Weekends at AiGameDev.com are dedicated to rounding up smart links from the web relating to artificial intelligence and game development. This week, due to some unexpected problems on my side, the roundup is fairly late (I would like to thank Alex for his patience); however in compensation for you, the loyal Roundup reader, this week is plenty of news from the E3 and as always, we payed attention for good articles and blog posts over the net.
This post is brought to you mostly by Marcos Novacovsky (aka “Novack”) with minor editorial comments by Alex Champandard. If you have any news or tips for next week, be sure to email them in to editors at AiGameDev.com. Remember there’s a mini-blog over at news.AiGameDev.com (RSS) with game AI news from the web as it happens.
Gaming The System
Ted Vessenes and another excellent article on his blog BrainWorks. This time he introduce us his perspective with a very interesting sentence: AI design is a counterpoint to game design.
Typically, a game artificial intelligence developer views their job as creating an opponent that will entertain the player. There’s nothing wrong with this view. After all, if the player isn’t having fun, it doesn’t matter what the AI does well. The most realistic play in the world doesn’t mean a thing if the player doesn’t enjoy playing against it. It’s possible to make AI that plays like that, of course. If a human can play so well it frustrates their opponent, an AI can do that too. But is the problem the AI design or the game design? I’d argue the game design is at fault. In other words, AI design is a counterpoint to game design.
Mixed Reviews for NCAA 09
Michigan Sports Center published an article on the EA Sports title NCAA Football 09. Below there is a transcript of some of the words about the game’s AI.
Special teams in general is also allegedly a complete joke in this game as returning punts and kicks is too easy. I’m not saying you will score a TD every time, but when the average for some is a return of 30 yards, there’s a problem. This is happening due to poor pursuit angles as well as bad AI (artificial intelligence). Some computer players just run away from the player with the ball for no reason despite having a clear shot at a tackle. This spills over into defense as well, causing issues for those that actually hope for a challenge when running an offense.
GamersMark’s columnist Kevin Chen posted a review on the last Battlefield franchise title, where he dedicate a big part of the article to the game’s AI… and the game receives a lot of non kind words (again).
That enemy wimp, however, will most likely take a few potshots at you before he goes down. One of the most disappointing things about Bad Company’s single-player mode is that the A.I. pretty much sucks the fun out of everything. Forget about being Sam Fisher here, hiding deep in the shadows and taking your enemies by surprise – most likely your enemies already know you’re there. And if they don’t notice you at first, they’ll be all up on you once you make your first shot. At first I thought this was evidence of a very clever and sophisticated A.I., but a while into the game I realized that the A.I. was simply cheating. Having your enemy track you down with such pinpoint accuracy at every moment starts feeling absurd after the first few encounters. You will almost never know that your enemies are lurking around until they start shooting at you, and even then it’ll be tough to locate them because they’ll be shooting at you from ludicrous range.
The weird thing about the A.I. is that they’re absolutely menacing from far away because of their superhuman sensory abilities, but they’re pretty much useless once you get close to them. Sometimes they’ll just stand there for a second or two before doing anything, during which you can dispose of them handily. There is, no doubt, a strange disparity between A.I. skill in ranged battles and close quarters combat.
It’s really too bad Bad Company’s A.I. kills the party, because otherwise the game’s single-player mode is positively ace. The control mechanics are solid – you wouldn’t expect anything less from a big-name FPS – and the game has a distinct feeling of open-endedness that always keeps the level of danger appropriately dangerous. Here there’s always a sense that anything can happen, and indeed, everything does happen in the Bad Company universe. Enemies can come out of nowhere (admittedly, this would sound better if the A.I. weren’t such party poopers), blood-pumping events can take place in an instant (it can be rollicking fun hanging onto your life by a thread), and your mission objectives can change on a whim (mid-game story twist, anyone?). And all this is complemented by excellent voice acting and sound effects, not to mention an alternately “epic battle” and “swaggering tunes” soundtrack that works oh-so-well for the vibe of the game.
Loading, saving, and fear of death
Lo-Fi Games published on its devblog an article about some different aproaches to take in mind during the design. The point is to renew the concept of dying within a game, to the player, and also give some more auto-preservation “instincts” to the AI players as well.
