Made by: University of Austin, Texas
More info: -

Very well coded AI
Good fun online
Attachment to your squads
Lots of time for progress
20% progress lost in training

NERO (Neuro Evolving Robotic Operatives) is, essentially an AI-based squad RTS. But only going into the game this far would be a mistake. What we really have here is a breakthrough.

Think about it. How many games have you played, especially RTS games, when you practically scream at your screen as your soldiers walk into a brick wall and then get stuck there, whilst being mown down? You cry 'only a fool couldn't code that', right?

Well now's your time to have a go at doing that very thing. The game really starts when you create your first squad. These morons will just amble around the map, and that's because you're not rewarding them, or even just putting an object down. What they need is guidance, and you're the person to give them that.

You have six sliders, Approach Enemy, Hit Target, Avoid Fire, Approach Flag, Stick Together and Hold Position. All of these control a different thing, obviously. But these sliders are all linked. If you put down an AI-controlled soldier that just runs around without shooting and told your soldiers to approach the enemy, by putting the reward for that onto the maximum level, then eventually your NEROs would do this. There a several types of enemies, of varying intelligence and training use. Turrets which arc in a small area, those which arc in a larger area and those who shoot at your soldiers only. You also get stationary soldiers, running soldiers, and NEROs that you have previously created.

This is because of the game's variation on Survival of the Fittest. The more 'rewards' a NERO gets and the less penalties, the more likely it is that they will respawn again. When training NEROs you can set a lifetime slider from a few seconds to over a minute. What you have to bear in mind, though, is that you want your NEROs to do something as soon as they can, so setting your lifetime slider to the maximum isn't very wise unless you want to see if they will all complete a task with enough time.

If you set it very low then if the NEROs don't complete the task very quickly they will die out and not come back (eventually). This is mostly useful for teaching them how to walk around corners and through small mazes.

Here's where the problem lies though. You think to yourself 'well done, now they can go around corners to the left of themselves (for example)' but then, shock horror, when you put a corner to their right they are stumped. It takes them a very, very long time to learn how to do this as well as go left, and most of them forget how to go left. Eventually, after hours of painstaking positioning, your NEROs will learn to go both ways.

What you have to remember at this point is that you must milestone your progress. I learned the hard way that if you don't milestone, then only 30% of your NEROs will remember what they did last time, compared to 80% with a milestone. I still personally think that this is a bit unfair, as it takes a long time to get very useful progress and at least 20% of it is lost per training session. I imagine that this was done to try and make people train their NEROs up in one session, but that is quite hard to realistically do.

What you also have to keep in mind is that some of the sliders don't work well together. I'm not talking about bugs, it's more that if you told your NEROs to chase a target, but also punished staying in one place then you would get about 50% of the NEROs who had merely walked around a bit respawning (at least to begin with). This may put some people off, as it just adds to the training time.

The games themselves, on the other hand are quite fun, if limited. They consist of either a human against the computer (this is mostly irrelevant, it's the training that makes the difference) or a human against a human. In both game types, the object is to destroy your opponent's team and keep yours alive. This is mostly down to your NEROs' intelligence, but people can direct them with flags.

All in all, it's a brilliant idea, coupled with a good engine, superb AI coding and a solid game. You get attached to your favourite teams and constantly try to improve them. The only downsides are the training time and the 'milestoning' part of the game.

Review by: PrejudiceSucks

More screenshots
Editor's rating:
Rock on!
Public rating:
Good stuff
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(14 posts)
31 MB
Multiplayer modes:
Age rating:
Safe for all ages
Windows or Macintosh versions available
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