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by Chris Walden 08002952
MEng Computer Games Design
This essay will look at game theory, specifically the application of zero-sum game theory. This will also incorporate ideals from decision theory, as well as discussing their effect on games that are played simultaneously. These findings will then be used in analysis of the Playstation game Vandal Hearts 2 (Konami Computer Entertainment Nagoya, 1999). This particular game incorporates a simultaneous movement system, meaning that unlike typical strategy games of the time, both players would have to think ahead and account for a move that had yet been completed. This creates a unique risk/reward system that can be broken down and analysed.
While the mathematician Emile Borel could be accredited to the beginning of game theory back in 1921, it wasn't until 1944 when John von Neumann collaborated with Oskar Morgenstern that it was truly recognised as a field of study. They did this by writing 'Theory of Games and Economical Behavior' and thus created the foundations of game theory as we know it. It exists to help deduce and interpret actions by a person, then discover the reasoning behind this and eventually the 'best' option to pick. As Turocy states, "Game theory is the formal study of conﬂict and cooperation" (2001, page 4). Zero-sum theory describes a game of resources between two parties that, regardless of the ultimate conclusion of said game, cannot garner more or less resources than what was started with. An example of this can be seen in the game of chess:
Figure 1 - Zero-sum payoff matrix of chess
Pieces can be removed and gained due to the games mechanics, but the result will always be a win, lose or draw. One players win (as shown above as 1) will always be met by equal loss to the losing player (as shown above as -1), meaning it is a zero-sum game. This is because the values that represent opposite situations will always make zero when added together. Of course, game theory isn't limited to games in the literal sense, as it can be seen in situations such as the prisoners dilemma (Rapoport and Chammah, 1970). In that particular scenario, two prisoners are told that are to serve a month of jail time. However, if one was to confess to his crime, he would walk free while the other prisoner served over double the time. If they both confess, they both serve even longer sentences, but to prevent them from
collaborating they are blindfolded and cannot hear, and they must raise their hand should they wish to confess. This situation looks like this:
Figure 2 - Non-zero-sum payoff matrix for the prisoners dilemma
As the diagram shows, due to the nature of the prisoners situation and their offer, the most appealing and perhaps 'winning' option is to confess and let the other prisoner take the fall. As Rapoport and Chammah mention, "the rational choice by both players leads to an outcome which is worse for both" (1970, p.13). However, because of the rules of the game, there is a chance that they will opt to stay silent and wait out the sentence (for fear of making it worse), or even have both confess and serve even longer sentences. Due to the fact that any combination of outcomes will not add to zero and thus creating a balance, this is a non-zero-sum game. Another point worth noting is the difference between sequential and simultaneous games. Sequential games have moves being made in turn, with chess being a good example. Games that take place simultaneously, such as the aforementioned prisoner's dilemma, mean that both players move at the same time (LaValle, 2006). Due to the nature of these games, it can be hard to predict what move the other party will do, but regardless, there will always be an optimum move or action available. It may not necessarily be the 'winning' move, but it will be the move of highest long-term benefit that potentially leads to a win. This is directly related to decision theory, which looks for the optimal decisions and the reasons behind given scenarios. Returning to the prisoner's dilemma, the optimum move would of course be to confess, as the only chance a prisoner has in escaping a jail sentence is to do this. It can be scrutinised with a critical eye as being risky, as the other prisoner should follow suit, but the higher pay-off can only be reached via betraying the other prisoner. When looking at chess with decision theory, it is correct in stating that a game "played rationally by both players is determined in advance" (Rapoport and Chammah, 1970, p.14). However, as humans cannot accurately determine the optimal decision without computer aid and ample time, even the top chess players will be making irrational decisions by definition.
Materials and Methods
Vandal Hearts 2 has been selected for analysis, due to it containing both elements of zerosum and non-zero-sum game theory. It also has an uncommon execution, adopting a turnbased style of gameplay that pits you against a computer controlled opponent, while you make actions simultaneously (White, 2000). While the thought process that goes into using a turn in Vandal Hearts 2 is certainly more complex than a game of rock-paper-scissors, they both are both similar in that players will have no idea what their opponent will do until they have completed their own move. Being a simultaneous game, it must be analysed appropriately. If a character is not in range to execute an attack, then the optimal move would be to bring yourself closer to the enemy. The enemy will also choose the same action, and this cycle of movement will not change unless there is an opportune moment to attack. By defeating all of the opponent's units, the player will win the encounter. This is a zerosum game-type, as there are no actions that can alter the ultimate outcome past the lose and win conditions. This is represented in the diagram below:
Figure 3 - Zero-sum payoff matrix for a battle in Vandal Hearts 2
As the only beneficial condition is to win, each optimal move will be one that increases the chances of success. However, while the win conditions will always remain as a zero-sum situation, the battles within the conflict are determined as both zero-sum and non-zero-sum. It is possible to discern potential outcomes using eductive rationality, and treat each combat encounter as a separate event. It allows the player to deduce the actions of the AI player "simply from principals of rationality" (Osborne, 1994, p.5), as can be shown in the following diagram.
