Staff Editorials

A.I. and Modern Gaming
Posted: 31.08.2008 20:39 by Comments: 19
Artificial intelligence is one of those interesting aspects of a video game that you don't tend to notice unless it isn't done well. Good A.I. is one of those things that blends into the experience, feeling natural enough that you never question it. The enemy soldier flanking you, the grenade just lobbed your way, you accept them because they are meant to simulate how such opponents would act in reality. Good A.I. copes with your good decisions and exploits your mistakes.

The first time I ever noticed a video game's artificial intelligence in a positive light, I was playing Fire Emblem for the Game Boy Advance. Its odd, I suppose, considering all the incredibly advanced games out there that it would be the game to stick with me in regards to that, but for all the limitations of its technology, Fire Emblem is a challenging game that constantly keeps you on your toes. The enemy is always quick to push and overwhelm you, exploiting all of your mistakes. Leave a character by themselves and you'll shortly find them surrounded. Expose a healer and every unit in range will target them. The A.I. does precisely what it's supposed to do, reacts effectively to the decisions of the player.

Bad Company featured some of the worst AI in recent memory

Unfortunately for ever example of good A.I., there are countless examples of bad A.I. in gaming. Playing the single player campaign of Battlefield: Bad Company, I was taken aback by just how poor the enemy A.I. was. They acted as little more than human gun turrets, rarely moving to avoid my shots, simply unloading round after round until I killed them. The only reason the game was difficult at all was the fact that the developers saw fit to endow the computer controlled soldiers with superhuman accuracy and the uncanny ability to know you're there before you had done anything to give yourself away.

Neglecting A.I., and in effect the single player modes that often rely on them, seems to be an evolving trend in gaming. In some genres like shooters and real time strategy for instance, no matter how realistic a developer can design an opponent to be, it's never a substitute for the real thing. Popping in classics like Goldeneye 007 today, modern gamers might be shocked to find how poorly the A.I. has aged, but add in a couple of controllers and a few friends and you're still probably going to have yourself some fun. Fighting live players is generally always going to beat taking on a computer. A computer controlled player can only do so much. They can only react in so many ways. People on the other hand are unpredictable.

With online connections practically a given part of life in America and many other gaming countries, the prominence of the multiplayer experience has grown immensely in a number of different genres and with it, its arguable the importance of A.I. has fallen off. Looking at recent releases in the shooter category for instance, one can see plenty of examples of the single player experience being increasingly neglected in favor of multiplayer. Call of Duty 4, in example, has earned mounds of praise for its addictive and challenging multiplayer. It won countless awards, topping a number of reviewer's lists for that year, and yet you'd be hard-pressed to find a single review of the game that didn't note how markedly short its story mode was. The multiplayer mode was clearly meant to be the main draw of the game.

Similarly, the aforementioned Battlefield: Bad Company featured one of the best multiplayer experiences in recent memory, but the single player mode seemed tacked on. Its problems extended far beyond its lackluster A.I. It just felt like playing a less fun version of the multiplayer mode modified to fit a storyline. It was as if the developers put it there almost out of adherence to an unspoken tradition, but didn't feel like putting in the effort to make it any good.

In some ways they can't be blamed. One of my favorite PS3 games is Resistance: Fall of Man, but I haven't touched the single player mode since I beat it the first time. The Darkness, for all its emotional whallop and advanced storytelling doesn't have much replay value to it, mostly thanks to its uninspired multiplayer. Its been pretty much proven that a game's value rises exponentially when good multiplayer is included. Some developers have taken this so close to heart, they have begun ditching single player modes altogether. Warhawk was launched as multiplayer only and has remained so, not without fiscal success either.

Evidence of this is readily available in more than just shooters. Real time strategy games have long had a strong element of human competition. One of the reasons that Starcraft achieved the rampant popularity it did was the fact that in addition to an incredible single player mode, it sported an addictive, and at the time, innovative multiplayer mode. Computer opponents were likely to stick with a few basic, preprogrammed strategies. A human player on the other hand was far less predictable and required you to play with an intelligence normally uncalled for.

