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Paris Game AI Conference ’10: Highlights, Photos & Slides

Alex J. Champandard on July 7, 2010

Two years ago, I briefly met Jason Della Rocca in Paris and he was genuinely surprised that our inaugural Game AI Workshop '08 sold out to a whole fifty (50) people! I got a metaphorical pat on the back, and went back to work. Last year, our Game AI Conference '09 found its home at the CNAM, but we didn't have any fancy badges, no branding signs or posters, and one of our coffee breaks accidentally turned into a tea break *gasp*. Yet still almost two hundred developers (200) joined us in Paris over two days, and a community was born.

This year, returning to the CNAM allowed us to combine the conference plus a workshop, and focus on the little details that make the difference, badges, posters, signs, color schedules, etc. (It doesn't sound like much, but you should have seen them :-) Certainly it was far from perfect, with registration bottlenecks and no soft drinks, but it didn't matter! Game developers worldwide joined us again and nearly three hundred (300) people attended over three days, forcing us to upgrade to the biggest amphitheatre.

The common theme for all these events was a genuine passion for AI and games, from the speakers to the program committee (Phil Carlisle, Mikko Mononen, William van der Sterren), including the organization committee (Axel Buendia, Petra Champandard-Pail, Stephane Natkin) and everyone who volunteered to help. With that kind of energy going into the conference, what came out was a fantastic community and friendly atmosphere that no trade-show or generic developer's conference could match.

Below you'll find my summary of each session, the best photos, as well as slides where possible. If you want the whole details, the full audio/video recording with screencast will be available as part of the AiGameDev.com PREMIUM area over the next few months as we edit them. Find out more here!

Thanks to Our Sponsors

The conference this year brought together all middleware game AI vendors, including and most importantly, our sponsors! We're particularly grateful to all these companies for their support, without which the event wouldn't have been possible. We don't run the conference as a profit making enterprise, so their contribution to the conference is an essential part of it.

Gold Sponsors

Game Talents Game Talents was the first company to join on board with the 2010 edition of the conference. David Roulin not only made sure the coffee breaks ran smoothly, but he helped out with flight logistics during the public transport strike. If you want someone with that kind of dedication looking for your new recruits, or finding a job opportunity for you, don't hesitate to contact him!

Autodesk Autodesk was the first middleware sponsor to support the conference in the very early stages of the organization, and we're very grateful for their contribution to the event. The AI team has just announced the new release of Kynapse 7 also, with a host of new improvements as well as optimizations to the navigation solution.

Silver Sponsors

PathEngine Spir.Ops

Bronze Sponsors

Foor Door Lemon Havok MASA Group

Table of Content

On this page, you'll find the coverage of the following sessions:

  1. This Year in Game AI

  2. Tales and Advice from the Designer Trenches

  3. Interactive Conversations with Animated Characters in WORLD OF ZOO

  4. Navigation Loop: Avoid Turning in Circles w/ Local Avoidance

  5. Crowds and Pedestrians without Bumper Car Syndrome

  6. Inside Your Player's Mind with Playtesting

  7. Personality Profiling in SILENT HILL: SHATTERED MEMORIES

  8. Player Modeling, Experience Management and Metrics

That was day one, and day two follows:

  1. Physics-based Racing AI in SBK X

  2. Creating the BATTLEFIELD AI Experience

  3. Building Virtual Toys that Don't Break

  4. Multi-Threading in Practice: Uncut and Uncensored

  5. Territoriality for EVE Online's Socially Smart Characters

  6. Procedural Animation Keynote

  7. Summary & Take-Away

This Year in Game AI

Speakers: Phil Carlisle, Alex Champandard

This short introduction to the conference summed up the year’s trends, and how the rest of the talks in the conference fit in to the grand scheme of things. The trends in particular we focused on were:

  1. AI for Multiplayer Games: More and more games now support multiple players and co-operative mode, but frankly not all people online are that fun to play with. AI bots can help!

