Ego

July 1995

Reviewer: Nick Wedd

Bruce Wilcox, the author of the Nemesis go-playing program, has now released another go-playing program, Ego. Ego is a program for PCs. It is a Dos program, but runs under Windows without problems. My first impression on running it was of the good user interface. There is a pleasant wood-grained go board, occupying about two thirds of the screen, and you play a stone onto it by using the mouse to indicate where you want to play, and clicking. So far it is similar to Many Faces of Go, with which it is natural to compare it. But where Many Faces has a number of subsidiary menus, which you can use to configure various settings, Ego presents all its configuration options on the front screen. There are twelve of these, all fairly obvious as to what they do - setting the board size, setting the handicap, whether the program is to play black or white, etc. The most interesting of these is the "style" control. You use this to specify the personality of the program. There are nine personalities:

  • Earthy likes to build territory
  • Airy likes to build influence
  • Fiery is aggressive - the other personalities switch to this when they are losing
  • Watery is defensive - they switch to this when they are winning
  • Samurai is the strongest personality, being a balanced blend of the others
  • Leaper likes to tenuki
  • Psycho starts the game by making a line of large knight's moves across the board
  • Pirate is keener on annulling your territory and influence than on building its own
  • Schizo switches at random among the other personalities

The possibility of playing against any of these personalities adds a lot to the interest of the program.

Ego has claims to be one of the strongest Go-playing programs available, though I have found it to be considerably weaker than HandTalk. However any Go-player stronger than 10-kyu should be able to beat any program that currently exists, Ego and HandTalk included; so unless you are in the range 10-kyu to 15-kyu it is likely that appearance and ease of use may matter more to you than absolute playing strength of a program. It plays fairly fast, taking typically two seconds but up to twenty seconds per move (on a 66MHz 486DX). It uses only Japanese rules.

As it plays, it continuously gives its assessment of the amount by which it is winning or losing. If you don't want to see this, you can switch it to showing its assessment of how much territory each side has, or if you don't want to cheat, to the numbers of prisoners (click on the place where this information is shown). You can also switch on or off the "safety" option, which causes it to show the "alive"-ness of every group and where the secure territory is.

Should you get bored of playing against it yourself, you can even run two copies of Ego at once (if you are using the Windows operating system), and play one personality against another, copying the moves from one board to the other yourself. I found a game between Earthy (territory) and Airy (influence) interesting. Earthy started by making secure corner territory, while Airy made thickness which was often pointing in the wrong direction. Then Earthy lightly annulled most of this thickness. Finally Airy demonstrated that its influence was not nearly as useless as I had been assuming, by creating territory in unexpected places and winning the game. Most instructive.

A couple of apparent defects are easily remedied. First: you may find, if you are incompetent in the use of your mouse, that a lot of stones suddenly disappear in the course of a game. This is recoverable. What you have done is double-click on a stone, and it has reverted to the point in the game at which that stone was played. You can recover by using the "Final" button, which takes you back to the end of the game as so far played. The second defect is more mysterious, and the author has acknowledged it (it's always an encouraging sign when the author of a program admits the existence of a bug). When the program plays a stone, it usually flashes it so you can see where it has played. But sometimes it fails to do this. You can then force it to flash it by saving the position (just click on the "Save" button).

If you want to get an impression of what Ego is like before paying for it, there is a free cut-down version of it available, called EZ-Go. This has all the features of Ego, except that only two of the nine personalities are included: Psycho and Leaper. Psycho is the stronger of these, but it does not approach the strength of Samurai.





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