The Unseen Revolution: Video Game AI
The Unseen Revolution: Video Game AI
We have been living in a gaming revolution our entire lives. Across the world, our entertainment past times have gone from simple wood contraptions whittled by Grandpa on the porch, to multi billion dollar digital open worlds, where non-player characters (NPCs) are expected to act intelligent and respond to our inputs without pattern or predictability. Not surprisingly, artificial intelligence has played a major role in the creation of our favorite games, helping improve gameplay and overall enjoyment. Today, video game AI is a major factor in a game’s success.
Before the advent of artificial intelligence, games were solely multiplayer. They required two people to join in the fun, as in the 1960s, developers had not fully figured out how to make a computer-player perform at the level of a human player.
In the 1970s, developers introduced more single player games. These games used discreet logic to make their single player magic happen. Think IF the user moves to the same Y-value as the NPC, THEN shoot gun. IF player is not on the same Y-value, THEN move left one, up two. REPEAT until the player is on the same y-value, THEN shoot.
Clearly, these games lacked any sort of intelligence, and, at best, would control NPCs by simply having them play out a pre-programmed series of movements. Not surprisingly, players were able to discern these movement patterns and use this knowledge to beat the game. In Pac Man, players discovered that the ghosts would follow predictable patterns based both on time and their color. Once a player fully understood these pre-programmed patterns, beating the game was just a matter of time.
Fast forward a couple decades to the 1990s, and mainstream games are now expected to contain AI to help increase the illusion of realism. Blockbuster (and nominee for the best video game ever) First Person Shooters (FPS) such as Goldeneye 007 made use of AI to improve the movements of enemies, allowing them to dodge grenades and take cover. Goldeneye’s unofficial sequel, Perfect Dark, took AI a step further, with enemies picking up dead comrade’s guns, for instance. While this early AI is sometimes hard to distinguish from earlier discreet logic with a handful of rules to follow, further advances in AI were not far away.
Ten years later Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was released, with one of the most advanced AIs to date. In this game, each NPC had its own life story, moving around the map with specific tasks in mind. Interactions with other players and events would cause the AI to change the character’s path, both literally and figuratively. Interaction with the player, or other NPCs, could cause a docile villager to become a murderous thief. In fact, the initial models used for these NPCs had to be rolled back a bit, as they were getting in the way of completing quests:
“In some cases, we the developers have had to consciously tone down the types of behavior they carry out. Again, why? Because sometimes, the AI is so goddamned smart and determined it screws up our quests! Seriously, sometimes it’s gotten so weird it’s like dealing with a holodeck that’s gone sentient. Imagine playing The Sims, and your Sims have a penchant for murder and theft. So a lot of the time this stuff is funny, and amazing, and emergent, and it’s awesome when it happens. Other times, it’s so unexpected, it breaks stuff. Designers need a certain amount of control over the scenarios they create, and things can go haywire when NPCs have a mind of their own.” – Emil Pagliatulo, Elder Scrolls developer
Today, the neural engines that are included with the next gen consoles will help take the AI contained within games to the next level. Imagine playing a game that has learned from your inputs and behavior, using this data to produce a more realistic/difficult/enjoyable gaming experience. The days of a game being the exact same from player to player will become a thing of the past. According to Microsoft, the Xbox Series X’s Direct ML has, “gone even further introducing additional next-generation innovation such as hardware accelerated Machine Learning capabilities for better NPC intelligence, more lifelike animation, and improved visual quality via techniques such as ML powered super resolution.”