  2. More Simulation: Linear games have their place, but many games now are becoming more sandbox-like and open-ended. This often requires AI for the non-player characters.

  3. Complex Environments: As developers become more comfortable with the consoles, the worlds’ complexity is increasing — which requires better AI to deal with them.

  4. Non-Character AI: As games mature and move to different platforms, AI is playing a different role beyond just character behaviors...

  5. Online / Social Games: In particular, for web- or mobile-based games AI can be very useful as a data-mining and balancing tool.

  6. Crowds: Game developers are also increasingly using groups of individuals to make more cinematic experience, for example the controversial airport scene in MODERN WARFARE 2.

  7. Procedural Content: Since the scope of games is increasing and budgets are not scaling proportionally, there’s a huge opportunity for AI as a content creation tool, offline or online.

This list also tied in to the sessions at the conference, both because the talks reflected the trends and the trends we picked were based on the talks! Read on to find out more...

Tales and Advice from the Designer Trenches

Participants: Stephane Bura, Noah Falstein, Jurie Horneman, Phil Carlisle (moderator).

This panel started the conference with three designers (each with backgrounds in production and programming) in contrast with the audience of over 98% programmers! This was a great opportunity for them to preach to the coders. In particular Stephane wanted to make sure the programmers are assertive when telling designers what the system can or cannot do, and Jurie told about his experience on MANHUNT 2 and pointed out the importance (and the risks) of having an AI that can be disabled easily. Noah also talked about working with very few resources on the C64 by focusing on what’s most important and keeping things simple — a lesson that’s still valuable now.

From a career perspective, the panelists shared their thoughts on getting into industry, since ironically most of them had a technical background. Jurie advised reading economics books to help with the many balancing problems that are common in games, especially multiplayer ones. The Art of Game Design was unanimously recommended as a resource for those getting started in design.

Interactive Conversations with Animated Characters in WORLD OF ZOO

Speaker: Bruce Blumberg, Blue Fang Games.

Bruce Blumberg's keynote was an inspiring summary of his work so far, spanning from his research at the head of the Synthetic Characters Group in the MIT Media Lab, to his most recent work at Blue Fang Games as Lead Character Engineer on WORLD OF ZOO. Bruce showed a variety of videos and prototypes that each emphasized the incredible level of involvement of the audience while interacting with virtual animals, which was one of the main goals for the zoo creatures. When the animals pay attention exclusively to you, Bruce pointed out that an intimate non-verbal conversation takes place.

The underlying technology to support this does not need to be overly complex, and Bruce in particular showed the famous “Boxy Dog” prototype that had few animations and no blending, which the player could interact with via a ball. The system in WORLD OF ZOO itself was implemented as a HFSM built with Havok Behavior, including the underlying blend tree. However, the technology itself was relatively unimportant in comparison to the behavioral and design issues that took the front stage in Bruce’s talk.

Intimate Conversations with Interactive Animated Characters
Bruce Blumberg
Download PDF

Navigation Loop: Avoid Turning in Circles w/ Local Navigation

Speaker: Mikko Mononen, Keino Yhtiö.

Last year, Mikko’s presentation was mostly done using his Recast demo, but this year he took it a step further and built his entire presentation using OpenGL, but everything went extremely smoothly once the projector was setup! Mikko discussed the classic navigation problem of integrating high-level pathfinding together with low-level avoidance behavior, which he calls the “navigation loop” to reflect everything you need to do each cycle. While the algorithm he presented was the result of months of research and experimentation with different variations, it still remained very simple and looked sensible!

Mikko then broke down each of the components in his navigation loop, in particular what you need to do to adjust the paths while following it. The key part of the solution was an hybrid reciprocal velocity obstacle (HRVO) implementation that uses a form of hierarchical sampling to reduce the computational overheads. Apparently, at least one middleware solution uses RVO also, and it was great to hear that people felt this wasn't too much of a problem anymore.

