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What exactly is the AI doing that relegates it to its difficulty setting? I had thought it was purely actions per minute but that seems way to simple.

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

There are certainly behavioral differences at the harder difficulty levels. A few that I have noticed:

Harder AIs:

  • scout more aggressively
  • defend better against rushes (ie. by pulling workers off the mineral line to defend)
  • will target SCVs instead of hopelessly attacking whatever it is the SCVs are repairing

So it seems to me the developers actually took into account tactics that better players use and only make these tactics available to the AI based on its difficulty. Of course, this is only a small piece of the puzzle and there are no doubt a lot of factors that go into it. If you're really curious, I'd suggest saving some replays of different level AIs (for the sake of the experiment, make them the same race and on the same map) and actually watching what they do differently.

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does insane AI get more minerals per worker? – Jason Aug 25 '10 at 19:37
Harder AIs snipe medics/medivacs as well. – Raven Dreamer Aug 25 '10 at 19:45
Insane AI collects 7 minerals per each visit as opposed to the normal 5 on blue minerals. – Jack B Nimble Aug 25 '10 at 22:45
@Jack I think this was asked in another question so if you could also answer that there, that would be great! – tzenes Aug 25 '10 at 22:50
An important thing i noticed for the harder AI (very hard) is that it likes to exploit other entrances to your base and even tries to harrass your mineral line (with banshees or mutas). Also, they change their army based on what you throw at them. – PeterK Aug 26 '10 at 21:38

I don't know if it has changed since this interview, but I doubt it has.

Insane AI gets 7 minerals per trip instead of 5, and also has vision of everything at all times. All difficulties lower than insane though are not cheating in any way.

Moving up in difficulty, excluding the jump to insane, will simply increase the AI's 'skill'. They will use stronger build orders, float less, scout more, micromanage their units better, target key units first during battles, etc.

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If I remember correctly, the collector's edition DVD interview talked about how the AI creates a list of everything it wants to do at a particular moment. Then it talked about how different levels of AI are given different APM (actions per minute) caps, and so the easier the AI, the fewer things it can do on its list of things it wants to do.

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Very Easy AIs will actually start off with a pretty standard build order, and then just NOT BUILD ANYTHING after about the 4th or 5th minute. They resume building units and buildings after a few minutes.

Not really that useful to know, but I find it amusing.

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