26 June 2009

ORIGINS 2009: Day 3 - More Than Just Fun & Games

Friday evening, and I just over-napped the start of the sculpting class I wanted to sit in on (maybe next year). I whip out my convention schedule and look at the seminars I have marked earlier in the day:

Professional Gaming ? Modeling with Wargames
E160A -- An open panel discussion with audience participation, examining the state-of-the-art usage of wargames for modeling and decision support. Part of the Strategicorps event track. All ages / 50 seats. Run by Brant Guillory.

This sounded like something that might really be interesting, and since I paid for that Strategicorps ribbon so I really ought to use it. This might have been the best decision I made all week.

I arrived just as things were about to get started. With more panel members than audience, Brant decided to have us all pull our chairs into a circle to facilitate discussion. Good call Brant. Introductions ensued:

The Panel:
Brant Guillory (Moderator, former US Army Captain, PhD candidate in Communications, Bayonet Games) 1,2,3

Col. Matthew Caffery (Chief, Wargaming Plans & Programs Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory) See 1,2

John Tiller, PhD (independent game developer with Matrix Games and HPS Simulations) See 1,2,3

James SterrettJames Sterrett, PhD (Simulations Instructor, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (Northrup Grumman), Military Historian, Ad Adstra Games {Attack Vector : Tactical}) 1,2,3

Joseph Miranda (Editor Strategy & Tactics Magazine, MCS Group) 1,2,3

Maj. Michael Martin (CGSC graduate, soon-to-be PhD candidate in Modeling and Simulations at ODU in Norfolk.)

The audience (as best I recall):
Col. Ken Guillory (MLRS commanders in Desert Storm I: a man of vast military experience and father of Brant Guillory) 1

Robert Crandall (Programmer and Games Developer, Core Talent Games, Matrix Games)

Jim Snyder (Matrix Games, Lock and Load Games) 1,

Myself (DE)

Several others joined in as well, including a number of avid gamers, but I didn't get any more names.

The following is my (pitiful) attempt to summarize some of the discussion, more-or-less stream-of-consciousness style. I will attempt to attribute comments where I can. All quotations are approximate.

BG: This discussion is intended to be about the use of games and simulation to model warefare, rather than as a training tool.
JT: The modeling process is "legitimate but not realistic.
MM: Modeling guys get good data on the physical aspects, but not data on psychological aspects. A favorite tactic: "suppression fire and sneak around" works because it distracts the enemy.
KG: (on adjudication of information) personalities matter. Not all leaders are equally about to pass on important information.
MM: Try a search on "Correlation of Forces and Means".
MC: Air Force Command structure is nearly Theater to Pilot. This is necessary because functional groups (bombers, ECCM, refueling tankers) are not based together.
[DE: the discussion turned to data representing units - like maximum road speed - and what that means]
JT: A tank platoon moves at the speed of its most confused Sergeant.
BG: Average speed means more than maximum speed (says the man who rode an abramsM1A1 tank down the road at 60+ mph!).
JT: Mission is more important than the vehicle. Recon units will be faster because that is their mission, not (entirely) because their vehicles are faster.
KG: Not the maxumum speed OR the average, but what you need when you need it.
RC: Maximums are useful for specific instances (what you need when you need it again).
MC: [drew a chart dipicting the relationship between granulatity, completeness, and interpretability in simulations, which I did not capture adequately. The essence was that you cannot have all three at the same time.]
JM: CRTs (combat results tables) based on data resresenting actual outcomes.
??: Logistics controls movement
BG KG: [pointed out some physical limitations to logistics] Navy loads by tonnage and like items, so all humvees from different units will be transported together, rather than by organizational group.
??: "Generals study logistics"
??: different levels and aspects of simulation
??: Outcome of simulation may be affected by the agenda of those creating it.
DE: [summarizing] There was additional discussion of whether there could be a game simply about logistics [there are many examples] or if there needs to be direct conflict [something to go BOOM at the end].
JM?: [a good story on why a simulation cannot contain all possible outcomes] "Under what circumstances can a Calvary unit capture a ship at sea?" [and it actually happened!]
??: Does "resting" units get rewarded in games?
MC: [modestly described what has been called the "Caffrey Loop"] What can we learn from history that can make better games?
The official discussion concluded, but 7-8 of us adjorned to the bar across the street. The evening concluded with several very pleasant rounds of beer, and (among many other things) a discussion of the merits of weaponized Silly-Putty (I get the strangest ideas sometimes).

I would like to thank the entire group, and especially Brant for moderating a great session.

