Years ago, the best computer chess program available at the store was slow enough to convince you of how quick witted you were and stupid enough to assure us of our intellectual superiority over the machine. In short, buying and using a chess program built our egos, but did little to improve our game or challenge our minds. Today chess programs are a lot smarter and a lot faster than they used to be and most of us are getting tired of getting the tar beat out of us, or spending time trying to find the flaws in the program rather than playing a real game of chess.
Interplay came up with a different approach and animated the interaction between the chess pieces in the game. The animation was cute and funny and Interplay had a hit on their hands, and the thousands of users did not worry so much about getting the tar beat out of them, when they were watching the entertaining animation that now held their interest. Interplay followed that initial success with two other animated chess games, a futuristic chess game and finally Chinese chess.
Sierra's Elon Gasper, the real brain behind Dr. Brain and Shivers, wants to make Power Chess fun and educational, solving both of the problems Chess programs have had up until this time in one dual purpose game. Elon has given the game two new aspects, a chess king, who remembers what you have learned in prior games, and adapts his play to your current and previous game play, and the chess queen, who gives you advice on your chess play, helping you beat the king.
The king also has personality and when he has you at a disadvantage, he is programmed to take a few risks while trying for the quick kill, which may leave an astute player an opening to get back into the game. The chess queen also remembers every match you have ever played against the king, and provides a running commentary on the current game. The queen is programmed to be interesting and educational and not just a lecturer.
Play with 20 different chess sets rendered in both 2D and 3D each representing historical chess sets out of the long history of this popular game. In addition to the king and queen, a group of other opponents and helpers can be selected, prince and princess, or Duke, boxer, banker, robot or street rat. The queen will also act as a chess instructor by guiding you through 10 classic chess games. Sierra’s website intends to support the game with Power Chess tournaments, with real live chess opponents from around the globe.
Power Chess is designed to adjust play difficulty to your play by examining what you are doing and coming up with a strategy just that much better. So rather than beating the tar out of you as many chess programs do, this one just stays a bit better actually helping you to remain interested and learning better and better moves. Another algorithm mimics the foibles of a human player, such as anger, overconfidence when ahead, extreme caution when behind, and other human reactions to real chess situations.
The queen can also function as an opponent, powered by the WChess engine that won the fifth annual Harvard Cup, computer vs. Human tournament. The programming in C++ will make the game engine function faster and more responsively.
The queen will come in after you have played the game and give her move-by-move assessment of good and bad moves of your game play. The queen becomes the narrator in seven of the historical games included pointing out the faults and advantages of the moves of the greats, including the Kasparov and Deep Blue game.
One of my personal favorites is the autoplay mode which allows the game to play itself in the futile attempt to beat itself. A lot can be vlearned by watching a match between masters and the Wchess engine is good enough to teach you a lot.
Cindy Yans, Computer Games Strategy Plus, issue 71, October, 1996, pg. 94.
Steven Bryan Bieler, Interaction, summer, 1996, pg. 62-63.