If you are an AI programmer, here’s your motivation for doing better. Whether people mention one of your games or not, these sorts of gripes certainly give you something to think about. (And me, too.)
Here’s a couple of samples:
I was recently playing through Rainbow Six 3 (PC version), and i’ve been noticing just how fucking retarded the AI is in that game. First off, these are the same AI who sometimes don’t even know that their buddy just got shot in the head with a goddamn un-silenced M4, yet when they see you, they can magically shoot through fucking railings (despite seeing as how you can’t*), and can instantly nail you the moment you peek out of a corner.
Whoever designed the pathfinding and collision detection in Morrowind needs a severe beatdown- NPCs will get stuck on anything and everything they can. And sometime’s they’ll stand right in a doorway or hallway while you’re trying to navigate through it (Though that’s more a program limitation.)
I’d like to go on record as saying that I hate games where enemies run away from you.
In the original, unmodded version of Silent Hunter II, allied destroyers could hit your U-boat with gunfire on a pitch-black foggy night without using radar, could detect you on the surface using active sonar, spot your periscope from 5,000 yards away, and could drop depth charges with Laser Guided Bomb-like precision on your exact position.
At the same time, they would constantly run aground, ram each other at Flank speed while trying to attack you, and constantly blundered into your steam-powered torpedoes, which left obvious wakes on the surface.
Mafia: The City Lost Haven was an innovative GTA clone, but the AI had some amusing quirks. When you were in a car chase, the pursuing cars could always catch up with you, no matter how fast you were going. But they would always try to overtake you on the left. All you had to do was drive close to a lamppost or an oncoming car and they would crash into it. Always. It made being chased pretty easy.
I think this comment is the most poigniant reminder, however:
Okay, game programmers, you’ve made your point. We all know that it is in fact possible for you to make an unwinnable game. Now that the experiments in asshattery are over, would you like to get back to making real games?
Sarcasm aside, let me just make it real clear because this can not be emphasized enough. GAMES ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE PLAYER VS. PROGRAMMER.
Ok, we all know that journalists aren’t subject matter experts. That’s fine. However, sometimes they are blatantly uneducated about the stuff they cover… and if you are in whatever biz or industry they are talking about, errors jump out at you. For example, I know quite a bit about the aviation and airline industry. You would not believe the pathetic errors that journalists make about those areas when often the answer is as far away as Wikipedia.
Anyway, my Google Alerts picked up an E3 review from a newspaper called the “Straits Times”. It seems to be based in Singapore for what that’s worth. Anyway, check out the opening few lines of the column Videogames getting minds of their own (emphasis mine)…
LOS ANGELES – VIDEOGAMES are getting smarter with virtual enemies improvising during battles, storylines shifting based on moral choices and in-game characters sending players text messages for help. Titles unveiled at the just-concluded Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles feature artificial intelligence (AI), making in-game worlds more realistic and less predictable.
Wow… games now feature artificial intelligence. That is soooo cool!
Like many bloggers, I have some Google Alerts set up so that I get daily mailings about relevant topics. While it is sometimes frustrating to have to wade through articles and other blog posts about basketball player Alan Iverson (AI) and his “games” (= “game AI”), it is also very helpful to see a daily stream of what people are saying around the interweb thingy.
The fun starts when I see a series of articles come through over the course of a couple of days about the same game. Even just from reading the brief Google-like blurb attached to each entry, I can see trends. Sometimes, there is a string of similar gripes or a parade of praises. However, there are times when I see some of each. It’s times like that where I wonder what people are really looking for in game AI… and if we will ever be able to satisfy everyone.
There’s an example going around in the form of “Dark Sector”. Here’s some samples.
Lets face it people, the game does have some crummy AI and it doesnâ€™t take long to see that, for example if you are in the middle of battle and you need to heal and you run alway the AI just stops and stands there. And if you didnâ€™t know itâ€™s not surrpost to do that.
AI is a hot potato these days, especially with the power that the PS3 can wield. Dark Sector’s AI is set to offer evolving enemy tactics, because they’ll be able to communicate amongst themselves, and therefore offer realistic repsonses to player actions.
It also doesn’t help that enemy AI is also weak, with some soldiers standing guard as their comrade’s blast away at Tenno, whilst others seemingly have a sixth sense with where our infected hero is. The inextricable ability to shoot through walls also doesn’t help matters, and only serves to strength our belief that Digital Extremes could have done with an extra couple of months to polish up the Dark Sector experience.
There are several boss battles in Dark Sector, and all of them are very different. Variety comes courtesy not only of bosses that differ wildly in shape and size, but also of the weapons and abilities that you’ll need to defeat them. None of the bosses are overly challenging if you take your time with them because, with only a few exceptions, their attacks just aren’t powerful enough to kill you with a single blow. They’ll hurt you, and the borders of the screen will flash red to let you know that you’re injured, but Hayden regains health so quickly that getting into cover briefly or even simply performing a few evasive rolls is generally all you need to do to get back to full strength. That’s not to say that all of the boss battles are easy, though, because they’re not. It’s just that often the tricky part is figuring out how to beat them rather than actually doing it.
Challenging AI – Players will employ special tactics while encountering new and different enemy combat tactics as the evolving AI communicate amongst themselves, take cover and offer realistic responses to player actions.
Get the point yet? Of course, the interesting thing is that the “good” comments read more like propoganda from the marketing department. Oh well. It’s easy to see why AI programmers have such a difficult time. We have no idea what our users will think “good AI” is. (See my column at AIGameDev on “Good vs. Fun AI“)
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.
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.
That is, when youâ€™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, itâ€™s obvious Daniel doesnâ€™t want to get caughtâ€¦ It also doesnâ€™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, itâ€™s as if youâ€™ve disappeared off the face of the Earth. And really, when youâ€™ve got a bunch of people hunting you down to silence you, youâ€™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.
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.
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!