[7/6/09 -- Thanks to the active responses of many of the panel members, I have been able to update and correct this post.]
[7/8/09 -- I now recall there was discussion of how people with particular agendas might influence the simulation results, and how this might be overcome. I commented that we were now talking about modeling the simulation process itself. At this point, Brant threatened "that if I got any more analytical, I would be require to buy the first round of beer". For the record, I bought the first round. :-) ]
[This post has been back-dated to approximately the actual time it occurred.]
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ORIGINS 2009: Day 3 - Painting Red

You know you are really getting into the Con when you absolutely do not have the energy to do one more thing that day. Friday was such a day. [Note: this post has been back-dated to approximately the actual time of this session.]

ORIGINS 2009 art college Bethany GecinaPainting Red: This was an ORIGINS Art College session with artist Bethany Gecina (some of Bethany's work can be seen at that link). The previous session had been full, but I was the only one that showed up for the second session. Bethany was very patient with her only student, and patiently answered every question I could think to ask her.

ORIGINS 2009 art college painting redThis poor mini! It suffered terribly at my hands, first undergoing several layers of red as Bethany showed me a series of techniques for reds, then getting spattered with greens and yellows as my questions lead us astray into other parts of the color wheel. The last thing I wanted to try was a "flame" effect, and the only part of the mini left to work on was her hair. Needless to say a flame effect on hair, even when well executed, probably looks kind of odd, and my effort is unrecognizable as either flame or hair. It served the purpose of letting me try the technique though, so it was educational even if it does look awful.

Darksword Miniatures Green Witch Dennis MizeThe miniature for the class was provided by Dark Sword Miniatures, and is a beautiful sculpt by Dennis Mize. More pictures like this one to the right can be found at the Dark Sword Miniatures Gallery. You can see it looks much better when a ham-hand like me doesn't get a hold of it too. Their whole miniatures line is very impressive, and is well worth a view.
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25 June 2009

ORIGINS 2009: Photo Album

You can find all my photos of ORIGINS 2009 in my Picasa Web album.

ORIGINS 2009 BattletechMy connection is very slow this morning, but I will try to get more pictures up later.

I had a really great day, did interesting things and met fascinating people. Now all I need is time to write about it!

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ORIGINS 2009: Day 2 - Gaming Tables

ORIGINS 2009 Miniatures Tables

ORIGINS 2009 Miniatures Tables

ORIGINS 2009 Miniatures Tables

ORIGINS 2009 Miniatures Tables
I have a fondness for miniature terrain tables. Even though I don't play on them all that often, I just like seeing them set up and ready for play.

ORIGINS 2009 Miniatures Tables
These last two are for a Battletech event (Operation Whitetail, Day 1), but he wasn't sure that he would have enough players for a game.

ORIGINS 2009 Miniatures Tables

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ORIGINS 2009: Day 2 - Duke Seifried

ORIGINS 2009 Duke Seifried
I think I'll let the Pictures say it.

ORIGINS 2009 Duke Seifried

ORIGINS 2009 Duke Seifried

ORIGINS 2009 Duke Seifried

ORIGINS 2009 Duke Seifried

ORIGINS 2009 Duke Seifried

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24 June 2009

ORIGINS 2009: Day 1

Not too much to report. I spent much of the day driving and getting settled into my room. I can't believe how much stuff I brought, but that's what I get for packing at the last minute (bring it all, figure out what I need later). I spent much of my evening with a local relative, but got back in time to sort out a badge/ribbon issue, and get in a game on the Battletech Pods before retiring for the evening. The Pods are ... fun ... REALLY fun ... I might have to mortgage the house (it's a good thing I didn't bring the deed!).
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21 June 2009

Giant Battling Robots Invade Colombus, OH

I leave today for an extended trip to Columbus and the ORIGINS Game Fair. I should have daily internet access, so I hope to post regular reports. SPAM have been light recently, so I will leave the comments open (except for the usual moderation on older posts).
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17 June 2009

Optimal Racing

A while back I wrote about the Graph Paper Race game, and it continues to be one of my most popular posts. Now computational geometer/topologist Jeff Erickson has written a blog post "How hard is optimal racing?", which give a good description of the problem with a solid mathematical perspective (and far better than my own).

And he linked to me too - Thanks Jeff!

I think the lesson from this is that problems that arise in games are non-trivial and can entertain the brightest minds. That's why we like to play.
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11 June 2009

Battle Math for Battletech

This post may be totally incomprehensible, but I'm trying to express some mathematical ideas that have been occupying my mind recently. Eventually I need to be able to express these ideas to others without being too "mathy", and this is my first attempt at explaining something that is pretty darn complicated. Hold on tight ...

A while back I wrote about a statistical probability distribution that can be applied to Battletech. Given a random "stress" (damage) and a critical breaking strength (armor and internal structure), you can calculate the probability that a part (location) will break (be destroyed) in a given amount of time (number of damage groups). The hard part is that a Battlemech has many different parts, and calculating the joint distribution for the survival of all these parts is very difficult ... but it's not impossible ... and I am making some progress. I'll explain some of it, enough to give the general idea but not the complete details because I'm really sleepy.

