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AI Buzz in Recent Game Reviews

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

I’ve been watching with interest as some of the recent game reviews have been (briefly) touching on the AI of the games. As a brief aside, it’s annoying that a reviewer can spend 2 paragraphs on the purty graphics and 2 sentences on the AI. Yet, you could shave 20% of the graphics quality and it wouldn’t hurt the gameplay experience too much. Add 20% to the AI and it may affect the gameplay a significant amount. Keep that in mind as you read these excerpts.

Empire Earth III – (Full review)

Matters aren’t helped by a number of other irritations. The unit pathfinding is dim-witted, with units frequently getting stuck, taking the long way round or sometimes just rotating in place.

That doesn’t sound promising at all. This is sad, too. The original Empire Earth was very noteworthy because of its AI. In fact, those in game AI circles know full well that many a whitepaper was written on some of the techniques that they used in the game. That being said, Mad Doc software, current custodian of the EE franchise, is headed up by Dr. Ian Lan Davis who has a doctorarte from Carnegie Mellon University in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. That doesn’t seem to jive with the above observation about the unit AI. I haven’t played EE2 or EE3, but I remember hearing similar comments about EE2. I may just pick them both up to observe.

Manhunt 2 (for Wii) – (Full review)

That is, when you’re not hiding in the shadows trying to be Sam Fisher or Solid Snake. Stealth tactics play an important role in the game, but in a gory game like Manhunt 2, this feels a little out of place. I mean, it’s obvious Daniel doesn’t want to get caught… It also doesn’t help that the A.I. is as dumb as a sack of bricks at times, meaning that if you just slightly slip into the shadows, it’s as if you’ve disappeared off the face of the Earth. And really, when you’ve got a bunch of people hunting you down to silence you, you’d figure they might try a little harder.

I thought this was interesting. For the past 4 or 5 years there has been some interest in sensory systems such as were exhibited in Theif and Splinter Cell. It seems (just from this quote) that Manhunt 2 is trying to do that as well. However, while analyzing light vs. shadows is an important aspect of stealth work, that is only part of the solution. Where the developers may have stopped short is building in a bit of “urgency momentum” into their AI agents. That is, if you are truly searching for someone, you are specifically going to check the dark areas.

This is something that it looks like Rockstar wanted to address… at least according to this review:

Coupled with the enhanced AI of hunters in Manhunt 2 will be the fact that even in the darkest of shadows, your character will not be totally safe. In the original Manhunt, often you found yourself safely concealed in darkness inches away from a hunter, which was a tad unrealistic. This is a thing of the past with Manhunt 2 as now, even with total darkness and complete stillness, hunters can still detect you and drag you out into the open for the kill.

Note that the above is future tense – that is what Rockstar said they were going to do. Take that with a large block of salt coming from any studio. Continuing from the same review however, is an interesting caveat…

The way Manhunt 2 will portray this is via a mini game of sorts – if you’re well hidden in darkness but a hunter suspects your presence, you will have to successfully complete a series of button presses to avoid detection. While this is not exactly the most innovative idea around, it should keep you on your toes knowing that no matter where you are, in Manhunt 2, you are never completely safe. Of course, detection won’t necessarily mean game over, but it will definitely make survival much harder.

Kane & Lynch: Dead Men – (Full Review)

The enemy AI is also mostly competent, working as a team and retreating when injured. However, tangos usually leave part of their body exposed when hiding behind cover, meaning skirmishes are seldom a lengthy affair.

This looks generally good news. It’s always nice to see group behaviors rather than simply a collection of individual ones. I wish I knew what “working as a team” means, however. A lot of that can be faked. Are they providing cover fire while others are moving? Are they flanking you? There’s so much unsaid there.

Retreating when injured is such a simple thing to do – but I give it kudos because it’s an obvious – almost instinctual – behavior that designers seem to leave out more often than not.

The issue of using cover is a little harder to pull off properly. But I don’t want to fault the AI programmers on something that may very well have been a designer decision rather than the inability of the programmers. I will leave that alone.

Resident Evil 4 – (for GameCube) – (Full Review)

But also, gone are the days of stupid zombies. The AI in the game is very well done. They will coordinate attacks, throw things at you, position themselves to corner you, basically all the things that can be done in real life.

This is in the similar vein as Kane & Lynch above. What do they mean by “coordinate attacks?” Still, this is promising to hear about. I also like the idea of the AI “cornering you”. If that’s true, that shows that they are doing some analysis of the “terrain” to determine either choke points or exit routes. I would like to see if this is the case.

I left the last sentence in there for a reason – “all the things that can be done in real life.” While I doubt that is the case and chalk it up to oversimplification by the author, I do like the idea. After all, isn’t that what we are looking for in our game AI? Isn’t that the whole point?

Let’s hope we keep moving forward… and maybe eventually we will get there. I will do my part!

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