The AI Challenge is Ants this time around. The goal is make your your ants collect food, explore, raze opponent ant hills, and protect their own hill. New ants are earned by harvesting food, and there is a combat system. Here is a video of a game. For a better view, go to the main site to watch some games!
From past contests, I knew I could easily spend too much time competing. I also knew that I didn't want to spend most of my free time tweaking weights and settings. So, I decided to work on this for a short while, try to get a respectable bot, then quit. I succeeded at quitting, though maybe not soon enough.
Unlike the previous contests (Tron and Planet Wars), in this version the bots have imperfect information. Like the previous contests, the game is text based, making it very easy for contestants to use their language of choice, subject only to getting the language running on the contest server. This was one of the reasons I entered the Tron contest, besides how awesome it looked. Often these kind of games require players to compile or link their bot into the game engine.
My goal was to create a bot that made only local decisions for each ant because there were too many possibilities to consider every possible set of moves. With any luck, good behavior could emerge from such a bot. I also hoped to only use very simple features for these local decisions, but the features in the bot are lacking in several respects.
So, again, I wanted to treat each ant independently. That makes searching their moves easy, but also makes the bot dumb. The first bot I submitted searched for food, enemy hills, and unknown territory, It avoided enemies, but had no combat code. The bot was pretty dumb.
The second version had some simple combat code. I tried making each ant move as aggressively as possible, and then backed off any move that didn't seem safe enough. This bot also had some code to push ants away from their own hill. The second version was much stronger than the first, but it timed out on some big maps.
The timeouts occurred because the bot does a few breadth-first searches to find out the distances from the various targets. One BFS starts at each known food, one at each known enemy hill, and another at all of the grid cells that haven't been seen for a while. The way I wrote the BFS in Python was almost fast enough, but could take too long on larger maps.
The scoring function for ants that are not in combat is just a weighted combination of the inverse distance squared from each of the interesting targets. This makes the ants go towards food, but if they have a choice between close food and close enemy hill, they charge the hill. They also are attracted to enemy ants, which helps the bot get the numbers needed for attacking.
The third version was a rewrite of the second, but in C++. This made the BFS searches about 50 times faster. I tried making the combat code more aggressive, but it went too far, often walking right into an attack.
The third version is my official version. Some weaknesses it has are
no defense of the home base
no overall global decision making. (it will send every ant to battle at one hill, and leave another that is only)
the combat is pretty bad
there is no coordination at all between ants
I spend some time on the code after my official entry, but made no progress that was worth submitting. I wrote code to discover the symmetry of the map to predict where other hills would be, though it wasn't very helpful. The math was fun, though. I tried using logistic regression to tune the weights of my evaluation function. That failed, and I think it was because I was trying to predict the wrong thing, and my features did not account for any global information.
Some of the other competitors are far beyond the rest of us, and I look forward to learning how they did it. Overall though, I am happy with the time I spent, and what I have learned. With the Stanford Online classes, work, and other activities, spending more time on the AI contest was just going to happen for me.
Congratulations to the winners!