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BGDL 30 - Richard Launius: Designing a Good AI System

Richard Launius, designer of Arkham Horror, shares great, veteran advice on how to design an AI system for both co-op and non co-op games.

Check out the episode here:


Ideas jumping out!

This may sound weird, but I had a hard time finishing this podcast because right in the middle, I had a great idea pop into my head for my game, and I got so excited about the implications of that idea that I couldn't concentrate on the rest of the podcast for a while!

Here's a question about AI and games that can "beat the players". In general, whether it's co-op, or especially in a competitive game, do players feel cheated or annoyed if they play a game for a couple hours only to have the game win?

It depends

I've felt it both ways. In a game of Pandemic (any version) I generally don't feel cheated if I lose. Same with other games like Big Book of Madness, the new Harry Potter card drafting co-op.

TIME stories? The first module we just cheated at the end because there was no way we were playing through again. I still enjoyed the game a lot, mind you. But we did feel cheated therefore... we cheated. There also is a significantly longer time investment with time stories so maybe it isn't quite fair to compare it with the others.

I'd like to know...

In a co-op game where there is an AI element, what should be the more "ideal" trigger for "losing the game" to the AI???

  • A> When one player gets eliminated from the game
  • B> When all players get eliminated from the game
  • C> Other consideration that I have not thought of?

My concern is that if A> occurs, it's much too EASY for the AI to win... And B> much too long if there are say six (6) players and half have already been eliminated...

Are there other outcomes available??? (Option C>)

Right now I'm IGNORING the "end game" and just focusing on making the game FUN and playable... But at some point, I have to remember that a player could be eliminated (or lose during an Encounter). And then what happens next???

One thing that I wanted to ADD, is Encounters are fought with a PRE-DEFINED amount of Wizards. So if it say "E2" on the "Lore" Card, this means that the encounter is to be fought with 2 Players. And then from the pool of players, cooperatively players decide which 2 Wizards are best suited for the encounter.

Right now the AI in the game is sort of "retaliatory". Your Wizards can "over-power" a Minion and reduce the risk of losing to 0% (or some small percentage). But this requires players to properly level-up their Wizard (Character) such that a battle be less difficult (or even easy).

And then the battles are usually a couple of dice rounds and that's it. Each of the battling Wizards earns BONUS "XP" and can store it -- or use it to upgrade their character.

Some of Richard Launius's

Some of Richard Launius's games have a good chance of losing after a significant time investment, like Arkham Horror, right? I haven't played it, but I have played Elder Sign a lot, and even as a shorter game, it feels a little frustrating to lose. There is a final battle mechanic, but it's pretty tough, and usually I'd rather skip that and just start over (the app version does just that!)

That game doesn't really use player elimination - it's a Doom Track that triggers the end game. Players can be eliminated, but come back with any unused character and join back in.

What is it about Pandemic that makes losing less frustrating, where you don't mind so much? Or any of the other games mentioned above?

In Arkham Horror, is it the fact that the story/adventure is worth it, even if the game beats you? Some people don't like that game anyway, but what factors make you still feel like you enjoy a game even if it beats you?


Hi Gabe, thanks for another great episode. This one was of particular interest to me as my main project at the moment includes an AI, though it is an NPC threat in a competitive game rather than a co-op. Lots to think about, and I may need to go back and have another listen...

Glad to help. Thanks for

Glad to help. Thanks for listening!

Great episode!


I'll write-up a piece on your site as well, but I wanted to let you know that I thoroughly enjoyed this second visit by Richard. As you know, Arkham Horror was my gateway game, so I've been enamored by that great title as well as Elder Sign. I don't care if I win or's about the journey, not the destination.

One of the more notable comments from Richard which I've tried to incorporate into my game design or impart to the designer if I'm the developer is make a great experience for the player. I'm a thematic player, thus I'm a huge thematic designer, as evidenced by my first published game. I want players to be fully-immersed in the game from the moment they sit down.

Again, great episode!


What's the point of playing if you know you're going to win?

Fascinated to see comments about people not wanting to lose to the game after a significant time. What's the point of playing if you know you're going to win? I'd say co-op games should win the majority of the time, at least at first. If they're too easy, why play again?

The journey and where you go...

lewpuls wrote:
...What's the point of playing if you know you're going to win?

Someone might say that the JOURNEY is more FUN than arriving at your destination. It's like that drive to the summer chalet: it's takes long and you know you'll have limited electricity and probably no air conditioning BUT OH MY GOD:

  • Fishing in the lake
  • Cooking on the wooden stove
  • Campfire for melting marshmallows
  • The beautiful stars seen at night
  • The nice, cleaner northern air
  • etc.

There are benefits to take the journey - because you'll get a HIGH after the game saying: "Yeah - we beat the game THIS TIME!"

And I think it needs to be properly balanced and sometimes some "unfair" twist just steals the victory from the players -- IDK because they underestimated a minion or should have used their XP differently, etc.

That's just my $0.05 CAD (so $0.04 USD) We don't have pennies anymore! LOL

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