With 2010 starting to fade away in the rear view mirror, there's no better time to announce the winners of this year's AiGameDev.com Awards for Game AI. The games are still fresh in everyone's minds, the votes are in, and everything is set for another year of innovative and fun game AI.
This year's voting was much more predictable than last year, and in fact things went very smoothly. We changed the voting a bit so people don't have to vote against games they haven't played... Most of the winners this year were by a clear margin. Also included is the Editor's Pick that we introduced last year, since it helps shine the spotlight on other games that deserve it.
Anyway, without further ado...
Best AI in a AAA Game
RED DEAD REDEMPTION
Rockstar's newest multi-million selling game set in the Old West received the most votes and wins this year's AiGameDev.com Award for Best AI in a AAA Game. Many reviewers and players described the game as a living landscape, and is arguably the best portrayed worlds in a game so far. Like with Rockstar games in general, the various parts of the AI are masterfully put together and seemlessly integrated into the rest of the game.
Conversely, while no particular component of the AI stands out and draws attention to itself, each of them have raised the bar in their own way. This includes the ambient AI for the inhabitants of the world, the intelligent death animations with Euphoria, and many more... In a comment, a developer on the game provided a glimpse of some of the other AI systems in the game:
“On top of this is one of the most detailed wildlife simulations seen outside of a Nature/Hunting game, featuring animals that reason about hunger, thirst, and threats to themselves. And there's still Euphoria, our personality-based combat AI, and all the unique player horse AI left to mention.”
Granted, RED DEAD REDEMPTION is not without its fair share of bugs, but they are hidden in the shadow of the game's ambitions. This award is well deserved!
SUPREME COMMANDER 2
There's no game I played more this year than SUPREME COMMANDER 2, and that's quite an achievement considering I played exclusively in Skirmish against AI opponents. The few occasions I played with our resident expert Phil Carlisle (zoombapup on Steam) or the occupants of our #gameai IRC channel together against the AI only served to emphasize the intelligence and adaptiveness of the bots — whether playing 1-on-1 or 2-on-2!
I'd initially started playing the game before the interview with Mike Robbins to find out what all those AI patches to the game were about. Mike, or "Sorian" as he's known in the SUPREME COMMANDER community, had built up quite a reputation for his unnoficial AI mod, and actually got hired at Gas Powered Games based on it. I jumped in to the game directly in Skirmish against the AI, helped by the intuitiveness of the game and its UI. A few games later I'd learned the hard way about experimental units, the improtance of large armies, nukes, shields, etc. Each time I got a perfect demonstration of how to use them by the AI bots.
Despite adapting to each of my defeats, the enemy AI would easily find new flaws in my gameplay and teach me something new. After a while, I discovered that some of the maps are expertly designed and particularly well setup for long battles, and thus began multiple quests to win against 3 hard AIs in free for all. Other 6-way maps are interesting to play with another allied AI at the opposite side of the map, and 8-way maps can be particularly fun with a few friends on your side. Regardless, the AI of SUPREME COMMANDER 2 not only does a great job of adapting to your weaknesses, but it also gives you the impression of epic battles where you're playing
While AI in the game is generally one of the most "competent" RTS AI's I've seen, after 10h-20h of play you'll need to turn on the cheating with resources for it to remain competitive. That's a possible point to improve, but even with cheating enabled the Hard AI is balanced well enough that it doesn't become frustrating, and you just continue with your challenge of defeating the AI on different maps — regardless of whether the resources are distributed symmetrically or not. Anyway, not to detract from Gas Powered Games' achievement however, as the high-level SUPREME COMMANDER 2 players have mentioned to Mike how this is one of the few games where they can still have fun against the AI in the game.
Best Non-Player Characters
Red Dead Redemption
I mentiond that RED DEAD REDEMPTION took its world to new depths thanks to its NPCs, so it's no surprise that the game also won the community's vote for best non-player characters as well. Here's what an AI Programmer on the project had to say about the non-player characters in the game:
“We have over 800 unique character models, each with a unique voice. Over 200 of these have full 24 hour schedules governing their daily life in the world. Each NPC is running a behavior tree — no dummy FSM's for background pedestrians. This allows them to context switch very rapidly, which is necessary with how dynamic the world is. There are personality profiles that extend across game mode — a character who behaves recklessly when facing aggression from the player or another NPC is likely to also play Poker recklessly.”
