Saturday, November 28, 2009

Creating a state tree

I'm back at min-max for a short question: How do you search the possible sequences of moves in a game?

well, there are two ways: one is, you copy the game state to try different plays. this guarantees you that you don't accidetially manipulate the game, even though you only wanted to test some moves for the computer. it has two downsides: one, you have to take some preparations so that your game state is copyable. magic is a complicated game, and it's easy to forget things. two, it takes up space. while this sounds not too much a problem nowadays, java by default starts with 32MB of memory. I did a test, and that didn't even fit the full game tree of the way easier game of quarto, which I presented earlier.

the second way is to enable undo. you work with the original game, make moves and undo them after running the evaluation function. memory is not the problem here, but the first one stays. an undo function is very complicated to implement, because magic has so many facettes.

I think that the second aproach is the better one. While it may take more work, you will want an undo function at some point, and in addition it implicitly allows some cool stuff: given the initial game state (the order of libraries), you can duplicate a game by applying the same actions to that state. this allows for storing a game state as a file, replaying awesome matches, and easily implement gaming over the network by simply transmitting an action.

Monday, November 23, 2009

html-Comprehensive Rules

To be precise, the title is a little mis-leading, but it is effectively that.
One part of my program is a parser for the comprehensive rules. It converts the text-version that you can download from Wizards into an xml-File, which is formatted as html with xslt. You can view it like any other html page in your browser.
My file has a very convenient features opposed to those directly from wizards: Links. Everywhere there's a cross reference between rules, you have a hyperlink that lets you directly jump to it. My next version should also have images for the mana- and tap symbols.

You can download the result directly here: xml and xsl, both are needed for proper display.

If you want to run the program yourself, you have to take some preparations (you may just ignore this if you're not into programming):

laterna and treeProperties (both on the SVN) are two distinct projects, you will need both. Additionally, I use jdom for creating the xml. You have to configure laterna's build path to contain the both.

I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Code online!

I don't have anything runnable, but I understand that talking about something you can't touch doesn't draw much interest. Well, "touching" over the internet is a vague concept, and code isn't physical, but putting my code online is as close as it can get. you can find it at, and download it via SVN. The code is located in svn/trunk/laterna.

Well, as i said, it's not a runnable game or something, but you can still see something:
magica.card.utils.LaternaMagica shows a JTextPane that is filled with a String including mana symbols.
magica.card.impl.MagicObjectImpl features the layer system. It applies some effects to a simplified Llanowar Elves (just a 1/1 Elf for G):

//nothing runs without a game!
Game g = new GameImpl();

//The matcher defines a set of cards to be affected
Matcher m1 = getCardMatcher(getMatcher(ENCHANTMENT));

/* Then, an effect is registered in the game with that matcher.

 * In sum, this represents a static ability saying,
 *  "All enchantments are green."
 * Well, not exactly. It's more like,
 *  "All enchantment cards in all zones are green."

g.getGlobalEffects().getEffects().put(new ColorChangingEffectImpl(g, ADDING, GREEN), m1);


 * This creates a Llanowar elves card (currently,
 * CardTemplateImpl implements a Green 1/1 Elf)


MagicObject card = new MagicObjectImpl(g, new CardTemplateImpl());

//Here are some effects - should be obvious
//The order matters here - the effects get timestamps

CharacteristicEffect e1 = new PTSwitchingEffectImpl(g);
CharacteristicEffect e2 = new PTChangingEffectImpl(g, 0, 2);
CharacteristicEffect e3 = new TypeChangingEffectImpl(g, ADDING, ARTIFACT);
CharacteristicEffect e4 = new TypeChangingEffectImpl(g, SETTING, ENCHANTMENT);
CharacteristicEffect e5 = new OverridingCharacteristicEffectImpl(g, L3, MANA_COST,

//All these effects are added to the card.


