OpenAI & DOTA 2: Game Is Hard

This is part of a series about OpenAI’s attempt to build an AI that can play a full game of DOTA 2 against humans. Earlier in the year I wrote about OpenAI’s initial announcement. Last week, they played their first public match against expert humans.

I started playing DOTA 2 in January 2013 – a really exciting time to start, as it turned out. In the professional scene, a team called Alliance was making headlines, playing in a way that seemed completely unstoppable. In the months leading up to their appearance at DOTA 2’s biggest event, The International, Alliance appeared in seven tournaments and placed first in all of them. Alliance only had one style of play, and were often criticised for this, but the simple fact of the matter was that no-one had an answer for it. It didn’t matter if they were only showing one strategy – it was unbeatable.

This week, watching OpenAI’s bots play against humans, I had that 2013 feeling again.

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Future Funding

Here’s the big news: I’ve been awarded a Research Fellowship from the Royal Academy of Engineering, and starting in November 2018 I’ll be joining Queen Mary University in London to start five years of research into automated game design, as part of their Game AI Research Group! If you’d like to hear some specific things I hope to get up to, read on – otherwise, I’m looking forward to joining Queen Mary and starting a new phase of my research!

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Good Luck, Have Fun

I’m in Salamanca, Spain this week to attend the International Conference on Computational Creativity, and even though I haven’t slept in 30 hours, Open AI dropped a big piece of news today about their DOTA 2 research and I wanted to provide a few thoughts in case you’re interested in the project and want a different angle on it. These aren’t particularly polished thoughts, apologies in advance, but you’ll have no end of thinkpieces and articles about it before the month is out, don’t worry.

What’s Happened

OpenAI, an AI foundation funded by Elon Musk, has built a multi-agent AI system to play a very simple version of DOTA 2, a popular competitive online game. Last year you might remember they did something similar, on an even more simplified subset of DOTA 2 called 1v1 Mid. This new version takes several steps towards playing a full game of DOTA 2, and even though it’s still a long way off, it’s made some important steps forward.

Next month Open AI will stream a live game of the bots playing a team of “top” human players, and in August they’ll appear live on stage at the International and play an all-star lineup of human players, with most of these restrictions still in place. Continue reading


Hey everyone! It’s been quiet here for a couple of months, but I’ve been working hard on some really exciting things, and I can now announce what the first of those is: ANGELINA will be designing games live at EGX Rezzed this month! Rezzed is one of the biggest games events in the world, and ANGELINA will be there for all three days of the event, designing games all day long. This is a quick post about what ANGELINA actually is, what you can expect to see if you come along, and how you can take part even if you’re unable to attend!

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Scientific Victory

Last week a few games sites covered the fact that the Cambridge Center for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER), a lab which investigates safety issues associated with things like artificial intelligence, had released a Civilisation V mod about the risk of superintelligent AI. Here’s what Rock, Paper, Shotgun quoted designer and CSER researcher Shahar Avin as saying about the project:

“We want to let players experience the complex tensions and difficult decisions that the path to superintelligent AI would generate,” said the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk’s Dr. Shahar Avin, who managed the project. “Games are an excellent way to deliver a complex message to a wide audience.”

This is a blog post about why games are not always an excellent way to deliver a complex message to a wide audience.

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Waking Up From Electric Dreams

Two years ago I visited Dagstuhl, a research center in Germany, for a week of game AI research. I was writing Electric Dreams at the time for Rock, Paper, Shotgun; a series about games, AI and research. In the piece about Dagstuhl, I wrote about the fear I observed that academic pressures and economic shifts would stifle great, exciting games research:

Like every other part of the games industry, games researchers have a contribution to make to the future of games. If we don’t make spaces where we can do this work, Michael Mateas’ “country of possibilities” may remain undiscovered forever.

Last week I returned to Dagstuhl, and once again found myself discussing the health of game AI research. But this time, the problem wasn’t funding agencies or university administrators: the problem was us. This is a fairly introspective, Inside Baseball-esque post, but I’ve come away from Dagstuhl with a powerful urge to write it, so I hope you’ll forgive me. If you work in games research, particularly AI, and particularly if you were at Dagstuhl, I implore you to read it.

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Going Live

I was lucky enough to be a guest on the Checkpoints podcast this month! I talked about my origin story growing up watching Bad Influence! on the TV and playing Zool on the Amiga. I also got to have a terrific conversation about AI with Declan, and while chatting I let slip a new thing I have in the works – ANGELINA is being designed to stream game development live on Twitch, and I’m hoping to do some its first streams really soon. This is a short blog post about how that’s happening, and why I’m doing it. You can also follow ANGELINA on Twitch here!

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Supervised Learning – House Of Lords & AI

Yesterday the House Of Lords – one of the two houses in the British parliament – gathered a Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence to meet with a number of academics and journalists and ask them for “the big picture” about the field. It was broadcast live on the web, and there’s even an archive here. I tweeted at length (mostly with tongue in cheek) about the event, but I also wanted to quickly summarise some thoughts – nothing formal, just some notes. I also want to point out that this is largely from memory, so apologies if I miss a detail or misattribute – let me know if you spot anything, I’ll correct it ASAP.

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Good Game, Go Next

Last week was The International 2017, the biggest date in the DOTA 2 calendar where the world’s top teams compete in the complex and challenging MOBA for a prize pool totalling over $24m. In between the big matches Valve found time to make exciting new announcements about additions to the game, and some exhibition matches where professional players play for fun. They also gave a private research lab some free publicity, for some reason. Here’s a few words on OpenAI’s big announcement this week, and how we are losing control of the narrative on AI.

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