This is not to say A.I. is completely pointless. There are just some genres where multiplayer isn't all that fun. Turn based strategy games for instance tend not to work as well with more than one person. Part of the appeal of that genre is being able to take one's time plotting out each move, weighing the pros and cons of everything you do. Against a computer player this isn't so bad because while you might take awhile to do something, the A.I. can more often than not react more quickly. Pairing human players however is often a recipe for slow, tedious gameplahy. Most players would rather not have to sit and wait for their opponent to think through their strategies.The development of better A.I. is a necessity to these kinds of games.

Furthermore, while multiplayer is assuredly more important than it was even just ten years ago, you'd have little luck finding anyone willing to spell off all single player experiences as pointless. The Darkness as pointed out earlier, might have been mediocre in some aspects of its design, but it still featured a story that was well worth the price of admission. Bioshock was void of multiplayer, but was centered on a plot that some gamers have proclaimed as downright philosophical.

For all that multiplayer can offer, single player campaigns still dominate certain facets of the video game experience. Few would argue that multiplayer is more adept at telling stories than single player is. There are always going to be gamers who value a good plot just as much as the they enjoy the thrills of a fragfest. For that reason alone forwarding the quality of artificial intelligence is a necessity.

Comments

By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Aug 31, 2008
herodotus
Great article Stew, and so true. We have come a long way from Pattern Based AI (Space Invaders) to Non-Deterministic AI (FEAR, HL, Far Cry). Next step could well be Artificial Logic rather than AI where it learns your behaviour and adapts to it in-game. Scary.
By Orv (SI Core) on Sep 01, 2008
Orv
Very good read. I spend a lot of time observing and assessing AI in the games I play. Nothing disappoints me more than to find a developer scripting cheats instead of AI to offer challenge of gameplay. Unfortunately, this happens far too often.
By gwareth (I just got here) on Sep 03, 2008
gwareth
Stew, first let me say that your article is what convinced me to register on strategyinformer. So that is a positive. And I am glad someone is writing about AI. So thats another positive.However, overall I feel that your article is very lacking and doesn't do any AI real justice.

First, your statement about turn-based games seemed to me to indicate a bias against the games. Turn-based games have a large multiplayer following. Look at the stats on civilization and you will see.

Second, you fail to mention some of the most important games and personalities when it comes to AI in the industry over the last couple of decades. Black & White has been held up as an outstanding case of AI in a game. The Sim games, especially The Sims 1 and 2, are cases of PURE AI in action. Any tactical squad game or sports game has a TON of AI going on under the hood and is definitely worthy of being looked at.

Third, bad AI is not an evolving trend in gaming. Its an established fact in the gaming industry and has been for the better part of two decades.

Finally, I felt that your article was too short. I reached the end and thought I was at the end of page 1. It wasn't bad and perhaps there was a maximum word count you had reached, but I felt as if it was rather abrupt. Bottom line, good start and kudos for writing about AI in general.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Sep 03, 2008
Kres
Now that you've mentioned it Gwareth. Soccer games, that I'm myself pretty found of, is where I've had the most difficulties and admire for A.I.. For instance, Pro Evolution Soccer, if you tune the AI too high, well you can barely win after a decade of heavy practices.

A.I. for strategy games were pretty frustrating. And still are of course. It is why we brought A.I. as score in our reviews originally (not present now). I always wanted to know how some game is standing with A.I. as it's the most important thing to me in a strategy game. Love Total War series, but due to its poor A.I. it was like eating a paper strawberry.
By RastaKid (SI Veteran Newbie) on Sep 04, 2008
RastaKid
So true indeed.AI is a very good for challenge of gameplay.AI can be a real challenge in some games.
By Xands (SI Newbie) on Sep 05, 2008
Xands
Personally, I prefer multilayer over single player any day because imho the only fun thing about a game is having to use dynamic strategies. Hopefully, some next-gen systems will soon be capable of some really cool AI.
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Sep 09, 2008
Wowerine
Well, yeah. AI is going for it in the future. It becomes more smart, precise and hard to kill. Lets just hopše that we don't end up like the folks in Terminator...
By stagewhisper (SI Newbie) on Sep 10, 2008
stagewhisper
There is so much truth in this article... and to be honest, my first thought when it came to "decent A.I." in a video game was Fire Emblem as well! That's such a fun, though difficult game, especially on hard mode.
It's always interesting to see new developments in A.I. in various genres of games... and while it's amusing to play with whatever glitches may come about, I'm more interested overall in any improvements that may be made.
By AytchMan (I just got here) on Sep 10, 2008
AytchMan
I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for sharply-improved AI in the near future. I've been following this field for literally decades and the outlook is not promising. Indeed, I'd suggest that game AI has actually gone backwards in the last ten or fifteen years.

