Review of Many Faces of Go, version 9.0

The latest version of David Fotland's program Many Faces of Go has recently been released. This follows its success in the FOST World Computer Go championship this autumn, in which it came third and was awarded an 8-kyu certificate by the organisers.

Many Faces, unlike the two programs which beat it in the championship, is a complete Go package. It does everything from teach the rules of Go to a complete beginner, to playing near the highest levels so far achieved by computers.

Many Faces runs on PCs. The minimum system requirement is a PC compatible (386, or later, recommended), running DOS, with 640Kb of RAM. It runs correctly from inside Windows (unlike some DOS programs). It takes up 1.5 Mb of disk space. A mouse is strongly recommended, but not strictly necessary.

I am reluctant to give an estimate of its playing strength, though it seems to be weaker than 10kyu. The value of such estimates is doubtful, as there are various ways of measuring the strength of a Go-playing program, and their strengths against various opponents seem less consistent than those of human players. I will just say that the first time I played it at its highest level, giving it 9 stones, I beat it without much difficulty (I am 1-kyu). A 2 dan, doing the same, beat it by 92 and 132 points in the first two games.

It has various playing strength settings, from 1 to 7 (but see below under the Deluxe Addon). At the highest of these, on a 66MHx 486, it typically took 15 seconds on its moves, and sometimes as much as 40 seconds. It is both slower, and weaker, than last year's Handtalk.

The manual of Many Faces makes it clear that it is not just a playing program. It starts with 15 pages on the history and rules of Go, making it clear that it might be a suitable gift for someone new to Go.

The program itself has a large amount of tutorial material. This starts at a very elementary level, explaining liberties, connections, capture, and so on. This is displayed more clearly on a computer screen than it could be in a book. There is plenty of advice on play, and two sample games with very full comments directed at beginners. The tutorial concludes with a brief account of various rule-sets - incidentally, the program will play with Japanese, Chinese, American, and Ing `Goe' rules.

There are over 200 elementary problems. When you think that you have solved the problem presented on the screen, you select the Solve option, and it suggests a few plausible moves (if your selection is not among these, you are doing badly). If you select the right move, it explains why it is correct. If you choose a plausible but wrong move, it shows why it is wrong. This method of presenting problems makes them easier to understand than if they were in a book.

When you are playing against it, you can obtain information from it about its view of what is happening. You can ask it to display any or all of "Group status" - how alive it thinks that all the groups are, "Joseki moves" - where would be joseki in the corners, "Fight moves" - where you might play so as to start a fight, "Big moves", and "Endgame moves". When it plays a stone, you can ask it "Why", and get its list of reasons for liking the move it has just made, e.g. "Joseki follow up move. Extend along edge toward enemy. Extend in front of a corner enclosure". If you click on a group, it will give an opinion e.g. "This group is fighting against neighbours marked with A. It is surrounded and must capture something to live". Computers are normally better at such tactical calculations than they are at strategy. The program usually comes up with several worthwhile explanations, but sometimes has great difficulty prioritising them - my guess is that most 15 kyus, given the same lists of explanations, would make better choices among them than the program does.

An unusual feature, which I welcome, is the fact that, in addition to the full-board size, you can choose 'small-board' sizes of 15x15 and 17x17, as well as the more usual 9x9, 11x11, and 13x13.

The program can be made to display the moves that it is thinking of, while it is examining them. Even if you can not follow all the high-speed sequences, it nevertheless gives a valuable insight into priority areas.

You can save and replay games, in a similar format to that used by GoScribe. However you cannot add comments and variations to them (but see below). The "View Game" option of Many faces offers much the same features as GoView (a shareware version of GoScribe, without the ability to edit game records), but differently presented. It offers no print facility. The format used is not quite identical to that used by GoScribe (this may be a mistake). This means that while many GoScribe files are readable by Many Faces, at least some are not.

It is supplied with 11 commented games. There are also 15 "lessons" which set up a position, and ask where you would play, allowing you to see the consequences of each choice.