Enemy AI characters don’t have enough fear of death. War is terrifying, an army or opponent that does not fear death is formidable. I know AI’s use cover and stuff nowadays, but they need to be a little less aggressive, more careful. The enemy has to fear death as much as the player-who-cannot-save. The game will turn more into a game of chess and tactics than a click-reaction test.
NBA Live 2009
The blog a stern warning posted an article entitled Groundbreaking feature commenting the EA Sports title last announcement: an “AI Live Update”.
EA plans to announce today that the latest version of its “NBA Live” game will include a constantly updated artificial intelligence.
Whenever users log on to the game, the title will connect to the Internet to download data from the latest NBA games, including such details as whether a player like Kobe Bryant is taking more shots from the left or the right side of the floor and his relative success from each spot. The game will use such information to affect how the virtual Kobe Bryant plays in “NBA Live” and how he is guarded.”
AI finds visual bugs
ScienceAlert give us news about the researcher Alfredo Nantes who is working on innovative AI tools that can “see” visual anomalies in 3D games.
“Currently, the testing is done manually by people, but they may get tired and overlook something or be too involved in playing the game to see everything. Therefore an automated testing approach is very beneficial to a games company.”
Funny Quote of the Week
Rob Galbreath posted on his blog an article where he states about game AI:
That goomba that Mario just hit? He knows nothing other than to walk forward. These days, goombas would stop, look, check out the pit in front of them, and walk the other way.
Quantum of Solace
Tom’s Games published a preview on the last James Bond game. The game uses the CoD4 engine, and we can read some interesting comments on the AI side:
True to Treyarch’s claim, the enemy AI was strong, preventing villains from engaging in scripted responses. When demonstrating the same sequence from the Casino Royale Hotel shootout, the enemy NPCs engaged in different behavior each time. If the AI in the rest of the game is as good as advertised in the demo, then Quantum of Solace may be something special.
Valve and its AI Zombies
Finally we can see in action the promises on dynamic game direction in Left 4 Dead. Siliconera covered the news and this are some words on what they saw:
To demonstrate this feature, two quick sequences from the game were shown, highlighting the responsiveness of the game’s AI. In the first sequence, the players were low on ammo and health. Approaching a wherehouse in an abandoned city, a handful of zombies ran out of the building and attacked. Once the enemies had been shot, they anticlimactically fell to the ground. By contrast, in the second sequence, a team with good health, ammo, and statistics approached the same wherehouse and were met by a horde of rampaging zombies. As this swarm of enemies was mowed down, the building behind them exploded into a fireballs and flying shrapnel. Just how deeply the game will incorporate these dynamic elements should become more apparent as the November 4 PC and Xbox 360 release date approaches.
More from the E3′08: Operation Flashpoint 2, Dragon Rising was previewed by IGN, and this are some insights for the AI development which in this case, included a lot of military research. Sounds good already…
One of the biggest pushes was to collect lots of data concerning military tactics, doctrine, weapons stats, and vehicle operation to govern the enemy AI. Lindop and his crew wanted to make the AI as realistic and flexible as possible. Players won’t find any scripted AI events in the game. Instead they’ll find an AI that adjusts itself on the fly according to the massive amount of military data gathered by the team. This includes everything from the weapons being used, movements being made, weather happening, strength of troops, terrain advantages and so on. What this should do is create battles that begin and end at least a little bit differently every time they’re played. It should also keep players on their toes and heads on a swivel. The enemy that attacked from the front the first time through the level may flank you through the forest in the second.
IGN again, this time giving us a preview of the last Empire: Total War. More improvements to the AI of one of the most respected strategy games:
They also mentioned that the campaign AI will now advise the tactical AI about how important a battle is. So if an enemy is fighting while retreating on the strategic map, they might tell the tactical AI to fight a delaying action, preserving as many of their troops as possible. If the battle takes place just adjacent to the enemy capital, the campaign AI will tell the tactical AI to go all out and fight to the very last man.
More E3 2008: Brother in Arms
GamingExcellence, also covering the E3′08 published a preview of the last Brother in Arms title Hell’s Highway, (X360).