There are several reasons for my unfavorable outlook. First of all, in recent years, developers have been devoting less effort to AI because they have concluded that the time and money is better spent on graphics glitz. Second, we are seeing little progress in the theoretical underpinnings of game AI. The field is going sideways. Finally, imho, short of a massive theoretical breakthrough, developing solid game AI will remain one of the most difficult applied engineering tasks we face today -- right up there with nanotechnology and bioengineering. Seriously.
By Kres (SI Elite) on Sep 10, 2008
Kres
Yes, not sure how possible it is not expect anything there any time soon. If ever.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Sep 10, 2008
herodotus
Artificial Logic is already in the final stages of testing, so not only is it any time soon, but it is anytime period. The AI in Far Cry 2, for example, will see NPC's not only gaining cover behind a car door, but opening it first. Thinking on-the-fly, and adapting to the gamer's actions - that's Artificial Logic.
By sfabobby03 (SI Veteran Newbie) on Sep 12, 2008
sfabobby03
Very good article and a great read. It is amazing how the games have changed and the AI has improved greatly. I can't even imagine what games will be like 10 years from now.
By Florentin (SI Veteran Member) on Sep 12, 2008
Florentin
Great article. Very enjoyable to read.
I was thinking about your comment on finding multiple players online.
I agree. And I would add that even today there are still games that you will not find a co-player for. It all depends on the type of game.

This one will have no problem of course.

Again, great read!
By Nicolas19 (SI Core Veteran) on Sep 15, 2008
Nicolas19
I don't put so much emphasis on AI in shooters, as it really doesn't count that much - as far as they don't destroy the atmosphere, I'm satisfied. As for RTS, it's quite the opposite, the computer must pose a real threat.
However, enjoyable games with zero AI must be mentioned, too... like Serious Sam, anyone remembers?:)
By Orv (SI Core) on Sep 20, 2008
Orv
Some mention that they prefer multiplayer games because AI has classically been incapable of offering the level of variety and challenge that comes from real opponents. My problem with real opponents is that most multiplayer games take place on open servers where a high percentage of players are more interested in taking advantage of poor game design, coding flaws, and outright cheats to gain advantage rather than playing the game in the spirit it was intended.
So both AI and real opponents have their drawbacks.
By lichlord (SI Core) on Oct 05, 2008
lichlord
played half life 1 and then FEAR it does make a diffrence on what the AI does do instead of shooting on a wall if you get me they stand after it for cover now it has changed a lot the variarety of what the AI does makes them less predicteble thus making it more realistic
By lichlord (SI Core) on Oct 05, 2008
lichlord
also the AI on RTS games is improving but still a bit mindless take supreme commander on a skirmish battle where the hell are its aircrafts they don't build any i want an AI that challenges more my stratgegies annd defences so i can improve myself
By GreatTeacher (SI Member) on Dec 04, 2008
GreatTeacher
Very good read. I spend a lot of time observing and assessing AI in the games I play. Nothing disappoints me more than to find a developer scripting cheats instead of AI to offer challenge of gameplay. Unfortunately, this happens far too oftenYes, not sure how possible it is not expect anything there any time soon. If ever.I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for sharply-improved AI in the near future. I've been following this field for literally decades and the outlook is not promising. Indeed, I'd suggest that game AI has actually gone backwards in the last ten or fifteen years.
By nobuargaoda (SI Core Veteran) on Dec 07, 2008
nobuargaoda
A.I is like our performance's tester. A.I in some games are better than the player. However, player that can overcome A.I is not a guarantee to beat out other player. Nice article, piece of work!