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Games of the Year: The 2013 AiGameDev.com Awards for Game AI

Alex J. Champandard on January 3, 2014

Every year AiGameDev.com hosts the Awards for Game AI, shining the spotlight on the best releases of the past year. There are six different awards, ranging from technology to design and of course overall game of the year. For each, we've included the community vote results as well as the editor's choice. For 2013 in particular, the nominations were already highly competitive!

Like previous years, the games this year have raised the bar in many places for artificial intelligence, including autonomous buddy behavior, search-based techniques to find optimal moves, and non-character AI such as music generation and learning to race cars based on human data. Of course, not all games were as successful as planned — but in some cases it's important to reward their vision and boldness!

Best AI in a AAA Game

Community Vote
The Last Of Us

This year's grand winner of the community vote is Naughty Dog's action-adventure survival horror game. The Last of Us takes all of the studio's wisdom in design and technology building the Uncharted series, and distills it into one of the best single player experiences of the year.

The Last of Us features one prominent AI character "buddy" called Ellie, whom the player (Joel) is required to accompany through the story. Through great use of storytelling, design, voice acting, animation and technology, the game manages not only to avoid the usual pitfalls of escort missions, but manages to portray incredibly rich characters with a touching and memorable relationship.

Nominations

  • Need For Speed: Rivals
  • Bioshock Infinite
  • Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag
  • Grand Theft Auto V
  • Europa Universalis IV

Honorable Mentions

  • Metro: Last Light
  • Tomb Raider
  • Warframe
  • Forza Motorsport 5
  • Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches

Editor's Pick
Grand Theft Auto V

It's impossible to consider the past 12 months in gaming without looking at the biggest established franchises and the best selling ones too. This year, it's our choice for best AI in a game also. Rockstar's latest installment is an epic multi-studio achievement of the largest proportions, worthy of any gamer's attention. The city of Los Santos and its surroundings is brought to life in a way that's yet to be matched, leading to some inspiring photographs of street life among many other fun stories you can read around the internet.

Even if you're not an AI geek, you'll probably notice many places where the game breaks or the characters don't "work" as they should. Internally at AiGameDev.com, we've also had discussions whether the ambient life behind the game is as capable technically as what Rockstar used in Red Dead Dedemption. Regardless, the magnitude of Rockstar's vision for the world only helps emphasize the importance of AI for this (and upcoming) games. As other big publishers take a cue from Grand Theft Auto, expect to see many more rich worlds brought to life like this.

Best Non-Player Characters

Community Vote
The Last Of Us

Naughty Dog's game also won the Award for AI in AAA Game of 2013, primarily for its characters, so it's natural it would also win this award too. It's actually the first double win in the history of the AiGameDev.com awards. We've already described the incredible way in which The Last of Us portrays Ellie (the AI buddy), but the enemy NPCs have also received praise of their own.

In 2011, Id Software's RAGE managed to impress AI geeks and compel players with its enemy AI that displayed great survival behaviors (see those awards). Similarly, Naughty Dog's enemies display a sense of self-preservation that makes them feel more believable than the average NPC in-game. This includes animations to portray fear as well as the cover-taking decisions.

“From smart animations (such as breathing heavily when in a tense showdown) to enemies that will hide and ambush, The Last of Us improved AI while its contemporaries included run of the mill 'See you, run towards you, shoot you' AI.”
— Jacob Germany

Nominations

  • Tomb Raider
  • Clumsy Ninja
  • Prison Architect
  • Versu
  • Bioshock Infinite

Editor's Pick
Bioshock Infinite

There are lots of great contenders from 2013, but our choice for Best Non-Player Characters is BioShock Infinite. After such high expectations set from the previous iterations in the franchise, it took a strong team of AI designers and programmers many hard years to pull this off (many of whom we've interviewed here on AiGameDev.com for other games).

Elizabeth in particular took many iterations across all disciplines to get to this level of quality. The scene on the beach is an example of the AI at work, and we think it should become a standard use-case for anyone developing non-combat AI. As for the combat, the game also uses high-level AI similar to Halo 3's objectives system to coordinate enemies, and the resulting gameplay is very compelling.

Best AI in an Independent Game

Community Vote
Versu

Last year, Linden Lab acquired a small AI-powered company called Little Text People, founded by Richard Evans and Emily Short. Their first release together is best described as part game / part story, as a digital interactive version of the Choose Your Own Adventure books powered by one of the industry's most sophisticated social models.

The game, available on iPad, features a tutorial story available freely and written by Emily Short. More content was also written by Deirdra Kiai. You can interact with it via a set of actions that you can perform at any time as the simulation continues, or sometimes when prompted. It's a style of experience quite unlike any other out there!

Nominations

Editor's Pick
Prison Architect

Introversion is back better than ever with a completely different style of game in the simulation genre. Prison Architect's success at crowd-funding early in the year inspired many other initiatives in the same genre, which in turn is leading to a revival of Bullfrog-style sim games that's taking over from their shallow web-based cousins.

It's the attention to details that earns Prison Architect its award. From the different needs and drives of each prisoner, to way they dig tunnels to escape, or their behavior in kitchens/canteens/laundries. Introversion's approach of providing early access and iterating over the behaviors/AI based on feedback is also commendable, and has already inspired many other developers too.

