We thought that a real Grand Strategist would have plenty of subordinates to point out any potential cock-ups.

Cheers, Neilster



(in reply to Shannon V. OKeets)
Post #: 8
RE: Help System, Tutorials, and AI Assistant - 9/20/2005 8:57:16 AM   
Froonp


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From: Marseilles, France
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quote:

ORIGINAL: Manack

It might be handy if the AIA pointed out little things missed by the player or highlighting risks. Such as:
(1) flipped planes that might be overrun next impulse,
(2) not enough convoys in a sea area to get all the resources to factories,
(3) low garrison ratios in high partisan areas.
Those kinds of things.

I append by 2 propositions I made in the wrong thread.

(4) In the improbable case Mziln took as an example (USA & Germany not at war), and with the approaching conquest of Italy, the game could warn the German player that while he is not at war with Italy's foreseen conqueror (USA), he will be obliged to pull up his units from Italy when its conquest comes.

(5) An enemy has a fleet in XXX sea area, so he can try to Port Attack our YYY port.

(in reply to Shannon V. OKeets)
Post #: 9
RE: Help System, Tutorials, and AI Assistant - 9/21/2005 4:30:10 AM   
Manack


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quote:

ORIGINAL: Manack
It might be handy if the AIA pointed out little things missed by the player or highlighting risks. Such as:
(1) flipped planes that might be overrun next impulse,
(2) not enough convoys in a sea area to get all the resources to factories,
(3) low garrison ratios in high partisan areas.

quote:

ORIGINAL: Froonp
(4) In the improbable case Mziln took as an example (USA & Germany not at war), and with the approaching conquest of Italy, the game could warn the German player that while he is not at war with Italy's foreseen conqueror (USA), he will be obliged to pull up his units from Italy when its conquest comes.
(5) An enemy has a fleet in XXX sea area, so he can try to Port Attack our YYY port.

(6) Garrison ratios on neutrality pacts will likely leave you vulnerable to attack
(7) If using oil rules a warning unflipping units costs are about to exceed your oil income.
(8) In production that your gearing is unsustainable for the year.


< Message edited by Manack -- 9/21/2005 4:53:28 AM >

(in reply to Froonp)
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RE: Help System, Tutorials, and AI Assistant - 9/21/2005 9:05:47 AM   
rtamesis

 

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With regards to a Help menu, I think it should just bring up the rule book in the form of a floating window and make it searcheable by typing a keyword(s). This should then bring up a bunch of links that the player can click on to know more about.

I think the best way to ease a player into the game is to provide lots of visual cues (which has been brought up in other discussions). For example, left clicking on a unit during a movement phase should immediately show the range of hexes that the unit can move into by making the hexes lighter in shade rather than forcing the player to figure out which number on the unit refers to movement points and then calculating the cost to enter or exit a hex. Perhaps there should be a torus on screen that shows what the phase of the current game turn is and updates itself as players go through the other phases before moving on to the next game turn. Right clicking on the different phases on the torus can then bring up a brief explanation of what needs to be done during that phase.

With regards to the tutorials, I think there should be several brief scenarios limited to one theatre or even just one particular area, such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the invasion of Poland or the Battle of Britain lasting no more than 2-3 turns, that quickly illustrate some feature of the game and allow the player to practice and become familiar with the sequence of play.

(in reply to Manack)
Post #: 11
RE: Help System, Tutorials, and AI Assistant - 9/21/2005 10:55:43 AM   
Shannon V. OKeets

 

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quote:

ORIGINAL: rtamesis

With regards to a Help menu, I think it should just bring up the rule book in the form of a floating window and make it searcheable by typing a keyword(s). This should then bring up a bunch of links that the player can click on to know more about.

I think the best way to ease a player into the game is to provide lots of visual cues (which has been brought up in other discussions). For example, left clicking on a unit during a movement phase should immediately show the range of hexes that the unit can move into by making the hexes lighter in shade rather than forcing the player to figure out which number on the unit refers to movement points and then calculating the cost to enter or exit a hex. Perhaps there should be a torus on screen that shows what the phase of the current game turn is and updates itself as players go through the other phases before moving on to the next game turn. Right clicking on the different phases on the torus can then bring up a brief explanation of what needs to be done during that phase.

With regards to the tutorials, I think there should be several brief scenarios limited to one theatre or even just one particular area, such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the invasion of Poland or the Battle of Britain lasting no more than 2-3 turns, that quickly illustrate some feature of the game and allow the player to practice and become familiar with the sequence of play.


