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Posts Tagged ‘MMORPG’

Raph Koster on Dynamic POIs

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Raph Koster, best known as the lead designer of Ultima Online and the creative director for Star Wars Galaxies, wrote an interesting post on his blog at the end of April. In the post, “Dynamic POIs“, He discusses how, in Star Wars Galaxies, they constructed a method for the computer to generate automatic content in the MMO world.

The term POI stands for point of interest and dates back to his UO days. At the time, those POIs were hand-placed by the design team. In a world the size of SWG, this was simply not feasible. He comments how even a room full of junior designers churning these encounters out was simply not enough. The proposed solution was to algorithmically generate these locations and fill them with life.

One of the complicating factors in this was that they weren’t simply placing the D&D staple of a wandering monster. They were generating a camp or facility full of these agents complete with scenery… and plot. Here’s a quote from the article that explains it better.

Don’t roll up just a bandit; roll up a little bandit campsite, with a tent, a campfire, three bandits, one of whom hates one of the others, a young bandit who isn’t actually a bad guy but has been sucked into the life because he has a young pregnant wife at home… In fact, maybe have an assortment of bandits — twenty possible ones maybe. Then pick three for your camp. That way you always get a flavorful but slightly different experience.

So what we are looking at is a random type of encounter with a random population, in a random location. So far that’s pretty groovy. If you want a description of what it was like, SWG producer, Haden Blackman writes about his own encounter with a dynamic POI.

One advantage that they had with SWG that didn’t exist with UO is that the SWG map was procedurally generated in the first place. That made generating a random encounter simply an extension that was over and above the map generation. They could create and destroy these places by simply making sure there was no one around.

…it was just as hard to create the dynamic content as it was to create static content.

In order to provide some variety, these encounters could also be designed modularly. The actors might be different or they may send you on different missions than a similarly constructed encounter elsewhere. The n-complexity of available encounters rises fairly quickly that way, of course.  Unfortunately, Raph says they weren’t quite able to make this whole process completely data-driven. The result is that it was just as hard to create the dynamic content as it was to create static content. In particular, the scripting of the encounters was tricky. The result of all of this is that dynamic POIs ended up coming back out of the game.

He hasn’t written off the entire idea yet, however. Neither have I. In fact, I spoke about it a little at GDC Austin in 2009. (Get my slides here.) Raph was not able to attend that lecture (for which I believe Sheri Graner Ray gave him a tongue-lashing). I don’t pretend to solve the problem of dynamic content to the extent that Raph writes about. The point I addressed was that there are ways for AI-controlled NPCs to dynamically deal with a shifting population and environment that can lead to more expressive encounters game-wide.

Anyway, with the advent of dynamic pacing in Left 4 Dead via the much-referenced AI Director, there is a lot more attention being paid to how we can break out of entirely hand-placed, hand-paced, and often linear content. Additionally, while the public’s appetite for “sandbox” worlds is increasing — thanks in no small part to games like GTA4, the industry can’t sustain GTA4-like budgets of $100 million for very long. If the procedural content issue was solved (or at least furthered along somewhat) then we can satisfy both the demands of our players and the restrictions of budget.

One place to look might be to the work that is being done by the likes of interactive fiction writer and programmer Emily Short and the work that is continually being done by Michael Mateas and the Expressive Intelligence Studio company and UCSC. Someplace in there is a hybrid of dynamic, data-driven storytelling that we can eventually work with to create truly open-ended content.

We can only hope… and work.

Details of GDC Austin Lecture

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

The information for my lecture, Cover Me! Promoting MMO Player Interaction through Advanced AI, at GDC Austin has been posted.

Here’s the relevant information:

Takeaway
This lecture shows examples of some of the aspects of PvP games that are attractive to players, the AI techniques that can be used to replicate them, and the effect that inclusion of these aspects can have in an MMO environment. The attendee will leave with a variety of concepts that can be included in their own MMO designs.

Session Description
Historically, PvE AI in MMOs has been a straight-forward affair. While this leads to predictability, it also leads to monotony. In online, team-based PvP games, however, much of the attraction is the dynamic nature of the engagement that necessitates that players read, communicate, and react appropriately to changing, even unexpected actions of their enemies. By leveraging more advanced techniques that are becoming common in FPS, RPG, and RTS games, the AI in MMOs can be designed to provide some of the more attractive and engaging elements of PvP games. This, in turn, can lead to more involved team play, greater replayability, and an increased sense of community in the game.

Speaking at GDC Austin

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

I will be speaking at the 2009 Austin GDC, September 15-18. Rather than the broad-based coverage of the GDC, the Austin GDC is more tailored to online games. In that vein, I will be doing a 1-hour lecture entitled “Cover Me!: Promoting MMO Player Interaction through Advanced AI“.

More details soon.

Working towards better MMORPG AI

Friday, December 7th, 2007

According to this blog posting on an MMORPG blog, a development team working on “The Chronicles of Spellborn” has some ideas on how to make mob AI a little more engaging. The post points to an entry in CoS’s development journal. I need to do a bit more reading on the game and their ideas (the article is a little sparse on details) but at least their hearts are in the right place.

One interesting point that fell out of the comments on that journal is that people are actually worried that the behavior will become predictable. That was startling to me since the concept they were proposing actually makes the behavior less predictable. One example cited was that most MMO mobs will attack the player that attacked them ad nauseum (predictable and shallow). The CoS mob will break off that one player that attacked them and go after the weakest player in the raid group. Yes, that’s somewhat predictable, but only because it makes sense.

One of the comments in the journal responded that the idea was “brilliant”. To me, the idea is bloody obvious. And really, it’s not all that hard or computationally expensive to implement. I just don’t see why MMO AI hasn’t advanced beyond where it is right now. *sigh*

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