It's interesting to note that this year's winner of the Best NPCs Award is in stark contrast with UNCHARTED 2 that won last year. Whereas in 2009 drew attention to individual characters, their behavior and animation, in 2010 we've pushed the boundaries with larger groups of more diverse NPCs.
Design Innovation in Game AI
Behaving Like Non-Player Characters
This particular award for design innovation was the most controversial of the year. ASSASSIN's CREED: BROTHERHOOD was a clear winner here for its multiplayer gameplay where you behave like Non-Player Characters to hide from other players in the world, and surprise them in turn. The game mode is very much fun to play, and the award is certainly deserved.
The controversy errupted about who should get the credit for that design though! Some commenters mentioned that SPY PARTY should have taken the credit (though it's not out yet) since its gameplay is based entirely around acting like the NPCs in the game. Then, others pointed to a forum thread about BLOODY GOOD TIME, sequel to THE SHIP, which features practically identical gameplay. The game was also published by Ubisoft, and unfortunately, get very little attention because of it.
Either way, behaving like NPCs is a fun mechanic that will no doubt become increasingly popular as more online games include AI and rich worlds.
Visible Last Known Position
In a genre where technical improvements to the AI are rarely noticed or even make the gameplay worse, SPLINTER CELL: CONVICTION reinvented the stealth game from the design perspective instead. The game introduced a handful of gameplay innovations, including Mark & Execute and visualization of the last known player position.
The AI in stealth games, and nowadays most shooters, includes the concept of a last known position. With the latest SPLINTER CELL game, Ubisoft made this concept real by visualizing it in the world. While this may seem like a step backwards — and it certainly fits with the trend of simplifying games — a visual "Last Know Position" also opens up new opportunities for problem-solving. It's much easier to toy with guards as if they were cats or dogs, distracting them with laser pointers or throwing a ball into the corner. And that... is always fun!
AI Technology in a Supporting Role
While Euphoria has been integrated into a few notable games over the past few years, including GRAND THEFT AUTO 4 and THE FORCE UNLEASHED, it's this year that the AiGameDev.com community gave it an award. In particular, part of RED DEAD REDEMPTION's animation system is based on Euphoria, with extensions from the "proprietary R.A.G.E. physics engine" developed at Rockstar (see this trailer). Euphoria was also a central part of Natural Motion's very own title, BACKBREAKER, which was designed around the strenghts of the physics-based animation system.
Personality Profiling in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
Technically, SILENT HILL: SHATTERED MEMORIES was released in late 2009, but it didn't feature in our awards last year since we started nominations a bit earlier. Since a few voters mentioned it explicitly this year, and many designers were raving about the game after the presentation at the Paris Game/AI Conference 2010, it seemed like the obvious choice for an editor's pick.
The latest iteration in the SILENT HILL franchise uses personality profiling within the game to get inside your head. It tracks your personality traits thanks to an initial survey, and within the game by tracking your actions. Then, the game serves different content to you based on your personality traits, for example in cutscenes, geometry in the world or even the monsters.
Technical Innovation in Game AI
Crowd Flow in Heavy Rain
The winner of the award for Technical Innovation in Game AI is Heavy Rain with its implementation of crowd flow algorithms on the SPU. Heavy Rain used the technology in a few select scenes that were critical to the telling of the story, including the scenes in the mall as well as the train station.
The underlying code is based on AMD's paper called The March of the Froblins which shows how crowd flow algorithms can be implemented on GPU-like processors efficiently. There has been a resurgence in such flow-field based implementations in both academia and the games industry recently, as I noted in my analysis of trends from 2010.
Most Influential Published Research
Reactive Planning Idioms for Multi-Scale Game AI
Reactive Planning Idioms for Multi-Scale Game AI Ben Weber, Peter Mawhorter, Michael Mateas, and Arnav Jhala Download PDF
Motion Fields for Interactive Character Animation
Motion Fields for Interactive Character Animation Yongjoon Lee, Kevin Wampler, Gilbert Bernstein, Jovan Popovi?, Zoran Popovi? Download PDF
2010 has been an exciting year for AI innotavion in both design and technology. Which were your favorite games of the year?
If you have any thoughts or comments, don't hesitate to post them in the forum thread...