Trust the Grandmaster

Especially when he’s a world champion. The cheating accusations made by the reigning world champion, Magnus Carlson, have been substantially supported by a 72-page investigative report by Chess.com. The entire report can be downloaded here. (PDF)

Hans Niemann, the 19-year-old American grandmaster who last month was accused of cheating by World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen after a shocking upset, was found to have “likely cheated” more than 100 times, according to an investigation by Chess.com, the world’s largest online chess platform.

The investigation, a report from which was seen by the Wall Street Journal, found Niemann likely “received illegal assistance” in more than 100 online chess matches that took place as recently as 2020 when he was 17 years old, allegations that contradict his earlier claims that he only cheated on several occasions as a young teenager.

A letter sent to Niemann by Chess.com’s chief chess officer Danny Rensch last month detailed how Niemann’s suspicious moves tended to coincide with Niemann opening up new screens on his computer, which could indicate that Niemann was using a chess engine, according to the Journal. Niemann “privately confessed” to the allegations–which included cheating in chess games where prize money was awarded–and was banned from the site, according to the Journal.

While the Chess.com investigation largely focused on Niemann’s online games, the report noted that his rise in rankings for in-person chess was “statistically extraordinary” and that specific games may merit further investigation (the sport’s international governing body, FIDE, is conducting a separate investigation).

You can’t hide the math. I was certain that Niemann was cheating the moment that Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura went over some of the statistical analysis being provided by data scientists around the world on his YouTube channel.

One thing that I found interesting about the scandal was the way that Niemann was defended by chess Gammas on Reddit. They were vehemently accusing Carlson of being insecure, a poor loser, and insisting that Niemann couldn’t possibly be guilty of cheating because it was theoretically possible that he was, in fact, the most rapidly improving world-class-level chess player in history.

Which tells us that it isn’t merely jocks and celebs – however minor – that Gammas hate, but elite performance and status as well. It also demonstrates their instinctive inclination toward dishonesty; they would literally prefer for the world chess champion to be a confirmed cheater than be a paragon of legitimate excellence.

UPDATE: This quote from the report is nothing less than astonishing for those of us who can remember the first time Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in 1997:

The best humans play at an Elo rating of 2800. “Stockfish,” the most powerful chess engine, has an estimated rating of more than 3500. In a theoretical match between World Champion Magnus Carlsen vs. Stockfish, we estimate that it is most likely that Magnus Carlsen would lose every single game—no wins and no draws.

While we know his Elo rating is fraudulent, one can’t help but wonder what Niemann’s ELoW rating is.

DISCUSS ON SG


Cheating and Chess

I know nothing of the accused, but as a longtime online game player and game developer, I have absolutely no doubt that the world champion is correct:

World champion Magnus Carlsen on Monday broke his silence on the scandal that has shaken the chess world, explicitly accusing 19-year-old American grandmaster Hans Moke Niemann of cheating for the first time since their controversial meeting at the Sinquefield Cup this month.

In a statement posted to his social media accounts, Carlsen cited Niemann’s unusual progress through the chess ranks and his surprisingly relaxed behavior when they played in St. Louis.

“I believe that Niemann has cheated more—and more recently—than he has publicly admitted,” Carlsen wrote. “His over the board progress has been unusual, and throughout our game in the Sinquefield Cup I had the impression that he wasn’t tense or even fully concentrating on the game in critical positions, while outplaying as black in a way I think only a handful of players can do.”

Niemann didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Carlsen’s statement. He had earlier denied any allegations of impropriety in over-the-board chess, though he confessed to cheating on two occasions in online games. Niemann chalked those up as youthful errors, but Chess.com saw fit to ban him from the platform.

Chess.com this month also indicated Niemann wasn’t being forthright about the breadth of his cheating, saying in a statement that it had shared evidence with Niemann about his ban that “contradicts his statement regarding the amount and seriousness of his cheating on Chess.com.”

In Carlsen’s statement, he said he considered withdrawing from the Sinquefield Cup when Niemann was invited to participate, but he chose to play anyway. Carlsen later resigned a game against Niemann in another event after making just a single move. “So far I have only been able to speak with my actions, and those actions have stated clearly that I am not willing to play chess with Niemann,” he said.

