After we finished up with Season Four of Civ4 AI Survivor, I needed to take a long break from the event. It's a ton of fun and I love the interactions with the rest of the community, but sheesh, the organizing and planning and writing is a whole lot of work! I wasn't sure if I would be interested in running another season this year or use the time to relax and explore other games on Livestream. However, as everyone knows by now, the COVID-19 virus decided to show up in 2020 and wreck everyone's plans. Suddenly I was spending far more time at home than ever before, and as weeks of quarantine began to extend into months, it became clear that things were going to be pretty bad for a long time yet to come. I figured that I could put some of that extra time to good use and run an event that brings some excitement and happiness into people's lives, even if it's only a couple hundred of Civilization fans on the Internet. If there was ever a time to run another season of AI Survivor, this was surely it.
Therefore we're bringing back all of our favorite Civ4 AI personalities for another round of competition. This will be the fifth time in all that we're embarked on this venture. Back in Season One, I was still figuring out the format and running everything via forums posts at Realms Beyond. It was a bit of a rough process even if it was still fun. For Season Two, I switched over to Livestreaming the matches in real time, and that made things infinintely more fun for everyone with the viewers getting to comment on the action in real time. It's not an exaggeration to say that the running commentary on the Livestream was often much more entertaining than whatever the AI leaders happened to be doing at the moment. Season Three saw more refinements to the process, with maps selected ahead of time and blindly assigned to the leaders for purposes of fairness, and online straw polls/predictions recorded before the matches and included in a series of written previews. Season Four initiated the adoption of the correct starting techs for each civilization along with the implementation of a second AI-controlled observer civ so that we could watch the voting in the Apostolic Palace without fear of a religious victory taking place. We were consistently hitting 100 concurrent viewers on Livestream for Season Four and 150 entrants into the picking contest. Can we beat those numbers for Season Five?
The basic tournament structure will remain the same from past seasons. The 52 AI leaders in Civilization 4 get randomly sorted into eight opening round games, half of them with 6 leaders and half of them with 7 leaders. Two leaders will advance to the playoff round from each match, the winning leader and the non-winner with the highest in-game score. AIs who survive the match but do not advance will get one final opportunity to make the playoffs in a Wildcard game played after the opening round matches. The Wildcard game has had as many as a dozen leaders and as few as six leaders in past years and it can get a little bit weird as a result. (The Wildcard game is also the only one that we run with Raging Barbarians turned on, and yes, we have seen an AI leader lose their capital city to the barbs!) This creates our field of 18 leaders sorted into three playoff games of 6 AIs apiece. Finally, we feed the top two leaders from each playoff game, the winner and the highest scoring non-winner, into a championship game and crown an overall winner of the competition.
For Season Four, we tried out a seeding system akin to what the World Cup uses when drawing teams into its groups. This proved to be a big success and we'll be continuing it for Season Five. The top eight AI leaders based on past performance will be placed in Pool 1, and the next eight AI leaders based on past performance will be placed in Pool 2. Each of the opening round games will have one leader drawn from Pool 1 and one leader drawn from Pool 2. The remaining 36 AI leaders in Civ4 will be unseeded and can be randomly drawn into any opening round game. Here's a list of which leaders fall into which category:
AI leader rankings are based on our customized scoring system of past performances; click here for a link to the full ranking as of the end of Season Four. AI leaders score 5 points for a first place finish, 2 points for a second place finish, and 1 point for each elimination of another leader. While this is a purely arbitrary system, it seems to provide an effective metric for evaluating prior seasons of the competition. The idea behind the seeding system is to stop the top AI leaders from hitting one another in an opening round "group of death" match while still preserving the random draw element that makes this event so much fun. Choosing to pick pools of leaders ranked 1-8 and 9-16 is of course another arbitrary decision but there's some logic to having one top leader and another secondary leader in each of the eight opening round games. Note that we did have a tie for the final seeded spot between Shaka and Boudica, and Shaka got the nod by virtue of having a better performance in the most recent year of competition.
The game settings will continue over from the last Civ4 AI Survivor competition. We use Deity AIs to speed up the overall pace of the game and reach victory results sooner. The map script is the default Pangaea, designed to keep all of the AI leaders in close contact with one another. Prior to the Season Three competition, I went ahead and tested out some games with Continents or Archipelago setups, and they just didn't work that well. The Civ4 AI doesn't really know how to run naval invasions, and there were lots of wars that just did nothing because the AIs couldn't reach one another. They need to be on the same continent from what I've found, and Pangaea works well enough for that. We use Normal game speed and Standard sized maps, with the one exception of dropping the sea level to "Low" setting for the games with 7 AIs to create a little more room for the extra competitior.
For the game options, the biggest effect on the gameplay is turning off Tech Trading. I'll repeat here what I wrote in the setup phase from past years: "When tech trading is left on, the AIs tend to stay bunched together with no one ever getting too far ahead or falling too far behind. With everyone fielding the same units, it becomes difficult for the AIs to attack one another successfully, and generally makes for less interesting games. But when tech trading gets switched off, all of the AIs have to sink or swim based on their own research efforts. This spreads them out much more widely on the tech tree, and once the laggards fall a full generation behind in military tech, they tend to get swallowed up by their more advanced rivals." With tech trading removed, we frequently see some AIs fall an entire era or more behind in technology, which prevents would-be conquerers from ignoring their economies and trading their way to tech parity. A balanced approach tends to work the best in these games, with alternating periods of warring to expand followed by peaceful consolidation. Woe to those who fall behind in military tech in this competition - it nearly always ends badly. We've also increasingly noticed the different research preferences of the various AI leaders in recent years, with the warmongers overly obsessing on military techs and some of the peacenik AIs refusing to pick up Rifling even as they're dying to foreign invaders. Turning on tech trading would remove this important aspect of the competition and make the overall setup a lot less interesting.