Navigation Loop: Avoid Turning in Circles w/ Local Navigation
Mikko Mononen
Download ZIP Archive

Crowds and Pedestrians without Bumper Car Syndrome

Participants: Bertrand Faure (Quantic Dream), Jean-Charles Perrier (Quantic Dream), Ken Perlin, Mikko Mononen.

This panel followed Mikko’s talk with the aim of bridging the gap between multi-agent navigation and simulating whole crowds, using insights from the team behind HEAVY RAIN. The panel came to the unanimous conclusion that simulating large crowds requires very different technology than for small groups of characters, and there’s currently little overlap between the two. In the train station scene HEAVY RAIN, a completely different system was developed based on flow fields compared to the standard A* pathfinder that handles the rest.

On the animation front, there’s more work to be done. While modeling individual characters as a bounding cylinder with a velocity is a good approximation for solving the navigation, connecting the results with the low-level animation is probably one of the biggest problems we’re facing. The panel had no perfect solution here, but identified the next steps – such as using better “motion models” to drive the navigation process and using footplant placement algorithms along paths found. This will remain a topic on people’s mind for a while still!

Inside Your Player's Mind with Playtesting

Speaker: Baylor Wetzel

Baylor Wetzel delivered the surprise hit of the conference, presenting the experiments he’s been running on his students over the past years. He inspired quite a few thoughts for experiments in AAA companies too, so if you’re a designer beware of your programmer trying to prove a point!

Baylor used a simple RPG-style combat game with stacks of units on either side, he asked his students which of his AI implementations was the most fun, which was the most difficult, and which was the most realistic. He also asked them to predict what the strategy was, and got some great stories to tell based on their explanations.

Inside Your Players' Mind With Playtesting
Baylor Wetzel
Download PPT

Personality Profiling in SILENT HILL: SHATTERED MEMORIES

Speaker: Gwaredd Mountain, Climax.

Gwaredd Mountain presented the work that Climax did on the most recent iteration of the SILENT HILL series. The game was designed from the start to “get into your head” and used research in personality profiling to enhance this effect. The game keeps track of four out of the Big Five personalities (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness but not Neuroticism), based on both a questionnaire at the start as well as what the player focuses on within the game.

Gwaredd mentioned it’s hard to quantify the actual results of the physiological experiment, very much like horoscopes in newspapers. However, the game is the best rated in the franchise for 6 years, and got great feedback from the players who felt this personality-driven AI director added replayability to the game. Climax also put the psychological profiling at the forefront of the whole game, which combined with the underlying implementation, made for a great combination.

Personality Profiling in SILENT HILL: SHATTERED MEMORIES
Gwaredd Mountain
Download PPT

Player Modeling, Experience Management and Metrics

Participants: Jurie Horneman, Stephane Bura, Gwaredd Mountain.

This short panel elaborating on the previous two talks helped emphasize the importance of player modeling, which according to both Jurie and Stephane is the most important for AI in games. Not only can player modeling help create better gameplay at runtime, like LEFT 4 DEAD, but it’s probably even more important as a tool to figure out player behavior offline. For webgames, such tools become very similar to current web analytics tools, to help tune the game as if it was a sales funnel.

But Perhaps the most important topic brought up during this panel was that game AI is no longer just for NPCs, but in fact the biggest opportunities in the field are in these other forms of AI such as data-mining or experience management. What was the most surprising is that the panel (made of a producer, a designer and a technical director) unanimously agreed. Game AI seems to have fully broken out of its original role now!

Physics-based Racing AI in SBK X

Speaker: Paolo Maninetti

Based on his work at Milestone on SUPERBIKE 2010 (a.k.a. SBK X) and SUPERSTARS V8, Paolo Maninetti’s talk was split into two parts. The first was a tutorial about racing AI in general, including throttle and brake control, racing line creation and steering, making realistic mistakes, as well as group maneuvers such as over-taking. Paolo showed videos of these concepts on both two wheels and the racing cars.