I don’t believe it’s possible to eliminate cheating from online gaming. I first noticed the problem when playing VASL by email; my record in face-to-face and live online games was significantly better than in play-by-email (PBEM) games. I even did a statistical analysis that confirmed my suspicions; while my average dice rolls were the same in my live online games and my PBEM games and in line with statistical norms, my opponent’s average rolls were a full point lower in PBEM games than in live online games and than statistical norms would indicate.

What these cheaters were doing was playing the saved game, recording the play, then stopping when they got a result they didn’t like, reloading the game, and replaying it. While most of their moves were honest, enough key rolls just happened to go their way to give them enough of an edge to win.

In like manner, it wasn’t hard to tell the cheaters with targeting programs in online shooters. One rapid and improbable headshot is credible, five in a row are not. Unfortunately, while there has been some progress on this front over the last 10 years, most game developers are unwilling to ruthlessly apply statistical models to determine which players are cheating and punish them accordingly.

So, it’s good that champion players like Carlsen are not only willing to refuse to play the cheaters, but are willing to call them out for their cheating. And what a flex on the part of the champion, to walk away from the game, give up the points, and go on to win the tournament anyhow.

DISCUSS ON SG


The Importance of Bedsheets

Chris Roberts has officially become the Marcel Proust of game designers:

Star Citizen has been in development for well over a decade now, during which time it has raised more than $450 million in crowdfunding, and if you’re wondering why it’s still in an alpha state after all that time and money, the latest update from developer Cloud Imperium Games might hold a clue.

It all comes down to something called “bedsheet deformation,” which is exactly what it sounds like: Ensuring that blankets on beds are mussed up accurately, just like they would be in real life. This is important because the “sleep and bed relaxation” element of Squadron 42, the singleplayer portion of Star Citizen, was recently updated so NPCs are now able to find and enter their beds, and then sleep until they’re scheduled to get up.

“We knew early on that, to hit the fidelity we expect for Sq42, we would need to do some R&D on bedsheet deformation,” the AI Content team explained, apparently straight-faced. “This work is currently underway and, if successful, will allow the AI to deform their sheets when entering, exiting, or sleeping inside them. This is a challenging assignment and expands the complexity of the feature. For example, what happens to the sheets if the AI needs to exit the bed in an emergency?”

“what the actual fuck lmao this game was supposed to be out years ago and they’re implementing fucking BEDSHEET DEFORMATION?? I’m done lol” – torvi97

“R&D on bedsheet deformation….for a game that is 10 years overdue. That’s the ‘fidelity’ that players are waiting for? I’m not sure about the rest of you, but this is a feature I can safely say we could wait for the patch in 2083.” – InconspicuousBastard

“Is this a joke? No wonder they can’t finish this thing. Pointless feature creep at its most extreme.” – Valerian_II

“How about just GETTING THE GODDAMN GAME OUT THE DOOR before worrying about how a fricking BEDSHEET will deform.” – BotdogX

Well, I know that I, for one, would not want to see improperly deformed bedseets in my game.

My gamedev mentor, a VP at Sega and Konami, among other companies, and I used to joke about what would be the worst possible 3D action game. We settled on REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST 3D: The Search for the Cooler Side of the Pillow.

It never occurred to us that anyone, let alone the legendary Chris Roberts, would actually attempt to build the game.

DISCUSS ON SG


The Minarian Legends

The Minarian Legends represent the collected stories about the many great kingdoms and celebrated heroes of Minaria, a continent of epic adventure. In these pages are presented the histories of the many kingdoms, heroes, and tribes that comprise a fantasy world full of merciless war, powerful magic, and intrepid adventure, the world of the classic 1979 TSR wargame, Divine Right.

The ancient tomes of the Minarian past have been mined to provide readers with the backstory of many kingdoms and heroes of the world of Divine Right. Among the latter are royalty, thieves, warriors, priests, adventurers, treasure hunters, werewolves, dragons, assassins, conquerors, wizards, rogues, barbarians, and pirates.

This comprehensive edition of Minarian legends offers the largest and most expanded collection of Minarian tales ever told, many of which are presented here for the first time by author Glenn Rahman, the designer of Divine Right.

Now available from Castalia House at Castalia Direct and Barnes and Noble, among other places.