Figures 4, 5 and 6 - Decisions taken for the optimal move in a 1v1 confrontation
As an example, two units, one from both sides, are within each other's attack range (these are represented as the green and red squares in figure 4 above). Because they are the only units in play, there is a 100% chance that they will be the units moved this turn. The optimal move in combat is to strike the opponent from behind, as it offers bonus damage and therefore has the potential to shorten battles and give the attacking player an advantage. However, this is also the optimal move for the opponent. Following these optimal moves, both units will move to the space behind where the opposing unit stood previously, then attempt to strike the back of the unit that once stood there. This is shown in figure 5, with the green and red squares having moved, with the lighter variants of this square showing where the units were the turn before. An experienced player would move their unit two spaces backwards and strike the enemy unit as it attempts to strike him from behind (as shown in figure 6). This is the optimal move in a one-on-one battle, but in a real scenario, there are far more influential parameters to consider. This can include other enemies, the computer retreating to recover instead of attacking, as well as there being two units in the attack range of an opposing unit.
Figure 7 - Non-zero-sum payoff matrix for a 1v1 confrontation in Vandal Hearts 2
Decision theory can also be applied to combat, more so when units begin to get grouped together. There are many different scenarios that can play out in such a circumstance that each possibility must be weighed before deciding which is the optimal move. While the player can attack behind someone, however confident they are in being able to do so, they can then be left exposed. Do they send a unit to cover this one, attack a different unit, or rethink the entire strategy? Such complex strategies on discerning an optimum move can be
likened to chess, with optimal moves only being accurate when thinking about moves made several turns ahead of the current move (Horowitz, 1971). The benefit to having an overarching zero-sum game is that it keeps things simple. The only objective on the players mind is to win by any means necessary. It also allows for riskier gameplay, allowing players to use units as bait to draw in enemies or even to run in blindly, which would be penalised in other, similar games. One such game is Fire Emblem (Intelligent Systems, 2003), which sees units permanently removed from the game should they succumb to the enemy in a battle. This creates a non-zero-sum situation, as it means that your win may have devastated your available units. It'll later give a disadvantage in the next fight, where the player doesn't have an equal fighting force. However, it can also be argued that such a strategic mechanic would both compliment this game and create more in-depth situations. It would become a non-zero-sum game, but potentially a more satisfying or infuriating one depending on the player. By keeping the zero-sum win condition, it can stop players trying their best in a battle. If there is a winning strategy that allows a player to complete missions effortlessly but with the temporary loss of units, then there is nothing to make this a worse idea in the long run. A win is a win, and there is no bonus or penalty for keeping units alive. Under such circumstance that Vandal Hearts 2 adopted such a non-zero-sum approach, it would also garner further situations for applying decision theory.
In conclusion, it can be seen that Vandal Hearts 2 adopts an interesting approach in the way it utilised both zero-sum and non-zero-sum game theory. It is debatable as to whether this methodology makes for a good partnership of techniques, as it seems to be tailoring to two different audience types. The zero-sum areas help keep things simple and manageable, while the non-zero-sum parts try to make things more complex. However, while it does look like it's a case of compensating for the other, it makes for a new spin on gameplay and was well received because of it.
Breaking down the battle system for analysis with decision theory would be the next step forward to take. By looking at the 'correct' moves presented in the non-zero-sum combat, it can be seen whether or not changing the zero-sum win criteria is both feasible and fun. It would also be important to analyse the combat with the Nash equilibrium in mind. Due to the limited capabilities of the AI controlled opponent, the player has a significantly higher chance in guessing the AIs move. Should this be two player characters in the same set up, it is possible that players would be second guessing the locations of units in order to gain that all important strike to a units back. Looking back at figure 6, it is possible that this scenario could make the players continually re-evaluate their positioning and cause units to move erratically, subsequently creating a situation similar to that dictated in the 'threefold repetition' rule seen in games like chess.
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Intelligent Systems. (2003). Fire Emblem. [CART] Game Boy Advance. Kyoto: Nintendo. Konami Computer Entertainment Nagoya. (1999). Vandal Hearts 2. [DISC] Playstation. Tokyo: Konami. c) Websites
LaValle, S. (2006). Sequential Game Theory [Online]. Available from: http://planning.cs.uiuc.edu/node518.html [Accessed: 8 December 2011] Turocy, T. (2001). Game Theory [Online]. Available from: http://www.cdam.lse.ac.uk/Reports/Files/cdam-2001-09.pdf [Accessed: 3 December 2011] White, M. (2000). Vandal Hearts II [Online]. Available from: http://uk.psx.ign.com/articles/161/161625p1.html [Accessed: 8 December 2011]
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