Inside Interview w/ CHESSMASTER Development Team!

Inside Interview w/ CHESSMASTER Development Team!

erik
erik
Oct 19, 2007, 9:02 AM |
27 | Misc

With the release of the new CHESSMASTER less than a week away, we wanted to get some insights into the new program and the thought that went into it. We were lucky enough to interview two managers of the development team about the upcoming release of CHESSMASTER - GrandMaster Edition: The Art of Learning: 

Tell us about yourself and how you got into Chessmaster.

(ANDREI COSTIN - INTERNATIONAL PRODUCT MANAGER)
I was offered the chance to work on the Chessmaster project and this was interesting for me because I am a chess player. Chess is essentially a different kind of language in which you can speak with total strangers and get to know them while having fun. For me it has an aura, it’s like a magical landscape in which many great ideas live. In the end, by working on the Chessmaster series, I will end up playing more chess, and this is great J.

(DAN HUMA – LEAD DESIGNER ON CHESSMASTER: GRANDMASTER EDITION)
When I was a child, chess was a big challenge for me (you should read “painful” :)). Because of this, I tried a lot of other games: scrabble, go, monopoly, bridge etc. Many years after, chess came back in my life, thanks to a dear friend. This time, it was a fascinating experience, and a whole new world opened for me. Suddenly, I was able to discover a game that incarnates principles from books like Sun Tzu’s The Art of War in beautiful and surprising tactics and strategies. Finally, the last step was made when the Chessmaster project started here (in Bucharest) and I was able to join the team from the very beginning of development. Guess why? :)

What approach did you take when thinking about this new edition?

We wanted to get people excited about chess again and open the experience of playing to a larger audience in an engaging way. Chess is a notable sport that deals with a dialog of the minds, but at the same time, it is fun and interactive. By focusing on features like mini-games and online play we are able to attract people to chess even if they only have a few minutes to play. Chessmaster: The Art of Learning on Nintendo DS is especially trying to make chess a smart casual passion. The game was designed to serve as a guide for beginners, a friend for advanced players and an opponent for experienced players. Of course, there are also some changes and improvements to this installment of Chessmaster that came through the suggestions of our fans.

Walk us through some of your favorite changes and new features.

The Art of Learning tutorials, the mini-games and correspondence chess are my favorite features. IM Josh Waitzkin is already known to Chessmaster fans, but this time they’ll discover him from another point of view. In his new tutorials he combines principles from martial arts and chess and will initiate players in The Art of Learning. The novelty of these new tutorials consists in their interactivity, with advice for different choices and multi-path analyses of the various board positions.

The mini-games are ideal for a chess study break or for having fun, but this is not their only purpose - they were designed in such a way that they will help you develop your memory, focus and analysis skills. Who said that learning can’t be fun?

Correspondence chess is a feature desired by chess lovers for many reasons: whether that be a lack of time, opponents being in different time zones or the need for deep analysis of a game and/or position. With this option, Chessmaster: Grandmaster Edition has the right answer for them.


What kind of user-input do you get when working on a new Chessmaster title like this?

We read the forums, look at long-term trends and gauge the audience’s gaming experience and perception from every angle. We look at our game and think about where we can improve or expand it. We pay attention to grievances too, both to turn out a better game and to find new cool ideas that players will be excited about. Development is really about listening and then matching ideas with the realities of design and production. And since chess also has a life beyond the video game industry, we get input from there too.

What were some of the most fun challenges to overcome with this edition?


The Rayman set is really fun to watch and it makes chess look like an endless source of fun. While we worked very hard to implement all of the features, sometimes the reward was unexpected like laughing and joking.

Any other interesting stories in the development process?

Trying to implement the new interactive tutorial was a challenge, and we were surprised at the attention that this feature got from colleagues that were not even on the project. They were gathering around just to see how the tutorial gives contextual answers in a kind of wizard-style. Based on their reactions, we could sell tickets to some of the master games featured!

Some serious tournament chess players don't consider Chessmaster to be on par with other chess engines/software. What would you say to them?

These days the competition between software is very intense and there is always somebody who claims to have the best game out there. The real question is what difference does this make to the vast majority of chess players or to those who would like to play and don’t know how. We focus on making chess accessible and engaging as an experience, as well as creating a whole range of challenges that are suited to appeal to a vast audience.

For example, the “Fork my Fruit” mini-game is not the pinnacle of chess logic, but is fun and can teach you something about the underlying logic of chess. The bottom line is that chess is as much about personality, spirit and human interaction, as it is about sheer abstract logic and performance - and that is something that other programs on the market don’t quite show off.

What do you think about the human vs. chess struggle - will computer chess eventually hurt the game for us mere humans?

Kramnik and Kasparov, both recent world champions, were beaten by programs, and those programs get better and better at playing quality chess. I think the problem is really the human perception versus the way machines achieve success, without glory and without having the conscience of what they do. We might think that this diminishes us, if all that we do can be imitated or reproduced by a machine, and on a better scale. But, at the same time I feel that chess is more than a mathematical problem waiting to be solved or a very complex puzzle that begs for a solution, leaving us cold. It’s about interacting with other people, about planning and making choices while inventing new ways to win. It is also a way to express ourselves.

The appreciation and emotions that we gain through chess cannot be part of a machine, so all this richness is lost to it. The machine cannot hurt chess, as long as chess is more than an equation to be solved on board. The royal battle of minds the will never go away. In the end, machines are there to expand our understanding of chess. Chessmaster is your personal Grandmaster after all!

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Very interesting! We're looking forward to the release on October 23rd for both PC and NintendoDS! 


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