DISCUSS ON SG


Attn: Developers

[Redacted] Games, a Castalia House subsidiary, is looking for technical volunteers for these projects:

Project 1: Turn-Based Unity Game Based on a Popular Board Game from the Early ‘80s

This project is running now. The online version of the [redacted] board game is in progress. We could use any of the following:

Developer familiar with Unity
C# developers
Developer familiar with authoritative networking
Developer with knowledge of turn-based AI

This team meets (remotely) at 7:00 PM Eastern Standard Time at least once a week.

Project 2: [redacted] Games, Skunkworks Division

Project 2 is prototyping and proof-of-concept work. This project is for you to get your hands dirty with concept proofing. The current goal is to produce small, working examples of cutting-edge game design and technical proof-of-concepts.

The initial project is a single-player RPG coded in C/C++ and the occasional Assembler.

We need:

Game Designer: You have professional game design experience. You like RPGs. Your goal is to provide a game direction for the following team, under the direction of the lead game designer.
Technical Program Manager (Game Technology Analyst): A TPM that can compile a list of open-source game technologies and licensed tech, keep it current, and advise everyone of the pros and cons of each. Example: Is the Unreal 5.0 engine the best for this project if we want cutting-edge AI? You tell us.
Game Architect (Speech Synthesis):  Voice Inflection based on emotional and programmed environmental attributes isn’t something you can pull off the shelf. If you’re a C++ SuperCoder willing to blaze a new trail, this volunteer position is for you. The Speech Synthesis Architect will need to use a combination of research and prototyping, marching towards using synthesis in such a way that people can’t tell if its voice acted or not
Game Architect (AI): Work with the TPM Tech Analyst to evaluate current AI in the games industry and make recommendations. Game AI has gone backward, but a small number of companies, such as Cloud Imperium Games, are blazing new trails. You will have input on all fundamental game decisions, from which engine to use to the data model needed to support AI development
Environmental Lead Artist: Work with the TPM Tech Analyst and game designers to establish a game environment for prototyping and proof-of-concept
Character Model Artist: create 3-D characters to use in tech demos
Producer: Run a multi-year all-volunteer effort using open-source software with a team spread across a planet! Must be able to tell the Alpha Dog Producer that he’s barking up the wrong tree on occasion
Alpha Dog Game Producer: You’re an Alpha and a Gamer. Your ultimate goal is to produce a spectacular game that everyone can work on games full-time and feed their families. You will be a hero!
DevOps Engineer: Work with a team spread all over the globe in implementing a code repository, CI/CD pipeline(s), and various tools everyone knows this team will need but hasn’t thought about yet
C/C++ coders: Indicate your interest as a game developer on the skunkworks team, and we’ll get back to you

Important Notice

All these positions are volunteer. Your only reward may be a credit in a game or a LinkedIn reference. However, we track the time everyone puts into the project if it makes money and payouts are appropriate. The current consolidation in the AAA game studio market will not make better games. That’s going to be up to us.

Email faceless.producer@redacted-games.com if these volunteer projects interest you.

DISCUSS ON SG


Only Fools Trust Science

Science doesn’t even rise to the level of accuracy attained by gamers playing games:

Apart from a minority of professional gamers, speedrunning is a hobby, and the community is moderated by volunteers. Science is, well, science: a crucially important endeavor that we need to get right, a prestige industry employing hundreds of thousands of paid, dedicated, smart people, submitting their research to journals run by enormously profitable publishing companies.

Perhaps the very status of science is what makes its practitioners reluctant to pursue fraudsters: Not only do scientists find it difficult to imagine that their peers or colleagues could be making up the data, but questioning a suspect data set could result in anything from extended frustration and social awkwardness to the destruction of someone’s career. You can see why so many scientists, who hope for a quiet life where they can pursue their own research, aren’t motivated to grasp the nettle.

But the consequences of ignoring fraud can be drastic too, and whole evidence bases, sometimes for medical treatments, can be polluted by fraudulent studies. The entire purpose of the scientific endeavor is brought into question if its gatekeepers—the reviewers and editors and others who are supposed to be the custodians of scientific probity—are so often presented with evidence of fraud and so often fail to take action.