Design Innovation in Game AI

Community Vote
Perceptual Control Theory in Clumsy Ninja

Natural Motion started as a technology and middleware company licensing its Euphoria and Endorphin animation technology. Since then, it transitioned into making games primarily like My Horse or CSR Racing. Clumsy Ninja is a free-to-play game that cleverly combines both of those areas together.

The game features an interactive and active "ragdoll" that responds to your various actions; you can hit, pull, drag, throw your little Ninja and see how it responds. While interacting with it, the Ninja will not just respond physically but also behave accordingly, looking at its hand while you hold it or at props and balloons. This behavior is reminiscent of Perceptual Control Theory, invented by Bill Powers. (Thanks to Don Kirkland for pointing out the link on the PCT page.)

It's clear the developers at Natural Motion added these Ninja behaviors to increase engagement and interaction, whether they were aware of PCT or not. However, this innovative game also opens the door for further innovations for combining perception and behavior.

Nominations

  • Interactive Stories in VERSU
  • World Generation in DON'T STARVE
  • Perceptual Control Theory in CLUMSY NINJA
  • Social Behavior in RED SHIRT

Editor's Pick
AI-generated Combat in Warframe

As an AI geek, if you were to write a list of features to put in a combat game, Warframe would tick (almost) all your boxes. It has procedural generation of entire spaceships based on individual building blocks, an AI director that controls the action by spawning enemies as appropriate, a variety of enemy behaviors from melee to ranged attacks, and of course match-making algorithms. The innovation lies in applying all these disconnected techniques together within a popular genre, and making it work.

While the game got mixed reviews from critics, it's a huge hit with players. Warframe has been on Steam for the best part of this year, currently the top selling DLC in the Free To Play category and the third most popular. It also launched on PS4, and it wouldn't be a surprise to us if it out-grossed established franchises like Killzone on that platform over the next year. (Warframe is one of my most played games this year.)

AI Technology in a Supporting Role

Community Vote
Drivatar in Forza Motorsport 5

Forza Motorsport 5 has kicked off the XBox One launch in style with an incredibly looking racing simulation. It has raised some questions from the community for its use of micro-transaction, but one AI feature in particular that's been very well received was Drivatar. This was also a feature in previous Forza games, but with Microsoft's new strategy for cloud computing, this feature received more attention.

Overall, the game was also praised by critics for its revamped racing AI. In fact, all computer-controlled opponents are modelled on other human beings and inserted into the game with their personas/personalities clearly on display. Drivatar is also a very clever way to enable non-realtime multiplayer collaboration by sharing your trained AI with friends. Could more games outside racing benefit from this?

Nominations

  • Agent-based Simulation in SIM CITY
  • Fish Simulation in CALL OF DUTY: GHOST
  • Drivatar in FORZA MOTORSPORT 5
  • Ambient AI in ASSASSIN's CREED: BLACK FLAG

Honorable Mentions

  • Spelunky

Editor's Pick
Jam Mode in Rocksmith

In the past few years, AI in games has made its mark in areas other than non-player characters. This year we're picking Rocksmith for its generative audio in jam mode, where simulated band members play together — both driving the improvisation and adapting to the player. This adds yet another layer of depth to a game that's already highly rated for amateur guitarists.

If you try to break down the music generation as an AI geek, it may seem like a relatiively simple system under the hood, as indeed most AI in games is! But this game mode provides a solid experience and has kept the AiGameDev.com team entertained for many hours. Credit goes to Ubisoft for considering this and pulling it off at this level.

Technical Innovation in Game AI

Community Vote
Monte-Carlo Tree Search at AI Factory

In the mobile sector, there are many games released by studios that you have never heard of. AI Factory fits into this category, yet its broad range of board and card games have been downloaded over 40 million times on Android! What's particularly interesting is the underlying implementation that's based on Monte-Carlo Tree Search, a relatively new AI algorithm that uses a combination of math and brute force to calculate good moves.

MCTS has not been applied very widely outside of card or board games, or outside of AI Factory either. However, there's a huge academic interest in the technique and steady progress is being made, not least in the Go community where other algorithms reached a plateau due to the complexity of the search space. It's going to be interesting seeing this approach applied into other types of games. (See our recent interview about MCTS in Starcraft, for instance.)

Nominations

  • Plan Compilation in KILLZONE: SHADOW FALL
  • Neural Networks in DEMOCRACY 3
  • Agent Simulation in SIM CITY
  • Physics-Based Animation in CLUMSY NINJA

References

Community Vote
Agent-Based City Sim

SimCity has been a huge discussion topic in the community this year, and we have recurring discussions about it here in the AiGameDev.com labs. So let's be clear about this; Sim City's design is broken in many ways — in part because of its agent-based simulation. Arguably, the simulation of the many-to-many "exchanges" in a city cannot be reduced down to a set of single-source pathfinding calculations. This results, for example, in Sims returning from work and all moving to the nearest free house...

However, despite these design flaws, despite the technical issues with consistent online play and unreliable servers, Sim City's large scale agent-based approach is still one of the most innovative and bold ideas to be implemented in a game. The first iteration of Glassbox may not have quite succeeded, but here's to hoping that Maxis and EA address these issues in another iteration!

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