Chess for Millennials

Let me be clear, Chess is still a great game all by itself. But for the millennial generation (of which I can count myself among the oldest in that cohort), there are some computer games that capture a glint of the timelessness of the game of Chess. The game that best captures that spirit, it can be argued, is Starcraft.

The original Starcraft game came out in 1998, almost 20 years ago. It became perhaps the first game to achieve the ‘eSport’ moniker due to its popularity in South Korea. The game was of the category “real-time strategy” and provided a fertile ground for the development of tactics, mind games, and fast-paced skill with a keyboard and mouse. (The “first-person shooter” category also requires dexterity and skill, but doesn’t have the level of, well, strategy and planning involved with a real-time strategy game.)

Two decades later, the original Starcraft game is being re-released with a graphics update. But what is notable is not how much has changed (as there are a number of recent games that are remakes of old games with entirely new graphics and gameplay). Instead, it is in how much has been preserved from the original game in this “remastered” release. Even down to the ‘quirks’ of the original game, it is almost functionally unchanged from 20 years ago.

Brian Sousa, senior artist on the remastered edition and veteran of the original StarCraft discusses getting the feel right for those who have been playing regularly over the last two decades. “In Korea, StarCraft is like chess. It’s timeless” he begins. “We’re not going to rewrite the rules of chess—we’re not going to change how the pieces move—we’re just going to make it look better.”

For like-minded millennials who played the original Starcraft when it first came out in 1998 and still are drawn to its gameplay mechanics all these years later, it is a classic game that has stood the test of time. That by itself is an accomplishment. But beyond the ‘timeless’ aspect of the game, it really does live up to the “Chess” description in another important way – it is a very complex game to master for humans. That makes it a target for Artificial Intelligence (AI) to master as well. After all, computers have already beaten humans at Chess and Go, so they need a new challenge: Starcraft II will be used to train artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms.

So when SkyNet conquers humanity in the future-is-not-yet-written, it may be just as likely due to machines learning how to beat humans as StarCraft as it would be for Chess.

Better start constructing additional pylons now…

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