I found your comments very helpful. I especially liked the idea of the torus for the sequence of play.

I am somewhat apprehensive about using the rules as written (RAW) as an integral part of the help system. Experienced players of WIF have no problem with that solution, but the phrasing in RAW is tortuous at times. Players whose first exposure to WIF is the MWIF game are unlikely to view RAW as being a good way to find answers to their questions. Links between sections will help somewhat but even that doesn't strike me as being enough.

What I am trying to avoid is having to rewrite RAW for the MWIF help system. The counter weight to that desire is the necessity of presenting the players with quick and direct answers to their questions, instead of forcing them to read through and interpret 4 or 5 paragraphs of RAW.

Patrice prefers RAW in its raw form, believing that any attempt to improve on its rendering runs the risk of modifying the underlying rule(s). I do not subscribe to that belief. Lawyers used that same argument for years (and so did the Catholic Church for that matter) but translations into the language of the common man have been successfully achieved in both cases. RAW should not be viewed as being more sacrosanct than law and religon. Still, I have a lot of other things of higher importance in the project than rewriting RAW.

At this time I am thinking of just taking the most obvious aspects of the game and putting them into simple English. Section 2.2 on the ZOC is a classic case. It describes the term ZOC by referencing a lot of detail information the reader knows nothing about. There are not any mistakes in the section, it just never really says what a ZOC is beyond it being an 'effect'. Again, experienced war gamers breeze right through that section with no difficulty. To a novice it is incomprehensible. To understand what I mean, replace ZOC with the word 'shadow' and try reading it. The whole section still makes perfect sense in a bizarre way and it leaves you wondering what a 'shadow' is.

I also liked your comments on the tutorials, primarily because they gave me some content for the novice player. I have a pretty good idea of what I need to teach the experienced WIF players about MWIF. Where I feel somewhat blind is understanding what the novice needs to learn. I have way too much experience playing wargames to be able to "see with new eyes". Novices break computer systems much faster, and more thoroughly, than expereinced users because novices have expectations that are completely unanticipated by the programmer.

Thanks for your help.

_____________________________

Steve

Perfection is an elusive goal.

(in reply to rtamesis)
Post #: 12
RE: Help System, Tutorials, and AI Assistant - 9/22/2005 3:38:11 AM   
rtamesis

 

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You're welcome. With regards to the RAW, I'm all for rules written in plain, simple English, preferably illustrated with examples. I envisioned the Help to be similar to what the Firefox browser has.

With regards to the AI assistant, if it is going to be implemented, then I think it should be limited to maintenance stuff like reminding the player what needs to be accomplished during a phase, and highlighting which units are out of supply rather than offering tactical tips and strategies. Microsoft Office's little animated paperclip was one of the most annoying things about using that software. Again, I think it should be an option that can be turned on and off by the player anytime during game play. I would rather read an extensive article perhaps in the form of a pdf document available for download that outlines and discusses the different suggested strategies available for each of the countries involved in the war and then figure out for myself how to implement that advice. In old SPI games of the 1970's, reading all that in the Developer's notes in the rule book was my favorite pastime and the first thing I would do when opening a brand new game.




Attachment (1)

(in reply to Shannon V. OKeets)
Post #: 13
RE: Help System, Tutorials, and AI Assistant - 9/22/2005 5:12:48 AM   
Shannon V. OKeets

 

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Did I mention that I own over 75 SPI games? Some are battered and worn while others are cherry.

What I primarily get from the Firefox visual is that the help system should have:
a glossary,
an index,
a table of contents, and
a search capability.

That is in addition to a context sensitive help function.

I like your definition of the AIA as a provider of maintenance reminders rather than a provider of tactical and strategic advice.

_____________________________

Steve

Perfection is an elusive goal.

(in reply to rtamesis)
Post #: 14
RE: Help System, Tutorials, and AI Assistant - 9/22/2005 7:56:54 AM   
Neilster


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quote:

Microsoft Office's little animated paperclip was one of the most annoying things about using that software

Ah, but I heard it was developed using Baysean Probability and that in development it observed the user's actions for a long time before beginning to pop up with actually useful suggestions. Apparently MS didn't like this, as it had been expensive to develop, and they wanted their customers to see this feature quickly. Hence, in the released software we had that little f@#% popping up every 30 seconds with no idea what was going on, causing screens to get punched and/or thrown out of windows.

Cheers, Neilster

Edit: Supposed to be a reply to Shannon V. O'Keets


< Message edited by Neilster -- 9/22/2005 8:05:59 AM >

(in reply to rtamesis)
Post #: 15
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