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A $31 Trillion, 390 Billion Statement Programming War Between 545 Wizards

What happens when you challenge hundreds of elite programmers to put on their robes and wizard hats, enchant their minions to solve a constantly shifting multi-agent traveling salesman problem, use the loot to build mighty armies, and vie for eternal glory and tournament prizes?

You get a lot of clever coding, dirty tricks, attempted exploits, brilliant strategies, and an epic programming war that left millions of human and ogre widowers weeping for their fallen wives. And you get two unspeakably powerful Archmage champions.

Here are the results from our Greed multiplayer programming tournament. By the way, many of our talented players are open to job opportunities, so if you're hiring (or know someone who is), check out our employers page.

Dominant Strategies

On Gorilla Tactics

I recently purchased an indie(?) darling(?) on Steam called Magicka. Recently released by Arrowhead Game Studios, Magicka is satirical action-adventure game about mages, saving the world, and vampires, or not.

There are a few great reviews out there which cover the game in detail, so I'll kind of skim over that and instead get to the meat (or veggie burger for you vegetarians) of what I'd like to talk about today: Dominant Strategies. Magicka is a great example of a game that fails to prevent dominant strategies from occurring, and why this matters.

A Dominant Strategy is a strategy or method of acting within a game/life which is vastly superior to the majority of other options in most contexts.

As humans, we are wired to use optimal strategies. That is, if we know a better way of doing something, we prefer to use that method. After all, why take longer or use more effort when you can do it faster or with less effort? So! If a game has one or two Dominant Strategies, it doesn't matter how many other choices are available, the human mind ends up categorizing them as "Optimal vs Sub-Optimal". If you always pick the optimal solution, the game can quickly become boring; if you choose a sub-optimal solution, you may feel bad because you aren't doing the best that you can.

Most well balanced games include abilities which are superior in specific situations, but weak in others. This means the player must figure out what abilities to use based on the situation - their choice is important. Other games have abilities which are roughly equal in overall power, but different in effect (setting people on fire vs electrocuting them). Again, this leads to varied play-styles and infuses the players choices with import. Let's check out Magicka as a case study.

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