If unpaid Minecraft mods can produce a 29-page mathematical analysis of Dream’s contested run, then scientists and editors can find the time to treat plausible fraud allegations with the seriousness they deserve. If the maintenance of integrity can become such a crucial interest for a community of gaming hobbyists, then it can be the same for a community of professional researchers. And if the speedrunning world can learn lessons from so many cases of cheating, there’s no excuse for scientists who fail to do the same.

Not only is scientistry – the profession of science – entirely corrupt, but the massive extent of its corruption has rendered a) the knowledge base unreliable and b) cast every claim of an application of scientody – the scientific method – into intrinsic doubt.

The corollary to this is that anyone demanding that one “trust the science” is not only engaging in rhetoric, but is either doing so in ignorance or for the purposes of deceit.

Scientists don’t catch fraud because they don’t want to. It’s not in their interest and it has not been for decades. Never trust science. There is a word for the kind of science you can trust, and it is a distinct subset of science, being comprised of a hypothesis that has not only been tested, but applied in practice.

Trust God and engineering.

DISCUSS ON SG


Bad News for Gamers

A former Microsoft employee explains why the recent purchase of Activision, which previously purchased Blizzard, is very bad news for gamers:

So. Question: You’re in a company filled to the brim with nerds. You have some big, impressive looking skybridges that are empty and not being used for anything in particular?

What do you do?

You fill them with classic arcade video games. Obviously. Or at least you line the sides with arcades (so there’s still plenty of room to use them as hallways).

Microsoft Main Campus. The arcade skybridges were in the buildings circled in blue.
That’s exactly what folks did.

We’re talking… maybe two dozen arcade games were in these hallways at any given time. All set to free-play, naturally.

Each game was brought in by employees who had their own personal collections. Often times because they spent more time at work (Microsoft was famous for 80 hour work weeks back then)… so bringing in some arcade games helped boost morale. Made the place feel that much more like a nerdy home.

It was this way… for years and years. The arcades graced the hallways of these buildings (and others on Microsoft Main Campus) long before my time.

File:Retrovolt Arcade 2017 – Arcade Machines 1.jpg
This is not a picture of the arcades at Microsoft HQ. I don’t have any of those, unfortunately. Source: Wikipedia
To be sure, these skybridges weren’t the only places that arcades could be found around Microsoft Main Campus. Many other buildings were known to have little clusters of arcades here and there. In this corner or that. But the skybridges filled with arcades were visually interesting. Simply… super cool.

Most of the arcades were in good working order. Some were project machines that needed a little TLC (and often got tinkered on, after hours, by some of the fellow nerds).

It was, honestly, pretty awesome. Very nerdy. A great morale booster.

Then, one day, Microsoft decided it was fed up with arcade games. An email was sent out to every building that was known to have them… that if they were not removed from Microsoft Main Campus promptly… they would be tossed out. Into the garbage….

Why do I bring this up?

Well. Microsoft just bought Activision. And, with it, Microsoft now owns some of the most important classic games in human history. Zork. Kings Quest. Space Quest. Pitfall! And so many others.

Games that are important not just to the history of gaming in general… but to those of us who were there as the video game industry grew up.

And… based on personal experience, when it comes to the preservation of classic video games… I don’t trust Microsoft as far as I can throw ‘em.

Maybe Microsoft has changed since those days. I sure hope so. But, honestly, there’s no reason to believe they have.

It’s probably a nightmare for gamers. Aside from the original Flight Simulator, Microsoft has never done games very well. Even my friend, the great game designer Chris Taylor, wasn’t able to work with them very successfully. That was one reason why I steered clear of them even after Alex St. John took Big Chilly and I out to dinner one night at the GDC in an attempt to get us to move from the Sega Katana (aka Dreamcast) to the Xbox.

The fact that Sega’s subsequent murder of Sega of America meant that accepting Microsoft’s offer would have been the right thing to do doesn’t change the fact that we were, even back in the day, extremely dubious of Microsoft’s ability to nurture game development. And the fact that Microsoft insiders share that skepticism does not bode well for the future of corporate gaming.

One of these days we are really going to have to bring together the collective game development talents of this community, from art to testing, and start producing on a truly revolutionary game. It should be possible, but the stars simply have not aligned yet.