Otherwise, we turn off Vassal States to prevent the AIs from surrendering to one another. If they can vassal when losing wars, hardly any of the AIs ever get eliminated, and that's boring. We want to see bloodthirsty games! No escape, no mercy. We also turn off Events because they're kind of a Single Player thing, and the AI doesn't understand what they do. We similarly use Aggressive AI to spice things up and increase the number of wars. The big thing that Aggressive AI does is remove a flag that will stop the AIs from declaring certain wars. Normally they will not attack someone who has more than double their military power. Turning on Aggressive AI removes that check in their coding logic. This leads to occasionally suicidal war declarations based on diplomatic relations, and that's exactly the kind of thing we want to see!
There are a couple of other minor tweaks to the format for this season. First of all, we're changing up the climate setting once again, largely just for fun. The first four seasons of AI Survivor used "Temperate", "Arid", "Tropical", and "Rocky" climates for the games, and we'll go with the final "Cold" option for this season. This has absolutely nothing to do whatsoever with the real-life location where Season Five of Survivor was shot in Thailand but there's nothing to be done about that. The television Survivor would never be filmed in a cold climate for obvious reasons. (I'm honestly a little surprised that I've been able to keep making puns involving the season name and the word "AI", happy coincidence there.) We'll also continue to use the "Choose Religions" options so that we can avoid getting Buddhism and Hinduism as the dominant religions in every game.
The main change for Season Five involves the Apostolic Palace. This has been the most controversial aspect of prior seasons from a gameplay perspective, with the AI civ that controls the Apostolic Palace often using it to shut down literally every invasion launched against them, or forcing everyone in the game to declare war on some hapless target. The argument in favor of the AP is that it introduces a wild and unpredictable element of chaos into each game which can be a lot of fun to watch. The argument against the AP is that a single wonder shouldn't have such a massively disproportionate effect on the rest of the gameplay, and in particular, it shouldn't become a magical shield that can shut down all aggression for hundreds of turns on end. I decided to run a poll question asking the community whether they wanted to see the inclusion of the Apostolic Palace for Season Five. The results were decisive:
With more than 100 votes cast, the community chose to remove the Apostolic Palace by greater than a 2:1 margin. Therefore we won't be running an AI observer civ for Season Five as there won't be any need. I will Worldbuilder the Apostolic Palace into the player-controlled observer civ on the first turn of the game, and that should prevent any of the AI competitiors from being able to build it themselves. This is a modest nerf to the religious-focused AIs since it takes away one of their tools for controlling the diplomacy. On the other hand, it may actually help some of them by stopping religious zealots from launching wars that they can't possibly win through the AP. Contestants in the picking contest should be aware that this wonder won't be around to influence things one way or the other in this season.
Finally, after leaving the goody huts (tribal villages) in the game for the past few seasons, we're finally getting rid of them this year. We've been moving towards a less random and more standardized setup for the past few years and this seems like an obvious next step. No more cases of someone getting lucky and popping a critical tech out of a hut on the first turn of the game - now they need to research their own stuff like everyone else.
Games will be Livestreamed on my Twitch channel linked below, with most games starting at noon local time (east coast of North America) on Fridays. I will archive the recordings on Twitch and try to post them on YouTube in smaller chunks for those who have trouble accessing the Twitch videos. I'm also soliciting help once again in putting together the written reports on the games that took place, in the same fashion that we've done for the games from past seasons. No one volunteered for this in Season Four and I had to write everything myself, which was part of the reason why I was skeptical about running another season. It will be a huge help if the community can take over the burden of doing the written reports and allow me to concentrate on streaming and administering the games. Anyone interested in volunteering to help out?
For those who are new to our event, we run a picking contest for each game that serves as the biggest driver of interest in AI Survivor. We ask contest entrants to pick:
* The winning AI leader
* The second place AI leader
* The "First to Die" AI leader
* The victory type of the winner
* The victory date of the winner
* The total number of wars in the game
The closer that the pick gets to the correct answers, the more points that it scores. We track scores for both individual games and the overall competition so there's always a chance to win an individual round even for those who missed earlier matches. The picking contest system will continue to use a Google Forms submission, which was a massive timesaver in recent seasons as compared to originally compiling forum posts. The current bracket will always be visible online, and I'll do my best to update it here on my website, on my Twitch page, on the Sullla Discord channel, and at Realms Beyond. We'll have a forum discussion thread there, of course, which I'll link on this page once the competition has started. Scoring remains the same from past years, with points for first place, second place, first to die, victory date/type, and total number of wars. I went through the suggestions about different potential scoring goals after the last competition, and none of them felt like they would work as well as the current system. With points for the top two AI spots along with victory date and number of wars, we had scoring drama right up to the end of most every game, even when the winner had long since been determined. Check out the links below for more information on the scoring contest and how to submit your entries.
With all that said, here's a big list of the relevant links that follows below. Enjoy the new season of AI Survivor!
Sullla Twitch Page
Sullla Discord Channel
Current Bracket and Standings
YouTube Playlist of Season Five AI Survivor Games
Civ4 AI Survivor Season 5: Leader Previews
AI Reference Guide from CivFanatics
Schedule: Game One starts 29 May 2020 at Noon EST
Game One Video Preview
Game One Picking Contest Entry Form
Mansa Musa, Pacal, De Gaulle, Joao, Mehmed, Tokugawa
Game One Preview | Game One Livestream | Game One Writeup