//now, the result is printed out

CardCharacteristics c = card.getCharacteristics().get(0);
System.out.printf("%s - %s%n", c.getName(), c.getManaCost());
System.out.printf("%s %s - %s%n", c.getSuperTypeCharacteristic(), c.getTypeCharacteristic(),
System.out.printf("%d/%d%n", c.getPower(), c.getToughness());

Running this will give you the following output:
Llanowar Elves - {R/W}
+[White, Red, Green]
+[] +[Enchantment] - +[]
The card's name is Llanowar Elves, and it costs R/W. Red and white come from it's mana cost, and it's green again because it's an enchantment. Because It's not a creature, if doesn't have the "Elf" subtype, and also no P/T

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Traps in the rules system

I think you can divide the rules in several complexity stages:
  • The "dumb" parts, like damage assignment order. These are things that aren't too hard, but you have to do them. When assigning blockers, you have to store a collection of the blockers anyway, letting the user sort it is not much more work. Another thing is mulligan, this is a check at the beginning of the game, and you just do it or not.
  • The challenging parts. I consider the layering system of Magic is such thing. The layering system is quite complex: Effects that modify different characteristics are applied after each other, so you have to store the basic characteristics (as printed on the cards) and the effects that modify it. it's not enough to store the results, because of cases like:
    some 1/1 creature
    attach Bonesplitter (+2/+0) --> 3/1
    switch P/T --> 1/3
    unattach bonesplitter --> -1/3
    well, this is obviously wrong. you have to do a bunch of work (not dumb work, though) to get this right, but it's not undoable
  • The very hard parts. I think text-changing and replacement effects fall under this category. text changing effects require a very good structure for storing card text, that makes it possible to change any interesting part. well it may be simple to change "Goblin" into "Elf", but think about changes like "Choose one" into "Choose two", that don't only affect what the outcome of the effect is, but actually what happens.
    Replacement effects have a similar problem as Triggered ability. Both need an event system that makes it possible to track changes to the game, but replacement effect don't only listen to events, they also negate those events on the fly.
obviously, the second category is the most fun to program. i actually have a working layer system, it took me around 3,500 lines of code in about 40 classes.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Performance of min-max

The min-max algorithm builds a tree of all the possible moves game states and then determines the optimal play. this sounds very expensive, and it is. to emphasize this look at this (I don't optimize anything like symmetric or rotated board positions, and don't terminate before the board is full):

tic-tac-toe, from my previous example, has one type of pieces per player and nine fields. the first move can therefore be one of nine possibilities. The second move has only eight fields free, and so on.
the total number of games is therefore 9*8*...*2*1 = 9! = 362880

Quarto is a "little" more complicated:
  • there are sixteen pieces with four characteristics:
    • small/tall
    • light/dark
    • hollow/massive
    • square/round
  • there are sixteen fields, arranged in a square
  • for his move, a player may take any piece and place it anywhere on the board
  • a player wins if his move creates a line of four pieces that share at least one characteristic. Lines can be in any direction, including diagonally
the first player can choose between 16 pieces and 16 positions, creating 16² possible first moves. The second player can choose one of the fifteen pieces and one of the fifteen fields, creating 15² possible second moves for every first move.
the total number of games is therefore (16!)² = 437763136697395052544000000 ~ 437*10²⁴
i had to use a dedicated mathematical program to calculate this, because regular java 64 bit longs weren't enough!

you see, creating every possible move is almost impossible for a game like quarto, and Magic doesn't even have a finite game tree. (for example, if both players have necropotence or something, both players can indefinitely long pass the turn). so how can you apply min-max to magic?
by introducing a reward function: instead of looking forward until the end of a game and saying -1, 0 or 1, you evaluate a board state and assign it some value between -1 and 1.

This is the real art: The reward function will directly influence your AI's performance. The better it evaluates the board, the more accurate the AI will behave.

The Min-Max Algorithm

I like to say "AI is an interesting topic, as long as you don't have to implement it". I think this is very true, because AI is obviously very interesting, but implementing some "intelligent" algorithm may be anything between annoying, boring, monotonic and challenging, hard.