Also, the enemy AI is far more dynamic than before. The enemy will adapt to your tactics better than ever before, and will be trying to outflank you at the same time. The Ai will try to destroy your cover as well, and the tactical advantage of the battlefield is in a constant state of flux. Fortunately, trusting your squad is easier than ever before thanks to superb AI on their end too. The game will tell you when you have an enemy suppressed and my squad never walked in front of my shots or ran off and did their own thing without my order.
Videogames getting minds of their own
Yahoo! News bring us this story summarizing several phrases from developers and publishers on the E3′08 regarding game AI.
Videogames are getting smarter with virtual enemies improvising during battles, storylines shifting based on moral choices and in-game characters sending players text messages for help.
Shelled! Online Review
To put some fresh air we have this week some comments on Indi developments. Lets start with the blog Out of Eight PC Game Reviews which posted an story on Shelled! Online, and put some comments on the game’s AI.
In addition to competing against the AI in the scripted missions, you can encounter them in deathmatch-only skirmish games or on the online servers. The AI provides good practice for the online game as they can engage (and avoid) you pretty well, but their somewhat simplistic nature shines through during the team-based games as they don’t capture flags or bases too well. They do play fair, however, and playing against them is about the same as with other multiplayer-centric titles like Battlefield and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. Like the campaign, the AI lacks difficulty settings, but they don’t really need to become any easier of an opponent.
Artificial Intelligence Increasingly Guiding Video Games
Joe Turow, on its blog Media Today and Tomorrow posted an article commenting some aspects of the phrases from the previous story.
in “Project Origin,” an action horror game built by Monolith for Warner Interactive Studios. Artificial intelligence integrated into the game causes enemies to respond to threats in ways that seem to mimic real life. “See, he threw the car door open because it was the smartest way to take cover,” the developer added.
More Indi A.I.
In the Philip Hardin’s indi devblog Red Brick Games, we can read the last advances in his game “Orc vs. Martians”, which this time seems to include a lot of fun with AI.
Big news on the A.I. front - I’ve figured out (most of) an algorithm that will place A.I. towers near bottlenecks in the terrain. w00t! Currently, A.I. players only place towers randomly, around their bases. If A.I. players could recognize natural bottlenecks in the terrain, and concentrate their defenses there, they would play much more effectively.
Artificial Intelligence in Animation
Gail (grad student working on her thesis for the Master of Computer Science at Carleton University) posted on her blog The Female Perspective of Computer Science an article commenting a story about a TED Talk “Simulating Humans” (which we commented on the last roundup).
How timely stories found on the mental_floss blog can be! It was only a week ago that I wrote about some of the exciting applications the concept of evolution can have in computing. Around the same time, I found a story about a TED Talk called Simulating Humans.
Computer can invent fun games
Ok, until now we’ve got AI as musical director, AI as AI director, AIs that can chase visual bugs, AI that can update themselves through internet… but now AI making games? Maybe is time for looking for another job… ScienceAlert bring us this interesting story. Shut me down, AI making AI…! Nobody ever suspected that Singularity would start on videogames isn’t?
Groundbreaking artificial intelligence research at QUT has produced a computer program that invents highly absorbing, brain-stretching games that can be played across the board or online between people in different countries.
A new parallel & event-driven script language for robotics, games and more.
Urbi is a middleware for concurrent and distributed programming, based on a new parallel and event-driven script language called ‘urbiScript’. Using a familiar and easy-to-use syntax, the language offers several concurrent abstractions rooted in the language semantics, together with an integrated scheduler and a distributed component architecture called UObject, based on C++ or Java. urbiScript acts as an orchestrator to build interactions/behaviors between distributed UObjects. Successful applications of Urbi are now mostly in robotics, especially in the upcoming Robocup’08 events, but extensions to video games and complex systems programming are envisioned. Graphical tools have recently been added to the Urbi suite to create hierarchical finite state machines and to provide advanced debugging features. J.C. Baillie, the author of Urbi, will give a detailed technical presentation of the key aspects of this new technology, and show demonstrations of the “Urbi Studio” graphical tools with the Aibo robot.
Three Panel Soul published on July 8, 2008 a comic on A*!
Stay tuned next week for more smart links from around the web!