1) Starting assumptions: The amount of damage needed to destroy each armor and internal structure location, and the amount and variability of the damage groupings (mean and standard deviation), and the probability of hitting each location. This last bit means assigning probabilities to Front/Rear/Side hit-location columns, and also Full-body/Punch/Kick tables.

2) Start counting grouping of damage (which I may call "shocks"), which are assumed to strike the mech. This represents the time "t" or the number of hits applied to the mech so far.

3) Starting with the left arm (LA), calculate the proportion of hits striking the LA (front and rear separately) at each time (this can be a fraction).

4) Total this number of hits and use it to calulate A) the probability the LA armor is destroyed at time t, and B) the probability the LA armor and internal structure is destroyed at time t. There is a key idea here: instead of calculating the damage transferred to the LA internal structure after the armor is destroyed, I am calculating based on the total damage to the LA destroying both armor and internal structure. I will need to add armor and internal-structure locations one at a time for increasingly larger (and overlapping) parts of the entire mech.

5) Use the difference between the two probabilities to determine the number of hits striking after the LA armor is destroyed but before the LA internal structure is destroyed. To be more complete: determine the the probability that X number of hits striking at time t after the LA armor is destroyed but before the LA internal structure is destroyed. This number of hits is then used to calculate probabilities of critical hits (which I will not detail here).

6) Calculate the amount of damage that strikes the LA from the rear before the entire LA (armor and IS) is destroyed. This damage-from-rear reduces armor that also take damage from the front, and so it contributes to the total damage transferred from LA to Left Torso (LT) on the front (something that took me a long time to figure out). Likewise, the amount that strikes the front before the arm is destroyed contributes to damage transfer in the rear.

7) Repeat steps 3-6 for the Left Leg (LL).

8) Calculate total damage at time t for the different ways the Left Torso front armor might be destroyed: i) damage that directly strikes the LT, ii) damage on LT and LA (including the amount transferred from the rear in 6), iii) damage on the LT and LL (also transfer damage), iv) damage to the LT+LA+LL+rear transfer.

9) Using the damage amounts determined in 8, calculate the probability of destruction at time t for for following total damage quantities: i) LT front armor (LTfa), ii) LTfa+ total LA (armor and IS), iv) LTfa+ total LA and LL (armor and IS).

10) repeat 9 for the LT rear amor.

OK, I'm getting really sleepy and I haven't gotten to the LT internal structure: it follows the same pattern except the are 8 separate probability calculations needed. The center torso armor locations and internal structure will need 18 sets of calculations each (ouch), and then I glue the head on top of all that. I'm going to need some sort of computer program to cross-check the results, otherwise I won't be able to tell the difference between a math error (mine) and a spreadsheet typo.

So ... that must have been an awful read (but Sam will read it!). Long story short, it is d*mned hard to calculate, but I know how to do it now. It's just a matter of banging on the keyboard until I get it right.

UPDATE: For what it's worth, the exercise of writing that out got me thinking about organized ways to list all the calculations needed, and I realized I had left out a bunch. There should be about 150 combinations of locations to work out, and I'm going to need to do some programming to make that convenient.
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07 June 2009

More Giant Robots, More Joy (Avatar)

From IO9

According to a tipster, this is a closer look at the AMP Powersuit from James Cameron's motion capture film Avatar. This concept art, supposedly by James Clyne, is set to be included in a brochure promoting an Avatar tie-in game for Ubisoft. And it'll appear in Titan's upcoming book on The Art Of Avatar. That's assuming it's real concept art, of course. It hasn't been confirmed by Fox, so take it with a grain of salt.

Actual concept art or not, it's still pretty cool.
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01 June 2009

Monster's Den

Miniatures to paint, convention event rules to edit, convention events to reserve, Game design ideas, progress in the mathematics of Battletech ... just when I have so many other things to do, I get hooked on a dungeon crawl game.

Monsters Den
But it's a GOOD dungeon crawl game.

Monsters Den

Character selection is pretty basic. There are about 8 classes to choose from. Characters gain skills and abilities as they advance. Unsurprisingly (but somewhat ironically), characters advance by descending further into the dungeon.

Monsters Den

Navigation around the dungeon is simple point-and-click - this level is fully explored.

Monsters Den

In an unexplored level, rooms are revealed as you move adjacent to them.

Monsters Den

Just like the old D&D games, your party is quickly loaded down with piles of treasure and loot.

Monsters Den

Uh oh, monsters to battle.

Monsters Den


Monsters Den

Ouch! (Actually, those guys are getting the worst of it.)

Monsters Den

More loot!

This is a simple game that successfully captures the feeling of a D&D dungeon crawl. Good fun, and I'll be playing it again, but maybe AFTER I take care of a few other things that need doing.
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