The second part of Paolo’s talk focused on some of the racing controller optimization techniques they’ve been using on those games. Paolo explained how an algorithm could automatically split up a track into sections that could be optimized separately, then showed an iterative method to determine grip modifiers for each of those sections. These values could be adjusted by the designers, and ultimately affected the maximum speed that the AI would try to race in those sections.

Physics-based Racing AI
Paolo Maninetti
Download FILE

Creating the BATTLEFIELD AI Experience

Speaker: Mikael Hedberg

By talking about DICE’s work in a surprisingly honest and straightforward manner, Mikael Hedberg’s keynote about the AI in BATTLEFIELD: BAD COMPANY 2 captured the spirit of the Paris Game AI Conference 2010 perfectly. Mikael in particular talk about what made the difference between the first iteration of the single player game, in a studio that’s known for its multiplayer gameplay and AI bots.

Mikael mentioned that on average, each enemy AI spends about 5 seconds on screen, so the team spent many of their resources there as well as the death poses. There was also a clip with a tank following a jeep convoy, and Mikael challenged the audience to find how many times the tank was teleported (it wasn’t noticeable at all). This attention to detail contributed to creating a bulk AI (80%) that could support memorable moments (20%) which turned out to be the winning recipe for BFBC2.

Building the BATTLEFIELD AI Experience
Mikael Hedberg
Download PPT

Building Virtual Toys that Don't Break

Participants: Bruce Blumberg, Frederik de Caster (Creative Assembly), Ulf Johansen (IO Interactive).

This panel brought together AI programmers who worked on a wide variety of different games, ranging from stealth-based shooters like the HITMAN series, real-time strategy games such as the TOTAL WAR franchise, and games that focus on interaction with the player such as WORLD OF ZOO — but all of which have an emphasis on open gameplay in a sandbox-like environment. The premise of this session was that the same techniques are useful while managing the development and production of robust AI regardless of its genre. Indeed, that turned out to be the case!

Multi-Threading in Practice: Uncut and Uncensored

Speaker: Alex J. Champandard, AiGameDev.com.

In this talk, I shared some of the practical experiences we had while adding multi-threading to the AI Sandbox. In particular, I shared the process of accelerating Ogre 3D’s animation and ray test calculations from Bullet using Intel’s Threading Building Blocks library. I focused on some of the dirty details (hence the unofficial “uncut and uncensored” subtitle) that normally aren’t talked about so much, in particular the process of finding and fixing bugs in an existing codebase as they come up, and the different ways you can prevent them from happening. It’s certainly not a glorious process, so you can understand why developers don’t talk about the details so often!

The various things we had success with were component-level parallelism and a query/job system. Beyond that, I suggested people spend more time thinking about multi-threading can help with AI in particular – rather than just focusing on general advice you can get off the internet. (Free advice is worth what you pay for it :-) For example, have a reasoning layer maintain a world model via queries each frame rather than have each AI make separate requests for information. This can end up providing many more benefits for the AI in general, so keep in mind that multi-threading isn’t just an extra tool, it can change the problem space itself!

Multithreading in Practice: Uncensored and Uncot
Alex J. Champandard
Download FILE

Territoriality for EVE Online's Socially Smart Characters

Speaker: Claudio Pedica, Reykjavik University.

Claudio followed up with a presentation about a research collaboration between the University of Reykjavik and CCP Games, the makers of EVE ONLINE. In particular, CCP was most interested in the character behaviors on board the various ships and space stations where social interactions happen, and bringing those characters to life, in particular compared to the cardboard cut-outs of current games.

Claudio presented a solution that includes a concept of territoriality, for example when people are holding conversations in groups. (This ended-up becoming a meme at the conference.) When conversations happen, there are many social implications to how people use the territory: other people walk around conversations, and whole groups move if someone involved in the conversation shifts slowly.