As for Alex, well, the fate of the original Games Evangelist at Microsoft doesn’t tend to bode well either:

I’m sorry now that I stayed long enough to see what would become of it. I was trapped in the quandary of representing technology that was now being built by people I had no respect for, and feeling responsible for the enormous community of developers I had persuaded to adopt it. I stuck around after the re-org hoping to help the new guard become as customer focused as the old had been. It appeases my sense of guilt about all of this immensely to know that I died trying.

DISCUSS ON SG



No Racism in RPGs

All races and alignments are now equally good and capable. After all, we wouldn’t want anyone playing an orc to think that he is any less beautiful or intelligent or magical than an elf.

A plethora of descriptions regarding various races in the Dungeons & Dragons universe have been scrapped from the guidebooks in an effort to make the tabletop RPG more “welcoming and inclusive.” The push for representation and inclusivity in Western culture has not ignored the tabletop gaming scene, where publishers of some of the most-played games have been updating their releases to appeal to progressive social justice activists.

In a recent blog post, Jeremy Crawford, the principal rule designer for the legendary RPG Dungeons & Dragons, revealed that there had been a mass removal of “problematic lore” from several D&D books throughout the year, and these changes will be reflected in both the newly printed editions and the online PDF versions.

This is what has been removed from the D&D orc lore. It appears I’m going to need to completely rewrite the Lugbol chapters in A Sea of Skulls.

With their culturally ingrained tendency to bow before superior strength, orcs can be subjugated by a powerful and charismatic individual. Evil human spellcasters and rulers in particular have a penchant for enslaving or deceiving orcs into service. A leader backed by a great military force could swoop down upon a tribe, kill its leaders, and cow the rest of the orcs into submission. A spellcaster typically takes a more devious approach, using magic to conjure up false omens that strike fear into the tribe and make it obedient. A wizard might manipulate a few of the orcs that rank just below the war chief, using them as pawns to help overthrow the leader. The wizard validates the change in command with signs supposedly delivered by the gods (which are in truth nothing but a few well-cast illusions), and turns the tribe into a strike force eager to do the bidding of its new chief. The survivors of a tribe scattered by defeat sometimes fall back on their fighting skills to find employment, individually or in small groups, with whoever is willing to hire them. These mercenaries, while they might pride themselves on their seeming independence, nevertheless strive to follow through on their end of a bargain, because being paid by one’s employer is better than being hunted down for breaking a deal.

Most orcs have been indoctrinated into a life of destruction and slaughter. But unlike creatures who by their very nature are evil, such as gnolls, it’s possible that an orc, if raised outside its culture, could develop a limited capacity for empathy, love, and compassion. No matter how domesticated an orc might seem, its blood lust flows just beneath the surface. With its instinctive love of battle and its desire to prove its strength, an orc trying to live within the confines of civilization is faced with a difficult task.

The lore of humans depicts orcs as rapacious fiends, intent on coupling with other humanoids to spread their seed far and wide. In truth, orcs mate with non-orcs only when they think such a match will strengthen the tribe. When orcs encounter human who match them in prowess and ferocity, they sometimes strike an alliance that is sealed by mingling the bloodlines of the two groups. A half-orc in an orc tribe is often just as strong as a full-blooded orc and also displays superior cunning. Thus, half-orcs are capable of gaining status in the tribe more quickly than their fellows, and it isn’t unusual for a half-orc to rise to leadership of a tribe.

Sadly, all this inclusivity and equality isn’t going to make high school girls any more interested in tubby RPG nerds than they were before. But hey, the mere possibility makes it worth destroying 40 years of gaming lore, right?

DISCUSS ON SG


ASCENDANT on Arktoons

As promised yesterday, for the next six days leading up to Impact Day, we’re going to announce two of the launch comics every day. We’re very pleased to be able to announce that the first of the lead Thursday comics will be ASCENDANT: Star-Spangled Squadron from Autarch.

Ascendant is inspired by comics like Watchmen, The Boys, Squadron Supreme, The Authority, and Invincible. The world of Ascendant  doesn’t begin to diverge from that of our real world until 2012, and the first superheroes did not go public until the Battle of Atlanta in 2018, creating a new and original superhero universe. It features heroes such as Aurora, Stiletto, Helen Killer, Warp, and the world’s first ascended manitee, Levitee.

To back the Ascendant superhero RPG, go here. To subscribe to Arktoons, go here.