AI programmers struggle to makes games 'imitate life'

Engineers propose solutions to some of the biggest problems in artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence, a field of programming employed by video game developers to make characters smarter and improve their decisions, still has a ways to go before it actually yields intelligent characters.

"There are AI games with very little 'I' in them," said Brian Schwab, senior AI and gameplay engineer at Blizzard Entertainment, which has published the hugely successful "Warcraft," "StarCraft" and "Diablo" series of strategy games.

The problem is that the characters programmed into today's video games, whether they are diplomatic teammates or malicious enemies, know very little about the person who is actually playing the game, Schwab said Monday to an audience of gamers, developers and programmers during a panel session at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in downtown San Francisco.

"I want recognition. I want a game where everybody knows my name," Schwab said, likening many of the characters in today's games to the door greeters at department stores who robotically recite the same greeting to every customer who walks into the store.

More human enemies with personal flaws that the protagonist can exploit, companions who actually assist the player rather than just annoy him, and mentor figures with advice personalized for the gamer, those are all Schwab's wishes.

If those remarks sound like nothing more than an off-the-rails rant, it's because they were made during GDC's annual "tantrums" panel, an event giving industry insiders a soapbox to vent on any topic of their choosing within the field of artificial intelligence.

But underneath the vitriol some common themes were voiced by the panelists. Many agreed that the game play in video games today, as advanced as they are, could still be much more realistic.

One possible fix to solve the behavior recognition problem: PC- and console-based game developers could explore ways to connect or partner with mobile game developers to mine the data that those companies have on their users and incorporate it into characters' interactions with the gamer, Schwab said.

"Obviously there's a little bit of a privacy issue there, but there is data to be had that AI systems could be using to get to know us on a deep level," he said.

Others identified gamers' lack of understanding of characters' thinking processes as a problem. Referred to in the industry as "feedback," the issue plays out in games when the player does not get any useful information to relate to the characters they encounter.

This is a problem because "if a player doesn't understand why something is happening, then it isn't happening," said Daniel Kline, a software engineer at Maxis, publisher of the simulation-based "Sim" game series.

"This is the holy grail of gaming," Kline said. "We have to solve this problem."

One game, however, that got it right in terms of feedback is the action adventure game "Dishonored," which lets players teleport at any given time and also see through walls, giving them instant access to enemies' behavior at any given time, Kline said. "You had all this information you could react to," he explained.

Less dramatic solutions may include automatically pausing the game to freeze-frame and emphasize a particular facial expression worn by a character, or change the lighting to focus on a particular behavior while filtering out the surround "noise," Kline suggested.

"We need to look for new, simpler, clearer ways of getting the player's attention," he said.

Still others suggested that programmers change their thinking on "emergent behaviors," which are serendipitous events or behaviors that manifest themselves in video games that were not the intent of the developer. For example, the scenario in which a player is barricaded in a room and enemy guards start throwing grenades at the barricade to destroy it may appear to be intelligent behavior, but if the scenario was not the programmer's intent then he should try to grasp how it came about rather than just "letting it be," said Ben Sunshine-Hill, a software engineer at Havok, a physics software engine employed by other game developers.

"This emergent behavior is not your friend," he said. "What if you were asked to change it from three grenades to two grenades? You can't do it," he said. Instead, programmers need to be in control, and to think more about how their code may be unintentionally affecting a game's AI, even if it's for the better, Sunshine-Hill said.

Similarly, others called on audience members to incorporate more robust, "adaptive architecture" into their games' AI, so that more stored information about the player, such as saved gaming history and statistics, could be used to adapt the AI based on the player's own decisions.

Because, after all, said Steve Rabin, of the DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, Washington, "as AI programmers we are trying to imitate life."

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags Blizzard Entertainmentconsumer electronicsGame platformsPC-based gamesgamesMaxisHavokentertainmentgame software

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Zach Miners

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?