Human Territoriality for EVE Online's Socially Smart Characters
Claudio Pedica
Download PPT

Procedural Animation

Speaker: Ken Perlin

Although there was a public transport strike with the risk of people not getting to their planes or trains in time, many attendees chose to stay to see what Ken had to say about procedural animation. Ken’s talk was a comprehensive review of his best work in the field of character animation, with interactive demos of famous prototypes as well as some of his unreleased prototypes. Ken didn’t cover the most recent work of ActorMachine, however, as they’re gearing up for a release later this year.

While full body procedural animation relies on using somewhat stylized characters, there’s no reason why this approach can’t be used more in games. In fact, in many ways, procedural techniques are very often used for upper-body control for things like aiming and looking around. Ken emphasized during the Q&A that he’d love to see many different implementations of these concepts, and intuitively, it seems to be more a question of mindset than a huge technical challenge. As he also said, it’s not computationally expensive either.

Summary & Take Away

While reading this, if you get the impression that you should have been there in the audience, then you're absolutely right! Many talks didn't have slides and you just had to be there to appreciate them. The discussions over coffee or drinks with some of the leading AAA developers worldwide made it worth going just for those! Make sure you don't miss out next year (similar dates, same place) by signing-up to the conference mailing list for notifications...

If you found any of this interesting, you can get the full edited recordings over the next few months as part of AiGameDev.com PREMIUM. Of course, you get all the other benefits of our members-only content too! Find out more here.

Comments and Feedback

This year, developers from all around the world joined us in Paris for an amazing conference, including Avalanche, CCP, Creative Assembly, Dark Works, Eidos Montreal, Frontier Developments, Guerrilla Games, IO Interactive, Natural Motion, Monolith, Quantic Dream, Sony, Ubisoft, Yager — and many more. Here's some of the feedback they gave us after the event.

“Thank you for this amazing conference! Great speakers, interesting subjects and nice people. Ten years that I’m looking for a good conference on AI in video games, I’m really happy to have found it.”
Gabriel Robert, Senior AI programmer, Ubisoft Paris.
“I thought the conference was a great success. I learned alot from the speakers at the conference, as well as interacting with the attendees.”
Frederik De Caster, AI Programmer, Creative Assembly.
“Well done for putting on such a great conference, the program was varied, interesting and inspiring. Definitely hoping to return next year.”
John Lusty, Lead Coder, Ninja Theory.
“Awesome!”
Carle Côté, AI Game Programmer, Eidos Montréal.
“Great people and outstanding content with a relaxed and easy-going atmosphere. I currently go to just one conference each year and that is the Paris Game AI Conference.”
Thomas Young, PathEngine.
“The quality of the talks was consistently high and the event well organised. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to discuss AI with so many people passionate about the subject and hope to return next year.”
Vicky Smalley, Senior AI Programmer, SCEE.
“I just wanted to go there, see what people have been doing lately in Game AI and ended up getting huge quantities of information for those two days and returning home highly enthusiastic about my projects and experiments. It was great and I will definitely be back next year.”
Alex Popescu, University of Amsterdam
“Thanks for organising a thoroughly enjoyable conference - it's nice to meet so many people with a common interest in AI. It was great to finally meet a number of people who I've spoken to via email over the past 2 years...”
Neil Armstrong, Lead AI Programmer, Blitz Games Studios.
“This was my first AI game conference. I found the lectures to be very engaging and a good insight into how other people tackle problems. I left the place very enthused and looking forwards to the next one!”
Carlos Massiah, Frontier Developments.
“Thanks for hosting such an excellent conference. I found it great to meet such a broad cross section from the AI development community. It has certainly given me some inspiration for my upcoming projects. I will definitely try to come back next year!”
Nick Davies, Senior AI Engineer, CCP Games.
“I had a brilliant time at the conference which blended a great mix of interesting talks and networking opportunities with some incredible individuals. Looking forward to next year already!”
Simon Barratt, Director, Four Door Lemon.

Photos

The official AiGameDev.com Party just after the first conference day.

The start of the unplanned AiGameDev.com street festival
that went on until early hours of the morning!

One part of the poster session during the second morning.

Another side of the poster session on the second day.

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