BGJ 119 Summer 2000
Reviewer: Paul Hazelden
The good news: Go Professional III by Oxford Softworks is a nice, solid piece of Go-playing software. The bad news: it is, as far as I can tell, almost unchanged from the previous version. There may be some subtle changes to the Go engine, but as a rusty 8 kyu I haven’t worked out yet what they are. I had hoped to review this programme on the basis that I could compare it with version II. In fact, the one difference I could spot was that version II offers a choice of 6 bitmaps for the Go board, while version III offers only 3.
The programme is very easy to use, with an intuitive interface. Twelve large buttons at the top, information down the left, and the board taking up most of the rest of the screen. It does all you would expect: saving games, loading complete and partly complete games, stepping backwards and forwards through saved games. You can add comments to the games but there is no facility to record alternative sequences.
When starting a new game, you choose for each player whether they are human or computer and for computer you have the choice of nine levels of skill. Inevitably, the higher the skill, the slower the play but on a 166 Pentium with 32 Mb memory, the speed even at the highest level is quite acceptable. There is a ‘hint’ facility, which displays a stone slowly flashing in the suggested location for a couple of seconds but no analysis is provided to say what the stone is aiming to do.
Go Professional III seems designed to appeal to the mid-range player – people who want to be able to play either on or with the computer, who know what they are doing and want a no-frills tool to do it with. Unfortunately, beginners are not well catered for. There is a very brief summary of the rules and history of the game, but no tutorial. The description of the rules is easier to quote than to summarise. After describing the board, it continues:
I don’t consider this to be the clearest description I’ve heard. Suffice it to say, I don’t think many people will get hooked on the game if this programme is their only introduction. But for us players in the middle ground, it does a good job. That is, it is functional. You do not get the same game that you would get from a human player, but it’s not fair to criticise it for not being human. In common, I believe, with all Go programs, there are occasions when it misses very simple, obvious moves, especially on the edge. It has difficulty responding to unreasonable plays: I have gained many points in games because it does not find the straightforward safety play which a human opponent would see 99 times out of 100.
The good points? It plays reasonably quickly. I can enjoy a full game in 15 minutes, which is a major plus for me at present and makes it much more useful than the earlier generation of computer games which took forever to decide on their moves. One neat feature – if the computer is taking too long in deciding a move, you can tell it to play the best move it has found so far. This can speed up the game, although it must make the computer play some weaker moves sometimes.
The interface is entirely adequate. If I had owned a copy when I worked in an office, I would not have been ashamed to teach other people to play by using the programme over lunch. It is certainly much more convenient than carrying a Go board into work on the off-chance of a game over lunch.
The Help facility really does need more work done on it. The full rules should be given somewhere and at least one example game with commentary would be nice. It also needs to be proof read – the first screen you see after pressing F1 contains on the first two lines ‘About’ and ‘History of the Go’. Click ‘About’ and you get the same set of options as on the first screen, just displayed differently. I know this is not a major problem, but it does not give the impression of a programme that has been fully checked before being released.
One other minor quibble: You can print a game – a good feature – and even preview the print image, but the printed diagram does not indicate where captured stones had been. This makes following the game from the printed diagram alone rather difficult.
In summary, this is a solid programme if you are not a complete novice (if you already understand ko!) and if you are happy with the level of functionality it provides. Install it on your machine at work, and play the computer until you can get other people interested. Good luck!