Automated playtesting in collectible card algorithms: A case study in hearthstone
Merelo, Juan Julián
Mora, Antonio M. (UNIR)
Tipo de Ítem:Articulo Revista Indexada
Collectible card games have been among the most popular and profitable products of the entertainment industry since the early days of Magic: The GatheringTM in the nineties. Digital versions have also appeared, with HearthStone: Heroes of WarCraftTM being one of the most popular. In Hearthstone, every player can play as a hero, from a set of nine, and build his/her deck before the game from a big pool of available cards, including both neutral and hero-specific cards. This kind of games offers several challenges for researchers in artificial intelligence since they involve hidden information, unpredictable behaviour, and a large and rugged search space. Besides, an important part of player engagement in such games is a periodical input of new cards in the system, which mainly opens the door to new strategies for the players. Playtesting is the method used to check the new card sets for possible design flaws, and it is usually performed manually or via exhaustive search; in the case of Hearthstone, such test plays must take into account the chosen hero, with its specific kind of cards. In this paper, we present a novel idea to improve and accelerate the playtesting process, systematically exploring the space of possible decks using an Evolutionary Algorithm (EA). This EA creates HearthStone decks which are then played by an AI versus established human-designed decks. Since the space of possible combinations that are play-tested is huge, search through the space of possible decks has been shortened via a new heuristic mutation operator, which is based on the behaviour of human players modifying their decks. Results show the viability of our method for exploring the space of possible decks and automating the play-testing phase of game design. The resulting decks, that have been examined for balancedness by an expert player, outperform human-made ones when played by the AI; the introduction of the new heuristic operator helps to improve the obtained solutions, and basing the study on the whole set of heroes shows its validity through the whole range of decks.
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