The Deluxe Addon

This is supplied separately, and costs more than Many Faces itself. It cannot be used without Many Faces, to which it adds these features:

Higher levels of play

To the levels 1..7 of Many Faces, are added levels 8, 9 and 10. Each level is 50% slower than the one below it, so you will not want these unless you are very patient, or have a pentium-based PC. I tried level 10, and got bored when it took three-and-a-half minutes on its 14th move.

Game Editor

This allows you to edit game records, adding comments and variations. Instead of the limited "GoView"-type facilities offered by Many Faces, you have the full range of features offered by "GoScribe" - though they are presented differently, and there is no possibility of producing print-outs of positions. As a familiar user of GoScribe, I knew what I would be able to get it to do, but had to look in different places to find what commands I had to use.

If you are thinking of buying both Many Faces and GoScribe, then you might consider buying the Deluxe Addon instead of GoScribe. However, I repeat my previous warning about file formats: not all GoScribe-created files make sense when read into Many Faces, or the Deluxe Addon. Also, GoScribe can produce print-outs while Many Faces and the Addon cannot.

MyGoTutor format conversion

This is a utility written by Dieter Garling (and also freely available elsewhere) which takes game records written in the popular MyGoTutor (also known as SmartGoBoard) format, and converts them into the Ishi format. This is useful for people who download games from the internet, where MyGoTutor format is widely used, and want to play through them with Many Faces or with the Deluxe Addon. It does not work perfectly, because the two formats work in rather different ways, and because some files which appear to be in MyGoTutor format do not strictly follow the format (though they may be acceptable to MyGoTutor itself). I tested it with three files from different sources: two of them worked correctly when read with the Deluxe Addon, but the third, which contained variations, caused the Addon to hang.

Joseki Tutor

This is definitely the feature which would persuade me to spend money on the Deluxe Addon. In a game, or just in a joseki-learning session, you can ask the program to show you all the joseki moves in a selected corner. You can step easily backwards and forwards throught the joseki, examining all the lines. It classifies moves in four categories: proper joseki moves, joseki follow-ups which are not urgent but may get played some time later, trick plays which are not optimal but may get a good result against inferior play, and bad moves. The purpose of including these last is that the joseki tutor will tell you how to follow them up so as to take advantage of them. In my opinion, this feature does a lot to make the joseki tutor more useful than most books: it is not much use knowing that it is bad for my opponent to play on a particular point, unless someone can show me what to do about it.

Life-and-Death problem solver

Like the joseki tutor, you can call this up during a game, or in a special session that you have set up for it. It analyses the status of the group which you specify.

I tested it by giving it what I thought was a reasonably simple problem, with a small group that could be killed in ko. It showed me two moves which might be used to try to kill it, and proclaimed one "success" and the other "failure". In fact both moves allowed the group to live: the one labelled "success" was refuted trivially (the program was also unable to find the trivial refutation). It appeared not to have tried either of the moves leading to a ko. It had similar problems with other, small, problems which did not involve ko.

Fuseki libraries

The Addon includes four fuseki libraries, including openings from a total of over 5,000 games. You can load one of these libraries, as if it were a recorded game, and play through the fuseki. At each move, it gives statistics, showing e.g. that following a parallel double-hoshi, 161 players made a san-ren-sei, 101 made a keima kakari, etc. This is the nearest thing on a PC to Jan Steen's go game database - very worthwhile.

Game records

The Addon also includes 100 commented professional game records, and 85 other professional game records.

Play-by-Modem

The Addon allows you to play go via a modem link with someone else who also has a copy of the Addon, or has a compatible program. Unfortunately the manual does not state what is compatible, or what protocol is used. I have not tested this, as it is my experience that getting a modem link to work can be difficult; particularly when you are trying to use a single telephone line both for the modem and to synchronise your dialling with the other person.

Conclusion

This is a very good all-round package with lots of material for beginners and other learners.

review by Nick Wedd, November 1995

Many Faces of Go, version 9.0, cost 49.95.




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