The Min-Max algorithm builds on this though: Every player takes the move that is the most beneficial to him, and every game state is measurable somehow. The easiest move to measure is one that ends the game: The winning player has a "reward" of 1 (maximum) and the losing player has a reward of -1 (minimum).

You see here the end of a tic tac toe game. Green (and the one yellow) are your (circle's) turns, orange is the opponent.

First, you start building the decision tree from the initial state to the final states. Then, you determine the outcomes of the final states. Most of them are draws in this example, meaning no reward for anybody. Two of them are losses and are assigned rewards of -1.

Now, you go back through the tree to the predecessors of the bottommost states. Since you made the move, you maximize your reward. For example, the maximum reward for the yellow node's predecessor is 0, so that node is assigned 0, too.

The next time, it's your opponent's turn. Stepping up one node again, that node has two predecessors, one with 0 and one with -1. Your opponent minimizes your reward, so the node is assigned the minimum of possible child nodes, -1.

We finally reached the original turn where you have three choices, one leading to a draw and two to a loss. You maximize your own reward and choose the option that leads to a draw, which was the final decision made by the min-max algorithm. At this time you know that the game will be a draw if the opponent has the same thoughts as you. It's tic tac toe after all!

that's the basic thought behind min-max, but i guess you see how this is not applicable to Magic. Check back for the details!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

What can a Magic Program do?

When you do a program, you have to ask yourself what you want from it - at least in Open Source, in commercial projects you tend to as others what they want from it...
my ambitions usually go very high, and it's not very different with Laterna Magica (that's how I named my project). I basically replace the question "What should it do?" with "What can it do?".
I want to list some features that a Magic program can provide:
  • Rules Enforcement
    This is one of the two features that are the most interesting - and most difficult - features.
    Rules enforcement means that you have to teach the computer what a player may do. It's hard enough to teach a human to play Magic, and humans are at least intelligent.
    Implementing a rules system usually means to describe what the parts (cards, players, but also turns and combat) of the game are, what the possible moves and their outcomes are, and what moves are legal for a game state (the rules).
  • Human vs Human
    Such a game is imaginable without rules enforcement. It's like paper magic, you make sure yourself that no one is cheating. examples for multiplayer Magic programs without rules enforcement are Apprentice and MagicWorkStation. This is relatively easy to implement, because you can skip the very huge rules enforcement part and can focus on a usable user interface and the network aspects. an upside to the user is that you can take shortcuts easily, a downside is that you may accidentally make illegal moves.
  • Singleplayer Magic & AI
    Singleplayer games are harder, because it requires the computer not only to enforce the rules, but also to implement an Artificial Intelligence to make decisions itself, which is likely even harder than rules enforcement itself.
  • Multiplayer games
    Games with more than two players are a challenge for several reasons: you're likely to do it over network, so you have to have a server which maintains game state, or connect every player with each other. Additionally, a user interface that shows three players is hard.
  • Good User Interface
    "Last but not least": having a good interface is very important, because no matter how correct your rules implementation or AI is, in the end it's about playing a game, and that has to be fun after all. Maybe you're interested in This youtube video about the new MTGO interface. Wizards seems to have taken other Magic programs into account when designing this; some of the features seem similar to Incantus.
    I list it last here because it's far away from the other topics: my other four points are "low level" (although ideally the AI is also independent from the rest), and in a perfect world you could build a user interface on top of a program that was developed with no thought about it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Welcome in the complicated word of Magic: the Gathering!

Magic is a very deep and interesting game. It has several thousand different cards that make every game a unique experience, and hundreds of pages of rules that describe in detail how to manage all those different cards.

while this sounds intimidating for some people, i like the idea of such a well-defined system, and that's why Magic attracts so many programmers, like me.

I hope you enjoy my posts, and please leave comments if you feel like it.