As long as I’ve been a gamer, video game A.I. has always struggled to satisfy. N.P.C.s, or “nonplayable characters,” walk against furniture and walls as if it’s their mission to conquer the obstruct without acknowledging it. Often, we attribute it to the lack of advances in tech. As it stands, that’s not a reasonable excuse anymore. The 9th console generation should focus a great deal more on artificial intelligence. To start, I’d like to talk about a game that questions why we haven’t seen vast improvements.
When it comes to A.I., I immediately think about F.E.A.R. At an early stage in the game, the enemies quickly gunned me down. Thanks to every game before it, though, I went back in assuming what we all did: The enemy will stand in the same corner, so I won’t make the same mistake twice. Suddenly, I realize the enemy A.I. isn’t acting the same in the slightest. That’s the moment first-person shooters excited me. If the campaign provides enemies who behave in various ways, I do not care if the A.I. is ‘made’ to look good.
Jeff Orkin of Monolith Productions, former A.I. Lead for F.E.A.R., wrote a paper about their A.I. system. In it, he explains that the team wanted the game to be an over-the-top action movie experience. The goal was to create combat scenarios as intense as playing multiplayer against experienced humans. “A.I. take cover, blind fire, dive through windows, flush out the player with grenades, communicate with teammates, and more.”
Monolith succeeded in creating the most human-like A.I. with a few tricks I can’t begin to understand. One thing I’ve come to realize is A.I. is less a problem of processing power. After all, Monolith released F.E.A.R. in 2005 on Windows and then ported it to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Instead, what we have on our hands is a problem properly implementing artificial intelligence into gameplay.
Most games choose Scripts over A.I.
I don’t expect any developer to look at F.E.A.R.’s artificial intelligence and slap it into an Elder Scrolls Game.
Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series lets us play in a living world with N.P.C.s who should act human. They pick up weapons, using consumables, retreating, trying to find you, among so much more. There are also day and night schedules that bring out different behavioral patterns. Unfortunately, we’re well aware that N.P.C.s tend to wander into objects. Elder Scrolls uses another form of A.I. called scripting, otherwise known as a decision tree. When players witness strange behavior from an N.P.C., scripting is behind it.
I won’t pretend to understand the science altogether. Every N.P.C. is continually making decisions based on a pre-determined ‘tree’ of actions and conditions. “Is my enemy left of my sword?” If yes, the N.P.C. turns to look right and attacks. If no, it does a check to see if we’re at the left and reacts accordingly. If we’re nowhere near, the N.P.C. will not try to engage us and then carry on with other decision trees. Glitches can occur and completely break its behavior.
It’s my understanding that A.I. is an expensive venture, so the reliance on scripts makes sense.
Rockstar is about to improve A.I.
The famous Grand Theft Auto publisher, Rockstar, patented new A.I. tech last year, according to dualshockers. It’s called ‘System and Method for Virtual Navigation in a Gaming Environment.’ The patent document notes that conventional systems only provide limited resources for developers who want their worlds to feel more organic. Most games limit their N.P.C.s to mostly acting the same. Rockstar is painfully aware that we need something to replace the current system.
Rockstar is doing something with this new system that I’ve been waiting for. They want each N.P.C. to have their own personalities and take actions based on them. The system claims that their nature will change their behavior when driving and traversing the world. If Rockstar perfects this, it’s another step toward competent A.I. that can further immerse gamers.
I don’t want A.I. that is as capable as me. I’d enjoy it if each N.P.C. has its own personality, that’s for sure. If that means a game occasionally subjects me to computer-controlled enemies who are on par with humans, so be it. However, I’m aware that if an A.I. system causes every N.P.C. to perform better than a human, no one will enjoy the game. Stealth games operate with it in mind that their characters have to be flawed. If they are too smart, sneaking around would be impossible, so developers purposely dumb them down for these scenarios.
One system can’t explain away my complaints about A.I. There is more than one way for developers to utilize artificial intelligence. They’re always trying to imagine new ways to implement it. No one system needs to make the other obsolete. Instead, I assume that old tricks can help improve upon even the most complex A.I. systems. So, here’s to the future of artificial intelligence!